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Monday, April 19

6:44 AM Good morning, wonderful world of the internet! The compulsion to teach over these past 44 years has been borne out of my own experience in the classroom, as student and teacher, as follower and leader, as friend and counselor. I found that most of the help directed to students by the Christian community was addressed only to symptoms, ignoring the basic issues of foundational ecclesiology and church leadership and misappropriating such terms as senior pastor and authority. The church has long been remiss in giving honest and in-depth consideration to Jesus' teachings about the new society he would form through his death and resurrection. To fill this vacuum, many reactionary views are now being aired, and we are in great danger of becoming polarized rather than balanced. I find that many young people have long since resigned themselves to the status quo, whether out of despair or apathy. My own temperament, abetted by the thinking people in my life, has prodded me into a relentless pursuit of biblical answers to these problems. I am thoroughly and completely convinced that only the word of God, not any word of man, is the supreme textbook for us today, and that the church has far from exhausted the application of its truths to everyday life and ministry. I am painfully aware of the small contribution my efforts have been over these past 44 years. I can only hope that it will serve as a catalyst to encourage deep and meaningful biblical investigation and application. As never before, I believe God is eager to help us do this.

Blessings on your week,

Dave

Sunday, April 18

5:24 PM 'Twas another beautiful day. It began with a 3 mile recovery run at the track.

Then I did yard work all afternoon, including spraying Round Up and mowing the lawns.

While working I listened to sermons, like Chuck Swindoll's message from Ecclesiastes 5. I had to grin from ear to ear when he spoke on these powerful verses:

"To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life -- this is indeed a gift from God." How spot on! It was as though Chuck was speaking directly to me when he used losing a spouse as an illustration of accepting one's lot in life, followed up with illustrations from aging and retirement. Yep. That's me. Single. Aging. Retired. Each season of life has a specific purpose. And right now that purpose is to joyfully accept how God has arranged my life. It is indeed a gift! This is the season for saying "yes" to very specific things, and I plan on doing just that. Like enjoying these fresh eggs my daughter brought me today from her farm.

Or visiting the donks who wait patiently for me to give them their carrots each evening.

That's what I want my life to be like -- living in anticipation of the good gifts of God, living according to his promises, brimming with spirit and hope, absolutely overwhelmed by his goodness and grace. Thank you, God, for the things you heal, the people you redeem, the ways your hands are working behind the scenes as you weave poetry into our lives. You are truly amazing. 

Such was my day. How was yours?

7:55 AM My morning Bible time was in Acts 20, where Paul tearfully says goodbye to his dear friends from Ephesus. The version I read this morning was Williams.

This particular verse struck me:

The Living Bible puts it this way:

Williams reads:

But now I count as nothing the sacrifice of my life, if only I can finish my race and render the service entrusted to me by the Lord Jesus, of faithfully telling the good news of God's favor.

I like the "racing" analogy. Paul has a race to run. He's tempted to quit. But he desires to finish the race because the race was assigned to him by the Lord himself. Incidentally, in some Greek manuscripts the words "with joy" come after "finish my race." Paul was no sourpuss. Even imprisonment couldn't make him lose his joy.

When I became an athlete -- mind you an embarrassingly awful athlete -- I started to look forward to running races. I liked the feeling I got from the effort of trying to do something hard. I began running 5 years ago after Becky went Home. That I'm still running today surprises me in some ways. Surely I would quit. You may have done that. Sure, you started well. You discovered the joy of exercising. You got out there once or twice a week for a run. Eventually, however, your enthusiasm waned. I know because I have spoken with some of you. As a mediocre athlete, I've discovered the gift that running gives you. The gift of tenacity. The gift of perseverance. The gift of caring for the temple the Lord has given you. What I know is that running is a way of life that gives far more back to you than you invest.

I have to smile when I read Paul's words, "If only I can finish my race." I think Paul enjoyed being an "athlete" for the Lord. As an athlete, he knew that it's the challenges -- physical, emotional, spiritual -- that make you stronger. In the end, he made it to the finish line. God's grace had carried him there. He had learned that being part of something great was better than being considered great. It's a lesson I'm gradually learning through running. The only thing worse than being a runner is having been one and given up. My friend, it's one thing to make the decision to live a more active life. It's quite another to keep acting on that decision. Paul knew that. Even though there's no hope I will ever win a race, I love the act of racing because I am learning how to pace myself in the race called life. I may be a teacher, but racing has become a classroom for me. I am literally running for my life.

How about you?

6:14 AM Recently in our NT 2 class we were discussing some of the "Let us" passages in the book of Hebrews. One of them is widely known: "Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another" (Heb. 10:25). I remember hearing this verse often while growing up in Hawaii. It was often used to make people who weren't attending church feel guilty. We were admonished to ask God to guide us to a church fellowship where we could grow in our faith through sound biblical preaching and worship. One thing that never seemed to be emphasized is where the author of Hebrews seems to have put the emphasis: on mutual edification and encouragement. Just as our physical bodies need exercise to be strong, so our faith needs exercise if we are to be strong spiritually. Nothing is able to live in the Dead Sea because no river flows from it. Without any outlet, it's become a truly "dead" body of water. The same thing is true with us. If we never allow the Lord to ministry through us to enrich others, if we have no outlet for our gifts, we will find ourselves like the Dead Sea. God wants to use us right where we are. Every day we come into contact with people to whom we can minister. We don't have to attend seminary to enrich others. Have you committed your life to serving the Lord Jesus Christ? No matter how young or how old, are you seeking to be his hands and feet? It is never too late to begin living a life of fulltime Christian service. If our lives are marked by greed or selfishness or irresponsibility, this is how we will be remembered by our children and others. Our greatest impact on others comes often not from what we say but from what we do.

I have only a few more weeks to influence my students. What is my hope for them? It is that they become men and women of compassion, responsibility, loyalty, self-discipline, and sacrifice, seeking to serve their Master every day of their lives. I cannot make this decision for them. I can only show them the way by being an example of Christ's love. May God help me to do this.

Saturday, April 17

5:44 PM In case you've ever wondered, there are 7 phases in running a long distance race:

1) Wow! Can't wait! You think to yourself, "This is going to be great fun!"

2) Denial. The race suddenly gets hard. You begin to question your sanity. Because maybe you are a lunatic.

3) Panic." "What have I gotten myself into here?"

4) Resignation. "Ok, time to put my your head down, Dave, pain cave and all."

5) Amazement. That you had the guts to even try this crazy thing. That your body still allows you to run, even if it's at the pace of a snail.

6) Prayer. You're desperate. You're looking skyward now. HELP ME!

7) Gratitude. "I did it! I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" (Yes, I know my exegesis is faulty, but no one is thinking about context at this point.)

I guess you could say that I went through each of these phases during today's half marathon in the great city of Roanoke, Virginia. You could not have asked for a better day to run a race weather-wise. The sky was clear and the temps hovered around 50 the entire time. This was my 28th half marathon and I was a bit nervous because I had heard that the race had something of a reputation for being "hilly."

Anyone know where I can hire a Sherpa?

I drove to Roanoke yesterday and checked into the Hampton Inn (and got a really quiet room that led to an excellent night's sleep). My prerace dinner turned out to include the best chili relleno I've ever eaten.

This morning I was up early and drove to Denny's for what has become a ritual for me on race day -- two pancakes and two cups of coffee.

When I arrived at the race venue in downtown Roanoke, I watched the full marathoners start in about 14 waves. Then it was our turn.

As usual, I joined the last wave.

I love doing these races. I love the kinship with all the other runners out there who have allowed the pain and triumph of this sport to become a part of their lives.

This was the hardest of the half marathons I had done to this point because there were plenty of major uphill stretches to overcome. The first major obstacle was summiting Mill Mountain with its famous Roanoke Star.

See the star perched on the top of the mountain?

The course was so steep at this point that everybody started walking, even younger runners. But the scenery was amazing.

I was so happy to finally arrive at the top of the mountain.

Cue the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive."

At this point we began a long downhill portion of the course. Needless to day, I took off like a bat out of hell to try and make up lost time on the uphills.

I was cruising along at a pretty decent clip and passing other runners when all of sudden 10 guys went flying past me. I guess "speed" is a relative term. Eventually we began climbing hill #2, called by locals Peakwood and by runners like me "Nemesis." I slowed my race and walked but eventually arrived at the top. From there it was all downhill back into town.

I averaged a 13:35 minutes per mile pace. This race was a whopping 30 minutes slower than my half marathon PR but somehow I did manage to come in under 3 hours -- my "Ecstatic" goal was achieved! Doing so well gave me some much-needed confidence going into my first marathon of 2021 in 7 short weeks. Plus, I got to add another great running shirt to my collection.

The aid station workers rocked.

And what can I say about the people of Roanoke who came out in droves to cheer us on? Bravo!

The best part of the race was just cheering on the other runners. We had so much in common since we were all competing against the same course.

My overall place was 596 out of 766 runners.

My plan was to run slow, walk fast, and stay within a level that felt like I was exerting just the right amount of effort. But the biggest part of the race was an overwhelming gratitude and happiness for the journey that had taken place just to get to this point. Last year at this time, when I got injured, I couldn't run or train. I couldn't even walk. But today was different. My tears flowed freely. Over the last decade or so I've adopted the philosophy that says, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing now." I don't want to come to the end of my life and have regrets about things I wished I would have done while I still had the health and strength to do them. I'm so thankful to the Lord for the opportunity to push my body and mind into places they've never gone before. "If you're going through hell," said Winston Churchill, "keep going." I couldn't agree more.

Friday, April 16

12:22 PM I need to pull off this toenail but I'm too much of a wimp to do it. Hoping it falls off before tomorrow's race :-( 

8:30 AM The hay fields are almost ready to be cut. How green!

Reminded me of an old song by my namesake David:

Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything that I need. He makes me rest in meadows green, and leads me beside the quiet streams. He keeps on giving life to me, and helps me to do what honors him the most. Even when walking though the dark valley of death -- valley of death! -- I will never be afraid, for he is close beside me. Guarding, guiding all the way, he makes a feast before me. In the presence of my enemies, he welcomes me as his special guest. Now with blessings overflowing, his goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I shall live with him, forever, and forever, in his home.

You are never alone, friend!

Thursday, April 15

8:34 PM One of the highlights of my week was watching one of my Ph.D. students, Mr. Hassan Aziz Siddiqui, pass his dissertation defense.

His committee consisted of Charles Quarles (second reader), Stanley Porter (external reader), and yours truly.

Congratulations, Huss, on a job well done! His dissertation is titled "The Significance of the Byzantine Text for Textual Criticism within the Book of Acts." Its eventual publication is to be warmly welcomed.

6:42 PM Runners are crazy. Pure nut cases. Ought to be committed to an asylum. Case in point: This weekend is the annual running of the Blue Ridge Marathon in Roanoke, VA. Its claim to fame? It's "America's Toughest Road Race."

It has the most elevation change of any road race in the U.S. The total elevation gain/loss is 7,500 feet! You think I'm going to run it? Not on your life. Because of my full marathon in 7 weeks, I signed up to run the half marathon instead. That's a mere 3,800 feet of elevation gain/loss. I'd show you the elevation map except it would make you faint. (It looks like the up and down cardiac rhythm on an echocardiogram machine.) The race is called "brutal and beautiful." Sometimes runners have specific goals for races. My "Ecstatic" goal would be to finish in under 3 hours. My "Happy" goal would be to finish in under 3.5 hours. And my "Satisfied" goal would be to finish, period. After all, the first guy to run a half marathon/marathon ... died. By the way, the event also offers a DOUBLE MARATHON. That's right -- two marathons back to back, a distance of 53 miles and 15,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Yep. Runners are crazy. At least 115 of us are:

This is what I love about running: You're always testing yourself. I don't know about you, but I need new challenges. Constantly. I hope I never rust out or burn out. "'Tis not too late to seek a newer world," wrote Lord Tennyson in his poetic ode to aging men called "Ulysses." If this was true for warriors and kings in 1842, it is emphatically true for men today.

Monday, April 12

6:28 AM Recently I heard someone say how much he appreciated simplicity. "It's always helpful," he said, "when essentials are made simple and brief. Simplicity helps us understand the essentials. Brevity helps us remember them." I mention this because I've been working on a classroom lecture from Matthew's Gospel -- Matt. 9:35-39 to be exact.

I honestly can't think of a simpler or more brief passage about what missions is all about. Great writers are always brilliant on the basics, are they not? They work hard to keep things simple. People are always looking for statements that intuitively make sense. When things are made simple but not simplistic, when things are made free of unnecessary verbiage, people are more likely to put them into action in their lives. That's why I have to grimace a little when I peruse several New Testament Greek grammars that have been published recently. Two of them have 500 pages. One of them has 600 pages Another has 700 pages. Mind you, these are not reference grammars. They are not intermediate grammars. They are beginning grammars of Greek. The 700-page book even has the word "introduction" in its title. I strongly disagree with this approach. I love it when scholars provide their content in a simple, brief manner. "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," wrote Leonardo da Vinci. "Everything should be made as simple as possible," said Albert Einstein, adding "but not simpler." Of course, simplicity is not simple. But it's attainable. I'm hoping I can present Matt. 9:35-39 in a simple and brief way that my students can understand -- and remember.

Sunday, April 11

4:05 PM Today is what I call an active rest day. We runners must remain vigilant as to how our bodies are feeling. We Jesus followers must do the same when it comes to our spirits. Part of following Jesus is knowing when to work and when to rest. Especially since I'm teaching 7 classes this semester, I will be paying special attention to easy days and hard days. And yes, I'm still chasing down my dreams, folks. No time to rest on one's laurels. Here was my recovery run today.

What beautiful scenery.

It was an easy 5 mile run.

While running I listened to sermons. One of them was especially good. I mean, it was fantastic. You ask, "What makes a sermon good in your eyes, Dave?" I'd say, a good sermon always has a wow factor of 10 out of 10. And there two kinds of "wow" I'm always looking for in a sermon.

  • "Wow, I didn't know that!"

  • "Wow, that is so true!"

I also appreciate it when the speaker leaves his notes behind and maintains constant eye contact with the audience. Otherwise, it's been a relaxed day for me. Right now I'm fixing my meals for the week. On deck is a chicken/rice meal -- Sesame Chicken with Peanuts with a side of Spanish Rice.

How's that for a combo? I'll also take some Spam along in case I'm in too big of a hurry to heat up a plate of food. Spam? Yes, THE lunch meat of Hawaiian Islanders. The peeps of Hawaii consume more Spam than any other people living in any other state. They also live longer. You figure it out!

See you tomorrow with another blog post.

Saturday, April 10

9:20 PM Woooohoooooo! I just registered for the Fawn Lake Half Marathon in Spotsylvania on May 1.

The race was originally limited to members of the exclusive Fawn Lake community, but thanks to the kindness of the race director it was opened up today for non-residents like me. This will be my final warm-up race before my June trail marathon in the mountains of western Virginia. I hope they'll let us swim in the club house pool afterwards!

The race will also mark the beginning of my final week of fulltime teaching after a career spanning 44 years -- praying, growing, and serving with people like you. What an inestimable blessing. I began my teaching career by proposing to Becky in Dallas. I said, "I don't want to begin teaching without you by my side." One of the things that made me fall in love with Becky was the way she listened to my dreams. She saw in all of those crazy dreams of mine the possibility of a life of ministry. Together we pursued those dreams for 37 years. I was a young 24-year old when I stepped into the classroom for the first time. And at the very core of my happy world was my wife Becky. Walking through life together has been God's greatest gift to me. As a man, I always appreciated the perspective she gave me as a woman. She often saw through people long before I did. If you are married, thank God for your wife. She is your first commitment under him. Listen to her, for she is your spiritual equal. Pray with her, that you may both live for the glory of God. Give yourself to her as she gives herself to you. You will get what you expect from a woman -- a sop to your ego or a joyful partner in the gospel. Please, please do not try to be God with her. Let her see Jesus in you as you humbly serve him by loving her and others. Look for the Lord's purpose in every circumstance and experience of life. Ask the Lord to open your eyes together to see the needs all around you. Even if you should lose your spouse, find a way to use that loss to point others to him. As a soon-to-be retired widower, I still have work to do. Remember, God knows all about you. He knows every opportunity you have to serve him. He also knows your needs and limitations as you grow older. Wherever you are in life, make God's will your daily priority. Take every opportunity to point others to Christ. Keep your mind and body occupied. Thank God that you can still do many things, and make it your goal to do them faithfully and well. Emerson, at the age of 62, wrote in his journal: "I look inside and don't see wrinkles or a tired heart, I see an unspent youth." The best we can do is prepare for the future with hearts full of faith. That's why I love running so much. Running makes you an athlete in all areas, ready for whatever comes, ready to live each day, married or single, employed or retired, as a servant of Jesus Christ.

12:48 PM When I left the house this morning I was looking for some tarmac action of the aviation type but, as you can see, the weather was socked in pretty good. This was my view all the way to the Lynchburg airport.

The governor of Virginia has mandated that races can have no more than about 200 runners. Looks like we all drove there by ourselves because the parking lot at the airport was packed.

Overall, the course was nearly perfect. Per usual, I started in the last wave, after everyone else had moved ahead of me. (I don't like to run slower than the other runners who then have to pass me.)

One of the most amazing things about this race was the amount of teens who were running with their parents. That was inspiring. It was cool seeing the teens cruising down the taxiways just having fun. I wish I saw this everywhere I race.

I was so impressed with the people who ran the race. There were no slackers. Everyone I saw put their whole heart and soul into this 5K. I truly think that these two ladies who finished dead last worked just as hard as the first place winners.

I run because it's symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome obstacles. Sometimes you feel like you can't. But then you find strength you never knew you had (all from the Lord) and you realize you're so much more capable than what you thought. By the pure grace of God I finished 105 out of 204 runners even though I started dead last.

Here I am with the first place winner in my age group (males 65-69).

The dude was fast, as in FAST. He beat me by a good 10 minutes. Bonus points to him for looking so young as well.

No matter how fast I finish a race, I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I reach the finish line. Super kudos to the race organizers and the staff who put on a fabulous event for a great cause (United Way). I will be back next year, Lord willing!

5:05 AM I have been so blessed this year. I have a wonderful family, a fantastic job, a beautiful farm. I even get to wake up at an unearthly hour to go and run a 5K. Running can and should be fun! If it's not, you're doing something wrong.

I'll post a report of today's race later -- unless I get hit by a taxiing airplane.

Friday, April 9

7:02 PM A very Merry Christmas and happy holidays from my house to yours. Well, okay, I'm a few months early. But it feels like Christmas. Christmas is the only time I treat myself to Texas fajitas. Except for today. I figured it was a nice way to say "Thank you" to my body and mind for working so hard this week on campus.

While in the thanking mode, I'd also like to thank the Honda Corporation for placing its local franchise in the city of South Hill so that, when I take my Odyssey in for an oil change, I can easily access the Tobacco Heritage Trail in the same city.

As you can see, the weather was perfect this morning for a bike ride in the countryside.

In fact, the weather couldn't be any better for farmers than it's been of late.

I only wish the paved portion of the trail continued past Brodnax. Unfortunately, you need a mountain bike to travel any farther.

While I was in town esta noche having my Christmas comida, a hailstorm blew in out of nowhere. I wasn't even aware of it until one of my kids sent me this pic he snapped not 8 miles from the farm.

Whoa. Glad the farmhouse is still standing. Huge thanks to the Lord for taking such good care of me today both in good weather and bad. Did you get outdoors for exercise today? Your brain will come up with 6,320 excuses why you're too tired or too busy or too sore to exercise. Politely tell your brain to SHUT UP, then put on your running shoes and just do it. Get good at saying "yes." Yes to fun. Yes to naps. Yes to cinnamon rolls. (Always yes to cinnamon rolls.) And yes to your body when it wants to be active. You are never too old to crank up the old bike and get in a few miles. 

Merry Christmas!

Dave

7:40 AM A few odds and ends to get everyone caught up ....

1) If you didn't get a copy of my booklet Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? after my chapel talk yesterday, I've got another box of books on order. Please check back with my office in two weeks to get your free copy.

2) Here's my Tuesday run.

As you can see, I've discovered a new venue for these training runs. It's called the Smith Creek Trail and it's only about a 5 minute drive from the seminary. Perfect for that quick workout either before or after class.

3) My reading this morning was in Psalm 19 and I had to smile when I read this:

The sun lives in the heavens where God placed it and moves out across the skies as radiant as a bridegroom going to his wedding or as joyous as an athlete looking to run a race! (TLB).

Man is that true. I still can't believe my next marathon will be here before you know it. I love the marathon distance. The marathon, I believe, is the perfect trial for the person who lacks talent or skill but is determined to finish. It's such a difficult race that instead of doing 2-3 a year like I used to, I now run only one marathon in a year's time. The key to completing a marathon is finding that nice, slow pace and settling into it for the long haul. There is no need to go fast. My opponent is me -- the Dave who would let this cup pass and who is willing to settle for a good try and not the painful and dedicated plunge into darkness that is required. But remember: You beat all those people who didn't show up :-)

4) Tomorrow I'm planning on running a 5K on an active runway at the Lynchburg airport. Yes, I said "active." (Kids: the life insurance policy is current.)

More later. Time to run my Friday errands and maybe grab some Mexican for lunch. I leave you with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical decisive hour. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.

Thursday, April 8

6:10 PM Weekend reading:

1) My colleague Matt Mullins was kind enough to give me a copy of his latest book. Thank you, Matt. I do enjoy the Bible!

2) These came while I was away. Shouldn't take me more than a few days to read them. Yes, I am a huge U. S. history nut.

Monday, April 5

6:42 AM Decisions, decisions, decisions! Which of these power points on Hebrews should I use this week in NT 2? We only have 3 hours, even less if we subtract time for our quiz.

The New Testament is the product of various writers covering vitally important truths about God, humanity, life, and the afterlife. Each writer had a different message to convey. What is the message of Hebrews? Surely it contains at least the following:

1) Christ offers the reality that Judaism could only foreshadow. The old revelation was piecemeal and fragmentary, but in the New Testament God has made a complete self-revelation in his Son -- a priest represented not by Aaron but by Melchizedek.

2) Through his sacrifice on the cross Christ has secured an access to God that Judaism could only preshadow. If this is sacerdotalism, then let us preach and practice it.

3) This same Christ has blazed a trail and opened for us a new and living way to the heavenly Jerusalem. The Christian life is therefore to be a pilgrimage; we are resident aliens (so the title of a wonderful book) on our way to the city whose builder and maker is God.

4) Until we reach that celestial abode, what is our calling? It is to go with God back into the world and call others to follow the onward-moving Christ. This letter is all about the Great Commission; the gathering exists for the going.

Hebrews has been called "a masterpiece of religious thought." But it is also a practical book. The author summons us to the pilgrim life of faith, and his challenge to "go forth to Jesus outside the camp, bearing the stigma he bore" (13:13) is still very much needed today. Being a Christian doesn't guarantee us freedom from hardships and confusion. In fact, it seems to ensure them. But in the middle of our difficulties we face at home, work, or school, we have a Great High Priest. His rest (Matt. 11:28) doesn't come in an isolated setting where we are immune from problems. It comes when we need it the most. 

P.S. As I was packing my meals this morning, guess what I noticed? Sheba's water bowl. The water is evaporating and somehow I saw in that a lesson. Someday what we value will be gone and we are left with only our memories. The worst part is coming home and not being greeted. I've got a new normal and yes, it's taking time to adjust to it. Think of your own losses. It may have been a relationship. Loss of health. Having to move. The inability to do things you've always done. Grief is never linear. We move back and forth, from bargaining to acceptance. People who have pets do so with the complete understanding that we'll eventually face the pain of goodbye. We love them anyway, because the joy they bring us is so worth it. People who say "It's only a dog" have never owned a dog. I miss Sheba but I'm so glad she was part of our family for 14 years. She was such a wonderful friend. I think I will miss her for a very long time to come.

Sunday, April 4

6:48 PM Marathon training continues for me.

The race is less than two months away. Training for a marathon is no joke, especially when it's a trail marathon. But if you want to run well, I'm a firm believer in emphasizing aerobic development over anaerobic efforts. Marathon training is a whole other level of dedication that you really have to dig for sometimes. But crossing that finish line is such a special moment. I'd encourage anyone to take on the marathon distance at least once in their lifetime. If you are in good health, you can train yourself to run a marathon by gradually working up to that distance.

On to the next challenge -- which right now is teaching my 7 classes this week!

7:34 AM An Easter meditation:

Born in a backyard stable.

Lived our pains and hardships.

Died in disgrace.

Where was God?

Then came Easter morning ....

He burst his bonds.

Arose from death victorious.

Secured eternal salvation.

Lives for eternity.

The Great EXCHANGE:

Joy for sackcloth.

Dancing for lament.

Myrtles for briars.

Pines for thorns.

Blessings for curses.

Light for darkness.

Power for weakness.

Glory for humiliation.

A resplendent body for a vile one.

Life out of death.

REDEMPTIVE suffering ...

... bringing consolation, salvation, strength, fortitude, endurance, immortality for mortality, an imperishable body for a perishable one.

If we understand this, we need never again be bitter about our suffering.

It will one day be exchanged for wholeness.

Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. Martin Luther.

Saturday, April 3

4:56 PM I've never found anything as energizing, rewarding, humbling, or demanding as running. Today's jaunt took me just under 8 miles on our local Tobacco Heritage Trail.

Here's the turnaround point.

And here's the parking lot.

Per usual, it's empty except for my car. Of course, it is Easter weekend. But still, not many people take advantage of this wonderful resource right in our own backyard. For me, running always provides lots of teaching moments. I am so thankful for everything Heavenly Father has blessed me with. Even the challenges of life help me grow. I hope you are finding life to be that way too. I wish you and your family a very Happy Resurrection Sunday tomorrow and a positively epic rest of your year as you follow the Savior in obedience and love. Thank you so, so much for your encouraging emails. I can't tell you how grateful I feel.

9:16 AM Hey folks! Check out this new grammar. Not bad, not bad at all. And the best news of all? It's free. Just click and use.

All I can say is: there's still a lot of pushback, folks, about using "perfective" to describe the aorist tense form, as there rightly should be in my humble opinion. First, von Siebenthal pushes back (his three aspects are Aorist, Durative, and Resultative). When the greatest living New Testament Greek philologist in German-speaking Europe speaks, pay careful attention. Then along comes Michael Boler in his new grammar for Koine and Classical Greek in which he talks about Imperfect, Aorist, and Perfect aspect. Oh, and did I mention Ann Groton's grammar From Alpha to Omega, where she uses the exact same *outdated* terminology I use in my grammar, namely Imperfective, Aoristic, and Perfective?

So what does this new online grammar by Darryl Palmer do? Behold the following:

Yep, there's that dastardly language again -- Imperfect, Perfect, and Aorist. Reminds me of a page out of my own book:

Palmer is very clear about this. That's why this chart of his is so helpful.

I know it's impudent of me, but I might perhaps tweak it as follows (retaining Palmer's terms "imperfect," "aorist," and "perfect"):

Imperfect Aspect

pauō Present Imperfect ("I am stopping")

epauon Past Imperfect ("I was stopping")

pauxō Future Imperfect ("I will be stopping")

 

Aorist Aspect

pauō Present Aorist ("I stop")

epausa Past Aorist ("I stopped")

pauxō Future Aorist ("I will stop")

 

Perfect Aspect

pepauka Present Perfect ("I have stopped")

epepaukē Past Perfect ("I had stopped")

pepauxō Future Perfect ("I will have stopped")

Make sense? Food for thought at least? "Perfective" for "aoristic" is one example of nomenclature change I reject because it's unhelpful pedagogically. For more, go to this power point called Verbal Aspect.

Thanks for being my friend (or, I hope you don't mind I assume we are still friends). Off to run!

8:10 AM So I've got basically one month left of fulltime teaching. Part of me wants to make a list of things I'd like my students to remember about my teaching. However, I cannot reduce the challenge to a checklist of suggestions. A biblical rebirth of the church will never happen if we follow that approach. Such a list is not radical enough; it does not go to the heart of the matter. That will happen only when the Holy Spirit is given his rightful place in our lives, when we allow him to interrupt and even disrupt our thought patterns and traditions. At some point the church has to acknowledge that what it often proclaims and practices are not rooted in the New Testament. Then it must drive itself back to the New Testament in an effort to straighten things out. After 44 years of teaching, I would be well-satisfied with that. Beyond that, I can't give you any easy formulas. I don't believe there are any. Study. Pray. Discuss. Above all, maintain your allegiance to Christ alone.

To him who is able to do far more than all we could ever ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.

8:02 AM By now you know I'm not your ordinary farmer. I couldn't repair a tractor if my life depended on it. I don't know how to hook up a bush hog. (That's what kids are for.) Shoot, for years I didn't even know what a bush hog was. As for cleaning the two large farm houses, I wouldn't know how to scrub a toilet bowl if you paid me 1,000 bucks. I like to think of myself as unique instead of a klutz. That's why I've organized a farm work day for Saturday, May 22. We'll deep clean both houses (my house which is the guest house, and Maple Ridge which is the refugee/long-term residence house). Because of Covid, there's a great demand for our retreat ministry here. Seems like many Ms can't get back into their country and need a temporary place to live for a few months. The refugee house has been closed for a year now and I can't wait to reopen it. But it will need a woman's touch. A local church has volunteered to send a crew of guys and gals to help me get the work done. We'll work from around 9:00 to 3:00. I will provide lunch. The Lord will pay them on Judgment Day. I'm also announcing this to my students in case any of them might want to help that day. We'll wear masks and require social distancing of course. The men will help me with farm chores, repairs, and the like. (The list grows longer by the day.) Maybe I will even let them get up hay. The goal, however, remains the same: allow the farm to be used for its ultimate purpose -- helping others. Too often we promote in evangelism and missions a commodity we don't have in stock on our own shelves. If what we profess as Christians doesn't work at home, it will not work anywhere. We are not ready to send missions abroad when we are living in a mess at home.

How is your Jerusalem? Have you proved your profession in your home? Do you help your neighbors? Here is a grace that can be practiced anywhere. There is nothing weak or effeminate about helping others. Only great souls are truly kind. So a tip of the hat and a big shout out to a group of simple church folk who are willing to sacrifice their time and energy to help a klutz -- er, unique dude -- get his farm up and running for visitors again. In an age that glorifies hearers, I'm so thankful to the Lord for doers.

Friday, April 2

4:50 PM What a wonderful book by Billy Graham! I couldn't put it down.

If you have aging parents, take note of the three things Billy Graham recommends you do:

1) Tell them often that you care about them.

2) Pray for them constantly.

3) Keep in touch regularly.

Today I spoke by phone again with Becky's mom in Dallas. She turns 90 next month. Dad is 93. What joy. It's always a good feeling to be the object of someone's love. 

7:55 AM To all of my German-speaking friends wherever you may live: Einen schönen Karfreitag! Danke, Herr Jesus, Du allein bist mein Heiland! Bei Dir findet meine Seele Erfüllung. Nur bei Dir ist Erlösung und Rettung. Es ist vollbracht!!!! Es bleibt nichts mehr üblich, was noch getan werden müsste, damit wir Menschen von unseren Schuld entlastet werden können.

Gott sei dank!

Thursday, April 1

6:02 PM Today I was thinking a lot about gratitude. Earlier I had nothing but difficulty trying to upload my blog to the internet. I rebooted my computer. Nothing happened. Tech support couldn't help. A call to the software company ended up placing me on an interminable hold. Okay, I said to myself, let's try it one more time. All of a sudden everything was working normally again. So many lessons to learn. Don't take anything in life for granted -- things can change on a dime. Live life fearlessly -- trust the Lord in every circumstance. He's in control and he knows what he's doing. Be grateful. I know I say this all the time, but one of the worst things we can do is fail to give glory to God when he does something for us that is, quite frankly, miraculous. Be thankful for all of it -- the good and the bad. All this to say -- I burst into tears of thanksgiving this morning when the Lord intervened in my problem. He pulled through for me even when I didn't think he would. You value what you notice, friends. I'm trying to notice miracles every day. Easter reminds us to give thanks for God's miracles. It is a reminder of what we should do every day. Make being grateful a part of your day just like combing your hair or brushing your teeth. Even when something goes wrong, try to learn from the situation. Make it a point to be the most grateful person you can be. Paul said, "I have nothing and yet I possess everything" (2 Cor. 6:10). This puts the Evil One in a spot. When he promises, "I'll give you this or that," you can say, "You can't give me anything because I already have everything." If he changes his tactics and threatens, "I'll take away what you have," you can calmly reply, "You can't take it away because I don't have anything." We have NOTHING because all that we have belongs to God. Yet we have EVERYTHING because we are joint heirs with Christ. Jesus perfectly illustrated this paradox during his earthly life -- having nothing and yet possessing all things. May I learn to do the same, be it in poverty or in plenty.

12:10 PM Just finished a half marathon bike ride to complete this portion of my marathon training for the week.

Hi road bike. It's me, Dave, and I just wanted to write a little thank you note after today's ride. You are beautiful. I love riding with you. I can't imagine still using my mountain bike on the roads. It was so slow! Now I feel like Speed Racer. I really, really like how your gears make biking so easy. I can't thank you enough for the amazing way you make me feel like I could bike forever. You are a bundle of light, energy, and kindness. Thanks for being the coolest road bike a guy could ever ask for.

7:40 AM So tomorrow is "Good Friday." In Germany and many cantons in Switzerland, it's actually called Karfreitag. The word means something like "Grieving Friday" or "Mourning Friday." I can think of no better musical composition to reflect on the suffering and sin in this world that Jesus came to heal than this piece by John Williams. Watch and weep along with the musicians. (Be sure to read the description before watching.)

This is the sorrow from which Jesus came to save us. The gospel is a bloody, gory story. There's nothing lovely about dying on a cross between two thieves and a battered body buried in a borrowed tomb. The death of Christ is foolishness to our age and a scandal to the unregenerate heart. But we are not saved from ours sins by an Example or a Teacher. We are saved by Christ the Propitiation for our sins, Christ slain and risen.

Note, as you watch the orchestra playing the theme from Schindler's List, that our great music was not produced in ideal circumstances. Much of it comes out of adversity and sorrow. It takes a grindstone to sharpen an axe. Dear Christian friend, we cannot only endure what the world throws at us but we must overcome it because Christ overcame it and we can face any circumstance in union with the one who loved us and gave himself for us. An aching soul and a satisfying God. What a combination. Praise God for Karfreitag.

Wednesday, March 31

7:54 PM Evening, I welcome thee.

7:12 PM Kenyan runner Abel Mutai was leading a cross-country race in Navarre, Spain, in December 2012 when he got confused with the signs. Only a few meters from the finish line, he suddenly stopped, thinking that he had finished the race. A Spanish runner named Ivan Fernandez was right behind him. Realizing what was happening, he shouted to the Kenyan to keep on running. Mutai did not know Spanish and didn't understand what the Spaniard was saying, so Fernandez pushed Mutai to the victory.

After the race, a reporter asked Fernandez, "Why did you do this?" Fernandez replied, "My dream is that one day we can have some sort of community life where we push ourselves and help each other to win." When the reporter said "But you could have won the race!", Fernandez replied, "I didn't deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn't have closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn't going to pass him."

Friends, it's never been more important for us to help each other across the finish line. May God bless the world (and the church) with more people like Ivan Fernandez. There is no glory to be gained in winning because of a rival's mistake.

8:15 AM Tomorrow, April will arrive. Beginning next week, there will only be 5 weeks of classes on campus before final exams. Where has the time gone?

For some crazy reason, I've been thinking a lot these days about the future and reflecting (more than I usually do) on the past. This week of Easter Break is also turning out to be a time of spiritual renewal. The farm is the one place in the entire world where I feel like I can truly relax. Nothing, I find, renews me more than a brisk walk on the farm paths or a quiet visit with the animals in their pastures.

One thing I hope to do more of during the next few weeks is "call out the gold" in the lives of my students. I'm not sure where that expression originated, but I like it. God has designed each of them with a very special purpose in mind. They are his "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works." I believe it's essential that all of them fulfill God's purpose for their lives. When I see a student who shows exceptional ability in their studies and potential to become a teacher, I try to make sure they know what I am seeing rather than just keep my belief in them hidden. I tell them never to limit God in any way, shape, or form. God created us to go after the seemingly impossible.

I know this is true from personal experience. Little did I realize when I entered Biola as a college student in 1971 that God was preparing me to teach. Looking back, I realize that my goal in becoming a Bible major at Biola had no utilitarian purpose behind it; I simply loved the Bible and wanted to study it. I spent all of my time pursuing this dream. Thankfully, though, others were observing my life, perhaps even more carefully that I had been. Isn't it crazy how sometimes the smallest decisions have the most significant consequences in our lives? In 1976, while I was starting my M.Div. in New Testament at Talbot, Dr. Harry Sturz approached me and asked me if I would consider teaching 11 units at Biola that fall. I suddenly found myself in the classroom not as a student but as an instructor. I felt God speaking to the depths of my heart for the first time about my vocation. God told me (not audibly, but you know what I mean) that he would use the talents he gave me to help others know him better through learning how to read the New Testament in Greek. I began to see the potential in me that I hadn't seen before. Everything changed. My purpose from then on was to nurture the talent that God had put inside me.

That September day back in 1976 was one I will never forgot. On that day I began an adventure with God that's lasted 44 years and even now is evolving into a wonderful new season of life. But that day would not have happened without the head of the Greek Department at Biola seeing potential in one of his students and taking a (big) risk in hiring him to teach Greek. I didn't realize it at the time, but God had been preparing me for that very moment -- from my days growing up in Hawaii to my college days at Biola to my choice to stay at Talbot for my masters degree rather than going somewhere else.

Dear reader, if you want to know God's will for your life, why not consider talking to someone who is older and wiser than you, someone who knows you well and can perhaps see your giftedness better than you can? Find someone who will tell you what your gifts are and what those gifts might be equipping you to do with your life. With my students, I don't want to just teach them Greek. I try to learn about them -- about their abilities, their gifts, their interests, their aspirations, their fears. There is no greater blessing for a teacher than to help someone find their purpose in life. My friend, God in his goodness has great plans for you. When I went to Biola, I would have never guessed what lay in store in for me. But God had it all planned out in advance. All I had to do was fully embrace his plan by faith, trusting that he would lead me all the way. He did, he is, and he will. And to those of you who are advanced in years and are perhaps even considering retirement: others are watching your actions and your attitudes. Don't diminish the impact you can make. Pass on your stories of hope and God's faithfulness to the next generation. The word of God should fill us with thankful hearts that he is personally interested in our lives and careers. Are you willing to be used by him perhaps in ways you never expected? You have the capacity to accomplish so much in life. God doesn't want you to end up feeling like you wasted your life. It's your turn to blossom. It's your turn to bring beauty to a desert like a cactus does when it opens up in spring time.

Problems and obstacles do not exempt us from fulfilling our purpose in life. Hope in God's unchanging promises. Look for his plan in every circumstance and in every voice you encounter daily. Ask him to open your eyes to what he has in store for you. When Harry Sturz approached me that day in 1976 to teach Greek, within a matter of moments my life was changed forever. Since then I have never doubted my calling.

Church, let's cultivate a culture of "calling out the gold" in the people around us. You never know what impact that can have.

Tuesday, March 30

5:40 PM Today I enjoyed another run at the High Bridge Trail in you-know-where Virginia. I know my blog is becoming soooo predictable.

Run 3.5 miles on the rail trail.

Then run 3.5 miles on the River Road.

Boring.

I prefer to think of myself as being in a routine rather as being stuck in a rut. I love each time I get to run on this route. My running these days has been completely "get to" rather than "have to." It's been pure unadulterated fun. I've fallen in love with this kind of running. Right now I am so thankful for my running, family, friends, neighbors, job, writing, farm, animals, and especially my Savior who died and rose again on Easter Sunday. I could not ask for more.

Happy Easter and love from the Black family (me and the animals). 

Monday, March 29

5:14 PM Today I tried to stay focused on my school and farm work and avoid lying around in the sun doing absolutely nothing-- and failed. Others who tried and failed:

  • My wife tried to make me watch Pride and Prejudice -- and failed.

  • Doritos tried to be delicious without mango salsa -- and failed.

  • Jim Carry tried to make an unfunny movie -- and failed.

  • A. T. Robertson tried to write a grammar you could carry with one hand -- and failed.

  • Some people would argue that a certain New Testament scholar tried to make people believe in Matthean Priority -- and failed. (And those people would be completely wrong.)

Here's to many more failures in life!

P.S. Here's the theme of Heb 12:1-2 -- and of the entire book of Hebrews:

I think this is my favorite slide (among these) I'll be showing during my chapel message.

7:48 AM I have had my mind blown. I just finished reading A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald. It's one of the most informative, entertaining, and encouraging books I've ever read.

There are so many features that make this book amazing:

1) The adventure and excitement of the story. Gordon was a cross-country runner in his earlier years and so draws many applications to the Christian life from that sport.

2) His key passage is Heb. 12:1-2, one of my favorite texts in the Bible and one on which I'll be speaking in chapel next Thursday. Gordon renders the Greek hupomonē as "resilience." Brilliant!

3) The subtitle says it all: "You Can Move Ahead No Matter What."

4) His main points are all tremendous takeaways:

  • Resilient people are committed to finishing strong.

  • Resilient people run inspired by a big-picture view of life.

  • Resilient people run free of the weight of the past.

  • Resilient people train to go the distance.

  • Resilient people run in the company of a "happy few."

5) The book delves into how and why we can run the race of the Christian life that each of us has before us.

A Resilient Life has changed the way I read Heb. 12:1-2. I can't recommend it highly enough. You can find it at Amazon. Prepare to have your mind blown.

Sunday, March 28

2:40 PM My trip to Charlottesville was wildly enjoyably. No, I didn't run in the 10 mile race. It was cancelled due to the possibility of thunderstorms. Although the storms never actually materialized, you can't fault the race director for cancelling in light of concerns about liability and what not. So what if it cost me 6 hours of driving and a hotel room. My registration is now deferred to next year's race, when I shall absolutely CRUSH IT (my drive to Charlottesville and back, that is). I am a firm believer that we learn from disappointments in life. The silver lining was the beautiful countryside I got to enjoy on my drives.

If there was no official 10-miler today, it doesn't mean that there wasn't an unofficial one. My legs insisted on getting those miles in, so off we went to the local high school to make up for the race that was cancelled.

Although my body was running along the cracking asphalt of the school ...

... my mind was wandering disobediently to faraway places, including the beauty of Utah (St. George Marathon), the heat of Arizona (Phoenix-Mesa Marathon), and the hills of Cincinnati (Flying Pig Marathon). And so with that, I finished my 10 mile run all by myself.

All in all, it was the perfect experience. It seemed like the best reward for being so positive about the cancellation. I am SO, SO incredibly grateful that the Lord allows me to do things like this. While in Charlottesville, I left some flowers in memory of Heather Heyer.

It is unfathomable to think about what happened to her. I am infinitely sad for the hatred that led to her death. Let's use her story to help us keep fighting the good fight of faith. Be kind to each other, have hope, and smile. Anyways, time to go and check on the 4-legged family members. Talk to you soon!

Saturday, March 27

8:34 AM A good Saturday morning to you all. I'm currently packing for my trip to Charlottesville for tomorrow's Charlottesville 10-Miler. It's the latest race in the Co-Run-A-Virus 2021 series. I had to do my last pre-race run on Wednesday because I haven't had any time to do a run since. I did manage to get the gravel down on the driveways yesterday and then I had to spend an hour with a Hughes Net tech working on my new modem. I think I told you that the race venue has changed. Instead of being held in downtown C-Ville, Mr. Covid insisted that we run in the countryside instead. I have no issues with that whatsoever. Here's a pic they sent us of the race site.

It's called Foxfield. I imagine it's a place where equestrians do fox hunts or something like that. They've mowed a strip in the field for us runners. Sweet.

The race is actually being held both this morning and tomorrow morning because of social distancing requirements. I'm doing Part Deux. The amazing thing about a race like this one is that it really isn't a race. It's an event. According to the National Institute for Fake Statistics, only about 10 percent of runners actually "race" in a 10-miler. The other 90 percent of runners, including me, simply show up to have a good time. Just crossing the finish line is a personal accomplishment. Nothing can quite equal that sense of satisfaction (except maybe getting an A on Dr. Black's Greek exams). Here, by the way, is the course map.

I have no idea what to do with it. It looks more like a Current Map of the Atlantic Ocean than a race map. As an aside, here's a list of the beneficiaries for this weekend's race:

  • International School of Charlottesville

  • Shelter for Help in Emergencies

  • Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge

  • Charlottesville Police Foundation

  • Hope's Legacy Legacy Rescue

  • Madison House

  • The Virginia Discovery Museum

Something for everyone looks like :-)

Now get out there and run!

Friday, March 26

8:45 PM "Why do you run?" The answer is in the video below. Running is chicken soup for the soul. It's the best place to know beauty. On the roads, I give the Creator a standing ovation. He knows that I am a back-of-the-pack runner. I will never come home with a trophy. Like most runners, I am known as a runner only to my friends and family. It does not matter where I finish or how fast I can go. All around me are runners who feel the same way. They are trying as desperately as I am, not to win anything, but to succeed in the game of life. Every day is a day in which I stop and thank the Lord for his precious gifts. Among them is the gift of running. Every race is special and unique and I cherish them all.

"Why do you run?" I think it's pretty obvious. Enjoy :-)

5:50 PM Drum roll please. The moment we've all been waiting for. (#chillaxinginthesun.)

11:18 AM Here's an excellent Palm Sunday message. Finde die Predigt super. Mir hat es gerade sehr geholfen.

As with German, so with anything in life: Use it or lose it.

7:55 AM In NT this week we went through this power point on Romans.

Paul is sensing it's time to move on. He's been working in the eastern Roman empire for quite some time. Now it's time to start his new mission for Christ. For a while he's wanted to visit Rome and from there to visit Spain. He plans to make Rome his new base of operations and he evidently wanted the assistance of the Roman church in terms of prayer, materiel, and personnel. He also took the opportunity to explain to the Romans the gospel he'd been preaching for some 20 years.

The result is what many consider to be the "Cathedral of Christianity." The letter is Paul saying,"Here's the sum and substance of what I preach. It's the message I want to share when I travel to the West." Paul's letter to the Romans is a beautiful example of him practicing what he preaches. He loves others more than he loves himself. He's a team player. He never sacrifices doctrine but seeks to apply it to his daily living. He was always looking for new places of ministry as the Spirit led him. Paul forces us to ask which is more important: fulfilling our goals or fulfilling God's mission. Will we leverage everything we have for the gospel, even our chains? In other words, Paul wants us to get to know Christ as well as he does. If you want the inside scoop on the gospel, spend a quiet evening in Romans. Then carry on with your job as a Christian -- sharing Jesus' love with everyone you meet. When Jesus went back to heaven, he left us to carry on his work for him -- to serve him, love for him, speak for him. If others fail to recognize him, could it be that we're failing at our job?

P.S. Notice the linguistic makeup of Spain in that day.

I would not at all be surprised if Paul wanted the Romans' help in providing translators for him, since not everyone would have known Greek. Just a thought ....

Thursday, March 25

7:45 PM This evening I've been working on getting rid of all the potholes that have accumulated throughout the years.

This is an improvement, wouldn't ya say?

Tomorrow I'm having 4 truckloads of crush-and-run delivered and spread. That should do the trick. In the meantime I'm getting more and more excited about this weekend's race. I've always wanted a purple t-shirt.

Alas, this was the only run I got in in this week due to a crazy work schedule.

Still, I was so thankful. Afterwards I felt great and eager to get moving this weekend. I feel so blessed. I couldn't have asked for a better year so far. (Unless you could erase that awful ice storm we had in February.) Happy Easter Break from my house to yours.

Monday, March 22

7:58 AM Back to school as together we pursue knowledge (not for the sake of knowledge per se, of course). Greek, for example, has logical, even mathematical, precision. Aristotle would have agreed.

He was the founder of logical theory and (unwittingly perhaps) I love to use his stuff when teaching. For example, I tend to do a lot of moving when I teach. The Greeks called this a "peripatetic" style. Aristotle liked to lecture his students while walking. So do I. Not so the Stoics, who preferred to sit on porches (stoa) when they waxed elephant. One of Aristotle's best-known ideas was "The Golden Mean," meaning to avoid extremes. He counseled moderation and often saw the best solution to a problem in the middle rather than on the ends. This approach to teaching is often a tight rope. I hope to follow Aristotle's advice concerning moderation even though his most famous student, the over-achieving Alexander, obviously never got the memo. I know, I know. Studying Greek can seem like aerobics for the intellect and weigh training for the soul. But its most important feature is the one built into it: the ability to think logically and carefully. The study of Greek is one of the noblest activities in which we can engage because it promotes wisdom in our lives. I do hope you agree. A wise student is never all veneer and no substance. All ornament is backed up by a strong reality. It's that reality we're after this week and every week until the end of the semester. And this wisdom in found in God's word, not in anything I or anyone else may have written.

Sunday, March 21

6:18 PM Today I biked the inaugural Virginia Capital Trail Cycling Festival -- a race covering just under 40 miles. What? You've never heard of this bicycle race? Possibly it's because it didn't exist until today. The registration fee was free, so the event got off to a grand start. I'm disappointed in the race organizers, though. The course markings were terrible. In fact, they were nonexistent. I pretty much had to wing it the whole way. I was surprised to be the only cyclist who enjoyed such views as this one.

Maybe that's because the race director (who happened to me) capped the race at exactly one. The finish line festivities were a big wash. No party and no applauding spectators. But the good news is that I WON!

Instead of a medal, the race director treated me to a burrito supreme at Taco Bell. Plus a large Pepsi. Super unhealthy. And super delicious.

How was your race this weekend, even if it was only in your imagination?

P.S. Met this alpaca in Charles City.

He sure was sweet. I'm told they make good pets. May have to get me one -- preferably two, since they're herd animals.

Off to cook my meals for the week.

7:45 AM Well, we are officially over half way through the semester. It's crunch time, folks. Here are some tips that worked for me when I was a Greek student in college/seminary:

1) Learn about the end game. Review the course syllabus to know where you still have to go. Don't be blind-sided by surprises. If there are two more exams, be sure to write those dates on your calendar and plan ahead.

2) Have a goal for the class? Make it known to somebody. It will make you work harder.

3) Sit around and do nothing. All work and no play is not a good idea. Take time off to watch a movie or go for a run. This will help get you motivated and in the proper frame of mind to hit the books again.

4) Have faith in God. When things don't go the way you planned, this doesn't mean that the world is coming to an end. Never lose sight of your goals. If you don't get them right this week, keep trying. Commit your ways to the Lord and allow him to do what you can't.

5) Run your own race. It doesn't matter what other people think. Do your best with what you have. If you do, you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.

6) Expect ups and downs. That's just how life works. "It too will pass."

7) Be kind to yourself. School work doesn't define you. Neither do grades. You are not "good" if you get an A in Greek or "bad" if you get a D.

8) Seek out help. My assistant and I are always available to help you succeed. Just send me an email and we'll get a tutoring session on the books.

9) Smile. Never lose heart. Always be joyful, thankful, and prayerful (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

My final piece of advice is one that comes from running. Never assume the worst. There are many times in a race when you start feeling bad. Your legs get tired at mile 4 in a marathon and you assume that you'll never finish the race. Of course, the worst case scenario is sometimes true, but most often it's not.  The trick is to accept the discomfort and stop obsessing about it. Chances are things will improve and not get any worse.

We are now in chapter 20 out of 26 chapters in my beginning grammar. You are well over 2/3rds of the way through the book. The great sports physiologist Timothy Noakes observed that in a run of any distance, fatigue always sets in around 2/3rds of the way through the run. This is true whether you are running a 5K, 10K, 10-miler, half marathon, or full marathon. In the beginning we feel full of energy, but now we feel like we need to really push to continue. That is perfectly normal. The main point of Dr. Noakes' observation is that the experience of fatigue is a mental one. You have similar levels of mental fatigue 2/3rds of the way through a 5K as you do during a marathon. So when we get uncomfortable while running, we shouldn't panic.

Bottom line: Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may be tough, but it's a small price to pay for accomplishing your dreams. Just ask this blind winner of the Flying Pig Marathon:

What an inspiration.

Saturday, March 20

7:14 PM Some days you go out and run and it's okay. Other days you feel like you're on Cloud Nine. Today was such a day for me. As per usual, I carted off my 68-year old legs to Farmville.

 Here, as always, the High Bridge Trail awaited me.

After I had run about 3 and a half miles, the trail came to an end due to some construction work. So I finished my run on the River Road that goes next to the trail.

It was heavenly. Rolling hills. Nice soft asphalt. No cars to speak of (this part of Virginia is very rural and sparsely inhabited). The road was constantly rising up and going down, giving your legs a chance to vary muscle usage. Overall, the run felt great. I kept a chill pace and tried to stay even on the ups and downs.

This route is perfect for running and I do plan on running it often. Light traffic, gorgeous scenery, and a nice break from the monotony of the trail. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a postcard. (And thank you, dog owners, for keeping your hounds fenced up. I appreciate it.) But the biggest joy was a sense of overwhelming gratitude to my Father for the journey that had taken place in my life to get me to this point. Since I've taken up the hobby of running, I've discovered something about myself. I've discovered that I need the solitude. I need to get away from everything. I need to be in the middle of nowhere and not have a single soul within miles of me sometimes. I feel so blessed. I feel so blessed to have a family that has been unquestionably supportive of all my running adventures. They have never questioned me or discouraged any of my running aspirations. Most of all I'm thankful for God and the opportunities he's placed before me in life. I'm thankful for the career in teaching he gave me, and I'm thankful for the body he's given me. It allows me to feel my feet beneath me, to breathe fresh air, and to experience the beauty of God's creation. As I've often said, I'm not a gifted runner but I am tenacious. And in running, that can take you a long way.

Thanks for reading. Seriously. Thank you.

P.S. Upcoming:

1) Next weekend is the Charlottesville 10-Miler. This will be my inaugural running of this event. I'm super excited to see that they've moved the course from the downtown area to the countryside.

2) Two weeks later I'm scheduled to run in the "5K on the Runway" in Lynchburg. That's right -- you're actually racing alongside an active runway at the Lynchburg Airport.

3) Then, on June 5, comes the goal I've been training for -- the Jackson River Scenic Marathon in Central Virginia.

As much as I love racing, I love the training that goes into these races. Marathons especially have a way of stripping you bare. The outside layers are all stripped away like an onion and you're left alone with your doubts and fears. Thankfully, step after step and mile after mile, the finish line gets closer and closer. And when you cross it, all the doubts and fears will have vanished, replaced by triumph and humble gratitude. To this day I still can't believe that I, of all people, am capable of moving forward for 26.2 miles. Reaching the finish line of each of my 16 marathons has changed me. The experience has been profound, painful, rewarding, and challenging. Maybe I'll write a book about it someday.

8:28 AM Keeping your foot on the accelerator, folks, keeping your foot on the accelerator until the end of the semester. If you don't, you'll lose momentum. Last night I opened to the Book of Odes from the Septuagint, many of which were sung in the early church.

One of them is the Prayer of Jonah, which comes from Jonah chapter 2 (which we just happen to be studying in our LXX class).

Let's not forget that Paul tells us we should "speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5:19; the word "spiritual" is absent in some Greek manuscripts). By composing hymns himself, Paul has given his readers a good example of the early church's ability to compose hymns for use in its gatherings. The Book of Odes in the LXX is located after the Psalms (except in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) and, as I said, was composed for use in Christian circles. In other words, when the early church was formed, it already had existing collections of songs, which in turn promoted the composition of new ones. Notice, too, that the purpose of singing was not so much for worship (though worship was involved) but for mutual edification ("speaking to one another ..."). The enjoyment of music alone was never its primary purpose. Only praise that served an edifying purpose was considered acceptable. The parallel in Colossians puts it this way: "teaching and admonishing one another" (Col. 3:16). Apparently the earliest church did just that! Hence Paul could write that, when believers came together, "Each one has a hymn" (1 Cor. 14:26).

You want stuff to impress people with at social gatherings? Then mention the Book of Odes. But don't get cocky. You have to read the Odes first!

Friday, March 19

9:40 PM On this day almost four decades ago our first child was born.

When we brought him home from the hospital he weighed 4 pounds, 9 ounces. Much has happened in those intervening years. When his mother graduated to Heaven, I thought of Amy Carmichael's beautiful poem:

If Thy dear Home be fuller, Lord,/For that a little emptier My house on earth,/ What rich reward/That guerdon be.

When we come to Christ, dear reader, God does not whisk us away to Heaven. We are left here to suffer in our fractured world, fractured because of the after-effects of sin, sometimes ours, sometimes others'. Four decades ago I accepted parenthood as a wonderful gift of God. Seven years ago I accepted singleness as his gift, appropriate to the work he has called me to do. I have tried to accept it gladly and, for the most part, and only by his grace, have succeeded in doing so. I have such happy memories today of my wife and the birth of our son. Cherish, dear friend, oh cherish those years of companionship while they last.

Two sounds connect,

Two souls intertwine.

Both of us are strong;

Both of us create power.

Our hearts will rise,

Be as one,

And we will be invincible

To any obstacle we come across.

We shall stand tall,

And have each other's back.

And when one falls,

The other will lift you up.

Marriage and parenthood. What blessings of God -- overwhelming evidence of his lavish gifts of love. And when these gifts are taken from us, we remember: He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

6:48 PM I've got another takeaway from Jay Kim's book Analog Church. In describing how "worship" should take place when the church gathers, he writes that "... worship leaders and musicians must give greater thought to how every part of our musical worship -- song choices, volume, lights, even stage layout and posture -- draws people into substance, not spectacle." He adds:

Everything we do must invite people to engage and participate and not to let them off the hook, to simply sit back and be entertained.

He cites a church that uses backlit lighting on stage during the singing. "Because these lights shine on the worship band from behind them rather than in front of them, it creates a very particular mood and, more importantly, communicates a very particular philosophy."

Having the lighting silhouette the people on stage "creates a healthy sense of anonymity [and] communicates that this experience isn't about the band up front but about us collectively encountering and responding to God together."

This same approach, I've noticed, has been used in European cathedrals for centuries. When we lived in Basel, Switzerland, Becky and I often attended organ recitals at local churches as well as in the city's great cathedral. For example, here's the interior of the Elizabethenkirche (Elizabeth Church).

It's in the heart of the city, right next to the theater. You'll notice that the seating is arranged in such a way that the people have their backs to the organist. And here's the Basel Cathedral (Grossmünster).

Again, notice how the organ is situated behind the congregation, just above the entrance to the building.

I sense Design behind this, don't you? After all, the purpose of a great organ and a great organist is to lift our hearts toward heaven, toward the Author of all music and the one who alone deserves the praise. (Incidentally, applause was unknown after an organ concert. This wasn't an accident. After all, we weren't attending a "performance.")

In his book, Jay Kim asks, "Are we inviting people to watch or witness?" Music is the means; transformation is the end. Like the brightest lights in our brightest cities, technology can blind us to what we really need to see -- a Person named Jesus Christ. He's the only Light that shines brightly enough to dispel the darkness of our age.

I hope you will consider getting this book and reading it carefully. But be willing to change course when you do.

What books do you find most inspiring? Please share because I think people might find them inspiring too. 

7:58 AM The miracle of the storm is Jesus' first miracle over nature in Mark's Gospel. The passage is Mark 4:35-41 and was the focus of our Greek 4 class on Tuesday. The lessons for me personally?

  • There are no stormless seas. There are no safe places in this life.

  • Jesus has power over nature, indeed over all things.

  • Sometimes he delivers us from storms. At other times he delivers us through them. Either way, he can be trusted.

  • Expect more storms, not fewer. And maybe even more severe ones. Being a Bible teacher does not protect one from the unexpected. The fact that C. S. Lewis was a brilliant Christian lecturer did not make it easier for him when his wife suffered from terminal cancer.

  • How much more could Christ do in our lives if we showed faith rather than fear?

  • Jesus is never indifferent to our plight. I see this even in the disciples' question, "Don't you care that we are perishing?" Their question actually expects a "Yes" answer: "You do care that we are perishing, don't you?"

  • God alone is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.

If you'd care to see my paragraph titles for this passage, go here. Meanwhile, remember Paul's formula for peace in Phil 4:

1) Stay centered in Jesus. "Rejoice in the Lord always!"

2) Let your requests be made known unto God.

3) Then the peace of God will garrison your heart and mind. Go to sleep and rest in him.

Thursday, March 18

6:56 PM The winner of our book giveaway hails from the great state of Indiana. The book will go out in next Monday's mail. We'll have another giveaway soon! 

6:38 PM Hey, guess what? There is life after teaching 7 classes. I have lived to tell about it. And boy did my students crush it this week. Never have they worked harder. So proud of them! I've got to get unpacked and settled in again, but let me post a couple of pix for your evening entertainment:

1) My view as I left the farm Monday morn.

2) It felt so good to get in a short recovery run this week.

3) Gary Habermas speaking on the resurrection in my NT 1 class yesterday. He was fabulous.

4) Jim Voelz has written THE textbook on Mark's Gospel. I simply can't get enough of it.

I have a million more pictures. But this is enough already!

Monday, March 15

6:40 AM Well, it's back to work for another week. If history teaches me anything, this will be another hectic week on campus. Ever feel like you're on a giant roller coaster except that you don't realize that your seat belt is unfastened until the roller coaster is upside down and you're hanging on for dear life? Why did I ever agreed to teach 7 classes this semester? Oh wait -- I love to teach! Despite that roller coaster feeling I get from time to time (anybody else feeling that way?), I'm so grateful for all my blessings. I have a good job. I have a nice house. I have food in the refrigerator. I have love. I have Jesus. I have everything I need. Here's a picture of the sunrise at "my" beach in Kailua.

I am hoping against hope that I might be able to return there this August to celebrate all of the years of fulltime teaching the Lord has granted me. It would be the perfect respite before the fall semester begins. In the meantime, each night when I lay in bed I think about how blessed I am. This is going to sound absurd, but every single time I drive to campus I feel so, so thankful that I have this ridiculously busy job. I love my work. I love my students. I love my family. I love exercising. I am thankful I have enough money to spare for an occasional eat out. I'm not exaggerating. My heart swells with gratitude whenever I think about these things.

I hope you and your family have an absolutely wonderful week. It will be hard to ever thank God enough for his blessings in our lives.

Sunday, March 14

6:28 PM I see that Eerdmans is publishing another Greek grammar this year. More power to them. I love reading what other grammarians and Greek teachers have to say. In fact, right now I am gathering a box full of Greek grammars to send to a Bible college in Israel. We all know that the more grammars we read, the better we can read Greek, right? It's like the gym. I want to be skinny and handsome. I want great abs. I want huge biceps. What I don't want is to spend months at the gym getting sweaty. It didn't take me long to figure out that hitting the books about fitness would go a long ways toward reaching my goals. Reading about fitness also had the pleasant side effect of making me feel that I was making progress, without having to actually move. (Yes, I'm being sarcastic.)

Ditto for Greek. I've known students who have read everything about Greek they could get their hands on. But they are no closer to reaching their desired goal of being able to read their Greek New Testament. Part of the problem is that there is money to be made in selling books about Greek. The Greek textbook market is, in fact, sizable and growing. (Just so you know, I am not into publishing Greek books for the sake of filthy lucre, okay? Years ago I decided that all proceeds from the sale of my books would go to needy children.)** But to learn to read the New Testament in Greek you have to read New Testament Greek. You don't spend time fishing in order to get better at playing chess. Right? That's why any of my current students can join my 5 Minute Greek Club this summer. Even though there are no dues and we never meet, this is a real club. All you have to do to get one of my books for free is read two verses from your Greek New Testament daily, Monday through Friday, throughout the summer. Show me that you've completed this assignment and, voilà, you get a book.

Here's hoping many of you will join!

(**My own.)

5:54 PM This week in NT 2 we get to talk about some of my all-time favorite Pauline letters, including Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians. In these letters Paul clearly sets forth a theology of imitation. "Be like me, as I am like Christ." I think of Goethe's famous words: "Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are."

Plato had Socrates as a teacher. Aristotle had Plato as a teacher. Alexander the Great had Aristotle as a teacher. (This was when he was still Alexander the Average.) This is how it works. We become like our teachers. Not because of what they say. But because of what they do. We all tend to rise or fall to the level of the example set for us by other people surrounding us. Paul imitated Christ. Timothy imitated Paul. The Philippians imitated Timothy -- selfless and caring. Teaching is never just a matter of instruction. It involves guidance, encouragement, motivation, empathy. Most of all it involves modeling. Christian education is likeness education. Jesus said as much (Luke 6:40). We teach with our conduct what we truly believe.

Example is the foundation of human flourishing.

10:15 AM Book giveaway:

Just write and tell me why you'd like to have it. If more than one person responds I'll have a drawing to determine who gets it. My email is dblack@sebts.edu. Be sure to send your mailing address when you write (U.S. only -- sorry). I'll announce the winner Thursday at 6:00 pm.

8:35 AM Last week a student of mine asked me if I had a list of my 10 favorite books on the church. Since I didn't have such a list, I decided to put together the following. Hope it's helpful.

  • Norskov Olsen, Myth and Truth: Church, Priesthood and Ordination.

  • John Stott, The Living Church.

  • Markus Barth, The Broken Wall: A Study of the Epistle to the Ephesians.

  • Robert Webber, The Church in the World.

  • Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens.

  • Neil Cole, Organic Church.

  • C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.

  • Ray Stedman, Body Life.

  • Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Church.

Needless to say the evangelical church in America is deeply divided. Last week I read one author who claimed that evangelical Christianity in America is a failure. I'm not there yet, but there's much truth in what he was saying. Success-focused, entertainment driven, anti-intellectual, the evangelical church has fostered the cult of the speaker at the expense of genuine body life (see Ray Stedman's classic book above). We've adopted a business paradigm to run the church, and many younger evangelicals have had enough. Is it time to map a third way? Can one be an insider and an outsider at the same time? Have we forgotten that we have been called into the kingdom only to be sent out again? We might begin with reading the first book I mentioned above. Here are a few thought-provoking takeaways:

  • The ministry of the "good news of the kingdom" involves all the members of the body.

  • The church is a family, and all believing members are brothers and sisters.

  • None is called to passivity, to being spectators in the life, worship, ministry, and service of the church.

  • Ecclesiology can only be true to the New Testament when the proper place is given to the doctrine of the priesthood of believers.

  • The vocabulary of New Testament leadership permits no pyramidal forms; it is the language of horizontal relationships.

  • The reconciling mission of the church is a mission to the whole world by the whole people of God.

  • The nature and essence of any church ministry is that of service in the spirit and pattern of Christ.

  • No ministerial office represents status or rank in a political or social sense; its influence is measured by its Christ-likeness and the extent to which it is the medium for the working of the Holy Spirit.

I'd like to thank all of the authors I mentioned above. They are all wise people. I thank the thousands of students I've had the privilege of teaching for 44 years. Their questions, their comments, their laughter, as well as their occasional looks of utter perplexity have lightened my load. They take nothing for granted but question and probe in search of insight, illumination, and truth. Getting a good start on that task is the humble purpose of this list.

Saturday, March 13

5:02 PM I rarely spend time in eastern North Carolina so I was really looking forward to my trip to Greenville. Seems everything in that town is oriented around the Tar River. South of the river is the gignormous hospital as well as East Carolina University. North of the river is the airport and more suburbs. During today's half marathon you got to see all of it. The race started at 7:00 am. You could not have asked for a better day to run. The sky was overcast and the temperature was perfect. Going into the race I thought about my goals. Should I run fast? Should I try for a new PR? Should I walk/run? In the end I decided against all of those. I told myself, "Dave, today you will run completely by feel. No looking at your watch. No concern about time. Just listen to your body and stay in your ability. Enjoy the experience, all of it." Added to that were a couple of additional thoughts: "It would be nice to finish under the 3.5 hour time limit. It would be nice to finish under 3 hours (like I used to do all the time). It would be nice if afterwards I didn't feel exhausted or worn out like past races."

Par for the course nowadays at races are staggered starts. Here I am bringing up the rear of my group.

The race started with a few uphills before reaching the Tar River, which we crossed going north.

We passed the airport and then began to make our way southward, again crossing the Tar but on a different bridge.

We then did a brief jaunt through town.

After that we entered a lovely greenway.

It made things a little more congested at times but the scenery was well worth it.

Finally I saw the finish line and crossed it. I felt so blessed that the body my Heavenly Father had given me was able to carry me so far. I was passed at least 10,769 times, but I kept going forward. The satisfaction in knowing that your legs have carried you 13.1 miles is hard to explain. When I looked at my watch I saw that 1) I had finished under the 3.5 hour time limit, 2) I had finished under 3 hours, and 3) I was only 20 minutes shy of a new half marathon PR.

The race was extraordinary. I wouldn't change one thing about it. It was an experience I will never forget. This makes 27 half marathons for yours truly, all in the past 5 years. Here's a photo of me about to run into a gaggle of people (hence I have my mask on).

You can't see it, but I'm smiling from ear to ear. I had a blast during the race. After it was over my mind went to a famous quote by C. K. Chesterton:

A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing well.

The heart and soul of running is simply pushing yourself hard, being determined, and fighting through adversities. A lot like living the Christian life when you think about it.

When I arrived back home it was so strange not to be greeted by Sheba. I love dogs. But not so much that I'm going dog shopping any time soon. As one of my daughters said, "Dad, you need to let grief do its work." Eventually, time will pass and I will think about getting another dog (from the pound probably). I am not quite ready. Right now I just feel empty and sad. These emotions are mixed with joy and gratitude, of course. God didn't have to give me Sheba for all those years. Plus, as he says in his word, there's a time to be born and a time to die. A time to be happy and a time to be sad. A time to stay and a time to leave (think: Beth Moore). I will never have Sheba again. But the memories of that puppy will live on in my brain forever. Our Lord did not stay behind the door of a tomb. Peter did not stay in jail. "Put on your shoes," said the delivering angel. A jail in Bedford could not hold John Bunyan. Blindness did not lock up Fanny Crosby. You cannot defeat a Christian who trusts God. You can crush his spirit but his soul goes marching on, just like the soul of a runner does during a race. This is what we are here for. In body and in spirit, by life or by death, in sickness or in health, by what we do and what we do not do, whether we eat or drink, stay or go, win or lose, our business is to glorify God.

Am I ready to pray, not "Lord, bless me," but "Lord, glorify yourself in me whatever happens"? Lord God, thy will, and thine alone, be done.

Friday, March 12

7:20 AM As you know, writing is like therapy for me. So thanks for reading my words and letting me have a caring platform on which to share my thoughts. It hasn't quite set in yet that Sheba is gone. A big house just got a little bigger. I'll probably have some (not very profound) thoughts to share with all of you soon about my feelings but right now I need to stay focused on getting my taxes done and cleaning the house. I'd like to get in a run today but I'm resisting that urge because I have to run 13.1 miles tomorrow in Greenville, NC. This week I was only able to get in a 5 mile run at a trail in Wake Forest. I barely had enough time for that. Yes, this week was that crazy. After teaching my Wednesday class we had a very long faculty meeting so when I did start running it was already dusk.

By the time I finished my run I could literally see the darkness at the end of the tunnel.

I enjoyed running in a brand new pair of New Balance 880s that I picked up this week at the NB store in Raleigh.

This shoe is a perfect example of excellent craftsmanship and design. The 880 model is famous for providing enough protection for longer runs as well as speed work in a very smooth ride. Win-win. Best of all, these babies are so light. The feel of the shoe is comfortable and cushy. New Balance shoes also run big and wide, which is good for my flat feet.

Oh, thought you might enjoy this pic, taken during our LXX class this week.

This is one of two groups in the class that was tasked with translating sentences from English into Hebrew. Both groups nailed it, under the expert guidance of my esteemed colleague and co-conspirator Chip Hardy. This semester is too much fun I tell you.

Hope you have a great weekend. The weather for tomorrow's half should be very nice so I hope to have a good post-race report for you tomorrow night. For me, life is an amazing adventure right now. The words joyful, confusing, lonely, and lovely come to mind. How 'bout you? Remember: The richness of life is found in continuing to move outside of your comfort zone.

Thursday, March 11

6:45 PM If you're a regular blog reader you know that Becky and I had Shelties for pets forever it seems. Our last surviving puppy is shown below.

Sheba -- the most lovable hairy fur ball you've ever met. Today I laid her to rest. I know she is no longer suffering but I selfishly long to bring her back. But the memories of her will live on sweetly in my heart forever. So grateful to God for the 14 years he gave her to us.

Thank you, Sheba, for caring for me in the truest and simplest sense of the word. You loved us well. You will be missed.

Monday, March 8

6:54 AM After a week off I'm eager to get back to campus and work harder on my craft than ever before. In his book Your Mind Matters, John Stott writes, "Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God's grace."

But then he adds:

At the same time, knowledge is given us to be used, to lead us to higher worship, greater faith, deeper holiness, better service. What we need is not less knowledge but more knowledge, so long as we act on it.

That, I am ready to do, with the Lord's help.

Sunday, March 7

3:32 PM Hello again friends of the internet world! Hope you are having a wonderful day. Mine has been exhaustingly delightful. Lots to do, lots to prepare, lots to organize for the coming week, including my meals. One of the messages I watched today was on Matt. 5:22. The speaker tried to argue that the Bible universally excludes all anger, even what is sometimes called righteousness indignation, based on this one saying of Jesus in Matt. 5:22. (He also explained Eph. 4:26-31 and James 1:19-20 in that light, but the real question is always, "What did Jesus have to say about the subject?") Oddly enough, he never mentions the textual variant in Matt. 5:22. He is so wrong about that! Surely that variant ranks as one of the most significant in the New Testament. I don't know why he didn't mention it as that little adverb eikē changes everything. We who have pledged our lives to following Jesus are called to do one thing: Follow him -- both in how we think and how we behave. But what were his exact words? History shows that we neglect the art and science of textual to our own detriment. That is what concerns me the most.

Meanwhile, today I read this fine book as I prepare to teach from 1-2 Timothy.

Jay Kim's new book is a real page-turner. It's a call to come out from hiding behind our digital walls and be human with each other in real time. Kim says this idea occurred to him when he was walking on stage one Sunday morning to deliver a sermon and the service coordinator told him, "Don't forget to look directly into the camera at the back of the room so the campuses feel connected to you." That was a wakeup call for him. "I couldn't shake the sense that there was a better way forward." He argues that while digital spaces can be wonderful, they always fall short and leave us wanting. At best they provide "a facade of community." (By the way, I get this feeling whenever I watch a certain well-known preacher stare into the camera every Sunday while totally ignoring his live audience.) Kim found himself growing uncomfortable in a church that began to resemble more and more a television studio with bright stage lights and seating for audiences rather than for a community of congregants. Even Amazon, he notes, has begun opening brick-and-mortar bookstores because they offer real live contact to an over-digitized generation. (See this report in Forbes.) He suspects that many young people are getting tired of the "rock concert atmosphere" that characterized his own former church. All too often stage lighting and loud music have become "impediments and obstacles" to true worship. Services have become commercialized and impersonal, he says. "What was originally intended to close the gap and narrow the distance between the communicator and the community has now worked to create a disconnect wider and broader than ever before." Sermons, he argues, are meant to be more than monologues. He notes, "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?"

Keep in my mind that the author is not an ornery old curmudgeon who wants to take the church back to the "good old days." He's a hipster. But I get the sense that he's "been there and done that" and is seeking something deeper than a digital community. This "something deeper" he finds in the analog church: real people, real places, and real things. You can find the book here.

Back to class prep!

10:12 AM A few takeaways from JoAnna Hoyt's commentary on Jonah (we're in Jonah 2 this week in our LXX class):

1) God allowed Jonah to disobey him. Hoyt calls this a "theology of disobedience." Why does God allow sin? We don't know. The point is that while God may allow disobedience, he never ignores it. Yet even when our disobedience brings great harm to others (here, the sailors), God can use it for his glory and our good. That said, "The good that God brings out of our sins should never be used an an excuse to justify our sin."

2) Jonah's confession and his actions are incompatible. Having orthodox theology doesn't mean that we have a right relationship with God. Jonah had the right words but the wrong heart. For more, see our power point with quotes from the book Diehard Sins.

Happy Sunday!

9:40 AM Tomorrow my Greek 4 class in Israel is doing a deep dive into Phil. 1:12-18a.

Today I'm going through this awesome passage word by word, very sloooowly. Early Greek and Latin manuscripts had no spacing between words. Your eyes had to slow down, and so did your brain. The absence of spacing wasn't considered a hindrance to effective reading but just the opposite.

Let me show you what I mean. Look at the following:

NOWIWANTYOUTOKNOWBROTHERSANDSISTERSTHATWHATHASHAPPENEDTOME

HASREALLYHELPEDTHEPROGRESSOFTHEGOSPEL

As you read this, each word lingered in your mind. Your brain was abuzz with neural activity. It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Likewise, as you read the New Testament, don't be in too big of a hurry. Studying the Bible is so important that it deserves our most careful consideration!

Saturday, March 6

5:34 PM Well, today's 10K is in the books. I was so impressed and inspired by everyone I saw around me during these 6 miles of running. This includes those of us who went out too fast and slowly shuffled up "Heartbreak Hill" to the finish line. The course was a highly unusual one, to put it mildly. It started in a middle school parking lot, then ran around its track.

From there it went along the sidewalks in town, through the parking lot of a strip mall, back onto the sidewalks and unguarded crosswalks, through a delightful little park, and finally up Heartbreak Hill to the finish line.

You could not have asked for a more interesting and diverse course. Per usual, I started dead last so as not to (literally) be a stumbling block to any of my fellow runners.

As I said, I went out too fast, and by mile four I was beginning to fade. By mile five, I wanted to cry like a baby. (More on that in a sec.) Without a doubt, my favorite part of the race was running around bonnie "Loch Lothian."

I don't know what it is about water, but I was in heaven. I was super impressed with everyone who ran this race. There were no slackers. Every single person I saw put their whole body and soul into the effort. I truly think that those of us who put over an hour into the race worked just as hard as those who finished in half that time. The race was fun, painful, amazing, challenging, invigorating, and, yes, a bit frustrating. I say "frustrating" because at what was supposed to be the first of two turnaround points in the 10K, I -- along with many other runners -- just kept running. We never saw the turnaround sign because THERE WASN'T ONE. No signage. No course marshal to tell everyone to turn. Nada. Eventually we all figured out that we had gone too far, but by that time all hope of arriving at the finish time with a good time was gone. Today I ran a total of 6.93 miles instead of the actual course distance of 6.2 miles.

Others had gone even farther off track. And no, I don't blame the race director. He told me afterwards that he had indeed erected a turnaround sign in that very spot but somehow it disappeared. Thankfully, the second sign was still in place so we only got lost once. Sounds to me like a case of "course vandalism." Yes, folks, there are people who actually get a kick out of either changing the direction of a sign or just walking off with it completely. Eventually you just had to accept that and get on with your race. The silver lining is that we all got a wee bit more money's worth out of the race! And the volunteers? They were better than the best. They were the besterest! You know who else was awesome? All the people who came out to run in memory of someone they had lost in the service. These two runners ran to honor a young man named Joshua.

Joshua was 23 when he gave his life for his country during the First Iraq War. I was so honored to join them in running for that cause as well. Thanks also to all those who put on a fabulous race today. Thanks to Mission BBQ for passing out free brisket sliders to the runners as they crossed the finish line. Thanks to all those who were running to bring honor to the memory of a loved one. And to the two teenagers who passed me just before the finish line: Not cool, guys. What, your parents never taught you to respect the elderly?

P.S. A couple more bromidic pix for your reading pleasure. (I award myself 125 bonus race points for working in the word "bromidic.")

1) The sign that wasn't stolen.

2) Being passed at "Heartbreak Hill."

6:10 AM Who's work is it? It is yours or is it God's? Already in our study of Philippians we're  having to ask this question. Paul has just thanked God for the Philippians' participation in the gospel from the first day until now (1:5). That's something they had done. But in the very next verse he attributes that work to God: "I am sure that God, who began this good work among you, will carry it on until it is finished." In 2:12, Paul commands the church to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. But notice: they are to work out what God works in: "For God is the one at work among you both to give you the desire and the ability to do what pleases him."

So, there's our part and there's God's part. This is a constant theme in Paul's writings. In Eph. 4:1 he turns from exposition to exhortation, from the indicative to the imperative, from what God has done in the past to what the Ephesians must do in the here-and-now, from doctrine to duty, from brilliant theology to mundane everyday living.

All this is simply to illustrate the great truth of the New Covenant: for the Christian, obedience is both required and enabled. "What the Law could not do, because it was weakened through the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending his Son, who came in the likeness of flesh, to do away with sin. He did this so that the righteous requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, those who live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3).

In the end, it's always a matter of God working out what he has already put in. He helped Paul. He helped the Philippians. And he will help you as well, my friend.

Friday, March 5

2:24 PM Tomorrow's race is on! Don't know why I'm so excited about it. Maybe it's because the 10K distance is one of my favorites. Maybe it's because the race is for a good cause (the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund). Maybe it's because I love races that include the warning "Please use caution" on their race website. Maybe it's because of the race t-shirt.

I could not ask for anything more. I can't wait for the race to begin.

8:58 AM A word to any Greek student out there who might be struggling with their grades. I feel a bond with you. As a runner, I am well acquainted with the back of the pack. In nearly every race I run, I know the sting of frustration you feel when everyone seems to be passing you. When I did my first two triathlons, I did well in the swim and the run. But the bike part was killing me. All I had was my mountain bike with those big clunky tires, whereas the other competitors all seemed to have the latest model triathlon bike. Everyone was cruising up ahead of me while I just tried to keep up. It is my conviction that those of us in the back of the pack work as hard as the people in the front, maybe harder.

I firmly believe that you don't have to come in first or even near first to take pride in your work. Nobody else cares about your finish time. In a year's time you won't either. What will stick with you a year later is the time you thanked one of the volunteers at the aid station, or the scenery you enjoyed, or the sunrise you witnessed. Running is about so much more than a finish time. So is Greek. I focus on making my running and biking fun, even if I come in last place. The only pace you need to focus on is the pace that is right for you.

Winning an age group award at a 10K in Dallas a couple of years ago.

But most of the time I'm safely ensconced in the back of pack, like here at the Richmond Marathon.

7:22 AM Our key verse in Philippians these days is 2:4:

Don't just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing (TLB).

We can flesh this out in at least three ways:

Be interested in others personally. Take a personal interest in them. This is where that simple text comes in so handy. Or the word of welcome in the office when you arrive. Ask your students how they are doing. Take time for a (virtual) pat on the back. After I had completed my summer school Greek class at Biola, I was in my dorm room packing to return to Hawaii the next day when I heard a knock on the door. My professor, Dr. Harry Sturz, despite a severe case of arthritis and the use of a cane, had walked all the way from his office and up a flight to stairs to hand me my final exam and tell me how proud he was of my work. I nearly dropped my teeth. I hope my own students could some day see a fraction of that kind of love in me.

Be interested in others professionally. Ask yourself, "How can I help my co-workers advance in their careers?" Years ago, after I had completed my doctorate and had published my dissertation, a younger colleague at Biola asked me for advice about who to publish his own dissertation with. Years later, when he wrote the opening chapter in a Festschrift for me, he acknowledged how grateful he was at the time that I had taken an interest in his scholarly advancement. His name? Stanley Porter. I am glad to see he has gone on to far surpass anything I have done in New Testament studies.

Finally, be interested in others spiritually. Remember, they are fighting the same spiritual battles you are facing. Paul writes in Phil. 1:20, "We are in this fight together." When our Lord talked about God to ordinary people he met on the street, he tried to be as understanding as possible. He didn't just tell people about God's love, he showed them. He acted to set things right in this world. Only Jesus can help our loved ones off the merry-go-round of futility. All we have to do is beseech his outstretched hand on their behalf.

If it's self-advancement you're after, it can be easily had. But if you are to love as Christ loved, no matter what your vocation, you must work at it with all your might. You can't be allergic to the needs of other people.

Thursday, March 4

5:28 PM Two quick book notes:

1) This just came via FedEx. I'll use it in my LXX class as we go through Jonah. So far I really like what I'm seeing.

2) B & H tells me this book is going out of print so I grabbed a copy while I could (I had given away my other copies). If I'm not mistaken, this is my first biblical studies book to go out of print. This one lasted 24 years and I do believe that's a pretty good run for a book like this.

7:55 AM Team work. That's the theme of Philippians, established on the basis not of some word count but on the basis of the discourse structure of the text. Did you see the Super Bowl? That was amazing team work. Everyone had a key role to play. You know, there's no "I" in TEAM. How about in the church? How can we, by God's grace, be the best possible team player we can be? The answer is found in Phil. 2:4: "Don't look only to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others." Indeed, "Genuinely looking out for others" might well be the theme of the entire letter.

But what is our motive for doing so? The answer is found in Phil. 2:1. Christ has looked out for our interests. Paul asks, "Hasn't your life in Christ made you strong? Doesn't his love comfort you? Hasn't his Spirit brought you into fellowship with one another? Don't you have his kindness and compassion for each other?" You see, Christ doesn't ask us to do what he hasn't already done for us. And now he asks us to look after the interests of others. He wants us to avoid a spirit of proud independence on the one hand, a spirit that says "Who needs a team when I can do it myself?" On the other hand, he wants us to avoid a spirit of lazy dependence, a spirit that says "Let others do the work. I have nothing to contribute anyway." The goal is a healthy interdependence -- that sense of working together for a common goal. Think of a symphony orchestra. Everyone has their own instrument to play, but hopefully they do so with the same goal in view -- to produce beautiful music. Paul now applies this idea to the church, writing that a team approach to ministry means "loving each other and agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, working together with one heart and mind and purpose" (Phil. 2:2, TLB). It wasn't just Tom Brady who scored that touchdown, was it? The whole team was behind him. The truth is, we are capable of infinitely more together than alone.

So gospel work is a team effort. We are helpers, together. We steward the gospel ministry, together. It's a group effort, together. How different our lives would be if each of us went to our place of ministry with that mindset. I need you, and you need me. Neither proud independence nor lazy dependence but true interdependence. That's God's plan for his church. Easier said than done, of course. Our own needs are always at the top of our agenda, aren't they? We don't have to work to look out for our own interests. That comes quite naturally. When you look in the mirror, do you see a servant? Do I?

Take heart! There is a way to become a servant, and it is found in Phil. 2:5. Wonderfully, God's given us a model of team work, an enablement even. Look at verse 5: "In your relationships with one another, have this same mindset as Christ Jesus." You see, Jesus is the ultimate servant and our ultimate model. The worldly model involves climbing the ladder, grabbing what we can, delegating the unglamorous job to someone else. But Jesus is the opposite of that. He's not about climbing up. He's about climbing down. He's not about grasping his entitlements. He's about giving them up. He doesn't delegate jobs to servants. He becomes the servant. It's an amazing picture really -- God the Son without a hint of pride. He lived for our interests, to secure our greatest possible wellbeing. He's the Ultimate Team Player. And his Spirit lives within us to enable us to live the same way, to serve like him, to love like him.

With this theme in mind, it's now possible to unpack the rest of the letter. For example, it becomes clear that when Paul claims in 1:21, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain," he's not just thinking about himself. Just read the preceding context. Paul's only concern is getting out the Good News about Christ. If his imprisonment can help do that, amen! If others are doing it, praise God -- even if they are preaching Christ from ulterior motives! Christ is being proclaimed, and that's all that really matters. Paul is always ready to speak boldly for Christ, just as he had in the past. He wants to bring honor to Christ, whether he lives or whether he must die. So he says, "For to me, living means more opportunities for Christ, and dying -- well, that's better yet! But if living will give me more opportunities to win people to Christ, then I really don't know which is better, to live or to die!" (TLB). The fact is that Paul was a man who lived solely for the sake of the gospel. It's "the only thing that matters" (1:27).

Friends, there's no "I" in TEAM, but you can spell "ME." Nevertheless, there's a way out of our self-centeredness. It's Christ himself, the God-man who gladly and genuinely looked out for others. We might consider that the next time we tell somebody we're a Christian. Maybe we can try showing them as well.

Wednesday, March 3

6:02 PM This morning I had a serious case of Wanderlust so I hopped in the car, opened the sunroof, and off I drove to one of the most photogenic hamlets in all of Virginia. I skipped the primary and secondary roads, taking only the back roads I had never travelled before. The scenery was lovely.

So many old farms!

I finally arrived at ACH.

Care for a quick tour? Here's the entrance to the village.

Moving counterclockwise, here's the prison.

Then the courthouse.

The Clover Hill Tavern welcomes you!

Meeks Store.

And finally the McLean (surrender) House.

Afterwards I drove to Farmville for a 4 mile run on the High Bridge Trail.

This was a training run for my 10K (6.1) mile race this Saturday, which in turn will be a training run for my 13.1 mile half marathon the following Saturday, which will be a training run for my marathon in June.

Was a lovely day here, warm and sunshiny. Hope your weather is nice as well.

P.S. Coming soon: A blog post about my future writing goals now that I'm moving from full-time to part-time teaching. Stay tuned. You may be in for some surprises.

9:12 AM "I chose this." Those were the words going through my brain as I peddled and peddled until I had completed my ride yesterday. When I finished there were no cheering crowds, no medals, no external rewards, just the internal satisfaction of knowing you persevered amidst challenges and didn't give up. In my life I try to live without regrets. I don't want to look back say, "I wish I had done that race or accomplished that goal."

I realize I've been blessed (for now at least) with good health and I want to take advantage of that while I can. It won't last forever. We are capable of so much more than we know. My friend, if something in your life is worth doing, do it now. Don't wait. We don't know what tomorrow will hold. Live your life in such a way that you won't look back with regrets, thinking about all the things you would have done, should have done, could have done. Students, set your sights high. You'll never reach higher. Take time to meet with the Lord daily. Ask him, "What do you want me to do with my life?" Rest in him, knowing that he sees you and knows you and feels along with you more than anyone else in your life. Each day presents an opportunity for us to choose. We can cave into the chaos of life, or we can lean into God's plan for our lives. He does not call us to do easy things. Sometimes tragedy makes no sense. But we know that he loves us and has us in the palm of his hands. You see, he is personally and powerfully involved in our lives. The Bible repeatedly refers to our faith journey with athletic metaphors.

The idea is that the Christian life takes daily dedication and discipline to train our minds and hearts and bodies. I double-dog dare you to take your feelings of inadequacy to God and leave them with him. Don't let getting old scare you either. The Bible talks about age in positive terms (Prov. 16:31; Isa. 46:4; Job 12:12). Stir up courage. Less fret and more faith!

"I chose this." Nobody made me bike yesterday. Or run my first ultramarathon. Or try for a European doctorate. Or farm. Or make trips to Asia. Every day I see people who are experiencing unintentional suffering. Some have cancer. Others are on dialysis. Some depend on others for everything. There is no escape from their suffering. The thought of facing challenges like theirs sometimes scares me. But the Christian life takes discipline. It takes belief to be consistent. If we don't believe that God cares, our determination to run our race will quickly fade. If you knew for certain that God was interested in every aspect of your being, how would your life change? "When you have him, you have all," wrote Martin Luther. "But you have also lost all when you lose him. Stay with Christ, although your eyes do not see him and your reason does not grasp him."

What do you need his help with today, my friend? What goal do you aspire to accomplish for his glory?  Nothing is too small or large for him.

Tuesday, March 2

5:48 PM Hey guys. I spent the day biking between Richmond and Jamestown. I just got back. Since I still have to do my farm chores before it gets dark, let me just post a few pix along with some simple commentary in the hopes that some day you too might want to bike the fantastic Virginia Capital Trail.

1) My adventure began at the Four Mile Creek Trailhead just outside of Richmond.

2) I was surprised to see an empty parking lot. Usually this place is packed.

3) From there I made my way southeast. Here's the first of maybe a dozen lovely bridges I crossed today.

4) Once you're in the countryside, you find it hard to take in all the scenic beauty.

5) It you are an American history buff, this place is definitely for you.

6) Another view of the trail. As you can see, it basically follows SR 5.

7) There are trail markers with exact distances every couple of miles. Marvelous.

8) What's not to love about an old tractor?

9) My destination for the day was the town of Charles City Courthouse.

10) Biking 50 miles gives you a crash course in gratitude, patience, perseverance, and the reward of knowing you've pushed yourself to the max and come out victorious on the other side.

I'm so thankful to God for the opportunities he places before me. I'm thankful for the body he's given me. It has allowed me the ability to feel God's good earth beneath me, breathe fresh air, and experience the beauty of his creation. Thank you, Lord.

6:10 AM From my Bible reading this morning:

This is why ever since I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and the love you have for God's people everywhere, I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you wisdom to see clearly and really understand who Christ is and what he has done for you. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share (Eph. 1:15-18).

"Your hearts will be flooded with light." This is a wonderful promise of God! Do you realize that because you belong to Jesus, God has granted you the ability to know him and understand his word regardless of your education? Remember, when you open the Bible, you're studying the very words of God. His words are more than mere human words. Therefore Bible study is much more than an intellectual exercise. No matter how much you read the Bible, if you don't have the Spirit guiding you into truth, Scripture will never benefit your life. But praise God – he hasn't left us without help!

When you begin your Bible time this morning, make sure you begin it with prayer. Many blunders of interpretation would never have been made if we had prayed as much in advance as we pined after the damage was already done. So before you open your Bible, ask God to bless you. Just pray a simple little prayer like:

God, thank you so much for your word. May your Holy Spirit reveal the truth to me today. Not yesterday, not last year, but today.

And he will do it.

Monday, March 1

6:50 PM Do you belong to a club or a society? Or maybe you belong to a network of some sort. We have networks of friends and colleagues, we probably work in a team on our job, and there are professional networks to which we might belong. You may belong to an alumni association or to the local health club or to a running club. When we lived in California one of my kids was a member of the Los Angeles Model Railroad Society. When we moved to North Carolina I joined the local volunteer fire department. There are health clubs, book clubs, musical societies, parent-teacher associations, charities, and of course all the virtual communities we're a part of, from Facebook to LinkedIn.

This theme of networks or community is woven throughout Paul's letter to the Philippians. We saw this clearly this morning in our Greek 4 class in Israel as we walked through Phil. 1:3-11. Here we see that the Philippians' partnership with Paul in the gospel was a cause of great joy for the apostle. His joy arose from this koinōnia, this network, this connection he had with the Philippians. It was 8 years earlier that Paul and his missionary team (Silas, Timothy, Dr. Luke, etc.) had established a church in Philippi -- the first church on European soil. In it were Lydia and the jailer and his family and others. In fact, a whole group of people from different backgrounds and different walks of life were thrown together in this new society, this new network called the church. Before long, persecution forced Paul to leave Philippi and move on to Thessalonica, where another church was established. While Paul was there the Philippians had voluntarily and sacrificially given financial assistance to Paul and his fellow missionaries, and Paul now says that the memory of it fills him with joy. And now that he is back in prison, this time in Rome, the Philippians have done it again. When they heard he was in need, they responded. After all, they were true partners together in this work of the gospel, and when one of their number was in need, they dropped everything to help him.

Think back to the societies or community groups you've been involved in. Isn't that true of them as well? When we were called to a fire, our little group of volunteer fire fighters had each other's back. We were willing, I dare say, to die for each other if need be. In a similar vein, Paul wants the church to see itself as a partnership of people who are living for something much bigger than themselves as individuals. And it's only Jesus who can hold us together. I recall serving on a brass octet with Greater Europe Mission in 1978. Our team did a 3-month tour of West Germany playing evangelistic concerts and sharing our personal testimonies about our relationship with Christ. (This is when I first taught myself to speak German.) All 8 of us were from different churches and different denominations. We had different views on all kinds of issues, from baptism to the sign gifts to worship styles. But when we began sharing the Good News with others, we found that we had a tremendous unity that we didn't know about before.

Likewise, in Ethiopia Becky and I intentionally worked with all of the evangelical denominations there, including the evangelical Baptists and the evangelical Pentecostals and the evangelical Lutherans and the evangelical Mennonites. We were partners in the gospel. You had to be when the body of Christ was being persecuted and your backs were against the wall.

The Philippians had stood with Paul through thick or thin. Whether he was planting churches or being remanded over to custody as a prisoner, they insisted on standing with him, side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder. Of course, the Philippians could have just looked after their own interests. Like us today, they were busy people. They had family and work responsibilities. They had problems of their own in their church. When they saw Paul in need they could have easily remained on the sidelines. After all, weren't the Macedonians famous for their poverty? Instead, they ministered to Paul at great cost to themselves. They found their joy in the Christian life as they reached out and helped others. Only Jesus is big enough to make this kind of unity possible. Partnering with others in his work is the greatest joy there is in life. Looking back on my 60 years as a follower of Jesus, I can think of no greater happiness than to have partnered with churches in Ethiopia, China, Korea, Ukraine, Armenia, India, and now Israel.

The other day I happened to come across this powerful video. I have no words to describe how it impacted me. I thought to myself, "If the world of civil aviation can act like this -- a truly caring community --  why can't we in the church behave the same way?" Please take a few minutes and watch it. It will blow your mind and maybe convict you, as it did me, to take my membership in God's new society more seriously than ever before and be willing to drop everything when I see a Christian brother or sister in need.

 

5:42 PM Look what I found when I was straightening up my office today.

Becky and I bought this little book in 1980 when we first arrived in Basel -- a name that has four official spellings, by the way. The city has so many places to visit it boggles the mind, from the paper mill museum to the famous market place to the town hall (Rathaus) to the art museum to the city's famous cathedral. We especially enjoyed the free organ concerts that took place on Friday evenings throughout the city. And did I mention the zoo? The benefits of studying abroad for your doctorate are amazing. I think I paid $50 USD per semester for tuition. Yep, that was it. Then there are the cultural advantages. In an international city like Basel, you get to meet people and make new friends from all over the world. Plus you get to embrace a new language and culture. Above all, in Basel you were part of a thriving academic community where people were studying theology even before Columbus stumbled upon the new world. Tonight I've been listening to this organ CD.

It was recorded at Second Baptist Church Houston using its magnificent pipe organ, one of the largest in the world. On this CD, my favorite piece is Marcel Dupré's Cortège et Litanie, composed in 1922. Nothing on YouTube can match it. This piece is so overwhelmingly beautiful I can't keep the tears out of my eyes as I pay homage to the Creator who granted such musical skill to mere humans. God blessed Dupré like perhaps no other organist in the twentieth century and it's a shame his genius as a composer wasn't appreciated in his time to the fullest extent. And the tempo. Oh, the tempo. Why do others play the piece so fast? I simply cannot fathom it. I keep coming back to this piece like a bee to nectar. I am rewarded every time with a feeling of overwhelming wonder. I actually borrowed this CD from my organist son. Perfect, absolute music. Unparalleled. Everything -- score, pace, dialogue, emotion -- is perfection. If heaven isn't like this, I will be very much surprised.

Becky and I at the Grossmünster in Basel. We loved that ancient city on the Rhine.

6:16 AM Happy March, friends. It's been an absolute pleasure sharing the miles with you this year and I look forward to sharing even more as the year progresses. I wish you every blessing as you carry out the quiet desires of your heart this month. First order of business for me today is to get to Wake Forest for my 10:30 Zoom appointment with my Greek class in Israel. Next: my marathon training, which isn't like to happen today because we're expecting several more inches of rain. I did manage (only) 91 miles in February. Eh, it's okay. I haven't given up on my goal of 100 miles per month. Finally, my plan during this week of break is to write, write, then write some more. I recall once asking my Doktorvater in Basel about his successor after he had retired. "Den weiss i au nit. Er hat nichts geschrieben," was his reply. The hint was obvious: Keep on writing throughout your entire career. Never rust out. If God gives you something to share with others, share it. Of course, I try not to obsess about it. But you all know I'm a goal-oriented person. When I graduated with my doctorate from Basel in the early 1980s, I set as a personal goal to write one journal article every year and one book every 5 years. If you haven't set writing goals for yourself, it's never too late to start. Remember:

  • Goals must be in writing.

  • Goals must be specific.

  • Goals must be challenging but realistic.

  • Goals must be reviewed constantly.

  • Goals must be adjusted to changing conditions.

God always deserves our best. If he granted you the gift of writing, then write. But be yourself. We are truly at our best when we accept what is and work with it rather than trying to be someone we're not. James Dobson put it best when he said, "We're not who we are. We're not even who we think we are. We're what we think others think we are." If that's you, stop it. Don't ever compare yourself with someone else. Get rid of your ego. Ego makes you self-conscious and focus only on yourself. Know thyself and act accordingly. At the same time, be sure to stretch yourself and take risks. "Failing" at reaching your goal is part of reaching the goal.

There is power in failure, my friend. No, we don't try to fail. But when we fall short, we learn from our mistakes. Struggle is a critical and necessary component of life, even as writers.

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