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Friday, August 14

11:40 AM Got in a 13.1-mile bike today -- a half marathon distance.

These miles were then added to my weekly stats: 

God's grace! I've missed running but I've really been enjoying cycling.

How about you? What form of exercise do you enjoy the most? 

8:05 AM My thanks to whoever left this in my box yesterday on campus. It's the new grammar by Merkle and Plummer.

It's definitely different from the other grammars out there. Thank goodness for our different styles and ministries in the body of Christ. We'd reach a lot less students if we all had the same approach to Greek pedagogy. Some grammars have a less-is-more mentality. Others include everything except the kitchen sink. It's all important because we all need Jesus and the ability to read his word with greater accuracy. Every grammar has its strengths -- and weaknesses. But the more options available, the better. And you know why, right? God created us different. Imagine how he feels as he looks down from heaven and finds his children living their dreams and writing their textbooks and teaching their classes and mentoring their Greek students. The Psalmist said, "The Lord has done great things for them" (Psalm 126:2). He sure has.

Ben and Rob, again, congrats on your new book. May it run into the arms of countless students. May they sow in tears to reap a harvest. God doesn't have time to waste, so he seeks the faithful.

Thursday, August 13

7:48 PM Talking today about the very end of your Ph.D. journey, ladies and gentlemen, and that, of course, is the dissertation defense. If you've done your work well, the defense should go rather smoothly. After all, nobody knows your subject better than you do. This is a crucial part of your Ph.D. pilgrimage. I well recall my own dissertation defense in Basel. I started it really nervous, but once I got calmer everything went smoothly. A special event it most certainly was. Today I had the joy of supervising the dissertation defence of one of my own doctoral students, Mr. Noah Kelley. His dissertation is titled The Theme and Structure of the Didache: A Study in Discourse Analysis. Both I and the second reader -- my esteemed NT colleague and friend Dr. Charles Quarles -- thought Noah did exceptionally well in answering our questions. In fact, I'd say he hit it out of the ballpark.

Congratulations, Noah, on finishing your doctoral studies. You did an amazing job, and I can't wait to see your dissertation in print. It's the best feeling to be done, isn't it?

Believer, look at your life. What is that you have worked really hard to accomplish? Wasn't it worth your time and effort? It was definitely worth God's. This side of heaven, there's nothing sweeter than accomplishing a task to which the Father has called us. May your experiences always confirm indeed that "we have this treasure in earthen pots of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not of us"!

4:58 AM "The whole concern of Reformation theology was to justify restructuring the organized church without shaking its foundations." John Howard Yoder. 

Wednesday, August 12

5:24 PM Training is ramping up again. Today I did an easy 3.5 miles at the high school track. My goal was to keep my heart rate below my MAF maximum of 112 bpm. I ended up with an average of 109 bpm.

Ever tried long, slow running? I've been running slowly in foundational work for my next marathon and have really been enjoying low heart rate/intensity runs. Now I do a lot of my training at an easy pace. Good, consistent miles, with less chance of injury. So far I really like the method and have great confidence in further improvements. MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) is a great way to get a lot of volume without the fatigue associated with hard training runs. Steady runs that are well below race pace are essential for beginning runners like me. While running today, I listened to/watched this podcast by one of my favorite You Tubers, Floris Gierman.

Today he was interviewing a runner named Albert Shank, who lives in the greater Phoenix area. The guy is amazing. Today he trained in 126 degree temps! Albert, by the way, just happens to be a foreign language teacher (Spanish) like yours truly, and in the interview he said something truly profound:

I have to remember that my students are beginners. They don't know. I have all this experience and so I have to teach them and I have to be patient with them and guide them along. 

That's the key right there, folks, to successful teaching. Never, ever assume your students know what you know. Be patient with them. Start where they are, not where you think they should be. Then lead them along at a slow pace so that those who are lagging behind can catch up to the pack. Let your students know you're there for them and that your goal is to serve them, not the other way around. Continue to challenge and support them. Email your classes to remind them that you are praying for them. Above all, teach on their level. Explain concepts as simply as possible without sacrificing accuracy or content. The key, of course, is to make sure you are a teacher who knows your learners. You have to believe that all of your students can be successful as you propel them closer and closer to mastery.

Pretty obvious I've got my mind on the classroom, eh? Can't wait! I want to end by saying that I don't think I will ever live up to my aspirations as a teacher. But neither can I with honesty say to you that the goal is unreachable. Keep striving, my friend, after that which God has called you to do and to be. Like a good teacher, the Lord is patient with all of us. And, through his word, he "emails" us constantly with remainders of just how much he loves us. What a Savior! 

Be blessed,

Dave

12:44 PM Wow, did I have a great time at the beach. It was quite an experience returning to the Atlantic with my board. It was all a bit surreal. Here are a few pix to bore you with:

My view every morning. Poor me.

My view every evening. Feeling sorry for me yet?

My view biking 8 miles into town for my morning brew.

Doing a deep dive into the Greek text of Philippians.

Then I surfed every evening at sunset.

The waves weren't exactly huge, but who cares?

I have to say, I've returned home feeling refreshed and eager to get back into the classroom. Tomorrow is our faculty workshop and then in a week my classes kick off. At the same time, I'm behind on my farm jobs, so never a dull moment. Right now I need to get in a run. After all, I've got my next 5K this Saturday, Lord willing. There's only 90 runners signed up so it will be easy to socially distance during the event.

Hope you all have a great rest of your week!

Sunday, August 9

6:30 AM Good morning, bloggers of the world! Time to get on the road. Emerald Island, NC, is a good three and a half hour drive from the farm, so I can't doddle this morning. I plan to spend the next few days at a beach condo surfing, swimming, biking, and running. When I'm not reading, that is. Even if the waves aren't huge, it will be good to sit on my board again. That bad boy has been around the block a few times, including all the major beaches on O'ahu -- Pipeline, Pupukea, Sunset Beach, Haleiwa, Makaha, Ala Moana -- and several in Southern California -- mostly Huntington and Seal Beaches. Last year I took it to Virginia Beach when there was a swell there. All of this simply means that I will have one more chance to experience the joy of riding waves. To be honest, most of surfing is pretty boring. In that way, it's a metaphor for life. Catching a good wave is like getting your driver's license or graduating from college or getting married or having your first child or getting that dream job. The rest of life is the paddling out and the waiting -- cooking, cleaning, driving to work, paying bills, taking out the trash, driving the kids to soccer practice. As a child growing up at Kailua Beach, I did not consider, even momentarily, not surfing. That's just what you did in Kailua (our high school teams were called the "Surfriders"). Now, a land lubber, the joy is particularly intense whenever I can make it back to the beach. Something physiologically and mentally powerful always happens to me when I do. Actually, I was supposed to be in Hawai'i this week. But the Atlantic will do just fine. It's all a gift of nature -- meaning of God -- anyway. Bottom line: I am committed to starting every semester as fresh and as fit as I can be. Friends, I am not in this just to get by. I am in this so that I can be ministering God's word to people when I'm 85 and wearing Depends instead of swimming shorts.

Think about it. If God can create the ocean and the waves, can't he make good out of the chaos of our day? The wonders above and the wonders within us testify to his love. Whatever mess you're facing, God will get you through. But there's no shortcut. Deepening our relationship with the Lord comes at a cost. This vacation time will focus on knowing God deeper. I'm so tired of boxing in his voice or reducing it to a trite wall motto. I just want to listen. Listening means looking forward to heaven through tears and thanking God for his wonderful ability to produce light out of darkness. I can thank him even for the hard times. That's what God is listening for.

Believer, put on humility before God and watch his mercy wash over you like a cool wave on a hot day. Keep your pride in check and he can do wondrous things out of the ashes.

So much love,

Dave

Saturday, August 8

8:02 PM Got the running shoes, bike, and board loaded up. What more could a man ask for?

Well, maybe some waves that are over ankle height, but ya can't have everything. I'm taking a box load of books, of course, since I love reading, as in Really Love Reading. My job requires me to read just about every day, and that includes "fun" reading that has nothing to do with Greek. Here's a tome I just got and I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to diving into it.

I've got to say, I have enjoyed every book Gordon MacDonald has written, and there have been a great many of them. This book, as you can see, is called A Resilient Life. The subtitle is: Finish What You Start, Persevere in Adversity, Push Yourself to Your Potential. Little did I know that the good pastor is also a runner. "It makes little difference," he says, "how fast you can run 100 meters when the race is 400 meters long. Life is not a sprint; it is a distance run, and it demands the kind of conditioning that enables people to go the distance." In case you didn't know, Gordon MacDonald is Chancellor of Denver Seminary and Pastor Emeritus of Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA. Though I've never met him, I sense in him a real kindred spirit.

7:14 PM "The New Testament contains full instructions, not only about what we are to believe but what we are to do and how we are to go about doing it. Any deviation from those instructions is a denial of the Lordship of Christ. I say the answer is simple, but it is not easy for it requires that we obey God rather than man, and that brings down the wrath of the religious majority. It is not a question of knowing what to do; we can easily learn that from the Scripture. It is a question of whether or not we have the courage to do it." -- A. W. Tozer.

4:56 PM Hello again, everyone. Hope you're having a good day. Mine's been exhaustingly delightful. I was able to get in a pleasant 2-hour workout this morning before hitting the books.

Per usual, I'm reading Philippians. I have this thing about reading a book of the New Testament in as many different English versions as I can. I love doing this. Having worked on a NT translation myself, I know the effort that goes into making these translations. There's always something we can learn from them, right? Notice how The Living Bible renders Phil. 1:1:

FROM: Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ.

So far, so good. Now comes this:

To: The pastors and deacons and all the Christians in the city of Philippi.

Wait a second. I'm not so sure that was what Paul was trying to communicate to his audience. The Good News Bible says this:

From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus -- To all God's people in Philippi who are in union with Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and helpers.

This is much closer to the Greek of verse 1. In fact, The Living Bible has actually transposed "the greeted," as if Paul first addressed the church leaders and only then did he mention the other members of the congregation. This is precisely the opposite of what he did. Now, I think I understand why The Living Bible did what it did. It's because that's how we would address a letter today to a church. We would greet Pastor So-and-So and then the members. Here's what strikes me. Not only is Phil. 1:1 the only opening greeting in any of Paul's letters that mentions church leaders of any kind, the mention of "overseers and deacons" after the "saints" seems to be his way of making a point. The church is a community of people in which all are gifted and all have ministry. Yes, churches have leaders. But note: The way they are mentioned here indicates that they're not over the church but rather extensions of the church. The shepherds are themselves sheep! In addition, the New Testament generally seems to emphasize task rather than title. It tends to lay stress on functions, not offices. Interestingly, here in Phil. 1:1 the absence of the article "the" in Greek before "overseers and deacons" has led some commentators to suggest the rendering "those who oversee and serve" in order to make it clear that function is in view rather than office. Finally, it almost goes without saying that the early apostles established a pattern of plural oversight within the churches they planted. Thus Paul writes, not to "the" pastor/overseer of the church at Philippi, but to its pastors/overseers (plural).

So what does this mean for us? Pay attention to the text. Read your passage in as many different translations as you can. Think too of the larger context of Scripture when you read any individual passage. This feels a little tricky, doesn't it? I mean, how am I supposed to be able to pick up on these nuances in the text? By reading, reading, and more reading. A healthy biblical diet will ramp up your ability to make sound exegetical choices as you study God's word. Here's an observation we can make right away: Judging from the way Paul opens his letters, he places the burden of his subsequent teaching in the letter on the shoulders of the whole church. James, Peter, John, and Jude write in the same strain.   

Before you open your Bible again, ask God to do something for you. Just pray a simple little prayer. "God, may your Holy Spirit reveal truth to me. What do you want to say to me today? Not yesterday, not last year, but today?" The Bible is our personal love letter from God. A love letter that we can take to heart, that we can read, then reread, then reread again.

The ball is now in our court.

8:44 AM Well, I've decided to do it. The "it" is waxing down my surfboard (love them Beach Boys lyrics!) and heading down to the beach tomorrow for a few days of surfing. I heard that the waves at Emerald Island were breaking 10-12.

Inches.

Bwaaaaaaaaa!

The thing about us surfers is that we're the ultimate optimists. "I know a huge swell is just over the horizon" we say after sitting on our boards for hours watching the ripples break on shore. You see where this is this going, right? God expects us to be hopeful about this life of ours. It's a crazy journey to be sure, and we never quite know what's around the bend. One thing I love about the apostle Paul is that he was the ultimate optimist. He knew he couldn't rest on his laurels and live in the rear view mirror. My friend, for every step forward we take, for every time we humbly submit to the plan of the Creator, it is returned to us a hundredfold in fellowship with him and with blessings beyond our wildest dreams. Is there anything more we could ask for? So, what keeps us from moving forward, wind in our hair and sea salt in our eyes? For me, it's often invitations to "kingdom" work that tempt my boundaries. Let me tell you, if you say "No" from time to time it won't kill you. This summer I was asked to teach Greek 1-2 for six weeks live and in person. I LOVE teaching summer Greek! Covid changed all that. It would now have to be completely online. "Would you still like to teach those two classes?" I politely turned it down. Others are much more suited to do online instruction than I am. So it stands to reason that there are going to be things in our life that aren't good or bad in themselves but are perhaps just distractions. They are options from which we have to choose. Outside of God and my family, there's nothing that brings me more joy than the classroom. The act of teaching leaves me breathless. Listen, friend, God knows best. Let's simply move forward in faith, saying "No" when we have to, asking God to show us any weak areas, giving him the chance to show himself faithful. This is not the time or place to stop moving forward or inventing our own route. Go wherever he sends you. This is the walk of faith. There ARE waves out there. You just have to keep believing.

Jesus said, "Follow me." That's the Christian life in a nutshell. He has a good plan for your life. And he has asked you to be his disciple. Thank him for that. Then spend some time praying about what you need to leave behind and for the courage to follow Jesus wherever he leads you. By the way, one way to judge your level of commitment as a disciple of Jesus is the amount of time you spend with him in his word. He teaches us through the pages of the Bible. So open the Scriptures and invite the Holy Spirit to meet you there. Then, as you go through your day, follow Jesus with abandon. Remember, you will never "arrive" this side of heaven. There is always more to learn, more steps to take, more obedience to pursue, more patience to exercise as we wait for the waves. Paul nailed it: "The only thing I want is to know Christ -- to experience the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings, in growing conformity with his death." I desperately want to be able to echo Paul's words. But I fall so short. Yet this I know: Jesus isn't only my friend, he's my best friend. He's not just my hope, he's my only hope. He's not just my joy, he's my only joy.

I may not know everything I need to know to succeed in this Christian life thing, but I have a great Teacher.

Friday, August 7

5:12 PM Care to join me on today's bike?

It was a weird-shaped route.

With lots of bridges.

And an island in the middle of the river.

The mighty James is no joke. 

Don't know where this name comes from. The water was brown, not black.

Crowded, eh?

 

I'm wearing a mask but you can't see it cause it's camouflaged.

Not a bad workout.

From the moment I set off from the farm this morning I was relaxed. I loved taking it all in. I can only imagine what this place looks like in the fall with all the leaves turning color. Sorry y'all can't be here.

Okay. Supper time. Ciao!

Thursday, August 6

2:04 PM This just arrived. Can't wait to do a deep dive into it.

Contributors include Oscar Cullmann, C. K. Barrett, Matthew Black, F. F. Bruce, G. B. Caird, W. D. Davies, William Farmer, Reginald Fuller, A. F. J. Klijn, I. Howard Marshall, Otto Michel, Leon Morris, J. B. Orchard, T. F. Torrance, Albert Vanhoye, Rudolf Schnackenburg, and many others. Below is the Theologisches Seminar where I spent so many happy months researching my dissertation in Basel and where I attended seminars with Professors Reicke and Barth. Reicke loved his Doktoranden, and we loved him.

Precious memories. Becky and I were as poor as church mice but were so happy to be living in Basel!

1:40 PM Currently FREE as an eBook. Don't know how long it will last.

12:25 PM This has been a very tough 24 hours for my neighbors and for my county. A gignormous thunderstorm landed on us for several terrifying hours last night, leaving 3 inches of rain, hail, flooding, road closures, power outages, and general misery.

For a few moments I thought the house was going to be blown away by the gale force winds. It feels so surreal when something like this happens right on your door step.

Thankfully there seems to be no major damage to structures and everybody I know is safe. The skies have cleared, the power has been restored, and we're all hoping for NO REPEAT of last night's storm. This morning, after checking the farm and the neighborhood, I grabbed some coffee and headed out to town to get in a short run.

I want to share with you a thought that went through my mind while I was running. Do you remember that passage in Philippians where Paul says, in essence, "Church, if all you do is bicker and complain, the corrupt and sinful world all around you will never be able to recognize you as the innocent and pure children of God that you are. So stop that! Instead, you must shine among them like stars lighting up the night sky as you offer them the life-giving message of the gospel. If you do this, then and ONLY then will I have a reason to be proud when I stand before Christ, because it will show that all of my work will not have been wasted and my race will not have been run in vain" (Phil. 2:14-16).

The implication of what Paul says here is extraordinary! He says that on the Day when he will have to give an account of his life and ministry before the risen Christ, if on that Day the Philippians were not holding forth the word of life and offering it to their friends and neighbors, Paul would regard his own ministry among them as having been completely wasted. He will have "run his race in vain." I think the point he's trying to make is a very simple yet profound one: We can't be satisfied with winning people to Christ. Paul certainly wasn't. No, his goal was to win others to Christ who would themselves win others to Christ who would themselves win others to Christ, ad infinitem. I imagine if Paul were to have written a book on soul winning, it might have been entitled, Every Soul Won a Soul Winner. And if those he had won for Christ did not themselves reach others for Christ, he would have regarded his own race and his own labor to have been wasted.

And who is to do this work of evangelism? Only those with the gift of evangelism? I don't believe so. Paul calls the body as a whole to do this together. We as followers of the Lord Jesus are not to remain in a state of passive dependence on others (fulltime evangelists). The task of bearing God's image and proclaiming his gospel was not given only to the apostle Paul. It was given to us as well. The church is a community in which all have the ministry of reconciliation. That's Paul's message here in Phil. 2:14-16.

Good stuff, eh? In any event, as you can see, I'm still learning many valuable lessons from the book of Philippians. I'm going to be praying about what all of this means for my teaching this semester. I've got to admit it, I love Paul's Letter to the Philippians. Yes, happiness is a choice, and it comes from putting others before ourselves. It's the result of our outlook and what we choose to prioritize in our lives. As Mother Teresa once put it, "It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love put into them that matters." That's exactly how Paul lived. He lived for the honor and glory of Christ alone and to share Christ's love with others sacrificially. Friends, we have only one life to live, and if we will model our assignment after Paul's, we won't be too far off the mark. I sure don't want to be like the student who received the following remarks on his book report:

Excellent bibliography!

Outstanding research!

Impeccable spelling!

Grade: "F."

Wrong Assignment!

Wednesday, August 5

5:44 PM Been translating 1 Thessalonians today. Oh my, what a book! It's actually the first Pauline epistle we'll be studying in NT 2 class this semester since I walk my students through Paul's letters from his earliest writings to his final letters. One of the key words here in chapter 5 is adelphoi. Paul wants us to view the church as a family of "brothers and sisters" in Christ. You see, the word adelphoi clearly includes both sexes -- men and women -- who together comprise one adelphotēs -- brotherhood. Sly and the Family Stone got it right -- WE ARE FAMILY! I might paraphrase verse 12 as follows:

Now we urge you, sisters and brothers, to pay proper respect to those who labor and toil so hard among you, who guide and lead you in the ways of the Lord, and who instruct and admonish you should you veer from the proper path.

The verb I translated as "labor and toil so hard" is kopiaō, which was often used to describe the work of a farmer. Some of us can identify for sure. There's something so wonderful about being hot, sweaty, AND stinky!

Thankfully, Papa B has lots of help.

Thomas Edison once said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls [edit: He meant tank tops and shorts] and looks like work." Pastoral ministry is hard work! Any kind of ministry is. If we take God seriously, we also ought to take our work seriously. Most of all, realize that when God made you, he was pleased. He created you in such a way as to experience incredible satisfaction that comes from a job well done. Christians should make the best employees. Jesus worked hard. Paul worked hard. The Thessalonian leaders worked hard. Hence the theme of work is woven thickly into the fabric of both 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Aren't you glad you are called to work to the degree you're able? When I was a teenager, I was so grateful for those who set a good example for me by modeling a high work ethic. The apostle Paul didn't care about having a life of ease. And you know, I believe he really enjoyed his work! I want to as well.

4:12 PM Question of the day, ladies and gentlemen. I've asked it before but I wanted to bring it home again if ya don't mind. In my beginning grammar, which I am in the process of revising, how can I bring you more value? How can I better serve you, the reader? What do you want me to talk about?

I think I have a pretty comprehensive analysis of Greek grammar -- all the various factors that belong in a beginning textbook -- but if you can think of one that is just not on my radar, let me know at dblack@sebts.edu. So again, how can I bring you more value? That's the question of the day. Thanks for reading and thanks very much for the input I've already gotten.

P.S. Before I go, I might add one more factor, and that is what I am calling the "cringe test." When you're reading my grammar, is there anything that just makes you cringe? It's like, "I can't believe he wrote that!" or "That makes absolutely no sense at all!" Pass those on to me if you would. I promise to give your suggestions serious consideration and turn them to the improvement of the book. Thank you!

12:26 PM Here's your English lesson for the day:

  • Verb: Scavenge.

  • Gerund/participle: Scavenging.

  • Definition: To search for and collect anything useful from discarded waste.

I thought of this old-fashioned word while mowing the back 40 today. See these outbuildings?

How much did they cost us? Not a dime. We scavenged them from our neighbors. In essence, they said, "You take it off my property, you get if for free." What a deal. Number one: We wanted all our outbuildings to look old. Number two, every cent we saved we used to pay for our trips to Ethiopia (17 trips for me, 14 for Becky). As the old cliché says, "A penny saved is a penny earned." There is something so liberating about taking someone else's "junk" and turning it into something that's valuable to you. Is there a less traveled path than this? Hmm, maybe bartering, but who does that nowadays? I have the sweetest memories of erecting these buildings with my son. There were some hilarious moments that I shall go to the grave with under threat of death.

If one-sixth of the world's population claims to be Christian, then how do you account for all the poverty and suffering? Abstinence, restraint, reduction, going without, scavenging, bartering, saving -- these words are anathema to us baby boomers. Friend, you and I decide where each of our dollars goes. The world is waiting. The Lord is watching. What are we going to do? I can do better. I must do better.

11:05 AM Nice, easy bike today.

Explored new territory. Like this road.

Never been on it before. What is it about people always wanting newness? By the way, are you a goal setter? Recently I've been thinking about my goals for the next 10 years or so. These include my writing goals and my running goals. Let's start with the latter, shall we? I think I would state my 10-year goals for running as follows:

  • Stay healthy and still be running 10 years from now and beyond.

  • Have at least two more marathons in the books.

  • Break the four minute mile. (Kidding.)

  • Run another 50K trail race.

  • Start running with my grandkids.

  • Run competitively in my age division.

  • Continue building overall endurance and strength.

  • Make more friends within the running community.

  • Participate in as many fundraisers as I can.

Speaking of fundraisers, my next 5K race is a week from this Saturday. It's called the "Race for the Cause 5K." The "cause" is certainly a very worthy one in my book: "All proceeds go toward cancer education, detection, and treatment." Yes indeed, we are a community of support. As for my writing goals, they will have to wait. I need to get out and mow the jungle (aka yards).

Planning ahead,

Dave

Tuesday, August 4

8:46 PM When the MacDonald's on the lake lured me in for an ice cream cone this evening, I had no idea I would also be treated to this.

2:54 PM Just finished a Zoom call with the media team at the seminary as they prepare to do a video about my book They Will Run and Not Grow Weary.

They asked me if I could summarize the main point of the book in a sentence or two. Boy was that hard! I think the main goal of the book is to correct a distortion about the gospel that I think some of us in the church have fallen prey to. The distorted gospel says come to Jesus and be happy. The true gospel of the New Testament says come to Jesus and prepare to begin a life of strenuous pilgrimage. The distorted gospel says becoming a Christian is a guarantee of prosperity. The true gospel of the Bible says becoming a Christian is the guarantee of adversity. In short, friends, the Christian life is a fight, it's a struggle, it's a lifelong race, and to live it involves blood, sweat, tears, and toil. It's frankly absurd to think that we can run the race of life without self-discipline. No athlete competes without a strict regimen of training. The only path to glory is suffering, and "it is through many tribulations that we must inherit the kingdom of heaven" (Acts 14:22). So yes, when we come to Christ, God showers us with enormous blessings -- forgiveness of sin, relief from shame and guilt, and a million other benefits, including "joy unspeakable and full of glory." Just as importantly, however, out of his unfathomable love, this same God calls us to surrender our lives to Christ, and we owe it to everybody, Greek and barbarian, wise and unwise, to make Christ known by life and by lip. We owe it to the Lord Jesus to be faithful and to glory in his cross alone. Like an athlete in training, there's only one thing to do with the flesh. It's not to be coddled but crucified. "We'd better get on with it," the writer of Hebrews says (12:1-2). "Strip down, start running -- and never quit!" The rewards of running the Christian life are worth the perseverance and endurance it takes to develop them.

Let's get on with it, then. Just do it (with apologies to Nike)!

11:46 AM Yes, ladies and gentlemen, developing an aerobic base is the key to producing long term fitness and stamina for anyone doing long distance races. Today, in beautiful weather I might note (Isaias moved along after dropping two inches of rain), we managed a 6 mile run, trying to lay down capillary beds in the lungs, which can only happen through long and steady runs.

Blue skies and cooler weather. Thank you, Lord!

This week my training schedule is backwards. For some reason, I biked yesterday when I normally run on Mondays. This means my running will take place this week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Doesn't matter! Go get it, ladies and gentlemen, whatever the Lord has planned for you this day or this week. Be smart, but don't hold back. Work hard on and off the track, and don't be afraid to push the limits just a little bit. This also goes for your Bible study, friends. This blog is all about becoming independent thinkers, Berean Christians if you will, people who are willing to ask whether the word of God really does have free rein among us and whether it is not after all bound and fettered by the traditions of man. "A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed," wrote Dresden James. "It wasn't the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn't flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic."

Dresden James, British novelist and scriptwriter.

Does this sound too radical? It wasn't for Bill Farmer. In the preface to his book The Synoptic Problem, he stated:

This book seeks to demonstrate that the idea of Marcan priority is highly questionable. The fact that an idea which is highly questionable is nevertheless widely believed or assented to is not new. What may be new to some is the demonstrable fact that ideas which could be grossly false can gain acceptance and credence in the highest intellectual circles and councils of the modern West, under the guise of being the assured results of criticism.

I couldn't agree more! For years I've been sharing various arguments in favor of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, the priority of Matthew, the usefulness of the Byzantine text type, etc, and much of what I have written is directly based on the writings of the early fathers of the church. These early theologians weren't inspired, of course, and thus what they say can't hold a candle to the authority of the Bible. At the same time, their proximity to the events described in the New Testament gives their teachings considerable weight. Much more can be said about this, but I need not detain you with the evidence since I have pretty much done that already in my various books. I know there are still a good number of questions that need to be worked out. I also know that several of you are working on these problems and have indicated a willingness to engage me in discussion. I, for one, am very much looking forward to this!

More to come. Stay tuned, and have a great day!

Monday, August 3

3:14 PM Have you ever read a book that changed the way you thought about a certain subject? Here's a book that played that role in my life many years ago.

I got it in the mail today. I still can't believe I hadn't purchased it previously. But now it will have pride of place in Bradford Hall's library. All books affect readers in different ways. Some of the so-called "classics" had absolutely no impact on my life despite having read them. These include, I would say, Plato's The Republic, Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto, Paine's Common Sense, Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and Dante's Divine Comedy. But others were life-changing reads: Orwell's 1984, Huxley' Brave New World, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Goethe's Faust, and Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl -- to name a few. These kinds of books are often more difficult to read. You can't rush through them. They require patience and deliberate, independent thinking. The same is true of Farmer's The Synoptic Problem. If you have enjoyed or liked anything I've had to say or write about the synoptic problem, you can partly blame Bill Farmer for it. I was particularly privileged to have known him for many years. And I will never forget his visit to campus during our Symposium on New Testament Studies in 2,000. The greatest of all strengths of The Synoptic Problem is its attention to the Fathers. The book was a genuine and successful attempt to come to grips with the patristic testimony, so frequently ignored. There is really nothing quite like it in the annals of Gospels research. May I commend it to you?

2:20 PM Hey there! Hope you're all having a wonderful day. I managed to get in a 14 mile bike this morning before it started to rain. We're looking at a flood watch this evening through Wednesday, but it's rain that we've badly needed. I'm taking a much-needed break from working on Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk to do some last minute prep for my classes, one of which, Greek 3, has us going verse by verse through Paul's wonderful little letter to the Philippians. In a nutshell, I'll argue that Paul's theme in this book is working together to advance the gospel, and that all other goals in life must be subordinated to that one, overriding purpose. Undoubtedly the verses in which this theme is most clearly seen in chapter 1 of Philippians are 1:21 and 1:27, where Paul says, "For to me to live is Christ" and "The only thing that matters is that you live as good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the gospel." Let me just say this about Paul's perspective here in Philippians 1. His one goal in life was to advance the glory, honor, and mission of Jesus Christ. Nothing else mattered. Hence he could endure imprisonment, slander, and even death if that meant the advance of the gospel. And so, rather than complaining about his chains, he welcomed them because they had emboldened the believers in Rome to preach the word of God more fearlessly than before. He could endure slander and the jealously of others because, whatever their motives, the Good News about Christ was being preached. And he could endure a martyr's death as long as Christ was glorified in his body, whether it was a dead body or a living one. Life or death? That wasn't the question for Paul. The only question was whether Christ would be magnified in and through him, because "to me to live is Christ."

What Paul says here is truly magnificent. If only I could live like that myself. In my flesh I would give almost anything to avoid sorrow and sickness and death. But not Paul. He had lost his freedom through house arrest. He had lost his reputation through the slander of jealous preachers. And he would eventually lose his life at the hands of a tyrannical dictator named Nero. None of this mattered to Paul. He had gotten his priorities right.

This morning, as I read this passage, I felt great conviction because of Paul's Christ-centered ambition. Too often I'm consumed with self-centered ambitions. I want my freedom, freedom to do what I please, when I please. To be completely honest with you, I resent the coronavirus. I resent that I'm not able to travel as I please. I resent that I couldn't teach my students face to face last semester. I resent that my first ever invitation to lecture at Princeton University was swept away by the virus. I resent that my annual vacation to Hawai'i was postponed. I resent not being able to see my friends there or go surfing or climb Mount Olomana or start another Greek class on O'ahu. I resent that I couldn't run my marathon in June. Can I really say, "To me to live is Christ"? Or is my motto, "To me to live is ... ME"?

In any event, it seems to me that I still have very much to learn from this short epistle. For 14 weeks we'll have the chance to take a closer look at these four chapters. And we'll have the opportunity to take a personal inventory to determine how much of our life is based on Christ-centered ambition and how much of it is based on self-centered ambition. Our challenges are much the same as Paul's. Yet he overcame because of one thing: He gave Jesus the place of preeminence in his heart. Christ himself is the new life that surges into our lives, pushing off the old and making room for the new. Is Jesus King of kings or not? His claim still demands a verdict. And we've got the deciding vote. Thank you, Paul, for helping me think through this.

So, now it's your turn. Is there something in your life that's keeping you from saying, "To me to live is Christ"? Jesus had to visit our planet to make it possible for us to experience life in all its fullness. Are you experiencing that abundant life? That's possible only when we are living for the honor, glory, and mission of the Savior.

Sunday, August 2

7:26 PM I know it will sound crazy, but I just drove to Raleigh to buy some Ethiopian food. Today I was feeling nostalgic for Becky. Seems every place I drove by brought back happy memories of the times we spent together establishing the farm. There's the restaurant we enjoyed so much. There's the antique store where we bought our huge front door frame. There's the Lowe's where we bought our supplies to build our new house. I could literally go on and on. Now here I am and it's been almost 8 years since I said goodbye to Becky. It felt so good to be able to eat some Ethiopian food in her memory. I'd obviously be lying if I said I didn't still miss her. I suppose I always will. Missing a loved one is kind of like having to take a detour off the main highway every so often because of construction. You're still heading in basically the same direction, but you end up going through little towns you weren't really expecting to travel through. Eventually you end up getting back on the main road. Today was one of those little detours. I wasn't expecting to feel so nostalgic. But there was a smile instead of a frown. There was calmness instead of worry. You're no longer holding on to the pain to stay connected to your loved one. Somehow you've achieved that elusive balance between holding on and letting go. So, today I said goodbye to Becky again. I'm told that's one of the most significant steps in the grieving process. It begins with accepting the reality of the loss and then moves on to reinvesting your love elsewhere. You let go to live life again. Eating Ethiopian tonight was me saying to Becky, "I'm letting you go again, but I will always miss you. I love you. You are never forgotten."

Thanks for joining me on the journey, guys.

12:52 PM "It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

9:16 AM "Today the dependence of Matthew and Luke upon Mark and the unknown document called Q is accepted by innumerable theologians and lay people of every nationality and confession. It is generally taken for granted without any discussion." -- Bo Reicke, The Roots of the Synoptic Problem, p. 6. Wish it were otherwise!

8:25 AM My Bible reading this morning was in 1 Corinthians and in particular that wonderful first chapter, where Paul writes: 

I beg you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so that there won't be splits in the church.

Some of you are saying, "I am a follower of Paul"; and others say that they are for Apollos or Peter; and some that they alone are the true followers of Christ. And so, in effect, you have broken Christ into many pieces.

I am so thankful now that I didn't baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius. For now no one can think that I have been trying to start something new, beginning a "Church of Paul."

Paul's teaching here could revolutionize the world. The church as it is today is not the church as God intended it to be. There's only one body of Christ because there is only one Holy Spirit, quickening and animating the one body of Christ. The one Spirit animates the one body. Moreover, there's only one Lord Jesus Christ who is the object of our faith. And there is only one Christian family embracing us all because there is only one God and Father of us all. In short, there can only be one Christian family, one faith, and one body precisely because there's only one God. We can no more multiply churches than we can multiply Gods. The unity of the church is as indestructible as the unity of God himself. Paul says you can no more split the church than you can split the Godhead. Then why are there masses of churches today in competition with one another? Christian people all over the world are one. God says so. But we must be eager to maintain the unity of the church in visible manifestations, in visible relationships. No, let me rephrase that:

It is I who must be willing to do this.

Maybe it can start with little acts of kindness, like refraining from saying something I have every right to say, or showing compassion to others in very ordinary yet tangible ways, or letting someone else go first in line, or holding no grudges, or offering a word of praise, or listening to someone with whom I disagree. Maybe it's allowing Christ to work through me to touch lives in seemingly inconsequential ways. Trouble is, unity can't be measured only by the outward things we do. The inward thing we are matters too. It is that inner quality rather than a particular set of actions that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 1.

Is pursuing unity a Christian characteristic you would mention in a list of essential virtues? There is nothing we can do to create unity. We are one in Christ. However, the values we live by now are the values others will remember us by later. The ability to foster unity in the midst of all of our diversity is not some special mystical power that belongs only to those who have memorized Romans or who can read the Gospels in Greek. It belongs to us.

Saturday, August 1

8:38 PM The Lord just said, "Good night everyone." 

8:22 PM Hi again, folks. I've been very impressed with this book.

The author does a really good job of fleshing out why the digital church exists and what we should do about it. Here's a great quote:

If we are not in the room, standing in the very midst of the people to whom the sermon is being delivered, if we cannot see their faces, hear their singing, feel their palpable anticipation, need, or yearning, then how can we possibly preach in ways that can be heard?

In other words, why show up when I can just stay at home and listen from the comfort of my bedroom or living room? The author is adamant: social media and other digital spaces "always fall short and leave us wanting." When told to remember to always look into the camera so his other campuses would feel connected to him, he did as he was told but "something about it felt off." Elsewhere he bemoans the temptation of the digital age "to pursue relevance at any cost."

I'm not versed enough in this subject to have anything to add at this point. I'm neither pro nor con the digital church. I do know I feel very uncomfortable with all the gloss and hype of the digital world. I'm sort of anti-trendy in that way. Yes, churches should use digital technologies, but not as a replacement for a deeply rich communal life. I well remember the first time I watched a live service of a church that was broadcasting the message to its satellite campuses. I thought, "Why in the world is the speaker looking at me and not at the real live human beings sitting right there in front of him? I wonder how connected they feel to him?" Because I sure didn't. I hope this book gives me a clearer understanding of how technology has changed the church for better and for worse. I can already think of a handful of friends I want to pass it along to.

Keep growing and thinking!

Dave

5:40 PM Hey friends! You should have seen all the volunteers at today's race, allowing us runners to pursue our goals and dreams in 2020, even through a pandemic. Here's a big shout out to everyone who gave of their time to facilitate us runners today on the course. Absolutely inspiring. Interestingly, at the beginning of 2020, I had all my big races planned out. I really hoped to complete my 17th marathon on June 18th. But that's just gonna have to wait until 2021. However ... because of the pandemic, because I haven't been able to have a "normal" racing schedule, what has been happening? We've been learning about all kinds of local races that are exciting, well-organized, and, well, just gobs of fun. Today's event -- the GUTS, GRAVEL, GLORY 10K at the Pocahontas State Park near Richmond, did not disappoint.

I could not believe I got to toe the line with some awesome runners at today's race.

I haven't been on the starting line of a 10K in a very long time it seems. My goal today was a very simple one: I wanted to finish the race feeling so good that I could run it again if I wanted to.

And I wanted to smile the whole time, even at the finish line.

I truly forgot just how challenging trail races are. Anyhoo, a fun and adventurous day. And yes, I came in dead last. Success!

Even though I am what many people consider to be "retirement" age, I have no intention of giving up the energy and vibrant good health that running has brought me for nearly 5 years. I can't be content just to sit back and rock. I want to walk and run and surf and swim and bike. I want to feel my arms and legs and lungs and heart working in perfect harmony. I want to get sweaty and hot and cherish and nurture the body God's given me. Those of us who are over 50 know that life is short and that we need to embrace every day the Lord gives us. Running isn't just a sport for us. It's a way of life. It flows through our veins like our blood does. As long as God gives me good health I'll keep on doing what I'm doing because I love it. I'm not fast but I am dogged. It's my only talent. I can put one foot in front of the other and keep going, slowly. Thanks for coming along on this crazy journey with me. I'm just trying to live in the moment, enjoy the moment, even have fun with the moment, if you know what I mean.

Since I'm too lazy to mow, this evening I'm just going to chillax on the porch with my doggie and read this book that came in yesterday's mail.

I read it when it first came out in 1986 but somehow misplaced my copy, so I thought I should right that wrong and purchase another one. In case you didn't know, Professor Reicke was my "Doctor Father" in Basel, and a fabulous one was he. I still remember warmly the times he and Ingalisa Reicke had me and Becky in their home for dinner. There are many disasters that can occur in Ph.D. programs. I have known some students who stopped their work midstream because they couldn't work with their major professor. How sad and unfortunate. Blessed are thou if you have a supervisor with whom it's a delight to work. There's nothing quite like that relationship in the world!

Well, that's all, folks. That's enough, right? I appreciate you reading this not-so-short report. But if I can run for over an hour, you can read this whole thing!

Friday, July 31

12:55 PM Good Friday afternoon to you, Internet Family! There are so many good, God things happening right now I don't know where to start. Okay, let's start with my Bible time in Ephesians 4 this morning. Oh my, talk about rich! I have myself read about 30 commentaries on this chapter of Ephesians, not to mention numerous other works that relate to it, but nothing -- I dare say nothing -- can even begin to compare with settling down into the text yourself and letting the word into your heart and mind. Here Paul addresses his audience with an eloquent appeal based on chapters 1-3. He calls both for the consecration of our bodies to God and for the renewal and transformation of our minds. He sets before the church the stark alternative of conforming to the pattern of the world or being transformed by God. Marvelous!

What next? Well, feeling a bit stuck in a rut, this morning I decided to travel an hour and a half to a region in Virginia just east of me called Brunswick County, yes, home of the world famous "Brunswick Stew" you see at church cookouts and fire department fund raisers.

My favorite thing about today's 16-mile ride was being out in the countryside and beholding all the marvels of rural Virginia. Then too, it sure didn't hurt that there's so little traffic out here in the boonies.

I have never seen so many calves in one pasture. They actually came up to me when I called them. Dave, the cow whisperer.

As for crops, looks like soy beans were on everybody's mind this year.

Tobacco, though, is still grown in these parts despite a large government buyout a few years ago.

As I was riding along a thought had been forming in my subconscious mind and now I let it surface and examined it. One of the things I really want to emphasize in my classes this year is independent thinking. Tell me, do you have a mind of your own so that you reach your own mature, Christian convictions? Or are you like the persons described in Ephesians 4 who are tossed unsteadily about by the strange doctrines of others and whose opinion is always that of the last person they spoke to or the last book they read? You don't know what you believe or why you believe what you do believe. I strongly believe that all of us need to develop a holy discontentment with the ecclesiastical status quo.

Most of us are too conservative, too complacent, too content to parrot what others are saying. We are content with our church practices and polities even when there is no scriptural support for them. The end result is a dull, mindless, conformity. But Paul teaches that the church should be constantly growing into maturity in Christ. I don't know the way through to the other side on this one, folks, but I do know that I don't want to be ruled by ravenous groupthink anymore. Full life is lived when we have a personal encounter with the living God through his word, and when the mind and heart work together to discover and practice the truth. Coming back to a tired old cliché, less is more. Less commentaries, more Bible. Less podcasts, more listening to the Holy Spirit. In my life, I'm a more kind of guy, and I struggle with making this transition. But if I don't make it, how can I turn around and ask my students to do the same? It would be a dreadful thing to be deluded in this matter -- to think that we are pleasing God with our minds when we are not. The only way to avoid this error is to find out what God wants by turning to his word, the Bible. This is what I will doing in my four classes this fall, and my five in the spring. Holy discontentment will be an emphasis in my teaching this year because I am concerned that much of our thinking about the church is confused and often unbiblical. Don't take my word for it. Make up your own mind to study the Scriptures to see what God says about this important subject!

In other news, I think I've got my running mojo back. I'm even toying with the idea of running a 10K trail race tomorrow. It's conditioned, of course, on whether or not stringent Covid safety guidelines are in place (check), the race has a staggered start (check), and there's a limited number of runners (check -- only 24 runners finished this race last year). If I do run it, I plan to start dead last and stay there. I will give myself permission to walk if I need to. After all, 6.2 miles is not exactly child's play when you've been away from competition for so long. It takes time to create stamina and create a new foundation. Sometimes I forget how blessed and privileged I am to run at all. Not today. I am overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving that God has allowed my body to recover and to return to a normal state. Like most runners over 60, I just want to stay active and healthy, run for fun, and not hang out the "just retired" sign. If this means less speed, less intensity, less training, and more rest time, so be it. The cliché that age is only a number might be beaten to death but it's so true. We older runners cheer as loudly for the last-place finisher as we do for the first-place finisher. And why shouldn't we? Both are winners!

I'm going to stop my incessant yakking now and go find something to eat.

P.S. Kudos and mega-congrats to my dear friends and colleagues Ben Merkel and Rob Plummer on the release of their new grammar. Anything these two guys touch turns to pure gold. You can order your copy here.

Thursday, July 30

5:25 PM The eulogies at John Lewis's funeral today brought tears to my eyes, especially the one delivered by President Bush.

This is the United States of America I know and love.

I am so proud, and humbled, to be an American today. 

2:35 PM The word of the day is "ardour." My text is Rom. 12:11, which the NEB translates:

With unflagging energy, in ardour of spirit, serve the Lord.

Call it what you will -- ardour, fervor, passion, zeal -- it's required of us, all of us. The opposite is apathy, lethargy, sloth, indifference. Okay, maybe that's not realistic. I don't always feel great passion and energy for my days. I can fall into a funk like the best of 'em. Some days it feels like I'm trudging through quicksand toward an unknown destination. Here's the thing. It's natural that we feel this way. It's normal to feel like you're stuck in a rut. What's important, however, is that we don't stay stuck.

So how to get "unstuck"? Go back to the word "spirit." The Greek would also allow the translation "Spirit" with a capital "S." If, in fact, Paul is referring, not to the human spirit but to the Holy Spirit here, then the meaning changes drastically. In other words, it's not enough to serve the Lord with our human energy and zeal. We are, instead, to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). To do this, there is no book about passion to buy or technique to learn. The filling of the Spirit -- and thus the filling of our lives with passion -- is a privilege to be renewed continuously by simple appropriation.

The moral of the story is: Don't stay stuck in your rut. Deal with your loss of passion by returning to the true source of ardour, God's Spirit. Thank God for all he has given us in the Spirit!

10:34 AM Last night: 4 mile walk. This morning: 4 mile run. Tomorrow: A long bike. Saturday: A 10K race, Lord willing.

By the way, I've been greatly blessed of the Lord to have made 6 trips to South Korea. Each time I went there it was ostensibly to teach Greek and New Testament at Chong Shin (Presbyterian) University. But -- shhh, don't tell anyone! -- the real reason I went was to get my digestive system working again. There is NO healthier food on Planet Earth than Korean cuisine, bar none! And the mother of all dishes is Kimchi. Sadly, the kind that is sold in Food Lion is, let's say, a bit lacking. That's why I was surprised (and pleased) when I got a call from my dentist's office yesterday to say that they had a surprise waiting for me. You see, Dr. Kim hails from Korea, and every 6 months when I have my teeth cleaned and the hygienist is done, he comes into the room to do a final check over, at which point I chide him, "Well, Dr. Kim, I see you have still forgotten to bring me my Kimchi!" All in jest of course. But today he actually came through. (Some people will do anything to expand their client base.)

Let's see -- I think it needs a taste test, don't you? Here goes nothing ....

Oh. My. Goodness. I'm healed!

P.S. Becky, who was not a fan of lacto-fermentation, would never let me keep Kimchi in the house. It had to be kept in the back porch refrigerator. It was either that or a divorce. :-)

Wednesday, July 29

2:38 PM In case you were curious, these were in the packages:

  • The Apostolic Fathers by Rick Brannan.

  • A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald.

  • Running Past Fifty by Gail Kislevitz.

  • The Lazy Man's Guide to [ultra]Marathon Running by Sky Waterpeace.

  • Simple Church by Eric Carpenter.

  • The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker.

  • Christ the Cornerstone by John Stott.

In case you're really perceptive, you saw the Loeb Classical Series tomes in the green and red in the background. The green are Greek books, but as you can see from the red volume, I couldn't resist ordering Books 1-2 of Augustine's Confessions in Latin.

Last but not least, my new Garmin watch came today.

As if Garmin didn't have a good enough reason already to get their website up and running again!

2:24 PM Since I'm trapped indoors by the heat (again), I thought I would revamp a lecture I've done on that wonderful section of Romans 12 where Paul describes for us what agapē love looks like. There are 12 qualities:

  • Sincerity.

  • Discernment.

  • Mutual affection.

  • Honor (we talked about this one earlier today.)

  • Enthusiasm.

  • Patience.

  • Generosity.

  • Hospitality.

  • Good will/kindness.

  • Sympathy.

  • Harmony.

  • Humility.

It's the last one that stood out to me today for some reason. Paul writes, "Don't be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position." Then he adds, as if to drive his point home: "Don't be conceited." The Living Bible (as opposed to The Dead Bible) nails it here:

Don't try to act big. Don't try to get into the good graces of important people, but enjoy the company of ordinary folks. And don't think you know it all!

In short, what Paul is saying is that to be a Christ follower, you don't have to come across as "perfect." Just be a normal human being with all of your flaws and imperfections. I once had a prof in seminary tell me, "Dave, don't take yourself too seriously. No one else does." He was right. Folks, there is no "perfect" out there. Trying to come off as better than others is self-defeating. It's isolating. It's annoying. And it takes too much work to be worth it. If you are so smart and pretty and popular and athletic, then good luck to you trying to preserve that image. Speaking personally, today could not have been a more imperfect day. I wouldn't even know how to cope with "perfect." When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time hating myself for being "less than perfect" than the people around me. I am such a big klutz I could fall going UP the stairs. I kid you not. I have recently come to accept some of my imperfections. I'm "perfectly" good with them. Perfect is just so boring and fake. The perfect person just really doesn't even exist and if they think they are they are only fooling themselves. I'm with Paul here. Let's drop the air of superiority. I have no desire to be above other people. I just want to be happy inside my own skin and loving and real with others. In fact, I love not being perfect!

Now, if you will excuse me, FedEx just arrived.

1:20 PM I've linked to this performance before but I've been listening to it nonstop and just couldn't resist sharing it with you again. Hope you don't mind.

I have always had an obsession with high church choral music. Choirs like this one are the reason for my deep love of choir music. When the choir sings I almost begin to cry because I am so happy and stunned and somehow sad at the same time that so few churches and so few Christ followers have the opportunity to hear such beautiful music these days. I don't mean to be judgy, but folks, there really is music other than praise and worship songs. This piece is often sung so fast that you can't savor all of the consonants and vowels. But this choir is absolutely impeccable. They truly sing as one unit and it's flawless. Morten Lauridsen would be quite proud of their performance! 

Clearly this is music that comes from God and that captures the concept of "harmony" so perfectly with the colors of their voices. If you're like me, you will be immobilized listening to this piece.

10:15 AM I've missed the running community. I've also missed competing. I've noticed that people are more prone to believe they can do something if they see other people doing it first. The impossible suddenly seems possible. I think that's why so many runners enjoy pinning on a race bib.

From the depth of my ineptitude, I find inspiration in watching other people achieving their goals. During my 4 mile run this morning I actually felt like a runner. There are times when testing my own limits means everything to me. This is especially true during a racing event. I can still feel the pleasure that came from giving a total effort at last Saturday's 3.5 mile race. These are the days when I focus on just completing the race. As Einstein once said, time is relative. I'm rebuilding my future one minute at a time. Am I still competitive? Are there cows in Texas? But each race has to be run one step at a time. It all depends on how you are feeling that day. But this I know: Healthy competition is always going to be a part of my life.

Did you know that Christ followers are to compete with each other as well? Paul writes in Rom. 12:10 that we are to "Outdo one another in showing honor." Note the element of competition. We are competing, as it were, with each other to show honor and respect to one another. Let me ask you a question: Do other people in the body of Christ with whom you come in contact feel deeply honored because of you? None of us can be satisfied that we are honoring one another enough. Take time today to ask God to show you people in your life to have the gold in them called out through you. It may be a spouse, a child, a co-worker, or a sibling. Paul lays down a challenge for us to make it our constant ambition to excel over others in showing honor.

I loves races because they provide me with finish lines and with opportunities for personal victories on a regular basis. Like every other runner out there, I am straining against my many limitations. I am pushing to the edge of my abilities. The reward for winning isn't a trophy but the pleasure and pure satisfaction of accomplishing a goal. Some day I hope I can learn how to be as competitive in showing honor to my fellow believers as I am on race day. 

Tuesday, July 28

2:38 PM It sounds unbelievable, but the real feel right now is 107 in certain parts of Virginia. Believe me, I'd be outdoors were it not for the heat. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't enjoy sitting in an air-conditioned house getting some reading and writing done. But nothing brings me more joy than being out in God's beautiful creation. That's all of us, right? RIGHT? I'm spicing up my day by finding a new recipe for tonight's Chinese stir fry. I know y'all are holding your breath to know what it is. Sorry, I'm too worn out from the heat to tell you.

What are you doing to cope with the heat wave and preserve your sense of humor?

2:26 PM Famous NT and Greek scholar J. Gresham Machen was born this day in 1881.

I have yet to find anybody who could pronounce both his name ("Gresham") and the "Ayn" in Ayn Rand correctly. Care to try some more?

  • Worcester, MA.

  • Wilkes-Barre, PA.

  • Schenectady, NY.

  • Boerne, TX.

  • Likelike Hwy., HI.

  • Willamette Valley, OR.

  • Ouachita, AK.

  • Natchitoches, LA.

9:52 AM I was on the bike for two hours this morning, thankfully before it got too hot.

One of the benefits of cycling is that it gives you plenty of time to think. In fact, once I get into the steady rhythm of cycling, I find that I do some of my best thinking while alone on my bike. Well, maybe I should call it daydreaming. Thinking is deliberate, but daydreaming is more of a random activity. Today my mind wandered to a topic that I personally spend a lot of time thinking about, and that is the art and craft of teaching. I don't think it's uncommon for professional teachers like me to think a lot about their vocation. I have some pretty wonderful colleagues who set a great example for me of what good teaching looks like. I have the utmost respect for all of them, but essentially I feel like I just have to look after my own backyard as they say. I live for the classroom each year. Teaching is such a challenging profession you gotta take it one semester at a time and absolutely devote and obsess everything you have towards it. I'm committed to giving 100 percent of my energy to doing well and to fulfilling my potential. When I started teaching in the 1970s, my motivation was to be the best teacher I could be, and that's still my motivation today. I made a commitment not to be one of those people who has regrets at the end of their career, so I think that's reflected in the way I prepare for each school year and each semester. I think I leave no stone unturned and I do everything I can possibly do to prepare myself mentally and spiritually for the task at hand. The motivation is purely personal. Obviously it's great to hold a chair in my field and it's great to be a published author, but I don't teach for those reasons. I don't teach to get name recognition. It's personal. I teach for myself and for my God, and my motivation comes from within. It's not about winning or losing. It's about maximizing your potential. I want to be like Katherine Beiers, the 85-year old who completed the Boston Marathon in 7 hours and 50 minutes despite the horrific conditions.

She was the oldest of 29,978 athletes who ran that day. Just as much grit as any of the heroes of faith found in Hebrews 11 to be sure. Bottom line: Know thyself. Know who you are and what God created you to be and to do. Then give it everything you have. It may get tough -- it WILL get tough -- but that's no excuse for not living your dream.

Monday, July 27

11:11 AM A word of advice if I may: Stop watching the news, pet your dog, and go for a walk.

9:24 AM Feeling good, feeling good, ladies and gentlemen, after a 3.5 mile run at the high school this morning.

Yes, it's time to hit the reset button and get back into shape. And to think that only 2 months ago I couldn't run or train. Have you noticed? Everything in your life is changing. Everything is either a new path you planned for yourself or a surprise. Nowadays life has this twisty-turny feeling about it. Life with Jesus is always an adventure, isn't it? He keeps moving us from where we are to where he knows we ought to be. But with each surprise comes great hope -- hope that, though we are never arriving, we are always becoming. I can't tell you how many times I got wrong about what I had planned for my life. Thank God. I would have never seen the things I've seen or experienced the things I've experienced or ended up in the places I've ended up in. Right now it's time to start planning for the future post-Covid and working toward my next goals. One lesson I've learned from past training blocks is that this whole running thing is something to be enjoyed -- it's time to have fun! THIS is the moment, friends! Time to hold each other accountable for our goals. Time to create fresh ideas, fresh goals, and fresh dreams for our lives. Time to look back and reflect and time to look forward and dream. Be not afraid to fail, ladies and gentlemen. Share your goals with others so they can encourage you and motivate you and push you to strive to achieve them. I have many goals for the next 12 months. Here are some of them:

1. I want to teach my heart out this school year at the seminary, teach like I've never taught before.

2. I want to get strong enough to run my 17th marathon.

3. I want to revise my beginning grammar.

4. I want to start another Greek class in a local church (maybe in Hawai'i again).

5.  I want to slow down enough to see all the good things that are unfolding all around me, especially the tiny, beautiful surprises God has for me even in the midst of the utter wreckage and ugliness of our society.

6. I want to continue to explore what happens when evangelicals place the kingdom of God over political loyalties and how community unfolds in all kinds of different ways (this is all part of my forthcoming book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk).

7. I want to continue to take personal retreats at the Prayer Center in North Carolina.

8. I want to continue to produce a blog that affects people emotionally, a place that when they read it they feel like they have met a friend.

These goals should keep me highly motivated to pursue a daily walk with God as never before. Life doesn't stand still, folks, regardless of the coronavirus. Many many "files" lost that will never be recovered, but life moves on, just like in running. We march on, we work hard, we appreciate the beauty all around us, we celebrate memories, we explore new options, we write naked, bold things on our blogs, we draw people in with our honesty, we watch some friendships deepen and others die, we say "Get lost" to Christian superstardomism, we choose to honor and support the neglected and suffering in our society, we live purposefully, we fight against group think, we live in a way that shows how much we appreciate God's good gifts, we dance when all we see is doom, we swim upstream, and we love the life he has given us -- the daily gift of just breathing in and out. The curveballs of life are real. We must learn to roll with them. If you haven't failed, you haven't tried!

Sunday, July 26

6:56 PM Guess what 79-year old exercises regularly, even during Covid?

Why, he once ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 3:37. (No, I won't tell you my MCM time. But it was a lot slower than Fauci's, I assure you.) If a man who works 17-hour days can find time to hit the pavement, hmm, ya think we could too? Just don't overdo it. Your immune system is already under enough stress because of a virus that's affecting every single aspect of our lives. Keep it slow and remember: Exercise is medicine.

The point is: Every active minute counts. Even when throwing a baseball (right, Dr. Fauci?)

6:40 PM I hate Power Points. That is, when I'm not loving them. Come on, people. Most presentations are just as boring with or without visual aids. It is YOU that makes the difference, not the tools you use. In short, Power Point might not be the best tool for the job. Still, I use them. Lots of them. Hundreds of them. Below is a sampling of my own PPs I'll be using in my classes this fall. So let's play a little game, shall we? See if you can answer my questions below. If you'd care to share with me the results of your careful deliberations on the matter (or else your guess work), feel free to send me an email.

1) Why is the last word in red?

2) What's my main point here?

3) What creed is this?

4) What is this triangle called?

5) What's the last word in line 1 in this letter from a son to his father, and what does it illustrate?

6) Which group was most receptive to the gospel, and why?

Don't have TOO much fun!

4:45 PM "Garmigeddon" they're calling it. That's right, the Garmin website is still down, a suspected ransom-ware attack. When their system fails, so does ours. The question is, Will they pay? After all, 33 percent of companies don't get their files back when they do. The saga shows no sign of abating.

Here's Garmin when the whole world begins uploading their running data again. 

12:36 PM One of my grandsons turns 3 this weekend. Happy Bornday, Chesley!

Our Father, we pray for our kids and grandkids. We pray you will give us a sense of divine duty as we spend time with these young lives. May we realize and recall continually that you are going to use them in ways we cannot know or even imagine. May you use our training to shape them for the plans you have for them. We place all of our children and grandchildren before you right now and ask that you be with them for the rest of their days. We pray that they may come to know and experience your love in a very personal way. Thank you in advance, Father, for the joy and privilege of mentoring them, and loving them. We pray that their joy will not come from their circumstances but rather from you living within them. These things we ask and pray in the name of Christ, and for his sake. Amen.

10:30 AM I'm still in Rom. 12:1-2, folks, and I am still captivated by those words "by the mercies of God." I'm sure you've heard of Count Nikolas von Zinzendorf. He was born in 1700 into the Austrian nobility. After he had become a committed Christian he devoted his life to worldwide evangelization. When he was 19 years of age he had a spiritual crisis. He was in the city of Düsseldorf when he happened upon the famous art gallery there. He was arrested by a masterly painting of Jesus Christ by Dominico Fete, the famous Italian artist. The picture was titled "Ecce Homo." It was a picture of Christ as Pontius Pilate presented him to the people and said to them, "Behold the man!" -- the "man" being clothed in a mock imperial robe, his wrists tied by cords, a crown of thorns on his head. The eyes of Jesus Christ, Zinzendorf later said, seemed to penetrate his heart. Zinzendorf stood there before the picture utterly transfixed. The words of Christ, written in Latin beneath the painting, seemed to be spoken to him alone: "This I have suffered for you. Now what have you done for me?"

There and then the young 19-year old count committed himself to Christ and asked for the privilege of sharing in Christ's sufferings and of serving him for the rest of his life.

When was the last time you considered that question of Jesus? I can't help but think of how my marriage vows and my commitment to Christ were similar. When I made the decision to follow Jesus Christ as a youth I didn't know what lay ahead. But I vowed to love and serve him with all of my heart. The difference, of course, is that with Christ there's no "till death do us part." Our bond with him lasts forever. And one day we will meet the Bridegroom face to face.

We just can't ignore this Jesus. If we really love him with everything we are and with everything we have, there's really no room for competing loves. If he is truly Lord, then there's no one with whom he will share his throne. A tough decision? Yes. But it's a decision he demands we make. 

9:10 AM Although most big races have been cancelled, a few of the smaller running events are coming back, especially those that have a smaller field of participants. I ran in one of those last night. The venue was a small community college in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, VA. The race was an easy 3.5 miles and started (thankfully) at 7:15 pm. Strict Covid measures were in place (staggered start, facial coverings required, social distancing enforced).

It's easy to social distance when the event has only 100 runners.

I started at the very back of the pack and remained there for the entire race. Seems that every time I put on my running shoes I am different in some way than I was before. This is especially true when I put on a race bib. I am living out a dream, folks. From a 5K to a marathon, I am living in a world that God has created out of brokenness and heartache. For me the consuming passion as a child was becoming an overcomer. That dream is alive and well in me today. I may have gotten off to a late start, but I ain't gonna give up the dream now.

Saturday, July 25

1:26 PM Have you heard about "Team Hoyt"? I'm talking about Rick Hoyt and his dad Dick. They've raced together. A lot. 72 marathons. 255 triathlons, 6 of those at Iron Man distance. 218 10K runs. Since 1975 they've crossed nearly 1,000 finish lines together. They even crossed the United States of America. Team Hoyt loves to race, but only half of Team Hoyt can run. The dad can. But Rick's leg don't work, nor does his speech. At birth, his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and stole oxygen from his body. The doctors gave him no hope. But his parents, Dick and Judy, disagreed. They knew their son was limited but they also knew he was bright. He couldn't bathe or dress or feed himself but he could think. So they enrolled him in school. In fact, he graduated from both high school and college.

At the age of 15, Rick asked his dad if they could enter a 5 mile benefit race. Now, Dick was not a runner. But he was a father. So he loaded his son in a 3-wheeled chair and off they went. Their partnership hasn't stopped since.

Like us and our Heavenly Father, Rick relies on his dad to do everything for him -- to lift him, to push him, to tow him, to peddle him. But Rick still crosses the finish line. You see, he depends entirely on his dad -- the love of his dad, the strength of his dad, the perseverance of his dad. God wants to do the same for us.

Be comforted, struggling Christian. Between you and your Father, you are perfectly cared for. You are not alone in your race. Can you hear the Spirit speaking to you? Come to your Dad. Come to his strength and love. Come to his rest and liberation. Come to that place where his power is perfected in your weakness. God knows how often I'd had to do this. If anyone needs the Lord, it's me. I will never forget the day Becky died. To this day it's tattooed on my brain. I like to think of these experiences as pearls. Pearls are not made by accident. They're made when a grain of sand imbeds itself in the soft inner folds of an oyster, which then soothes the irritant with a bodily fluid that eventually forms a smooth, hard surface. Being a Christian doesn't guarantee you freedom from hardships. For some of us, it seems to ensure it. But in the midst of these difficulties, the Father is there. Know something, friend? It's when I dwell on my problems, my troubles seem to grow. But when I dwell on my Dad, my troubles seem to go. How about you? Somehow, in the midst of all the heartache and hurt, he gives us the ability to cope.

Have you found that to be so? If you have, thank God for it. Our heavenly Father will never let us down.

Kleenex required.

11:38 AM Hello everyone again, and welcome back to the blog. Wherever you are, whatever you're facing, may God give you strength this day. May he lift you up, especially those of you who feel like your heart is running on empty. May I give you some hope? My reading this morning was in Romans chapter 12, a passage that seems to speak to me like no other these days.

It is wonderful to see how Paul presses the great doctrine of salvation into the service of practical, everyday Christian living. He always seems to mix doctrine with duty, creed with conduct, exposition with exhortation, and justification with sanctification. I especially want you to notice the play on words in verse 3. The fourfold repetition of the Greek root phron ("think") is too obvious to be accidental. I've circled it in green below.

A literal rendering of this verse might read like this:

Don't think above what is proper to think about yourself, but think so as to think soberly

I believe Paul is saying is that, if we are to arrive at a just estimate of ourselves, we must always remember that everything we have is a gift from God. His gifts are always summons to humility. So let us not be proud of our talents. Instead, my friend, let's try to employ our gifts this day humbly, conscious of our many shortcomings. Read the Bible, and you will see that it's filled with stories of men and women with real weaknesses. Even those who were most used by God fell far short of his holy expectations. "Be humble," writes Paul to the Philippians, "thinking of others as more important than yourselves," adding, "You must have the same humble attitude that Christ Jesus had" (Phil. 2:3,5). The secret of the early church is simply that it had the humble mind of Christ. Are we so in love with our plans that we are unwilling to bow to his? Are we prepared to throw our project into File 13 if he decrees otherwise? Would we accept revival if it broke out in some other denomination than our own? Would we say "Amen" when another Greek grammar is published that will compete directly with your own? (Yes, I would!) Would you be happy if God started a great awakening in some country other than "Christian America"? (He already has.) Dear friend, you are not bound by your weaknesses and mistakes. They don't dictate your future. It's not your job to make yourself worthy of serving God; that's Jesus' work. In fact, he excels in that job. He is a powerful healer, but you can't get out of your destructive cycle when you're still chained to pride. Cut it loose, and you will be free. You'll have a fresh slate to fill you with joy, love, laughter, and hope. Your testimony will be, "The Mighty has done great things for me!" (Luke 1:49). Come to the Lord in humility and he will leave you healed and healthy.

After my Bible study this morning I drove over to South Hill to get in a nice country ride on the other end of my county of Mecklenburg. My route took me through the hamlet of Brodnax, around the Mecklenburg County Airport, and then through another small town called La Crosse. I love living in Flyover Country: fields that never end ... trees instead of buildings ... hearing birds instead of people ... smelling fleshly cut hay instead of car fumes. Of course, living in Podunk has its downsides, but I've grown to love the countryside and it's something I would definitely miss if I lived in Raleigh or Wake Forest. Here I am about to bike through La Crosse. Don't blink! 

Folks, I've lived in both city and country. I like to think that I understand both sides. At the end of the day, I think it's all about putting in time and effort to fit into the community where God has placed you. I have found that once you invest in a place emotionally, it will start giving back to you no matter where you live. I must emphasize, however, that if you do decide to live in the country, be prepared to share your land -- and sometimes the road -- with all of the local critters. Why, just this morning the neighborhood swallows had the audacity to dive-bomb me. I suppose they think the front porch belongs to them because they have a nest in the rafters. Wrong. You guys need to buzz off or I will call Animal Control. Tell you what. I'll make you a deal: You respect my space, and I'll respect yours. 

Compromise: Such is country living at its best!

Friday, July 24

1:06 PM In his autobiography, Bruce Metzger recounts the story of how he began his career as a Greek teacher. While traveling on a local commuter train, Metzger happened to sit next to the then-president of Princeton University, Dr. John MacKay. Mackay asked Metzger if he'd be willing to fill an opening at the university  while he was working on his doctorate. "Of course I gladly accepted the invitation," wrote Metzger. "In the autumn of 1938, therefore, I began the first of my forty-six years of teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary." Metzger was 24 years of age.

In the fall of 1976, 38 years later, the head of Biola's Greek Department, Dr. Harry Sturz, asked me to teach 11 units of Greek at the university. I too was 24 at the time. The interesting thing is that neither of us sought the opportunity to teach. It was simply God directing our paths.

Friend, the important thing in life is to keep moving no matter what and to be open to whatever the Lord has in store for you. He already knows what schools you will attend and who you will marry and how many children you will have and the books you will write and the year you will retire. How foolish of us to attempt anything without him! Begin any new undertaking with God. Bring your future under the careful scrutiny of his all-seeing eye. We may not know what is ahead but we know who is ahead. We may become temporarily confused and may have to wait for the fog to clear, but we are in the hands of a Harbor Pilot who already knows the destination. Our supreme business is to be faithful to whatever he calls us to!

10:12 AM Good Friday morning, my friends, wherever you are and however you are. May God lift your spirit and strengthen you and bless you as you run the race he has set before you this day. May you turn to him and follow him and find strength in his word, like the verse I read in my Bible time this morning:

I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.

We're facing so many fears and uncertainties these days that we need the certainty of Jesus as perhaps never before. May something you read on my blog today bring encouragement to your soul and call you back to Jesus Christ. There is none other like him. He's the one and only Son of God, and he loves you so much that he invites you and he invites me to come to him and find rest for our souls. This life is so difficult and so brief. What matters is the decision we make every day that has to do with Jesus Christ. Dismiss him or believe him? Ignore him or spend time with him daily in his word? Let's respond positively to his invitation, shall we?

Speaking of strength, I needed to lean on Jesus yesterday and today as I continued my marathon training block. Yesterday he blessed me with a 13 mile bike, and today he allowed me to complete a 7 mile run. Was it easy? Not on your life. Sure, the skies this morning were overcast, and there was a light breeze blowing, but the humidity was off the charts. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but too much moisture in the air can actually interfere with your body's natural cooling mechanisms and leave you dehydrated. Eventually the loss of water, salt, and minerals can leave you overheated and struggling to maintain your normal bodily functions. If you're thinking about going outdoors for exercise, here are a few tips I try to keep in mind before leaving the house for a run or a bike:

1) Adjust your pace to the hotter weather. Dial it back a bit. Nobody can perform at their very best in hot weather.

2) Be sure to take in electrolytes because of all the salt you're losing.

3) Don't go downing gallons and gallons of water before and during your run. Just drink to need. When you're thirsty, have some water or Gatorade.

4) Wear a hat to keep the sun out of your face.

5) Try to find a shady place to run or cycle if you can. That's gonna feel a whole lot better than running in the sun since asphalt reflects the heat quite a lot.

6) Dress right. This means wearing technical clothing that wicks off the moisture as you run. In addition, size up a little if you can. If it's a little bit baggy you'll stay a little bit cooler.

7) Finally, head out as early in the morning as you can. It's usually the coolest part of the day. But remember: Even if the thermometer reads 88, if the relative humidity is 75 percent, it will feel like a sizzling 103 degrees, and your body will start to work overtime to cool you down.

This was the LOW (!) temperature in one Middle Eastern country I visited a few years ago.

I absolutely want to enjoy every minute of this season of my life. Which is one reason I love to race so much. Those who have never stood at the starting line and faced the uncertainty of the next 30 minutes or 6 hours have never really lived in my humble opinion. Even at my age, it's still worth chasing down those moments of joy you know are still out there.

Start whenever you can. Just keep going!

Thursday, July 23

6:42 PM Lookie here. We're finally getting some rain.

Drought conditions are only worsening here in southern Virginia. It's currently classified as a "short term drought," meaning that the main impacts are to the surface soil and vegetation. That's a pretty dig deal, however, when your main crop is hay. The combination of heat and minimal rainfall is a concern to many of my neighbors. High evapotranspiration depletes the topsoil moisture in no time. The result? Stressed crops. No sign of a major pattern shift in the immediate forecast. But, as we used to say in Ethiopia, "Exhiabiher awocal" -- God knows!

5:58 PM This can't be happening. The Garmin website is down.

How are we supposed to brag about our bike/run/swim??? What's the point in exercising if you can't get kudos? I don't even know how many hours of sleep I got last night. How in the world am I supposed to know whether I'm tired or not? 

12:25 PM I snapped this pic while I was driving to La Crosse, VA, to do a bike this morning.

I'm crossing the bridge over Kerr Lake -- the largest reservoir in the state of Virginia in terms of surface area. In the summer months, boaters and swimmers abound. It's also a fisherman's paradise. I live only 8 minutes away. You'd think that growing up in Hawai'i I'd be into water sports here in a big way but I'm not. I'm thinking that may change. I'm not interested in fishing, but I have toyed with the idea of buying a jet ski. It's a sport I really enjoy. 

Wednesday, July 22

7:24 PM How to give your Yoplait blueberry yogurt some extra pizzazz.

Step 1: Walk out to the blueberry bushes.

Step 2: Pick blueberries.

Step 3: Et voilà!

Scrumptious!

6:30 PM In exactly one month I'll begin my 44th year of teaching. Hardly seems possible. It's important to remember that I had no plans of becoming a Greek teacher when I entered college. I was absolutely certain that God wanted me to become a fulltime musician. I was a music major at the University of Hawai'i and enjoying every minute of it. I took piano lessons, continued to take trumpet lessons, and sang in the university choir. But when I transferred to Biola University as a Biblical Studies major, I knew God had other plans for my life. I've enjoyed being a part of the scholarly guild for all these years. But my passion was, and is, people. It's you, the reader. It's the person sitting on the sofa wondering if the Bible is relevant to their life. My passion is to share the extraordinary transformation of mind and spirit that happens when you start to follow Jesus with your whole heart and mind. Whether through my writing, speaking, or teaching, my goal has been to show people that they are, each and every one of them, capable of much more than they think are and that they can study the Bible on their own. And so this continues now into its 44th year of Greek instruction. I want to remind you of the words that have changed thousands of lives and that ring as true today as when they were first written 2,000 years ago:

As for you, the anointing you have received from him remains in you, and you don't need anyone to teach you (1 John 2:27).

At one time, running was only for the elite athletes. Today, everyone is welcome, even slowpokes like me. It doesn't matter where you come from. It doesn't matter how "uneducated" you may be. It doesn't matter how you feel you rank among the ranks of mortals. Likewise with becoming a student of the Bible. You can become a lover of the word. Why, you can even learn to read the New Testament part of it in Greek. I've seen it happen. I've seen mortals of every background "take up and read." You can be one of them. I invite you to experience the joy that many of us find by reading our New Testament in the original language. There are many of us teachers who are eager to help you get started.

You can never be more than you can imagine you to be.

3:56 PM It's a good day when your interview about the Gospels goes live on YouTube. Even when you sound like a broken record!

 

10:08 AM Good morning, readers! Greetings from my home to yours, and from my heart to yours. During these difficult days, I hope you're finding strength in the Bible, as I am. How great it would be if we could sit here together on my front porch sharing a glass of tea and just chatting about all that God is doing in our lives. Well, I can't do that with you, but I can send you my love, and I can remind you of this beautiful Scripture: "Let's not get drunk with wine, in which is excess, but instead let's allow ourselves to be gently controlled by the Spirit.'' Never has mankind more needed a stimulant to keep it going. And -- thank God! -- he has provided a stimulant for his people, a Person who prepares us for the daily grind and also fires us up with unusual strength for the special task. One day he will quicken our mortal bodies, but even before then he will energize the bodies we have now for all that God wants us to do. He is the blessed Holy Spirit, the one called alongside to help us bear all that God allows in our lives. Yes, troubles will come our way, but along with them will come his sufficient grace. I hope you are experiencing that grace afresh and anew this day, my friend. How we need the Lord's wisdom and direction these days!

This morning I was able to get in a delightful 6 mile training run at our local high school.  

I say "delightful" because a cool breeze was blowing the entire time. Now if that isn't a blessing of the Lord!

I'm back home now enjoying a hearty breakfast that includes the official meat of the Hawaiian Islands.

I'm referring to SPAM, of course. What would life be like without it, right?

I am currently training for my next race. So here's a question every runner asks him or herself before a race. It's an extremely important question. It goes like this:

Am I running today, or am I racing?

That's right -- "running" versus "racing." The difference is like night and day. If I'm running in the event, it doesn't matter what my finish time is. I simply want to complete the race and enjoy the event. But if I'm racing, my goal is not simply to finish the race but to pursue a goal such as a personal best or placing in the top three in my age group. The decision you make prior to the event will to a very large degree determine the outcome of the event. Day by day, moment by moment, we are constantly making a choice between running and racing. Perhaps I could give you an illustration from my life as a teacher, since it's the only vocation I've ever really known. When you're just starting out in the classroom, you tend to be very goal oriented. There are courses you want to prep for (after all, you do want students to take your classes, right?), there are books and journal articles you want to write, there are annual meetings you want to attend, and so forth. You are goal driven. You're ready to race, not simply to run. There are tunnels to dig through and mountains to climb and big hairy audacious goals to achieve. You have morphed into a gladiator. At some point, however, things change. You will find that you are content merely to run the race. You have found that you have already accomplished most of your goals as a teacher, writer, and scholar. You are content. In fact, your main goal now is to train up the next generation of teachers and help them pursue their goals. It's not that you've rusted out -- God forbid! It's just that your pace has slowed down a bit. You're no less a runner than the elites who compete for first place. It's just that you begin to spend more time accepting what you've become by God's grace. You have learned the lesson of "living in the moment" as a runner. You have learned that each race is unique and that each step must be taken one at a time and at its own pace.

Running is a great teacher. It teaches us to keep moving forward no what the obstacles ahead of us are. It teaches us to truly enjoy each moment in life and to concentrate on living in this chapter of our lives. It teaches us that the only "today" we have is, well, today; the moments we don't enjoy today are lost to us forever. For us seasoned citizens, we have gotten older, and maybe wiser. We have gotten better at seeing the difference between running and competing. All of these lessons -- and more -- I've learned in spite of myself. It was only through the example of more experienced runners who taught me by their example that I came to embrace the joy of running for the sake of running.

As you think about the privileges you enjoy and the responsibilities you face today, have you asked the question: "Am I running, or am I racing?" Let's not try to conquer something in our lives that requires accepting, or accept something that requires conquering. When you run to compete, it's you against the world. When you run simply to run, you are part of a community of runners and share in the joy of victory, whether it's yours or someone else's.

Blessings on you as you keep on running your race,

Dave

Tuesday, July 21

7:40 PM Howdy virtual friends! So much is happening it's hard to know where to start. Can you believe we're more than half way through 2020? What a crazy year it's been, and it promises to get even crazier the closer we get to election day. I'm reminded of what Paul said about not dabbling in a thousand things. Instead, he said, "This one thing I do." That's how I want to live my life during these days of coronavirus. All of Paul was heading in the same direction. I so desire to do the same. I desire to stay focused on the ministry God's given me for 44 years, that of helping others to better understand and obey God's word. The final invitation of the Bible is, "Let the one who is thirsty come." Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God, for the living God, for they shall be filled. Beware, my friends, for there are broken cisterns aplenty that promise relief from thirst but can't deliver. The only one who can satisfy our thirst is the one who called himself the Living Water. I spent the day on campus today reflecting on him and how to best present him in my classes this fall. How rewarding! I also had the privilege of being interviewed by Ryan Hiebert of the Meet Jesus YouTube channel. We discussed my book Why Four Gospels? I believe Ryan is profoundly right in thinking this is a vitally important topic today. We who pledge our lives to follow Jesus must come to know who he is, and there is no place other than the Gospels that can give us this portrait of the Savior. We're called to mimic his selfless love for others. We're not called to pretend we know the answers to all of the questions surrounding the background and origins of the Gospel writings. That said, it's fun to discuss various hypotheses about that topic, and I had a wonderful time doing just that with Ryan today. I'll post a link to the interview as soon as it's published. After that I had my annual eye exam in Wake Forest and then decided that since I was near Raleigh I would boogie on down to NC State and grab some Ethiopian take home.

Yes, folks, Ethiopian food will be in heaven. Guaranteed. I had hoped to get some cycling done while I was near the Neuse River Greenway but, alas, time failed me. It was a crazy day for me! Tonight I'm going to start on these books again.

Good stuff here! Today my flesh may be fatigued but my mind is soaring. I love authors like Jacobson and Chan who are calling the church back to its beautiful, biblical, core convictions. So much of what they say I can passionately embrace. At the same time, they leave me a bit unsettled, seeing that so few people seem to grasp the inherent meaning of the church. I'm going to pray about what all of this means for my life and teaching. Finally, I have to say I'm impressed with David Kuo's book Tempting Faith, which is a call to build a completely different kind of kingdom than the one that combines faith and politics. Just think: If the American church wasn't divided into so many political factions, maybe we'd be able to get around to doing the one thing we're supposed to be doing, and that is imitating Jesus' sacrificial love to all people, at all times, and in all circumstances. Whatever "Christianity" means, it certainly means that!

Well, it's time to feed the donks their nightly carrot. Bye again!

Monday, July 20

5:32 PM The Marine Corps Marathon was cancelled today for the first time in its history. Only makes sense when you have tens of thousands of runners grouped together. Wasn't going to run it again this year but still .... Thankfully runners can defer to next year's race. If you're a marathoner, this is one event you don't want to miss.

11:05 AM Good Monday morning everyone! Let's talk running in the heat. This morning I was up and at 'em at 5:30, hoping to get in my morning run before the sun got too high in the sky. I put on the coffee, let Sheba out, enjoyed an Activa and a banana, had my morning Bible reading and prayer time, then hopped in the van to head out to the high school track/parking lot for a 5 mile run. As I left the farm the sun was already rising.

When I finished my run the heat was borderline unbearable.

I was just able to knock out my 5 miles.

My heart rate zone was just where I wanted it too.

By the way, here's a quirk I have. Whenever I finish cycling or running, the first thing I do is take off my shoes.

Must be a hangover from my Hawai'i days, but I really can't stand wearing shoes any longer than I absolutely have to. Just give me my Hawaiian slippahs!

I'd love to spend the rest of the day outdoors but today is not going to be one of those days. Instead, it's time to work on fall semester prep and to get caught up on emails. So far it has been a blessed day. I'm reminded of a quote by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame." I'm not sure who EBB is, but she really nailed it with this quote. I think it means that we underestimate what God can and will do in our lives if we only let him. As I was running today, I noticed a woman whose entire right side seemed to be paralyzed. She could barely manage a walk, yet there she was, getting in her workout with a huge smile on her face. I tell you, seeing people dig down to the deepest corners of their souls to knock out a track workout gives me chills. It makes me cry. It makes me want to get out there and give it my all in life. Church, we are an army of ordinary people. Jesus used regular, untrained people to reach the world. Each of us, regardless of how many "handicaps" we have, is meant to take part. 500 years ago the Reformation occurred when the Bible was put into the hands of ordinary people. Imagine what would happen today if ordinary people like you and me were released into "ministry." Not only the church but this nation would transformed. You just have to be willing to see where you are, decide where you want to be, and figure out how you want to get there. Sadly, most of us have no clue of what we are really capable of. The point is that God is doing some pretty incredible, life-changing work today. It's not rocket science. All it takes is faith and a bit of courage on our part.

More to come ....

Sunday, July 19

4:12 PM Man is it hot. And tomorrow will be even hotter. What are some tips for running in hot weather? According to the Team Oregon website:

  • Slow down your pace.

  • Run in the early morning or late evening.

  • Run in the shade if possible.

  • Wear as few clothes as you decently can.

  • Carry a water bottle with you.

  • Weigh yourself after your workout.

  • Drink 2-4 cups of water 30 minutes before running.

  • Beware of losing electrolytes.

  • Avoid excess protein intake as protein produces excess heat.

  • Know the signs of heat illness.

  • Acclimatize to hot conditions if you're running in a race.

My goal this week will be to run in the morning before it gets too hot but, honestly, having a heat wave doesn't help. The humidity is so high you think you're swimming, not running. I'll have to make sure I stay well hydrated. I have never succumbed to heat exhaustion though there's always a first time. These days are going to be a real slog fest for sure. The key is not to overestimate how well you can cope with the heat, even if you are a very experienced runner.

Stay safe everyone!

1:04 PM Today Chuck Swindoll began a series of messages on the heroes of faith from the book of Hebrews. His sermon today covered selections from Hebrews 10-12, finishing with Heb. 12:1-2. I was reminded that we runners are to strip off every weight that slows us down. At the same time, the Christian race isn't a sprint. You can't go full out and expect to make it to the end. That requires "endurance." If you're anything like me, you get into a groove when you run. For me, that's a pretty slow groove. Running at less than 115 bpm has slowed me down. But that's a good thing. I was never meant to run all out, full bore, at 110 percent. That may work in a 5K race, but not in a marathon or an ultra. You have to pace yourself. And when you do, everything changes. Running has become fun again. I don't get tired any more. Yes, it's still hard, but it's a good kind of hard. I can recover quickly after a run. I can slow down and smell the roses. I have very few aches and pains. Injuries seem less likely. (Not saying they won't happen.) Running at a logical, slow pace makes me feel in charge of my life. It is totally tailored to where I am physically and mentally. The words perseverance and endurance appear frequently enough in the New Testament to know that, where living the Christian life is concerned, attitude is essential. "We'd better get on with it," says the author of Hebrews. "Strip down, start running -- and never quit!" He then adds:

No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished the race we're in.

Perseverance -- no matter how slowly you run -- enables you to complete the difficult race we call life. So get on with it, my friend. Just do it. There will be bad times when you don't feel you can take another step. There will be temptations to drop out of the race and take a DNF. But where perseverance exists, you'll have your eyes fixed on Jesus, not on your weaknesses. However, if you are to complete the race, no matter how fast or slow you are, you must work on it with all of your might. You can't be allergic to sweat. After all the training and pre-race prep, you have to hit the track and run like the wind if you want to receive the prize.

Well, I hope this was helpful. I learn so much from the messages of Chuck Swindoll. How about you? What is God teaching you about running your race? I'm not getting much faster, but my endurance is better. Don't let the quest for speed ruin your life. Are you running too hard? Not enough? (Yes, a Goldilocks reference.)

Running my first 32-mile ultramarathon. Remember when I did this?

I had to walk the last few miles but I finished. I'm not fast, but I have learned how to plod.

7:20 AM This morning I'm back in the book of Romans -- Romans 12, verses 1-2 to be exact. By the way, there will be no workouts today. I'm taking the day off to recover. Besides, it's already too hot to be outdoors. But back to Romans. As you can see, I'm armed with my Greek New Testament.

I'm also reading some of my favorite English versions, including the New English Bible, the Williams New Testament, and The Living Bible. These two verses are all about worship, if you ask me. So that's where I want to start today. All true worship, ladies and gentlemen, begins the same way -- with Christ's perfect sacrifice for us. His death alone makes it possible for us to become acceptable worshippers of God. His was the ultimate "pleasant, pleasing, and perfect" sacrifice. The only appropriate response, says Paul, is to offer our worship to God. True worship is the offering of all we have and are in gratitude for Christ's offering of himself for us. We should go to every church gathering thinking not just "What can I get out of it?" but "What can I offer to God?" The more we do that the better we will worship God not only on Sundays but also during the rest of the week. As I like to say, "We don't come to church to worship. We come as worshippers." We do not meet so much to worship God for one hour as much as to encourage and equip each other so that we might worship God better with the entirely of our lives. Our meetings should serve that end. If we grasp this truth, then we will better understated why the New Testament never says that we come together for worship. The New Testament makes clear that we are to worship God with our whole lives. To truly worship God, I need to change the whole direction of my life. The NEB puts it this way: "Adapt yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world, but let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed. Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect." The church is who we are 24/7. It is not a place to go or an event to attend. It is a group of Jesus followers relating to him and each other in everyday life. This kind of worship can't be confined to a building on Sunday morning.

True worship never begins at 10:30 am on Sunday. But it sure can continue then!

Saturday, July 18

7:50 PM Remember how I told you in my book It's Still Greek to Me that Greek grammar should be taught in a manner that is lively, challenging, and even fun? I don't. But I went back and reread the book, wrote a scathing review of it for Amazon, and then remembered that I had not only written that, but actually try to practice it in my Greek 3 class -- which, by the way, begins in just over a month from today. In that class we are going to be using two basic textbooks: It's Still Greek to Me, and Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. People sometimes ask me why I've written so many books on Greek. I'm not sure I know the answer. But it might have something to do with coffee. Sometimes I think I'm like the guy who couldn't find a good cup of coffee and then opened his own coffee shop. At any rate, I hope my students find these books lively, challenging, and even fun. But they are beside the point. Instead, our focus will be on the book of Philippians, using it as a sort of exemplar to help us learn how to do sound and practical Greek exegesis. The theme of Philippians, by the way, isn't joy. That's not to say that joy was not important to Paul. Joy is serious business with Christ. You want joy? Paul says, "Then live for something bigger than yourself. Live for the gospel. Live for others. Love them more than you love yourself. And love them completely and sacrificially -- no strings attached." Without sacrifice, there is no true discipleship. Sacrifice says, "I will relinquish my rights if need be to see you come to know Christ." It's all about the downward path of Jesus. That is the true message of Philippians. And that will be the theme of our class: Partnership in the cause of the gospel, because nothing else is more important.

Philippians is at once a letter, a love story, an autobiography, a poetry anthology (see 2:5-11), an apologia for suffering, and a how-to manual for local churches. It's Paul calling us to step out of the shadows and make Christ known. It tells us exactly what he is like, what he expects of us, and why things aren't the way they ought to be (mostly because of our own selfishness and pride). As we study this letter together, we'll discover that God wants to be the center of our lives, even when we are overwhelmed by the chaos all around us. He knows how fragile we feel. He understands and cares about the most intimate details of our lives. We can come to him with every need we have and expect to be heard. And slowly we begin to notice that Christ is working on us from the inside out to give us new purpose, new values, new direction, new priorities, and a new pattern for life.

So that, in essence, is my Greek 3 class. Can't wait to get started.

2:20 PM Welcome back, folks! I had the best time this morning. Up early, I scarfed down a Danish and two cups of delicious Dunkin' Donuts coffee and drove myself to the trailhead near Charles City Court House for today's cycling adventure. Heard of Jamestown? It served as the colonial capital of Virginia from 1616 to 1699. That was my destination this morning for another marathon training ride. I had to bike a mere 13 miles to reach the Jamestown Visitor Center. As you can see, the day was knock dead gorgeous and the views along the way simply spectacular.

Round trip, I ended up cycling a total of 30 miles today, all at a very low heart rate.

In my previous life as an adult-onset athlete, I would go all out on a day like today, trying to set a new Personal Best for this leg of the Virginia Capital Trail. The problem was that I was exerting myself too much without even realizing it. I am positive this set me up for injury. "Over-training" doesn't always mean you're training too much. More often than not, it means you're training at a pace that's not beneficial to your overall health and fitness. As you can see, I averaged between a very reasonable 11 and 13 miles per hour on my ride today. I stayed mostly in heart rate zone 2, though I did creep up into zone 3 for a couple of miles while climbing hills. I'm no expert on this subject, but for people like me who like to run and bike on all 8 cylinders, staying at an aerobic level is completely tailored to producing incredible results in terms of endurance. Both running and cycling have become fun again, I recover quickly after a workout, and going slower has enabled me to work on my form. I'm already seeing progress. The frustrating part is being passed all the time by other cyclists, but hey, I used to do that too. Right now, however, I'm more more focused on form and relaxation than speed. As a result, I am a happier, less stressed runner/cyclist. I think that speed is overrated. Just because you're able to go faster doesn't mean you should. People need to pay more attention to heart rate. I know I need to. It's nice to able to function the rest of the day after a long bike or run. Monitoring my heart rate has kept me from training too hard and too fast for what my body is capable of doing at this point. Today was just the best pace my body could do for my workout, and I am so fine with that!

Okay, I'll stop, but not before posting a few more pix for your amusement. As always, thank you for visiting.

1) A guy from Brazil took this picture of me with his camera at the beginning of the Virginia Capital Trail in Jamestown. (We stayed at least 12 feet apart.) Do you like the "skinny" new me?

To reach Richmond you have to bike from mile marker 0 to mile marker 52. By God's grace, I've completed that distance twice.

2) The magnificent bridge over the Chickahominy.

3) Nice day for boating!

4) So much history.

5) Here's what the "isthmus" looks like today.

6) Arrived!

Friday, July 17

11:06 AM Nothing much to report here except that I bought a new broom and I've begun a deep clean of the downstairs. Long overdue! I also enjoyed a relaxed run this morning in the great city of South Boston, VA.

Tomorrow I hope to bike the Virginia Capital Trail again, but this time I would like to do a different segment of it. The big news is that my beginning Greek grammar is going to be translated into modern Hebrew and I'm Zooming with the translator in Israel in an hour or so. This is one of the most exciting things to happen in my otherwise unexciting life, as you would know if you could contrast all the exciting things with all the unexciting ones (how many times can I use "exciting" in one sentence?). To celebrate, I am giving away a copy of my beginning grammar in English. The only caveat is that I'd like to see it go to a person who perhaps otherwise couldn't afford to purchase a copy (and, yes, we've all been in that position!). Send your name and address to dblack@sebts.edu before 6:00 pm tomorrow and I'll get the book out in next week's mail. If more than one person requests the book, I'll cast lots to see who gets it. The other ***exciting*** news around here is that we are planning on being back in the classroom this fall, which means my classes are in full preparation mode. Let me tell you, I have missed seeing my students in person. Of course, physical distancing, mask wearing, etc. will be in place, but being able to teach in a real life setting will be so rewarding.

Time to stop procrastinating and do some actual work. Cya!

Thursday, July 16

2:55 PM Another bike today and it was all about building confidence -- so key throughout a marathon training block. Today's adventure began with a drive to Raleigh and to Shelley Lake Park in particular.

I ran around this beautiful lake a couple of years ago when I did the Raleigh Half Marathon.

The race starts and finishes at the North Hills Mall, and most of it is run on the Raleigh Greenway Trail System. Runners loop around Shelley Lake for miles 3 and 4 before crossing Hwy. 70 and heading towards the Crabtree Valley Mall. Today I wanted to revisit Shelley Lake, bike the loop trail that skirts it, and then see if I could find my way to the Crabtree Creek Trail.

This map shows you where I ended up riding. I think you'd agree that I got to see a lot of Raleigh!

The nice thing about cycling is that it strengthens the quadriceps, the very muscles you need for good knee health. In addition, you get a high quality cardiovascular workout without straining your lower joints.

As for the trail itself, it's truly in excellent condition. Some of it was shaded.

But I still had to spend more time out in the hot sun than I wanted to.

Sunshine or shade, however, it was a great ride. Made me smile the whole time. Thank you, Lord, for the inspiration!

P.S. I'm a data type of guy. If it's quantifiable, I want to know.

But the most important thing about these stats is that I did each of these workouts at a low heart rate. The idea is to work out without feeling like you're working out. You're just savoring each moment. You magically enter a different world. Most importantly, your health and fitness are gradually moving forward instead of backward. The highlight of your day becomes the moments you're outdoors enjoying God's beautiful creation. My hope is that you will find something in these daily blog posts that will help you find your own path to health, both physical and spiritual.

Onward and upward!

7:34 AM From one day to the next, the news doesn't change very much. As the world turned again, people awoke to more grim news about their world. I thought about this during my reading in Galatians 6 this morning on my creaky old front porch.

It's the duty of Christians to bear each other's burdens, writes Paul. "We listen," wrote John Stott in the introduction to his book The Contemporary Christian: An Urgent Plea for Double Listening, "to the Word with humble reverence, anxious to understand it, and determined to believe and obey what we have come to understand. We listen to the world with critical alertness, anxious to understand it too, and determined not necessarily to believe and obey it, but to sympathize with it and to seek grace to discover how the gospel relates to it." Our calling, he says, is to be both faithful and relevant. My own practice is, after I have read the Bible, to read the news so as to better understand the modern dilemmas, fears, and frustrations people the world over are facing. Hopefully this "double reading" will help equip me to restate the fundamental truths of Christianity for the contemporary world. People are asking today, "What does Christianity have to offer us?" On days when all we can do is hold on by our teeth, our only lifeline is Jesus Christ. We need to grab on tight and then pray like crazy. 

On a completely unrelated note, I hope to try out a new riding path down in Raleigh today. I don't feel good unless I move, if ya know what I mean. Yes, it's a bit of a drive, but if you love what you do, you will put up with a lot. I see a parallel between exercise and the study of Greek. On the one hand, I've discovered that some people simply do not enjoy exercise. They may start out with good intentions, but eventually they just give up. Likewise with Greek. Let me put it plainly: If you don't like Greek, you'll never stay with it. My feeling is that people who stay with it discover that after the initial pain they're starting to like it. I mean, what is the driving motivation for you to learn Greek -- or to exercise for that matter? I think people should find out what they like. I have students who love Greek from the very first day. They love it so much that they stay with it. That's why I tell my students on the very first day of class, "My purpose is not to disseminate information. You can get that in one fourth the time by reading our textbook. My goal is to hopefully motivate you to fall in love with the language so that this year of study will be nothing less than the foundation of a lifetime of using Greek in your life and ministry." I just can't imagine people missing out on the blessing of being able to read Greek! But everyone reacts to everything differently. We see colors differently. We taste things differently. We smell things differently. And I guess we react to both exercise and the study of Greek differently. At first I didn't really enjoy triathlons. My cycling was too slow. But when I got a custom road bike, it changed my life. It was like I suddenly realized what cycling was all about. The problem with triathlons is that you have to be devoted. I am to a certain degree. I try to train for one every year. But I don't devote the time to it that I devote to running. I just discover that I have this joy and love of distance running. 

Friend, what do you love to do? Do it with all your heart. The amazing thing is that it's often within our power to decide what we love to do.

Wednesday, July 15

5:36 PM Isn't this a beautiful grape orchard?

It's right down the road from me. The local dentist planted it on his farm a couple of years ago. Over the past few decades, Virginia has emerged as one of the leading states in wine production. As of 2019 there were 250 vineyards and wineries in the Commonwealth. The state calls the area where I live the "Southern Virginia Wine Region." I don't think the dentist has named his vineyard yet but I wouldn't be surprised to see a sign go up soon. What piques my curiosity every time I drive by it is to see whether or not I can find any grapes growing on the vines. Thus far I haven't seen any. I once read that there usually isn't a large amount of grapes until the third or fourth year. Farmers just have to be patient. Likewise, we believers are God's vineyard, but as yet we're incomplete projects. Some grow faster than others. And at times we need to be pruned. We're still a work in progress. God is well aware of this. And we can be confident that the God who began a good work in our lives will bring it to a flourishing finish. He is a gentle craftsman. He doesn't just sit there and pound away with a chisel. He works delicately and often slowly. Remember, his work is a process, one that is completed only over a long period of time. So like a good farmer, we too must be patient. God is shaping each of us until every aspect of our lives reflects his artistry. My predicament is that too often I try to change myself. That's going about it the wrong way. But as I allow God to take over the maturation process, that's when true change occurs.

One day I'd like to plant a small vineyard on the farm for grape juice production. I think it would teach me so much about the Christian life (John 15 comes to mind). We are God's special farm project, and each of us is at a different stage of completion. Take a few minutes to think about the ways in which God has been patient toward you. What areas still need work? Well, I'd like to write more but it's time to cook pizza for supper. I'm famished. Ran 4 miles this morning and just got back from a swim.

Have hope, be kind, and smile.

2:32 PM The first mater sandwich of the summer is always the tastiest.

2:18 PM "Status quo, you know, is Latin for 'the mess we're in.'" Ronald Reagan.

11:10 AM The word of the day, folks, is "competition." If I'm really honest with myself, I'd have to say I've got a very competitive spirit. When I line up for a race, I'm doing more than going out for just another jog. I'm there to race. In fact, if challenged by someone in my age group, you may well find me digging deep to summon all of my energy and to put it all on the line, if you know what I mean! Hey -- why finish the Chicago Marathon in 12,435th place when you can finish it in 12,434th place? Those of us in the back of the pack are no less competitive than the elite runners out in front. Competition makes us all better runners. In fact, I think this is true in all areas of life. Let me give you an example. As you know, I've written a ton of books about Greek. This includes a first year grammar, a second year grammar, an introduction to Greek textual criticism, an introduction to Greek linguistics, a textbook on Greek exegesis, and so on and so forth. But I love it whenever an author comes out with another book on any of these topics because I love the friendly "competition" it engenders. When another beginning Greek grammar comes out, I purchase it and read it with an open mind. I will seek to learn from it in any way that I think will improve my teaching. I assure you, having this kind of "competition" will bring a better Dave Black to the classroom in 2020. That's why I'm so opposed to the "second place is the first loser" mentality. You may not win the race, my friend, but that doesn't mean you're not a winner. There's a huge difference between a win and a victory. It's a victory when you rise to meet a challenge. It's a victory when you test your limits. The time on your watch is not a reflection of the kind of runner you are. It's merely the time it took you to go from point A to point B, no more and no less. I'm proud of everyone who crosses that finish line, whether they finish in front of me or behind me. I don't look at other runners as people who are preventing me from winning but rather as people who are going to help me be victorious. At least you put yourself "in the arena." I've seen almost every movie about running out there, but none will ever come close to the impact Spirit of the Marathon has made on me. In addition to featuring the runner who would eventually end up winning the Chicago Marathon that year, it also featured normal everyday people like you and me who will never have a chance to win a race but who will have ample opportunities to be victorious in life. As you set new goals and overcome new fears, you become a new person as well. You find that, almost without realizing it, you're not afraid to learn, to grow, to mature, to change. You learn to look at competition as something that increases your own discipline and dedication. It becomes the tool with which you build the person you want to be. Even if you're overweight, even if you're a klutz, even if you were always the last kid picked in gym class, you can still become a competitive athlete.

Today I challenge you to write down all the reasons you can't exercise, can't become fit, can't possible become a runner, and then throw the list in the trash. You can do it. You only have to want to.

Tuesday, July 14

5:04 PM So very grateful for a good follow-up appointment with the doc today. She gives me two thumbs up and says I am good to go training-wise. When I got home the USPS blessed me with these:

I'll start on them tonight. I am still basking in the undeserved happiness of doing a 5 mile run yesterday. Thank you, Lord! Recovery for me so far has consisted mostly of walks and bike rides, lots of bed rest, and plenty of reading. I think I've turned the corner, though. Anyhoo, I'm feeling 100 percent and am ready to hit the ground running again, literally. I did hear something on the news that disturbed me, though, while I was driving into town. Seems science and scientists are getting a lot of pushback these days. That's very sad. I am not a science teacher, but I do teach critical thinking in all of my classes. I am a huge proponent of the scientific (i.e., linguistic) approach to New Testament Greek exegesis and think anti-intellectualism is a very dangerous mindset to have. Our faith is a reasonable faith. If the spiritual life needs nourishment, so does the intellectual life. Sound exegetical skills are especially important in a day and age when people are increasingly allergic to the hard work of digging into the Bible themselves. John Wesley once wrote, "It is fundamental with us that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false." Folks, God has created us as rational beings. Anti-intellectualism is therefore a serious threat to a balanced Christianity. Let's strive, shall we, for a combination of intellect and emotion. God, the source and goal of all knowledge, will, I believe, shine his light on us more and more if we use all of the resources he's given us to know his mind until we arrive at an outlook informed by Christ himself.

P.S. It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway): Abuse of the intellect in the pursuit of truth is just as dangerous to the Christian life as anti-intellectualism. The Lord is clear about this: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart" (1 Cor. 1:19). Both an overemphasis and an underemphasis on the intellect are to be avoided.

12:44 PM What a beautiful field of corn.

I could watch corn grow all day long. If we didn't grow hay on our farm I would definitely plant our fields in corn. How can it be a farm without maize? I snapped that picture while I was biking the East Coast Greenway this morning.

Got in 20 miles before it got too hot to ride any more.

Here I'm about to pump up my tires before my ride.

They need to be topped off every two days or so. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but just as tires need air on a regular basis, so we believers need a fresh filling of the Spirit from time to time. The Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier who alone can subdue the flesh. Which means that the enjoyment of the Christian life depends on the Holy Spirit. Without His sanctifying work in our lives, our liberty is bound to degenerate into license. If, on the other hand, we walk in the Spirit, we will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh. We will still experience them but we won't indulge them. Instead, people will see in us the fruit of the Spirit. This victory is within reach of every one of us, because every Christian has the Spirit. So when we need a fresh filling, let's not hesitate to ask for one, okay? For me, that's at least once or twice a day.

Tomorrow I hope to get in an early run, then on Thursday the plan is to do a long bike. As in 40 miles maybe. I think you could say I'm hooked. I guess being a cycling junkie is better than being a junkie junkie.

8:06 AM I know I'm crazy, but I love comparing translations with the original, even book titles. Can I give you an example? Gerhard Lohfink once wrote an excellent book called Jesus and Community.

But that's not its original German title. The original has Wie hat Jesus die Gemeinde gewollt? I'd render this perhaps as "How die Jesus want the church [to act]?" Oh my. The English is not even close to the German. Here's another one. Who hasn't heard of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque? The original German title is Im Westen nichts Neues -- Nothing New in the West. Close, but no cigar. One last example if I may (hope you're not becoming too bored but I am going somewhere with this). My review of Heinrich von Siebenthal's grammar will shortly appear in the journal Filologia Neotestamentaria. The English title of his work is Ancient Greek Grammar for the Study of the New Testament. The original German, in English, is simply Greek Grammar of [lit. "to"] the New Testament.

I've been blessed to have had several of my books translated into other languages. I'm not really sure, but I do believe these languages include at least French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Korean. How well did the translators do? I have no earthly idea! I know none of these languages well enough to be able to make that judgment. This is where trust and verification come in. Notice I said trust AND verification. On the one hand, you have to trust that your translator did a good job. On the other hand, it's never wrong to have his or her work checked by others. The more minds involved, the better the final product. The application? When you are reading an English Bible, always ask yourself, "Is this the work of a committee or of an individual?" We need to ask this question because it will affect our confidence level in the version we're reading. This weekend I had a talk with someone about The Message. We both agreed that sometimes it hits it out of the ballpark, and at other times it misses it by a mile. But when you realize that The Message is really a commentary by one person, that will maybe help you to see why so many of its renderings seem a bit eccentric. If you want to pursue this question in greater detail, I'd recommend Henry Neufeld's The Potential Arrogance of Critiquing Bible Translations. Since, admit it or not, we all read Scripture through our own cultural lens, we must learn more about how the process of Bible translation works and the settings in which a particular version arose. More than that, we need wisdom and insight. We need the Holy Spirit. The truth of God is not what you or I think it is or even what the church teaches. It is what the Spirit is saying to the church through the word. Whatever Bible version you end up using, the greatest need will always be for readers to humbly submit to its authority and prayerful seek to receive it and conform their lives to its teachings.

Well, that will do it for now meine Damen und Herren! Gotta get in a bike before it gets too hot. As always, thanks for stopping by. And remember:

Love God.

Serve others.

Walk humbly.

7:20 AM Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Let's see: where to start? How about with my Bible time this morning? Isaiah 42 did the trick, folks, it did the trick.

All about the Servant of the Lord in whom God delights, the one who will reveal justice to the nations of the world, who will be gentle, who will never shout or quarrel in the streets, who will not break the bruised reed (I love that metaphor!) or quench the dimly burning flame, who will encourage the fainthearted, who will see FULL justice given to all who have been wronged, the one who won't be satisfied until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth, not until distant lands have put their trust in him (Isa. 42:1-4). Oh my, wouldn't you want to love and serve a God like that? This world, my friends, is in such a mess. But that's a sign the Lord is at work! It's not a massage we need, folks, it's shock treatment. He's blasting us loose from our earthly moorings into a venture of real faith. Once again, we're having to turn from earth's trash to heaven's treasure. We've needed shock treatment to bring us to a clear-cut yes or no. We're either with him or against him. There is no middle seat in this airplane. An aspirin pill of religion won't help. We don't need a lullaby but a reveille. Our churches are filled with babies that need to grow up. I know, because I'm one of them. I come to Christ but do I come after him? I gladly accept his offer of rest but do I take his yoke upon me? I need to get my eyes off my faith because it's the object of my faith that makes the difference. I must begin "off-looking unto Jesus" (so the lovely Greek of Heb. 12:2). Faith is a means to an end, and that end is himself.

Folks, it's time to shed our skin, rise up like the phoenix from the ashes, and break out of our cocoon like a beautiful new butterfly. May it begin in my heart, may it begin in my heart!

Monday, July 13

11:14 AM "Rebuilding the body for the next road marathon" might be a good title for today's blog post. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, I've decided on my next marathon in 2021, which I will announce at the end of this post. Right now, though, it's time to up my game when it comes to endurance, strength, flexibility, and many other areas of running maintenance.

Overall I am pretty happy with my heart rate today and how I was able to keep myself in zone 2 for most of my run.

It did not help that it was hot and humid this morning even before 9:00 am. Let's just say that the earlier I get out there the better. Thankfully, the local high school has practically no traffic at all.

Its roads and parking lots are the perfect venue for training.

I felt incredibly strong during today's run, very encouraging for the future. I am excited to keep digging and fighting for training runs that fuel my competitive spirit. I've been humbled to say the least by recent months of not being able to train. We live and learn, right? But I keep telling myself, "Now I know better." Again, my general thesis is that the more you run at a slow heart rate, the faster you will be able to run on race day. A marathon in 2021 is definitely on the horizon, and hopefully many shorter distance races as well. We are going to keep praying, training, resting, eating well, and trusting the Lord for the future.

My next marathon, you ask? The Flying Pig in Cincinnati in May, 2021. If God should allow me to run in that event it would be my 4th time doing the Pig, which, in fact, was my very first marathon. My daily training is only getting started, ladies and gentlemen, and frankly, I think my resurrected running career is just getting started too. Onward and upward to the next race -- with thanksgiving to God on my lips!

Sunday, July 12

5:38 PM Interesting book here.

Do you agree with this?

If not, why not?

12:34 PM Jesus. He's calling me to follow him again. I got saved and grew up as part of the Jesus Movement. We wanted to follow Jesus, period. He wasn't a doctrine or a political party or a sermon or a denomination. He was the Center of everything. It struck me as odd this weekend, as I retreated with the Lord, that my faith started out with a childlike love for him that morphed into an intellectual understanding of Jesus that did yet another 180 and led me back to where it all started: being in love with Jesus.

And the best part is this: Everyone can love and serve him. This is one reason I love marathons so much. There's something special about a bunch of rank amateurs competing on the same course as the world's most elite runners. You won't find this in football or baseball or basketball. We amateurs may not be as dedicated or skilled or fast as the professionals, but my, oh my, do we love the sport. Likewise, in Jesus' kingdom, everybody gets to do ministry. Moreover, everyone is a theologian, grappling with questions. Write your books if you want to, but it's the Bible that informs my life. Paul looked at everything that at one time was so important to him and said, "I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him." God isn't impressed with our books. Nor is he threatened by our questions. Maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit is more an Anointing than we think he is. We may not have the answers but he does. On weekends like this one, I'm relearning how to take the Bible seriously, how to let it be everything it was meant to be in my life.

It shows me how to think right, get right, stay right, and do right (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible can be trusted. It's the tool God uses to point us to deeper trust in him. The Bible exists to equip us to know God, to participate fully in eternal life now, and then to be sent out into the world to proclaim the kingdom of God. When I struggle with God's direction in my life, when I lose someone important to me (like Becky), when I am confused or angry or afraid, I return to the simple words of Scripture for encouragement and, if necessary, a course correction. I open my Bible and read and ponder and think and write stuff down, my heart fixed and established on Jesus. I cling more to the Bible than I used to. I'm challenged in ways I never was when I was in seminary or grad school. I may be a teacher of the New Testament by profession, but that's not my identity. I am my Father's son and Jesus' brother, walking wherever he walks and following the scent of his presence. I find God now in the most ordinary rhythms of life. I see the entire world as God's and as redeemable.

I've replaced the word "Christian" with "obedient and joyful follower of Jesus." Every aspect of my daily work -- farming, teaching, blogging -- is his work. I'm ashamed at how I used to think that only my preaching and teaching were spiritual acts. Nowadays I find myself serving and worshipping God when I go out for a jog or when I wash the dishes. The only interest is in being obedient. However, to be obedient to Jesus is to invite him into your life over and over again. When you do this, you have no idea what the outcome will be. The Lord may choose to do something very different with your life. No one can say what obedience will bring. But it certainly will be an adventure!

Stay centered in his love,

Dave

Friday, July 10

2:00 PM The van has 4 new tires.

And I have 4 new running miles in my training log.

Now I'm off to a Friday-Sunday retreat with the Lord. Have a great weekend y'all!  

8:08 AM One of my resolutions this year was to read more. Where do you do your daily reading? This is where I do a lot of my reading -- on the front porch before the sun rises and the heat becomes sweltering.

I have my Greek New Testament (first and foremost!) with me and maybe a handful of commentaries but always my iPhone that allows me to access practically every Bible version in existence. When I start reading I can't stop. I love the Scriptures! And then I always have to go back to a passage I've already studied because I know, I just know, I've missed something important. Ever get that feeling? Allow me to bore you with three examples from Galatians.

1) Overlooked truth #1 is what Paul writes in 2:10:

The only thing they did was to suggest that we must always remember to help the poor, and I, too, was eager for that.

Imagine that. Paul has just described one of the most important church councils in history where justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, was agreed on for both Jew and Gentile, and then we read that the summation of that meeting was -- don't forget to help the poor! Say what? Why, that would be like holding a three day Bible conference at your church with famous Bible teachers and then dismissing the conference so that these same speakers could serve at an inner city food pantry for three days. Somehow I think that scenario is bit unlikely though it shouldn't be. By the way, I noticed that recently I wrote something on this subject. I forgot this essay existed but here it is in case you'd like to peek at it: The Christian and Generosity. The main idea is that helping the poor in our midst should be the regular practice of the church. The question for us is: Are we eager to do this? Do we take pains to help them? Do we engage in this kind of ministry with all the vigor we can muster? The greatest passage of all in this regard is 2 Cor. 8:9!!

2) Overlooked truth #2 is what Paul says about the leaders of the Jerusalem church. In an odd sort of way, he refers to them as "those of repute" and those who were "reputed to be pillars." I'm sure he meant them no disrespect. After all, we're talking about no less persons than James, Peter, and John! Were they great leaders? In every way. But that's not Paul's point. He seems to be saying, "The great leaders of the church in Jerusalem added nothing to what I was preaching. By the way, the fact that they are great leaders made no real difference to me, for all are the same to God." (See Gal. 2:6.) Stott says this about the expressions "those of repute" and "those who are reputed to be pillars":

Probably his expressions were influenced by the fact that the Judaizers were exaggerating the status of the Jerusalem apostles at the expense of his own. As Lightfoot puts it, Paul was 'depreciatory not indeed of the Twelve themselves, but of the extravagant and exclusive claims set up for them by the Judaizers.'

I can go for that, ladies and gentlemen, I can go for that! Perhaps a good example today might be the titles we grant our leaders such as "lead" pastor or "senior" pastor. Some churches, in fact, distinguish between pastors and elders, or between senior pastor and associate pastor, or between staff elders and lay elders. The fact is, all are equally elders. An elder is a pastor is an overseer. Let me add that even if you hold to the "first among equals" idea, I still think you would be hard pressed to make distinctions among your leaders by the use of different titles. Even Alexander Strauch, who holds to a "primus inter pares" (first among equals) concept, is not happy with the title "senior pastor" (go here if you're interested).

3) Overlooked truth #3 is Paul's mention of miracles in 3:5:

I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you as a result of your trying to obey the Jewish laws? No, of course not. It is when you believe in Christ and fully trust him.

Notice how casually Paul mentions the existence of miracles among the Galatian churches. And why not? Craig Keener's two-volume study called Miracles represents the most detailed defense of the credibility of the miracle stories in the Gospels and Acts, but note: he also suggests that many miracle accounts (not all!) throughout history are also credible. Keener took on David Hume and beat him fair and square!

So here are three things I overlooked in my daily reading of Galatians thus far. Have you ever done that? Do you ever have to reread a book or an essay thinking, "Hmm, I may have missed something the first go-around!" Please tell me you have done this!

P.S. Here are two great books. Read them if you haven't already. Reread them if you have.

Off to get new tires on my van! 

Thursday, July 9

5:10 PM I spent the morning on campus going over my newly installed desktop and also being interviewed by Matt Whitman of "The Ten Minute Bible Hour" about my book arguing for the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Not too long ago Matt interviewed me about the synoptic problem.

It's sort of ironic, but a guy as conservative as me seems to always be coming up with off-the-wall views. Let's be honest. The affirmed view is that Paul could not have possibly authored Hebrews. This has, in effect, become a dogma of New Testament scholarship (in my humble opinion). Regrettably, once established, a dogma becomes nearly impossible to dismiss -- even if new and seemingly contradictory evidence is discovered. This, I believe, is precisely what has happened to this issue. The "affirmed view" is now deeply embedded within the public consciousness. And once a consensus has been reached, the story becomes indelibly fixed.

At any rate, folks, I thought Matt and I had a really good time discussing Paul as a possible author of Hebrews, and I hope you will too. Matt tells me the program will air sometime in August. I want to end by saying that this doesn't mean I think I'm right and everyone else is wrong. But neither can I with integrity ignore (1) the strong external evidence in favor of Pauline authorship (see, for example, the placement of Hebrews in our early manuscripts here) and (2) the powerful internal evidence that seems to corroborate the external evidence. So when asked, I feel obliged to help kingdom people wrestle with the available evidence.

I encourage you to look at all the evidence. It really is a big deal!

P.S. My bike today in Wake Forest. Gotta love me some cycling!

Wednesday, July 8

12:38 PM Let me first say that I'm loving this book.

The author is one of my faves. I admit, I have no idea why more people aren't familiar with him. Ditto for Jacque Ellul. This weekend I'm planning on going on another weekend personal retreat to my favorite prayer center in North Carolina and you can be sure I'm taking these authors with me. In this book, the author contrasts the "Royal Vienna String Quartet" type of church with a "Barbershop Foursome" type of church. Both are dedicated to making music, but they exist for different ends and can be evaluated by different criteria. The purpose of a professional string quarter is to produce music of the highest possible quality for the enjoyment of the audience. The purpose of an amateur barbershop quartet is to have the satisfying experience of singing, not for the sake of an audience, but for their own benefit. The contrast is between "Nothing but the best" and "Do it yourself."

I'll stop here because I really want you to read this book for yourself. But I gotta tell you how the author closes his book. He writes:

Why not join a congregation where your presence would make a real difference rather than merely changing a digit or two in already impressive statistics? Why not deliberately put yourself into a situation, the exigencies of which would force you to discover, develop, and exercise gifts you never knew you had and never would have discovered in a large church?

Then he adds:

[C]ould it not be that Christ calls you to the congregation you can best serve rather than the one that best serves you, to the congregation that most needs you rather than the one that best suits your needs?

Be honest. Isn't he making a good point?

12:24 PM The Maffetone heart rate method is very simple. You subtract your age from 180 to find your MAF (maximum aerobic function). To be on the safe side, many will also subtract another 5 or 10 points from that number so that you are doing the great majority of your training runs in a very low heart rate zone. Since I am 68, my MAF is 112 beats per minute, and so my training heart rate should fall anywhere between 102 and 112 bpm. Here's today's 4 mile run at our local high school.

Actually, I ran for 3/4 of a mile and then walked for 1/4 of a mile, and did this 4 times. Today I did my run on the road because the track had too many people on it (which is a good thing, to be sure, but I do NOT like to run in a crowd during a pandemic).

The idea was to run at a low-intensity pace that never spikes your heart rate over your aerobic maximum. So how did I do?

Not too shabby! There is something very pure and simple about doing your training this way. It allows your body to adapt to the increased training hours. Now that I'm fully back into running (very short distances, mind you, and at a very low heart rate) it seems that my physical and mental well being is spot on. I run enough to get that runner's release and yet I also enjoy the balance that biking, swimming, and walking give me. It feels good to be challenging myself in this way.

Folks, what's your exercise philosophy? You may never achieve all of your goals. But that's no reason not to achieve some of them.

12:08 PM Hello virtual friends of the internet! My Bible study today was in Gal. 2:17-21. Here are Stott's four conclusions:

1) Our greatest need is justification, or acceptance with God.

2) Justification is not by works of the law but through faith in Christ.

3) Not to trust in Christ because of self-trust is an insult both to the grace of God and to the cross of Christ, for it declares both to be unnecessary.

4) To trust in Jesus Christ is to begin an altogether new life, so that we are able to say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

I also love how TLB translates verse 21:

I am not one of those who treats Christ's death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die for us.

Paul could not put it more plainly. Love Galatians! 

Tuesday, July 7

1:25 PM Hey folks! This was my view on a gorgeous day in Southside Virginia.

I did an easy 5 mile walk today, at a low heart rate.

To be honest, I wanted to break out into a run. Chances are that, if I did that, I would fall back into the habit of overtraining. I'm glad I talked myself into walking (only) today. The whole idea behind low heart rate training is to build your aerobic base without getting injured. It completely rejects the "no pain, no gain" philosophy of running. Sure, it's not easy to transition from the mindset of always running hard to slowing down pretty significantly or taking a different approach to running altogether. I've decided to run no more than three times a week and to integrate more (not less) walking into my training routine. It is very important to learn how to walk before you run. I think people underestimate the importance of walking. People run the way they walk, and they walk the way they stand, so if your basic posture is wrong when you're just standing still, your running mechanics will be off as well. So why not take the opportunity to practice good posture when you're just now getting back into running? I mean, you could sit at your desk, as I'm doing now, and still be working on your "running."

If you have good technique running slowly, you will be able to run fast eventually without pushing harder. I am convinced of that. In fact, you can exercise all the same muscles going slower during your run. I've kinda figured out that right at about a 14-minute pace is where I need to be in order to rebuild my aerobic base. I say that as someone who used to go all out whenever I ran. If I could have done it over again, I would have appreciated the real value of what easy running can do for your body. A fast finish time is not an objective for every runner. There are many runners out there who care more about becoming a stronger, healthier, and happier athlete. Today I definitely fall into that category. I also believe that a healthy athlete will compete better, without injury, for longer periods. So it's a win-win proposition whenever I get out there and walk, as I did today.

My friend, if you are one of those millions of runners out there who are slow, as in really slow, it's okay. Don't ever try to keep up with other runners. It's not worth it. Running is a balance between accepting and rejecting the limitations of our running -- and of our lives.

7:22 AM A good Tuesday morning to you all, and I hope you're doing well. So much to say about today's passage from Galatians -- 2:11-16 -- but I've got a dentist appointment this morning and then I'm going to try to get outdoors and get in a workout before it gets too hot. The temps are going to be in the high 80s all week here in southern Virginia, but the real feel is, of course, much higher than that. At any rate, I was very impressed with Paul's line of argument here in Gal. 2:11-6, and his courage as well, in confronting Cephas face to face and in public. I can only imagine how tense and dramatic the original scene was there in Syrian Antioch. It's not every day we see two apostles of Christ in open conflict! The issue here, of course, is one of hypocrisy. Peter's withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentiles wasn't prompted by theological considerations but by fear of a special interest group. But Judaizers aren't the only ones with a corner on the market of snooty pride and vile legalism. The same traits are all around us -- and in us -- today. As I spent time in prayer this morning I tried to identify any Pharisee-like qualities I find in myself. Actually, it's been quite some time since I've thought about hypocrisy, but there's enough of it in my own life to consume most of my attention. No, God doesn't want us to be blind about the sin and hypocrisy all around us, but it's too easy for me to focus my binoculars on others' sin and hypocrisy when I have trouble seeing the same thing in the mirror.

Ok, maybe more on this later. Gotta boogie!

Monday, July 6

1:05 PM Are you done getting better? You say, "Better at doing what?" It doesn't matter. Are you getting better at whatever God has called you to do with your life? Now is the time to seize the day, to take the next step if you will. Don't put off to tomorrow what you can do today. My 5 miles today was a little shot in the arm for my future running.

I ran 3 of those miles nonstop at a comfortable pace and loved every minute of it. This is the first time I've run 3 miles in weeks!

I asked myself, "Dave, are you done getting better? Can you still make little daily improvements in your running?" And the answer came back a resounding "Yes!" We march on, folks, we fight on for good health (both physical and spiritual), we run on toward all our lofty goals because, no, we are not done getting better on this earth. I think the key is just sticking with it. Next month I'll teach a new Greek class consisting of 45 beginning students. My goals for them are twofold. On the one hand, since they signed up to learn how to read Greek with me, I want to see each and every one of them gain the ability to read their Greek New Testament with the use of a lexicon. But secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, I want to see them gain a lifelong love for the Greek language. I want them to use their Greek every single day for the rest of their lives. Every day we read our Greek New Testament is a good day. Every day we exercise is a good day. That's life, my friends, that's life. One day at a time. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Moving forward and hoping your priorities will help you navigate the future more wisely.

Amen?

7:45 AM A few years ago I asked, "Why are there four gospels in our New Testament and not, say, three or five?"

But as I read Gal. 2:1-10 this morning -- the next paragraph in my study of this marvelous letter -- I can see how my question might be a bit misleading. Paul has much to say about this subject in our passage. To read these verses is to derive one conclusion and one conclusion only: There is only one gospel. And it is through this gospel that Jews and Gentiles alike are accepted by God on the same terms -- through faith in Jesus Christ. Now if there is only one gospel for the apostle Paul and for the Jerusalem apostles, shouldn't there be only one gospel for us? How, then, can we speak of four "gospels"?

The reason is simple: the term "gospel" (euangelion) originally referred only to a message. Thus in the New Testament, euangelion never refers to a book. Later, the term was broadened in meaning to include what we today call the written "gospels" of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So in one sense, there is only one gospel in the New Testament, and there is only one gospel for the church. This gospel message hasn't changed in two millennia. Whether it is proclaimed to young or old, Jew or Gentile, cultured or uncultured, its substance never changes. Peter and Paul preached the same gospel, and so must we.

One way, I think, to overcome the apparent contradiction between this "one gospel" and the "four gospels" is to refer to the latter, as I do in my book Why Four Gospels?, as the "fourfold gospel." This is, in fact, how the early church referred to them. In addition, when these four accounts of the life of Christ were originally published, their titles were not "The Gospel of Matthew," "The Gospel of Mark," etc. They were, instead, "The Gospel according to Matthew," "The Gospel according to Mark," and so forth. This is without a doubt the best way to refer to them today, and I myself have tried to do so in my teaching and writing, though I often lapse back into "The Gospel of Matthew." Certainly, there are differences of style between these four accounts. There are also differences of emphasis. All this I point out in my book. But their substance is the same, and the early church was at pains to emphasize this. This matter is of importance to us today because there are some who want to pit Matthew against Mark, for example, or John against Luke. They openly allege that the gospels contradict one another. Therefore, they can't be trusted. That there are apparent contradictions between the written gospels, no one will deny. But they are capable of explanations that do not require us to sacrifice the inspiration and inerrancy on the altar of scholarship. Each gospel writer, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, had to select and arrange the material in his book. This material will naturally vary from gospel to gospel. And this is one reason we must study these accounts horizontally -- using a harmony of the gospels or a Greek synopsis to do so. Not only that, each gospel has a different purpose. Matthew wrote to accomplish one thing, Mark another, Luke another, and John yet another. And so we must read each gospel vertically (from beginning to end) if we are to understand its unique emphasis. The lesson that stands out for me in this paragraph from Galatians is that there is only one true gospel message, the gospel of grace, of God's free and unmerited favor. To turn from that gospel is to turn from the grace of Christ. In this sense, the church does not have more than one gospel. Both Paul and Peter had been entrusted with the same gospel. And that gospel it our common message today.

Hope this made sense!

Sunday, July 5

5:58 PM I ran no miles today. Instead, my focus was on active rest, as in taking an hour nap and then going outdoors to mow the yards. I also harvested my first squash of the summer.

You'd think that as a farmer anything I planted would bear fruit, but I am always astounded that everything I plant doesn't just die in the ground. This little guy will end up in my Chinese stir fry tomorrow night.

In other exciting news ...

I've dusted off all of my running books, including this one by Danny Dreyer, the guru of Chi Running.

No, you don't have to become a marshal arts expert to follow this training program. The basic idea of Chi Running is that all running should be done at a comfortable aerobic pace that feels easy and sustainable. The goal is to develop balanced body mechanics for an injury-free life. Did you say, "Injury free"? Count me in. I am trying not to panic about my training. I'm going to assume that each day I'll get a little bit stronger. I know getting back into shape can take a very long time so I have to be patient (not my strong suit) and just enjoy the process. The finish line is fine, but getting there is half the fun. You simply find whatever trick works for you to get you to do your workouts. My life is not perfect, but there are a gazillion things to thankful for, and one of them is getting outdoors and enjoying God's wonderful creation on a regular basis. I've found that when I've learned to be disciplined in one area of my life it spills over into the rest of my life.

Anyhow, I hope you have a great week. Mine will be busy. Maybe I'll even get in a 3 mile run this week!

12:40 PM The topic of today's in-person message was repentance and revival. Then I watched my son-in-law's sermon from Alabama. The topic? Repentance and revival. And if that's not enough, right now I'm watching a sermon about the fall of Jerusalem. No fair, gentlemen. That's "piling on"! As Christians, we seldom truly wrestle with personal sin as we should. I know I don't. Is it too late to learn how to repent, to change? Never. Christ stands at the door of my heart and knocks. I opened the door once. Will I open it to him again?

Jesus, I need you every day. Every hour. Every moment of every hour. I need you to protect me. I need you to show me where I've taken that slow, downhill slide from you. I need you to show me where I'm in hot water. I need you to warn me. I need you to renew my joy. I need you if I am to experience anything like that full, rich, abundant life you promise those who love you. I need you to guide me out of darkness. Help me, O Lord, as I learn how to maneuver through every difficulty of life, whether it's my fears about next month or my tears over that relationship I care so deeply about. Lord, what I can't do, you can do. Deep inside of me is an urge to know you and love you and obey you more fully, to have regular , audible conversations together. I want to see you close up, face to face. Lord, I come to you today in repentance and faith. Please rekindle Christ's spark within me. Enlighten my path and show me that you're in control and will eventually work bad circumstances into positive results. I ask and pray all this for your glory alone. Amen. 

7:58 AM I was in Gal. 1:11-24 this morning. The use of the imperfect tense here is remarkable. This includes the periphrastic imperfect constructions in verses 22 and 23. Then there's a major textual variant in verse 15. Should we read "He was pleased" or "God was pleased"? The latter's external support is much stronger than the former's. I also noticed Paul's use of the passive voice in verse 11. He doesn't say "I preached the gospel" but "the gospel that was preached by me." The passive calls attention to the grammatical subject very effectively I think. Finally, just think of the irony of God making Paul a preacher of the very gospel he had so bitterly opposed.

Is it realistic to think that a person exegeting and then teaching this passage should be able to recognize such details in the text? Are we being too idealistic? But think of the alternative. If we do not let the text speak for itself, we may well end up with nothing but our own preconceived notions about what the text means. That's why in producing a sermon we have to spend time reading the text repeatedly in the original language and then use English translations as further supplements to see how others have rendered our text. We should avail ourselves of every opportunity to check and double-check our opinions about the text before sharing them with others. Bible versions and commentaries are essential "conversation partners." Exegesis always takes more time and effort than eisegesis. But it's worth it, my friends, it's worth it! Language is a coherent and complex system. In Greek, for example, little language particles can carry a heavier load of meaning than many of us would imagine possible. Verb tenses (and verbal aspect as well) also function in extremely important ways. In short, languages are messy. They require quite a bit from us. What I discussed above is just a sampling. It is, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg. That's why it's so much fun to do a deep drive into the passage we're reading. Obviously, only careful exegesis does justice to the text. But we're willing to pay that price, right? Galatians is a wonderful example of a text that needs both exegesis and theology to be working at full speed. And there is every reason to believe that the rest of the New Testament deserves the same treatment.

Saturday, July 4

9:38 PM Our family cookout was great, and the live fireworks on PBS's A Capitol Fourth were amazing. I'm home now, falling on my knees and praying, "God bless America." My life is as rich as any person I know, and a big part of that wealth is belonging to this great nation. "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, yes, I have a goodly heritage." None of this is deserved. And it is not just my story. It is our story, my fellow citizens. To be sure, these are challenging days for our nation, the most challenging we have faced in a very long time. These challenges are met when we learn to confront them head on and allow ourselves to be enlarged by them, so that our capacity to live up to our great potential as Americans increases. It all depends on the choices we make and the grace we receive and the grace we are willing to extend to others. This difficult time can lead us to God, the only one who has the desire and the power to give us life.

As long as I remain alive I will be a proud American. I want to live out that heritage as joyfully, purposefully, and productively as I can. My heritage has set a standard for me, and I feel honored to uphold it. Heaven is my real home, where I have always longed to be, but perhaps there are still contributions I can make to a more just and kind society. Who knows how this crisis through which we are now living can set in motion a chain of events that will bless future generations of Americans? Today's chaos may appear to be random, but that doesn't mean that it is. It may fit into a scheme that far surpasses what our imaginations can even dare to think.

God bless you all. And God bless America.

4:18 PM Just a couple of days ago I stood here -- the site of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."

What, I wonder, would it have been like to have heard the original address? Oh my, what a speech! Did you notice these rhetorical devices?

1) Synonymy -- the use of synonyms, as in "dedicate," "consecrate," and "hallow."

2) Antithesis -- "what we say here" versus "what they did here."

3) Polyptoton -- using a term with varying permutations, as in "of the people," "by the people," and "for the people."

4) Repetition -- "here" is used seven times to dwell on the immediacy of the setting.

5) Triads -- this is the "rule of three," as in "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground."

6) Anaphora -- "we cannot ... we cannot ... we cannot"

7) Brevity -- the speech is a mere 250 words. It was over in two minutes.

8) Allusion -- "Fourscore and seven years ago" is an allusion to the Bible's "Threescore years and ten."

9) Change in voice. I especially love this one. Notice how the speech moves from the active "we cannot dedicate" to the passive "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here."

10) Euphemism -- Lincoln calls a place that had been a slaughterhouse a "final resting place."

11) Metaphor -- "a new birth of freedom."

12) General structure -- the speech is a typical funeral oration, moving from epainesis ("praise of the dead" ) to parainesis ("advice to the living").

You can hear the entire address here as recited by actor Jeff Daniels. I'm off to celebrate with family and a barbeque. Have a great evening!

1:32 PM Despite today's heat and humidity, I was glad to be able to get to the Tobacco Heritage Trail.

I managed to get in a 5 mile walk today.

Actually, I incorporated into my walk  -- are you ready?????? -- a 2 mile run! "Run" probably isn't the most appropriate term, considering that I could have sipped tea at the speed I was going -- a mere 12-minute mile pace. But run I did, and I am so happy! I was encouraged by my low heart rate during my run, and when I finished I felt like I could almost burst into tears. So often in life, things have so much more meaning to you when you've had to do without them for a while. That's when you realize it's what the thing represents that makes the biggest impact. My brief "run" today represents my ability to be strong, to not whine about what I can't do, to finish what I start, and to keep chasing down your personal dreams. I'm proof that running is welcoming to even the least athletically inclined among us, but it's also like a drug that keeps you coming back for more. Even with all the doubts and struggles, I guess I am still a runner after all. Yeah, I'm slow. Yeah, running is hard. But life can be hard for all of us. I don't want to be somebody who only thinks they can do such and such. "Considering" doing something doesn't feel like enough. It's when I actually push myself that I can look myself in the mirror with respect. Even if I never run 2 miles again for the rest of my life, running has taught me that I can persevere.

All of this means that I will begin to incorporate running into my weekly training schedule. Also, one of the things I like to do is sign up for a race you have to get ready for. Now you and your heart have a reason to train until then, because there are dollars on the line. I have already decided on what my first post-Covid race will be and will announce it shortly. I am a runner who needs to have a goal to pursue. That's just who I am. I certainly do not "regret" going for it today. Onward and upward to rise above those pesky running injuries!

8:15 AM Good morning, and Happy Independence Day! What better way to spend the morning than by reading and meditating upon Paul's Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, the book of Galatians! My study focused on the letter's second paragraph, namely 1:6-10. This morning I chose as my base English text the Good News Bible, comparing it carefully it with my Greek New Testament.

I was again reminded of just how difficult it is to translate from one language into another. Choices, choices, choices! The GNB's "I am surprised" could have also been rendered "I am shocked" or "I am amazed." The GNB's "you are deserting" could have also been rendered "you are turning away from" or "you are transferring your allegiance from." The GNB's "there are some people who are upsetting you" could have also been rendered "there are some people who are agitating you" or "there are some people who are troubling you." The GNB's "trying to change the gospel of Christ" could have also been rendered "trying to pervert the gospel of Christ" or even "trying to reverse the gospel of Christ." The GNB's "may he be condemned to hell" could have also been rendered "may he be accursed" or even "may he be anathema."

The list goes on and on. How does one decide which meaning is correct or best suits the context? That, alas, is the question of the ages for anyone seeking to exegete a biblical text! That's how this works, ladies and gentlemen, that's how this works. You labor and struggle and ponder and compare and review options until you come to your own understanding of what this or that passage is actually saying. That said, Paul's point here is clear:

To turn away from Christ and embrace another gospel is to desert the only true gospel. We cannot finish, by our obedience, what Christ has begun. We cannot add our works to the work of Christ. Salvation is by grace alone. To add human works to the finished work of Christ is to introduce confusion and error into the church. But God will not stand for that. The Greek word translated "accursed" is anathema. Paul wants God's eternal judgment to fall upon the false teachers. Why, to imply that Christ's work was somehow incomplete is to make his cross redundant! There's only one gospel and it must be kept pure at any cost. This is the message of Galatians in a nutshell.

Friend, whenever I think of Christianity as a set of external actions, as a way I have to look or act, I tend to fall into the trap of legalism. But I can't push and shove my way closer to God. True spirituality isn't primarily a matter of works and human willpower. It is all God's grace. He simply draws us to himself and we're overcome by a sense of awe and reverence, gratitude and humility. Legalism, on the other hand, is a game nobody ever wins.

I don't know why I'll telling you this, dear reader. Nothing I just wrote is new to any of you. I think Gal. 1:6-10 just reminds me of how Paul seems to be saying, "Dave, on this Fourth of July, do not forget what was purchased for you on the cross of Calvary. Stand fast in that liberty from both legalism and license by which Christ has set you free. God did not pay such a price merely to shine you up a bit and add his righteousness to your own. It is by God's grace, his unmerited favor, that you are saved. As you live looking to him for every need of body, mind, and spirit, enjoy the freedom from fear and worry and all the evils that would enslave you." I think it was Phillips Brooks who said, "Grace stands for Great Redemption at Christ's Expense." Whoever it was, that's what it is.

Independence Day is a beautiful day for the people of the USA. Let us celebrate every year with grateful hearts, beautiful fireworks, and food aplenty. Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, July 3

5:52 PM My training goal today was to bike from Richmond to Deep Bottom Park and Four Mile Creek on the historic James River.

This was my view as I biked today. Oh my. Breath-taking.

Not gonna lie. I love trips like this when it's just you and the countryside. Sure, there are benefits to biking with a group. Not long ago a friend and I completed all 52 miles of the Virginia Capital Trail together. But the advantages of riding alone are there too. No one is pushing the pace. (In a group, I tend to be the slowest cyclist.) You do exactly what your body can do. Solo trips are also a great chance to improve your biking form and breathing techniques. It also means that when you finish a really difficult or long bike, you can't give credit to anyone else (other than the Lord) for "getting you through." Finally, I do some of my best thinking and praying when I'm out there alone on my road bike. On the other hand, sometimes I will "zone out" and not think about anything and wonder, "Where did all those miles go?"

The trip turned out to be about 30 miles.

According to my Map My Run app, I've somehow managed to log a grand total of 214.6 training miles in the last 30 days.

I'm sitting here scratching my head. Where did all those miles come from? The answer is: from doing those little daily habits that eventually add up. If all you do is walk one mile three times a week, I'm your greatest cheerleader, folks. Although you may not be the fastest or even the most dedicated person out there, it doesn't matter. Not one bit! Running (or biking, or walking, or swimming, or racing) will embrace you anyway. Exercise will offer you rewards beyond your expectations. What about injuries? It's inevitable that we will get injured one way or another. Some injuries are annoying, while others are serious. What we need to do when we get injured is to remember that more often than not it's the regular maintenance of the body that prevents injuries -- eating unprocessed foods, taking vitamin supplements (especially Vitamin D and B12), and getting sufficient rest. Today's bike ride was just another step toward becoming fit again and maybe even getting into good enough condition to run a 10 miler in the next couple of months. Listen, I am not a medical doctor. I am not an expert. I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. But I do know how to ask the right questions (usually -- sometimes I get blindsided!) to the people out there who know health much better than I do. Above all, God is the owner of our bodies. We are vessels carrying precious cargo. How well are you taking care of the vessel? You are in charge of what and how much you eat, how much sleep and rest you get, how much time you spend in the word daily, how much you exercise your body as well as your soul. Don't shortchange God -- or yourself!

Anyhoo, hoping all this cross-training makes it possible for me to race again soon. We will see, we will see! It's all in the Lord's hands!

7:45 AM This morning during my Bible time I did a deep dive into the opening paragraph of Galatians. Here Paul gives us an overview of the contents of his letter. Gal. 1:1-5 reads like the table of contents you would you find in a modern book.

Here Paul raises two main subjects -- two themes he will constantly return to in his letter. These themes are apostleship and the gospel. The emphasis is both on Paul's credentials as an apostle and on his message of salvation (and sanctification) by grace through faith in Christ alone. For me, trying to study Galatians without understanding this broad view of its contents would be like reading a book without starting with the author's introduction or preface. Some call this a bird's eye view. Paul does the same thing in Romans (see 1:1-7). Here we see Paul's message to the Romans from 30,000 feet.

Which reminds me: I really miss flying. I had to cancel two flights when Covid hit. And my annual trip to Hawai'i in August is off. When I fly, I always get a window seat. There's something unique about looking out the fishbowl window and seeing the world from 5 miles above sea level. Last August I took this photo of Kailua Beach from my seat aboard a United 777.

This is where I spent the first 19 years of my life. Oh, the rich memories of those days. Looking back, I can see how everything that transpired during those years had a purpose and made me who I am today.

God sees my life like that. Call it a heavenly perspective if you like. He sees my life totally, from beginning to end, from horizon to horizon so to speak. He sees where I've come from and where I'm going. He sees the valleys I must walk through and the mountains I must traverse. He knows each and every detour ahead of me. In fact, God doesn't just watch my life. He directs it.

Dear reader, when you're traveling through this life, remember that God sees it all, from beginning to end. Maybe that thought will give you courage to continue to run your race with endurance. The daily frustrations we want off our backs are perhaps the very things God is using to help us grow spiritually.

We're going to make it through this everyone. Pray hard. Stay in the word. Eat well. Sleep well. Exercise regularly. Wash hands. And stay calm always.

Thursday, July 2

3:28 PM Just named the little guy.

I'm calling him Gobus -- Amharic for "Fantastic!"

Brother: Ishi ("Sure!")

Mother: Tinish Koi ("Wait a while")

Dad: Tolo Tolo ("Hurry up!")

12:26 PM The latest issue of "Talbot" arrived and contains a fascinating essay on the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 70s. It's called "The Lasting Legacy of the Jesus People."

The authors are Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, both of whom work at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Since you may not have access to this article, allow me to summarize it for you:

1) The focus of the Jesus Movement lay in its devotion to the Bible.

2) It emphasized both the authority of Scripture and its accessibility to all believers.

3) Many of its leaders adopted a simple, verse-by-verse hermeneutic.

4) Their zeal for evangelism was famous.

5) They focused on reinventing religious space (think: coffee houses).

6) All were welcome.

A funny anecdote from the essay. When Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA, exploded with hippy converts, the elders put up a sign saying "No Bare Feet Allowed in the Church" to protect the new carpet. Smith told them that if they turned away one person because of their bare feet or dirty clothes he would personally rip up the carpet and remove the pews.

Reminds me of when I raced the St. George Marathon in Utah a couple of years ago. The race was on a Saturday and I was scheduled to fly out Sunday afternoon. As is my custom, I attended church on Sunday, two churches actually. In one I was welcomed warmly, given a cup of coffee, and told I could take my coffee into the service that was about to begin. In the second church, I was also given coffee, but it was made very clear that coffee was not to be taken into the "sanctuary." The one congregation had the feel of a family; the other of a religious sect. As someone who was converted and raised in the Jesus Movement of the 1960s, I can see how we Jesus Freaks were a challenge to the introversion of the church. The church is for insiders, not for the whole world. And our sanctuaries are to be kept holy. Huh? To be sure, there were excesses in the Jesus Movement, but one thing I'll never forget is its challenge to institutionalism. Too often we see the church as a building, even a ghetto of people who like nice carpets and comfortable pews. But the church is people, people who may smell on the outside but who are alive with the Holy Spirit. It's totally immaterial where they meet. In Hawai'i, we met every Sunday evening at the Waikiki Beach Chaplaincy atop a hotel. On Sunday mornings we gathered in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel and then paddled out and surfed. I guess you could call us underenthusiastic about the institutionalized church and overenthusiastic about Jesus. Not some but all can have intimacy with God. Not some but all are called to serve and witness. This emphasis alone has rendered the Jesus People one of the most important movements the church has ever known.

9:22 AM Hey folks. Me again. Before folding the clothes I just had to share this picture with you. I forget which state I took it in.

This is a great description of a New Testament church, ain't it?

1) "Our citizenship is in heaven," writes Paul (Phil. 3:20). Therefore we are to "live as good citizens in a manner required by the Gospel" (Phil. 1:27).

2) The times in which we live resemble a dire emergency. Not only nationally and politically. Paul says concerning preachers of a different Gospel: "Let them be accursed!" That's strong language. Much of our potential service to God is lost because we fail to see just how desperate the times are.

3) "Crew" is a great word to describe the church too! "Crew" is defined as "a group of people who work closely together." The very fact that we can ask each other, "How was church today?" reveals that we think of church not as a participatory gathering but rather as a place to go with programs to be evaluated. The New Testament view of church is the exact opposite. For Paul, it was place where we as individuals help the entire church grow into the kind of relational and missionary community God intends for it to be. For Paul, a strong community mindset was the nonnegotiable starting point for "doing church."

How ya doing, fellow crew member? Let me encourage you, as a fellow missionary, to find purpose in life by joyfully and sacrificially embracing the most honorable and meaningful task imaginable: bringing God to a hurting people, and bringing hurting people to God. And let's do this in community, okay? -- as members of God's emergency life-saving crew!

8:35 AM Good morning one and all! I'm really surprised that I'm not as sore as I thought I would be this morning. I was expecting a full-blown attack of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) today. But it seems like my tired legs awoke with fresh vigor after being stretched and rolled yesterday. In fact, I feel so exuberant I'm washing clothes and cleaning the kitchen! Before I forget: The answer to yesterday's question of the day -- how do locals pronounce "Gettysburg"? -- is very simple. Just pronounce the "Gettys" part of the word as you would "lettuce" and you've got it. But you probably already figured that out.

As I said yesterday, my trip on Tuesday and Wednesday took me through central and northern Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I had three main goals -- three things I wanted to check off my bucket list. The first was to visit the site of my great-great-great-great-grandfather's farm on the Antietam Battlefield in Maryland.

As you can see, it was a gorgeous and sunny day. The Miller Farmhouse is an important battlefield marker. The troops began the attack by marching through the Miller cornfield with its head-high stalks ripe for harvest. Later the battle moved southward toward the Dunker Church. My ancestors were German Baptist Brethren, and they met in this building (actually, this is a recreation of the real building, which collapsed in 1921).

The term "Dunker" originated from the fact that the Brethren practiced baptism by immersion. One of the greatest ironies of the battle was that it took place adjacent to a building in which pacifists worshipped.

Then it was off to Gettysburg to see if I had what it takes to bike the entire park in one shot. I got an early start. I parked at the northwest corner of the park near the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, which was dedicated in 1933.

As you can see, the place was basically deserted, which is exactly the way I wanted it.

My ride totaled just under 2 hours and covered almost 17 and a half miles.

The red line above shows you my route. For those of you who might be considering doing this ride in the future, here's the itinerary I took. I rode south on Buford Ave. to Reynolds Ave., crossing the railroad cut and the Chambersburg Pike. Then I rode along McPherson Ridge to the Fairfield Rd. Turning northeast, I rode until I reached Seminary Ridge. There I regained a southerly direction, passing the Pizter Woods and eventually crossing the Emmitsburg Rd. At Warfield Ridge I turned eastward and rode over the Big and Little Round Tops along Sykes Ave. Descending Little Round Top, I then turned left onto Ayers Ave., passing the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard via Sickles Ave. A right turn onto United States Ave. brought me past Plum Run to Hancock Ave., where I turned north toward Gettysburg. From there I rode through the Visitor Center's parking lot to the Baltimore Pike and thence eastward into the Culp's Hill section of the park before turning north to ride through town. On Lincoln Ave (the heart of Gettysburg) my course took another northeast turn along Harrisburg St. to Barlow Knoll and then westward along Howard Ave. and Doubleday Ave. to end up where I started. Here are a few scenes I saw along the way. Can you name the sites?

Hopefully this gives you a little insight into my attempt to bike Gettysburg. I learned so much through this experience, not least just how hilly this course is. At one or two points I literally had to dismount and walk my bike because the grade was so severe.

Now on to the next challenge!

It seems like our great national parks have a special attraction for me. You name it, I've probably been there. But in my very own backyard lies a national park I had never visited. On this trip I was eager to rectify this oversight. This map will give you an idea where the Shenandoah National Park is.

There are several entrances to the park, including this one.

I never did enter the park, however. They were charging a whopping $30.00 for entrance, even if all you wanted to do was a quick hike. So I made a U-turn at the kiosk and drove back down the mountain until I came to one of those pull-offs you so often see along the highway.

Just as I pulled in, a hiker was emerging from the woods. He was very kind and told me that you can hike almost any trail in the park without having to actually enter it through one of the park entrances. Here's the difference: Inside the park proper, you begin your hike on Skyline Drive and then hike down before hiking back up again. Conversely, you can begin your hike at the bottom of the trail where we were, hike upward, and then descend back to where you parked your car -- and it's all perfectly legal and free. The trail at this particular location was called the Buck Hollow Trail.

It was 6 and a half miles long with just over 2,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.

In other words, perfect. It's your typical Virginia trail with plenty of rocks and roots to watch out for. (Trekking poles are a must.)

But the waterfalls were spectacular. I counted at least 7 like this one along the course.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed coming along with me on my latest little adventure. Today, as I said, is a rest day. Ya gotta know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Today is a fold the cards kind of a day for sure.

Onward and upward -- and restward! 

Wednesday, July 1

9:16 PM We runners, bikers, and hikers put our bodies and especially our legs through a ton of work, on all kinds of surfaces. It's time to pursue active rest after having just driven to Pennsylvania and back to bike the Gettysburg National Military Park. A hike in the beautiful Shenandoah State Park was icing on the cake. Time for stretching and foam rolling. Active people must remain vigilant of how our bodies feel and listen to them when we are either going too hard or too easy in our training. I can just say that today's bike and hike were out of this world. I can't wait to recap them for you. Lord willing, I'll have a full report of my trip for you tomorrow morning, with pics of course. Tonight let me leave you with a trivia question:

How do locals pronounce "Gettysburg"?

Bet ya don't know! Answer tomorrow.

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