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December 2019 Blog Archives

Tuesday, December 31

1:55 PM I fell in love for the first time in the 5th grade. I recall it was the first day of the new school year at Kainalu Elementary School. My social studies teacher entered the classroom and uttered this utterly incomprehensible sentence: "Cómo está usted?" I was intoxicated. It was love at first sight. That day I learned there were languages other than English and Hawaiian Pidgin.

As it happened, Spanish and I broke up after the 5th grade. No Spanish was offered in the 6th grade, and in fact no foreign languages were required at my intermediate and high schools. The next language I fell in love with was Greek. By then I was a student at Biola, and my 4 semesters of Greek were the beginning of a lifetime obsession with foreign languages. As I got older I began to teach myself languages in earnest, beginning with those languages that one was expected to know prior to arriving in Basel for doctoral studies -- for me this meant French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Latin, and, of course, German. Eventually it dawned on me that anything can be said in about 6,000 other ways, with completely different words and grammar. It's not an accident that the science of linguistics caught my attention in those days. Human language is a vast ocean of discovery. Today, my aim in teaching Greek is to help my students see just how fascinating language study is -- how languages change, how they mix, how they process thought. Languages are like cloud formations, inherently transitory. A few hundred years ago, double negatives were considered good grammar in English, "silly" meant "innocent," and verbs were fully conjugated (the way they still are in Spanish and German). English started out like Greek and Latin with noun cases and verb endings but eventually said "Enough is enough." When I began my studies in Basel in 1980, I thought I knew German. I quickly found out that, as soon as I stepped outside the classroom, I couldn't understand a word anybody said. They were speaking German of course -- or at least what they called German. In fact, there is no default "German," just like there is no default English. The Pidgin we grew up speaking in Hawai'i -- despite all of its "mistakes" -- stands equal to any other language in the qualitative sense. Once you understand this, the difficulties disappear. In Basel German, it's as simple as leaning Mir gange for Wir gehen. In Hawaiian Pidgin, it's basically the same thing. Dey stay run means They are running. "Stay" is simply a preverbal marker indicating progressive action, which is marked in English by the "-ing" suffix. 'A'ole pilikia! (No problem.)

If you think about it, my Greek students are learning so much more than Greek. Today's Greek is tomorrow's Spanish or German or Russian or Mandarin. By studying one language you begin to develop a grid for the study of other languages. So, in addition to German German, I had to learn Basel German when I lived in Switzerland. And yet even Basel German is not used by all German-speaking Swiss. Living in Basel, you just got accustomed to speaking both the standard dialect and the non-standard one. Linguists call this being diglossic. Ditto for when I'm in Hawai'i. I just switch to Pidgin.

I've often noticed how German seems to be much more "transparent" than English. "Succession" is "Row-following" (Reihenfolge), "vocabulary" is "Word-treasury" (Wortschatz), and "pork" is "Pig-flesh" (Schweinfleisch). Then again, German can be deceptive: the German noun Gift means "poison" in English. In Spanish, the infinitive is one word -- comer -- not two like in English ("to eat"). Germans say "I know that he a good student is," but in English this is somewhat of a Yoda-ism. Even "Denglisch" -- German plus English -- retains its German original. "Mein Leben ist eine awesome-story" makes sense only when you realize that the feminine article "eine" is used because the German word for "story" (Geschichte) is feminine. Or how about this? In English we say "I'm bathing," but in French or German you must mark the reflexive overtly ("Je me lave," "Ich wasche mich").

I could go on and on about language learning and language loving. Next Monday I'll begin my 44th year of teaching Greek. Who knows what will happen. Maybe, like that boy in the 5th grade, somebody will fall in love for the first time.

9:22 AM Good advice for those who deliver messages Sunday after Sunday after Sunday:

1) Cut out the chatty introductions. There's no time for that. Just as people use their clickers to change TV stations, so people come to church with a clicker in their hands. If you don't earn the right to be heard at the beginning of your talk, people will (justifiably) "change stations."

2) Pay close attention to your method of delivery. "I think we talk with an audience more than we talk to them and certainly more than we talk at them." And: "I think this stand up and holler at your audience -- you may feel like doing that as a preacher, but you ought not do it."

3) "A good sermon has a sense of unity, a sense of order, and a sense of progress."

More here:

Please note the absence of any notes. Typical Haddon Robinson. He has perfected the art of public speaking with constant eye contact and engagement with his audience. Masterful, simply masterful.

7:20 AM What are your goals for the new year? Yes, cheers to a great 2019. But it's time to start prepping for a new decade, new racing, new blogging, new travels. I have been my Heavenly Father's son for 59 years. For this I am incredibly grateful. Not every moment in our relationship has been perfect, but they have all led to today. And now, together, we walk into a new year.

I'm a huge believer in keeping life fresh by trying new things. Everyone is different and what works for you might not work for me. But in order to know the difference, you have to try new things. One thing I learned in 2019 is that you have to listen not only to your body but to your soul. Running -- and living -- takes patience. It takes time to build up your physical and spiritual endurance. Like you, I'll face tough times in 2020. Will I be prepared to meet trouble when it comes? Time will tell. We can test our level of endurance only by running the race and not by talking about it.

The start of a new year reminds me of new beginnings and it always makes me want a fresh start. In terms of running, I think going all aerobic this year, at slow paces, will make a huge difference in my health and fitness. Most runners get injured due to overtraining. They think the "no pain, no gain" philosophy is valid, which it isn't. Hence they end up with leg and feet injuries that could otherwise be avoided -- tendonitis, runner's knee, hamstring issues, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, and stress fractures. Are you struggling with any of the above injuries? Chances are you are training too much at too high a level. For some of us, we don't really know the value of rest and recovery. We keep coming up with excuses to justify our overtraining. We know it's unhealthy but we do it anyway. I'm curious. What is something you've been putting off? Why haven't you taken the first step? Maybe 2020 will be your year to chart a different course. I have many faults. But lack of passion isn't one of them. In fact, I tend to be too passionate about things. I hard-headedly rush into things without really thinking them through. For some reason I have no tolerance for making excuses. Just do it! is my motto. My greatest piece of advice for you is to engage your brain and not just your heart in 2020. Think and pray about what the Lord wants you to do in the new year. And when something derails your plans, accept it and move on.

There are countless ways to be renewed. Some find it in climbing 14,000 foot peaks. Others discover it in trying out a new job. Many of us find it in ever deepening relationships. What matters is that we find it, whatever the "it" might be. Your job in 2020 is to be the best you that you can possibly be. The life you have is exactly the one meant for you. If you count your blessings and stop thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, then you will be happy and have the greatest life of all. Just make sure you do what you love. Don't lose sight of the fact that you're only here for a season. Don't rush through your days. Remember the little things, those small graces scattered throughout the day. Take time to bury your nose in a good book. Take time to snuggle up with the one you love. Take time to tickle your grandkids. Take time to tell someone they're doing a great job. Let's storm heaven on behalf of someone who's struggling. Pour out your soul for the hungry and clothe those who go without. Share the Gospel with someone who needs Jesus. God places us exactly where He needs us. We are called to do the work He has set out for us.

I just finished reading Bruce Metzger's Reminiscences of an Octogenarian. He concludes the book with a postscript in which he lists some of his favorite axioms and quotes. It goes without saying that it was a blessing to read them. As we begin a new year, I thought I'd share a few of them with you for your edification:

  • Let courage teach you when to speak and tact teach you how. -- Lyman Abbott.

  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug. -- Mark Twain.

  • Time is a deposit each one has in the bank of God, and no one knows the balance. -- R. W. Sockman.

  • Mankind more frequently needs to be reminded than informed. -- Samuel Johnson.

  • No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. -- Eleanor Roosevelt.

  • The church is the only society in the world that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members. -- William Temple.

  • Some people love their own opinion, not because it is true but because it is theirs. -- Augustine.

  • Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards. -- Søren Kierkegaard.

Thanks so much for reading the blog in 2019. There's such peace in knowing that, no matter what happens in the new year, I'm among people who are looking to God for guidance and strength and who are supporting me in prayer. 

Monday, December 30

6:12 PM Today was my final workout of 2019 -- an easy 5 mile run at the high school track. I'll take tomorrow off in preparation for Wednesday's 5K in Lynchburg. Looking back over the past 12 months it seems unbelievable to me that I totaled 1,287 miles. Here's the monthly breakdown (can you tell which month I was injured?):

January: 134

February: 121

March: 103

April: 89

May: 148

June: 125

July: 36

August: 82

September: 111

October: 115

November: 84

December: 115

Every race I ran in 2019 was partly about competition but mostly about celebration. My, how good God was to me! As you get older, you train all those miles to slow your rate of decline. Everything changes when you decide to become active. Your goals change. Your lifestyle changes. Your risks change. Eventually your rewards even change. Just as when you build your own house, you will encounter factors you didn't plan for. These are things that are out of your control. You're even tempted to push your training to the point of burnout or injury. Your training ultimately becomes a reflection of you. But in the end, how long it takes someone else to accomplish a goal doesn't matter. You are running your race, one month at a time, one week at a time, one day at a time. Did I always train wisely in 2019? Not on your life. Lessons learned? Many. For example: Knowing your limits is much more valuable than exceeding them. And: Sometimes enthusiasm is your biggest asset and at other times it's your greatest liability. It doesn't matter. Live and learn. Everyone is welcome in the running community no matter how many mistakes you make.

I'd like to thank all of my 2019 running buddies. Your kindness and encouragement nourished my spirit. My life has been enhanced by your courage, determination, and joy. If you're ready for 2020, let's do it!

7:20 AM Morning friends! Here are few running lessons I learned in 2019:

1) Fitness and health are not the same thing. An athlete can be fit but unhealthy. Fitness refers to the ability to perform a specific task. Health refers to a state of well-being. In early 2019 I pushed myself beyond a point of appropriate system stress. This led to neuromuscular distress. Now that I've fully recovered, I hope to avoid making the same mistake in 2020. My goal is to be fit and healthy. Lord willing, I will alleviate the overtraining syndrome by lowering my training intensity.

2) What your body can do is more important than what your body looks like. Performance comes first and appearance follows. I want to keep this principle in mind throughout 2020.

3) Avoid cookie cutter approaches to exercise and diet. I need to decide what is best for me. My goal in 2020 is to reconnect with my intuition and take control of my diet, sleep cycle, health, and fitness.

4) Move it or lose it. This includes not only a structured training schedule but getting enough movement through the course of the rest of day. My goal in 2020 is to sit at my desk less and get up and move more.

5) The need to develop an aerobic base. Perhaps this is the most importance lesson I learned in 2019. My goal in 2020 is to build a strong aerobic base by training exclusively aerobically.

6) The importance of walking. Athletes can use easy walking as an alternative to activity to maintain body motion. In 2020 I hope to incorporate walking into my regular training routine more often than I did in 2019.

7) Give yourself time to recover from a big race. Running a marathon is like being in a car accident. Your body has taken a severe beating and it's going to take time to get back to normal. The finish line is not the end. Crossing the finish line only gives you permission to recover. No more back to back marathons in 2020!

What are your exercise goals for 2020? Remember: There is no such thing as a perfect exercise strategy. Be prepared to change your goals as the year unfolds. You say, "But I don't have an exercise plan for 2020." My response: No plan is worse than a bad plan. You gotta start somewhere. Relying on an "I'll exercise if and when I feel like it" approach is like believing in Santa Claus.

There is no right strategy. There is only your strategy. Take some time today or tomorrow and prayerfully give some thought to developing your personal health and fitness goals for 2020. I think it will be well worth your time.

As always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 29

3:50 PM Just signed up for the Vision 2020 New Years Day 5K in Lynchburg this Wednesday. Lord willing, this will be my first race of 2020! All proceeds will go to help rebuild the Blackwater Creek Trail in Lynchburg that was devastated by the floods of 2018. Great city! Great race! Great cause! Hope to see many of my friends from Liberty University there.

1:50 PM Do you ever just sit and stare at language in utter amazement? I did this morning during the message from John 1:1. As usual, I took copious notes, this morning limiting myself to writing my notes in either Greek, Spanish, or German -- no English allowed! And, because I have a million different Bible translations on my phone, I could easily compare and contrast the Greek text with any other language I wanted to. Here's John 1:1 in Latin. You'll notice the verb erat ("was") is used 3 times to render the Greek verb ēn.

Then there's the Spanish we find in the Reina Valera version. Again, you'll notice the triple use of era ("was"):

Of course, every student of Spanish knows that it contains several different words for "was," all stemming from different vocabulary words. You can see this brought out in the Spanish edition of the NIV:

Here we find:

  • existía

  • estaba

  • era

All three verbs are used to translate the one Greek verb ēn. The first verb, existía, is clear enough: "The Word existed in the beginning." As for the next two verbs, Spanish generally distinguishes between the verb estar and the verb ser. Ser refers to more or less permanent traits of someone or something, while estar refers more to or less transient conditions. You use ser to talk about what something is (a condition), and estar to talk about how something is (states such as location or emotions). For example, you can say "María es alta" (Maria is tall) but you would say "María está confudida" (Maria is confused). Hence in John 1:1 we find "El verbo estaba [from estar] con Dios" but "El verbo era [from ser] Dios." I'm no expert in Spanish, but perhaps the idea here is that while the Word was in the condition of being in the very presence of God (i.e., in the presence of the Father, see 1:18), the Word was also God as to His divine essence. In other words, the Word that is with God can be God at the very same time. Not saying you can't get this meaning from the Greek or the English. You most certainly can. I just think it's neat how the Nueva Versión Internacional attempts to bring this out.

In his wonderful essay Someone Needs Your Second Language, Nick Whitehead writes, "God confused language because men sought to steal from his glory. We learn languages, with God's help, to give him the glory he deserves until he is praised in every language." Amen and amen!

7:48 AM The last Sunday of the year. How shall I spend it after church?

1) Rest. I literally slept for 12 hours last night. Rest is so essential for athletes or for anybody who is active. Rest is when our bodies improve. It's during sleep that your body secretes the highest amounts of growth hormone. Without rest, our bodies remain stressed. The formula is simple: Rest your body and it will grow stronger. Rob your body of rest and you'll grow weaker and eventually get sick and even injured.

2) Reading. There's only thing I enjoy more than writing and that's reading a good book. Here are some titles that are currently on my reading list:

  • Behind the Ranges by J. O. Fraser

  • F. F. Bruce: A Life by Tim Grass

  • The Message of 1-2 Thessalonians by John Stott

  • Reminiscences of an Octogenarian by Bruce Manning Metzger

  • Mountain Biking by F. A. Barnes and Tom Kuehne

  • The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn by Nathaniel Philbrick

In terms of Bible reading, I'm currently working my way through Romans in the New English Bible and enjoying many of its renderings. Reading is a comfort to me, an escape from the grind of life. One of my New Year's resolutions is to branch out with my reading interests in 2020. I'll still read books on running but I also want to read more biographies and maybe even dabble with historical fiction of the Michael Shaara variety. Right now I'm waiting for Heinrich von Siebenthal's Ancient Greek Grammar for the Study of the New Testament to arrive via Amazon. Did I tell you it's only 740 pages long??!!

3) Walking the dog. I love dogs. Amazing how pets become part of the family. For some reason I've always had Shelties as pets. And even though Sheba is about 100 years old in human terms and is completely deaf, she still romps gleefully whenever we go out for a walk.

So that's my Sunday. What does yours look like?

Saturday, December 28

5:40 PM There are two kinds of people in this world: those who enjoy the changing seasons, and those who don't. Personally I like living in a weather zone where the seasons change right before your eyes. I also love it when, like today, you're suddenly hit with summer-like weather in the middle of winter. I mean, we had temps approaching 70 degrees today. Well, an odd weather day calls for a long run, don't you think, as in 15 miles.

It took me just over 3 and a half hours to complete it but remember, I'm using the MAF method of running, which stands for Maximum Aerobic Function. The key is to watch your heart rate. You want to keep it in the middle heart rate zone, at least for most of your training run.

Here's how I looked today and how I dressed on this unseasonably warm day.

No need to call the fitness magazines wanting to submit this picture of me. I'm way too busy for that. (JK.) But if I were interviewed in Runner's World, my message would be a very simple one. Get outdoors on a nice day. Do something active with your body. Be sensible in how fast you go. Wear clothing appropriate to the temperature. And be sure to say hi to all the nice people on the trail. Here's John.

He's one of the park rangers at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. The dude is amazing. Although disabled, he's competed 3 times in the Marine Corps Marathon in the wheelchair division. The guy just won't take no for an answer. Yet another runner triumphing over adversity and moving beyond their personal struggles. A reminder to me that each and every one of us has to work within our abilities to achieve our goals. Life is never easy, but hardships are temporary, and for that I am truly grateful to God. The point is not to totally avoid suffering. It's what to do with it when it comes.

Time to cozy up in front of the fireplace and read!

9:28 AM German lovers, I think you will enjoy this message on the Second Coming. Can't imagine anyone speaking more clearly. Great practice if you're learning the language.

The Christ who came is the Christ who is coming. His return will occur as suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief in the night -- "in a moment, in the blink of an eye." Christ never told us when that would happen, but He did instruct us to live in anticipation of it at all times. The homecoming date might even be in 2020! Think about that the next time you feel like you're being swallowed up by the great big world you're supposed to have by the tail.

The Lord is saving His best for last.

Friday, December 27

7:14 PM Would you also consider not being so hard on yourself in 2020? This is the principle of gradual progress. Runners know it well. Not forcing your body to change fast but letting progress happen gradually from little to more. No pressure to have a quick change. Continual practice and effort and eventually your body gets it. What's true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual. I am learning to be a patient and grateful runner. Someone has said, "Running is a gift from God and I never want to take it for granted." What a blessing to be able to keep moving forward. Life is like running a marathon. You have to say to yourself: "You're not going to run 26 miles. You're going to run 1 mile 26 times."

3:20 PM Would you also consider spending more time outdoors in 2020? How much time have you spent outside today? Be honest. The average American spends about 93 percent of their time indoors either in buildings or in vehicles. Now more than ever it's important to get outdoors, breathe in some fresh air, enjoy some sunshine, and revel in God's creation.

2:22 PM Here's a lesson from running that I think is applicable to the body of Christ. When I first started running 4 years ago, I thought that running involved simply pushing off with your legs and that's all. I thought, "We push our body forward with our legs and feet." But that's simply not true. If you look at where most running injuries occur, they're from the knees down -- in the legs and feet. That's because we often forget to use all of those strong core muscles that are above the knees, muscles that are actually built for moving our legs forward. Why on earth would we want to use only the tail end of the body to do what the entire body should be doing? That's neither safe nor efficient. Nowadays, I'm trying to work more from my core by engaging my upper body when I run (as in getting my arm swing to cooperate with my legs). The result is a very pleasant upper-lower body synchronicity. Just look at Eliud Kipchoge.

When your running is balanced, when every part of your body is playing its proportionate role, there's no part that overworks. "Each according to its ability," is the way the apostle Paul might have put it. This means that how I hold my hands can make a real difference in running. Ditto for how I hold my head (which is 15 percent of a person's body weight). Running should be a whole body effort. That's why in the church I want to see the abolition of the laity. Not the clergy, but the laity. All the people of God -- every single member of Christ's body, both the so-called clergy and the so-called laity -- must be elevated to their true dignity as ministers of Jesus Christ. This is not anticlericalism. It is simply liberating all God's people to be all that He is calling them to be and to do.

Oh, the genius of God in how He created both the human body and the body of Christ!

1:12 PM Would you also consider not comparing yourself to anyone else in 2020? We look at other people and think we want to be like them without realizing all the effort it took for them to get where they are. The married couple that looks so happy? They've probably worked their tails off trying to make things work and may have even gone through a period when their marriage was on the rocks. That person who's successful in their career? You don't see how hard they worked in the off hours paying their dues. Nothing that's worth having comes easily. I don't know anyone who's achieved their goals effortlessly.

12:45 PM A 30 minute swim and a 5K walk are in the books. Tomorrow? A 20 mile (or more) bike, Lord willing. Trying to remember that more isn't always better.

9:25 AM Excellent description of church eldership from J. D. Payne's Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers (p. 101):  

As a team, prayerfully consider who among the new believers is eligible to serve in this leadership capacity. Using the Bible, explain to the church that the kingdom ethic requires elders to be in place to shepherd the flock. Emphasis should be placed on the servant nature of this role -- showing how such leaders are to display Jesus in their lives, in their families and in their responsibilities of leading, teaching, caring and guarding the church. The church should understand that while such leaders are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17) and will be judged with greater strictness (Jas 3:1), they are ordinary people -- just like the rest of the church. They should not be elevated to a higher pedestal than the Bible allows. Your team should do nothing to create a two-tiered division in the church between clergy and laity.

8:45 AM It's that time of the year again. Time to do something new with our lives in 2020. The end of a year brings not only tender memories of things past but a realization that time is fleeting. Just as we need to spend our money more carefully when we have less of it, so we need to wisely invest what remains of our days. Would you consider beginning every day in 2020 with God? We will never get off to a good start without Him. John Stott once described how he started every day. He would swing his legs over the side of the bed and, before taking his first step, offer a Trinitarian prayer:

Good morning, heavenly Father, good morning Lord Jesus, good morning Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship you, Saviour and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.

How foolish of us to ever start anything without Him! Whatever the new day may hold, make sure of this one thing: "In the beginning, God" (Gen. 1:1).

Thursday, December 26

2:20 PM What a beautiful day for running. Warm and sunny. Today I began a 6-month training block for my marathon in June. I am using the MAF Method (Maximum Aerobic Function) that emphasizes the importance of slow heart rate training at a slow pace. This past year my training routine called for alternating easy and hard days. Not any more. In the sport of rowing they use the term "steady state" to describe what I'm taking about. The majority of training is done at a low heart rate and only occasionally do you go anaerobic. The key is knowing your body type and your racing goals. I will never be a fast runner, of that I am sure. My body just isn't made for it. That said, while I have very few fast twitch muscles, I seem to have been blessed with a good number of slow twitch muscles. This means that I'm a lousy sprinter but have the potential to be a good endurance runner. I may not be fast but my body has been able to complete 22 half marathons, 16 full marathons, and one 31-mile trail race all well under the course time limits. Some have complained that "Long slow distance running makes for slow runners." But since I'm never going to be competitive, and since my goal is to run for general health, that's no concern of mine. The MAF Method seems perfect for people like me who want to handle higher training volume, recover faster from their workouts, and stay injury free. This means that I will be running at a much lower intensity than most runners out there. Can't wait to see the results. Today I maintained an average heart rate of 117 beats per minute for 5 miles, which is right on target.

The key is to stay slow and relaxed, and then rest and recover.

My plan is to stick with the MAR Method for 4 months and then add in some speed work, all the while continuing to do cross training (swimming and cycling) on my off days. It seems to me that too many people are running too hard too often and therefore become prone to injury. I know, because that was me in 2019. So I'm a believer, I'm a believer, folks. As I've often said on this blog, I love the half marathon distance. I can actually run the entire 13.1 miles if I go out slow and remain relaxed. Will I ever be able to do that in a 26.2 mile marathon? Time will tell. For now, I just want to get really good at running slow. As for eating, I'm not a vegetarian but I do eat more vegetables than meat and I try to cook all my meals from scratch. When I do cook with meat it's usually organic. I am eating more fruits and vegetables than at any other time in my life. And I allow my sleep to follow a natural rhythm (no alarm clocks). Of course, I do allow for special eating excursions if you know what I mean. After all, I'm not a robot!

Time for a long rest and then back to writing. I'm enjoying my time off from teaching immensely but I still have a hankering to get back into the classroom. Boy, do I have a hankering. I miss it!

7:45 AM I've been finding Tim Grass's F. F. Bruce: A Life stimulating reading over the winter break. The book opens a window into the some of the reasons Bruce's life and ministry have had such a global impact, especially on evangelical scholarship. It is impossible to read it without learning a lot about the teaching profession. Tim Grass paints a compelling portrait filled with valuable lessons for any who would aspire to be servant leaders in Christ's church.

In 1992 I had the honor of publishing a Festschrift in honor of New Testament scholar Harold Greenlee.

Contributors included (among others) Gordon Fee, Moisés Silva, Keith Elliott, Sakae Kubo, Bruce Metzger, and F. F. Bruce. Bruce's chapter was entitled "Textual Problems in the Epistle to the Hebrews." I still have in my possession the typescript of the essay he sent me. Yes, I said typescript, including white out markings! It turned out to be one of the last contributions from Bruce's prolific pen and, in fact, was published posthumously. As a lover of all things Hebrews, I was keenly interested to see what Bruce had to say about these textual variants.

I have learned much from F. F. Bruce, just as I have from the other contributors to the Festschrift. I admired Bruce for his swift grasp of an issue. I admired him for his massive learning. I admired him for the way he wrote books that were utterly scholarly on the one hand and utterly lucid on the other. I admired him for his passion for evangelism and for his example of full involvement in the local church. These and many other qualities in Bruce's life are admirably pointed out in Grass's book. In the coming days I hope to call our attention to a few of them. I hope my thoughts may attract a new generation of New Testament students to appreciate the life and work of this humble scholar and churchman.

Wednesday, December 25

12:35 PM Yes, I've really done it. I've committed myself to teaching Koine Greek again in a local church setting. Wrapped up the planning for it last night at Clearview Church. I imagine people who take the class (which starts in February) will fall into two groups: Either they've had some Greek before but have forgotten it, or they have never studied the language. There may also be a third category of people. I'll call them language nerds. You know who they are. They sit around arguing over whether "In principio erat verbum" (John 1:1) should be pronounced in classical Latin or church Latin, whether Hawaiian Creole is a dialect of English or a language in its own right, and why some languages have grammatical gender and others don't. They're people who love ordering Mexican food in (often faulty) Spanish and who read instruction manuals not only in English but French and German. They not only know what cognates are but go out of their way looking for them, people whose idea of a good time is getting out the Scrabble board.

Which category you fall into depends on your tolerance to pain and your eagerness to learn an inflected language (which Greek is). My class will be predicated on several assumptions, the first being that Koine Greek is not really all that hard to learn. It's just a matter of a little self-discipline and time management. Second, it's not boring. After all, the New Testament was written in it. So was the Septuagint. So you're certainly not wasting your time becoming acquainted with it. Third, Greek has had an influence on the English we all speak, given that many English words derive from their ancient Greek counterparts. Finally, master Greek and you will likely be able to learn other Indo-European languages like French and German with much greater ease.

Not too shabby a deal for 9 or 10 months' worth of study.

What will you learn by the end of the course? Well, you won't be able to speak Koine Greek. Sorry about that. Practically nobody learns Koine Greek to speak it. Not saying that's right or wrong; it's just a reality. What you will learn in our class is how to conjugate and decline Greek words, how to translate simple sentences into English, and how Greek can help you better understand the New Testament. The course is organized so that you can jump in without any previous language experience at all.  Zero, zilch, nada.  

So what's preventing you from learning Greek? If you're intimidated because you've never studied an ancient language before, or bewildered by beginning Greek grammars that are just too dense and verbose, or just don't know where to begin, then our course Greek for Everyone is just for you. Our book Learn to Read New Testament Greek is designed to overcome just these obstacles. It's divided into 26 simple chapters that explain the fundamentals of Greek grammar in a way that anyone can grasp. New concepts are introduced in a gradual and systematic way. And you immediately apply what you've learned by translating simple sentences at the end of every chapter. (The sentences include only vocabulary covered to that point.) For additional help and instruction, we have a 24-set DVD series that teaches through every chapter of the book. No cartoon animals, just grammar presented as simply as possible.

The study of Greek is addictive. I was "bit" by the language bug when I took Greek in college. In fact, I was so excited to discover that I could learn a foreign language that I've studied several others since then. I always look for textbooks that are easy to read and that cut to the chase without extraneous material. I look for books that move me along slowly and methodically without rushing me. I look for practice exercises that are repetitious because constant repetition makes things more understandable. I feel confident that the study of Greek will help set you up for success when you begin to study other languages. I'm just relearning Spanish and I'm loving the simple textbooks I've acquired.

Is Greek a good language to learn in 2020? Yes, I'd say so. I once heard someone say, "Life's too short to study a foreign language." They have a point. To learn to read New Testament Greek depends on how determined you are and how clear your goals are. I will just say this: If you have clear goals, nothing will be able to stop you. The best way to learn a new language is to jump right in!

Tuesday, December 24

9:34 AM This morning I'm continuing to prep for my spring classes. In Greek 2 this coming semester we will begin our translation of the book of 1 John. It's a little book that promotes holiness, deepens fellowship among believers, informs worship, inspires hope, and stimulates sound doctrine. John is emphatically not a pragmatist. He is first and foremost a truth lover who is concerned to allow his beliefs to determine his actions. Again and again he refers to the foundational truths of Christianity, that Christ is God in the flesh, that He died for our sins, and that He was raised and is coming back. In other words, if it is the church that spreads the gospel, it is the gospel that shapes the church. The theme of 1 John is perhaps: How the church must live according to the gospel. This is so essential in a day of politicized evangelicalism. We have become known more as people who preach the gospel than as people who live and adorn it. To our current neglect of Christian ethics, 1 John presents a striking contrast. What John teaches is not only the essence of the good news but also the essence of the good life. And right from the beginning converts are told that the new life in Christ is a holy life.

I just thank God that each of us, regardless of our political affiliations, stands equal before God. And someday soon, all of us will be asked to give an account for our lives. The question will not be, How did you measure up to God's standards? It will be, how did I?

9:10 AM So few churches have Christmas Eve services nowadays. So if you're looking for a place to attend this evening, please consider joining me at Clearview Church in Henderson, NC. Service starts at 8:00 pm. Communion will be served.

7:44 AM Disclaimer right up front: I love to read the Gospels in Hebrew, especially According to Matthew. Read 3 chapters this morning.

Not seldom does God bring to mind the truth that Yeshua was and is the Mashiach of Yisra'el. Not saying that Matthew (Mattai) was originally written in Hebrew (though some believe this), just saying that there's a strong Semitic substratum in this Gospel that enriches my understanding of the text. In my Gospels class next semester I look forward to bringing out some of these, including names like Yosef, Miryam, Yirmeyah, Mitzrayim, Hordos, Yehudah, Beit-Lechem, Yehudim, Yochanan, Prushim, Avraham, Kefar Nachum, etc. Matthew was written during the Jerusalem phase of the church (Acts 1-12) under the leadership of Peter. The other phases are:

  • The Gentile mission phase (Acts 13-28) under the leadership of Paul.

  • The Roman phase requiring joint action between Peter and Paul.

  • The Johannine supplement.

I think there's strong evidence that the scroll of Matthew was in existence within 10 years of the resurrection and that Paul had a copy of Matthew with him on his missionary journeys. (He seems to quote from Matthew in his earliest letter, 1 Thessalonians.) What more reason do we need than to study Matthew in depth? Y'all look at what he writes about the birth narrative of Yeshua.

Some of us (mainly me) get pretty excited about stuff like this. Deeply honored to be able to teach this Gospel in just a few weeks.

Rejoicing with you in our Savior's birth!

Monday, December 23

7:55 PM Two weeks from today our Greek 1 class begins. It will run for 3 weeks. I think this must be the 15th time I've done J-Term Greek since I began teaching at the seminary 21 years ago. I've always enjoyed this class. I see we've got 32 students enrolled so far. I love teaching Greek, in case you haven't noticed. I love to watch inspiring students give their best and work hard toward their goals. I enjoy teaching any student who is eager to learn. And students who sign up for an intensive tend to do very well. There's not a great deal of research into the value of intensive courses over semester-long courses, but from what I've read, the evidence seems to indicate that compressed-format courses are as good as semester-long courses. (One study concluded that compressed courses even led to greater academic success.) Personally speaking, I would rather take one class every 3 weeks than take 5 classes every 15 weeks. But that's just me. I like to concentrate on one thing at a time. I also think that teachers and students form closer relationships in compressed courses than in traditional ones. Learning a new subject is a never-ending task. But just because learning is long doesn't mean it has to be slow. An intensive course means that you're constantly engaged with the language, and this immersion method can power up your skills and confidence for when you begin Greek 2 in the spring. If you're looking for something to rocket launch your Greek skills, a Greek intensive might be just the thing. It's not for everyone, of course. But for those who want to put in that extra push, it's a great way to accumulate credits.

2:56 PM Excellent marathon training day here in Southside Virginia. I'm encouraged by a 1 hour workout at the Y followed by a 5 mile run at the track.

Excited to get some rest and then do some writing this evening.

The marathon journey continues to progress at the end of 2019 and into 2020.

We must stay patient in pursuit of the Jackson River Trail Marathon in June. I will talk more soon about marathon training and workouts in the days ahead. 

8:12 AM This is the week. The week to soak up every minute with people who make your heart smile. Be present with them this week. They are enough just the way they are. More than enough. No, family is never ever what we expect. Still, I could not have dreamed up a life that's better than the one I have now. Blessing after blessing after blessing. It's all about perspective. Making the most of it. Not sweating the irrelevant. Rolling with the punches when things don't go as planned.

I wish you a wonderful, spectacular Christmas week. Reminder: Turn off your phone. Honor the little stuff. No politics allowed. Stay centered in Jesus.

Merry Christmas my friends!

Sunday, December 22

9:38 PM Friend: "Ich bin lernen Deutsch." Me: "Obviously."

9:04 PM Today I've been working on my race schedule for 2020. Yes, folks, it's that time of the year when we look ahead to fresh adventures. Did I mention that I've decided on my 2020 marathon race? I'm really excited about it. I decided it would be a race I haven't run before (for variety's sake) and it would be between April and October (to avoid the cold weather) and it would be on a good running surface (crushed gravel preferably) and it would be scenic and in a place I've never been before. And the winner is ...

The Jackson River Scenic Trail Marathon!

The date is Saturday, June 27, which means it comes after my 6-week summer school session is over. Perfect timing. The location is a place called Covington, which is about a 4-hour drive away in the scenic Allegheny highlands of Virginia. It's held in conjunction with -- get this -- the Covington Cork and Pork Festival BBQ Competition. Can you believe it? Everyone knows that my main spiritual gift is eating. The trail, I'm told, is mostly flat with a few small hills, and it's all on crushed gravel.

Watcha think? Nice, eh?

This will be my biggie race for the new year and the one I will be training for. Part of me just hopes for a strong finish but another part of me wants a new marathon PR (I got my last one at the St. George Marathon in Utah 2 years ago). Today I'm also penciling in a few lesser-distance races. I am only picking goals I am extremely excited about. No "shoulds." I'm liking the idea of doing another ultra-marathon in the summer or fall and, as I said before, I'm definitely going to add in some triathlons, for sure the one they hold in Wake Forest every year. I'm still very much on the fence about adding a second marathon for 2020, but I don't want to overcommit, especially in view of a heavy teaching load this coming summer and fall.

Speaking of running, I'm about to lose another toenail. I work hard, folks, to get my feet looking so ugly!

Finally, as you know, I'm a sucker for inspiration. Tonight I dusted off this book.

Sure, it's a biography of John Stott, but it's so much more. It's fascinating to me that Stott's story closely parallels the story of global evangelization in the past century. At All Souls Church in London it was Stott who gave the lead to the many-textured form of evangelism we're so used to in the 21st century. When I was in college, there was a good deal of emphasis on technique. Today there's a lot more relational evangelism taking place, which is all to the good when you realize that personal relationships have always been more important than methods. The best thing so far is that this book reminds me of the importance of prayer when it comes to evangelism. Nothing of substance can be achieved without it. Stott believed that an evangelizing church is always a praying church if for no other reason than the fact that God alone is the evangelist. In what ways can I be more of an effective prayer warrior in 2020? Be honest. Do you pray for your lost friends as much as you should? I know what the answer is for me and I don't like it.

Stay tuned for more on this subject later.  

7:46 AM In Romans 15 this morning. Reminded that Paul's ministry went through stages. This happens to us as well. We all grow. We all mature. We all develop. We all move from one stage of life to another. In Romans 15, Paul looks back on his ministry and, in effect, says, "I have fully proclaimed the gospel in the East. It's now time to finish the great task of planting the gospel in the remainder of the Roman Empire, that is, as far as Spain." There are two principles of life that occur to me:

1) Paul was being true to himself. Paul wasn't a local church pastor. Paul was a missionary/church planter, a trail-blazer for the gospel. If he has planted, let others water! I must move on! Paul had one and only one ambition in life: to establish new congregations, not to build on someone else's foundation.

2) What enabled Paul to say that it was time for him to move on? It was the fact that he could entrust his previous work into the hands of helpers like Epaphras (who established the church in Colosse) and others. Paul left no orphans behind!

I spent many minutes in prayer this morning asking the Lord to make clear to me His path in the coming years. As I write this blog post I am planning my international travel for the next two years. To the Greek mind, time was a circle imprisoning life until the soul was released through death. To the Hebrew (and Christian) mind, however, life was more of a line from past to present, the line of God's redemptive purposes. Life was therefore meaningful. God has always been beside us on the road and is even now in charge of the route.

Of one thing I am sure. God leads His dear children along, as the old song puts it. Since 2004 Becky and I were involved in ministry in Ethiopia, where she was raised as an MK. This meant 14 trips for her and 17 for me. It's been several years since I've been back. This was not unintentional. If Becky's parents planted, Becky and I watered. Our work in Ethiopia was a most wonderful thing. But our work there is now completed. It's time for others to carry it forward. Our ministry there will either rise like the Phoenix or go down in flames but we leave that in the hands of God.

In recent years I've made 13 trips to Asia to assist in the training of pastors. It was an unavoidable call. As we all know, in much of the world there has been much numerical growth without very much depth. There hasn't been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth in members. Into this situation I found myself teaching Greek. I saw myself as a clay pot -- common stuff, replaceable, but holding a priceless treasure that I was eager to pass on to others. That has now been done, and I sense it is time to pass the baton.

What's the next place in God's plan for my international ministry? What is my "place," after all? What was our Lord's place? It was that of a servant. A lowly slave. Can it be any different for those of us who claim to follow Him? Christ's servants must be humble enough to be flexible. Paul certainly was. His obedience to the Father enabled him to do anything, go anywhere the Spirit sent him. No wonder he wrote, "There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others more important than yourselves. Look to each other's interest and not merely to your own." If we think of others before ourselves, everything else will fall into place. God will never disappoint us. He has a good purpose for every one of His children. Is there any joy more exhilarating than the joy of knowing He will help you maneuver through the stages of life? He cares about these things and more. You've got His word on it.

Saturday, December 21

7:26 PM Next marathon chosen! Can't wait to tell you! More info soon.

2:22 PM  Watch till the end.

2:04 PM Just fed hay to all the animals, having earlier gotten in a 20-mile bike at the trail between LaCrosse and Brodnax, VA.

The sun was out but there was absolutely no warmth in it.

My feet still haven't thawed. The shivering didn't stop until I took a hot shower and downed some spicy ramen soup. Every year when it gets cold I turn into an idiot. I forget that I'm supposed to dress warmly. Maybe one day I'll learn. I enjoy the summer months so much that I forget that it will get cold again. Not exactly the perfect way to begin your day but I wouldn't change it for the world. We exercise nuts do these crazy things for the experience. We do them to make memories. We do them because life would be so boring if we didn't do them. And to think: People in Florida are still wearing tank tops and shorts. Maybe this winter I'll invest in some tech wool underwear.

Off for a long (warm) nap.

8:55 AM The 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters ended yesterday at the famous Banzai Pipeline. The waves were the definition of perfection. Enjoy some unbelievable rides from my home state.


7:20 AM I just ordered on Amazon the biographies of F. F. Bruce and Bruce Manning Metzger. Will make excellent reading over the break. I already have Bruce's autobiography, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian. In it he writes these thoughtful words.

It has often been remarked that the snare of autobiographers is that we see ourselves neither as others see us nor as God sees us. We are tempted to concentrate on a few particulars of our life, and to make these selections -- chosen to exhibit ourselves at our best -- representative of the whole. The result is not really honest, for no one is a good critic of his or her own career.

I grew up in a church culture where transparent preaching was an oxymoron. The church, after all, needed to remain churchy. Something as marvelous as God's family must remain mysterious. Since then I've discovered that Christian leaders are just ordinary people who have the same struggles I have and sometimes act Christianly and sometimes don't. Today, at the age of 67, the curtain has become much thinner than when I was 16. Ironically, the grave danger of being transparent with people is being overly transparent. So everyone keeps pretending.

I will just say this. I agree with the author who once said that in even the happiest of Christian lives there are deep pockets of incurable pain. That's true of all of us. Perhaps that's why James instructs us to confess our faults one to another and to pray for each other so that we might be healed. A good example of this openness, of this transparency, of this vulnerability, is the biography of a former missionary to China. It's called Behind the Ranges: The Life-Changing Story of J. O. Fraser.

It's been called one of the greatest biographies in the history of Christian missions. It was required reading in my Acts class back at Biola. Here was a man who told the truth about what it's like to be broken and hurting. Fraser discovered that operating out of self-protection only took him further and further away from the life of the Spirit. His was a tough battle against self. But God gave shocking grace. Fraser's story reminds me that God delights in using ordinary tools in our lives to change us -- confession, humility, truth, and especially prayer.

I'd encourage you over the holidays to read a good Christian biography if you're able to. You will be glad you did. Think of biographies as mentors at a distance. Allow yourself to get a glimpse into the lives of those who've gone before you. A good biography can help give you context for the decisions we all face. Not every biography is about a giant of the faith, but many are. I look forward to the lessons I will glean from the lives of Fred Bruce and Bruce Metzger over the Christmas break. 

Friday, December 20

7:58 PM Tonight was a good time to take my foot off the pedal and slow down a little. Always fun to dine with family, including 5 grandsons. :-)

This is the first time in a long time I'll not be traveling over the holidays so I'm looking forward to many more times like tonight. Christmas is so special. It made salvation possible. Eternal life is simply the gift of God and we are saved through simple faith that receives Jesus as Savior and confesses Him as Lord. Let's never confuse saving faith with cheap believism or false receivism. Salvation involves coming to Christ but it also requires coming after Christ. Believeship must also be discipleship. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for You!

Hope you're enjoying this Christmas season with family. Grateful for you all taking a moment to stop by. See you tomorrow.

12:44 PM Today I did a short run at a new venue -- a nature park in rural Orange County, NC.

This was a familiarization run before next month's trail race there.

I was the only one on the trailhead.

The conditions were easy but that's because the trail was fairly dry.

I'd hate to run it after there was a heavy rain or snow. The trail was so steep and rocky that I almost stumbled and fell several times.

I realize that if I'm going to run this race I'll have to be extra careful. This evening I'm heading out to meet some family for dinner. Other than that, the only other interesting part of my day was a visit to Becky's graveside.

What precious memories of a life well lived. I still feel very much alone, but I'm not lonely. I have found solace in solitude. Truly the words of Isaiah have come true: "Your light will rise like the dawn out of darkness ... and the Lord will satisfy your needs."

It was so peaceful out there today, not only on the trail but at the gravesite. All in all, not a bad way to spend one's morning.

5:30 AM This morning, as usual, I was wide awake and out of bed by 5:00 am. For some reason the word "discipline" is on my mind this morning. When you think about it, discipline is what Christian discipleship is all about. In a way, it defines the very essence of our life as Jesus followers. Which raises a question: How disciplined am I? As a runner, very much so. I've already plotted out where I will run today and for how long and at what pace. Runners realize that hard work and discipline always pay off. They have acquired tons of patience and endurance by daily disciplining their lives. They understand that we are all stronger than we think. They learn that just because you are old doesn't mean that you should stop pushing yourself or setting new goals.

Spiritual discipline, of course, is vastly more important than physical discipline. Being disciplined is different for everyone, so I can only tell you what works for me. I never start a day without spending time with the Lord, in His presence, in His word. Discipline is a wholehearted yes to God at the beginning of your day. It's knowing yourself to be called, known, taken possession of by the Master. You have heard His voice, and you put yourself anew at His disposal. You value a strong body but you realize that's not what life is all about. Discipline is dealing with failure/heartache/challenges and still getting back on your feet to try again. I think your discipline, drive, determination speaks a lot about your Christianity. Life is about today. There might not be a tomorrow. So we must exercise discipline now. To whatever He says, the answer must be yes. 

Do you think this is easy or convenient? Do you think this is effortless? No. It takes discipline. St. John of the Cross put it this way: "Strive to choose, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult. Do not deprive your soul of the agility which it needs to mount up to Him." From His wounded hands come the gifts of love, acceptance, forgiveness, fullness of joy. When discipline becomes a glad surrender to Him, He offers life and utter bliss to those who will follow in His way.

My friend, just because it's hard doesn't mean you should stop. Problem solve and keep moving forward. 

Thursday, December 19

5:54 PM Great book here. It's written by one of our chapel speakers a couple of weeks ago.

When I heard him speak I just had to get his book. A few quotes:

  • Enter with joy into your struggle against destructive daily habits.

  • For most of us, the work of sanctification creeps along much more slowly than we would like.

  • Gaining control over our sin struggle requires a wartime mentality. But this war is unique. It is a dependent, grace-fought war. Our dependence is on God, who helps us by His grace.

  • While we certainly can and should expect a measure of improvement when we practice spiritual disciplines, God -- by His infinite, sovereign, and unsearchable wisdom -- sees fit for sin to remain in some measure.

  • Our sovereign, wise, and good God often prescribes slow progress in the Christian life in order to prevent us from trusting in our own power and plan.

  • Our prolonged struggle against sin is a tool by which God draws us to Himself.

  • No matter how much we dislike the thought of a prolonged battle with sin, we must become content with what God has decreed about sin's remaining power and presence in our lives.

  • Does this mean that we ought to give up the fight? After all, isn't that what it means to be content with the presence of sin? May it never be! Becoming content with the reality of our sin and the slow march of spiritual growth is not an excuse to rest on our laurels. Quite the opposite.

  • It is possible to become ensnared by the desire for accelerated spiritual change.

  • I cannot emphasize this truth enough: your ability to enduringly fight sin is dependent on your daily interaction with the precious and magnificent promises that are yours in Christ.

  • There is an order to living the Christian life: gospel first, change second.

  • No matter how entrenched your destructive daily habits have become, you can change. Change might not come as quickly as would like it or with a level of ease that you prefer, but change is promised in Christ.... His grace will be sufficient to the very end.

What an encouraging book! On our own, we're helpless against sin. Only Jesus can help us off the merry-go-round. All we have to do is take His outstretched hand. But time, my friends, it will take time.

8:10 AM After my 10 mile run yesterday I took a hot shower and began to jot down a few thoughts about what I don't like about this running thing. That's right. I'm usually super positive here about runners and running. But there's something that's been stewing in my brain for a while that I need to talk about with all of you. Hear me out.

When you boil it all down, running is for many (if not most) of us a safe space. It's a place to find the courage we need to keep on running the race of life. It encourages good health and stress relief. It's a place where we find wonderful community. Now don't get me wrong. These are all good things. And they are all reasons why I run. But there's a danger here as well, at least for me. The desire to run, to overcome, to face down big challenges, is a passion that all too often springs from a desire to make our lives better rather than finding God in our problems and living for a better hope. We turn to running to improve our present lives without any thought of eternity. Citizens of this world have two objectives in life: (1) to find happiness, and (2) to influence others to cooperate in that pursuit. Beneath all of our acts of courage and selflessness (we run for charities, right?) all too often lies the motive of self-service that destroys their moral value. We are desperate to make our lives less painful and we will do whatever it takes to reach this goal. Christians, on the other hand, are citizens of another world. In this world we exist as nothing more than pilgrims and strangers -- "resident aliens," as some have put it. Our distinguishing mark is not the pursuit of personal pleasure or happiness but passion for God and His kingdom. We endure hardships not to gratify ourselves but because we belong to Him and are confident of His promises. As a runner, I am constantly tempted to have a worldly perspective on why I run. But when I read the apostle Paul, for example, I see that personal fulfillment is not the highest value, and that individual well-being is not as important as the glory of God. The historic church taught that the end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. For true Christians, nothing matters more than finding, knowing, and loving this God.

That's why I believe running can only take us so far. It is uni-directional, if you will. It focuses on immediate, earthly satisfaction and a consuming desire to succeed personally or professionally. And nothing is wrong with this unless we feel no deeper passion in life. In a sense, running (like any activity that promotes self-actualization) is merely an appetizer for the spiritual. Nothing less than intimacy with Christ can delight our souls with "the richest of fare" (Isa. 55:2 NIV; "the finest food," NLT). Our approach to running must be multi-directional if it is to be eternally satisfying. No, I'm not trying to be a Gnostic and pit the flesh against the spirit or ephemeral beauty against the eternal beauty of heaven. We should absolutely enjoy the good things in this life. God is a God "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Tim. 6:17). But this is merely the milk. The meat is developing a priority for the things of Christ. And to develop this hunger and thirst for Christ, we have to face our worldly hedonism head-on and consider both its source and deficiencies. We have to recognize that no pleasure can completely satisfy us on this earth. The deepest satisfactions in life -- including running -- don't satisfy, they merely point us forward. The path to genuine joy is not in recovering from our wounds but in identifying and repenting of our desire to advance our own well-being more than the glory of God. In other words, neither our personal pain nor the struggle to overcome can serve as the organizing principle of our lives. Unless and until we realize this, running will remain an activity that is merely this-worldly. Yes, it can help, but only so far.

As a runner, I am ever-so-slowly learning to be less desperate for solutions from my pain and more desperate for fellowship with my Lord and Savior in the midst of my pain. I am slowly beginning to realize that nothing I do -- not my running, my racing, my teaching, my writing, my farming, my parenting and grand-parenting -- will provide me with what my soul yearns for the most. I desperately long for God. One moment I'm running a marathon victoriously and the next moment I'm lying face down on the ground, powerless to improve my own life. Then, as it always does, the peace of Christ returns. Once again, my heart is lifted up along with my body and I sing and shout for joy. And slowly I begin to change into the image of the One who alone can satisfy.

The lesson in all of this? Surrender. To the pain. To the unmet dreams. To the grief. To the fear. And then? Trust. Have faith. Keep looking forward. Stay centered in Christ. Onward AND upward. Horizontal AND vertical. This life AND the next. Folks, I have a long way to go before I get there. My spiritual life seems like it's barely begun. It's three steps forward and two steps backwards. So will I stop? Not on your life. Not until my spiritual journey is over.

Happy Friday, and run on my friends!

Wednesday, December 18

6:08 PM Somebody please hit me with the stupid stick. For years I've taught about the Synoptic Problem. I even put together a Power Power of the leading solutions to said problem. But it wasn't until today that I added this slide.

This is a view that deserves much more attention than it's gotten. I know about it because of a man named Robert Lindsey. For many years Lindsey was the pastor of the Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem. (I attended Narkis Street when I was studying in Jerusalem in 1985.) His view is sort of a Lukan priority position. That's right, I said Lukan. Most scholars espouse some form of the Markan priority hypothesis. A few of us (very few I'm afraid) espouse Matthean priority. But Lukan priority? Yep. And the man to read is Robert Lindsey. For more about his view, go here. And remember: All of these scenarios are hypothetical. Which is the more likely? Ah, that's for you to decide.

2:20 PM For some reason today I felt like getting in a 10 mile run while listening to sacred choral and brass music recorded at Westminster Cathedral in England.

What a magnificent combo! This got me to thinking about how richly God has blessed us humans with not only the beauty of nature but the beauty of artistic expression. Sometimes the most enjoyable part of a run has nothing to do with running but everything to do with your senses as they are practically assaulted by the beauty all around you. I could literally feel myself begin to shed all my worries and stressors as the miles unfolded before me. Every single run is like this for me. Every single run brings joy of one sort or another. And the further you progress in running, the more "fun" the hard parts become. What I am enjoying is the endurance that age brings (I knew there was an advantage to getting older!) and of course the side benefit of being able to eat like a 16-year old. 

Before I seriously started running I hated it. Now I can hardly live without it :-)

9:02 AM Am sending this email to my J-Term Greek class today: 

Dear J-Term Greek students!

We're less than 3 weeks away from the start of our Greek class together. From start to finish, I hope the course makes you feel like you're getting acquainted with an old friend (Greek and English are closely related) and leaves you with a renewed love for Jesus, life, and the Gospel. If you haven't read the syllabus or the class schedule yet, they are both available on Moodle. Please note that we will hit the ground running, so be sure to read chapter 1 in our textbook before the first day of class (Monday, January 6). We will have our first quiz that morning. The quiz will ask you to do only one thing, and that is to write out, in proper order, the Greek lower case letters. (There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet but one of the letters, the sigma, has two forms, so come prepared to write all 25 forms.) There will also be up to 10 extra credit points you can earn on the quiz. These will be based on the rest of the chapter, so read it carefully.

Any questions? Feel free to email me.

Greek is not a subject to pass up. Let's get to it!

Cordially in Christ,

Dave Black

I wish all of you could be in one of my Greek classes! Come to think of it, maybe you can. Don't forget the Greek class I'm starting at Clearview Church in Henderson on Sunday evening, February 9. Class is free of charge. More details to come!

8:20 AM Mike Bird links to a series of videos made at last year's Markus Barth symposium at Princeton. He also includes a link to some of Barth's audio lectures in English. This is a gold mine. My thanks to Mike for posting it, and my sympathies to him when he bemoans the fact that he never had the good fortune to meet Prof. Barth in person. When I arrived in Basel, Barth had recently succeeded Oscar Cullmann in NT at the university. I got to know both men quite well. My first apartment in that renowned city on the Rhine was on the Birmannsgasse, just a few houses away from Prof. Cullman's home. I have many happy memories of afternoons spent with Dr. Cullmann in the privacy of his personal library. Then, when the winter semester of 1980 began, I had my first class with Prof. Barth, on the Gospel of Mark in fact. After that I spent one evening a week in the Theologisches Seminar on the Nadelberg attending Barth's colloquium. That class was limited to doctoral students, and as I recall it, everyone smoked a pipe except for yours truly. Those were exhilarating -- and terrifying -- times, especially when Barth called on you to respond to something he had just said. Barth and his wife would even take time to host Becky and me in their home in Riehen on the German border. He was a captivating lecturer. In listening to him I often felt like I was reading his father's Church Dogmatics -- one line of text, fifteen lines of detailed footnotes. Even today, his 2-volume commentary on Ephesians is never far from my fingertips. Some academics don't enjoy teaching. Barth wasn't one of them. He used his great knowledge to explain the Bible simply and clearly. He was by all accounts one of the most important and engaging New Testament scholars of the twentieth century and was genuinely respected even by those who disagreed with him. His legacy is indeed a lasting one.

Tuesday, December 17

2:20 PM Heartwarming Christmas sermon here.

(A word or two. One, this man knows how to connect with his audience. Two, if you're learning German, listen carefully to his tone and cadence. Fantastic.)

1:15 PM In 2020 I'm planning on doing 2 sprint triathlons. This will be my 6th and 7th times doing this race. I love this event because:

  • If you like swimming, biking, and running, this race is for you.

  • A sprint triathlon welcomes both novices and experienced triathletes.

  • I don't have the time to train for anything longer than a sprint triathlon.

  • The triathlon community is extremely inclusive -- doggie paddlers and walkers are welcome!

  • Most sprint triathlons take place in a pool rather than open water.

Most triathletes are competent in each leg of the race but tend to excel in one or two legs over the other. My weakest leg is definitely swimming, which sounds crazy since I was raised in Hawai'i and worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor in California. So today it was back to the pool for a 30-minute swim. I last swam back in September so it felt great to get back into the water. The trainer at the Y was a great encouragement to me today as I worked on the breast stroke. I can swim, sure, but I don't swim well or as efficiently as I could. Let me tell you, the swimmers I've met at a tri are ridiculously fast. I cannot even tell you how helpful it was to be told today what I was doing incorrectly. Here are a couple of action shots.

Things to work on:

  • Keep my shoulders, hips, and arms as horizontal as possible.

  • Don't let your hips drop too low in the water.

  • Keep your neck and shoulders as relaxed as possible.

  • Don't sweep your arms too wide.

  • Keep your feet flexed.

I don't know that I'll ever be a super fast swimmer but I do believe I can cut off some time in my races. Getting these pictures is amazingly helpful. Those eureka moments when you get to see how you're doing something wrong or inefficiently is priceless!   

9:58 AM Deeply appreciate church history. One of my favorite classes at Basel was on Augustinian theology. In fact, the university even has an entire department devoted to the study of the development of Christian doctrine (they call it Dogmengeschichte).

Back to the Gospels for a minute. Jesus said, "I do not give to you as the world gives." This applies to the titles we use (or should use) in our churches. I won't belabor the point here. But I just have to share with you a little factlet from church history I just discovered. Gregory the First (540-604) was the first monk to become pope. It was he who sent a man named Augustine and a few others to take the Gospel to Britain. At first, Augustine was seized with terror. After all, he was going to a nation known for its paganism and barbarity. Besides, he couldn't speak their language. In a letter, Augustine implored the pope to let him and his companions return home. Gregory wrote back these powerful words:

Since it is better not to begin a good work than to think of giving it up once you have started, you, my beloved sons, ought diligently to complete the good work, which, by the help of the Lord, you have undertaken.

The pope signed the letter:

From Gregory, servant to the servants of God.

There is much talk today about the lead or senior pastor being the first among equals (primus inter pares). If that's true, how did Jesus define "first"?  The answer is clear: Lowest, least, last, the servant of all. Maybe we could even say "Servant of the servants of God" or "Minister to the ministers of God." We're trained by the world to want titles of dignity and honor. "Not so among you," said Someone who understood a thing or two about serving. Our way back to wholeness as a church is simply to make ourselves wholly vulnerable to Him and His teaching.

9:36 AM This morning I began a study of the Sermon on the Mount (SOM) in Matthew 5-7.

Not only in the Greek but in the NEB and the Hebrew translation of Delitzsch.

Drain Amazon dry of every book ever written on Christian living and not one of them can begin to compete with these 3 chapters from the Bible. This portion of Scripture is perfectly suited to the New Testament 1 class I'm teaching in the spring. After all, Jesus told us to obey all that "I" have commanded you. Not saying that Jesus' teaching isn't found outside of the 4 Gospels. But Jesus makes sense best when we study His own words. We must waive the lecturing and embrace the listening. Real teachers say, "Don't ignore the Gospels." They say that because they are preparing their students to become disciples.

Love God and follow Him. That's the essence of the SOM. Really, in the end, nothing else matters. If you're ever unsure of what to do, read the SOM. Jesus is the best teacher you will ever hear. But be forewarned. This is not an easy path. But it's the life you want, believe me, this Jesus way of living. I can't imagine a day without Jesus. Without Him my life for sure would be a train wreck. No one is safer. No one loves you more. No one has bigger dreams for you. Not like you wish perhaps. But if you truly make it your habit to follow Jesus, everything else will fall into place. We don't have to be awesome, just faithful.

Monday, December 16

6:22 PM I recently had the opportunity to visit our local cathedral in Durham, NC.

It's part of the research I'm doing for my book Godworld. In part 2 of the book, I'm examining different contemporary expressions of Christendom and even the architectural styles/functions of their church buildings. The gothic cathedral is a magnificent example of functional architecture. New building techniques (such as flying buttresses) enabled architects to spread the weight of the structure.

Church buildings could now, literally, scale new heights and even reach into heaven as it were. Stain glass was used to bring light and color into the building and to illustrate biblical stories for the largely illiterate parishioners.

Gothic cathedrals got their start in the 12th century when French kings, allied with the local bishops, wanted to build new cathedrals as monuments to their power, wealth, and faith. The pulpit, rather than being at the center of the front of the church (as in many Reformed and Evangelical denominations today), is placed to the side of the altar or communion table. This is to symbolize the mass (or communion) as the central focus of weekly worship. The choir members also sit off to the side to avoid the appearance of theatrical exhibition, who otherwise would attract the gaze of the congregation (or "audience").

Lessons here for modern church gatherings? Many indeed, which I'll explore in my book. What applications to modern worship do you see?

1:34 PM For the record, even though I still don't know which marathon I'm running in 2020, I am not being idle in terms of training. I am very grateful that my body lets me do the ridiculous things I ask of it. This morning I spent almost an hour at the Y working on my upper body strength.

Then it was off to the trail to get in an easy 5 mile run.

This is called cross training and I love it.

When all you do is run, you only use certain muscles, so adding in weight training (or swimming or cycling) creates muscle tone and strength in other areas of your body. Of course, all of this training makes me ravenous, and I'm eating much more than I normally would. Many days it's very tempting to eat the entire refrigerator, but balanced nutrition is just as important as getting in all those miles. If I gain a few pounds -- big deal. I'm not training for a marathon to lose weight anyway. I'm carefully watching what I eat so that I can be sure I'm getting enough carbs and protein to fuel my runs and repair my muscles afterwards. I run and train hard, eat well most of the time, and enjoy the muscles I'm developing in the process. Some extra carb stores are okay by me. So I am happy with my weight. You heard that right. I am probably in the minority when I say that. But as long as I'm exercising regularly, I'll let the Lord regulate my body weight, if you get my drift.

Honestly, I miss my old friend the marathon. I need to get one on the calendar soon because I work best when I have a target I'm training for. It will be marathon #17 for me. Can't believe it. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the challenge of the other race distances. Frankly, it just feels good to be doing something with this 67-year old body of mine.

Have you ever done cross training?

Do you enjoy it?

8:20 AM New at our home page: Verbal Aspect in Greek.

7:12 AM Where did 2019 go? Didn't it start just yesterday? Yes, my friend, suddenly the year is drawing to a close. This past year has been somewhat of a blur. I know I've covered a lot of ground, but I'm having trouble remembering the details. Good thing I blog! :-) If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I see a year full of growth and some missed opportunities. What have I learned in 2019?

Well, I tried Panera Bread for the first time and learned I love their broccoli-cheese soup. I learned that anything you say about politics will be interpreted as biased, so it's best just to keep your mouth shut. I learned that Phoenix is cold in February. I've learned the value of a VO2 Max test. Just don't ask me to do it again. I've learned that neck massages at RDU are the cat's meow. I've learned who I am -- flawed and beautiful and eager to forgo a life of mediocrity. I've learned to live and love with reckless abandon. I've learned to wear the scars of life proudly. I learned that running the Chicago Marathon for a cancer charity was more fulfilling than if I had just run it for myself. I learned the anguish of waiting upon the Lord as I watched someone I love destroy their life. I've learned that a complicated subject like Greek doesn't have to be dull or boring. I've learned that when you give up one dietary vice (like drinking a Coke every other day) you usually replace it with another. I learned that my day job as a teacher is more rewarding and amazing than I often give it credit for. When I think of 2019, I think of the students I met at Phoenix Seminary, the sunrises I experienced in Hawai'i, the joy of lecturing at Piedmont University, the fantastic linguistics conference God gave us in April, the Flying Pig Marathon in May, the Canon Conference at Clearview Church in Henderson, and celebrating what would have been my 43rd wedding anniversary.

Things I still need to learn? Where do I even begin? I need to learn how to achieve balance in life. Actually, scratch that. I'd rather go a little overboard in life than do too little. I need to learn how to let go. Of relationships. Of self-pity. Of good health (not yet, but that day will come). I need to learn how to speak better Spanish (and French). I need to focus more on what Christ has done for me, not on what I've done. I need to turn the pain of loneliness into prayer. I need to relearn that although to love is to be vulnerable, it's a bazillion times better to get hurt than to live your life constantly mistrusting others. 

Who knows what 2020 will hold? Oh, He does of course. Thanks for reading my blog this year. I hope you'll stick with me on my 2020 adventures. Can't wait to see what happens next.

Sunday, December 15

7:05 PM Here are 12 things I'm reminding myself of going into 2020.

1) Do what scares you. Life ain't waiting. Take a risk. You'll be glad you did. Don't listen to others who tell you you can't, because you can.

2) Be a giving person with a humble spirit. Focus on doing for others. To have a good friend you must be a good friend.

3) Be grateful for what you have. If you count your blessings and appreciate what you have, you will have a great life.

4) Find your voice and use it. Don't be someone else. Be the best Dave you can be. Always do and say what is true for you.

5) Don't sweat the small stuff. Let your "bigheartedness" be known to all. Cut people some slack. They will make mistakes and hurt you. That's just part of life.

6) Stay yoked to Jesus. His yoke, so burdensome if borne all alone, is easy.  

7) Don't worry about tomorrow. Things never go as planned. Get used to it. Do your best to enjoy what God has in store for you in 2020.

8) If you hurt somebody, say you're sorry. Don't make excuses.

9) Love your students. All of them. Especially the ones who get on your nerves. Your profs did that for you in seminary, remember?

10) Never lose sight of the simple things that make you happy. Make sure you enjoy these things each and every day.

11) Obedience to God is always possible. Christ's purpose in coming to this earth was to do His Father's will. Carrying it out, however, wasn't easy. But He did. My love for God is shown through obedience. Spirit-enabled obedience, to be sure, but obedience nonetheless.

12) If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. Any ordinary task in any ordinary place provides ample opportunity to do this. That said, being perfect is so over-rated. Paul's writings are so powerful partly because he was so transparent. It is always so.

Your aspirations for the New Year?

7:52 AM Throwback Sunday: Oh, the Beauty of Scripture!

7:34 AM Today is the day for the Gathering. Let's never forget that the gathering exists for the going. We are people gathered by the love of Christ, who scatter to be His witnesses. We inhale Christ's life in order to exhale it in the world. Gathering and going, inhaling and exhaling, inspiration and expiration, blessing and sending, edification and proclamation. We can worship for more than an hour today. We can worship while driving home, taking out the trash, cooking supper, doing the dishes, checking up on a neighbor, praying for the lost. Christianity is not just being converted to Christ. It is also allowing ourselves to be converted to a right relationship with the world all around us.

None of us, alone, is adequate for the task. Together, as the body of Christ, we are.

Saturday, December 14

8:48 PM I really didn't know what to expect going in to tonight's Deck the Hills 5K in Alta Vista, VA.

So you bet I was happy with third place in my division and 56th place out of 283 registered runners.

The race was smooth sailing. I paced well and averaged a 10.42 minute/mile on a hilly course.

Another great day in Southern Virginia. Anyone else race this weekend?

12:50 PM Just back from the gym. At my age? Yes, at my age. Psychologist Erik Erikson -- whom I quote in my book The Myth of Adolescence -- once characterized the over-60s crowd as "waiting for death." Well, I just put the terms "exercise for men over 60" into Google search and came up with 263 million results. Back when Erikson wrote, the idea that aging might be a source of personal growth and maturation was either unknown or regarded as icing on the cake if and when it happened. Things have changed drastically in the past 40 years, and even my own parents would have been amazed at the concept of aging today. Our lengthy lifespans and careers require lifestyle choices that we have to consciously make. Baby boomers are reinventing themselves in the search for an identity and purpose that give meaning to their lives. This is the fluid context of life in which I live and move and have my being. It involves a renewed willingness to embrace what God is doing and offers a way of living missionally that is truly transformative. I used to view missional living (that is, living for others) as essentially a human activity that needed to enlist God's help through prayer. Today I see missional living as a divine activity that invites our collaboration as humans. If missional living is something we do, then we can stay in control of things. But if God is the instigator of missional living, when knows where this might lead us and what the results might be? That's why I stopped preaching "revivals" years ago. The vast majority of American church-goers have no idea at all of genuine Christianity. You can't call people back to something they never had. Better to call revivals "Bible conferences" in which we ask people to explore the factual basis of discipleship. Being a "Great Commission Christian" is not just a fancy theological construct but is really true. God actually is at work in the world. Hence the ability to do work of any kind is a pure gift. Becky's death after an agonizing process made me unutterably grateful to God for plain, ordinary chores like washing the dishes or sweeping the floors. The work is there, and by the grace of God I do it. Then, on top of it all, He grants me the unspeakable privilege of equipping students with this wonderful exegetical tool we call Greek. Paul said, "Whatever you are doing, put your whole heart into it, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men, knowing there's a Master who will give you your heritage as a reward for your service." Our age matters not to Him. Baby boomers need not "wait for death." There is work to be done with single-mindedness, out of reverence for the Lord.   

My friend, don't ever say, "God has given me nothing to do." He has and He will. All we have to do is, well, do it!

7:20 AM Favorite restaurant anybody? Mine has to be the Seoul Garden in Raleigh, where I celebrated the end of the semester yesterday by wolfing down some delicious spicy stir-fried squid.

If you like both spicy and seafood, this dish is for you. Everything is fresh -- both the squid and the vegetables. Seoul Garden, you are simply the best. My favorite restaurant in Raleigh used to to be the Abyssinia, but it's now closed. It's too bad because it was the best of the three Ethiopian restaurants in the Triangle and had the most authentic food. I suppose the other two restaurants have survived because they've "Americanized" their venues but nothing can beat authentic Ethiopian cuisine and service. As for Korean food, it not only tastes good but is healthy. In fact, Kimchi is one of the healthiest foods in the world, containing plenty of vitamins and minerals. It also aids digestion. I used to quip that the only reason I've made 6 trips to S. Korea was to get my digestive track working properly again. I especially like how Korean food is served without any carb-heavy sides. I can get my carbs elsewhere!

6:55 AM No ultra today for me, as I didn't make the final cut. I'm good with that. In life's hierarchy of needs, food, water, shelter, and health come before a race. It's still raining cats and dogs out there and I imagine the trail conditions will be something less than stellar. Even if I had made it off the waiting list it would have been a tough call. All the best to today's runners. The High Bridge Trail is an awesome venue for an ultra. These ultras are funny things. I mean, who thought, "Let's run 32 miles in the rain and mud and no one will die"? Hope everybody makes it to the finish line without injury. 

Today I plan to do some weights at the Y and then a 5K this evening in Alta Vista, VA. The skies should be clear by then. I'll let you know how it goes. I'll nap in between. I have been working on getting more sleep and pushing away from junk miles to more structured miles. Still planning out my race calendar for 2020. I usually plan the bigger races in advance and just sprinkle in the smaller ones as they come. I sign up early out of cheapness (I dunno, it might also be a sense of stewardship). We runners are driven, and sometimes we need to take a step back and rethink our priorities. Life requires striking that happy balance between all of the responsibilities we face on a daily basis. With the semester over, my work as a New Testament prof doesn't slow down. There are book reviews to write, my spring classes to prepare for, an ETS paper in March in Dallas to write, and Godworld won't get written by me just thinking about it. My job as a parent doesn't slow down either. And there's a farm and two big houses to care for. Into this matrix of life we need to blend exercise. When I get in a good workout in the morning, I feel more productive for the rest of the day and you have a "good tired" to look forward to when you go to bed at night, if you know what I mean. And then there are the curveballs life throws at you. Oh my, the curveballs. We march on, folks, we work hard, we love each other. Daily living, that is what it's all about. I would argue that we can find purpose even in "boring" stuff. "The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children" (G. K. Chesterton). Today I'm going to try and make the ordinary extraordinary. I need to clean the house and declutter. That's my "ordinary" for this day. What's yours? I wish you nothing but success as you turn the ordinary into something extraordinary!

Friday, December 13

6:50 PM So excited for our graduates as they begin writing a new chapter in life.

I remember the day I received my M.Div. from Talbot in 1980.

Life was an endless highway back then for us grads and our dreams were out of this world. The sky was the limit! Nothing can really hold you back when it comes to accomplishing the goals you believe the Lord has set before you. Thank you, Becky, for being willing to travel all the way to Switzerland in 1980 for the next leg in our journey together as a married couple. What fun and exciting days those were as we made many new German-speaking friends.

Graduation from Basel meant more teaching and the beginning of a writing career. I would argue that the dilemma is real, ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to quantity versus quality of writing. Yes, I get it, it's very easy to get published today, maybe even a bit too easy. The question we have to ask ourselves is: are we producing quality content? I'm truly grateful that I've been able to meet my writing goals since I graduated from Basel, and lots of good self-discipline was built up in the process. But looking forward to 2020, I'm asking God to give me goals that meet genuine needs out there in the reading world. Quality need not be sacrificed on the altar of quantity if you know what I mean. Graduates, now that you've accomplish the goal of graduation, it's time to set new goals for post-graduation success.

Goals that produce good work, not just much work. When I graduated with my M.Div., I knew I needed to set some challenging and motivating long-term goals. When I woke up every morning, I wanted to work toward accomplishing those goals. Graduates, I encourage you to do the same. Set your sights high. You'll never reach higher. Deal positively and joyfully with setbacks as they arise, as surely they will. That's how God makes us stronger. I'm sure I'm a better man today because I'm a widower than I would have been otherwise. What God calls us to do is always impossible anyway, without His help that is. Our part is simply to say, "Here am I, Lord, send me." Offer up all that you have to Him. Long to know and serve Christ. Discipleship is the utter abandonment of all our rights to the Master. God always honors such an obedient faith. Seek until you find your place of service within the community of God's people. And never forget that God is in the business of taking earthen jars of clay and displaying His power in and through them.

Congratulations, graduates!

6:12 AM Commencement this morning. Nothing like kicking off the Christmas season with good friends and good cheer at the end of a great semester. Then my holiday officially begins. Here's wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy "Newness" (Rom. 6:4) Year. May the joy of the Lord be yours this day and, yea, henceforth and forevermore. Live like a race, one step at a time! 

Best. Christmas. Flash. Mob. Ever.


Thursday, December 12

6:04 PM Time to embrace the winter running, folks, because winter has arrived with a bang.

Today I put in some solid miles on the trail rejoicing that my foot aches were gone. It was a shock to leave the warmth of the Y for the trail, but four layers of outerwear did the job. I love to strive to live a life of activity even during those long winter days where a part of you would prefer to stay indoors enjoying a cup of coffee.

And yes, a hot drink at the local Amish bakery does wonders for your spirits after a long workout and a run in frigid temperatures.

While enjoying my coffee I was able to knock out the reading of a doctoral dissertation prospectus on the text of the book of Acts. No better place to work than a cozy bakery! The art of "wintering" is the art of creating coziness wherever you are, folks. I'm very excited to be moving into the 2020 racing season, which will include one or two marathons, a couple of half marathons, and perhaps another ultra when the weather warms up again. Meanwhile, winter running is here, and it's a fascinating reality all of us have to deal with, especially those of us who grew up in warmer climates.

Winter, I love you!

P.S. Just started this book. It was originally published in 1611!

Wednesday, December 11

3:44 PM To race or not to race, that is the question. Yes indeed, the ultramarathon is upon us this Saturday. But the question marks, oh the question marks. In the first place, I still haven't made it off of the waiting list and into the starting lineup. I remain in fourth place – closer than where I was a week ago but still falling short. Secondly, they're calling for heavy rain all day Friday and Saturday. Finally, I've had a few aches and pains pop up since I last spoke with you on Monday. One pesky issue is the bone on the top of my right foot. It started hurting on Monday night, without any apparent reason. It's probably temporary and nothing major, but you never know in the world of athletics. I have never known a runner who hasn't had to deal with running injuries of some kind. Now is the time for figuring out just what is happening, asking the why and how today so that I can run injury free in the future. In the meantime, it was time to purchase new running shoes at the New Balance store in Durham.

Very pleased with the service there. I plan to do some walking in these new 860s tomorrow. Onward and upward to rise above those pesky little setbacks that we all encounter in life!

3:10 PM The winter break is upon us. How will we stay on top of our Greek during the holidays? Persistence, my friends, persistence. 43 years as a classroom teacher and it was definitely persistence that got me to this point in life. I started teaching in 1976 with no office and an old mimeograph machine for my quizzes and exams. Wouldn't trade those memories for the world. When I think of God's gracious gift of persistence throughout my life I want to sob. Running has been a big part of that. Running is teaching me persistence. I've been running for 4 years and nothing keeps me from running 3 days a week unless my body is telling me to take a break. What a journey life has been. Never easy but very rewarding. I hope you stay focused on your studies even during the holidays. Use or lose it is more than a trite saying. The Christmas break is a time to get back to the grindstone.

My hard-working Greek students attending a pre-exam review in my (crowded) office.

By the way, the registrar just added a second section of beginning Greek to my spring schedule to accommodate those students who are taking me for J-term Greek. You now have a Monday night as well as a Tuesday afternoon option for Greek 2. Meanwhile, my stack of books to read keeps growing. This came this week via ILL.

My oh my, what a great volume it is. I've long admired the work of Albert Vanhoye. He's been writing about the book of Hebrews for his entire career. In fact, when he gave his presidential speech at the Society for New Testament Studies annual meeting several years ago, he quipped that the society, by appointing him president, must have desired to honor the epistle to the Hebrews! If you're even faintly interested in a brief digest of his views on the magnificent structure of Hebrews, I've written this piece. Keep coming back to the blog to see what I have to say about this volume of essays when I'm done reading it.

During the break I'll be house cleaning. As in what Becky used to call "deep cleaning." I'm challenging myself to throw away at least three things! Organization and efficiency, that's the name of the game in this thing we call life. Also, no purchasing Christmas presents this year. I'm supporting a ministry in India instead. Let's all fight together to keep our priorities in the proper order when it comes to finances and life in the New Year.

2020, we're coming for you!

Monday, December 9

6:30 AM Want to do well in Greek? There is no substitute for review and more review. I'll be holding two review sessions in my office today and tomorrow for anyone who wishes to work on translation, parsing, and pronunciation. We'll start at 11:00. Bring your questions. The goal is to finish well and I truly believe a solid hidden ingredient is review on a consistent basis within your daily study regimen. Exciting week for sure out here on the marathon of Greek studies!

Sunday, December 8

6:56 PM Ultra marathon training rolls on, literally out there on the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. 7 days to go until the 50K challenge! So excited for this moment in time when the semester is winding down and one last race is left for the 2019 season. Feels good to have 7.7 miles under my belt on my way to race day.

I'm eager to put down more training miles this week with a bit less intensity toward the end of the week. Stay tuned!

7:45 AM What are your writing goals for 2020? How are you planning to find balance between your writing and your life? What things can you reasonably expect to accomplish next year? It's time, folks, to ply our craft of writing again, this time in a new year. The only way we're going to become writers is by writing. In other words, you can't publish it if you don't write it.

My writing goals for 2020 are slowly taking shape. What do I need to write? What do I want to write? How can I become a better writer in 2020? Those are tough questions, ladies and gentlemen. For me, the bottom line is: What will be the most fulfilling use of my creativity as a writer in 2020? I sincerely believe that everything we want to accomplish in our writing careers is possible, but we have to want to succeed. The recipe for success is simply finding the people who want to read what you write. Nobody owes us their attention. Edifying, encouraging, and challenging your readers makes you a good writer (1 Cor. 14:3).

Someone once called my writing style "minimalistic." That's pretty accurate, I suppose. I hate wasting my readers' time. They just want you to get to the point. In fact, there's nothing I enjoy more than reading a book that's simple without being simplistic. Ditto for sermons. 30 minutes is ample time to to get your point across -- if you're succinct. As a classroom teacher, nothing has done me more good than putting my views "out in the open" as it were. When you publish a defense of Matthean priority or the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, you feel a bit vulnerable. Yet some of the most frequent emails I get today are from people wanting to thank me for challenging them to think outside of the box. In the end, people don't buy a book. They buy the author. I will read anything Packer has written. Or Stott. Or Ellul. Or Swindoll. Or Carson. You're probably the same way.

Today after church I plan on taking a very long walk. Ideas often come to our minds when they're empty. That's why it's important to schedule time just to be. My writing fuels my purpose in life but it doesn't define my existence. The moment I lose my love for writing is the moment I will stop. The best writers I know are real people. They're funny, and they never take themselves too seriously. They have learned the secret of this.

Onward and upward!

Saturday, December 7

6:58 PM 78 years ago, bombs began to fall on Pearl Harbor. "We all did our job and tried to get over it," one survivor said. Tonight, as I always do on Dec. 7, I'll be watching a movie about the attack called Tora! Tora! Tora! It's a classic and very factual and historically accurate, unlike the more recent Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck. Growing up on O'ahu, I can confirm that the action shots in Tora! are as factually correct as possible. In fact, I grew up right next door to the Kaneohe Marine Corps Naval Air Station, which was also attacked that fateful day, meaning I grew up in a former war zone! This has got to be one of the best WW II movies of all time because it not only shows the attack but also what was going on in the Pacific that made the attack almost inevitable. A huge number of first-class actors are in this movie, far too many to mention here, but every one of them does a masterful job, including the Japanese actors. Incidentally, the leader of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, became a born-again Christian after the war and travelled the world sharing the gospel of the Prince of Peace. You can read his incredible testimony here. Just another reminder that God's love is ferocious and the only cure for the sin and hatred within us. Parents, please consider sharing it with your children. We live in a fallen world where terrible things happen, but we also live in a world filled with redemption, beauty, miracles, wholeness, and healing.

Off to make popcorn ....

11:06 AM Today's Frosty Run 10K in Wake Forest is in the books. This race is without doubt one of the most colorful I've ever participated in. Lots of Santa Clauses and rein deer out there if you know what I mean. I'm overall very pleased with my results and with a time of 1:04:51 I'm hungry already for more racing in the near future. Still on the waiting list for next weekend's ultra in Farmville but the good news is that I've gone up from #12 to #5. Putting together a race schedule is simply a dance between time and creativity, and "knowing thyself" as Socrates said. Practice makes perfect! 

Love God.

Serve others.

Walk humbly. 

Friday, December 6

7:46 PM Today, while reading 1 Thessalonians 5, I saw something I had never seen before, or if I had, it had never registered before. In 1 Thess. 5:10, Paul says that Christ died for us "so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him." Christ didn't die for us so that we might be forgiven. Christ died for us so that, once forgiven, we might share in His life. And that life is nothing less than unending self-giving for others. As all of my students know, this is a constant theme in my teaching. I can hear some of them perhaps saying, "That Dr. Black. Always insisting on dragging sacrificial service into every discussion. It's a positive obsession with him." And they would not be wrong. For what good is all of our head knowledge without practical obedience? I have no time for emotional Christianity that has little or no intellectual content. On the other hand, I have an equal determination in my teaching to reach both the head and the heart (and the hands and the feet as well). Little wonder the early church gave the utmost attention to good works. God hasn't called us to live in the first century. We must struggle to understand -- and flesh out our Christianity -- in the contemporary scene. My wish is that my students both live under the truth of the Gospel and communicate it in such a way that its meaning and contemporary relevance are made clear. I once heard a story about that great Cambridge Greek scholar B. F. Westcott. Once, while traveling by bus, he was asked if he was saved. With a twinkle in his eye he replied, "Well, it depends on what you mean. Do you mean sōzomenos or sesōsmenos or sōthēsomenos?", using the present, perfect, and future tense of the verb "I save," sōzō. Our past salvation frees us from guilt. Our present salvation frees us from the bondage to our old self-centered nature, so that we can love God and serve others. And our future salvation frees us from all fear of God's eternal punishment. When we receive Christ into our hearts as our Savior, we put Him in the center of our lives and move ourselves out to the circumference. We now find our freedom in loving and serving others. This is what Paul means by "we may live together with Him." It is the selfless Christ-life, in and through us. Christ not only taught this. He lived it. His own life was spent demonstrating the value He put on people.

To sum it up in a single sentence: He who claims to be both our Savior and Lord now stands before us offering, if only we come to Him, freedom to live daily in His presence and to share His love with others. Love, indeed, is what life is all about.

1:08 PM Hey folks! Today I again combined strength training (weight lifting) with a good old fashioned run.

It feels good to be doing something different than just run all the time.

Exercise is not meant to be torture or to make your life miserable. We do this for fun, remember? Sure, I want to be able to run faster, but even more than that I want to be able run well into my 80s. You can't do that if you're always beating your body up. I'm also trying to be wise about my weight. I train hard, eat well most of the time, and I love the muscles I'm developing in the process, but I'm also not losing any weight. However, a couple of extra pounds for carb-storing are okay. I don't train to lose weight, but it's nice when it happens. Personally I think putting on some weight before a big race is a good thing because it's hard to go into a run where you may burn 2,000 calories if you haven't been taking in enough calories. I have finally accepted the fact that when I train for a really long race I won't lose any weight because I have to refuel constantly. As long as my clothes continue to fit I'm happy. This, for example, was my lunch today after my workout.

Oh my, nothing tastes better than a cheeseburger from Dairy Dell in South Boston, VA. Now, if I put on 20 pounds while I'm training -- that's another story. The moral here? Strive to maintain a good perspective on every moment.

Cya later!

7:56 AM The one and only John Stott presents a clear and classic case for Gospel living in this wonderful commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, which I'm requiring in Greek 4 (exegesis of 1 Thessalonians) during Spring Break, 2020.

Yes, I've begun preparing for that class even though it's still several months away. Can never be too prepared! This is a landmark commentary that everyone in the world should read both for its profound insights and its conciseness. I'm not exaggerating. Students don't need to buy books for classes unless those books are classics. Stott has a very direct way of explaining his points and backs up each claim with parallel Scripture references. When reading a section, I often have to stop and process what he is saying for a few seconds and look up all the helpful cross-references.

It's one of those books in which you can almost feel Jesus speaking to you in its pages, so pastoral is the author's tone and message. This morning I was working through 1 Thess. 4:1-8, underlining a good many statements of Stott's such as:

  • We are "to follow Paul's example and give people plain, practical, ethical teaching."

  • "Converts must be told that the new life in Christ is a holy life."

  • "Our incentive will be not so much to obey the law as thereby to please the Law-giver, and this will become increasingly a matter of Christian instinct as the Holy Spirit trains Christ's sheep to discern their Shepherd's voice."

  • "Christ's yoke is easy, provided that we submit to it."

As I said, this is an excellent commentary in every way. Clear, winsome, and surprisingly comprehensive. Though it's a bit dated, it still must be one of the go-to books for anyone wanting an introduction to the Thessalonian epistles. Reading it is a lot like listening to a well-constructed sermon. It would be excellent to use to ground a new believer but also as a refresher for mature believers. There is also a workbook at the end with study questions.  Stott, by the way, was a representative of the older evangelicalism in which I was raised, which combined theological conservatism with an openness to the broader culture and to the sciences without at the same time seeking political power. In Stott you will find no trace of the political assertiveness that so often accompanies modern evangelical writers. Stott's tone is always warm and friendly. He has an easy to understand writing style and yet he never dumbs down the fundamental truths of the faith. 1 Thessalonians is the first book I recommend for someone who is trying to understand basic Christianity. It is an absolute Christian essential. And Stott's brief introduction is the perfect entrée because it so clearly explains who Christ is and how we can live for Him. Stott's section on "the teaching of ethics" alone is worth the price of the book. Let's be honest: Most Christians pick up their theology and ethics the way most dogs pick up fleas. Wouldn't it be better to get the facts up front?

Can't wait to use this book in class!

Thursday, December 5

6:42 PM It's time. To race again that is. This Saturday I've registered for the Frosty Run 10K in Wake Forest, NC. The race is a fundraising event for a great cause -- the Tri-Area Ministry Food Pantry. Then, a week later, I've signed up for the Freight Train 50K in Farmville, VA -- a 31 mile-race on the historic High River Bridge Trail. Actually, I'm one of 12 applicants on the waiting list to get into this race. I'm hoping Ill be given a spot even though finishing an ultramarathon is about as easy as getting body-slammed by Hulk Hogan. My last 31-mile trail run took me almost 8 hours to complete. My ears were the only parts of my body that weren't hurting. Either way, I'm ready to end 2019 with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. You better believe I'll be thinking about the undeserved blessings of the past year. "Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours" (2 Cor. 4:10). Which reminds me: I'm doing this for a reason -- to shake up my routine and to shake off the sloth. No longer can I default to normal, mindless, thoughtless living. "Strive to choose, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult," wrote St. John of the Cross. "Do not deprive your soul of the agility which it needs to mount up to Him." The knowledge that our bodies will one day be raised as spiritual bodies should give us pause and spur us on to think of the use God can make of them in this world, even though flesh and blood can never inherit the kingdom. The ability to walk, run, or simply to move is a miracle of God's grace. Let's never imagine it is anything less. Let us dream together as we gaze toward the heavens, especially with 2020 on the horizon. Don't forget to dream, folks, don't ever forget to dream.

4:40 PM Nice day on campus today for meetings and writing. Also for planning out my writing schedule for 2020, which includes reviewing this book.

Don't get me started on how much I love the book of Hebrews. That said, it's almost impossible to keep up with all of the books being written about Hebrews nowadays, so I just try to tackle one book at a time. Looking forward to reading it this weekend and then writing up my review next week. Stay tuned for my other writing goals for 2020.

Wednesday, December 4

7:22 PM I love foreign languages. I love learning their vocabulary. I love learning their grammar. I love speaking them. I love comparing them, like I did in chapel yesterday. The text was Col. 2:1-5, and I had with me my Greek, Hebrew, German, French, and Spanish Bibles -- all hard copies. Language learning should be a joy but sometimes it can become a drag. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Do you always read only your English Bible in church or chapel? Try taking along the Bible in a foreign language you're studying. Note important phrases and vocabulary in that language during the sermon. It's an easy routine that I follow and I draw tremendous benefits from it. If you focus on making a little progress every day, you'll get where you want to be eventually. By the way, the verse I'm analyzing in the picture below is Col. 2:3: "In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

For me, it was amazing to compare the Greek with the French, Spanish, and German. Can you figure out what the French word for "knowledge" is? It might surprise you.

Folks, we need to stop trying to "learn" languages and start the enjoyable work of "acquiring" them.

6:45 PM Towel and basin ministry reports in NT 2 class today and, oh my, they were a blessing to hear. Also prepped my Greek 1 class for their final next week. Can you believe we're half way through our beginning Greek grammar? The hay is almost in the barn! Overall I am very pleased with the way this semester is winding down. Being a student is a lot like being a runner -- miles of suffering mixed with pure bliss. I will walk away from this fall semester with many happy memories of being with my students inside and outside of class. Glad you could come along for the journey.

Not sure what my December travel plans are but a trip to Dallas to visit mom and dad is not out of the picture. I might also do another ultra marathon a week from Saturday depending on my freshness and the weather. The goal of running is always to get to the starting line as fresh and as fit as possible. Wrestling with this prospect of closing out the running year with an ultra is a vexing proposition at this point in time. Waiting upon the Lord to show me the way. 32 miles is a long way to run. Ultra racing is about 80 percent physical and 80 percent mental, if you know what I mean. So we will see. Right now it's time to recover (active recovery) from three days of teaching. Time to keep fighting for excellence in life as a teacher and a person.

Monday, December 2

6:45 AM Do modern Greeks who've studied ancient Greek remember what they've studied? The answer is here:

If speakers of modern Greek tend to forget everything they learned in school, how much more likely is this to happen to those of us non-Greeks who've studied Koine? I think we'd be well advised to remember two facts of life. First, despite the claims made by some today, relatively little is known about how to achieve language retention when it comes to the biblical languages. Second, much of what is known will not work. If taken seriously, these two comments should discourage us from attempting to study Greek in the first place. The alternative, however, is even more unacceptable.

I think we forget our Greek for two main reasons: We stop studying it, and we stop using it. This is true of everything in life. How much do you remember of high school calculus? So what to do? Tips abound. Maintain a set schedule of when you will refresh your Greek. Read books or watch videos about Greek. Hire a tutor for occasional checkups. Read Greek daily. Accept the fact that learning a language is a lifelong process.

Good advice, for sure. But none of them holds the key to language retention in my opinion. Want to retain your Greek? Then you have to fall in love with the language. The languages I've loved I've retained. The languages I haven't loved I've forgotten. It's as simple as that. In short, Greek is my very best friend. I love to look for tiny technicalities in the text. I love to discover differences in how the text is translated into English. I am fascinated by what linguists are saying about how Greek works. I just enjoy the whole process of studying Greek.

Learning a language is like falling in love. It's amazing to see the myriads of similarities between having affection for a person and having affection for a language. This has been my approach to learning (and retaining) languages. If you study a language without loving it, you will probably never improve. So if at all possible, choose to study a language you love. Growing up in polyglot Hawai'i, it was almost impossible for me not to take an interest in, fall in love with, and then dedicate the rest of my life to language learning. But it was Harry Sturz, my Greek teacher at Biola, who truly inspired me to love Greek. I am forever grateful to have inherited an appreciation for languages from him.

Blessed art thou if you have a Harry Sturz in your life!

Sunday, December 1

6:12 PM Ever, ever grateful to God for the joy of teaching Greek. I could not be more grateful, not only for the privilege of teaching in a formal classroom setting but also in local churches. Mark your calendars now for our new Greek class beginning Sunday, February 9. Yes, we're calling it "Greek for Everybody" and we will go from 6:00-7:30 pm. All are welcome to join us, there is no charge. The venue is Clearview Church in Henderson, NC, which makes the class accessible to you good folks living in Henderson as well as in Oxford, NC and South Hill, VA. Class materials will be provided. Just bring yourself and a desire to LEARN! More details later. Looking forward to seeing you in class.

Below: Clearview pastor Abidan Shah and his wife Nicole. I've known them for many many years. Abidan used to be my assistant and he will be receiving his Ph.D. in New Testament textual criticism from SEBTS in 2 weeks.

7:56 AM Just started this book. I had forgotten about it until it resurfaced the other day.

Hagner asks, "How new is the New Testament?" His answer? "Not altogether new, but newer than you think."

In the end, the God of the Bible is the God of an enduring continuity of grace and covenant (p. 21).

I've appreciated Don's friendship through the years and consider him an expert on this difficult and sensitive topic (continuity versus discontinuity).

6:50 AM Good morning, internet family!!! A new month is a good time to reflect on what I'm trying to accomplish on this little ol' blog of mine. Every time I upload a post I'm reminded that it's not about the hundreds or maybe thousands of people who visit the blog on a regular basis but about that one person (you) out there who is on a journey, striving to chase down your dreams and your God-given goals as together we journey toward becoming more Christlike in this life. Many of us (yes, myself included) have faced difficulties in the past that have tried to keep us down and hold us back. Remember, my friend, that what seems like a failure or an obstacle in the short term is often essential to our ability to make long-term gains. Any long-term progression in the Christian life contains inevitable periods of regression, setbacks, and plateaus. Advancing on the path of obedience to Christ requires patience, oh does it require patience. But if we think of our goal as a direction and not a destination, then failures and setbacks should be embraced. Paul says in Phil. 1:19 that Christians are privileged to do two things: believe in Christ and suffer for him. We humans generally want to avoid suffering. But if anything, we should start treating suffering as a valuable asset, a competitive advantage. Through suffering we learn how to exercise patience, a trait that's becoming exceedingly rare in today's world. Our modern society is conditioning us to be less and less patient and instead we want immediate gratification, instantaneously and without effort. Perhaps we need to worry less about being the best and strive to be the best at getting better. The story of my life in the past 6 years has been one of patiently sticking with something. Patience is not only a virtue but a life skill that has to be learned over time. In Philippians 3, Paul says he's experiencing a special kind of joy, a joy that comes from the process of growing into Christlikeness. The ultimate goal is to get stronger, wiser, kinder, less selfish. "Better" is about how the practice of patience transforms us as we focus on the process and not on the results. Yes, we should set goals for ourselves, but it's just as important to focus on the steps that are within our control to accomplish those goals. For me, those steps involve daily Bible reading, prayer, meditation on God's word, physical exercise, healthy eating, hard work, and interaction with others (including mentors) through visiting their websites, reading their Twitter feeds, listening to their sermon podcasts, or speaking with them personally. In a sense, my blog symbolizes who I am: my personality, my dreams, my successes, my failures. I talk about everything from my highest hopes to my biggest hurts. After Becky's death, the "big" questions -- who am I? What happens after death? Is God sovereign? -- drew me closer to God. I decided to let God take control of my life. I slowly noticed that Christ was working on me from the inside out to give me new purpose, new values, and a new pattern for life -- "the downward path of Jesus." When I sit down to write books, I sit down to write, not to sell books. When I teach a class, I teach it to make a meaningful contribution, not to get a compliment. When I train for a race, I do so to get better, not to win awards. When I love other people, I do so to nurture a special relationship, not because I fear losing them. I've discovered that God's love is unconditional. I'm loved because I am His child. Nothing, said Paul, can ever separate me from His love. When you realize you're loved like that, you can begin loving others in the same way.

My message on this blog is a very simple one. God has a good plan for your life. But that plan doesn't just happen. We discover it as we draw closer to Him each and every day. It's only as we get to know Him better that His plan for our life will be made clear. On a day-to-day basis, I'm more awestruck than ever by the daily miracles God works in our lives. I'm so awestruck I can't help writing about it. God is our refuge and strength, yes even in a storm-tossed vessel. I hope you're reminded of that every time you visit DBO.

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