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November 2020 Blog Archives 

Monday, November 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From one aging athlete to another: Thank you. 

Sunday, November 29

7:10 PM Hi folks,

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

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

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

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

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

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

He led me to quiet pools of fresh water.

He guided me in the right path as he promised.

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28

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

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

Here's another one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appreciate you coming along on the journey!

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

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

Back to my notepad :-)

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

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

Friday, November 27

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

The joy, folks, is in the journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for visiting,


Thursday, November 26

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

Then my daughter dropped off dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • For the opportunity to fellowship with other Christians.

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

  • For answered prayer.

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

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


Wednesday, November 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you pray with me for this to happen?

Tuesday, November 24

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

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

Be blest tonight, my friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23

12:58 PM Cold day at the track.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the triplets:

  • Troubles, hardships, difficulties

  • Beaten, jailed, mobbed

  • Overworked, gone without sleep or food

And here are the quadruplets:

  • Purity, knowledge, patience, kindness

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22

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

A few quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1863, an American president wrote the following words.

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

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

Dear God,

I'd just like to thank you for ____________________.

I'd also like to thank you for ____________________.

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

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

Love always, ______.

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

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

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

  • Monday 6:30 pm: Greek 2

  • Tuesday 12:30 pm: Greek 4

  • Tuesday 3:30 pm: LXX

  • Wednesday 12:30 pm: NT 1

  • Thursday 7:30 am: Greek 2

  • Thursday 12:30 pm: NT 2

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

Bless y'all today!

Saturday, November 21

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

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

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

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

How do you soak in views like this one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20

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

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

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

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

  • Father.

  • You are good.

  • I need help.

  • They need help.

  • Thank you.

  • In Jesus' name, amen.

He's talking about:

  • Salutation.

  • Adoration.

  • Supplication.

  • Intercession.

  • Thanksgiving.

  • Benediction.

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

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

  • Warm gloves

  • A well-paying job

  • A job, period.

  • The chance to be with wonderful people

  • Family

  • A car to take you back and forth to work

  • The physical ability to get out of bed

  • Dark chocolate

  • Tweenage kids who aren't beasts

  • Your spouse

  • Humor

I'm making my own list.

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

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 19

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

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

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

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

The day was beautiful, and the trail was immaculate.

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

What a beautiful bridge.

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

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

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

Monday, November 16

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

Sunday, November 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Speaking gifts

  • Serving gifts

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14

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

Pics from today's run:

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

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

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

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

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

And this one.

Occasionally you'll cross a deserted highway.

Or an equally deserted bridge.

Eventually you turn around and head back to your car.

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

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

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

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

Christ himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13

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

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

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

Overall, a great day. Thanks for coming along.

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

It has never looked prettier.

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9

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

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

Sunday, November 8

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

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

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

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

The view of the city of Fredericksburg was unforgettable.

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

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

Saturday, November 7

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

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

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

Just speak!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2

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

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

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


Sunday, November 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon and his companions searched frantically for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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