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Sunday, March 7

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

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

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

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

Back to class prep!

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

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

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

Happy Sunday!

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

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

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

NOWIWANTYOUTOKNOWBROTHERSANDSISTERSTHATWHATHASHAPPENEDTOME

HASREALLYHELPEDTHEPROGRESSOFTHEGOSPEL

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

Saturday, March 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) The sign that wasn't stolen.

2) Being passed at "Heartbreak Hill."

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can flesh this out in at least three ways:

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 4

5:28 PM Two quick book notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 3

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

So many old farms!

I finally arrived at ACH.

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

Moving counterclockwise, here's the prison.

Then the courthouse.

The Clover Hill Tavern welcomes you!

Meeks Store.

And finally the McLean (surrender) House.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6:10 AM From my Bible reading this morning:

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

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

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

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

And he will do it.

Monday, March 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

  • Goals must be in writing.

  • Goals must be specific.

  • Goals must be challenging but realistic.

  • Goals must be reviewed constantly.

  • Goals must be adjusted to changing conditions.

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

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

Sunday, February 28

5:40 PM Anybody up to going to Joyner Park in Wake Forest and running in 72 degree temps in shorts and a tank top? Count me in!

Never did the park look more inviting, and people were everywhere -- well masked and appropriately distanced -- walking their dogs and riding their skateboards and having picnic lunches and shooting off rockets and flying kites and riding scooters and jogging and biking and just plain enjoying life.

On my drive there and during my run I listened to three wonderful messages, one on the book of Revelation, another (by my daughter's husband in Alabama) on the joy of reading the Bible daily, and a third by Chuck Swindoll from Ecclesiastes 3 on how God makes everything beautiful in his time, and that includes "a time to be born" as well as "a time to die," and how we are to let our loved ones go when God takes them home though we are to let grief do its part but to always remember that after grief comes dancing and though we grieve we do not grieve as those who have no hope and how for me God's sovereignty is no longer a mere abstraction and how I thank him every night he got me through that period and how glorious it must have been when Becky was ushered into the bliss and splendor and glory of heaven and then I saw tears begin to stream down my cheeks as I thought of how grateful I am that God gave her 60 years in which to serve him and when I remembered that she accomplished in her lifetime a legacy that will never be forgotten by those who knew and loved her. Solomon's words soothed my soul and gave me peace and how thankful I am for a man like Chuck who can verbalize what so many of us feel and think.  Afterwards I treated myself to a plate of pollo at Don Julio's (best Mexican restaurant in town) and turned red when the server complemented me on my Spanish.

Then I drove home to feed the animals and to prepare for a busy week of writing. I was shocked to see how white my legs had become during the winter months ("shark bait" we call it in the islands).

Then I remembered a faraway place in a faraway time where I once had dark skin and could ride the waves and talk DaKine and just be me. Yes, in his time, God does indeed make all things beautiful.

God has never dropped anyone, my friend, and he will not drop you. His grip is unshakable and his hands are strong. He will continue to rescue you from every snare and will carry you safety to his heavenly kingdom. May he be glorified through our lives forever and ever! 

8:55 AM Right now I'm fixin' to attend three services in a row. Can't wait! Earlier today I signed up for my next marathon that will take place in two weeks in Greenville, NC. Never been there before but according to the course map it looks like I'll get a grand tour of the city.

By the way, along with the half they are offering a FREE 5K and Fun Run. Go here to sign up.

5:58 AM Wow, the end of yet another month in 2021! Where has the year gone? It's moving along at the speed of light. This year, as I continue to evolve as a person, a father and grandfather, a teacher, and a Christian, I'm sure my blog will evolve as well. But one thing I hope to emphasize as long as the Lord allows me to keep this venue open: The best way to learn the Bible is to give it away. When I teach and share things with others, that's when I really learn those things. If you teach it, you retain it. It's just that simple. Just share with others some truth God has impressed on your heart, and see how that feeds your own soul. So, for the remainder of the year, I hope to go over with you timely biblical truths again and again, like a cow chewing its cud, going over it and over it and over it. When the Lord teaches me something, I'll pass it on to you, and together we will dig into God's word and glean and gain all that the Bible has for us. This morning, for example, I was in Phil. 1:3-11 -- the passage my students in Israel and I will be going over tomorrow. Allow me to paraphrase it for you:

I never say my prayers without thanking my God for you. All of my prayers for you are filled with praise and adoration to the Lord! Whenever I think of you, my heart is full of joy because of the wonderful way you helped me make known the Good News from the time you first heard it until now. Faithful partners -- that's what you are! And I am convinced that the God who began this good work among you will keep right on helping you do this until the work of world evangelization is finally finished on the day when Jesus Christ returns.

You know, don't you, that I have every right to feel as I do about you. For you have always had a very special place in my heart. We have shared the grace and blessing of God both when I was in prison and when I was out as I defended and confirmed the truth of the gospel against all of its detractors. God knows how deep is my love and longing for you, as though Christ himself were expressing his tenderness for you through me. I truly love you!

As a result, my prayer for you all is that you will keep on overflowing with love for one another while at the same time growing in spiritual knowledge and insight. No sloppy sentimentality allowed! I want you to be able to see clearly the difference between what is "good" and what is "best" -- the "best" being living for others in the cause of the Gospel -- and at the same time to be so inwardly pure that no one can criticize you from now until Christ returns. You will be able to do this because God has already filled you with the truly good and upright qualities that come only through Jesus Christ. For this reason, may God alone (certainly not me or you) receive all the praise and glory!

Beloved, this is an apt description of what the church should be all about. The risen Lord himself had promised his disciples divine power to live holy and selfless lives and to witness to his salvation among the nations (Luke 24:48-49). And just think -- in three decades these disciples had brought the gospel from the Holy City to the capital of the world.

Remember the game "Trivial Pursuit"? It's a game we used to play as a family.

It's still a game many of us play every day of our lives. It's the pursuit of goals and dreams and ambitions and plans and priorities that aren't eternal. Because of that, it's a game nobody ever wins. Trivial pursuit is that blog post defending your "correct" view about politics, or that defense of "the best" way of learning Greek, or that apology for (or against) home schooling. Trivial pursuit is played every time we spend our time, energy, and thoughts in pursuit of trivial matters. Paul says, "Discern what is best -- what is most important in life. Be done with lesser things. Exchange your 'me first' egotism for 'you first' altruism, like Jesus and Timothy and Epaphroditus did, and you will begin to live a life that's truly worth living."

What about it? Are you ready for that kind of a life? Let's pursue it -- together.

Saturday, February 27

7:24 PM I'm not fast. I'm also lazy. So why do I run? The main reason is I'm a sucker for causes. That's one of the reasons I signed up for next Saturday's 10K at a place called Loch Lothian (founded by Scots I presume).

As bad a runner as I am, I enjoy raising money. The race proceeds will go to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. This fund serves military personnel who've been wounded or injured in service to our nation. Last year the proceeds supported the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division. This year they've chosen the 11th Armored Cavalry ("Black Horse") Regiment. My guess is that nobody actually rides horses in this regiment, but its members still need help. Incidentally, the finish line is in the exact same place as the starting line. Which means we'll be running around in circles. Suits me to a T.

4:22 PM Today I biked a trail that was new to me. I arrived in downtown Durham only to find an empty city.

But after I began my ride I met more and more people out for their daily run or ride. The trail is called the American Tobacco Trail (ATT).

Tip of the Day: Before trying out a new trail, be sure to check the trail conditions. I thought I could get in at least 20 miles today but the trail was closed for repairs and I ended up with far fewer miles. It was all worth it, however, because I got to enjoy some of my favorite food in the universe.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, injera b'wat will be in heaven. Meanwhile, here's a sampling of the game "Currently" for what it's worth:

Cooking: Dinner tonight will be beef and pork Teriyaki stir fry over rice. I know: I'm stuck in a rut.

Working on: My lecture for Monday's Greek class in Israel. We're in Phil. 1:3-11. Few passages in Philippians so clearly telegraph to the audience the theme of the book.

Reading: Timothy Gombis' book Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed. Looks like I'm on a Gombis roll right now.

Craving: Nestlé milk chocolate bars. I am addicted to those things. Problem is, I'm cutting way back on my chocolate consumption.

Hoping: To get back to Hawaii this August to celebrate my retirement. I would also love to start another Greek class on Windward Oahu. Thankful that God doesn't just watch. He directs our steps.

Loving: My classes. My students show so much promise. And because we are Christians, our success ought to be gauged not only by academic accomplishments but by our changed lives.

Anticipating: Running my 17th marathon this June. Who will join me? Who else loves suffering? It's only 138,336 feet. You can't be a wimp all your life. 

Watching: On YouTube I've been binge watching videos from the North Shore. Pipeline has never been better.

Avoiding: Nattering negativity. Like the plague.

6:05 AM With the rise of computer programs, websites, and online tools, you can do just about any aspect of exegesis well. But to read and interpret participles, well, you'll need to be able to encounter the text for yourself. Greek (as is often said) is a participle-loving language. That's why I am excited to be teaching the participle in my Greek 2 classes when we return from spring break.

To be frank, participles are often the most significant elements in the expression of thought and are key to understanding what an author is trying to say. Therefore, understanding the basic uses of the participle is a key to correct interpretation and application of the New Testament.

Part of the beauty of the Greek language is that the construction of its verbs and participles clearly shows who does the action, when the action happens, and whether the action is marked as being on the main line of the argument or not. By thinking through the participle, new vistas of insight will be opened to you. A good example is the "warning passage" in Heb. 6:4-6, where the shift from the 5 aorist participles to the 2 present tense participles is brilliant.

By the way, I'm so proud of my students for making it to "mile 20" of their Greek "marathon." (My textbook has 26 chapters.) Every marathoner knows that the halfway point in a 26 mile race isn't mile 13. It's mile 20. In other words, you expend the same amount of energy in the last 6 miles of a marathon as you do in the first 20. But it is worth it. You will never regret your study of New Testament Greek. God is going to open a whole new world of understanding to you, and you are going to be so grateful to him.

Friday, February 26

5:55 PM It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it.

Tonight I'm reading Timothy Gombis' new book.

Part 1 is called "Paul's Unconverted Ministry." "For Paul," writes Gombis, "image was everything." He refers to Paul's "desire to pursue a social status determined by cultural expectations." Educational accomplishments are a good example. Check out this quote:

[T]he proliferation and popularity of Doctor of Ministry programs in the last quarter of the twentieth century was driven by the hunger among pastors for a credential that would boost their image of competence and prestige.

He adds:

In some denominational circles, leaders are referred to by their title of "Dr.," which plants the desire in the hearts of young ministers to aspire to likewise being addressed as "doctor" one day.

Gombis isn't against the degree per se of course. What he is critiquing is the fleshly effort to be lifted up above others in the church. Writes Gombis, "As we will see in the next chapter, Paul rejected this approach to constructing his identity and saw it not only as useless, but as an obstacle to genuine identity in Christ."

Yes, by all means engage in continuing education, my pastor friend. Then leave your diploma in a drawer somewhere. Ask people to call you "brother John" or just "John." Above all, don't just appear to be competent. Be competent! 

3:08 PM Cold days are here again! One of my kids got the fields fertilized just before the rain started.

My job du jour? Cleaning the house and bathing Sheba.

Poor girl. She's not a big fan of baths.

Otherwise, I feel lazy. Gonna sit by the fire and chillax with a good book. How 'bout you?  

7:22 AM One of the main requirements in Bible study is being able to slow down and really look at what the Scripture is saying. This may sound easy, but in reality most of us get bogged in everything but the Bible. In our Mark class this semester, we've been slowing down -- a lot. We're taking a "deep dive" into the most wonderful piece of literature ever produced -- the Holy Bible. My teaching is really nothing more than a sounding board for my students' own observations and conclusions. I don't want them ending up with a secondhand knowledge of the text. I want them to have a personal encounter with the word and to derive interpretations of Scripture that will transform them into the image of Christ.

After the break, we'll be in Mark chapter 4, and I can't wait to get there. Unfortunately, this chapter contains yet another example of what some have called "incorrect grammar." That language makes me a little uncomfortable. I prefer to say that the text may have an "apparent error" and then proceed from there. In fact, in 44 years of teaching, I have yet to find an error in the Bible. In Mark 4:41, one scholar sees one such "error." Here's the Greek text:

And here's the English text.

This scholar has claimed, "In Mark 4:41 we find still another example of incorrect grammar in Mark's use of the singular verb 'hears' [sic] with the preceding compound subject -- 'wind and sea.' Both Matthew and Luke correctly use a plural verb."

I will grant that this is an unusual construction. But when I was writing my response to this author, it occurred to me to check out A. T. Robertson's magnificent grammar. It was Robertson who pointed out that this is an example of the so-called "Pindaric construction" in which two subjects are used with a singular verb (p. 97). This also occurs in places like 1 Cor. 15:50, James 5:3, and Rev. 21:16. As Robertson notes, "In classical Greek, the verb in such constructions often agreed with the nearest or most important subject, and this may well be the case here" (p. 98).

I wish we scholars spoke more probingly about such grammatical phenomena. Too many times we focus on one set of data and ignore other data. I did this for many years when it came to the Synoptic Problem. I'm sure I'm still guilty of it. Most of us take our fast lives and our fast food for granted. We seldom take a long enough break from our Facebook or Twitter accounts to think about how deep a text of Scripture can be. You want extravagance? I'll give you extravagance. Before you go to bed tonight, read the Bible. Don't just rush through a couple of verses. Really read. While you're at it, thank God for verb tenses and Pindaric constructions and figures of speech. It's all there by virtue of divine inspiration.

Thursday, February 25

6:40 PM The sunshine is back! Sunshine is always the best medicine. The trails were calling me again. Here's today's run.

And yesterday's bike.

The days were warm and I could actually work out in a t-shirt. When it's warm I want to get out there as much as I can. Otherwise, this week has been super busy per usual. Though I feel totally "accomplished," I also feel totally exhausted. The good news is I finished a journal article on Tuesday.

It was due March 1 but I always like to be early. I believe the best writing is done from a desire to write and not from an obligation. Still, if you have agreed to write something by such-and-such a date, it's always right to meet your deadlines. Moving on, yesterday I was overjoyed to have my friend Kevin Brown speak in class.

He gets the Speaker of the Year Award for doing such a great job even though he couldn't see his audience. Meanwhile, I'm savoring the time off I get next week for Spring Break. The rains return tomorrow and the nice weather won't return for a few days but I do hope to get in another long bike and run in before next Saturday's 10K in Richmond. Anyway, a fun and adventurous week. Get any lemons this week? Yep, so did I. But we don't have to suck on them.

P.S. A sincere "Thank you!" to the anonymous person who paid my restaurant bill Tuesday night and asked my server to give me this note.

Dear Sir/Ma'am: I don't deserve your kindness, but I sure do appreciate it.

Monday, February 22

7:20 AM Asyndeton. Gives me a Charlie Horse between the ears every time.

When an author fails to use a conjunction, how are we to understand his or her logic? Does the sentence in question go with what comes before it? After it? Or is it meant to be a stand-alone concept?

I was pondering this roadside hazard while reading Philippians last night. Here is Phil. 4:4-7. Paul's injunctions stab the ears:

  • Always be full of joy in the Lord!

  • Again I will say it, Rejoice!

  • Let everyone see how bighearted you are!

  • The Lord is near!

  • Don't worry about anything!

  • Instead, pray about everything! Tell God what you need and don't forget to thank him for his answers!

  • Then you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will set a guard over your thoughts and hearts as you trust in Christ Jesus. 

Notice the words in green: The Lord is near! Why the reminder of the Lord's presence? And why here? I think the answer might have something to do with the word I translated "bighearted." The word can be used to describe a temperament that is even-keeled and well-tempered. A bighearted person doesn't sweat the small stuff. He or she accepts the hand they've been dealt. They don't insist on their own way. They are willing to meet others halfway. They are fair, self-controlled, gentle, and steady. When others freak out, they remain calm. Their whole demeanor says, "God is in control."

How can you and I be like that? The Lord is near! When we are tempted to press the panic button, the Lord is right there facing the problem with us. And, since we are never far from his presence, why be anxious? We can take our concerns to him in prayer any time of the day or night. He is as near as the air we breath. Christ offers a haven for the storm-tossed vessel. Even in the midst of trouble, even there, yes, especially there, God is our refuge and our strength. I am going to try and remember that this week when I'm faced with anxieties and struggles, both within myself and with others.

Honestly evaluate your life. How do you respond to stress and hassles? Begin working with God to make his "Peace Plan" more evident in you.

Sunday, February 21

5:06 PM Marathon training rolls on, folks. Today's key word is recovery. Yes, I did a 4 mile recovery walk today at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville.

It's all about mixing easy days with hard days, ladies and gentlemen. We runners must remain vigilant about how our bodies feel and listen to them whether we are going too hard or too easy in training. Walking that fine line in training is always a challenge. I like to arrive at the starting line as fresh, fit, and healthy as I can be. Especially as I look forward to my next marathon in June, I will be paying special attention to easy and hard rest days. I'll say it up front: I do not enjoy resting. But I know it's necessary.

This week on campus is going to be another very busy one. Tomorrow I start my Greek 4 class at the Israel College of the Bible via Zoom. We're studying Greek linguistics as well as the book of Philippians. On Wednesday we're having a guest speaker in my NT 1 class. We're studying the life of Christ and especially the transitions he went through at the ages of 12 and 30. My good friend Kevin Brown, an elder in Wilkesboro, NC, has written a ton on this subject and he will discuss the topic of "rite of passage in church and home" with us. Then on Thursday my NT 2 class will take their first exam of the semester. The feeling of youth arises again in this season of teaching. Wasn't it just yesterday that I entered the classroom at Biola for the first time? This teaching thing never gets old. These 68-year old legs will awake tomorrow to a new day of opportunity, both in terms of training for my next race and in order to carry me to my classes and back again. I love watching thinking in action. I hate it when teachers relieve the student of exploring things for themselves. I regret that I did not discipline my mind at an earlier age. The mind is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. When we make great demands on it, it will grow stronger and stronger and become immensely useful in the hands of God. The undisciplined mind too readily accepts a "correct" response for everything. The disciplined mind resists group think and cookie-cutter thinking. It weighs Scripture in the light of history and asks, "What is the truth here?"

May we all be truth-seekers this week and deliberately expose ourselves to people who are smarter and wiser than we are!

7:22 AM I love teaching. I just do. When I began my teaching career in 1976, I made it a top priority to mediate the findings of New Testament scholarship in a simple and untechnical fashion. This remains true today. In our next session in NT 2, I am eager to lead the class in a discussion of how Paul uses rhetorical devices to increase the hitting and drawing -- the impact and appeal -- of his message. One thing he delights in doing is using poetry and songs.

Another thing he does is to make certain words or phrases begin alike and end alike.

He does this to indicate unity and transition of thought in a document in which there was no capitalization, indentation, punctuation, or even spaces between words. One of these passages is the one we're focusing on in NT 2 as we study the book of Romans -- the "Cathedral of Christianity." Here's the assignment due that day:

Read Romans in its entirety. Romans 12-15 contains a host of valuable exhortations for everyday Christian conduct. What does Rom. 12:9-21 in particular have to say about the Christian way of life?

This is what it means to live life "in Christ." It is a life whose primary principle is selfless love which is the fulfilling of the Law. This is the way the "renewed" Christian walks, with the hope of glory at the journey's end.

Read and meditate on Paul's words today. They are truly amazing:

When you show love people, don't just pretend to love them. Your love must be completely sincere.

You should abhor what is evil.

You should hold on tightly to what is good.

Since you all belong to the same family, you should love one another affectionately.

You should take delight in honoring one another above yourselves.

You should never be lazy but always work hard.

You should be passionate about everything you do.

You should serve the Lord obediently.

When you realize how confident your hope in God is, you should be joyful.

When you experience trouble, you should endure it patiently.

When you pray, you should always expect God to answer you.

When God's people are in need, you should always be ready to help them.

When strangers need a place to stay overnight, you should welcome them into your home.

When people persecute you and cause you to suffer, ask God to bless them. Yes, ask God to bless them. Don't ask him to make something bad happen to them.

When people are joyful, you ought to be joyful with them.

When people are weeping, you ought to weep with them.

You should always live in harmony with one another.

You should never think you're more important than other people. Instead, you should be willing to associate with ordinary people. Stop thinking you're smarter than others.

When someone does something evil to you, you should not try to pay them back with more evil.

You should always be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

You should do everything possible on your part to live peaceably with everybody.

My dearest friends, when people mistreat you, you should never take revenge. Instead, leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scripture says, "I will take revenge. I will pay them back." This is what the Lord says.

Instead, "If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. If they're thirsty, give them something to drink. By acting toward them in this surprising way, you will make them burn with shame and maybe even help them change their attitudes and actions."

Don't be overcome by evil. Instead, overcome evil by doing good.

Saturday, February 20

5:45 PM Just back from the boonies near a bump in the road called Sealston, VA. Today's half marathon was an out-and-back on an old railroad bed -- with ties still in in it! This is the view that met us runners when we arrived at the trail head.

The surface was snow, slush, but mostly a sheet of ice. In a word, the trail was horrible. In two words, really horrible. Knowing we'd be miserable for a couple of hours, the race directors at least thought up some ways of keeping us warm pre-race.

Here's my wave.

Off we went like a herd of turtles.

My main goal today was to stay upright. When the winner started passing me going the other direction I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to win this thing. At one road crossing, the surface was a skating rink. People were falling on their rear ends galore. Me? I swallowed my pride and crawled across the road on all fours. Yep, that's me. No shame. I finished the race looking like a marionette whose puppeteer had just been electrocuted. I assure you that Frank Shorter couldn't have felt any better receiving his gold medal in the Olympics that I did finishing my first "slip and slide" race. In conclusion, I love runners' conversations. Pre-race:

  • "Are you kidding me"?

  • "Look at all that ice."

  • "What in the world are we doing running today?"

Post-Race:

  • "That was so much fun!"

  • "It was the neatest race I've ever run!"

  • "Can't wait to do it again!"

I was the guy who said, "Can't wait to do it again!" I'm telling you, I'm not a competitor to be taken lightly, folks. From now on I'm throwing down the gauntlet. Those heavy footsteps you hear behind you could be mine. And if they are, you're in for the race of your life.

Friday, February 19

12:42 PM Hi. It's me again, popping in after a week on campus and after a couple of very dicey (and icy) storms. Was so good to get back to the farm. The animals were glad to see me and I was glad to see them.

I was surprised there wasn't more tree damage than there was.

I mean, this whole week was one long nasty ice event. Finally, I think I see the sun trying to peek out from behind the clouds. Only 15 more weeks to go until my next marathon. Tomorrow I'm supposed to do a half near Fredericksburg but the weather is still kind of iffy. I'm cautiously optimistic. If the race was going to be cancelled I would have heard by now, so I think I'll head on up there and give it a shot. I'm so thankful that the farm never lost power during the ice storms we had and I really feel badly for all those who did lose their electricity. A big tip of the kepi to the brave men and women who worked around the clock to repair the power lines as the storms raged all around us. You're my heroes.

Monday, February 15

6:22 AM The main takeaway I got from reading Galatians over the weekend? It's much easier to be saved than to act saved. It takes very little effort to sound spiritual. But being spiritual? That's another story. And just what does a saved person sound like? Well, there's Tommy Theologian -- you know, the guy who's always talking about Calvinism and expository preaching and historic premillennialism and agape love. Being saved is all about what you know. John Stott used to call people like this "tadpoles" -- all head and very little body. Then there's Pat Popular, with his "Praise Gawd" outbursts and holy "Amens!" In Galatians 5-6, Paul offers us a better definition of "saved." He is adamant that Christians show their faith by good (and not evil) living. His list of vices in 5:19-21 is hardly arbitrary. You can see this in my translation:

The opposite is also true: Paul's nine-fold "fruit of the Spirit" goes from descriptions of the mind to human relationships to principles that guide one's conduct. The word "love" controls it all. At some point, we need to unplug from today's propaganda machine that bombards us with the three-letter word "Get!" It is the nature of God to give rather than get. And born-again Christians share that nature. But is the life Paul is describing really possible? He seemed to think so. That's what grace is all about. We have received the opposite of what we deserved. Now it's our turn to pass that grace on to others. We do this through love.

What is love? Read 1 Cor. 13. Or Rom. 12:9-21. Or Gal. 5:22-23. Then try writing a few practical applications of your own. For example, you might say, "Love is the kindness my son showed me when I needed my tractor fixed." Or, "Love is the kindness I showed when I brought him and his family lunch the other day." Love is ______. You fill in the blank. On a day-to-day basis, I'm more struck by the little deeds I see in others than their intellectual prowess or their spiritual boisterousness. When I look in the mirror each morning, I think, "Lord, you actually love this person." Indeed he does. He's got big dreams for me. For you as well. And he can spot a cover-up a mile away.

P.S. You may have noticed in my rendering of Gal. 5:19-21 the couplet "envious and murderous." The word "murderous" isn't found in some Greek manuscripts. I've argued for its originality here.

This, to me, is a clear-cut case of an accidental omission due to a mistake of the eye. Alas, the Alexandrian Priority position is so entrenched in New Testament studies today that scarcely any attention is paid to the longer reading. My friend Keith Elliott used to call this "The hypnotic effect of Aleph and B." I'm glad to know I'm not the only one concerned about that. I guess that's why I write books and compose essays and produce power points on the subject of textual criticism. The only way to know for sure whether or not "murderous" is original to examine the evidence for yourself.

Sunday, February 14

3:52 PM Our quote of the day comes from Archibald Hunter:

The precise issues of Galatians-- 'except you be circumcised you cannot be saved' -- are long dead ones; but the message of the letter is not out of date. Whenever any religious rite is made co-ordinate with faith in Christ as the condition of salvation, this letter becomes a sword of the Spirit to strike down the error.

Incidentally, this book breaks all the rules of textbook writing. It's short. It's easy to read. It's never boring. And it's filled with quotable quotes. My motto as a writer has always been, "Things can be made simple, but they cannot be made easy." So it is with French verbs, missionary strategy, and life itself. The New Testament cannot be made easy but it can be made simple. Thank God for writers like Hunter. 

1:44 PM Well, believe it or not, the power has still not gone off. In fact, the ice has even begun melting in places. I went down to the street to check the road conditions and the roads looked great -- ice aplenty on the trees and bushes but the roads are ice-free.

My legs had been screaming at me all day to get outdoors and do some running, so off I mosied to the local high school to get in a short run.

Occasionally you had to run around an obstacle due to the ice storm, but for the most part my run was uneventful.

While jogging I listened to 4 sermons and otherwise just gelled. Running, I might say, is a retreat, a place to commune with God and myself, a place for psychological and spiritual renewal. Today was no exception. Right now I'm in the kitchen prepping my meals for the week, including some strudel muffins for breakfast and some Chinese stir-fry for dinner.

Lunches usually consist of a sandwich of some sort (usually cheese or tuna). I'm as ready as I can be for my classes this week, so I've been spending time planning my goals for this weekend's race. This will, Lord willing, be half marathon #26. What do I hope to accomplish?

At a minimum, I want to run at a pace that will allow me to both enjoy my surroundings and think a bit. Like everyone else out there, I also want to be challenged. Man do I draw inspiration from my fellow runners. America is a sedentary country. The people you see out there cycling or running represent only a very small proportion of the American public. So I love being around people who want to take care of themselves. There's never a question of whether I want to run in a race that's coming up. Only having an injury would reduce me to a spectator. Eventually, after the gun sounds I find a nice slow pace to settle into and relax. There is no need to push harder. The joy is in the running, not in the race results. My goal is to run at a pace that my body tells me is comfortable, somewhere between easy and hard. As with Aesop's famous story about the tortoise and the hare, "slow and steady" is my motto.

Having already run a bunch of marathons and half marathons, I can pretty much tell you what will happen at this weekend's race. All of us, whether we are slow or fast, will run the race with all of our might. All around me will be runners engaged in the exact same struggle that I am engaged in, pushing themselves to do their personal best that day. You see, those of us in the back of the pack are just as much to be commended as those out front, maybe even more so. When we runners do our best, we are all equal. I realize that when I pass the 5 mile marker of this 13.1 mile race, the leaders will have already crossed the finish line. They are now comfortably sipping Gatorade and munching on pizza while I still have another hour and a half to run. Behind me are runners who will take even longer than that to finish the race. I am not diminished in the least by those ahead of me or those behind me. We are running against ourselves ultimately.

These races are great fun. I love the excitement, the competition, the expending of total effort, all for the reward of simply knowing you did your best that day. Running a half marathon allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things. I am racing at a pace I can live with. I am right at the edge of all I can (or ought to) do. No, I will not receive a trophy. My name will not make the sports news. Yet around me are runners working as hard as I am. That is reward enough. 

6:50 AM I've always enjoyed reading the Word Biblical Commentaries. Sure, some volumes are better than others, but Richard Longenecker on Galatians is one of the best. Longenecker, who turns 91 in July, is probably best known for his commentary on Romans in the Eerdmans NIGTC series. But his Galatians commentary is its equal in every way.

In reading a commentary, I always start with the author's preface. It usually tells you everything you need to know about the book you hold in your hands -- the author's approach, why he felt he was justified in writing it and adding to the already bloated publication scene, his presuppositions, etc. Since we are in Galatians this week in NT 2, I thought I'd reread Longenecker's preface to his Galatians commentary. What shocked me was how he and I think alike in so many ways.

First, he says he is "always concerned with the history of interpretation -- that is, with how a subject has been treated in the past ...."

Second, he wants "to know as much as possible about the circumstances behind the writing and the purposes for which its author wrote."

Third, he approaches the letter "asking about its literary structures...."

Fourth, he is "concerned with the meaning of words in a text, both as to how particular expressions were used in the day and as to how a given author shaped those expressions for his own purposes."

Fifth, he is concerned with "the identification and tracing of similar themes and parallel ways of looking at things in roughly cognate bodies of literature with the hope of spawning fresh interpretive insights.

Sixth, he is interested in "the development of thought in the apostolic period and beyond."

Finally, he considers "the relevance of the NT for Christian faith and life today."

All I can say is, "Ditto."

First, I am addicted to what in Europe is called Dogmengeschichte -- the history of doctrine. In fact, in Basel there's an entire department devoted to this subdiscipline. Last week in my NT 1 class, during our discussion of the Synoptic Problem, I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the historical origins of the Markan Priority Hypothesis, my point being that no theory arises in a historical vacuum. Indeed, when one understands the origins of that hypothesis, I believe a case can be made that, from the very beginning, it was a false start, as I try to point out in my book Why Four Gospels?

Second, with Longenecker, I like to approach every New Testament writing as an occasional document -- not just the epistles, but the Gospels as well. I assert that the Gospel According to Matthew is a manifesto asserting the right of the Jewish Christian church to exist alongside of and apart from Judaism. It likely originated in Palestine within 10 years of the resurrection and was necessitated by the calumnies being proffered by the Jewish opponents of Jesus. Luke, on the other hand, is a manifesto asserting the right of the Gentile Christian church to exist alongside of and as complete equals to the Jewish Christian church. Hence Matthew is the Gospel of Acts 1-12, while Luke is the Gospel of Acts 13-28. Of course, my historical reconstruction may be totally off. You'll have to read the fathers for yourself to judge that.

Third, what isn't there to love about the literary structure of the book you're studying? Longenecker sees a twofold division in Galatians: a Rebuke Section and a Request Section. My own outline differs from that a bit. But without at least discussing the structure of a writing (its forest, if you will), there's really no point in looking at the trees and the tiny saps.

Fourth, I find no little pleasure in doing lexical analysis in texts and asking how the author employs those lexemes to accomplish his goal in writing. A good example is the lexeme pherō in Heb. 6:1, a nautical metaphor that seems to have been missed by a good number of commentators (David Allen being a notable exception in the NAC series).

Fifth, parallels have always enchanted me. In fact, when we're studying Galatians, it will be helpful to ask how Paul has pursued the same or similar themes elsewhere in his writings (Romans, for example). When I did my orals in Basel, one of my assigned topics was Paul's letter to the Philippians. I prepared diligently. During the exam, however, nothing was asked about Philippians specifically. Instead, a question might have gone something like this: "In Phil. 1:19, Paul speaks of suffering as the rule, not the exception, of Christian living. Where else in his letters does he develop the same theme?" My Ph.D. students know that I'll occasionally do the same thing with them.

Sixth, apostolic history forms the basis for several of my writings, including my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, where I take a close look at apostolic history to see what a New Testament church looks like.

Finally, if you take God seriously, you have to take the life lessons of the New Testament documents seriously as well. The New Testament wasn't given for our information but for our transformation. Exasperating as it can be, applying the text is a must. The only hitch is that you must cock an ear to the Bible and, above the humdrum of life, listen for the gentle whisper calling your name.

Saturday, February 13

9:40 AM The trees are coated with ice and there are many power outages in the area, so if you don't hear from me for a while you'll know why. My house is on the very end of the grid so if we lose power if may take a few days to get back online. Today I'm reading through Galatians and having the time of my life. I've asked my class to memorize the two key verses of this letter and you might want to join us -- Gal. 2:20 and Gal. 5:1. There is a battle to be fought daily, ladies and gentlemen, and there is a victory to be won and won continually. When the pressure's on, we need to simply remember that we are crucified with Christ and I myself no longer live. Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body of mine is a result of daily trusting in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. In addition, Christ has made us free. Let's make sure we stay free and don't get all tied up in the chains of legalism. We can take as our motto the words of Alfred Tennyson's Ulysses: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." That's one reason I love marathons so much. The first time you run a marathon you think you are "combat ready" but you actually have no idea how terrible the combat will be. You are in store for pain and fatigue the likes of which you've never experienced before. But by enduring the 26.2-mile agony, runners achieve strengths and virtues that make it possible for them to continue their pursuit of excellence in all of life. The mastery is never complete, whether you a runner or a Greek student. You never fully succeed. Each day requires new strength -- the strength of our crucified and risen Savior who loves us and still is willing to give himself for us. I tell my students, "Words are cheap." Anybody can claim to love Greek. Aspirations cost nothing. Words must be clothed in actions. When I ran the Allen (Texas) Marathon a couple of years ago, the event was held on New Year's Day. The high temp that day was literally 1 degree Fahrenheit. Out of hundreds of runners who registered for the race, only 44 finished. I was number 43. The entire race I felt like Sisyphus, forever pushing the stone but never arriving at the goal.

Implicit in running is the climbing of seemingly insurmountable mountains. Each of us must have a mountain if we are to truly live, even if it looks to some like a molehill. Every goal must be meaningful. Otherwise it makes no sense to pursue it. Our lives must contain mountains or marathons or something out-of-the-ordinary to provide inspiration. You need something you think yourself to be incapable of. You'd be surprised, my friends, how many such challenges are out there waiting for you. I still can't believe we had 50 people taking my Greek class in a local church a year ago before Covid hit. All that matters is doing whatever it takes to achieve one's personal best. Don't believe for a minute that God is trying to make your life easier. Doing one's absolute best becomes the criterion of success. Running in races has made this whole matter plain to me. The battle becomes me against me, a contest with the part of me that wants to stop. Winning is being able to say, "I didn't quit. When I fell down, I got right back up again." When I finish a race, I often stop and look back to watch the other runners as they cross the finish line. Some of them are in great shape. Others are near exhaustion. But none has done less than their very best.

So that's my goal for this week, this semester, this year. In the movie Chariots of Fire, the head of Caius College in Cambridge tells the incoming students, "Let each of you discover where your chance for greatness lies. Seize that chance, and let no power on earth deter you." Dear friend, my hope in writing this daily blog is to inspire you to be all that Christ wants you to be. "This one thing I do," wrote the apostle Paul, not "these 50 things I dabble in." That has not changed, nor have we, since the time of the apostles.

Friday, February 12

4:48 PM Eagar to start my Greek 4 class in Israel a week from Monday. In addition to studying Greek linguistics, we're covering the book of Philippians. As I pray for my students, I think of Paul's teaching about prayer in 4:6. First there's the word prayer -- an attitude of general devotion and Godwardness. Then there's supplication -- the act of offering humble words to God as an unworthy supplicant. After that comes requests -- specific petitions. Jesus invites us to pray specifically. It's one thing to pray, "Lord, bless the church in Israel." It's another to pray, "Lord, bless each of my students. Bless them as they go over the study questions for their first quiz. Bless them as they produce their own translations of Phil. 1:1-2. Would you help them find the time and self-discipline it takes to master chapter 1 of my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek? Help us to work well together as teacher and taught, for the blessing of your church in the Holy Land."

By the way, when Paul says, "Let your requests be made known to God," he uses the passive voice for a reason. All students of Greek know that the middle and passive voices call attention to the grammatical subject. Paul could have said, "Make your requests known to God." But then the emphasis would have fallen on the verb. By writing "Let your requests be made known to God," he's hinting to us that God is seeking our specific requests. Remember Mary at the wedding in Cana? She didn't say to Jesus, "We need help." She was very specific: "They have no wine." Oh, almost forgot. Paul adds, "with thanksgiving." A heartfelt word of gratitude closes the cycle of prayer.

Thank you, Lord, for what you are going to do this semester. Thank you for allowing us the joy and privilege of studying your word together. Thank you for this wonderful report from the dean of the One for Israel Bible College. Thank you.

12:46 PM All runners obsess about the weather. This weekend the weather is going to be cold, rainy, and icy. This weather pattern is supposedly going to characterize the coming week as well. What I'm most concerned about -- in addition to the driving conditions on Monday when I plan to return to campus -- is the weather situation for next Saturday's trail half marathon near Fredericksburg. That's a good week off. Right now they're calling for clear skies and a tempt of around 40 degrees. The race director says that there might be snow on the ground. I'm good with that. It's the ice I'm concerned about. But not to worry. These Scriptures come to mind:

1) "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord" (Prov. 21:30).

2) "God does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth" (Dan. 4:35).

3) "He sustains all things" (Heb. 1:3).

4) "He is the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Rom. 1:25).

5) "He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in him, whose thoughts turn often to the Lord" (Isa. 26:3).

The weather next weekend will be no surprise to the Lord. It will be as he has ordained. So why worry? Today is the only day I have. May I laugh, listen, learn, love, and lavish affection on him today. With his help, I will do this.

8:25 AM Morning, all. Really enjoyed being in 1 Thessalonians this week. I can't put this letter down. It's Paul's earliest writing, and already it's full of unforgettable triads:

  • Your work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope

  • Warn the lazy, comfort the frightened, support the weak

  • Be joyful, be prayerful, be thankful

These days I pray more before I enter the classroom. Not long prayers but sincere ones:

Lord, bless my classes. Use my voice to soften hearts toward you. Use truth to defang ignorance. Father, you are good. Good enough for all of our problems and heartaches. You report to no one. Nothing is impossible for you. Have authority over our lives. Correct our faults. You are worthy of thankful praise at all times.

The apostle Paul is a great prayer partner. Sometimes I just pray his prayers:

"May the God of peace himself make you entirely pure and devoted to God, and may your spirit and soul and body [there's another triad!] be kept strong and blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes back again" (1 Thess. 5:23).

Joy often goes hand in hand with prayer and a grateful spirit, doesn't it? I so desire all three qualities -- joyfulness, prayerfulness, and thankfulness -- to characterize my classes. May every session be an act of gratitude. Every time that we meet, may we all see him moving in small ways that others miss. May we submit every detail of our lives to him.

One final triad from 1 Thessalonians.... In 1:2-5, notice how Paul possessed all three of the "marks of a great public speaker" that Aristotle talked about. He had logos -- he had a message. He has pathos -- he connected emotionally with his audience. He had ethos -- his credibility and integrity were unassailable. And why? Because he did all things 1) among them, and 2) for their sake. The Greek is simply: en humin, di' humas. In a sense, God is in the business of changing us from "outsiders" to "insiders," and from people who are self-centered to people who are other-centered. This is the challenge each of us teachers must face daily: Am I really willing to identity with those I serve? Am I really willing to put their needs before my own? For Paul, this meant engaging in physical labor instead of mooching off of the charity of others. He was "one of the gang." Like every other able-bodied adult male in the congregation, he earned his own way.

Today I'm switching gears from 1-2 Thessalonians to the book of Galatians -- our topic for next week's class. I just thank God that he delivered me from legalism many years ago. In Christ, I am free -- but only to do what pleases him. If you find yourself toying with compromise this morning, you need to start -- I mean really start -- with taking your freedom in Christ seriously. The only true guide is the word of God. It's our sole navigation map. If you pay attention and study carefully, you'll come out on top.

But for today: It's all about being joyful, prayerful, and thankful. I know I say this all the time, but I believe that nothing can change our daily attitude quite like gratitude can. Think right now of all the good things in your life. Be grateful for all of it. Even when you're suffering, whisper, "Thank you, Lord." Expect life to be difficult but don't let it psyche you out. That's one reason I love running so much. I suspect most runners have learned how to accept suffering and hardship. We expect it. And when it comes, we don't let it break us. We remember that suffering is temporary.

Now go read the Bible. :-)

Thursday, February 11

6:40 PM This and that ....

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk a sign of?

Prepping for a "fun quiz" over Jim Voelz's commentary on Mark.

The reward for the highest score? A free book.

Always nice to get a bound dissertation from one of my doctoral students.

Proud of all of my Ph.D. grads.

Only two -- count 'em, two! -- workouts this week.

My legs are complaining bitterly.

A little comfort food after a busy week on campus. Oh yeah!

Monday, February 8

5:55 AM On deck this week:

1) In NT 2 we're studying the Thessalonian Epistles, which have been called the "Cinderellas" in Paul's correspondence. They are often overlooked. But at least three lessons emerge from their study:

  • Suffering is the rule and not the exception of Christian living.

  • For the believer, death has lost its sting.

  • The best way to look for the Second Coming of Christ is by getting on responsibly with our daily work.

The American church will have to answer to God for what we did about a lost world. Jesus himself will demand an accounting from what he has given us to invest. What kind of stewards are we being of the blessings he has showered on us? This may well be the question of the hour. 

(Sermon concluded.)

2) In Greek 4 we'll examine closely the place and purpose of the Byzantine text type (neither primary nor secondary). We will also begin looking carefully at the arguments for Markan based on the supposed "inferiority" of Markan style and diction.

3) In the LXX class, student presentations begin this week. Make us proud, ladies and gentlemen.

4) In NT 1: The Synoptic Problem. You know, "The problem solved is stated here: Our Mark did first of all appear, for Luke and Matthew used him both, but Luke and Matthew, nothing loathe, to add some more used Q for Quelle, and special sources M and L." I think not.

5) Finally, there are my two sections of Greek 1. This week it's all about reviewing the indicative verb. We're 16 weeks into our 26 week marathon. Students, you are doing a wonderful job. Studying Greek is mind-numbingly hard and no one is perfect at it. Just do your best. Somehow, against all odds, it will be enough.

Love to all!

Dave

Sunday, February 7

1:02 PM In NT 1 this week, it's "Synoptic Problem Time." Most scholars hold to Markan Priority. Do I teach that? You bet I do. I also teach every other leading "solution" to the Synoptic Problem.

At the end I will talk about my own.

At no time do I ask my students to agree with me. It's their job to examine the evidence and decide.

This is shaping up to be one fun week.

9:15 AM Today I'm putting the final touches on my lectures for the coming week. In my NT 2 class, this is the verse that will be driving one of our lectures.

In essence, Paul is saying that the "pay" he gets from his ministry as a church planter is the privilege of preaching the Good News without charging for it and without claiming his rights in his work for the gospel. I think this principle is especially clearly in his letters to the Thessalonians. Hence we'll take a look at my essay "The Thessalonian Road to Self-Support." We'll do a deep dive into all of the passages in these letters where Paul talks about the necessity and joy of work. What might this look like for you and me? Stay tuned.

8:54 AM Have you read this yet?

It's a Christian classic. My NT 2 students read it for last week's class, then summarized it in a book report. I just finished reading and grading them. Excellent work on their part. If you've never read one of Roland Allen's books, read this one. I promise, you will be inspired and challenged. I personally found at least 5 takeaways from reading it.

There is nothing more powerful than the example of a life lived in accordance with Scripture. Allen's was such a life. His book will help you become more biblical in the way approach missions. 

6:24 AM Here's a practical suggestion: Study the Bible one book at a time. Do a deep dive. To study the Bible you don't have to be brilliant but you do have to be a hard worker. This week in my NT 2 class we're going to begin our walk through the Pauline letters, beginning with his earliest writing, 1 Thessalonians. I'm having my students read through the letter in one sitting (just as the original audience would have done). What is important is to search for the letter's structure. Want to get started? If so, here's a short study aid to help you. It would be my joy to walk you through the letter's 18 paragraphs (thought units). Remember to use the ask-seek-knock method. Ask God to speak to you as you read the letter. You're not interested in your ideas but in his. Then seek to discover, with the Spirit's help, the meaning and message of the book. The final step is to knock. Knocking takes you from merely thinking about truth to acting on it. To knock is to stand at the door of heaven and make yourself available to God. If you'd like to see how even the first verse of 1 Thessalonians contains many practical lessons for Christian living, go here.

If you long to know God, you must do more than read the Bible. You must study it. How I wish I could have each of you in class with me so I could encourage and support you. I know, however, that it's even more important for you to be in the word yourself. Always use the Bible as your primary source of knowledge about the Bible. Books about the Bible may be helpful, but eventually you will want to take your own look from the inside.

Happy Bible study!

Saturday, February 6

5:14 PM I'm not a gifted runner, but I do love to run. As you know, I'm full of stories about my running adventures. My family is happy I have this blog so that they don't have to put up with my ramblings in person. Since my blog is peer-reviewed (me!), I can post anything, any time. As I mentioned yesterday, the venue for today's race was the Yorktown Battlefield.

Literally. We ran around the ramparts and redoubts and gun emplacements of that decisive battle of our War for Independence.

No blog report would be complete without me sharing something I've learned, so here's a list:

1) General Cornwallis said he was sick and that was why he didn't personally attend the surrender. Right.

The Moore House, where the surrender took place.

Nine-over-nine windows. Nice. 

2) There were thousands of German soldiers on each side. (Was this why one of the teenagers at the aid station today called out "Wasser" instead of "Water"?)

3) The British Prime Minister resigned after the British defeat at Yorktown.

4) The siege and battle lasted only 20 days. Compare the Siege of Petersburg during the Civil War, which lasted 10 months.

5) The Brits tried to surrender to our French allies, but the French made them surrender to the Americans. Viva la France!

6) This is the only monument I saw on the battlefield.

Its size indicates the importance of the battle. Thankfully, the rest of the battlefield is preserved in its original pristine (monument-less) condition. I think that deserves some kind of an award or something, especially when you recall that Gettysburg has 1,328 of them.

Okay, moving on .... You're probably wanting to know how I did today. Not too bad for a 10 mile race, thank you Lord.

Tried to reel in this runner. Never could.

Today's race wasn't just another run-of-the-mill event. It was a national qualifier in the 10 mile distance. Which means there were some pretty hard core dudes (and dudesses) out there today. The event organizers broke the field up into 9 waves, based on your average previous times in the 10 mile distance. I was in corral 8 with these nice people.

Here are the guys in the first wave.

The young man out in front eventually won the race. I don't recall his time but it was significantly faster than mine.

Elated! Not my fastest but also not my slowest time. And look at all dem steps.

So what did I do while running? I memorized Scripture from The Living Bible. Here's one passage I worked on. Nails it, wouldn't you agree?  

Finally, because you've been sitting there so patiently waiting for this report to be over, I have to say how nice the race t-shirt and medal are.

The little green heart says "10-Mile Run for the Heart." So join me in thanking the race sponsors for not only putting on a dope event but for thinking about the less fortunate among us. I know, I know. I'm a sap for fund-raisers.

Friday, February 5

7:22 AM Odds and sods ....

1) My von Siebenthal is already falling apart. Oh dear.

2) This week in Greek 4 we camped out in the wilderness of verbal aspect. Here's a screen shot from my beginning grammar (Spanish edition).

The class debated what terms in Spanish terms would most closely approximate "incomplete," "completed," and "complete." Any thoughts? (We also discussed how to do this in German, as one of my students hails from Austria.)

3) Stan Porter bemoans the demise of the "Greek of the New Testament" seminar at SNTS. It's been hosted for years by my good friends Jim Voelz and Paul Danove. I wasn't at last year's conference in Marburg, but not long ago I read a paper in Jim and Paul's seminar at the annual meeting in Toronto. The Greek seminar will be sorely missed, but I think it will be back. 

4) Tomorrow's the big day -- my first race of 2021, Lord willing. It's in Yorktown, VA, and the cause is for cancer research. How neat! I love 10 Milers. It's just about the perfect distance for runners. This race will be a warm-up for my first half marathon of the new year -- the Dahlgren Trail Half Marathon in King George, VA on the 20th of this month. As I sit here typing, the excitement is almost unbearable. In person races are returning! Of course, masks are required before and after the race (I will keep mine on the entire time), the start is staggered, and social distancing will be carefully monitored. Still, a race is a race. Yes, my friends, I need new challenges just as much as you do. The temp is predicted to be a "warm" 40 degrees at race start. Whoop whoop!

After finishing the Virginia 10 Miler. This is my attempt to do a non-boring pose.

Thursday, February 4

6:45 PM Hey folks! This week was all about missions, whether we're talking about my Greek classes or my NT classes. We're not called to save the world. Only the Savior can do that. What we are called to do is to be lights in a dark world -- "a light to the nations," just as Israel was called by God to be. I was reminded of that during an excellent Zoom call on Tuesday from Seth Postell, who is dean of the Israel College of the Bible.

His talk about Jonah cut to the chase. I'm convinced that the church as we know it has lost its influence because we have neglected to be all that God wants us to be as salt and light in the world. The world may not want the light, but it desperately needs it. As Seth puts it in his wonderful book, Reading Moses, Seeing Jesus: "Be consumed with Yeshua, not with laws and traditions!"

And note: This Jesus doesn't show favorites. He is no "face receiver" (so the Hebrew and Greek). He is impartial. He loves all, even foreigners. That's why I love it when I see something like this.

It's Gateway Seminary's magazine, which arrived in today's mail. Here the president opens the issue with a word of encouragement and exhortation in three languages -- English, Korean, and Spanish. What a message that sends! When I taught adjunctively for Gateway back in the 90s, their Brea Campus was 90 percent non-Anglo. I thrived in that environment. God's love for all peoples is unsurpassed. The time has come for the people of God to love the same way. My constant prayer for my classes is, "Lord, use us. What more can we do for you?" I'm so grateful to the Lord for all he is doing in the world. I'm so glad he delights in using weak but yielded vessels to spread his Good News throughout the globe. I'm so glad to be on his team. 

Tuesday, February 2

8:04 AM Do Jesus and his disciples enter "Capernaum" or "Kephar Nahum" (the "Village of Nahum") in Mark 1:21?

Don't you love the details of the Scriptures? Don't you enjoy looking at the fine print? The Bible was written for anyone who wants to know who God is and how they are to live in a way that honors and pleases him. But we need to read it for ourselves in a way that helps us discover what it says, what it means, and how to apply to its truths to our lives. We have to be willing to slow down and really concentrate on what the Bible is saying. In frenetic times like ours, that's not always easy. Don't you sometimes wonder if we're too busy -- even for God?

My friend, don't settle for secondhand knowledge about God. Increase daily in your knowledge of our Savior and his ways. Become increasingly aware of the details of the Bible. Become a careful observer of the Scriptures. Remember, it takes effort on our part. My prayer for my Mark class this semester is that each of my students, and all of us together, will know God better as a result of our study together. Better yet, may he help us to put his truths into practice.

Monday, February 1

6:22 AM There is grace for the grind. Jesus promises as much. "I am with you each and every day."

There is meaning in the mundane. If we truly believe this, we will be content with all God has for us this week. We will not look for greener grass. We will live in the present more than we live in the past or the future. Because we are grateful people, we will be pleasant to be around. Jesus is moving in small ways and none of them is a mistake.

Jesus is with us day after monotonous day. I'm so glad. It takes a lot of grace to handle the ordinary circumstances of life. Thank him today for giving you that grace.

Sunday, January 31

6:58 PM This week in NT 2 (Acts through Revelation), I will walk the class through the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. My own chronology differs a bit from the one given below, but I nevertheless found this video by Swiss Bible teacher Roger Liebi to be extremely clear and helpful.

One quote jumped out to me. The speaker has just mentioned that believers were first called "Christians" in Antioch. Then he says this:

Diese Nichtjuden, die an den Messias glaubten, werden messianische Leute genannt -- Christen.

These non-Jewish people, who believed in the Messiah, are called messianic people -- Christians.

Yes, we Gentiles who trust in Christ are, in truth, "messianic" believers as much as today's messianic Jews are. As Seth Postell, Eitan Bar, and Erez Soref have written in their book Reading Moses, Seeing Jesus:

With the rapid growth of the messianic movement since the early 70s, more and more believers are realizing two simple, yet profoundly world-shaking facts: Fact 1: Jesus is Jewish. Fact 2: We cannot understand the New Testament without carefully studying the Old Testament.

The whole Bible points to a new covenant that is written on our hearts. I am grateful to Prof. Liebi for a reminder of that fact.

2:32 PM I don't like to think too long about Jonah because my mind always swells with disappointment not so much about him but about myself. I realize all at once how I spent so many of my years doing my own thing (all good "Christian" things, of course) without sharing God's heart for the lost. In all God's dealings with humans, from Genesis to Revelation, nothing matters more than the cross. Nowhere else did God so vividly and sacrificially display his love.

This morning I did a mini-study of that great passage in 2 Tim. 3:15-17 about the Old Testament -- what Paul calls the "Holy Scriptures." This includes the book of Jonah, of course. Paul is adamant that Jonah is just as God-breathed as any other part of the Old Testament. But he adds that the Old Testament is not only inspired but is useful, profitable, practical, and very powerful. It is useful for:

  • Teaching the truth.

  • Rebuking error.

  • Correcting faults.

  • Giving instruction for right living.

Today I began something I plan to do whenever I study a book of the Bible. Using those four categories, I will make a list of the ways in which that book of the Bible has (or can) impact my life. Here's a partial listing for Jonah:

Teaching the truth.

  • God is interested in all people. God is a missionary God. He wants us to reach the entire world for Christ.

  • God is a very gracious God. He is merciful and slow to anger. He is a God of amazing kindness. His compassion knows no end.

  • The sovereignty of God. The Lord controls everything, even a sea-creature and a worm.

Rebuking error.

  • Beware nationalism. Israel's special election by God doesn't mean that he loves the nations any less.

  • Knowing to do right isn't the same thing as doing what is right. God expects our obedience.

  • If we think we can run from God, we had better think again. Of course, Jonah wasn't so much running from the presence of the Lord as he was running from availability to the Lord. But it's still running.

  • When I disobey God, others may be harmed as well. 

Correcting faults.

  • Israel was entrenched in a self-indulgent form of religion. It was all about them. Jonah would rather die than preach to the Ninevites. Instead of loving the lost, he hated them. The way of Jesus is to be all about others.

  • Jonah had all the right credentials. But his heart was small. Paul writes, "Let your bigheartedness be known to all" (Phil. 4:5).

  • Jonah had underestimated God's ability to save. I can't tell you how many times I have limited God and put him in a box.

Giving instruction for right living.

  • People can change. The Ninevites changed. Hopefully Jonah was a changed man after his encounter with the Lord.

  • The book of Jonah was written for people who battle their darker angels each and every day, people who live with great untapped potential. Let's not waste that potential on our selfish desires.

  • When I find myself in trouble, I can always call upon God to deliver me. He will do it -- whether immediately, gradually, or ultimately.

  • Expect great things from God in your life. He is a miracle-working God.

  • God uses imperfect people, people that don't have their whole act together. The Bible tells it like it is. Jonah wasn't just a reluctant missionary; he was a recalcitrant one. But change is always an option for the Christian. We all grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. May he use even our shortcomings for his glory!

There are days when I don't feel very Christian, days when I feel like a Jonah. But this fact remains: Because of the cross, I can experience God's mercy and love each and every day of my life and even into eternity. I can begin to understand that his love for me is nothing like Jonah's (or my) half-hearted love for him. It is a deep-rooted, unconditional love. That's not always how I love. And that's why Christ had to die for me, as well. 

1:22 PM Here's something I've never before mentioned on this blog. When you write books about the Bible, you run the very grave risk of deflecting people's attention away from the very Bible you hope they will read. I myself need to be reminded constantly of the vast superiority of the Bible to anything a human has written about the Bible. John Wesley once wrote, "Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a homo unius libri."

Exactly.

Lord, make me a "man of one book." A Bible in the hand is worth 50 on the shelf.

10:28 AM In our Mark class this week we will be focusing on textual criticism, verbal aspect, and the Synoptic Problem. Why do we have four Gospels? Where does Mark fit in? In Matthew, Jesus is king. In Mark, Jesus is servant. In Luke, Jesus is fully man. And in John, Jesus is the eternal God. Hence king/servant, man/God. What's more, in no Gospel do we have much "commentary" by the author. The "commentary" is to be found in the way the Gospel writer selected and arranged his stories. Mark, for example, has only 31 verses that find no parallel with Matthew and Luke. So we think, "Why, then, should I even bother with reading Mark?" However, Mark's story of the life of Christ has its own particular arrangement that reveals a great deal about his purpose in writing. For Mark, Jesus is above all the servant of the Lord. Hence chapter 1 moves right into the ministry/service of Jesus without anything said about his genealogy or childhood. Moreover, in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus speaks in about 60 percent of the verses. In Luke, 50 percent. In John, 50 percent also. In Mark, it's more like 42 percent. The accent lies on the deeds, not words, of Jesus. He's the servant who serves.

Now, where in the Old Testament is the coming Messiah portrayed as a servant? The answer is in the book of Isaiah. In fact, in the second half of Isaiah, the concept of the Suffering Servant of the Lord finds a unique emphasis in all of the Old Testament. 5 passages in Isaiah have a direct reference to the theme of Mark's Gospel: chapters 42, 49, 50, 53, and 61. Note the following:

1) It's no coincidence that Mark's Gospel in 1:1 begins with a reference to the euangelion, the Good News. See Isa. 61:1: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor." Here "bring good news" is lebasser in Hebrew, from which the noun form "Gospel" derives (Hebrew: Besorah).

2) Then, in Mark 1:2-3, the author proceeds to quite directly from a passage in Isaiah 40. John the Baptizer will prepare the way of the Lord. Here it's made crystal clear who this coming preacher of the gospel is: It is Yahweh, the Lord himself.

3) In Mark 1:9, we read that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove -- just as Isaiah foretold that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him. Jesus' baptism is the fulfillment of that prophecy.

4) Finally, notice how the words of the Father in Mark 1:11 reflect the opening of the 42nd chapter of Isaiah: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one, in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will bring justice to the nations" (Isa. 42:1).

These parallels between Mark and Isaiah raise an interesting question. It has to do with the text of Mark 1:2, where some manuscripts read "in the Isaiah the prophet," while others read "in the prophets." Again, we are driven back to the art and science of textual criticism. This morning I was reviewing my power point on the text of Matt. 5:22 and snapped this screen shot for you.

Interesting, isn't it, that the Gospel According to Mark has a greater number of significant textual variants than are found in any of the other Gospels. Here in chapter 1 we find important variants in:

  • 1:1 -- "Son of God" or omit these words?

  • 1:2 -- "in Isaiah the prophet" or "in the prophets"?

  • 1:4 --  "John came baptizing" or "John the Baptizer came"?

  • 1:14 -- "gospel" or "gospel of the kingdom"?

  • 1:41 -- "moved with compassion" or "moved with anger"?

In Tuesday's class we will discuss all of these variants and also delve into the deeper question of how you should approach textual variants when you encounter them in reading your New Testament.

All these matters and more are on my mind as I prepare for this week's classes. What passages of Scripture are you reading this very day? What great goals loom before you this week? What avalanche threatens you this year? Whatever it is, and no matter what it is, you are never but a prayer away from your Servant King, the God-man Jesus Christ. As we see in Mark's Gospel, obstacles and even horrible circumstances mean little to him. He's looking for followers like James and John, Peter and Andrew, who will believe that what's impossible to them is possible to him. Jesus has got a pretty good track record in the miracles and deliverance department. He didn't come to be served but to serve and to give his life for many. Blessed are his followers when they're at the end of their rope. With less of us, there's more of him and his rule.

Time to go online for my morning service :-)

Saturday, January 30

3:34 PM Hey folks, it's just me again, popping in after a bike ride. Just put a pizza in the oven. I am starving. No, I didn't make it myself. Think Food Lion. There's probably more nutrition in the box than in the pizza. But hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do sometimes. I'm too hungry to cook because I got in a great workout this afternoon. I drove to the eastern part of the county to bike between and around the towns of La Crosse and Brodnax. Here are a few pix to bore you to death. I'm too famished to write any descriptions. Thanks for stopping by.

 

10:32 AM It is simply impossible for me to study According to Mark without reading the book in Hebrew. I'm fortunate enough to have a copy of Delitzsch's new translation.

Here one gets a completely fresh look at the Hebrew background to the Gospels. Here are a few quick points to note:

  • Mark's (= Markos) Hebrew name was Yochanan.

  • It was in his mother Miryam's house that the disciples gathered during the festival of Matzot.

  • Here they also prayed together while Petros was locked up in prison.

  • When Bar-Nabba and Sha'ul went on their first missionary journey, they took Markos with them. Later Markos separated from Bar-Nabba and Paulos and returned to Yerushalayim.

  • Later Bar-Nabba took Markos and sailed for Cyprus.

  • According to ancient tradition, Markos served Petros as his interpreter in Rome. Hence The Gospel According to Markos was originally written for a Roman congregation.

  • Markos begins his story at the point where Yochanan the Immerser announces the Good News about the Mashiach.

The opening words of Markos are quite interesting in the Hebrew.

It reads, "Thus begins the Good News about Yeshua the Mashiach ben (Jesus the Messiah son of) ...." At this point I'm expecting ben Yosef ("son of Joseph"), but instead we find ben ha-Elohim. Wow. (Compare 1:19, where Ya'akov ben Zavdai and his brother Yochanan are introduced.)

Much more could be said. In my Mark class, I intend to do what little I can to return the words and deeds of Yeshua back to their Jewish milieu by allowing this book to regain its Semitic voice. I do believe this has interpretive ramifications that serve to enhance our understanding of Jesus' message about the kingdom of God. Greek student, have you learned Hebrew yet? You should!

Lord, I love your word. I love it in many languages -- in the original Greek but also in translation. I can't thank you enough for preserving your word to your people. May I read it, study it, and obey it. Amen.

8:45 AM According to Mark -- what a fantastic book! "Here begins the wonderful story about "Savior" the King, the Son of God." Mark is as rich in Christology as John is. First of all, Jesus (Yeshua) is the Savior of the world. His passion at the cross is, in fact, the main emphasis of Mark's Gospel, which many have called a passion narrative with an extended introduction. Jesus is also the long-awaited Messiah/Christ of Israel. The term means "anointed one," and was used especially in contexts dealing with royalty. I like to translate Christos as "King." Jesus is acknowledged as such in the placard on the cross. Finally, Jesus is the Son of God -- a title of deity. That's why in verse 3 we have a prophecy about a special messenger from God who will make the world ready for the coming of the Lord (Yahweh).

I think Mark/Peter would have us ask three questions, even at this early stage in the narrative:

  • Who is Jesus?

  • Why did he come to earth?

  • What does it mean to follow him?

Mark will begin by proving that Jesus has unique power and authority as God. He calls to the stand three witnesses, first the witness of the Old Testament (1:2-3), then the witness of John the Baptizer (1:4-8), and finally the witness of God the Father (1:9-11). Subsequent episodes prove this point: Jesus not only teaches with authority, he has authority over demons, he has authority to preach, he has authority over defilement, he has authority to forgive sins, he has authority over men, he has authority over tradition, he has authority over the Sabbath, he has authority even over death. Take a few minutes to think about ways in which Christ reveals his wonderful authority in your life. Your life has undoubtedly changed since you became a follower of Yeshua, but what areas still need work, what areas still fall under your authority and not his? List some of these "hot spots" in your daily journal. Remember that God works patiently with us. He doesn't beat us down with a stick until we fix all that's wrong in our lives. He loves us until we, of our own free will, decide to do what he wants. Just look at the Messiah's patience toward those who were struggling. He responds in patience because that's his character. Think of those in your life who try your patience. How might you be more patient with them? Don't give up or give in. The "fruit of patience" (James 5:7-8) is well worth the wait.

In Mark class this week we will, of course, go much deeper than I've been able to go here. We will also need to look very closely at the major textual variants in chapters 1-2. Are you a Byzantine priorist? Are you an Alexandrian priorist? Your views will color your decisions. I personally believe both positions are wrong and I will argue for a middle way. According to one famous ancient Greek writer, "Metron ariston," "Moderation is best." Latin speakers turned this into "In medio stat virtus." The idea is that there should be nothing excessive. I agree with this, as long as we don't forget Oscar Wild's famous quip, "Everything in moderation, including moderation"!

More on Mark later.

Friday, January 29

8:46 PM A few random observations about the Hebrew and Greek of Jonah 1:1-4:

According to Cerone, differences between the Hebrew and Greek in Jonah are surprisingly few. But I find the ones that do exist to be quite surprising and, in some places, aggravating. In 1:3, for example, the Hebrew delights in a pun involving words for "going up" and "going down." Jonah "arises" but then quickly "descends" --  both spatially and spiritually. Thus in 1:3 in the Hebrew, Jonah "goes down" into the ship. However, the Greek has Jonah making a lateral move instead -- he embarks into the ship. Sigh.

Here are a few more observations for what they are worth:

In 1:2a, the Hebrew has God commanding Jonah to do one thing in essence: "Get up, go to Nineveh." The Greek, however, separates the two commands with a kai (= and). Cerone suggests that the translator might possibly have "intentionally or unintentionally read the details of the story into his translation at this point" (p. 19). Thus, if you will, Jonah has obeyed "halfway" -- he has gotten up, but he has not gone to Nineveh. Cerone himself is not persuaded by this suggestion and simply concludes that "the translator has inconsistently included the conjunction here" (p. 49). Personally, I'm not ready to let the translator off the hook so easily.

In 1:2b, Cerone points out how the translator has changed the Hebrew's "their badness has come up before me" to "the outcry of its badness has come up to me." Moreover, in the Hebrew, Jonah is told to "call out" against the city, whereas in the Greek Jonah is told to "proclaim" against it. "These changes," writes Cerone, "appear to be an interpretive translation connecting Nineveh to the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in Genesis 18" (p. 50). Other commentaries make the same connection. If this connection was made intentionally, "then the translator intends for the reader to understand the wickedness of Nineveh and God's just condemnation of the city in concert with his former condemnation of Sodom; Nineveh, likewise, is deserving of God's wrath" (p. 51). Again, I personally see no justification for taking such liberties with the Hebrew text.

In 1:3c, the Hebrew says that Jonah went down into the ship "in order to go with them to Tarshish." The Greek is more specific about what this "going" involved; it renders the Hebrew "in order to sail with them into Tarshish." Why the translator of the LXX should feel the need to highlight the mode of Jonah's transportation to Tarshish is beyond me. Wouldn't readers have known that one can't embark on a ship and not sail?

In Jonah 1:4, the Hebrew says that the Lord hurled "a great wind" into the sea. The Greek has only "a wind." I doubt whether this omission can be due to an error of the eye or the ear; it must be an intentional "improvement" of the text, possibly because the verse goes on to state that the wind produced a "great storm" in the sea (here "great" is in both the Hebrew and the Greek). Scratching my head.

Finally (for now), in 1:4c, the Hebrew has "the ship thought to be broken" (my translation; Cerone prefers the rendering "the ship thought about breaking up," but this is less literal than the Hebrew). The Greek simply has, "the ship was in danger of breaking up." If we follow the LXX, what do we lose? Much, in every way. For one thing, we lose the assonance and onomatopoeia in the Hebrew. Forgive my transliteration, but for "thought about breaking up" the Hebrew says something like hishsheva lehishshaver (you must say this out loud). Again, Cerone: "The sounds of the phrase mimic the sound of creaking planks prone to pop." (Incidentally, did y'all hear the alliteration in Cerone's "planks prone to pop"? Nice work, Jacob.) Also, the gender of "ship" in Hebrew is feminine, so it's not surprising that the Hebrew verb which the original author of Jonah uses is a feminine verb (Hebrew verbs have gender, unlike Greek verbs): "the ship -- she thought about breaking up." Personification is what this is called. You ask, "So what?" I suppose the answer to that question depends on how concerned you are to try and translate into the source language as many levels of meaning as possible -- not only the denotative level (what the text says), but the connotative and rhetorical levels as well (how the text says it). I have produced an entire Power Point on this if you're interested. There I suggest that Paul's marvelous wordplay phthonoi/phonoi in Rom. 1:29 might better be rendered as "backbiting and butchery" than "envy and murder" or that Luke's limoi kai loimoi (Luke 21:11) could become "paucity and pestilence" in English instead of the more traditional "famines and plagues."

I thought of three possible renderings of hishsheva lehishshaver (the ship "thought about breaking up"). The first is: "the ship fancied that she would be fractured." Hmm.

How about this: "the ship suspected that she would split apart." Better? I dunno.

Okay, let's try this: "the ship reckoned she would be wrecked." Like that? I don't either. But at least I'm trying.

More later. In the meantime, think on these things. 

P.S. Listen to hishsheva lehishshaver in Jonah 1:4 in Hebrew:

 

1:36 PM First off, a big thanks to the Lord for giving us such a beautiful day here in Southside Virginia. I may still be a plodder, but at least I can plod along in some pretty awesome scenery.

Nothing history-making about my training run today.

Just another LSD (long slow distance) run.

Just like that and I was done. Training will take me right up to next weekend's 10 Miler.

Hope your day is going well.

7:10 AM Only 3 weeks to go before my next half marathon trail run. As a tune-up race I've registered for a 10-miler next weekend that starts at York High School in, yes, the one-and-only historic city of Yorktown, VA.

I'm eager for the race itself of course, but you will not believe it when I say that I have never visited the Yorktown Battlefield or the Colonial National Historical Park -- both of them Rev-War sites of some significance. I think it's about time I rectified that situation, ya think? Today I'm torn between a local trail run or a longer trail run in Farmville. The high temp today will be 33 degrees. It will be sunny, but there will be no warmth in the sunshine. Every year when it gets cold I'm an idiot and I forget what to wear or how to run in a winter setting. Truth be told, I hate being cold, but unless I'm really desperate, I will never run on an indoor treadmill. So, I will venture out today, like last weekend, and "enjoy" the frigid wind as it blows on my face covering. The rest of the day my goals are to finish grading papers from yesterday's NT 2 class and then prepping for next week's classes -- Greek 2, Exegesis of Mark, LXX, NT 1, Greek 2 again, and NT 2 -- in that order. As we creep into winter, my running goals are to keep motivated despite the plunging temperatures and to always have a warm treat waiting for me after my run (coffee, tea, hot shower).

That's it. Simple. Basic. Quality goals. Life is easier when you remember that you get to do it.

Thursday, January 28

6:48 PM Just back from the most beautiful campus on earth. We even had a light dusting of snow last night. Beautiful.

I bet my sky is bluer than yours.

Tomorrow is a rest day, as in a long run. These past 4 days have been so hectic I couldn't get in a single workout, if you can believe it. Recently I've been thinking about what I love to do and thinking about it a lot. How about you? Make sure you do those things every day. Always think about how you can bring love and passion into your life. And never lose sight of the little things that make you happy, like reading a good book.

Jacob did a fantastic job with his discourse analysis of Jonah. I literally can't put this book down.

Nothing in life is stagnant, my friends. Either we are growing or we are retrograding. I know we can't always control everything in our lives, but we also don't have to be victims of our circumstances. This week, like every week, I challenged myself to move out of my comfort zone and consequently to move towards a better, more wholesome and balanced life. Yes, teaching 6 classes on campus is challenging. But just because something is hard doesn't mean you should stop doing it. Find your joy in the Lord, and your strength too. Be the person he has made you to be. Being perfect is so overrated. Just be yourself. Show up, and when you do, never apologize for being who you are. My job this week on campus was to be the best Dave I could possibly be. Not perfect. But always doing and saying what is true to myself. Be loyal and dependable. Forgive others when they let you down. Stay deep in the word, but don't be afraid to ask others for advice. Always know what you are worth to God. After all, he's the one who made you, gifted you, and empowers you to fulfill your calling in life. So be strong in the Lord. Let your motto be: knock me down and I will try and stand back up.

Friends, God is working in our lives, turning our biggest irritants into priceless gems. The joy comes from knowing that the difficult challenges we face day in and day out help us grow spiritually into the character of Christ. God doesn't promise us an easy Christianity. There are no guarantees in life other than he will be with us. Sure there are risks. But the one leading us is Christ. Become a risk-taker for God today.

Monday, January 25

5:55 AM I begin teaching According to Mark again this week. I do it joyfully, grateful to God for his calling, knowing and believing that "the people who know their God will be strong and do exploits" (Dan. 11:32). This is what our desperate world needs more than anything else. This week we're in chapter 1.

Oh my! Delicious. Here are just a few of the topics we get to discuss in class:

  • Mark's use of indefinite plurals.

  • His use of de and kai.

  • Verbal aspect in Mark.

  • Periphrastic constructions (common in Mark).

  • Compounding of verbs (e.g., katadiōkō in 1:36).

  • The major textual problem in 1:2.

  • Metonymy and synecdoche in 1:2.

  • Aorist versus present imperative in 1:3.

  • Use of "immediately."

  • Use of "Behold."

  • The verb ekballō in 1:12.

  • Historical presents.

  • 1:35: "early morning, at night, very" (an odd construction used to argue for the "primitivity" of Mark to Matthew and Luke).

  • 1:41: Was Jesus moved with anger or compassion?

Yes, this is a lot of work. But oh, child of God, it's worth it. For it's a matter of life -- life on its highest plane. Remember: you are allowing the text to interpret itself. And nothing is safer!

Mark in Papyrus 46. Beautiful handwriting.

Sunday, January 24

5:40 PM Okay, I feel ready for what's going to be a very busy week. How do we as spouses, parents, employees, etc. find balance in our lives? I think balance is a fine word but I think it's all about priorities. I prefer to approach each week with a different set of tasks. Obviously, what the Bible calls discernment also comes into play in a major sort of way. This weekend I tried to prioritize three things in my life: spiritual health, physical activity (and with it emotional and mental rest and restoration), and academic preparation. Today the focus was on the physical part of the three-legged stool. I knew my body needed to be pushed, so I drove to the great city of Lynchburg and rode just under 14 miles on my road bike.

While doing this I enjoyed huge swaths of the city I'd never before seen.

Here's a sampling for anybody out there who loves the great outdoors....

Lots of bridges to cross.

And what's not to like about the mighty James?

Who was expecting a tunnel? Not me!

And the inside was even crazier.

Lots of old railroad stations in this town.

At one trail terminus I found an old Greek Orthodox Church. Felt like I was back in Greece.

This cancer prayer garden touched me.

Yes, I miss mine too.

Waterfall anybody?

Or some frozen water?

The trail was mostly empty.

But not entirely. Lynchburg is a pretty health-conscious city.

Makes sense when you recall that it hosts the historic Virginia 10 Miler every year. Last time I ran it I managed a new PR. Yes!

Organizing our lives -- so important in this busy world of ours. I'm ecstatic to get back to work this week. Thank the Lord for weekends that refresh in body and soul.

6:45 AM My view right now.

Rise and shine everyone. One more day! Make it a great one. 

6:20 AM Way back in 1974-75 I took my first year of Greek via Moody Bible Institute's correspondence school. We used a very simple textbook (by Ray Summers), and instruction was by cassette tapes. Donald Wise was my teacher. He walked me through beginning grammar successfully. I will never, ever be able to repay the debt of gratitude I owe him. I can recall learning the aorist and future passive indicative. It all began to make sense to me. Even though nobody taught me this, I could instinctively begin to pick out the morphemes in a word like eluthēmen.

  • e = past time morpheme

  • lu = lexical morpheme

  • thē = passive voice morpheme

  • men = person number suffix

When I decided to write my own beginning grammar, I used this morphological approach. I also decided to go from the regular to not-so-regular constructions in Greek. This week, as we cover chapter 15 in class, we will now have learned the entire indicative verb. Nope, we haven't touched the infinitive or the participle yet. Most New Testament verbs are indicatives, so we start there. In my grammar we also cover the entire active voice system before introducing the middle and passive voices. I just think it's easier to learn Greek that way. One final observation if I may. Because I want my students to look at the morpheme and not the word as the basic unity of meaning in language, I always align the morphemes in my paradigms so that we can immediately appreciate the morphology of the Greek verb system.

So I'm puzzled when some of the more recent grammars choose to align the word instead. Not saying you can't learn Greek that way. I just think it's harder. You be the judge.

Next week, in chapter 16, we arrive at one of the most important chapters in our textbook. It's a review of the entire indicative verb system in Greek and it's fantastic. It's at this point, now that we have mastered the "usual" mood, that we can launch out into the deep -- infinitive, participle, subjunctive, etc. Then too, very shortly our exercises will come verbatim from the Greek New Testament. Before you know it, we'll be translating 1 John.

I never tire of teaching baby Greek and I never will. Oh, do I love watching students "get it." That's joy completed. As we travel together toward maturity in Christ, sisters and brothers, we are joined at the hip -- teachers and students alike. We are there for each other, spurring each other toward the goal. My function as your Greek teacher (whether in class or via my videos and textbook) is to equip you to run toward the goal. That is my role, and it is a great privilege.

Saturday, January 23

3:12 PM Just back from town. Did a 3 mile walk at the high school track and then went grocery shopping and did my banking for the week. My main goal today (other than baking muffins for the grandkids) is to prep for a class I'm speaking in via Zoom on Monday at Gateway Seminary in California. It's a Ph.D. seminar in New Testament Greek led by my longtime friend Richard Melick. He was kind enough to ask me to speak on rhetorical analysis as well as to field questions from the class about my latest book, which is one of their required textbooks.

Otherwise, today I've been jotting down some notes about "The Great Commission and Jonah," drawing from numerous resources that compare the book of Jonah with the New Testament teaching of Jesus, especially Matt. 28:16-20. As you know, the theme of missions runs right through the whole Bible, including the book of Jonah, God's "reluctant missionary." Not sure where I'm headed yet with this but a couple of points come to mind:

1) The Great Commission doesn't start by telling believers to make disciples but by telling them just how amazing the Lord Jesus is. We live in day of the cult of the speaker. But no speaker can compare with Christ. The person of Jesus Christ is the basis for missions. Jesus doesn't say to us, "Would you please consider making disciples?" He says: "I have all authority. So make disciples!" Don't miss that.

2) There is power behind the missionary enterprise. This power does not reside in us who are told to go and share the gospel. We don't have any authority. We are weak, but not Jesus. His victory on the cross and at the resurrection and exaltation means that we can expect to see success when we get involved in missions.

3) Who does God want to use to do this? He uses disciples, worshippers, and doubters. A disciple is an obedient follower of Jesus. They're not the kind of people who, when Jesus tells them to do something, say, "Well, that's all very interesting. Shall we have a discussion about it?" They simply do it. They are worshippers in the sense of assigning ultimate worth to Christ. They ask, "What can I give to you, Lord Jesus, to show how wonderful you are?" In essence, missions is part of worship. Finally, Jesus uses doubters. He doesn't say, "Wait until you have it all together, until you're an amazing Christian, and then you can go and be on mission." No. He says to the doubter, "Come on -- I want you to work with me. I know you haven't got it all together (like Jonah), but I want you to work with me." Missions is the calling of messy, vulnerable people who do missions with God.

4) The only explicit command is to make disciples. Regardless of how you translate the participle poreuthentes, I think we can all agree that missions is not primarily a location but a lifestyle for all of us. When you go to the supermarket -- is there someone there who needs to become a disciple? The barbershop? Your school? In the hospital? Becky's most productive and fruitful ministry was perhaps the times she was in the hospital. It's amazing what the Lord can do wherever you are. But you've got to be intentional about it. Fulltime professional missionaries aren't the only "Goers." When you finish reading this blog post, you're going to go somewhere. Maybe to work. Maybe out for dinner. The question is not if we're going. But as we go, can we make disciples as we do so?

5) The gospel is for all sorts of people. God's mission is for the whole world. Jesus says, "Make disciples of all the nations and all the people groups in these nations." For many of us, we don't have to go very far. In Raleigh alone there are large groups of people who speak Hindi, Nepalese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and Spanish. 75 percent of them also speak English. What a mission field. Jesus' point is simple: "You can't be picky. All people need me."

6) We have to make disciples and not just decisions. There is to be depth to our missionary work. Jesus says there are two things involved. The first is baptism. If you are a Christian you ought to be baptized. But let's not just get people into the water. Let's get them into the Triune God. We are to baptize them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Jews were raised to  know the awesome transcendence of God. But now they can discover that this awesome transcendent God is someone in whose presence they can become like a little child in the security of the arms of a good, strong, reliable daddy. Then believers are to become thrilled with Jesus. "Yes, Lord, I love you," they say. "You are my Lord and my God." Finally, we want people to be filled with the reality of the living God -- the experience of "God with us" in the person of the Holy Spirit. That's the only solution to cultural Christianity. It is this Spirit who will help them to obey what Jesus has commanded them to do. He can help them become people who do not simply make a decision but who go deeper and deeper into the whole counsel of God.

7) Missions is a partnership with Christ, who says "I'm not just sitting here in heaven watching you work. As you go, I'm coming too." Jonah tried to escape from this presence, but that's simply not possible. God pursues us relentlessly until we share his heart of love for the nations. It's amazing what happens when disciples and Jesus work together.

May your walk with Jesus today draw you nearer to him as you feel his heartbeat for lost and dying souls. And may God bring greater unity and cooperation among all his people throughout the world as we seek to fulfill his Gospel Commission together.

Friday, January 22

9:42 PM Tonight, for some crazy reason, I've been thinking about my pedagogy as a teacher of Greek and New Testament. Odd, I thought to myself, how much of my pedagogy is based on what I thought were the oversights of my own teachers in seminary. As we all know, teaching is both an art and a science. The principles of teaching are constantly evolving, but some things never change. One of the timeless truths about pedagogy is that our instruction must be student-sensitive. This is a constant battle for teachers. But the simple truth is, the more inspired and engaged our students are, the more they will consider the subject matter seriously. Here's an example. Next week's NT 1 Gospels class will begin with a quiz over the assigned reading for that day. Now, when I was in school, we were told to read such and such and then be prepared to take a quiz over that material. I never knew what would be on the quiz. I never knew what the teacher thought was important information that I needed to focus on and what the chaff was. I had hoped for study questions over the reading material but none was ever produced. I think pedagogy had changed since then. For decades now I have used study questions to form the basis for my quizzes. In fact, my quiz questions are taken verbatim from the study questions. This means (1) that there is no guessing game with the prof as to what will be on the quiz, and (2) that students know exactly what their teacher thinks is relevant. Here are some study questions for next week's quiz.

They are taken from my friend Mark Strauss's excellent book Four Portraits, One Jesus.

Sure, a lot of time and effort go into producing these SQs, but I believe my students deserve them.

Ultimately, learning should be fun and enjoyable. It shouldn't be a battle of wills with the prof. It should inspire active engagement by the student body. For time-strapped students, not having study questions can be soul-crushing. Learning occurs most effectively when teachers and students work together for a common goal.

Back to my book on Mount Everest.

6:24 PM Karl Barth's teaching about Christian baptism is now, again, clear to me:

  • Baptism is a picture, a witness, and a sign of an inward reality.

  • The potency of baptism depends upon Christ alone and has no independent potency of its own.

  • Baptism is the believer's "pledge of allegiance" regarding the grateful service demanded of him or her.

  • Baptism is in every case the response of a person who has come to faith in Christ. It is a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and their participation in him.

  • Although baptism and circumcision are compared in the New Testament, "from this it noway [sic] follows that baptism like circumcision is to be carried out on a babe."

  • "The case for a New Testament proof of infant-baptism is more than weak."

  • Baptism is a once-and-for-all act. The Lord's Supper and prayer may and should be repeated, but baptism may not.

This last point, I'm afraid, is lost on a good many American evangelicals who flock to Israel each year to be baptized in the Jordan River "just like Jesus was." For some, this is their second act of Christian baptism as a believer.

Ironically, on the Day of Pentecost, the 3,000 who were saved did not all rush down to the Jordan so that they could say they were baptized where Jesus was baptized. Nothing of the sort happened at all. There was no need, in view of the numerous immersion pools (mikvot) near the temple, to travel 25 kilometers to Jericho and its environs. It seems to me (and I have argued this in my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church) that Christian baptism is an immediate profession of faith in obedience to the command of Christ (Acts 2:28). It was so practiced in the book of Acts, and was never repeated. This was the clear example of the early church. Perhaps we should consider returning to it today.

1:25 PM I don't know if I've ever introduced you to the portion of the Tobacco Heritage Trail that I frequently run when I'm home here in Virginia.

Whoever decided to convert old railroad beds into trails deserves a medal.

This part of the THT originally maxed out at 5 miles. But they recently extended the trail to just under 8 miles, though if you add a little loop on the end of your run you can still manage to get in a full 8 miles.

The good news is that you don't have to live in Southside Virginia to run on trails. Unless you live in the concrete jungle, chances are there's a trail near you (certainly within driving distance). I love trails over the road any day. By definition, trails have varied terrain. They often have wildlife as well. What a great way to clear your head, to spend time in prayer and communion with the Creator, or just tune out mentally for a an hour or two of your day. Try one near you!

By the way, as races come back online, I'm slowly adding events to my race calendar. So far in 2021 I'm scheduled to run the Dahlgren Half Marathon on February 20 and the Jackson River Scenic Marathon on June 5. Both are here in Virginia. If the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy goes in person in May, I will likely try and do that event as well. Hence the need to continue my training runs.

7:45 AM First up on my list of things to do this morning was grading the papers from my NT 2 class yesterday.

The students wrote a brief summary and critique of my book The Jesus Paradigm. I so enjoy reading these papers. Right now I'm rereading this book.

It's an amazing work in two ways:

1) Its brevity. I still can't believe that Karl Barth wrote a book with only 64 pages. Maybe I'm not alone in the world after all.

2) Its theme. For a major Protestant thinker who belonged to a mainline denomination to assail infant baptism is a thing to behold. I'm mentioning this because in my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church (which my students are reading for next week's class) I do bring up Karl Barth's view as well as the views of his son Markus under whom I studied in Basel. One might say that these were out-of-box-thinkers. This should not only humble but inspire the rest of us.

I thank both Barths for their leadership in this area of theology.

6:22 AM On my reading list for the weekend:

Gotta me love me some Anabaptists.

Thursday, January 21

6:58 PM Hey all! Well, it was "out with the old and in with the new" week. Not only a change in administrations but a change from J-Term to the Spring Semester. My goal in teaching is simply to provide the church with a tool (or tools) that will enable Jesus followers to grasp the quality and character of Christian ministry and mission in an increasingly complex world. I want my students not only to see better but to speak better as they talk about themselves and their congregational life. Mutual reflection is crucial in order to develop common perceptions, motivations, and commitments. Politicians know this, and so do church people. Above all, I hope to create a vision of what might be -- a church that is more Christlike and one that more profoundly and appropriately expresses the self-giving life of Jesus. The first step is to explore the unexamined, hidden assumptions and attitudes that often accompany our perspectives. How we approach these assumptions can blind us as well as liberate us from our manmade traditions. Francis Chan once said that God wants the church to become the one institution on earth that loves authority -- a people who love their King and are grateful for his commands. In my classes I seek to promote this King and this kingdom, asking a very simple question: How many are ready to live for eternity and follow Christ's example into a more sacrificial lifestyle? How many will join the suffering of their sisters and brothers worldwide? How many will go hungry, naked, and homeless for the sake of Christ? How many in our wealthy and affluent churches will follow the example of our Lord Jesus who made himself poor so that others through his poverty might become rich? This can happen if we will share our resources as Paul outlines for us in 2 Corinthians 8-9. There the wealthier churches are commanded to collect monies and send support to the poorer churches so that equality might abound in the whole body of Christ. Day after day I continue with this one message: National missionaries are ready to go to the next village with the gospel but they need our prayers and financial support. Global evangelization requires the cooperation of Christians in the East and West. Time is short. Let a new revolution in global missions start in our own lives or we will lose the next generation to the evil one.

Along with this message, I've been writing tirelessly trying to finish my Godworld book. The Lord willing, I will be able to focus on this project even as I teach 7 classes this semester, one this summer, and 2 in the fall. As you know, I'm currently studying the book of Jonah and am blown away at what I'm reading. I believe that God is offering us the chance to share in his work in many of the same places mentioned in the book of Jonah -- a chance we don't want to miss. I hope I can do more as I get braver. I have been longing for the Lord to reveal what my next step is. The book of Jonah is helping me immeasurably. I'm hoping that our study of Jonah in our LXX class translates into holier living and a single-minded determination to see the church around the world grow to the glory of God. Such is my dream for my students. May all of us share this dream, and may the dream come true under God. "I'm only one," wrote Edward Everett Hale, "but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought do do, by the grace of God I will do." Amen!

P. S. Isn't this a nice view of Joyner Park in Wake Forest?

How blessed I am to have such a great venue for running so close to campus. Yesterday I managed to get away from my office long enough to get in a 5 mile run here. This weekend I'm hoping to double that distance. But I think tomorrow will be a rest day and a day to get caught up on household chores. Of course, my house isn't messy. I've just set up obstacles for burglars.

Time to chillax with a good book. 

Tuesday, January 19

5:42 AM On deck this week: Greek exam over 7-11 today, exam over 12-13 tomorrow. Thursday we start our NT 2 class -- Acts to Revelation. This week we'll discuss The Jesus Paradigm and then attempt to define "church." In Greek we'll focus on the middle and passive voices, along with the so-called deponent verbs. Ah, "deponency" -- the excuse (along with "perfective" in place of "aoristic") to justify another edition of your Greek grammar or producing a new one. Actually, there's nothing much new here in terms of application. Today I'm taking a day off from physical activity. Tomorrow I'd like to get in a run. Thursday I'm in class and then driving home. My focus right now is on writing, writing, and more writing. What, if anything, are you doing to make your life exactly what you want it to be right now? This will mean being very selective with where you put your mental energy, what you spend the precious minutes of the day doing, and who you spend your time with. Be careful with your choices. Make each day count. I'm going to try and do the same. If you're a parent, remember that you'll never get the time you have with your children back. Embrace it now. Our lives here on earth are very limited. However cliché as it may sound, don't sweat the small stuff. For as many years as God gives me, I want to be the most fit, kind, happy, generous, and adventurous soul I can be.

Do you see a common theme here? It's all about running the race of life with resilience. All of it.

Monday, January 18

5:26 PM Today I decided to bike the Virginia Capitol Trail again, this time starting at its terminus in Richmond. My goal was to cycle at least 30 miles in honor of my daughter's husband Tino, who turns 30 this month. The trail starts out following the James River.

Eventually you head inland where there are any number of route options. Today I chose to do a roundtrip to the Malvern Hill Battlefield. As you can see, I was able to get in my 30 miles, and a little more.

So -- this one's for you Tino. Happy BIG THREE OH! I love you!

P.S. My baby donk Gobus has perfected the art of begging for carrots. I think she'd force her entire body through the wire mesh if she could. So sweet.

8:10 AM Okay, folks, time to lace up the shoes and get outdoors on this drop-dead gorgeous day for a long bike ride. Where to? No idea. Too many options. I'll post a report later. Why do I do this? Frankly, I simply don't have time NOT to do this. My life is so busy that I would fall apart if I didn't engage in exercise of some sort. This Wednesday J-term ends. On Thursday the new semester begins. Next week I will be teaching 7 classes. There is no possible way I could keep this kind of a schedule without exercise and rest. I am an amateur athlete, pure and simple. The origin of the word amateur is a Latin root meaning "to love." By definition, we run and bike just for the love of the sport. On any endurance challenge, you have to overcome not only the physical fatigue but also your natural resistance to it. Part of you wants to keep going even when another part of you wants to quit. To run the race of life, you have to be a good sufferer. What I hope for from my athletic activities is to gain stamina so that I can enter the classroom week in and week out fresh, fit, and full of enthusiasm. I race because I love competition. But I realize that once the race is over and I've put my medal on the banister at home to collect dust, the earth did not stop turning, no one else really cared, and it was only a race after all.

Still, the memory is a keepsake. It lives within me. You can drive a car from Henderson, NC to Richmond, VA on I-85 in any one of four or five speeds indicated on the gear shift. But the drive is best done in a gear that is meant for fuel economy. To drive the distance in second gear would mean engine wear, fuel waste, and much lower speeds. There are things in my life I must do in second gear. Cleaning the house is one of them. And then there are things I can do in overdrive. Teaching is one of them. My goal as I age is to throw off as many of those lower-gear activities and embrace the overdrive ones, because they are the core of my giftedness. The fate of the world or the future of the planet hardly depends on my daily exercise. I run and bike simply because I am a runner and a cyclist.

How about you?

Sunday, January 17

1:08 PM This morning, while running my 8 miles, I thought about how Jonah tried to "run" from the Lord.

I can resonate with that. God is inviting all of us to share his mission with him, but we can be quite reluctant to join him in that enterprise. There is so much of Jonah in me. I too am self-centered. I too am comfort-prone. I too have resources that can take me either to harsh, hot Iraq or to the lush coast of Spain.

I recall checking the thermometer one night when I was in Iraq. It read a "mere" 123 degrees Fahrenheit. I say "mere" because it was nighttime and the temperature had fallen considerably. I can also recall being invited by the University of Madrid to give a 30 minute lecture during the religion department's summer semester on the famous Costa del Sol. Poor me, had to enjoy a week of swimming and sunbathing on the playas of Spain in order to talk for a half hour about Gnosticism in John. Jonah is a normal sort of believer to whom the Lord is trying to pass on the burden of global missions. The book of Jonah is in the Bible because we really need it. It's an extraordinary story -- God mobilizing an Israeli from the backwaters of Palestine to evangelize 120,000 Iraqis. Jonah was a very experienced and successful prophet -- as long as he was working in his own country and among his countrymen. Jonah can get all upset about a plant and God wants to know why he, the Lord, can't get out of sorts over a wicked nation he will have to judge unless it repents. The Lord's really concerned about their lostness and he longs to be gracious to them. And so God works on Jonah, and he works on you and me. The God who calls us is the God who pursues and equips us with extraordinary patience. He is determined to use us despite all of our warts and weaknesses.

Do you see any similarities between Jonah and you? How do you honestly feel about sharing your faith? Are you fearful? So was Jonah. Are you comfort prone? So was Jonah. Are you imperfect? So was Jonah. God loves you still. This is our God, folks. Jesus' very last words when he was on this earth were, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." In ascending order, he began with where they were and then moved to the entire region and world. All these thoughts were rumbling around in my brain as I ran today. Are you on an alternate route in life, Dave? Has your faith stalled? Are you favoring comfort over calling?

My friends, we must take what we know and move forward by faith, despite being both imperfect and inadequate. Like Jonah, let's give God the chance to show himself faithful. He does not forsake his own. We can run, but we can't hide.

6:55 AM This morning I'm continuing my deep dive into Jonah chapter 1. So many interesting comparisons to be made between the Hebrew and Greek texts:

  • Hebrew: Jonah goes down into the sides of the ship

  • Greek: Jonah goes down into the "belly" of the ship

  • Hebrew: Jonah was sound asleep

  • Greek: Jonah was snoring

  • Hebrew: Jonah says, "I am a Hebrew"

  • Greek: Jonah says, "I am a servant of the LORD"

I'm also going through the Greek verb system in chapter 1. I'm sure you can't wait to hear that the chapter has 62 indicative verbs, 8 imperatives, 6 subjunctives, 4 infinitives, and 3 participles. There are 36 aorist tense verbs, 8 present tense verbs, 3 future tense verbs, and only 2 perfect tense verbs.

Where does chapter 1 fit in the overall structure of the book? Take a look at this outline:

  • Chapter 1: Jonah Fleeing

  • Chapter 2: Jonah Praying

  • Chapter 3: Jonah Preaching

  • Chapter 4: Jonah Learning

I like Swindoll's outline as well:

  • Chapter 1: Running from God

  • Chapter 2: Running to God

  • Chapter 3: Running with God

  • Chapter 4: Running against God

The message is simple and straightforward: God loves all people, even the enemies of Israel.

Should we not love them as well?

The chapter contains many familiar Greek grammatical constructions:

  • Postpositioning of adjectives

  • Semitic use of "saying"

  • Telic infinitives

  • Aorist imperatives (the default tense)

  • Imperfect tense verbs to highlight the story line

  • Intensifying prepositional prefix morphemes

  • Hortatory subjunctives

  • Subjunctives of emphatic negation

  • Cognate accusatives ("they feared a great fear")

We will cover all of this material during our first day of class, in which I am tasked with introducing the Greek text of Jonah. The following week my co-teacher Chip Hardy will introduce the Hebrew text. Thereafter there will be student presentations.

As you know, it wasn't until I was 16 that I realized how important it is to study the Bible.  Today I'm discovering that the discipline of the mind is not unlike the conditioning process I go through whenever I do physical exercise. Just as I keep my body active so that it doesn't atrophy, so my mind is being stretched on a regular basis. Reading my Greek and Hebrew daily is one form of intellectual discipline. I love nothing better than to retreat into my home library and just read. I am constantly exposing myself to writers who are better and smarter than me. In their presence it is often wisest just to listen and learn. Chesterton once said of Abraham Lincoln:

This great man had one secret vice far more unpopular among his followers than the habit of drinking. He had the habit of thinking. We might almost call it the habit of secret thinking, a dark consolation like that of secret drinking.

There is an art to Bible study, and it begins by asking the right questions of the text. This is what I'm doing with the book of Jonah and it is a delight.

Saturday, January 16

11:10 AM I once read about a certain painting. During World War I, a signalman had been sent out to repair a cable broken by shellfire. Just as he accomplished his task he was killed. In his stiffening hands he held the cable's ends together. The picture had the caption, "Through."

That picture is a parable of what it means to be a teacher. Basically, I see my job as connecting my students to their source of power, the word of God. I'd much rather equip them with a tool for Bible study than tell them what the Bible means. Seminary means primarily access to God mediated by prayerful study; and it is the Bible that makes that access possible, not the books we write about the Bible. My assignment is to help students get "through" to God, to wean themselves, if you will, from their human teachers. "He must increase but I must decrease" would, I think, be a good motto for anyone who is called to the teaching profession. Only the word of God, through the Spirit of God, can get us "through." Alas, I cannot do that. Equip you I can, but you have a far better Teacher than me. The Bible is unique because it secures that access to God that all our paltry books can only foreshadow.

Follow the Rabbi, dear student. Offer your mind to him today. Ask the Spirit to make the Bible come alive in your life. Commit to daily time in the word. May that mark your legacy in 2021.

7:22 AM New Testament 2 begins next Thursday. It's all about becoming New Covenant Christians, about following the downward path of Jesus, about towel and basin ministries that attract not-yet Christians to the Good News.

Information leads to internalization and finally to implementation.

The famous painter Henri Matisse once said, "Artists should have their tongues cut out." An artist's message should come through on the canvas, not through the chatter of words. I can hear the apostle saying to Timothy and Titus, "If you need to, cut out your tongue and do your ministry, not only talk about it. Let the sheer demonstration of your kingdom lifestyle be what impacts the lives of others."

The first book my students will read this semester is this one:

A few quotes if I may:

  • Orthodoxy is incomplete -- a disastrous aberration even -- without orthopraxy.

  • God is calling out a people who are committed to living lives of genuine obedience to Christ.

  • Anyone who tries to make Jesus into a conservative or a liberal must be reading a different Bible than the one I know and love.

  • It is my conviction that only when the church keeps its involvement nonpartisan can it go about its legitimate business of serving humanity.

  • Power has ruined America. Not only on the liberal left. Now it seems to have done the same for the religious right.

  • By "followers of Jesus" I do not mean mere admirers of Jesus, but people radically committed to following his example and teachings-- a minority group, if you will, within a culture created by Christian majority groups.

  • Neither passive withdrawal nor pro-establishment politicking will do.

  • The American church has forgotten this servant role of Christianity. We attempt to exploit the powers rather than persuade them to conform to the way of Christ.

  • It is relatively easy to follow Jesus to the cross, but it is considerably more difficult to follow him on the cross.

As I stand before my students and listen to them talk about their churches and ministries, I see these questions in their hearts and hear them in their voices. What is keeping us from obedience? Selfishness, comfort, expediency, church tradition, fear of rejection, control. These have kept me bound for years, but they cannot accompany the downward path of Jesus. Unless you leave all behind you can't be a real disciple.

So that's what our class will be all about. Will we study the theme and date of Romans or the discourse structure of Hebrews? Absolutely. Will we accept Jesus' invitation to be a disciple worthy of him? Stay tuned.

Friday, January 15

4:14 PM I'm back on the farm again. What a great feeling after a busy but blessed week on campus. The rain has begun falling, nothing heavy, just a slow "farmer's rain." It's going to be a perfect evening for reading von Siebenthal's grammar -- pages 1-57 to be exact, since that's what the students have to read prior to our first day of class.

Gotta keep an hour ahead of the hounds, right? Then there's this book.

I checked it out from the library hoping it will help me as I prepare a chapel message in April on Jesus and the age 30 transition. What else have I been up to besides teaching and writing? Well, here are some of my notes from Jonah 1.

It's been so much fun rereading this book and observing the different constructions the writer has used to communicate his message -- including subject fronting for emphasis (or topicalization), periphrastic constructions, aorist imperatives (but then he all of a sudden slips in a present imperative!), prepositional prefix morphemes on verbs (one third of all the verbs in chapter 1 have a preposition attached to them, most of them with a simple directional force, but there's at least one compound verb where the prepositional prefix morpheme seems to take on an intensifying function), telic infinitives (in the aorist, of course), any number of Semitisms, one genitive of relationship, etc.

Lovely.

I love what I do. I love doing it here on the farm. I love the remoteness, the simplicity, the scenery, the animals, the mystery and intrigue of the books I read in front of the fireplace at night. The farm forces me to slow down and do it all a bit differently -- less rushed and more intentional, it seems to me. We all know that finding your motivation to really get busy and accomplish things in life takes a good old-fashioned "just do it!" attitude. I get so tired of hearing myself and others making all kinds of excuses for not doing the things they want to do or promised themselves (or others) they would do. Living is a decision. It's not a negotiation, so just get out there and do it. You just make healthy living a part of your life and get on with it.

By the way, I got this email today and it makes me so happy.

Over $700,000 was raised for the family of Brian Sicknick. I couldn't be prouder of my fellow Americans. Listen, Dave, you whiner. There are thousands of people out there who can't even walk let alone run, so just be grateful you get to be active. This is the walk of faith the New Testament talks about. God is using every last trial in your life to build your faith. Will I choose to believe what I can't yet see? I hope so!

Thursday, January 14

6:20 AM Back to campus today. I almost said, "Back to the humdrum of everyday life." But you know what? The rhythm of daily living feels good. It's a lot like running (there he goes again -- another running analogy!). Even when you're suffering from a few aches and pains, it feels good. Even when you are pushing your body, it still feels good. You know in your heart of hearts this is the right thing to be doing.

Students, take heart. So you go to class every day, Monday through Friday. Each day another chapter. Each day another quiz. Each day more vocab. All too quickly the thrill disappears. The joy doesn't last. No longer satisfied with the miracle that is occurring in our lives by the mere fact that we can get out of bed every day, we begin to complain about the "rut" we're in. The road to discouragement begins with a single word: ingratitude. As soon as we lose a grateful spirit, life sours. Frustration and failure follow. I like what Jim Elliott said: "Wherever you are, be all there." Wherever that is, that's where God has placed you. All of us are somewhere. My students are just beginning their careers. I'm nearing the end of mine. Where you are doesn't make you a better person. It just tells you where you are. If you don't like where you are, try and get out of your rut and decide to move forward where you want to be. But don't berate yourself (or the Lord) for where you are. We all want to be better. But it's by accepting where we are and then deciding where we want to be that we avoid the pitfall of ingratitude. The alternative is to set yourself up for failure.

My friend, I hope you're finding out who are are and who God meant you to be. In time, and with care and patience, you will get closer and closer to the essential you. Give thanks today for where you are. Then give thanks to God for the holy discontentment to move forward from there.

Wednesday, January 13

5:50 PM I began the week with a quote by the one and only Emily Dickinson in my mind: "Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door." I have come to the point in my life where I live one day at a time, opening every door the Lord presents to me and welcoming what's on the other side with open arms. Even at the start of a crazy near year, God is making all things new. Take a look at this -- the sunset I witnessed while driving to campus Monday morning. Oh. My. Goodness.

Or how about this -- these newly arrived books I checked out yesterday from our stellar seminary library.

Or the joy of mailing these books to a friend and fellow Greek teacher in Israel.

Or the excitement of seeing that the latest issue of Filologia Neotestamentaria, "my" journal (I had the joy of co-founding it), had finally arrived.

It's an issue that just happens to have my review of Henry von Siebenthal's truly outstanding Greek grammar. (Write me if you'd like a copy of the review.)

Then, in Greek class, we had the joy of introducing the imperfect and aorist tenses.

 

And did I mention the deep dive I'm doing in the Greek text of Jonah for our Septuagint class?

Or the bike ride I managed to squeeze into my busy schedule yesterday?

It would have been much longer had the Neuse River not overflowed its banks.

To top it all off, this afternoon I drove home, fed the animals, and then got in a happy little run in South Boston.

That's how simple my life is, folks. You just open every door the Lord gives you. Each one, by God's grace, is a gift. It's the way he makes everything new. How bold one gets when one is assured of God's love. I am devouring life. After all, it goes by all too fast. Which makes every open door all the sweeter.

Monday, January 11

6:25 AM Mile 7 of our Greek marathon begins today. Folks, the further you run in life, the stronger you get. The Bible says, "Let us run with resilience." I enter the classroom today with great vision of the possibilities in my students' hearts and minds. I can't bear the thought of a man or a woman leaving unfulfilled potential on the course. Yes, there are defeats and setbacks. You learn from yesterday's experiences and press on in the strength of the Lord. In a sense, I'm making their lives unpleasant now (quizzes and exams) so that their future Bible study experience will be pleasurable. Demanding? You bet. Humbling? Of course. No always fun? Yes, but always fulfilling. It's worth it class. This week we run miles 7-11. Let's run with resilience.

Finishing my first 31-mile ultramarathon ... one step at a time.

Sunday, January 10

12:56 PM Hey folks. Just did a 5K at the track while listening to Sunday's message from the book of Revelation. While I was running and praying, I remembered that I had three copies of Crossway's Greek Scripture Journal -- Mark, Luke, and John -- that I wasn't doing anything with. These little books are perfect for note-taking as you read and study your Greek New Testament.

I'd rather you had them than let them sit on my bookshelf collecting dust. Let me know which one you'd like and it's yours for free. I'll take requests until Wednesday at 6:00 pm. Kindly include your snail mail address when you write. Sorry, but North American readers only. You can write me at dblack@sebts.edu.

9:48 AM Looking forward to our second week of Greek 1. We begin tomorrow with a review exam over chapters 3-6, focusing on present and future tense verbs and the first and second declensions. My students have already gotten farther than I did when I took beginning Greek for the first time. I could memorize everything, but the concepts of conjugation and declension just didn't click. That's why I try to take a down-to-earth approach to teaching Greek. I try and explain how and why the Greek language works. But I don't promise instant fluency. The thing I can't stress enough is that language learning is a process much like running a marathon. You have to make progress slowly. You have to "run the mile you're in" and not look too far ahead. You start with nothing and then build from there. Above all, your motivation will determine the level you can attain. The bottom line is that you don't have to be a genius to learn a foreign language. You don't have to be well-educated or young or have some kind of innate language ability. You just need (1) to be motivated and (2) to work hard.

Speaking of working hard, this week I'm putting the final touches on the seven classes I'm teaching this spring. That's in addition to writing 4-6 hours a day and trying to get in 30 hours of training each week. Little wonder I'm way behind on house work -- or I should say "houses" work because I have two large dwellings to care for. So much to do, so little time. I've taken inspiration from men like John Glenn, who was the first man to orbit the earth. He asked to be rocketed back into space at the age of 77. Of course, he had to earn his place aboard the shuttle Discovery. The fact is, John Glenn was able to pass the same rigorous physical exam every year since his mission 36 years earlier. The most common refrain you'll hear from men my age is "But I don't feel old!" We older Americans are not only living longer but are participating creatively in a variety of activities. We don't want to simply retire. We want to rewrite the script completely. We want to be active, engaged, and useful. We want to pursue our passions. I still very much see myself as a work in progress and an explorer -- not a finished product to be collected and put on a shelf. I think the greatest gift I can give my children is a dad who is active and optimistic about the future, a dad who instead of growing dormant in old age shows the opposite reaction. This will mean saying no more often than I do -- no to doing things that aren't edifying or useful. You ask, "Then why spend so much time blogging?" Blogging is for me an outlet. I write not only about the events in my life but about my feelings and my emotions. For me, a blog is an online diary. It's a place to share your hopes, dreams, and opinions with your online friends. My blog, of course, is part of a larger website where I hope people can find essays and other content that will encourage them in their daily walk with God. There is no one in my life more intimate to me than he is. Jesus has been God's greatest gift to me. I often think about this when I go out for a run or sit down and write another chapter in one of my books. Where is God speaking in the busyness? He is right here, sharing together with me my scarred life. This is what intimacy is supposed to be like. We are wired by our Creator to mirror the intimacy of the Trinity. Every day allows us to taste just a little bit more of that. I want to add that having Jesus at the center of your life may well be the most important testimony we followers of Jesus have. The question is always: "What would Jesus have done in the situation?" I recall the story of the time Stanley Jones penned a response to a harsh critic. He was determined to be honest and vent his feelings of hurt. When he offered his friends a chance to read his letter, one of them wrote across the top "not sufficiently redemptive." Jones tore up the letter. Every one of us longs for relationships that are as intimate and honest as Jones had with his close friends. I have found that when we keep the kingdom first (which I don't always do), everything else falls into place.

The older I get, the more I have come to appreciate and value the men in my life that belong to my inner circle and who are always there for me. They may well be the most important treasure I will ever possess this side of heaven. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" wrote Shakespeare. My students need to see in me a man who is more than a Greek teacher. They need to see a man who can model for them the opposite of the lone ranger mentality, a man who is humble enough to pursue the downward path of Jesus. When the great Albert Schweitzer was asked why he traveled third class whenever he travelled by train, he said "Because there's no fourth class." I find that my ego is disciplined most when I listen carefully to those who love me most. This is a preemptive strike against sameness and sourness, against hiding behind a shell of a false identity. I don't think I'm unique in this. The few bloggers I read do much the same thing.

Thank you for joining me on this incredible journey. With Walt Whitman, "I tramp a perpetual journey." I started blogging because I love to write and wanted an outlet. My only "rule" for blogging is that I keep it honest and don't force anything. Even if I blog less and less as my life gets busier this spring, I don't plan on going anywhere soon. Thanks for hanging with me.

Saturday, January 9

5:38 PM My heart sank when I learned that a police officer was killed while defending the U.S. Capitol from violent insurrectionists calling themselves "patriots." Makes me furious.

I always like to channel my anger in a positive direction, so today I drove to Farmville.

There I ran a private fundraiser to honor the memory of Brian Sicknick. I pledged to donate 10 dollars for every mile I ran to the fundraiser set up in his memory. I ended up running a half marathon.

With all of you, I mourn this tragic and needless death and send my deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and fellow officers. I donated 131 dollars. As a reader of my blog, would you consider donating $13.10 -- a tenth of that -- to this worthy cause? Here is Officer Sicknick's Go Fund Me page.

Someone has said, "The days are long but the years are short." 2021 already feels tortuously long. I can't believe it's only been 9 days. My run today symbolizes a hope for the healing of our nation and honors a man who was courageous, strong, and I'm sure loved by many. I will run to show my respect and to find connection and community with my fellow Americans. It SO didn't have to happen.

6:50 AM Language learning is difficult. Languages have never come easily for me. Not sure why. Maybe I just don't have a high language aptitude. But that doesn't mean you can't learn a foreign language. If you're struggling with language acquisition, here are a few tips to take into account:

1. Realize it's going to be messy. As I've often said, nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. It's all too easy to take the lazy way out. Don't.

2. Reach out. This is a community effort. Tutorial help is always available in my classes. My Greek Portal offers dozens of helpful tools as well. Learn with a study partner if possible.

3. Keep yourself motivated. Remember that reading your New Testament in Greek is not an end in itself. It's a tool God can use to change you from the inside out.

4. Two for one. If you already know another language, use that knowledge to help you study Greek. Spanish verbs are like Greek verbs. German nouns are like Greek nouns. Your previous learning will help your new endeavor.

5. Vocabulary similarities between languages. Take advantage of the fact that Greek and English are sister languages. Use cognates and derivatives in English to help with your vocabulary acquisition in Greek.

6. Practice makes perfect. One of the reasons we find learning a foreign language so difficult is because it requires sustained, consistent practice. Work at becoming disciplined with your study habits and you will find that the process becomes a whole lot easier.

7. Get outdoors. Too much stress is bad for your memory. Let your brain chill out by taking a long walk or working out at the gym. This will make it easier for you to stay on the study train.

8. Avoid the shiny object syndrome. Collecting dozens of Greek grammars that sit on your shelf might look good but these resources are useless because you never read them. Stick with one beginning grammar and master it.

Happy language learning!

Friday, January 8

4:52 PM Our Greek class is off to a great start. So proud of all of them. While they were running their "marathon," I was training for mine at the Neuse River Trail, only a 10 minute drive from campus.

I somehow managed to get in two runs despite the frenetic pace of life this week.

I had a blast.

After all, if running isn't fun, why do it? The same applies to studying Greek. For me, running comes down to equal parts of inspiration, dedication, and perspiration. I imagine my Greek students feel the same way. My oh my, it takes work to learn Greek! Or to do anything well in life. Runners run. It's as simple as that. Greek students study Greek. In the end, there's a calmness in being a runner or a Greek student for that matter. There's a quiet confidence that comes from knowing you are willing to keep taking the next step and then the next step until you achieve your goals. For me, seeing my students at the starting line on Monday, and then watching them finish mile 6 of their 26-mile (chapter) marathon today, is so rewarding. They have sacrificed much to take on the challenge. Kudos to you all!

Monday, January 4

6:35 AM A good reminder from John Stott (The Living Churchp. 103):

There are to be no gurus in the Christian community -- only pastors (shepherds). But how do shepherds feed their sheep? The answer is that they don't! To be sure, if a newborn lamb is sick, the shepherd will doubtless take it up in his arms and bottle-feed it. But normally shepherds do not feed their sheep; they lead them to good, green pasture where the sheep feed themselves. Thus all preaching should lead people to the Scriptures and encourage them to browse there for themselves.

One more reason to teach Greek to the flock.

Sunday, January 3

4:45 PM Ever seen the picture of Albert Einstein having a merry old time riding his bike? It was taken in Santa Barbara in 1933.

Einstein was once quoted as saying, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you have to keep moving." Tomorrow, my Greek students will have a chance to do just that. There will be no to little time to stop, and certainly no time to go backwards. Our pace is a lesson per day rather than the normal lesson per week. And I dare say, the vast majority of students will do well if not very well. That's because they know themselves. They know that they are the type of student that tends to learn best in an intensive course. I'm like that. I would rather take 1 course every 3 weeks than 5 courses every 15 weeks. I like to focus on one subject at a time.

Time is not static. It won't wait for us if we fall behind in a Greek class. Migrating birds know this. They are able to prepare for and successfully travel thousands of miles by eating properly and storing sufficient fat for long-term energy. Likewise, taking Greek will teach you much more than Greek. For many of us, Greek will also teach us time-management skills and self-discipline. Wow -- three benefits for the price of one!

Tonight I pulled out the roll sheets for the class and began praying for each student by name. Let's press on together. It's not an easy road we travel, but we travel it together. And it's the Holy Spirit who makes sure we don't run on empty.

8:38 AM Hey folks! Are you a teacher? I am. And it's "Back to School Day" tomorrow. What should be our basic attitude as teachers toward our students? A famous quote from Martin Luther comes to mind. He said:

Ein Christenmensch ist ein freier Herr über alle Dinge und niemand untertan. Ein Christenmensch ist ein dienstbarer Knecht aller Dinge und jedermann untertan.

This is from his great booklet Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen

I supposed we could render the German as:

A Christian is the most free lord of all and subject to no one; a Christian is a dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone.

Christian freedom is no more freedom to do what I please in reference to my old sinful nature as it is to do what I please in reference to my neighbor. Freedom does not allow us to ignore or neglect the needs of our fellow human beings. We are commanded to both love them and serve them. I have often told my students, "You're not here to serve me; I'm here to serve you. You don't exist to make my life easier; I exist to make your life easier." What I'm trying to get across is that, even though they are my students, I see them first and foremost as persons for whose good I must be willing to sacrifice my time, energy, and convenience. I had teachers in college and seminary who loved their students that way. After I had completed my second year of Greek during summer school at Biola, my elderly Greek teacher, who used a cane, knowing that I was leaving for Hawaii the next day, hobbled all the way across campus to my dorm room and up a flight of stairs just to hand me my graded final exam and to congratulate me on a job well done. That memory is seared into my brain. The popular image today of a teacher as a cold and cruel taskmaster is completely foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. We are through love to become each others' slaves (Gal. 5:13).

Fellow teachers and fellow students, if we love one another we will serve one another. The marks of love -- please note, Dave! -- include patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and faithfulness. To truly love our students is not to exploit them for ourselves but to serve them sacrificially for their good. Of course, some will try and take advantage of you, but I'm not talking about them.

So there you have it. My secret sauce for successful schooling. 

Saturday, January 2

6:45 PM Today, to celebrate the new year, I decided to bike to one of my favorite spots on the planet.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the visitor center was open again, and that people entering the building were all wearing facial coverings.

There is so much history along the Virginia Capital Trail that it's hard not to stop and read the historical markers.

As you can see, although the day started out cloudy and dreary, it turned into a glorious day.

My round trip from Charles City Court House to Jamestown was just over 40 miles -- not too bad of a start for my 2021 cycling mileage.

Afterwards I just had to stop in Petersburg and pig out on some beef brisket and fries.

As if to add icing to the cake, the Lord presented me with this view when I got back to Clarkesville -- "my fair city."

It's as though he's stalking me with his goodness. He also helped me suppress my urge to go all out on my ride. Instead, I was happy to see that I was able to ride at a very manageable heart rate.

My God is good. So is yours. Let us rejoice and be glad in him today.

6:50 AM I told you 2021 was going to be a good year. I mean, I get to teach a whole bunch of students how to read their Greek New Testament. It all kicks off on Monday in my Greek J-Term class. Then 3 Greek classes in the spring, one in the summer, two in the fall, etc. etc. etc.  It starts with learning how to read the Greek letters.

Then how to translate verbs.

Then nouns, and so forth. 26 chapters, like 26 miles in a marathon. One chapter/mile at a time. That's why I show this clip each and every time I start a new Greek class. If crossing a marathon finish line will change your life, how much more will studying God's word!

Many believers are sensing God calling them to learn Greek this year. Is God saying the same thing to you?

Friday, January 1

6:10 PM I think I've finally made up my mind. Lord willing, my next marathon will be ... the Jackson River Scenic Trail Marathon in Covington, VA, on June 5, 2021. This was the event I had to miss last June because of the pandemic, so I'm already signed up for the 2021 race. Of course, if the Flying Pig in Cincy goes live (instead of virtual) in May, I will also plan to do that one.

You never forget your first marathon. I recall talking to one of my colleagues on campus who had run a marathon in his earlier years. He went on for 20 minutes about what that race had meant to him. The decision to run a marathon is not made lightly. You realize you're doing what 999 people in 1,000 couldn't do. For elite runners, the marathon takes just over 2 hours. For the rest of us, it may take anywhere between 3 and 7 hours. If you're a back-of-the-packer like me, you're not really interested in your finish time. You also don't mind how difficult the race is. In fact, you didn't choose to run a marathon despite its difficulty but because of it. The marathon has been likened to the Mount Everest of running. Every runner dreams of completing at least one. But, like climbing Everest, you can't stand at the top without an arduous and well-planned climb. The marathon allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Someone has said that the marathon is the classic trial for people void of talent but determined to finish. A few memories:

1. The start of the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati.

Though running is mostly a solitary sport, races are a time to find the connectedness you enjoy with others who share your hopes and dreams.

2. What a moment it is when you finish a race, as I did here at the Chicago Marathon in 2018.

You realize that the only thing that separates those at the front of the pack from those at the back of the pack is the time it takes you to finish. You are all marathoners!

3. I've raced the Dallas Marathon twice.

The course is a challenging one. Somewhere you find the calm confidence to finish along with 40,000 other runners who accepted the challenge to overcome the distance.

4. The Marine Corps Marathon was the most emotional of the 16 marathons I've run so far.

At mile 12 you run the famous Blue Mile that honors fallen soldiers. Their photos are there, often accompanied by family members. The finish is up one last hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial. The traditions of this race are like those of no other.

5. Here I am in the finishers' chute at the St. George Marathon in Utah.

It was a PR for me. Without a doubt, it was the most gorgeous desert scenery (once the sun came up and you could actually see anything).

The physical toll exacted by a marathon is enormous. Success is the result of hundreds of intermediate steps rather than a single, giant leap across the finish line. There is nothing in this world quite like it. I hope one day you will be able to experience it as well.

12:50 PM I started off the New Year with a 5K run at the track.

Like everyone else, I want to be challenged this year. Like everyone else, I want to see how much effort I can put into chasing down my dreams. Like everyone else, I realize that America is a sedentary nation, that the current "fitness boom" is really only a marginal phenomenon, and that the runners and cyclists you see on the road represent only a very small portion of American society. Like everyone else, I know just how hard it is to take responsibility for your own personal fitness and health. And like everyone else, I realize that the only way to live long and stay healthy is to take care of the bodies God has given us just as we take care of the cars that we drive. It is our own decision, my friend, to be active or sedentary. To age fast or age slowly.

I am no expert, but please, for the love of your family, consider becoming active in the new year. All you need to do is exercise for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace three times a week. That's it. I support any call for moderation. This was the Greek ideal. They had a saying: "Mēden agan" -- "Nothing in excess." Similarly Paul writes "Let your moderation be known to all." Eat with moderation. Exercise with moderation. Don't try to get all your tasks done at once. Take time for prayer and Bible reading. Balance work with rest. I know how blessed I am to have the kind of schedule that allows me time for exercise when I'm not writing, teaching, or working on the farm. I can get up early and write or stay up late and write. I know the night before exactly what kind of a workout I will do the next day. My class schedule is fixed so I know when and where I need to be in top form for teaching. I have learned that just because somebody calls me I don't have to talk with them (or answer their email). I used to say yes all the time but now I know how to say no.

Bottom line is: If you want to be active, you will be. It doesn't mean it will be easy. Exercising regularly will probably call for some lifestyles changes on your part. But think of the benefits not only to your physical health but to your emotional and psychological health as well.

So, now what? That's a question only you can answer, my friend. All it takes to begin is a single step.

8:32 AM Social distancing today, yes on New Years Day, but not all is lost as I will be enjoying these tamales and Spanish rice my daughter brought me for lunch, topped off with freshly baked cookies. God is good.

7:40 AM One of the greatest lessons in faith I've learned comes from Max Lucado and his "Story of the Stump." Perhaps you haven't heard it yet. The tale is about a Georgia farm boy named Bill who found a stump he wanted to cut up for firewood. He crowbarred it for hours but it wouldn't budge. He was still struggling when his father came home from work. "I think I see your problem," his father said. "You're not using all your strength." Bill exploded in frustration. "I've been working on this stump for hours!" "No," said his father. "You're not using all your strength." Bill was confused. "Daddy, what on earth do you mean?" His father said, "You haven't me asked me to help yet."

What's that stump in your life that needs pulling up this year? Extracting the stumps in our lives is hard work. Take a moment and turn to the Father for help. No, don't put the crowbar away. But before you use it, open your heart to God. As you know, I love the book of Philippians. Its author was a brilliant yet humble man who knew a thing or thing about facing down God-sized obstacles in ministry. Yet even in prison he could say, "Because the Lord is near, we can be anxious for nothing." We can take each and every problem to God because he is as near as the air we breath.

May I urge you to do this today? I needed to. Yes, it's only the first day of the New Year and the old anxieties are already creeping into my heart again. The human mind can't be full of God and full of fear at the same time. So let's go to Daddy today, shall we? Let's celebrate his goodness, ask for his help, and leave our worries with him. He loves his children. And "he holds all things together by his powerful word" (Heb. 1:3). He can hold us together this year.

Remember what Peter says: "Cast all your cares upon him, because it matters to him about you" (1 Pet. 5:7). Last year I did a pretty good job of casting some fears of mine upon him. Less so with others. This morning, one particular hard stump kept taunting me. So I prayed, "You said you would help me, Father. Would you?" Whether immediately, gradually, or ultimately, I know he will answer that prayer. And so I'm ready to start my day, with the words of Saint Patrick on my lips:

I arise today through God's strength to pilot me, God's mighty hand to uphold me, and God's wisdom to guide me.

Happy Stump Renewal Year to all,

Dave

Thursday, December 31

12:50 PM I'm an avid reader, as many of you are. So I thought I'd collect and photograph some of the books I read in 2020 that I enjoyed the most.

Mind you, these are 13 out of hundreds of books I read this past year. Each has helped me get perspective on some topic or issue I was working through/thinking about. I'm pretty much a huge fan of these authors, even when I disagree with them (Scot McKnight and I do not agree on a whole lot).

One of them even had the audacity to call for an end to church buildings (hmm, maybe like Bonhoeffer did?). Two of these authors are Greek grammarians, and we all know how much people love them.

The book by James McWhorter merits a nod because it's about language and how language works, and because he discusses these subjects with both aplomb and humor.

And what can I say about Malcolm Muggeridge? You've never heard of him, right?

Reading Muggeridge is dangerous. He might actually change the way you think about Christianity.

Muggeridge was always talking about the bankruptcy of politics and how materialistic societies are prone to hero-worship. Having by and large ceased to believe in God, we pay increasing obeisance to the king or the president, creating a kind of ersatz religion. Little wonder he was banned from the BBC.

Behind the Ranges is about missionary J. O. Fraser.

It's a must read. It was a required textbook back in the day at Biola. It was Fraser who famously said: "I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel that it would be truer to give prayer the first, second, and third place, and teaching the fourth."

Finally, where would an educator be if he or she didn't work on their craft? That's why I was delighted to have picked up at a library sale somewhere Suskie's Assessing Student Learning.

So there you have it. I am never happier than when I am reading a good book. How about you? What titles did you read in 2020 that you'd recommend? Let us know on your blog or Facebook page.

8:42 AM Today I'm focused on figuring out my race and training schedule for next year. I don't yet know what that will include. So I thought I'd take a glance at the past year to see how many miles I managed. Here are my May My Run stats for 2020.

Hard to fathom that I averaged 4 workouts and 25 miles each week in 2020. The 1688 mile total is the largest since I started using a Garmin watch. As you can see below, most every year I've been bumping up my miles:

  • 2015: 298 miles

  • 2016: 1022 miles

  • 2017: 1139 miles

  • 2018: 1512 miles

  • 2019: 1270 miles

  • 2020: 1688 miles

This year was made possible by many people who supported my efforts. Neither running nor life is ever a solo project. Of course, each of us is ultimately responsible for our results, on the race course and elsewhere, but we owe so much to others for their support. My family has been there for me the whole year. I appreciate their support on the journey. They know me yet they still love me unconditionally. I hope, in return, I might have inspired them to pursue their own goals with passion. Thanks to all the doctors, physical therapists, and specialists who took such great care of me when I was injured in April. You allowed my body to recover to keep digging deeper. Thank you to all the race organizers who put on great events. Above all, thank you, Lord, for caring for me this year and teaching me many lessons about life through my running. I love running, and by your grace I hope to always be able to do it.

Running is so much like life. You do the best you can and don't let the setbacks defeat you. Perhaps you've heard of the "Serenity Prayer" -- you know, the one that asks God to grant you the serenity to accept the things you can't change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I'm so thankful to the Lord for teaching me this year that age is just a number if we learn to listen to our bodies and adapt to its changing needs. With his help, I hope to do a better job of that this coming year.

I will let you all know how it goes.

6:55 AM Here's a contrast to ponder on this New Year's Eve. The prodigal wasted his substance.

Mary wasted her perfume.

Has there ever been a greater temptation to wasteful living than today? We squander away our time, our health, our wealth. Our body, mind, and soul waste away as a result. O, the prodigal in me!

In the eyes of Jesus' disciples, Mary's anointing of Jesus was also a waste. The dictionary defines waste as "an act or instance of using or expending carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose." Waste means too much, but we can never give Jesus too much.

Lord Jesus, in 2021, I long to love you extravagantly. You are worthy of all I give you. Kill off the Scrooge in me that laments generosity. Let my wealth (such as it is) no longer be spent on ostentatious church buildings or on a wasteful lifestyle. Instead, may I give myself to you daily and then give my gifts to the needy in your Name. Selfless service to others in the cause of the gospel was the order of the day in the early church, and it must be for me. O, may 2021 see nothing less than a continual giving of self and time and talents to others. Strip away what falsely defines me and replace it with what is real. May I follow in your footsteps as never before, and may I cover myself in the dust of your feet. 

For the great glory of your name I pray. Amen. 

Wednesday, December 30

5:38 PM I had some business to do in Farmville today and while I was there I thought I'd get in a run. I decided to run to Tuggle and back, which turned out to be just over 11 miles.

Time to get back to writing. So far it's been a great day. Hope yours is going well too.

6:10 AM I was listening recently to a sermon over the last 12 verses of Mark. I was a bit surprised to find such a sermon, because most scholars argue against the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20. The preacher said little enough about the controversy in his message (all well and good), though what struck me was his attitude. He dismissed the evidence in favor of the shorter reading with the mere wave of the hand. He did the same thing when he came to the signs and wonders Jesus mentions in verses 16-17. The preacher merely asserted, "These gifts are not for today," as if his assertion could deal fairly with a controversy that has engendered the writing of untold books both pro and con the genuineness of the sign gifts for the church today. Now to be sure, I happen to agree with the preacher that the passage under consideration is both original and inspired (see my book Perspectives on the Ending of Mark), and that today's church should affirm the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture over against any claim to the contrary by those who would seek to add their prophetic words to those of the Bible. That said, it seems clear that while the primary sense of "apostles and prophets" in the New Testament is that of organs of direct revelation, we should be ready to acknowledge that there are apostolic and prophetic ministries in the church today. Paul clearly teaches in 1 Thessalonians that we are neither to reject prophecy nor accept it outright but to test everything, to sift it, to weigh it against the plain truth of the Scriptures and against the gospel of free and saving grace that comes only through Jesus Christ.

I bring this up because last night I was again reading Bruce Metzger's thrilling autobiography and was interested to see that he, along with ten other Presbyterian leaders, were asked to serve on a special committee on the work of the Holy Spirit.

The committee gave its final report in 1970. Metzger cites the report's conclusion. I give it here because I think it is both balanced and full of spiritual wisdom:

We therefore conclude, on the basis of Scripture, that the practice of glossolalia should be neither despised not forbidden; on the other hand it should not be emphasized nor made normative for the Christian experience. Generally the experience should be private, and those who have experienced a genuine renewal of their faith in this way should be on guard against divisiveness within the congregation. At the same time those who have received no unusual experience of the Holy Spirit should be alert to the possibility of deeper understanding of the gospel and a fuller participation in the gifts of the Spirit -- of which love is the greatest.

This is a splendid doctrinal and pastoral summation of what the Bible teaches about the "charismatic" gifts. This should humble both Charismatics and non-Charismatics. It should also motivate us to the loving care of all God's people. This came home to me on one of my six trips to teach in South Korea, where the Presbyterian church is largely non-Charismatic but whose congregations sometimes contain a goodly number of parishioners who speak in tongues. The pastors there, most of whom were cessationists, asked me if I might give them some guidance on how to deal with the matter both scripturally and pastorally. As a result, I developed a 4-hour lecture on "The History and Theology of Pentecostalism." I felt this was a good opportunity for the Korean church to practice MRI (mutual responsibility and interdependence). Occasionally I share this lecture with my students here in the hope that it will persuade them to treat more thoughtfully, more systematically, and more lovingly this controversial subject in their own churches.

I will now add Dr. Metzger's statement to my lecture. 

Tuesday, December 29

11:48 AM Wrote for 2 hours this morning, then ran for 5 miles. Now I'm back in my farm office, hard at work again. While running, I listened to this great interview with one of the world's leading trail ultra racers.

She happens, like yours truly, to be an educator in real life. Which reminded me: I read somewhere that most runners (professionals and non-professionals alike) are college educated. Hold on. Let's see if I can find that stat. Okay. Here it is:

  • 3/4ths of runners have a college degree.

  • This is notably higher than the national average.

This doesn't surprise me. Come to think of it, I don't believe I know a single runner who's not been to college. I don't know why that is. And I really don't even want to venture a guess. But when I consider that stat, my mind goes to another "stat" that I mention in the preface to my book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! Did you know that Bible study is for every follower of Jesus? You don't have to be a seminary graduate. You don't have to have an academic degree or several of them. You don't have to have a high IQ. You don't have to be of any race or ethnicity. You don't have to be physically strong or attractive. You don't have to be wealthy. You don't have to be of any age. You don't have to spend ten years on the mission field. You don't have to speak well before a group. That's not a requirement. None of these are. The only thing required is a willingness to learn.

Of course, you don't need my book (or anyone else's) to get started. You just do it. If you and I do it, maybe everyone will.

Monday, December 28

6:14 PM In case you didn't know, I'm a major to-do-list maker. I also like to set long-term/personal goals. Always write them down, too. I love reviewing my goals at least weekly. Some of my goals I blog about, others are just there on my calendar. Research shows that writing down your goals makes it infinitively more likely you will accomplish them. Today I set a very challenging goal, especially for someone who's as lazy as I am (Hawaii born and bred, you recall). I want to write at least 3-4 hours every day. I've even set target dates for the completion of my 2021 writing projects. Someone has said that goals that aren't frightening aren't worth having. I have asked the Lord not to allow my fears to keep me from reaching my goals. You have to keep your eye set on the prize. That said, I'm not going to sweat the small stuff. Life is more than writing. I'm just grateful I still have legs I can run on and fingers I can type with. If I'm able to get outdoors it's a good day. Don't ever take that for granted, Dave.

To all my buddies out there (you know who you are): Thank you for all of your amazing support and for sharing this journey. I have gotten so much good advice and encouragement from you and it has meant everything. (Yes, I am talking to you, daughter. Thanks for allowing me to talk your ears off today, sweetie.) The truth is, nobody achieves their goals effortlessly. Most of us have to work for what we have. This is what makes life so amazing. Something in our spirit sings when we go farther than we ever thought we could have.

Brother Lawrence once said, "We must turn to God in complete confidence in the hour of battle, abide strongly in the presence of his divine majesty, worship him humbly, and set before him our woes and weaknesses. And thus shall we find in him all virtues though we may lack all of them." That's a great thought to begin a new year with, don't you think?

 

6:45 AM Chuck Swindoll's sermon yesterday from Phil. 3 was a stirring challenge to stop living in the rear view mirror. "The one thing I do," writes Paul, "is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to live the life above." He then adds: "All of us who are spiritually mature should have this same attitude."

Here's what I took away from Chuck's message: The ability to let go of the past is a sign of maturity. I don't recall his exact words, but Chuck made it clear to the congregation at Stonebriar that he wasn't about to rest on his laurels, even though he's got a lot of laurels to rest on if he wanted to. At the age of 85 he's convinced he's got a lot of tread left on his pastoring and teaching tires. He said he also wanted to make 2021 more about Christ than about himself. He wanted to (my words, not Chuck's) know Christ as friend, trust him as Savior, and obey him as Lord.

How about you, my friend? The end of the year is a good time to consider the past -- and then promptly forget it. Retrospect must always give way to prospect. There is a new year to be greeted and a new chapter to be written. I am so excited to see what 2021 has in store for me. I know there will be surprises. Perils do not necessarily grow fewer as we grow older. Little wonder the Psalmist could ask God not to forsake him when he was old and gray-haired (Psa. 71:18). If 2020 was anything, it was another year of God's faithfulness. But it is a dying year, and there's no need to tarry by the casket of things past.

This week I'll be putting together my list of New Year's goals. Like Paul, I want to finish my course with joy (Acts 20:24). Why should I give my last year of full-time teaching anything less than 1,000 percent? Why should I just coast through my J-term class that starts in exactly one week? No, the students deserve better, and so does my Lord.

January 1, 2021 will be here before we know it. You just start at mile 0 all over again then launch out to see if you can complete all 52 miles of your ride.

There will be brand new mountains to scale and risks to take. Are you up to it?

There will be more Greek classes to teach in local churches both in Hawaii and elsewhere.

And yes, folks, there will be good food to be enjoyed -- without facial coverings!!!!

If I had only one encouragement for you this morning as you contemplate a new year, it would be to make sure you start each new day of the year with God. Many of us would never think of dashing out of the house without our breakfast, so why should we think we can plunge headlong into a perilous world with an unprepared soul? No, we can never get off to a good start without him. Meanwhile, let's forget those things that are behind us. That's the only thing to do with the past -- learn from it whatever lessons are to be gained, and then forget it. Instead, think of all the land that remains to be possessed, all the service that remains for us to do while we press on toward the mark. Make up your mind today about "this one thing." That will bring everything else into its proper place.

Love you and thank God for you!

Sunday, December 27

2:50 PM I am late to the sport of running, but I am loving it so much. A big "Thank you" to the Lord for giving me yet another great training run today in Farmville.

While exercising I heard two wonderful sermons. In the New Year, we can either wear our hurt or wear our hope. I am determined to wear only my hope in 2021. No more whining from me (okay, maybe once or twice). Max Lucado once said, "I'm sorry if you were inappropriately touched, intentionally mocked, or unfairly dismissed. I'm sorry if you ended up in Egypt. But if the story of Joseph teaches us anything, it is this: we have a choice" (Anxious for Nothing, p. 59). God, give me the courage to be a Joseph in the new year. I'm thanking you in advance!

7:05 AM And the winner of this week's Greek DVD drawing is:

Elliott in Germany.

The DVDs will go out as soon as I return to campus. Enjoy!

6:20 AM A video I watched recently was titled "Why are experts so often poor communicators?" Haven't you often wondered that yourself? I have. The presenter said there are four kinds of public speakers:

1. Those who have no skills and poor communication.

2. Those who have great skills and poor communication.

3. Those who have no skills and good communication.

4. Those who have high skills and great communication.

I loved this quote: "An actor is an expert in being someone else. A speaker is an expert in being themselves."

How rare it is to find a #4 type of communicator. Oh, they are out there. And they are not only "themselves," I would say they are their best self. They work hard on communicating empathy to their audiences. They have a knack for making the complicated simple without being simplistic. Practice may not make you perfect, but that's okay because nobody is expecting you to be perfect. Inspire, don't only inform. This is the goal every time you stand behind the pulpit or enter the classroom. Watch anything Chuck Swindoll says, or Haddon Robinson for that matter. O my goodness. So beautiful, so powerful, so inspiring. Role models for us all.

Saturday, December 26

9:25 PM My supper tonight, if I do say so myself, was delicious. I finished it in less than five minutes, eating rather faster than senior professors of New Testament and Greek are expected to. This evening I've been trying to plan my marathon for 2021. I would love to get back to the Flying Pig in Cincy.

This was my first marathon back in 2014. This would be my 4th time running it. I can honestly say this is the best of the 16 marathons I've done so far. Every detail is planned to perfection. Just be prepared for a tough but really gorgeous course. It's in May, and for now the race is still virtual, though the RD hopes that will change soon (don't we all). I love the faces in this video. Anybody can be active. Anybody can convince themselves that moving their body is better than not moving it. Whether you're 17 or 70, you future is in your hands. Actually, your future is in your feet!

5:20 PM While getting in an easy 5K walk today at the track I watched this fabulous lecture about the life and work of the famous Swiss theologian Emil Brunner.

The lecture is full of humorous anecdotes, like the time Brunner's friend Karl Barth told him, after Barth had listened to him preach, "Du bist sehr langweilig" ("You are very boring").

Actually, as the speaker in this video noted, whereas the typical lecturer in theology at the University of  Zürich may have had a total of 20 students attending his weekly talks, Brunner's audience numbered anywhere between 100 and 200. As a student in Basel, I can recall reading everything I could get my hands on written by Brunner and Barth. Brunner's theology was actually one of the three topics I had to prepare for when I took my orals at the end of my doctoral program. Brunner, like Barth, was widely travelled. He was especially involved in theological education in the U.S. and Asia. As the speaker says, "Ihm war die ganze Welt wichtig" ("To him the whole world was important"). I loved Brunner's works on the church, in particular his book Das Missverständnis der Kirche (The Misunderstanding of the Church).

"Eine Kirche, die nicht missioniert, hat demissioniert." This is a powerful statement in German. Good luck translating it into English with the same rhetorical oomph.

In Basel, much was made about the disagreement that happened between Brunner and Barth prior to and during the Second World War. Brunner felt there was a place for natural theology, whereas Barth insisted there could be no such thing. His response to Brunner's misreading of the Bible was a sharp "Nein" (see Barth's book by that name). You may recall that many Germans claiming to be Christians in the 1930s felt they could use history and culture to get behind Hitler and his nationalistic movement. Hitler was on the "right side of history," they argued, and so there was no need to maintain Christian principles. In short, the end justified the means. Opposed to this was a much smaller group of believers called the "Confessing Church" who insisted that only Jesus Christ is the Lord of the church and not any political leader, no matter how nationalistic he might be. We are looking only to Jesus for truth and direction, these believers said. Something to think about today for sure. In fact, I've often wondered if the time was ripe for another Barmen Declaration.

Right now, though, its time to enjoy some stir fry and the Banzai Pipeline :-)

9:42 AM Aren't you glad that when God wrote the New Testament he removed the expiration date? God's answer for troubled times has always been the same: come to me, come to my word, and there you will find strength and the guidance you need to take another step. That's what I'm finding to be true this morning, ladies and gentlemen, as I do another deep dive into a passage in my Greek New Testament, this time Matt. 9:35-38.

I may or may not ever get a chance to speak on this passage from a pulpit, but that's almost beside the point.

What personal Bible study does for you goes far beyond teaching and preaching. The more we read and study God's word for ourselves, the more it takes permanent residence within.

Here are some of the steps I take when I study a passage of Scripture (for what it's worth). First, I read the passage at least 30 times. This is what John MacArthur recommends in his excellent little book How to Study the Bible.

The first day, read it through. The second day, read it through. The third day, read it through. If you push through and stick with it for 30 days, he says, you will have a tremendous comprehension of the text. I have taken that advice to heart.

The next step is to look carefully at the Greek text.

What are the main verbs? What clauses are subordinate? Are there are any direct commands to be obeyed? How does the text flow from idea to idea? In German we say, seek to discover "wie der Text spielt" (not sure how to translate that). What individual words demand further study?

Then it's time to look at as many foreign language translations as you can. This morning I read the text in Hebrew, Latin, English, German, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Hawaiian Pidgin (of course!).

I wanted to see, for instance, how these versions translated the Greek word poleis -- "cities" or "towns"? Or how about the verb for "send out" in verse 38-- yep, here we have ekballō again. I'm allowing the Spirit to help move me forward from observation to interpretation to application. Remember: Bible study is a marathon, not a sprint. Sure, you've been traveling, but you need to keep moving forward. At some point you need to cut to the quick and determine the overall theme of your passage. I am convinced that if large pools of information don't get summarized for people, the significance of your passage is vaporized within minutes. I haven't come up with a sermon title yet, but I have compiled a list of titles from the interwebs, though I haven't read any online sermons yet and won't until I've complete a draft of my message.

I think I like the first title the best.

Does it look like I'm on the right track? Bible study can be exhausting but it's never exhaustive. So far I've covered only the bare facts -- but think of the insight they represent. The key is to remember that the Scripture itself gives you the basic outline of what the author is saying. So there's no need for us to impose on the text what the Scripture doesn't say.

Time for some exercise of the physical kind (I'm already tired mentally). The day is simply glorious. It's also a bit warmer than yesterday. Yes, I'm a cold weather wimp. A final reminder: If you haven't entered our book/DVD giveaway yet, I'm still accepting emails until 6:00 pm tonight.

Friday, December 25

2:28 PM We've gotten a lot of rain here lately so I gasped for JOY when I saw that the local rail trail was still open. It's getting cold here, as in very cold. I think the real feel was 22 degrees during my run today.

Virginia has issues. Of course, there's a certain part of the anatomy that tends to be fatty and that you would think would keep you warm but this is so not the case. Fat may be a great insulator, but it can't carry around your blood like your muscles can. Anyhoo, I layered up and everything turned out out fine.

This weekend's supposed to get up to 50 so I might try another long run on Sunday or Monday. During today's run my mind was on one thing and one thing only: What passage shall I speak on in chapel next semester? After all, this will be my last opportunity to address the entire student body before I retire. What a journey discipleship is. You never truly "arrive," do you? For a while I thought Heb. 1:1-2 would be a great passage to talk about -- our "encouragement," our "entanglements," and our "example." But today a passage from Matthew kept bouncing around in my subconscious and I let it rise to the surface so I could examine it. It's the passage that probably did more than any other part of the Bible to make Becky and me consider becoming followers of Jesus (rather than good Christians). And the passage is all about the Great Commission. No, not Matt. 28:19-20 but Matt. 9:35-38. I can't think of a clearer and more concise definition of missions -- the Where?, the What?, the Why? and the How?  Jesus told us exactly what to do and why. He also did what he told us to do (that's called leading by example). I truly believe I am a fulltime missionary of the gospel (not a professional, mind you, but fulltime all the same). So are you if you're an obedient follower of Jesus. Jesus loves the world so much. He died so that the lost sheep for which he had so much compassion could have a Shepherd. And get this -- he is relying on us loving them as though he were loving them through us. Jesus lived as an example. He is the perfect missionary. I so want to be like him. I'm going to take some time to pray about this and thoroughly explore my options before I decide. Meanwhile, in all humility and simplicity, let's keep on learning from the example of our Savior.

9:20 AM Last night I couldn't resist the urge to reread Bruce Metzger's delightful autobiography.

From the beginning of time, God had destined Bruce Metzger to become one of the world's leading New Testament Greek scholars. But everything has a beginning in time and space. For Metzger, it was his freshman year at Lebanon Valley College. (Never heard of it? Neither had I. But great blessings sometimes come in small packages.) In his book, Metzger tells the story of how he got involved in Greek. He says that all first-year students at the college were required to take a foreign language and "for some reason I chose the elementary course in classical Greek grammar." He goes on to state that the reason he chose Greek was something a pastor once said in a sermon to the effect that English translations can't always convey the meaning of the original Greek. Says Metzger, "I had never before realized that the New Testament was written originally in Greek." He later took additional courses in Greek and, upon graduation from college, decided to study Greek under the great A. T. Robertson at Southern Seminary in Louisville. However, before he could apply, he learned that Roberson had died in the summer of 1934. In due course, he applied to Princeton and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1938, at the ripe old age of 24, he would be asked by the president of the seminary to teach Greek to entering students who required instruction in beginning Greek. "In the autumn of 1938, therefore, I began the first of my forty-six years of teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary."

I was impressed with several things as I read this beautiful story of how Bruce Metzger embarked on his career. One of them is this: God values a slow, steady pace over a dash. Growing academically is a marathon, not a sprint. Friend, are you willing to go forward? To put in the effort? To be patient and wait for God to open the door for you? You can't just clap twice and expect to go from Greek student to Greek teacher. Two things happened to me when I was a student at Biola that utterly shocked me. First, I dropped out of my beginning Greek class after only two weeks. Second, a year later and with four semesters of Greek under my belt thanks to summer school, I was hired (at the age of 24, by the way) by Dr. Harry Sturz, the head of the Greek Department, to teach 11 units of Classical Greek at Biola. Forty-four years later I'm still teaching Greek. (God has an incredible sense of humor, doesn't he?)

A student once asked me, "Why should I bother to study Greek when there are so many English translations available today?" I replied, "That's a very good question. However, it is precisely because there are so many English translations available today, and none of them agree with each other, that now more than ever it's vital to be able to judge their accuracy against the Greek text." I am honest when I say I don't believe that you must know Greek to be able to understand the New Testament. I can think of handicaps far more serious than that (pride or sloth, for example). That said, have you ever considered taking a basic course in Greek? This year I taught Greek in one of our local churches. Before Covid hit, we had 45 people coming out every Monday night to study Greek with me for 2 hours. (They lasted more than two weeks, I might add.) But I was very clear with them that Greek is not the Open Sesame or the Abracadabra of New Testament interpretation that some make it out to be. "Greek," I told them, "won't necessarily tell you what the New Testament means. But it will limit your options."

I long to communicate to every Christian I can possibly reach that the living God has arranged a way to make it possible for you to learn how to read your New Testament in Greek. Are you willing? If so, I've produced a series of tools to get you started. It's never too late to start, either. When Benjamin Rice retired as a missionary with the China Inland Mission, he decided to learn New Testament Greek at the age of 80. Eighty! It is said that he kept a well-worn copy of his Greek New Testament in his pocket while waiting for public transportation. If an 80-year old could learn Greek, anyone can. That includes you. Here are some resources to get you going.

Learn to Read New Testament Greek. This is my grammar for beginners. It doesn't get any more basic than this. This book is short and to the point, and you don't need to buy an additional workbook; I’ve provided an answer key in the back of the book for all of the exercises.

It’s Still Greek to Me. So you've laid the foundation of beginning Greek. Now it's time to build on that foundation. This intermediate-level grammar will keep the Greek fires burning. You may even enjoy the lame puns in it ("To Koine Phrase," "Up the Greek without a Paddle," etc.).

Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. This book contains my easy-to-use approach to go from text to teaching outline.

My Greek DVDs. This professionally-edited set of 24 videos was recorded before a live class of seminary students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Don’t worry; everything is in English. The instruction is based on my beginning grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek. To learn more, please visit my New Testament Greek Portal.

Fellow believer, never forget what God is doing in our day. He's ordaining the ordinary. No longer is serious Bible study in the hands of a few. Every member gets to roll up their sleeves and dig in to grow even stronger in the Christian life. It's a fantastic new day, and I invite you to join the merry company of those who, like Prof. Metzger, "happened" to fall in love with this wonderful language.

P.S. In the spirit of Christmas, I want to offer you at no cost either a copy of my beginning grammar or a set of my instructional DVDs ($200 value). Simply write and tell me which one you'd like. I'll announce the winner of our giveaway tomorrow night at 6:00 pm. My email is dblack@sebts.edu. Please include your mailing address when you write.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24

5:50 PM What a great Christmas Eve service in Alabama with my son-in-law preaching, my granddaughter singing "O Holy Night," and my grandson operating one of the cameras.

Jon brought a wonderful message from Gal. 4:3-6.

"God is never early, he's never late, he's always right on time." Thank you, Jesus, for coming to this earth right on time. O Lord, I praise you that there is no place you will not go and no person you cannot reach. On this Christmas Eve, my prayer is that during this holiday season you will feel the presence of Immanuel in a deeper way than perhaps ever before. When Christ was born, so was our hope and peace. Whatever your need may be today, the Savior has appeared. With him, everything changes. Receive his grace today.

The icing on today's pre-Christmas cake was an email I got from Bagdogra, India today.

During the pandemic, the Peniel Gospel Team was able to distribute more than 7,000 Bibles to the same number of households. They write, "We are praying for Bibles and New Testaments so that we will be able to share and provide it to those who receive, accept, and believe in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We will be requiring a total of 25,000 Bibles in various languages and 50,000 New Testaments. One Bible costs $3 and a New Testament costs $1. When you spend $3 one family is getting an opportunity to read the Bible. Let us come together during this season to share and praise the name of our King."

I can't thank God enough for the Peniel Gospel team and ministries like it in India. These national Christians are taking up the banner of the cross where colonial-era missionaries left off. Thousands of individuals and churches in the West are praying for and supporting these nationals on the frontiers of faith. Maybe you're already one of them. If not, I invite you right now to consider living more simply and more creatively in order to support national missionaries. I especially plead with you young adults to choose to make your life count for the kingdom rather than succumb to the climb up the ladder. In order for us to make the necessary impact, we must send out hundreds of thousands more workers.

This is the kind of commitment and cooperation it will take to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. I am convinced of it. When all is said and done, the bottom line must be "the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:5). If that is not done, we in the wealthy West have failed.

1:10 PM I pretty much run all year round -- rain, sun, snow, wind. The only thing I don't do is ice. Today's weather is wet and miserable outdoors. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny but freezing cold. Conundrum. Do I try to run today when it's warmer, or tomorrow when it's colder? I'd be lying if I said that a run in the rain is super appealing to me. But I need to run either today or tomorrow to stay on my training schedule. Oh well. I love being outside. I'll get there one way or another. Meanwhile, I've had a fairly productive day. This morning I wrote the preface to my book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! Why I wrote the preface before I finished the book I have no idea; it's just what I do. Then I began to deep clean the kitchen, interrupting myself to do some baking.

Then it was off to run a few errands, and now I'm back home enjoying a warm house and working on the kitchen again. Then I need to clean the rest of the house. So far, a very nice Christmas Eve.

How's yours going?

Wednesday, December 23

5:02 PM I did a quick 14-mile bike today thinking about all the blessings in my life right now.

The best is that my friend with Covid has been released from the hospital and will be spending the holidays with his wife and family after 3 long weeks in the hospital. Talk about a Christmas present. Also, this came today.

I cannot congratulate Todd Scacewater enough. I hope this book gets the wide reading it deserves. In addition, I know some of you will be spending Christmas Day by yourself this year, as I will be doing. Please remember to be authentic around those you love. If it hurts, it's okay to let them know. Always remember who you are in Christ. You belong. You are loved. You are valued. We have to renew our minds daily. The Bible says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. It's a battle, because the enemy is always planting thoughts in our minds that are contrary to truth. We have to counteract that with the Scriptures, the truth of God's word, and do it over and over again. Also, do things that are healthy for yourself. Above all, remember you have an audience of One. Don't try to please everybody. You can't please everybody. You'll wear yourself out if you try. Just get in the Scriptures. Keep your Bible open somewhere in your house so that during the day you can always just run back to the Scriptures. I hope you have a wonderful, spectacular holiday. Soak up every minute of the time you might get with people who make your heart smile. We never know what's around the corner, so live in the present. No regrets allowed.

7:45 AM What a lovely sunrise this morning. What an encouragement from the Lord.

I hope you are having a good week. Christmas is around the corner and we certainly have some great things waiting for us in 2021, so don't lose hope. We've survived a very tough year. Thanks be to God! For those who are suffering from injury or heartache, trust me when I say it gets better. Pain and suffering can lead to fulfillment if we let it. Often the key to getting out of a low spot is doing something for someone else. I promise that will lift your spirits. Life can be hard but don't give up, press on for the finish line and the better days to come. Regardless of our current circumstances there is One who is in control and thankfully it's not you or me! Yesterday I was studying Heb. 12:1-2 for a message I'm preparing and did a deep dive into the description of Christ as archēgos, usually translated forerunner or pioneer. An archēgos is someone who pioneers the way for others to follow. He's a trailblazer or, in a race, a pacer. Our direction as runners is to look at our pacer. In the marathons I've run, I've often run in a pace group. The pacers leading us had to be expert runners. They had to have finished numerous marathons at a pace much faster than the one they were leading. Because of their example and expedience, we trusted them to lead us to the finish line. Guys, let's press on together. God gave us a pacesetter to journey with us. And we have his wonderful word to show us how to run. God is good all the time. Keep on running.

6:15 AM I love this mantra of one of the world's leading ultra runners.

The way he gets to the finish line is by running for only 15 minutes. Than another 15 minutes. Then another. He never looks past the next 15 minutes. "Anyone can run for 15 minutes," he tells himself. And it's true. You can run for 15 minutes. I can too.

This is exactly how I write. I write for 15 minutes. If I'm not motivated to continue, I stop. If I need to stand up and go for a walk, I do. But my best writing is done in short chunks. 

Here's another thing I try to do: keep writing and editing separate. Writing is a right brain function. The writer creates. Editing is a left brain function. The editor analyzes. When I'm writing, I don't stop to improve that sentence or find a synonym for this word. I don't ask, "Is this readable?" I don't get hung up on the details. That's my job when I put on my editor's hat. So for what it's worth, my advice is: When you write, write. When you're done with that step, don't forget that editing is part of this process.

Tuesday, December 22

5:28 PM Not long ago I made a Power Point on Joe Hellerman's book When the Church Was a Family.

I had never heard the term "familification" before, had you?

Is it supernatural? You bet. This is Jesus-quality family love we're talking about. I think the more we deliberately show this kind of love to each other as brothers and sisters, the more it takes permanent residence within the body of Christ. May love be vicious in your family this Christmas. Ask the Spirit of God to move you forward from the negatives you may be focusing on to the positives. Love your siblings as Jesus loves them -- with a patience and gentleness that is amazing. We can start practicing love, peacemaking, and patience right where we are. Let's build bridges and not walls this holiday season. Familification is, actually, a huge part of our sanctification.

8:40 AM Here we go, here we go, ladies and gentlemen, a little replenishment on the morning after my long run, a day that promises to be bright and sunny with an unbelievable high of 52.

I'll take it, folks, I'll take it. Thanks for tuning in again. By the way, whereas I normally sleep from 9:00 pm to 5:00 am, I hit the sack last night at 7:30 and woke up at 6:30. I'm at that juncture in my marathon training block where it gets very difficult to balance that fine line between training and overtraining. Right now I'm placing emphasis on rest and recovery, sleep, stretching, foam rolling, and, course, pampering your legs.

Now when I say rest I don't mean inactivity. I will do a recovery walk later on. Still, today is mostly a rest day, and I can't tell you all the physiological and psychological benefits of resting while training. The goal is to achieve a higher level of fitness by alternating pushing yourself so that your body adapts to more stress and recovering sufficiently. Remember: The greater the intensity of training, the greater the need for planned recovery. The most important thing you can do in recovery is listen to your body. Your body will usually tell you what it needs, when it needs it.

So my body is resting today. That doesn't mean that my mind is doing the same. It's racing at about a million miles per hour as normal. I think it's going to be a productive writing day. I kind of like this balance between my racing goals and my writing goals. Some say that training for and completing a marathon is one of the toughest things you can do. Personally, I think writing a book is harder. But both challenge you to the core of your being to become the best you can be. And there's always more self-discipline to be learned and acquired through both running and writing. So it's a win win situation. I'm glad the Lord still allows me to do both!

Monday, December 21

7:02 PM It feels so amazingly good to have been able to get in my 20 mile long run today.

When I decided to get back into marathoning last August, I knew I would have to up the ante on my distance running. I actually feel like I could complete a marathon if one took place next week. I know I'm slow. But that doesn't mean I can't be a successful runner. My hugest, biggest, most gignormous goal for 2021? Stay healthy. This will involve attitude adjustments and balance, neither of which I'm necessarily good at. But we can always improve, right?

That's all I got for tonight. Gonna read a book and then crash. Whatever your goals are, shut up and move forward. And remember: Race against yourself only.

6:25 AM In my morning reading from Mark 7, Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders who insist that the people obey their petty rules.

"You ignore God's specific orders and substitute your own tradition," he says. Food, Jesus insists, can't harm your soul. You aren't harmed by what you eat but by what you think and say. It's the heart that pollutes. For food doesn't come in contact with your heart but only with your digestive system.

Then Mark adds an aside:

By saying this, Jesus showed that every kind of food was kosher (7:19).

This is easy to overlook, isn't it? But remember, Mark's Gospel is not his Gospel at all. It's Peter's. Yes, the same Peter who needed a special encounter with a sheet to convince him that no food is unclean (Acts 10) and to learn that God's will is larger and more encompassing than dietary laws. The oral law of the Pharisees was largely a surfacy law. The New Covenant operates on a much deeper level. Jesus takes the focus away from rules and regulations and puts it firmly where it belongs: on relationships.

What American values have we all chased after thinking they were biblical values? Sound familiar? Haven't we built a culture on selected parts of the Bible? One example: Politicians who pose as "good Christians" to advance their agendas. But above demanding our own agendas, Jesus call us to follow him, to learn from him, and to imitate his love.

Church leaders, create authenticity. Make opportunities for people to challenge mindless traditions. We have God's word (like the book of Mark) to show us how to make progress. Then follow Jesus. Only him. The Mishna urges, "Cover yourself in the dust of your rabbi's feet." May we follow that closely behind him.

Sunday, December 20

4:54 PM Right now I'm multitasking -- watching the Pipeline Billabong Pro Surfing Contest from Hawaii, and reading Mark's Gospel. Just saw a huge monstrosity of a wave at the Pipe. Then I saw this monster of a sentence in Mark 5:25-28:

Rarely does Mark show such subordination. The English would read something like this:

And a woman being in a flow of blood for twelve years and having endured much suffering at the hands of many doctors and having spent all of the things that she had and was not even one bit improved but rather grew worse, after hearing the things concerning Jesus and after coming in the crowd behind touched his garment, for she kept saying, "If I touch even his garments I will be made whole."

Now that thar is some subordination of clauses. Seven feminine participles in a row. The only main clause is "A woman touched his garment." Pretty cool.

Back to the Pipeline. Gabe Medina just got barreled. Those Portuguese dudes are crushing it.

1:14 PM Been pouring over According to Mark lately. Mark 8 is the key turning point in that Gospel. That observation is not unique with me. All agree that the focus of Mark's Gospel is on the cross. It will climax in Jesus' pronouncement in chapter 10 that he did not come to be served but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many (10:45). But it is in chapter 8 where Jesus first reveals to his follows that his Messiahship is not going to be a warrior kind of rule that would defeat the Romans and establish God's rule on earth. No, Jesus came to conquer much greater foes than Roman soldiers. He came to defeat sin and death itself. "The Son of Man must suffer," he said, "and be rejected and be killed and after three days be raised." Peter then rebuked Jesus because he couldn't understand how Jesus' death could be part of God's sovereign purpose and plan. So Jesus rebukes Peter and adds: "If you truly want to be my disciple, Peter, you have to deny yourself and take up your cross as I must take up mine, and you must keep on following me."

The cross is at the very heart of Jesus' Messiahship, and it is to be at the heart of our discipleship. That's the message of Mark's Gospel in a nutshell. It's the very essence of Jesus' teaching. Bonhoeffer puts it beautifully this way: "When God calls a man or a woman, he bids them die." There is a cross at the center of our Christian life. Moreover, it is only in denying ourselves, our self-centeredness, that we can discover ourselves. If you are determined to live a selfish life, you will lose yourself, says Jesus. But if you're willing to lose yourself, to give yourself away in the service of God and of others, then you will find yourself.

It might be that some of us need this reminder at Christmas time. Some of us are asking for a Christianity without a cross. But there is no Christianity without the cross. And what I need constantly to do is to read and reread Mark's (that is, Peter's) portrayal of Jesus' life, at the very heart of which is the cross. For both Christ and us, the very same principle operates: Self-denial is the only way to self-fulfillment. There will be no reign without pain, no crown without a cross, for suffering is the path to glory. Without Christ's suffering, and without ours, the salvation of humankind will not be accomplished.

Are you familiar with the name Calvin Stowe?

He was a professor of Greek at Dartmouth College. But he was best known for being the husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom's Cabin became one of the most poignant denunciations of slavery ever written. Once, when his wife was touring England, he preached to a large crowd on Anti-Slavery Day. He rebuked his listeners for being hypocrites. You are proud, he told them, because although you abolished slavery years ago, 80 percent of the cotton picked in America is bought by you English. Slavery would die out, he said, if only you would boycott its cotton. He concluded his message by asking his audience a simple question: "Are you willing to sacrifice one penny of your profits to do away with slavery?" The crowd booed.

You've heard me say this a thousand times before, but I believe with all my heart that unless we in America divert the majority of our resources directly to the 10/40 window, selflessly partnering with local churches there and encouraging indigenous missionary movements, another year will come and go and nothing will have changed. My mind boggles. How could we possibly fail such a calling. The most unreached areas already have a host of missionaries recruited and trained for evangelism and church planting. They are ready to do this work intercultural, near-culturally, and cross-culturally. Yet the majority of work is yet to be done. This Christmas, I am determined to move forward as never before, believing the Lord will enable me to send out many more workers into the ripe harvest fields of Asia.

At this season of the year, might I encourage you to seek the Lord and see if he's asking you to help support one or more of these native missionaries. With as little as $30 per month you can begin to help support one of them, sending them to an unreached village that's waiting to hear the gospel -- the "Wonderful News" that Mark mentions in the opening verse of his Gospel. What better way to obey Jesus Christ's directive to evangelize all the world (Mark 16:15)?

Messiah, Son God,

Break me of the need to busy myself pursuing a life of ease and a sense of self-worth based on my accomplishments. Make me secure in who you are and who you have made me to be. Teach me what it means to truly follow you, to take up my cross, and to deny myself. I desire to be characterized by generosity. Give me the grace to see the needs of the lost billions and to share with them the many good gifts you've given me.

In your holy name, amen.

9:10 AM If you've been praying for my friend with Covid/pneumonia, I've got some good news. He's taken a definite turn for the better in the past 24 hours. I'm reminded of the words of Alan Redpath: "Much of our praying is just asking God to bless some folks that are ill, and to keep us plugging along. But prayer is not merely prattle; it is warfare." Thank you for joining me in fighting the good fight of prayer on behalf of my dear friend. The family is hopeful he can be home by Christmas. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

8:54 AM I continue to be very, very impressed with both of these books, ladies and gentlemen.

They are so on top of how verbs work in Greek and especially in Mark. Generally, here's what these scholars are saying:

  • The aorist tense views the situation in summary as a complete event without regard to its progress or lack thereof.

  • The imperfect tense views the situation as in progress without regard for its beginning or end.

  • And the perfect tense depicts a state of affairs that exists with no reference to any progress.

I know I've talked about the following verses before, but here in Mark 5:11-13, the four verb forms marked in yellow are aorists, whereas the verb form marked in green is imperfect.

In his commentary, William Hendriksen writes: "Here Mark suddenly changes the tenses of the verb. So far he has very briefly stated four incidents, four summary facts: gave, came out, went into, rushed down. It is as if he, in very rapid succession, showed us four snapshots. Then we are shown a slow-motion picture movie: one by one we see the (approximately) two thousand pigs chocking to death in the sea, until all have drowned."

I still have the memory of standing on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, watching in my mind's eye, as our tour guide called it, the first "swine dive" in history. Jesus has invaded Gentile territory and has shown there's no place into which the kingdom of God does not extend. Healing, compassion, evangelism -- all rolled up into one story. Glory to the Lord!

Saturday, December 19

6:36 PM How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! is half way done. Praise God. I hope this book will be easy and glorious to read. Do you ever stop to meditate on just how wonderful it is that we have the Bible? I do. It seems as though my entire life has been an apprenticeship for this moment. As a teenager, I loved the Bible. Looking back, I think I read it all the time. I loved the feeling of listening to the very words of God as they rose up to meet me from the pages of my Good News Translation. When there was no reason to read my Bible, I read it anyway. How about you? Rediscovering the simple pleasure of Bible study as an adult is a strange, frustrating, wonderful, confusing, and ultimately immensely satisfying preoccupation. "Adult-onset" Bible readers are made, not born. Bible study, like life, is alternately easy and hard, good and bad, exciting and boring. Sometimes it's made up of long periods of dreadful sameness interrupted by moments of pure exhilaration. These moments are available to us every time we open our Bibles. In the end, being a Bible student is no more complicated than that. To be a Bible student, you simply have to study your Bible. What you will read in my book is just about everything I know about Bible study and just about everything I know about myself. It's every discovery I've made, everything I've learned, including the mistakes. There are no secrets. It's just you and God's word. But millions of Christians have gone before us. We can do this!

Tomorrow I get to write about the text of the New Testament. About why there are 2,000 significant variant readings in the New Testament. About the different approaches to resolving a textual problem. And about why this is relevant and important. If you feel a "but" rising up, believe me, I know what you're thinking. But I hope you'll consider my arguments. This stuff matters.

2:04 PM Yes, I stopped and got a cheeseburger at Dairy Dell today as a takeout. With extra onions, tomatoes, and lettuce. Oh my, was it ever good. It was awesome and SO appropriate for someone who just ran 5K in frigid temps.

How many calories was the burger? I don't know and I don't care. My philosophy is: Eat when you get hungry. See how simple? Step number 2 is: Think about what you'd really like to eat in that moment. What would truly satisfy you. It could be a bowl of soup or a grilled cheese sandwich or a cheeseburger. Tonight I will cook Indian food because that's what I'm in the mood for. And throughout the day I'll drink lots of water. I don't think my diet is too bad. I eat quality (except for when I don't). Listen to your body; this is the best way to know what it needs nutrition-wise. Trust your body to be honest with you. Yes, it might crave something sweet and fatty from time to time, but eventually it will want something healthy.

On the drive home I ran across a couple of Phoenician deities in our neighborhood.

I believe they're called "Baals." You will never see these unless you take the side roads. Since we're on the topic of dumb country jokes ....

  • What do you call a sleeping bull? Bulldozer.

  • What did the mama cow say to the baby cow? It's pasture your bedtime.

  • Why do cows have hooves instead of feet? Because they lactose.

  • What do you call a cow with no calf? Decaffeinated.

  • Why did the pig dump her boyfriend? Because he was real boar.

Okay, back to writing.

8:55 AM Yes, writing makes you hungry.

Friday, December 18

7:22 PM Okay, so I've been writing for 5 hours now. I'm tired. It's not that I don't know what I want to say. It's trying to put it in language everyone can understand. My goals are to (1) use everyday English wherever possible, (2) keep my sentence length down to an average of 15 words, (3) imagine I am talking (not writing) to my reader, (4) use short words, and (5) be concise. In my universe, the written word is a keystone of learning. Writing in plain language doesn't mean you have to overly simplify the concepts you're presenting. Not at all. It means presenting the concepts in a clear and straightforward way. Sentences should only include necessary information. Long sentences blur their main point. A book should have an easy flow to it. Let's see -- who to emulate in this regard? Archibald Hunter. Tom Wright. Eugene Peterson. Helen McInnis. George Eliot. George Orwell. Mark Twain. Twain's style is always conversational. He's the smart guy who's always making fun of himself. "Never use 'very.'" "When in doubt, strike the adjective out." And on and on it goes. There's a good reason Twain's been called "the father of American literature." I mean, did you ever read his "Letters from Hawaii," which he wrote when he was a complete unknown?

He called my home state "the loveliest stream of islands that lies anchored in any ocean." Yes, that is an actual sentence. Twain lived in Hawaii for 6 months. I lived their for 19 years. But I think both of us could say "in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago." Of my beloved Diamond Head he wrote, "How strong the rugged outlines of the dead volcano stand out against the clear sky!" Of Maui he wrote, "I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five." Watching the sunrise atop Haleakala (house of the sun) he explained, "It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed."

Who writes prose like that today? Not me. But if Twain could succeed as a newspaperman, I can work my tail off to do the same as a teacher. Come on, scholars, let's get with the program. Simple language decreases a student's cognitive load. It improves information retention. And yet we persist in jargon and gobbledygook. Oh well.

I'm done writing for the night. Time to read what someone else has labored over. Before I go, let me see if I can find a paragraph I wrote today to share with you. Okay, here's one. Good night!

I agree with those who say that the best term to use to define a Gospel is "theological biography." Virtually everything in the Gospels was included for a theological reason. This does not make the Gospels any less historical or biographical. But no Gospel was written merely to present historical facts. The facts are certainly there, but they are always interpreted in such a way as to bring out the significance of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Always remember that none of the Gospels is complete in and of itself. Each presents the Lord's life in a slightly different light. So to know Christ's entire life we have to study all four of these accounts. The good news is that everything of importance that God wants us to know about the life of our Lord is found in these four books.

12:20 PM Big news, outdoor peeps! I finally got back on my mountain bike after about an 8 month hiatus.

I had been doing all my cycling on my fancy and super light-weight road bike but decided to finally get the mountain rider overhauled and up and running again. I tell you, it was so different riding this clunker of a bike -- so heavy and so hard to pedal when you're used to flying along. Other than that, today I finally got around to working on chapter 4 of my book and I just finished the section on genre. But I am antsy for another big outdoorsy thing. I think I might try to run 20 miles this weekend. The trails have never looked more beautiful, cold but touched with the slanting sunlight you get in the northern hemisphere.

Okay. Just cooked me some Chinese stir fry. Time to scarf it down and then get back to writing. Them juices is flowin'.

8:12 AM "Here begins the wonderful news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God."

This one sentence alone from The Living Bible fully justifies the value of this version of the Bible. Talk about nailing it.

Also, here's a shout out to Rod Decker, whose handbook is a must read for anybody studying Mark.

Rod notes both the external and internal evidence in favor of the reading "the Son of God" in Mark 1:1 and puts to rest, once and forever, the notion that these words should be printed within brackets in our Greek New Testaments. Way to go Rod!

Now, in my Greek New Testament, Mark 1:1-8 is titled "The Preaching of John the Baptist." Good, but bland. The question here is, what is the discourse function of this paragraph in the book? Well, in my humble opinion, Mark is setting up a deliberate contrast between the Messiah and his messenger. As I said on this blog a couple of days ago, Jesus isn't just another prophet in a long line of prophets. He is the fulfillment of all prophecy, the very first word out of his mouth being "Fulfilled!" Think of the ministry of John the Baptizer and that of Jesus as being the landing on a stairway.

John's ministry and that of Jesus overlap for a period of time. But whereas John brings to a close the Old Testament prophecies, Jesus' ministry inaugurates the ministry of the New Testament. So how can we improve upon the section title here? Here are some options:

  • ISV: "John the Baptist Prepares the Way for Jesus"

  • CSB: "The Messiah's Herald"

  • La Bible du Semeur: "Préparation du ministère de Jésus"

  • O Livro: "João Baptista prepara o caminho"

  • Neuer Genfer Übersetzung: "Johannes der Täufer -- Jesu Wegbereiter"

The idea is: PREPARATION (John) ... FULFILLMENT (Jesus)! I'd say this. Question everything about your translations, even their paragraph titles. Some are helpful, others not so much.

Well, are you ready for some in-depth Bible study in the New Year? Ask the Lord to journey with you as you begin the ultimate road trip. Offer him now your commitment to start moving forward as never before. This begins with you.

Thursday, December 17

5:08 PM Saw this gourd on my run today and thought immediately of Jonah. 

The prophet is throwing a pity party, all because of his prejudice. To Jonah, judgment withdrawn seemed very wrong and so he became angry. Nineveh deserved destruction, not salvation. The equivalent today might be ISIS. And they get off scot free? God's a softy. Weak. Too gracious. Note to self: Everyone and everything in the book of Jonah is quick to obey God -- the storm, the sailors, the great fish, the Ninevites, the gourd, the worm -- except for the man of God. Jonah is more concerned about a plant than about people. The lesson God drove home to me on my run?

Watch out, Dave. You can be an international missionary and still not be a global Christian. You can do good but not know the heartbeat of God, who says, "You're angry and concerned for one plant, Jonah. Shouldn't I be concerned about 120,000 souls?"

God's heartbeat challenged my prejudices today. The God of the Old Testament is a global redeemer. The God of the New Testament is the same. God so loved the world -- not just Israel, but the foreigner, the wicked. How far I go is not the litmus test of a global Christian. Do I love as God loves?

If your local church has 150 in attendance, then your local church sends out 150 missionaries every Sunday. The only question is, do we go with God's heartbeat?

2:15 PM Just back from running errands and a 5 mile run at the trail. I took the back roads today.

Time to slow down, Dave, and smell the sweet gums. As I enter the final two weeks of 2020, it's my opportunity to reflect back on the year -- to celebrate the victories, embrace the failures, appreciate the new friends I've made, and remember my growth as a person, a Christian, a runner, a dad, a teacher. I hope young men will read this blog because it might help them better understand the passages they will experience when they get into their fifties and sixties. If you know these passages are coming you might be less resistant to change and more open to the benefits that aging can bring. My life has moved from competing to connecting. I no longer try to define myself by being the breadwinner or decision maker or through my physical attributes and strength. I'm more interested in real relationships, in nurturing friendships, in spiritual growth and godly attributes. I want and need friends to hold me accountable and to encourage me to live the life of the Spirit, to model servanthood, and to stay active in God's service. I have begun to pray Scripture, like Psalm 33. I often engage in sentence prayers -- one or two sentences at a time. I delve deeply and regularly into the Bible, both what it meant then and what it means today. It's a narrow road we travel, but the Bible is a safe guide. According to Heb. 12:1-2, Jesus makes the journey possible. He designed the race course and sets the example of how we can finish it. It's like today's run. Nowadays I can easily run 5 or 10 or even 15 miles without stopping. You simply find your rhythm, hit your groove, and everything else falls into place. So it is with the Christian life. It is found while moving. You get to know yourself, who you are, who God made you to be. I teach people how to fall in love with God and his word. This is my little niche in life. It's who I am.

My friend, God's a smart one. He's got a plan just for you too. Don't think he's forgotten about you. The Holy Spirit has blessed you with something unique. Something invaluable. Don't rest until you find it. Than be prepared to let it go. At some point, God will ask for it back. In the meantime, we are merely servants, plain and simple.

9:14 AM Excellent essay here by Jacob Cerone on Jonah 1:4c and its literary artistry. In Jacob's words, "Careful attention to the details pays rich dividends." Agreed! By the way, in our LXX class, one of our two required textbooks is Jacob's Into the Deep.

It's basically a comparison between the Hebrew and Greek texts of Jonah. Jacob also delves into discourse analysis in a big way. Kudos, Jacob!

8:54 AM Care to give it a try?

8:34 AM Just finished writing the schedule for our LXX class.

  • Jan. 26: Introduction to course (Greek)

  • Feb. 2: Introduction to course (Hebrew)

  • Feb. 9: Jonah 1:1-3

  • Feb. 16: Jonah 1:4-11

  • Feb. 23: Jonah 1:12-17

  • Mar. 1-5: Spring Break (Exam over Jobes and Silva)

  • Mar. 9: Jonah 2:1-4

  • Mar. 16: Jonah 2:5-10

  • Mar. 23: Jonah 3:1-4

  • Mar. 30 - Apr. 3: Easter Break (Vocabulary Exam)

  • Apr. 6: Jonah 3:5-10

  • Apr. 13: Jonah 4:1-3

  • Apr. 20: Jonah 4:4-11

  • Apr. 27: Sight Reading of Selected Texts in the LXX

  • May 4: Sight Reading of Selected Texts in the LXX

  • May 11: Final Exam over Jonah

Even if you're not taking the class for credit, you might consider auditing it. It will be great fun. My co-teacher is Chip Hardy (Ph.D. University of Chicago).

By the way, you'll love this YouTube!

 

7:20 AM As I implied yesterday, I am so ready for another road trip. Of the mission trip kind. In 2020 I had to cancel trips to Asia (to teach), Hawaii (to start a Greek class), and Princeton University (for a lecture). Wanderlust might be my middle name. Was this not so in the first century as well? Harnack (The Mission and Expansion of Christianity, p. 13) speaks of "the ubiquitous merchant and soldier -- one may add, the ubiquitous professor." Travel was commonplace. And why not? The Romans had built 52,000 miles of roads whose safety was practically guaranteed (though, yes, there were still robbers and bandits). The situation is the same today. Becky's parents took 6 weeks to travel to Ethiopia by freighter. I can fly from Dulles to Addis or from Detroit to Beijing in a matter of hours. Never before has travel been safer or easier -- until Covid hit. Cultural exchange goes on even when it's unnoticed. Here I am lecturing to a group of students in the Linguistics Department at the University of Yerevan in Armenia. My topic was the morpho-syntax of Greek as applied to John 1:1. My audience were all not-yet Christians.

Then there's the revolution in mass communication. A year or so ago someone asked me why I hadn't been writing as much as I had in the past. He meant books and journal articles. I'm actually writing more than ever. It's just that the delivery vehicle has changed. I can write a book and maybe 3,000 people will read it in a year. I can publish a blog post and that number will read it in a day.

Jesus put no restrictions on the Great Commission. "Having gone on your way therefore, teach all the nations, making them your pupils" (Matt. 28:19a, Wuest). The Good News is to be carried to every nation (there are currently 195 of them) and class of people. A church with a New Testament dynamic is one that is going places. The New Testament writings clearly show that the early church saw itself as a charismatic (lower case "C") community and not an organization or institution. Within this community, the Holy Spirit produced the varied, multi-colored charismata. Each Christian saw him or herself as a change agent of God's plan for a new humanity. As such, the church is cross-culturally valid and can be implanted and grown in any human culture. This is because the church is an organism that transcends any particular cultural form. The Antiochian pattern of Acts 13:1-4 is one that will continue to be repeated until Christ returns. By "pattern" I mean that the church itself is a missionary structure. Where the church is, there are missionaries. And where missionaries are, there the church is. We can never go to another culture and leave the church behind. What we can (and must) leave behind are the parachurch forms that are peculiar to our own culture. The American standards we wrap ourselves in are stripped away.

Go on and try it. Transform your Jerusalem. Then tackle the ends of the earth. Once Covid is over, I ask myself, "Will I become a full-circle believer again?" Even now I am asking God for opportunities to serve him abroad once this scourge is behind us. I am spending time praying about my own journey of discipleship. I am asking boldly for the power of the Holy Spirit to enrich my gifts for use and empower me to carry on Jesus' mission. Our King has made it possible.

My friend, ask God today to prepare you for a paradigm shift in your life in 2021. This journey requires sacrifice. Ask God to make you willing to accept that. The American Way of Life is perishable. God's kingdom is forever.

Wednesday, December 16

9:25 PM I'm not really sure how to translate the title of this book I'm reading tonight.

"Migratory Birds Turn Back"? No, that's too scientific. How about, "Wanderers Return Home." That's better. You see, the book's about a Swiss family with 10 kids, 6 of whom were adopted in Ethiopia, where the family lives until they return to Switzerland years later. My favorite chapters thus far are:

  • Abschied tut weh

  • Hass und Liebe

  • Wo ist meine Hiemat?

  • Im Land der Kaffeebohne

  • Gott führt weiter

  • Schadenfreude

  • Im Heimathafen

  • Zu Hause

Ah, "Zu Hause." I wonder if I'll ever feel "at home." I'm a fellow wanderer, pure and simple. I could probably live anywhere, including Ethiopia (17 trips there, mind you).

Wasn't it just yesterday that Becky and I were living off of injera and wat? Or maybe not. Maybe it was indeed years ago.

The times, they are a-changin', and you just have to get used to that. I will never forget Ethiopia. There's more beauty there than you can ever imagine. It's impossible not to feel the weight of history as you visit the ruins of Gondar or the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. Harsh battles were waged over these places. But what I try to understand is this: God is in the moves of our lives. All of them. The places themselves are indifferent. Hawaii never knew I left her for California. La Mirada never realized I had gone to North Carolina. The mountains I climb don't care about me. The rivers are indifferent. People come and they go. So anyway, I like this story about a bunch of wanderers from the Swiss countryside who end up back there after sojourning in Africa. There's something about being "home" that you just can't get anywhere else. It's both a feeling and a truth.

Can world travel change your life? I think so. But still, there's no place like "zu Hause" -- home.

4:16 PM Thank you, Mr. FedEx man. 

10:28 AM FYI: The course objectives for my Zoom Greek 4 course in Israel starting in February.

As you can see, we're going through Philippians along with my books on exegesis, linguistics, and textual criticism. Today I'm working on the course schedule. What an honor and joy to be teaching this class.

8:22 AM Doing another deep dive in Mark 1 this morning, ladies and gentlemen. I simply can't enough of God's word.

Today my question is: What does the use of the present tense in the imperatives of verse 15 indicate?

Very helpful here is a book you may not be aware of but it's one of the best Greek grammars out there.

Thankfully Goetchius was around when I was in college and seminary. I loved his linguistic approach. I heartily recommend reading it. The bottom line is that verbal aspect is vitally important, but it is more nuanced than we often make it out to be.

Right now it's icing outside so it will be an indoorsy kind of day for sure. Hope to knock out chapter 5 today, if I can stay focused. I just need to look at winter differently, not as though it's stealing summer from me. There's more time to sit beside the fireplace and read, to bake muffins, to write. Summer (and the beach) will always be my first love, but winter -- I'm giving it another chance.

Tuesday, December 15

6:58 PM And the winner in our book giveaway is ....

Shannon in Indianapolis!

Thanks to all who entered our drawing. If you didn't win this time, don't worry. We'll have another giveaway soon.

6:10 PM Today, though it was cold, the sun just wouldn't go away. It rolled lazily across the sky, whispering, "Come out and play." Below me, the earth took on the form of crushed gravel as I ran.

My goal was 12 miles.

No, my goal was to use my run as an excuse. An excuse to pray for my friend whose lungs are going through the ringer in an ICU in Pennsylvania. I figured if he can push his lungs to their max, I can push mine too on his behalf. Call it a prayer run if you like, but that's what I did for 3 hours -- I prayed for my friend to be healed, for his lungs to start working on their own perfectly again. Afterwards I was greeted in Farmville by a reminder of Christmas.

It's a reminder that "God is with us" in the person of the Comforter, the Power for all things, the One who inspired the words of Col. 3:2-3: "Let heaven fill your thoughts; don't spend your time worrying about things down here. You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God." This old world is passing away. So are we. The only things that matter are things that pertain to his kingdom. It's God working within us that makes the difference. And so I asked the Father to work in and through my friend, in sickness or (my preference!) in health, but to do far more for him than he would ever dare to ask or dream of, infinitely beyond his highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. Do this, Lord, because his heart is to serve you and your kingdom work in the world. As the sun shone down on me today, may the Son shine on him in his hospital bed. Because right now, all I can do is pray. And run.

8:54 AM Know what? I have a hankering to do some mountain climbing again. I wish I knew why the mountains call to me more than most people I know. Why I will drive 5 or 6 hours for a 2 hour climb. Why a day off feels wasted unless I'm active. Why it feels like the clock is ticking down the time so rapidly. I know there are people out there who are just the same way because I've met them on blogs. What fills you up is just getting out in the wilderness. The mountains are too far away for a casual outing so I have to plan ahead. And the cold weather is starting. We're expecting snow in much of Virginia tomorrow, possibly even where I live. It's been a very wet winter so far. However, I feel blessed that I am well enough to exercise. There are so many people I know who are desperately in need of a jog or a walk. Maybe it's because I was raised in a fit community (Hawaii is an outdoorsy place), but it's shocking to see what the average American looks like today. I just wish people knew how good it feels to be active. My time off from work is so precious to me, and I spend so many hours in front of a computer screen, that I simply can't stay indoors for very long. I would hate to start living otherwise. I've been through enough (and so have you) to never adopt a Pollyanna view of life. We all face our own unique struggles. But one thing we have in common is the need for balance in our lives. Years ago, when I was a different person, I thought the only thing that mattered was teaching and writing. Then I rediscovered creation. It's a place to get down to essential thoughts, spend some time alone with God, wrestle with your demons, sing loudly and badly, and eat whatever you like. Friend, don't let your work get in the way of this. Soon my "free time" will be a thing of the past -- J-term Greek, then seven classes this coming semester. Until then, I'm eager to spend time with my wonderful Creator in his wonderful creation. How much is enough? I really don't know the answer. As I trail race, I watch the young people and hope they will still be active when they get to be my age, countless, impossible decades from now. And that's just how I feel about this winter, guys. Someone asked me recently, "You sure do travel a lot. Where all have you been?" I thought for a moment. Then it came to me: "Everywhere." Everywhere that matters. I hope you get there too, my friend. 

8:02 AM Don't forget about our book giveaway (see yesterday's blog). I'll do the drawing tonight at 6:00 pm. Thanks to all who've already put their name in the hat. And yet there is room!

7:40 AM My Bible reading this morning was in Haggai and Zechariah. Is the Messiah there? How about Haggai's "The Desire of All Nations shall come" (2:7)? Or Zechariah's "my servant the Branch" (3:8), "the Foundation Stone" (3:9), "King and Priest" (6:13), "The Righteous One, the Victor ... riding on a donkey's colt" (9:7), or "my Shepherd" (13:7)? If you will read the Minor Prophets I believe you will receive one of the greatest blessings of your life. May we all search to be as sensitive to Christ in the Old Testament as we are when we come to the New. Beloved, isn't it wonderful to know that God knows all about us, but in spite of it all was willing to send the Desire of the Nations to forgive us and wash as white as snow! Praise God that he makes these simple little truths so easy to find that even a little child can find them because of their simple trust. In both Haggai and Zechariah the ruling King at the time was Darius, whom God has raised up "for such a time as this." I have stood before the tomb of Darius in Persia.

I have also stood before the empty tomb of King Jesus in Jerusalem -- our risen, ruling, returning Lord of Glory. O, come let us adore him! How could we help but worship  and adore him when he loved us and gave himself for us? Praise you, Jesus. We thank you for these wonderful promises scattered throughout your word. Lord, sometimes I think your promises are more than I can stand!

Monday, December 14

5:32 PM Beautiful evening for feeding the animals. But wet!

Earlier I had the joy of guest teaching a Greek class in Israel for an hour and a half via Zoom. Our subject? The importance and significance of verbal aspect and Aktionsart.

The rest of the day I spent editing the four chapters I've already written in my book. Here are the rules I'm following:

1) Keep your sentences short. The idea is to make three or four sentences out of my long 19th century interminable coal carrying trains that go nowhere fast and keep everyone bored to death because of their complex semotaxis.

2) Make sure every opening paragraph is no longer than 3-4 sentences.

Oops.

3) Ruthlessly prune adverbs and adjectives (except for the adverb "ruthlessly," of course).

4) Use positive rather than negative language. Don't say "not bad" when you mean "good."

5) Don't forget to break every one of these rules when you must. Saying "The movie was not bad" has a subtly different meaning than "The movie was good." To take a New Testament example, in Rom. 12:9, I prefer the negative "without hypocrisy" to "sincere."

6) Think about how you'll blog about the joy and pain of writing later. 

I usually go through 4-5 drafts of a chapter before I'm happy with it. Writers know the best writing begins to appear about the fourth time around. Always keep your imagined reader before you.

Okay. 'Nuff of that.

Really antsy to get outdoors for a run tomorrow. Remember how as a kid you loved running? Just because you're over 30 and so mature doesn't mean you have to stop having fun.

Later!

5:55 AM On deck this week:

1. Zoom Greek class in Israel.

2. Calculate final grades for the semester.

3. Complete chapter 5 ("Getting the Big Picture") of my book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! The sections in this chapter are:

  • Historical Background -- Essential!

  • Literary Context -- Indispensable!

  • Don't Forget the Genre!

4. Begin working on my 2020 taxes.

5. Continue my fresh translation of According to Mark.

6. Begin writing down my goals for 2021. By the way, do you know what the number 1 goal is for most people when they make New Year's Resolutions? Lose weight. Runners-up include:

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Write a book.

  • Fall in love.

  • Be happy.

  • Get married.

  • Travel the world.

  • Learn a foreign language.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Learn to cook.

  • Read more.

  • Graduate from college.

Here are a few of mine:

  • Grow my hair long and bungee jump with it.

  • Get a misspelled tattoo in Greek.

  • Win the Boston Marathon.

  • Sleep during faculty meetings.

  • Remember to write 2021 instead of 2020.

  • Win at least one election.

  • Find my abs.

  • Stop making lists.

Oh, how ya doing with your holiday shopping? Well, today, in the spirit of the season, I'm hosting a book giveaway. Make it a stocking stuffer if you like. The giveaway starts today and ends tomorrow night at 6:00. I'm giving away a copy of my latest book, Linguistics and New Testament Greek.

All you have to do is tell me why you want a copy (you enjoy being bored, you need a new bookend for your shelf, your spouse is a nerd, etc.). I will do the drawing tomorrow night. You can write me at dblack@sebts.edu. Be sure to include your snail mail address in your email.

On a more serious note, I have a very good friend in ICU with Covid-related pneumonia. The The doctors say that the next two days will be critical for him. I'd appreciate it if you'd whisper a prayer on his behalf when you read this. So many sad stories in 2020. How I long for Christ the King to come again in glory. Meanwhile, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13).

Sunday, December 13

6:42 PM My Ph.D. student Noah Kelley received his diploma today at his home church in Wake Forest. His wife Lois was so kind to send me this picture. Congratulations to both of you!

1:38 PM 7.89 miles today. Easy-paced walk. It was a gorgeous morning.

Listened to two wonderful sermons and one wonderful Christmas musical program. Can anything top the songs of the season? Remember: Be present in this life. Soak up every minute of time spent with people you love. You don't know what's around the corner. The time is now.

Melikalikimaka y'all!

6:45 AM This morning I decided to make Rom. 12:9-21 my theme passage for the New Year. The theme here is, if I can make up a word, "Jesus-ness." Jesus' love was never hypocritical. He sincerely hated what is evil. He not only held on to what is good but went everywhere doing it. He loved others warmly as brothers and sisters do. He worked hard and was never lazy (though he did take time for rest -- plus, just walking between villages must have been restorative). He served the Lord with a heart full of devotion. He let hope keep him joyful, was patient in all his troubles, prayed at all times. He shared what he had with those in need. He couldn't open his home to others because he didn't have an earthly home, but he shared Heaven with all of us. He asked God to bless his enemies, not curse them. He was happy with those who were happy and he wept with those who wept. He was never proud but accepted humble duties. When others wronged him, he never repaid evil with evil. He did everything in his power to live at peace with all. He never took revenge but let God's anger take care of it. He did not let evil defeat him; instead, he conquered evil with good. He taught us that we are to leave all vengeance with God, for that is his prerogative, not ours. Our responsibility it to seek peace, wash the feet of our enemies, and overcome evil with good.

The theme of Romans 12-16 is living in light of the gospel. It's one thing to believe the gospel. It's another thing to live it. Paul the intellectual (Romans 1-11) now becomes Paul the pastor (Romans 12-16). The Christian life does not end at the beginning. Every day after we decide to follow Jesus we must commit our lives to him anew. Without doubt, love is the greatest characteristic of Rom. 12:9-21. Then follow:

  • Sincerity

  • Discernment

  • Affection

  • Honor

  • Enthusiasm

  • Patience

  • Generosity

  • Hospitality

  • Good will

  • Sympathy

  • Harmony

  • Humility

  • Non-retaliation

It's a pretty comprehensive picture of what genuine Christian love is. I think we'd all be a lot happier if we loved one another like this.

Thank you, Jesus. It's like I was kidnapped and put on the wrong road, the road to hell, then you came and paid the ransom just to put me on the road to heaven. Hallelujah! Thank you, Father, for looking to and fro and seeing me and, in spite of seeing what I was, personally inviting me to be your child. I love you! Thank you, Spirit, for giving my power to live the Christian life and to be a witness for Christ. And thank you, God, for what you're doing in the life of every person who reads this blog. When we give you our first love, you give back far more than we could ever give you.

Saturday, December 12

5:52 PM Great day at the 2020 Lake Anna 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon. As you know, I opted to do the 10K because I was coming off a half last weekend. Question for ya. Did you know that the human body produces 2 million red blood cells every second? That's right, every second. Or that we humans have 30 trillion red blood cells in our bodies at any given time? Or that 84 percent of the cells in our body are red blood cells? Or that athletes generally have an increased total mass of red blood cells? As you know, red blood cells transport the oxygen in our bodies. When you exercise, the growth of new blood vessels improves blood flow, enhances oxygen and nutrient deliveries, and impacts the metabolic system's ability to "take out the garbage" or process waste products in your body. I imagined all these processes happening as I ran those 6.2 miles today. After all, I have been training long miles at a low heart rate in order to build my aerobic capacity. Would it pay off today? Here's what I'm discovering. I'm consistently racing faster with less effort. I normally train at about 4 miles per hour (that's a 15 minute pace). At today's event I averaged 5.4 miles per hour (that's about an 11 minute pace) on a really hilly and root-strewn course.  Not only that, but when I finished the race I felt like I could run it all over again. That is highly satisfying. The moral of the story is: Don't think you're wasting your time going out slow on your training runs. You've heard it a million times before. Running too hard and too fast is stressful. Stress takes a huge toll on the body and can result in a myriad of symptoms like chest pain and headaches. So if your activities are causing burnout, you're likely doing too much too soon.

At any rate, I was ready to rumble when I left the house at 6:30 for a three hour drive to parts north. It was great running weather and the venue was gorgeous.

The race was extremely well organized and the trails well marked at every turn.

Thankfully it wasn't cold, as in COLD cold. I get grumpy and ornery when I'm cold. I had never run this trail before so I had no idea what to expect, but there's a first time for everything. There were, as expected, roots galore.

I guess what I loved most about the race was the sheer act of running and watching your body perform at its highest level. I kept saying to myself over and over again, "Lord, thank you so much for letting me do this. I love it. I can't believe I get to do this."

I keep my mask on when running on a single track since you're likely to encounter other runners passing in either direction.

I started out at the back of the pack, going out slowly (my MO at every race).

But then I ended up picking off runners in miles 5 and 6 who had likely gone out a bit too fast. Here's the third or fourth runner I passed.

I finished in a respectable time for an aging behemoth, and I managed to keep my heart rate within a reasonable zone.

There weren't really any moments when I didn't feel super good.

In fact, I found myself speeding up during the second half of the race without even trying. I see that my fastest miles were miles 5 and 6. Maybe I'm learning how to pace myself after all!

Overall, I feel fit and strong, thank you Jesus. Those months of not running last summer are behind me and seem like just a blip on the radar screen. I don't say this to brag but to give you hope. The body has a remarkable God-given ability to heal itself given enough time. No matter what you're facing in life right now, you will heal. You will feel strong again. It won't happen overnight and it will be frustrating as all get out, but it will happen. Oh, it may not happen exactly like you want it to happen, but be kind to yourself and patient and watch God work. Trust me on this one.

So there you have it. Another fun day out on the course. Meanwhile, time to rest. If you are at all considering doing a trail run (even a 5K), do it. The energy, the views, the people -- it was all a dream today. Sometimes you need days like this just to remind you why you love the sport.

5:56 AM Got very little sleep last light. Typical before a race. Why would anybody drive 3 hours there and back for a silly run? Sometimes I believe my family thinks I'm crazy. Even Sheba is looking at me funny this morning. Hmm, see if she gets a tummy rub tonight. Yet even though they look at me sideways sometimes, I know one thing. They love me. They love me enough to worry about me. To care. To wish me luck. To respond with an emoji when I send them "yet another" post-race picture. This is what matters in life. Having people in your life that care about you and that you care about. I make sure that I tell my designated "child" where I'm going and what I'm doing. I usually text everyone when I'm done. In the meantime, I try not to worry about them. I'm reminded of the words of Winston Churchill: "When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of an old man who said that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened." 

Have fun today whether or not you're racing. And remember to whisper a "thank you" to the Lord for giving you people who care.

Friday, December 11

8:02 PM As we come to the end of another day, we're also coming to the end of another semester, my penultimate as a fulltime professor. Tonight I'm taking the opportunity to reflect on this day, and the prevailing thought and feeling that I'm going through is just one of gratitude. I think of all the people that helped me get to this point, from my awesome teachers in college and seminary, to my wife of 37 years, to my kids and grandkids, to my professors in Basel, to other people I met along the way at Biola and Basel and Wake Forest. It makes me overcome with emotion and thankfulness. You know, it wasn't the ideal career finish that I was looking for, but in many other ways my career has far exceeded my expectations and helped to crystallize the important things in life. It's not some arbitrary publishing goal or a plaque on a wall somewhere. It's the human relationships and the good in people. That's what I'm focused on tonight, and that has made my fall 2020 semester one I'll never forget. Crossing home plate today, feeling as joyful and satisfied as I do now, is an emotion I wish I could bottle up and experience over and over again. In a very imperfect year, fall 2020 was just the perfect finish. This was an amazing semester, and many of you were a big part of that. As with my running, in life I'm just a back-of-the-pack competitor struggling to overcome adversity time and again, inspired by watching others pushing though and never giving up. To all of you who inspire me, keep staying positive and living in the moment. I know I will remember your determination and grit when I need to dig deep.

Thanks for allowing me to share my journey, on bright and cloudy days, with all of you.

4:04 PM Tomorrow's race supports one of my favorite charities. The Semper Fi Fund provides urgently needed resources and support for combat wounded, critically ill, and catastrophically injured Armed Forces members. It was organized by a group of dedicated military spouses at Camp Pendleton in 2003 as a way to welcome home the first wave of wounded service members returning from Iraq.

This year their goal is to raise $10 million by December 31. So far they've raised a whopping $6 million. Tomorrow I'll be doing what I can to help them reach their goal. A wonderful race for a wonderful cause. Care to join us? If you live near Richmond/Fredericksburg, Lake Anna is close by. Here's the race link.

7:42 AM Super stoked about tomorrow's trail run, so der Herr will!

Weather promises to be perfect. Today it's back to grading and working on farm projects. Never seem to get caught up! 

6:58 AM Doing another deep dive in According to Mark this morning. Chapter 1. So rich. Do you know what the very first words of Jesus were after he began his public ministry? It's found right here in Mark 1:15.

The Good News Translation says, "The right time has come!" The ESV reads, "The time is fulfilled." Literally, Mark writes, "Fulfilled is the time."  Imagine that! The very first word out of the mouth of the Messiah is "fulfilled" (peplērōtai). Then Jesus adds, "The kingdom of God has come near!" This is what Mark calls the "gospel" in verse 14 -- the "Good News from God." So these words of Jesus are of the greatest possible importance. That's why we will camp out on them on the first day of my Greek 4 class in the spring semester. The whole Gospel of Mark can be summarized in two actions of Jesus: He announces the kingdom of God, and then he summons people to enter it. Announcement and summons. "The kingdom of God is among you," he said later. "What will you do with him?" The time long promised and foretold by the prophets in the Old Testament had at long last arrived. Jesus personally and publicly ushers in the kingdom of God. He wasn't just another prophet in a long line of prophets. No, he was the fulfillment of all prophecy. "Fulfilled" is his very first word! The prophets lived in the age of anticipation. "But you," said Jesus, "are living in the age of fulfillment."

The kingdom, not the church, is the central theme in the teaching of Jesus. No, not a territorial kingdom like the United Kingdom or the Kingdom of Nepal.

The kingdom of God can't be located on a map of the world. It is not a territorial concept but a spiritual concept. The kingdom of God is the rule of God through Christ the King in the hearts and lives of his followers. This kingdom brings with it total blessing and shalom -- and total demand. We must repent and believe the Good News. We must submit to Christ's rule and accept his values and the lifestyle of the kingdom (aka, the Christian counter-culture). This is what I have called the "Jesus Paradigm" elsewhere in my book by that title. His kingdom is spread not by soldiers but by witnesses (Acts 1:8) who go into all the world (Mark 16:15) and make disciples from among every nation on earth (Matt. 28:19-20). Our part is to repent (i.e., to change our minds about the Good News, to change our allegiance, to change the entire direction of our lives) and then believe that the kingdom has come with Jesus, that it has been inaugurated even though it has yet been consummated. To receive the kingdom is to receive Christ and submit to him as King.

This means that all work, not just church work, has the potential to be kingdom work. God sees all of us as equally important and necessary to his kingdom building. Arthur Holmes of Wheaton College, in his book All Truth Is God's Truth, writes, "If the sacred-secular distinction fades and we grant that all truth is ultimately God's truth, then intellectual work can be God's work as much as preaching the gospel, feeding the hungry, or healing the sick. It too is a sacred task" (p. 27).

Part of my own journey has been to discover that all that I do, whether farming or teaching or evangelizing a tribe in Ethiopia or washing the dishes can be kingdom work because I do it in obedience to what the King is asking me to do. (Brother Lawrence's calling was washing dishes and cooking meals.) I'll confess to you that I'm often too quick to dismiss feeding the donkeys as "kingdom" work. It's easier to say, "That's what I do at the seminary, not at Rosewood Farm." I think it's high time I started to lean into the kingdom of God a little more.

Few things will reorient your life like becoming a kingdom Christian, recognizing Jesus' kingship in all aspects of what you do. The kingdom of God is nothing other than the disciples of Jesus in the world as they embody his values and goals in every area of their lives. This is possible because the Christian life is life in the Spirit. Without Christ's Spirit it would be both inconceivable and impossible.

Our Jesus once walked among us in his flesh with power and great authority as King. May he do so again in our own day.

P.S. Here's the Hebrew of Mark 1:14-15 if you'd like to compare it with the Greek. We'll spend a lot of time in the Hebrew in our Greek 4 class.

Thursday, December 10

5:22 PM Hey friends. Spent the day on campus grading Greek exams. Then I did 3 miles at the track here in town. Now I'm cooking Chinese stir fry for supper since I am one hungry boy. While at the track this afternoon I listened to one of Chuck Swindoll's best messages ever. It was on Abraham's offering of Isaac -- how he needed to yield, to let go, even of his most precious possession.

Chuck gave 4 applications of the text to our modern-day lives. He mentioned the need to surrender our (1) possessions, (2) dreams and goals, (3) relationships, and yes -- ouch! -- (4) our vocation, our career, our occupation, our calling. "Sometimes it was a career that was very fulfilling, that was unique. You were in demand. Now life passes you by. It's hard to go on without that career to claim." Then he said this:

What are you clinging to? If the clinging is so tight that it's taken the place of your clinging to the Lord to supply your needs, it's too tight.

Let it go.

Let him or her go.

Finally, he concluded:

What you cling to is usually what God asks you to release.

What you release, God often replaces with something or someone even more valuable.

I tell you, that was the Lord speaking directly into my life. Directly. I am the one who doesn't easily yield to the will of God. By golly, I am a teacher. That's my life. That's my career. I've got thick tread left on these teaching tires of mine. Me retire? Are you kidding? But the Lord said through Chuck, "Give it up, Dave." That's plain enough, isn't it? "Dave, the battle is won. You can put your sword back where it belongs. Trust me. I am good. I will always do what is best for you. I am all-knowing. I know what's going on even if you don't. I am almighty. Nothing happens to you that I haven't ordained or permitted."

Dear friend, I pray for you. I pray you find your vocation and calling and the joy God meant for it to be in your life. Oh, may your hands find the work they were meant to do. But remember, one day he will call you into a place of obscurity, but even there you will find God in all the days of your life. I pray that he would open our eyes and ears to see and hear what he is asking up to give up today, remembering that what we release is often the very thing he replaces with something even more valuable.

P.S. You know, when I went to the track today I was planning on watching a YouTube video but it wasn't going to be a message by Chuck Swindoll. When YouTube opened, however, a link was placed before my eyes, and it was this very sermon. How many times does the Lord do that for us -- leads us to the exact message we need that moment, that day, that week? No, that wasn't a coincidence. I finished listening to Chuck's message with my hands open and a prayer in my throat, a fire in my bones, and an insatiable appetite to be transformed even more into the image of this wonderful Savior we call Jesus.

Enjoy your evening,

Dave

7:32 AM Today I was in John 15 in my morning Bible reading. On Tuesday I saw that I needed to be "in Christ" to enjoy stability, harmony, peace, and contentment (Phil. 4). Today Jesus is reminding me to live in him as a branch lives in the vine. He lops off every branch that doesn't produce, and he prunes those branches that bear fruit for even larger crops. How often did Becky do this with our fruit trees! A branch simply can't bear any fruit when severed from the vine. But Jesus says, "Whoever lives in me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit. For apart from me you can't do thing."

"In Christ." This doesn't mean "inside Christ." The picture is not of a person living in a house or a car parked in a garage. It's the picture of union with Christ, like a branch in a vine. It's a goal that's unattainable in its entirety and perfection, but that's no excuse for complacency on my part. To know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering -- this should keep me occupied until he comes. It is not a pipe dream, a tantalizing will-o-the-wisp fantasy. I can actually know him better every day, I can experience increasingly his power, and I can enter more fully into his sufferings. It is a satisfying pursuit, though I will never reach it perfectly down here.

Fellow grapes, let's beware of any deals with the devil to make our mark in this world by a shortcut. The way is only by the cross and through abiding in Christ. 

Wednesday, December 9

3:04 PM Nice to see Nate and Jess today, plus Nolan, Bradford, Graham, Peyton, and Chesley. Love you all dearly!

Earlier I got in a 6 mile run while training for a 10K (6.1 mile) trail run this Saturday at Lake Anna.

It's soooo peaceful and quiet on this trail.

I love how its course takes you along the Dan River.

What do I while running?

Pray. Think. Listen to sermons. Or to rock music. Today I mostly meditated on the things I read yesterday in Brother Lawrence's book. Right now I'm going to take a power nap and then start on chapter 5 of my book. And tomorrow? Back to campus to finish my grading for the semester.

If you don't trail run you should. No cars, no noise except for the wind through the trees and the occasional bird chirping. I am so spoiled to have so many biking and running trails within a 2-3 hour radius of the farm. I love my simple/complicated life. I love coming home and finding family here. I love rewarding myself after a long run with a good home cooked meal (tonight: sirloin steak with baked potato). I know, I know. Broken record. But I really do love everything about my life right now. It's far from perfect, but it's where I need to be right now.

8:40 AM I loved Becky's expression "Cycle of completion." It was a chance for her to cross something off her to-do list. I love to do that too. Chapter 4? Check! Time to work on chapter 5.

My reward: 

Does anyone else have this problem of having to pig out after writing? I mean, writing makes me hungrier than running does. Busy brains mean hungry bodies I reckon. Yes, that is spam, by the way. I used to think it was bad for you. Then I learned that the U.S. state that consumes the most spam is -- you guessed it -- my home state of Hawaii, and the people of Hawaii have the longest life span in the U.S. So there you have it.  Now if they could only add Hostess Cup Cakes to the list of health foods.

6:50 AM Hey fellow Bible students! Here are three new Power Points we've just uploaded to my Greek Portal. Check 'em out if you're interested.

The first deals with the role and primary function of pastors/elders in the local church. The second is a reminder that the structure of a text is as inspired by God the Holy Spirit as are the words. And the final one is so helpful! You'd never think that even Greek teachers like me are unfamiliar with the actual Greek terms used in grammar. So if you're into Greek, have at it. Make plans right now for a committed life of Bible study and devotion in the New Year. His word is the only reliable blueprint for our lives.

Tuesday, December 8

5:05 PM Right now I'm watching a live surf meet at the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. It's in Portuguese. Thankfully, waves speak a universal language.

4:32 PM Today I've been reading a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Perhaps you've heard of him. He was a French monk who lived in the 17th century. He spent his days performing tedious chores in the kitchen of his monastery. As he cooked meals and scrubbed pots and pans, he began to fix his mind on the holy presence of God. He learned contentment while doing chores.

I think a verse in Philippians could well summarize what Brother Lawrence found to be true in his life. In Phil. 4:5 Paul writes, "The Lord is near." That might well be the key verse of Philippians chapter 4. What is the solution to instability in the church? "Stand firm in the Lord" (4:1). Only he can give the church stability. What is the solution to personal animosity and division? "Be of the same mind in the Lord" (4:2). It is the Lord who reconciles us when we disagree and divide. What is the solution to anxiety and worry? Prayer to the Father who grants to all his peace in union with Christ Jesus (4:6-7). And what is the solution to want and need? The contentment we find in union with the one who strengthens us (4:13). "In Christ" means nothing other than practicing his presence in our lives.

Stability. Harmony. Peace. Contentment. All "in Christ." In times of pressure and instability, we'll find the secret of stability. In times of dissension, the secret of agreement and reconciliation. In times of anxiety, the peace of God. In times of want, contentment. It's true y'all. I experienced this today in my own life. When this wretched Covid is over, I hope I do not soon forget the sweet times of enjoying the presence of the Lord in my big lonely house. He will give me shelter. He will hide me in his home. He will grant me his peace. He will give me joy.

My friend:

  • When life is crumbling down all around you, he will not forsake you.

  • When you are wounded by relationships, he will not give up on you.

  • When you are filled with worry and anxiety, he will not stop hearing you.

  • When you cry out to him with your needs, he will not forget you.

We have the best Savior. Know him. Get close to him. Let his mind be in you by keeping your mind in the Scriptures. Let him shape your thoughts.

"The Lord is near." And you are IN HIM. 

10:40 AM I don't know about you, but I hate sitting. I do way too much of it. This was my view all morning.

Typing away. If I suffer with back pain and poor posture, it's probably caused by too much sitting. Someone named Joan Vernikos actually wrote a book called Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. I'd order it, but then I'd have to sit that much longer at my computer desk. If what she says is true, well, I for one am not going to take it sitting down! Maybe I need a dynamic workstation (though standing all day in a static position isn't good for you either). Maybe I just need to get up and move about more. The fact that I do so much cycling doesn't help due to the bent-over position you're forced to maintain for hours. Studies have shown that even rigorous daily exercise doesn't mitigate the negative health effects of sitting, even for those who exercise regularly. So here's what I did this morning. I went out for a nice long walk on a beautiful day here in the Southland.

Then I fed the donks their daily carrot.

Then I began organizing my books.

As you can see, they are scattered everywhere. On the floor to my study.

On the library sofa.

On both the library sofas!

Later I'll get in a short recovery run. Then it's back to writing/typing. What a life. I love every minute of it.

Off to change the oil in my van. Cya!

10:02 AM What do you think about this translation? I include a whole section on it in my forthcoming book on how to study the New Testament.

7:46 AM "Here begins the wonderful story about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). Can you imagine a more beautiful beginning to a Gospel?

I just finished the weekly translation schedule for my Greek 4 class in the spring. We're doing about 25 verses a week in Mark. Many of us are getting a head start now. Even in the first verse of Mark there's so much to unpack. What is a euangelion? What does the name "Jesus" mean"? Should we use "Christ" or "Messiah" in English for the Greek Christos? Are the words "the Son of God" original?

Take the name Jesus. Here's a question I have. Why is it a common name in Spanish-speaking countries but so rare in the U.S.? The name is even found in Arabic countries (Isa/Issa). It's worth noting that in New Testament times "Jesus" was also a common name. Then again, have you ever met someone named "Joshua"? Both "Jesus" and "Joshua" derive from the Hebrew Yeshua. This means that, all told, Jesus (and its various iterations) is among the most common names in the world. Fascinating!

So much to study and learn. That's just like God, though, isn't it? Always stretching us, always giving us more to research and ponder and think through and then obey. The most beautiful part of all of this, however, is that when you love God more than anyone in the world, he will give you a greater love for his word and a greater ability to love others than you ever dreamed of. Hallelujah, Jesus, turn that floodlight on! And thank you, Father, for seeding your Son. You know what it's like to be human, to struggle, to go through tough times because you've been here. Because of that manger in Bethlehem, we have a friend in Yeshua!

Monday, December 7

6:56 PM A couple of days ago I watched a really interesting interview on the subject of exercise addiction. Before then I had never really considered that a person could become addicted to exercise. But after watching this interview, I'm convinced it's possible. For many adult-onset athletes, there's often a struggle to achieve balance in their athletic routines. Make no mistake, I am not immune to this over-training syndrome. Running can be just as much a self-destructive addiction as drinking, smoking, or taking drugs. When I first started running, I was convinced of my invincibility. Then I began to see that there is training on the one hand, and over-training on the other. Being an athlete means knowing not only what you are trying to accomplish, but also what you are trying to avoid. Eventually (and only recently) I learned that to be an athlete you need as much courage to say no to exercise as it does to say yes. More than ever I'm convinced that one of the greatest challenges an athlete faces is finding that all-too-elusive equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion.

When I first started running, I ran as fast as I could, as far as I could. I often wanted to push past what was comfortable. The result was that I often ignored the need for rest and recovery. But rest is essential. It gives the body a chance to recoup, to renew itself, and to build itself into a better body. My goal is no longer to run as fast as I can or as far as I can. My goal is to be who I am in myself and not in the minds of others. I'm trying to find the point that is "just right" for me. As I have matured as a runner, I've come to see that running can become just another source of negative stress in an already over-stressed life, or it can be a major stress-reliever. I was startled to learn that I could feel just as good about myself when I ran slowly as when I ran fast. In short, I learned the difference between distress and eustress. Distress is a bad kind of stress. Eustress (Greek eu- meaning "good" or "beneficial") is the opposite.

A carefully gauged running program works to optimize the body's eustress -- the optimum dose of daily physiological stress than builds health and imparts a feeling of satisfaction and wellness. But this presupposes the right amount of stress as well as adequate time for rest and recovery.

What we're after as runners is physical health that comes in carefully dosed levels of stress combined with rest. That's why I took today off from exercise of any kind after yesterday's half marathon. I am simply following the old coach's dictum: health = moderate stress + adequate rest. It's all about finding that "sweet spot" between no stress (complete inactivity) and excessive stress (over-training).

The bottom line? Stress can either kill us or make us healthier. Being a type-A personality, it's not my nature to do anything slowly. But I am changing, for the better I hope. There are a hundred reasons to start running, but for me one of the most important is the pure joy of the experience. After all, if it isn't fun, why do it? I am having the time of my life at this time in my life. From my earlier failures as a runner, I've learned what real success means. Real success is looking honestly at what you can do and being content with that. Let's face it, contentment doesn't sound very glamorous. It sounds almost as if you're giving in to laziness and apathy. Okay. How about we just call it balance? More is not necessarily better. Faster is not always healthier. We get out of balance mostly when we're doing too much or too little. It sometimes takes an injury or an illness to serve as a wakeup call. Folks, let's take care of ourselves, but let's do it in healthy ways. Believe me, I'm not saying I'll never get injured again. But I do think I now have in place some strategies to help me avoid that. It takes time to train hard. It also takes time to rest well. It takes time to recovery from a race. But one thing is certain, if you don't listen to your body, you're heading for trouble. You never realize just how important health is until it's taken away from you.

Cheers for a healthy 2021!

5:02 PM I love good books. I can stare at them all day.

Discussing Greek verbs with some students in Israel via Zoom. Shalom!

My weather app says snow is starting in three minutes. Snow???? I have no clue how to run in snow.

5:55 AM You can't control tomorrow. But you can plan for it. If ever there was a man who thought he had planned out his future, it was Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor exactly 79 years ago today.

But God had other plans for him. After the war he came to Christ. The rest, as they say, is history. Fuchida became an evangelist of the Prince of Peace and preached the Good News in many nations, including the United States.

Visit Pearl Harbor today and you can still almost smell the smoke. The man who led that attack is now a Christian? You've got to be kidding! Then some women started shouting "He has risen!" The one who laid down his life for sinners was alive. The price tag for our salvation read "Calvary," and he willingly paid it. As the Psalmist says, "The Lord frees the prisoners" (Psalm 146:7). That includes you and me too.

To read the amazing story of Mitsuo Fuchida, go here.

Sunday, December 6

3:55 PM Today's half marathon in Fredericksburg is in the books! I know it must get annoying to keep getting these updates about my races, but I love sharing these little victories with you. Did anyone else turn into one giant goose bump when they crossed the finish line today? I had three goals going into today's race. My C Goal was to finish, period -- running, walking, or crawling. My B Goal was finishing under the cutoff time of 3 and a half hours. My A Goal was coming in under 3 hours. Of course, I tried to remain flexible. But 9 miles into the race I could see that my pace was hovering around the 3 hour mark. All I needed was a little motivation to reach my A Goal! Per usual, I employed bribery. You see, a judicious dose of deferred compensation always works wonders. I told my body, "That take-home steak from O'Charleys is going to taste sooooo good!" And then the negotiations began. "I promise you, body, that if you will give me everything you've got now, I'll walk through the next aid station." Well, whatever I did, it seemed to work.

Oh, excuse me while I take a bite of my steak.

Today I started the race where I always do -- at the back of the pack.

I mean, as in the very last person. Unlike these whippersnappers.

My thinking is, since I'm probably going to finish last, I might as well start in last place. Alas, I was robbed of that honor by 10 runners who decided they would finish after I did, though I did manage to succeed in coming in dead last (10/10) in my age group (aka, the Methuselahs). Honor saved! This, by the way, is Hospital Hill.

It's famous among runners. With grim determination I decided to run all the way up, thinking all the while of one of Confucius's famous sayings: "He who runs uphill is slow." Clever.

Okay. Time for my body to finish its well-deserved steak. Still basking in the wonderful Christmas message I heard today. Merry Christmas, my friends!

The mighty Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg.

Saturday, December 5

7:42 AM Here are some interesting facts about the half marathon in case you didn't know.

  • The half marathon is 13.1 miles (= 21.1 kilometers).

  • The half marathon is second in popularity only to the 5K.

  • The half marathon has been the fastest growing race distance in the U.S. since 2003.

  • There are more than 1,500 half marathons in the U.S. every year.

  • The 2014 Brooklyn Half Marathon had over 25,000 finishers.

  • The half marathon is run in 8 different national parks.

  • The half marathon is not an Olympic event.

  • More women then men run in half marathons.

  • Most half marathons in the U.S. are in the month of October.

  • The median half marathon finishing time in the U.S. is 2:19.

  • My half marathon PR is 2:27.

I'll be participating in a half marathon tomorrow, Lord willing. Unbelievably, this will be number 25. I'll never forget my first half. The emotion for me at the end of the race was overwhelming. It made me realize that, by God's grace, I could finish whatever I set my mind to. It actually changed who I am. Tomorrow I plan on walking through every aid station and keeping my overall pace pretty slow. My goal is to have fun. At some point in the race I know this will be well-nigh impossible. You'll be tired and ready to be done. Smile anyway!

Enjoying the Tobacco Road Half Marathon in Cary, NC.

Friday, December 4

4:26 PM My donkette Gobus accepted her first carrot a few minutes ago.

Here she is munching away. What a sweetie pie.

The three donkateers!

3:42 PM It's amazing how our pets become a part of our family. Recently Sheba has begun sleeping outside the master bedroom.

I've not been able to sleep in that room since Becky passed away. Plus, I like to keep the master bedroom and bathroom available for guests. I wonder, does Sheba think Becky is still in there and she's waiting for her to open the door and greet her like she always did? Sheba has been failing a lot lately. She can't hear at all. Her eyesight is almost gone. She has arthritis. She's incontinent. We no longer go on walks together. I'm afraid she'll lose her vision altogether and if she does what will I do then? Fortunately I don't have to let go ... yet. Sheba's the most lovable dog I've ever had, and I've had a few. Seems like only yesterday she was bounding up the stairs during a thunderstorm to be with daddy. Thank God she still has an appetite and is mobile. If you have an aging dog you're caring for, God bless you. Pets are never just pets. They love us unconditionally and make us better people.

I love you, Sheba!

7:12 AM In Greek 4 this coming spring semester, we're wending our way through According to Mark. (That's its title, by the way!) I've therefore begun rereading Mark in Greek and in as many translations as I can get my hands on. This includes The Message (MSG).

Mark writes with a sense of great urgency. His favorite word is immediately. "There's an air of breathless excitement in nearly every sentence he writes," notes Eugene Peterson in his introduction to Mark. "The sooner we get the message, the better off we'll be ...." This reminds me of growing up in Hawaii, where foreigners are often called haoles. Haole is a Hawaiian word that literally means "without breath." The name first became associated with the settlers of the 1800s. I once heard somebody say, "The foreigners were always in a hurry to build plantations and ranches. To the native Hawaiians they seemed short of breath." I don't know if this folk etymology is correct (think: root fallacy), but I do know from experience that busy mainlanders often have difficulty adjusting to the slower pace of life in the Islands!

But I digress.

As I said yesterday, I just completed writing my chapter on Bible translations for my forthcoming book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! Here are a few summary thoughts of mine:

  • There is no perfect Bible translation.

  • Be careful not to equate "literal" with "accurate." Literalness does not and cannot guarantee accuracy. No literal translation is completely literal, and no idiomatic translation is completely idiomatic.

  • Always read the preface to the Bible translation you're using. Getting to know its translation philosophy will be a big help to you.

  • If you do decide on using a preferred translation in your daily reading and study, don't use it exclusively of other translations. It’s best to use a variety of translations.

  • Prefer translations produced by a committee of experts in the original languages.

  • Don't ignore translations produced by individuals (TLB, MSG), but my advice is to use them only to supplement your primary translation.

This morning, as I said, I was in The Message. I was curious to see how Peterson translated the verb ekballei in Mark 1:12. This verb (from ekballō) is commonly used in the Gospels to describe the act of "driving out" demons -- i.e., exorcism. But is Mark 1:12 really saying that Jesus had to be forcibly "driven" into the wilderness? The ESV reads:

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Other translations use "compelled" or "impelled." Here The Message has, "At once, the same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild."

Did you notice that all of these translations seem to have one thing in common? They all imply a bit of -- can I use the word? -- reluctance on the part of Jesus to move into the wilderness. He needed, therefore, to be pushed or driven there. My friend Jim Voelz, in his excellent commentary on Mark, writes this:

Note the violence of the image; both Matthew (4:1) and Luke (4:1) use a form of agō, "lead," in their accounts, which softens the action, as it were.

Without question, this interpretation is possible. And do remember: All translation invariably involves interpretation. While I certainly would not want to soften the blow of the term ekballei, I'm wondering if we really need to resort to a "violent" interpretation. Candidly, I think Jesus just needed a little "hurrying along" from his Father. You know, like when a dad tells his son to "scoot along" when he's dawdling. Is Jesus basking a little too long in the Father's praise: "You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life" (1:11, MSG). If so, it's time to get moving again!

This conundrum can be repeated many thousands of times when you begin to translate the New Testament. Small wonder there are so many English translations available today. The one thing we must not do, in my opinion, is provide a translation that tries to incorporate within it every possible meaning of the Greek term. This is the difficulty I have with Kenneth Wuest's The New Testament: An Expanded Translation. In his preface Wuest writes, "Some Greek words are so full of meaning that many English words are required to translate them." He offers an example from Rom. 12:1, which he first cites in the KJV:

Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed.

Then he provides his "expanded translation":

Stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within yourself and is not representative of what you are in your inner nature but is put on from the outside and patterned after this age, but change your outward expression to one that comes from within yourself and is representative of what you are in your inner nature.

For the KJV's "Preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2), Wuest offers:

Make a public proclamation of the Word with such formality, gravity, and authority as must be heeded and obeyed.

This kind of translation borders on pure interpretation. As we will see in chapter 7 of my book ("How to Do a Word Study"), Wuest might well be committing an exegetical fallacy known as "illegitimate totality transfer."

In all candor, my friend, I've never found anything in life more difficult than translating the word of God. That's one reason I've pulled out my writing tools and am penning my little book on New Testament interpretation. I hope you'll find it helpful when it's published.

Thursday, December 3

5:38 PM 3-mile run this evening. Rest day tomorrow. Saturday is travel day. Sunday is the race. Just had a large bowl of beef stew. Off to read President Obama's bio. It's slow going. For a guy from Hawaii, the man sure can be cerebral. I enjoy that style of writing. Ya just have to slog through it. I will admit that I'm a book addict. I think I've read every presidential biography ever published. Some were good. Others terrible. I'm not referring to the content but to the writing style. But at least they provide an entertaining respite from the crazy news. If Covid was a marathon, I think it's fair to say we're at mile 20, meaning there's still a lot of hurt to go between now and the finish line. Thankfully there's good news about a vaccine. Despite it all, God is still inviting us to join him in his kingdom movement. If you're wondering how to make an impact this Christmas season, great or small, a ministry that would welcome your support is the Jesus Film. Their current goal is to reach every man, woman, and child in India with the gospel. Currently there's a matching grant up to $200,000. Go here to make a donation. If we can't give, we can pray. God invites us to do as much. "So let us come boldly to the gracious throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our time of need." 

Moving our generator from town to town as we showed the Jesus Film in the villages of the Guji tribe in southern Ethiopia.

11:34 AM Hey guys! Been a busy morning. The house is now completely swept and vacuumed. Plus, I finished a chapter in my book on Bible study. The chapter is called "Choosing a New Testament Translation."

I hope you'll find it helpful. What an hour for the church to hold forth the word of life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. But how can we hold it forth if we don't read and study it? May God bless you in the study of his precious word this day!

Wednesday, December 2

6:12 PM Well, it warmed up to 49 degrees, so off I went to the track to get in 3 miles. My body may have been in South Boston, Virginia, but my mind was wandering disobediently to a place 4,800 miles away. When I lived there, people would call it "paradise."

Dream on, Dave, dream on.

This, by the way, was my view driving home.

Not exactly the same thing. I don't live in Podunk, but you can see it from my front porch. I just had dinner, then spent time praying for the many people I know who have pressing needs. I don't often pray on my knees, but this evening I did. I guess I've never seen so many who are struggling. I knelt in a tsunami of groans. First, I repented of my lack of prayer, and my lack of faith. Then I thanked him for the things he's redeemed, the things he's healed, and the things he's refused to redeem or heal and leaves just the way they are for reasons unknown to me but known perfectly to him. When it comes right down to it, none of us lives in paradise. Our lives are an interim. Everything is a preparation for the next thing, the eternal Paradise. We won't "arrive" until then. But in the meantime, we can be moving forward, you and me, living out our faith in our own little worlds (Podunks).

That's the most hopeful thing I can think of right now. That's why I pray. And if I told you I would pray for you, I will pray for you. On my knees or not. It will get done. With you, I will praise the Father for the joy that comes from loss, from pain, from reaching bottom and then climbing back up.

I promise.

1:10 PM Here's Dr. Person hard at work on my feet. You should have seen him when he had the chain saw out.

Afterwards I went for a ride. It was so cold I had to turn around halfway. It's gotten cold, like really cold. Virginia has issues.

Right now I am doing -- NOTHING. I need a break. What, me rest????

7:34 AM Been a crazy morning already here at the Black ranch, ladies and gentlemen. Got some writing done, got caught up on paying bills (including my property taxes), answered emails, and now I'm getting ready to see the foot doc and then get in a ride now that I've got my road bike back. This morning's reading was in The Living Bible, in particular 2 Corinthians 10-13. I spent a lot of time in these chapters while I was writing my dissertation in Basel back in the Dark Ages. I love how TLB renders 2 Cor. 12:10:

For when I am weak, then I am strong -- the less I have, the more I depend on him.

I suppose the converse is true as well. The more I have, the less I depend on him. When it comes to learning this lesson, mine is a very imperfect story. I think the Holy Spirit is working on me though. I suspect I expect too little of him. Real life is a classroom for holiness. Life is not more + more + more = better. I have to confess though: Sometimes having less freaks me out. Less health. Less job security. Less time with family. But with God, less is always more, because it is more of what we really need. The gospel always dies in the toxic soil of self. There must be less of me, more of him. I needed that reminder today.

Well, seems December is off to a smashing success already!

Tuesday, December 1

5:36 PM "We would come sometimes into a place of such loveliness that it stopped us still and held us until some changing of the light seemed to bless us and let us go" (Wendell Berry).

3:24 PM News and notes ....

1) Spent the morning at school grading papers and exams. I love this!

2) Then I picked up my road and mountain bikes from The Bike Guy in Wake Forest. Both had a complete tune-up and are ready to rumble again.

3) My running/biking mileage was down last month but the weather did turn cold.

We're expecting rain later this week but I'm hoping we'll have clear skies for this weekend's half marathon in Fredericksburg. Praise the Lord for the ability to get outdoors and exercise. Speaking of which, I saw a wild turkey while running on Thanksgiving Day. I really did. It was still and quiet with just my breathing and the sound of my shoes on the trail. Remember, this stuff is free.

I was going to write today but I'm feeling supremely unmotivated. I think I'll watch a movie or something. Tomorrow I have an appointment with a podiatrist to have the calluses on my feet scraped off. Not looking forward to that. The price of being a runner I guess. I read this the other day:

Two people are hit by a bus and become crippled. One becomes a bitter shut-in, while the other becomes the warm, outgoing person everyone wants to be with. It's not about the bus. It's about you. Events don't determine a person's character. They reveal it.

Now if that doesn't put things into perspective.

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for reading!

6:45 AM Hard to believe, but on January 1, 2021 I will begin my 45th year of teaching. Three simple quotes have meant the world to me through these years. May I share them with you?

"Christian education is likeness education."

"Holy shoddy is still shoddy."

"Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place. But it's not at the head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Christ."

I first heard "Christian education is likeness education" in one of my Christian Education classes at Biola. I had just finished my B.A. in Bible and was beginning to teach Greek there while attending Talbot Seminary. Since I considered education a likely career path for me, I thought it might be a good idea to take a couple of classes in pedagogy. So that semester, while teaching 11 units of Greek, I took two undergraduate classes in education. The first was called "Tests and Measurements." Even today I find what I learned in that class helpful as I prepare quizzes and exams. The second class was "College Teaching Procedures." This is where the prof told me that "Christian education is likeness education." My mind went to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:40: "The student is not above his teacher. But when a student is fully trained, he will be just like his teacher." Since then, that has become one of my life verses as a teacher. I don't live up to it for sure. But I aspire to.

In that class we were required to read a book by the well-known American Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood. The book was called The Idea of a College.

In it the author made this profound statement: "Holy shoddy is still shoddy." Trueblood saw no reason why Christians shouldn't be as committed to excellence in their work as non-Christians are in theirs. Just because we are accepted in Christ "just as we are" is no excuse for shoddy work in the workplace. From that day on, excellence became my goal -- an unattainable one to be sure, but again, something I have aspired after.

I can't remember exactly where I first read the Scottish proverb about Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. But I do appreciate the point it's trying to make. Knowledge per se is worthless. Greek per se is abominable. It is only when we use our minds for the glory of God and in his service that acquiring knowledge and degrees makes any sense. Paul puts it this way: "We all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

What wonderful truths! There's no way you can Instagram them. Yet each makes me feel so fully alive. They challenge the socks off me. Through the years, I've found that they have been my life mottos in ways their original speakers couldn't have imagined. When I struggle with direction in my life; when I feel I have lost my way; when I get confused or angry or afraid, I come to them over and over again. I have turned to these three truths for comfort.

I now have a higher view of my calling as a teacher than ever before. It feels, actually, like I'm just getting started.

5:55 AM Up early per usual, sipping coffee and reading Psalm 112 this morning.

"Happy is the person who honors the Lord."

Lord, make me that person!

"He is not afraid of receiving bad news; his faith is strong, and he trusts in the Lord."

Lord, make me that person!

"He gives generously to the needy, and his kindness never fails."

Lord, make me that person!

I cannot convey the depth of hope the Psalmist always gives me. I believe in the Scriptures. I believe in the power of the word.

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