Tuesday, June 22
7:44 AM This morning, as I watched the sun rise in all its glory, and as I reflected on the retreatants who arrived yesterday, I thought about the time when Becky and I decided to establish our retreat ministry on the farm.
That decision was greatly influenced by the lives of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, whose ministry in Switzerland was called "L'Abri" (the "shelter"). Their chalet was a safe place for people to come to put body and soul back together again. Our Lord longs for us to step away from the distractions of everyday life and be with him. On our farm we have seen married couples come and then leave renewed in their marriages. We have seen elders retreat (then advance) and individual shepherd-teachers restored in spirit. "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while" is our driving verse. Each of us needs the rhythm of the outstroke of activity and backstroke of reflection. The one without the other is anemic. Jesus led his disciples into active ministry, retreated them for reflection, then sent them out again.
Sometimes, when we move out of our normal environment, we can become free from distractions and gain a perspective that enables us to return to our everyday lives with a renewed vision and purpose. Have you found that place in your own life?
Monday, June 21
3:24 PM Hey folks. There's really not much to report on today. Here's yesterday's run.
The only major news item is that we desperately need rain. Yes, thankfully the barns are full.
But these bales will soon be gone. Let's face it. Farming is so God-dependent. And that's a good thing. In my opinion, farming keeps you humbly waiting on God to do what only he can do while being prepared to do what only you can do. It is important that we trust. It is important that we work. Along with privilege goes responsibility. The Christian is both a pauper and a plutocrat. We have nothing (because all we have belongs to God) and we have everything (because we belong to Christ). That's quite a way to live. Like you guys, I like to keep busy. Thankfully there's always something to do on a farm. This includes what I'm currently doing -- preparing a welcome meal for some guests who arrive tonight for a few days of R & R. All this to say ... everything is in God's hands, including "my times." I am but the steward of my days, and I had better number them that I may apply my heart unto wisdom.
Friend, these may be tough times. Don't let that get you down. Do what you can do and enjoy you can enjoy. You just have to notice all the good things and appreciate them.
Sunday, June 20
7:22 PM I think it's important for us Type A personalities to occasionally slow down long enough to rethink our purpose and goals in life. Those two words -- purpose and goal -- are often used interchangeably. But there's a world of difference between them. A goal is a desired outcome. It's something you want to achieve in life. Purpose, on the other hand, is the reason you're striving after that goal. Purpose and goals work together. They are like yin and yang. A goal provides us with direction. Purpose gives our goal meaning and significance.
At certain seasons of life it's good to clarify the purpose of one's goals. We have to keep asking "Why?" until we arrive at a very personal, core reason. After I graduated with my doctorate from Basel, I entered a new phase of my teaching and academic career. I therefore set out certain goals for my writing. I realized that the dissertation I had written (and published) was likely to be the least significant thing I would ever write. A doctoral dissertation is never an end in itself. I have always viewed it as a stepping stone -- a launching pad -- into a lifetime of research and writing. So when I returned from Switzerland to California, I wrote down my writing goals for the rest of my career:
These goals kept me on track. In the end, by God's grace, I exceeded them. A goal should be high enough to push you but not so high that it paralyzes you. I prefer it when my goals seem to be a little out of reach for me. That's partly because I realize that I never outgrow my need to be challenged and to grow thereby.
But why had I set these goals? What was the purpose behind them? When I first started teaching I thought my purpose was to become a responsible academic and an excellent classroom instructor. But that was my goal. What I really wanted was to realize my God-given potential as a teacher. The classroom was simply a means of fulfilling that purpose. Back in the 1980s, none of this was very clear to me. For those of you who are just starting your own teaching career, it can be difficult to find the path. It's a bit like walking through tall grass.
But as you continue to walk and explore the ground beneath you, the path becomes clearer and easier to navigate. With retirement upon me, I feel like I'm going through this process again. The process is very similar to the way exercise reshapes your body. As you continue to work out, the process becomes more instinctual. Remember, a goal is not a purpose. Purpose connects us to something we value. In my case, the thing I value the most is being a good steward of the blessings and talents the Lord has graciously given me. More and more I feel the need to carefully steward these things in view of that Day when I will stand in his presence to give an account. Our supreme business as Christians is not survival or success or comfort or the good life. What matters is stewardship, for it is require of stewards that they be found faithful, not only until death but unto death if necessary. God bids us, "Be faithful." That is our sole obligation. Whether we eat or drink (or write or teach) we should do all to the glory of God. With some, Christ is present. With others, he is prominent. Oh, may he be preeminent in my life! May he be not simply Item Number 1 on the program. May he be the Program!
The Christian life is not merely a life dedicated to Christ. It is not merely a life lived by his help. The Christian life is Christ. He alone can help us find the path through the tall grass.
8:06 AM Happy Father's Day, Heavenly Father! I know, sometimes you must feel like the forgotten person of the Godhead. We have a chapter in our theology textbooks on Christ -- Christology. We have a chapter on the Spirit -- Pneumatology. But for you? A brief section in the chapter "Theology Proper." Oh how I would love to see a whole chapter dedicated to you. We can all it Patrology. We would remind people that:
My friend, begin any undertaking with the Father. Bring it under the scrutiny of his all-seeing and loving eyes. This is our Father's world. This is why we need not fear. When we are in his hands nothing can pluck us out. "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," said the Son (Luke 12:32). We are God's children through faith in him. The Father has no favorites but he does have intimates. And we come to him simply through the blood of Christ. We find access through Calvary alone. In fact, the whole Christian life is one big "Thank you" to God for his goodness.
Happy Father's Day, Dad. You have helped me become who I am. Not every experience has been perfect, but they have all led to you. I've been your son now for 61 years. There are so many good memories. And more to come. I love you.
Saturday, June 19
3:16 PM I just got back from Fredericksburg, a city that will always have a very special place in my heart. It was about a year after Becky passed way that one of my daughters asked me to watch her run the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Fredericksburg. "What's a half marathon?" I asked. "It's 13.1 miles, dad." "NOBODY can run 13.1 miles," I said. "Come and see." I did, and the rest, as they say, is history. Later she invited me to run a 5K race with her -- the first time I ever crossed the finish line. I was hooked.
As I said yesterday, today's event was a fundraiser for Wear Blue. Today we were running for four Gold Star Families.
Pictures of the deceased dotted the course.
I felt like was I running the famous "Blue Mile" at the Marine Corps Marathon in DC. Afterwards I got to meet the children of these heroes and it was everything I could do not to weep in public. My emotions must have been a factor in today's race, because I never ran a faster 10K.
Afterwards I rewarded myself with a chili relleno in Farmville at my favorite Mexican restaurant (La Parota). I even prayed in Spanish.
Clearly, this is not simply a post about running. It's a post about real life. The race was for me a celebration not just of running but of the beauty, challenge, joy, and heartache of life. If there was a word in the English language to express amazement of living your dream life I would have it tattooed on my arm.
You think life should never involve having to lose a parent to death or divorce. But such is life. Life just keeps moving on because that's life. I have to remember that it's okay to smile in the face of heartache and loss. I have to remember to thank people like these who put up these faces on the course so that we will NEVER forget that freedom is never free.
I don't know why horrific things happen to people. But they do. In the midst of such grim reality one Light stands out. Yes. The Bright Spot. God is still moving in and through us, connecting us to himself and to one another in our grief. As the sun sets tonight, Dave, don't forget that fact. Jesus, I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you care, you TRULY care, about us. We are all passengers on the stormy sea of life. Rich and poor, famous and obscure, learned and uneducated, some proud and some ashamed of their status in life. The good news is that while a man lives, mercy's door is still ajar, and we may move our name from "Lost" to "Saved." Today is a glorious opportunity to make that choice. "Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation."
Have you been listed in the "Saved" column?
Friday, June 18
8:32 AM "Jogging is very beneficial. It's good for your legs and your feet. It's also very good for the ground. It makes it feel needed." -- Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame. Mr. Schulz, I completely agree. The treadmill is soooo boring.
Heading up to F-Burg today for tomorrow's 10K. Yes, I promise to run easy. It seems like my body has this limit, and if I go over the limit I get a ticket (that ticket being the sense that I just got hit by a truck). My main goal is to avoid committing the cardinal sin of racing -- going out too fast.
One of the things I like most about races is how participatory they are. Anyone can take part, even klutzes like me. Sorta reminds me of the church. Despite the traditional division between clergy and laity in our thinking, the New Testament reveals a much different picture of the church. In place of hierarchy there is theocracy (the church is a body with Christ as its only head). Leadership exists to be sure, but it is always leadership among (not over) the laos -- the people of God. Its job is to encourage the ministry gifts that the risen Christ gave to the whole church. These leaders (called elders, not pastors) were always plural, nor did they ever constitute a separate class from the so-called laity. Just as in a 10K where all can participate, so in the church, everyone gets to play.
In case you haven't guessed it yet, one of my goals in teaching is to do whatever I can to help abolish the laity altogether. We are all the ministers of God -- the so-called clergy and the so-called laity. I think it's time to elevate the people in our pews to their true dignity as MINISTERS of Jesus Christ. The more I read my New Testament, the more I'm convinced that the liberation of the laity is not merely a peripheral characteristic of New Testament Christianity but one of its central themes. Each of us needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry in the church and in the world.
I offer my race reports on this blog as a humble attempt to move the heart of the church from an "only my pastor can do it" mentality to an "I can do it too" one. No, it's not about launching another program for laity training in our churches. It's a day for a radical transformation of the whole people of God into a ministering people. I know this sounds crazy. But we shouldn't be afraid to be a little crazy for God. The church's diakonic function as ministers of God is central to a healthy local church. So ... how's your deaconing going?
Thursday, June 17
8:04 PM The sun was setting on the L.A. basin as my 747 arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. The year was 1971, and I was 19. I had arrived in California to begin my B.A. in Biblical Studies at Biola College. Everything was new to me -- the dorms, the rigors of college life, my roommate, chapel services, the strenuous classes, the dry heat of Southern California, the cold surf of Huntington Beach. Walking on campus or sitting in class, negativity and self-doubt seemed to drown me. That's how I felt as I entered my first Bible classes at the college. How can I possibly do this? I'm no scholar. I am an imposter. I thought about all those years growing up in Hawaii. I saw myself barely getting by in school, spending all of my time at the beach or on the basketball court. Lurking behind an outgoing personality lay a heart frozen with self-doubt. I saw that I had always been at the whim of that negative, immovable trait, out of my control, and I had let it master me. I've put up with you long enough, I whispered. It's time to put the past behind me and move ahead with all the faith I can muster. And with that I felt my self-doubt go. In that moment, I felt divine potential fill the empty space within me. I committed myself to giving college 4 years, and decided to open myself up to whatever God had in store for me, learning whatever it took to reach my potential. Somewhere on the campus of Biola College, I found the courage to press on into the future. I felt like I was sliding off the world into space and time. It seemed like the perfect place to let the Lord grow one of his children.
It may be a cliché to say we can find blessing in disappointment, but doing so helps us accept our past and move on from the letdowns. Acknowledging what went right and what went wrong in your formative years can open yourself up to learning how to do better. It's impossible to overemphasize the need for resilience in the Christian life. Rejection, disappointment, poor performance in school, defeat, or simply a broken surfboard are all part of life. These are moments when God does his best work. It was the faculty at Biola who made the biggest difference for me. They loved and supported me when I needed love and support the most. What about your life? Who has loved and supported you? Recognizing such people is an act of gratitude. Perhaps that person in your life who brought you the most encouragement was your dad. He gave your individual purpose a deeper purpose. Do something this weekend to express your gratitude to him.
I arrived at LAX in 1971 with no earthly idea what God wanted to do with my life. 50 years later, I see it was the event that defined me. I had found a career that was to become the most authentic expression of who I was -- a delicate balance of desire and will, caution and daring, joy and gratitude, teacher and human being. That outcome was right there on the tarmac. At that very moment, I got a tiny glimpse of the life I had always wanted, as shimmering and bright as the California sun.
Wednesday, June 16
6:20 PM Today I got on my bike again. For runners, getting on a bike is called crosstraining. Some of you may not know this about me, but I was a cyclist long before I was a runner.
Later I stated surfing, then came basketball, tennis, and volleyball. Then I returned to cycling. I remember buying my first road bike. I bought it because I was told I was supposed to have one if I was going to do triathlons. What, my mountain bike won't do? How naive I was in those days. That's almost like saying, What, my tricycle won't do? At any rate, I really like to crosstrain. I love to swim and I love to bike. Unfortunately, all the pools around here are still closed, so right now the only thing going is cycling. Speaking of which, it's
Here's the question: Where in Virginia can you find all of the following?
Beautiful fields of corn.
Acres and acres of soy beans.
Miles of wheat fields.
Unique river views.
And the answer is:
The Virginia Capital Trail!
I drove there this morning to get in a few miles on my bike.
Cycling is an enjoyable and wonderful exercise. Very importantly, it's a non-weight-bearing activity, which becomes increasingly important the older you get. What I like most about cycling is the fact that I can cover large distances in a relatively short period of time. I actually think I'm a better cyclist than I am a runner (though that's not saying very much). But I do enjoy the fact that cycling allows me to stay off my feet for a day or two during the week. I really enjoy spending half the day (or more) exploring places with my bike. How about you? My advice is that if you have something you like to do, whether it's swimming or cycling or hiking or running, just get out there and do it. You will be happy you did.
P.S. This came in today's mail.
Deena Castor is one of my all-time faves. Spirit of the Marathon -- the greatest running movie ever made -- features her story of winning the Chicago Marathon. We can all be like Deena. Pick a goal, any goal, big or small, and go for it. Take the word "can't" out of your vocabulary. Never talk yourself out of doing something the Lord is leading you to do. You get only one life to live, right here and right now. It's you who have most to lose by not tapping into your God-given gifts and potential.
Tuesday, June 15
2:42 PM Somebody please hit me with the stupid stick. I left the house this morning to go on a 5 mile run and left my bug spray behind. Not a good idea when you're running on a trail by the river. I was eaten alive. You can't swat 'em. You can't outrun 'em. You just grin and bear it. Oh well, lesson learned -- keep the bug spray in the car, Dave.
In other news ...
There's a race coming up in two weeks at my favorite training site in the whole world, the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. It's called the Night Train 50K and Half Marathon.
Since I already did the 50K (32 mile) race here a couple of years ago, and since I have another full marathon coming up in October, I opted to sign up for the half. Alas, all the slots were already taken when I went online to register for the race so I was put on the waiting list. Well, this morning the race director contacted me and told me that a slot had just opened up and asked me if I still wanted to run. "Are there cows in Texas?" I shrieked. "Of course I want to run! Thank you!" In case you're following my 2021 race schedule, this is how it looks as of today:
I am only picking races I am extremely excited about. I am still very very very much on the fence when it comes to the 50K ultra in November at this very same High Bridge Trail. I will just have to wait and see what kind of condition my body is in at that point in the year. In the meantime, halfs will do just fine. If you're just tuning in, I love the half marathon distance. I know for a full marathon I will have to take frequent walk breaks, but a half marathon I can run pretty much the whole 13.1 miles without taking a lot of breaks. I am so blessed and am so thankful to God to be able to run these races. It's hard to put into words all the fun. Let's face it. God created the Great Outdoors for a reason. If we're not enjoying it, we're the losers.
Have a swell day!
Monday, June 14
7:54 PM I just added a Father's Day race to my running calendar. The race will benefit Wear Blue: Run to Remember. This non-profit honors the service and sacrifice of our American military. The date is actually this Saturday (one day before Father's Day) and the venue is the lovely town of Fredericksburg. I am always keeping my eye out for new races. I like to experiment. And what better cause to run for?
"Honor has no finish line."
I'll chalk it up as just another long run in preparation for October's marathon. I'll get in two more good runs before the race on Saturday Lord willing. They will help me run the best race possible. My biggest goal? Smell the roses -- and stay injury-free. So glad my 69-year old body can still run a 10K race. Hopefully it can run another tough marathon in October. Something in the human spirit sings when you go further than you imagined possible. Someone asked me the other day, What do you wish you had time to do? Fact is, I'm already doing it. I tend to find time for the things and people I love if they are a priority.
So ... time to get back to reading my book on Gettysburg. Still hope to make a trip up there soon!
Sunday, June 13
8:38 PM I'm enjoying this book tremendously.
It's been called the runner's bible. It's 931 pages of wisdom. I think it's interesting that much of the book has to do with diet and nutrition. While doping in sports makes the headlines, what about nutrition? Millions of people around the world watch the Olympics, where they get to see some great performances -- and lots of advertising for junk food. There's even a giant McDonalds in the heart of London's Olympic Park (it seats some 1,500 people). Seems that the golden arches and the gold medal go hand in hand. The message to all (not only athletes but all of us): you can be fit but also unhealthy. Athletes, myself included, tend to have very unhealthy eating habits even if we're not guilty of smoking, drinking, or inactivity. The problem, as Noakes points out, is not that we are overweight. We are overfat. Soda is a huge part of the problem (I stopped drinking soda but it wasn't easy). Coke celebrated the Atlanta Olympics with specially marked cans (containing, by the way, 8 teaspoons of sugar for each 12 ounce serving). These are the same marketing tactics that were used by tobacco companies back in the day.
The system is killing us (for profit) and it shows no desire to slow down. This should be in the headlines daily. It may take time, but I believe that years from now people will talk about unhealthy food in the same way they are talking about smoking today. Maybe one day there will even be labels on processed foods that say something like "May be harmful to your health."
How's your diet? Wait -- this isn't a diet blog! True, but here's my point (I think): Being active doesn't make you inherently healthy since there are so many other factors involved in good health (sleep, stress management, diet, etc.). There's nothing magical about it, Dave (yes, I am pointing the finger at myself -- listen in if you like). The most effective way to lose weight is by focusing on diet. Eat only quality foods. Avoid sugary drinks. Cut out cakes and cookies. Eat food, not pills. Go through the checkout line at the grocery store with as few processed and pre-cooked foods as possible. Load up on whole fruits and vegetables. Switch to whole grain bread. Cut out fast food. Say no to soda. Eat consciously, always. I have made quite a turnaround in this area but I still have a ways to go. There is nothing I eat in a day that I do not conspicuously think about how it's contributing to the wellness of my body. Bottom line: We need to take personal responsibility for our health. We can't wait until society catches up to the science. I have been eating fast food all of my life and to be honest with you, nowadays I feel like it's just poison. Calorie counting is irrelevant until you start to clean up your diet. We need to be taught how to make smarter food decisions. I know I do. Western practices (fast food, huge portions at the restaurant) have not helped.
Overall, this book has lots of good info. Sadly, we as humans are always looking for excuses not to do what we know is right. We Baptists seem to be the worst. We have spent too much time neglecting our bodies. Acknowledging that fact is the tough first step that we have to take. We know that, with God's help, we can change. I think the key to anything is taking baby steps. We're not going to go from unhealthy to healthy in a few days. But don't things get easier once you have the momentum going ... putting one foot in front of the other? Small changes can yield big results.
Here we go, one day at a time, one step at a time!
5:24 PM "You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement" (Steve Prefontaine). No truer words! For today's run I returned to the High Bridge Trail in Farmville.
They just replaced all the bridge planks. Nice, eh? On the way back into town I switched to the River Road so I could practice running hills.
First, there's a long downhill you have to negotiate. Downhill running adds stress to your running because the slope boosts your speed and increases the vertical drop from one footfall to the next, which means you hit the ground with two to three times more force than you would on a flat surface. The key to running downhill is to make haste slowly, without extending your leg stride. Put the next foot down as soon as possible, then just coast along for the ride. Uphills are another story. Running uphill dramatically reduces the impact of foot to surface contact and hence your chance of injury. Today, my goal was to run slow and steady. In fact, as a beginning runner (5 years in and, yes, I still consider myself a novice) I do all of my running at a slow, comfortable pace.
Heart rates don't lie. Your body will always tell when you are running too hard or too fast for your level of fitness. To get healthy (and maybe even faster), you have to do a lot of slow running. I'm getting to be an expert at this.
During one of the Sunday services I attended today the choir and organ led in the Doxology. I love the Old Hundredth. Especially when played by an expert organist. It was a majestic and stirring arrangement composed by the church organist himself. For the final stanza, the congregation was invited to sing along. I thought, Isn't it wonderful to see unleashed all of this power that an organ can produce? Mind you, this wasn't some high church. This was an ordinary evangelical church in Dallas whose philosophy of worship is quite different from what I'm used to. What we call a praise and worship team is really a music team. The Holy Spirit fills believers so that we are in constant worship of God. When I am teaching a class I am at worship, when I am running I am at worship, when I am cooking supper I am at worship. Which is why the Bible says, whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord because ALL of it is worship. Still, music can significantly enhance (or un-enhance!) the experience of corporate praise. I simply cannot put into words what this hymn meant to me as it was sung (not performed -- hate that word) by the choir at Stonebriar. If you'd like to see what I'm talking about, just go to the Stonebriar Community Church's website and watch the beginning of today's service.
Tomorrow I'm back to writing, trying to finish my book on how to study (and enjoy!) the New Testament. I don't dare skimp on the facts or leave something important out. Yet the book needs to be accessible to the "person-in-the-pew." You know, it needs to be for real people like you and me who don't need a doctoral dissertation when a 150-page book would do just fine, thank you. I am so happy to be writing again. I am glad I decided to write this book. I have really come to value books that are relevant to the church at large and that don't talk over our heads. I feel that I have so much to learn and I'm excited to tackle another chapter tomorrow. Remember, folks: Hills make you stronger. Both literal hills and spiritual ones!
Saturday, June 12
8:02 PM Counting my blessings ...
Having such a clean house inspired me to get the washer and dryer going. I'm currently on my third load.
The blueberries are almost ready for picking.
Bec's rose garden shore looks purty.
1:52 PM It was, perhaps, the highlight of Greek 1. This was the course I taught for the past 4 weeks on campus -- in person. I would ask the students to gather around in groups of 2 or 3. They would work on exercises I had prepared for them. I would saunter from group to group, cracking jokes and answering questions. The dynamic was electrifying.
At the same time, I was teaching a Greek class in Israel via Zoom. (Travel to Israel was not possible due to Covid.) The feel was completely different. We managed, but as I taught I became increasingly frustrated by the whole procedure. I wanted my students in front of me. I wanted to read their body language. I wanted eye contact and the encounter of personalities that goes along with it. I was desperate to build rapport with them, a rapport that would stimulate both thought and emotional responses. And I wanted to create a memory -- an intimacy -- that would live on forever in their brains. I discovered that you can be a teacher and never enter into the lives of the people who sit across the computer monitor in front of them.
Teaching is much more than logic and facts. It is the synthesis of logic with experience and emotion. The ancient Greeks knew this when they spoke of logos, ēthos, and pathos. Education, by definition, is a whole person experience. It is total intellectual, emotional, and experiential well being. What bothers me most about this generation of students is that so many of them seem to see no need to feel the presence of a teacher -- the living, three-dimensional person. Education has been reduced to an appearance on a screen and an exam. I have been told that students forget about 90 percent of the factual things they learn in school. And what do they retain? The friendships, the one on one, eyeball to eyeball meeting with their prof over a cup of coffee in his office, the overtones and undertones that one picks up only in the classroom, including integrity, honesty, compassion, humor, dependability, responsibility, and love.
Students today need more nurturing than information. They need to see in their teachers something more than mechanics who will never truly enter into their lives.
11:34 AM Hey guys! Drum roll please. It's time to reopen our retreat ministry here at Rosewood Farm. As you know, I recently had our guest house, Maple Ridge, deep cleaned. Today I've hired a couple of housecleaners to deep clean my residence (Bradford Hall) so that I can use both places for guests to stay in. I am determined to continue Becky's vision of using every inch of this farm as a place where people can come and put body and soul back together. If we are to love to each other like Jesus loved us, then it only makes sense to band together as the body of Christ and share the burdens of life. Necessity is the need that brings us together, but love is the glue that binds us together. If we're too busy to love each other like this, then we're too busy. It boils down to "shrewdness," said Jesus. Shrewdness is simply the ability to discern how to do the right thing at the right time in the right way. Covid was not the time to open the farm to retreatants. Now is.
By the way, I've decided to do another marathon. (You're not surprised, are you?) My plan is to return to Cincinnati for the Flying Pig Marathon, which was my very first 26.2 mile race and one I've done a total of 3 times so far. This will be my fourth attempt at that distance in Cincy. Pre-race training will be the key, which I plan to start tomorrow with a longish run. If you ever plan on doing a marathon, be sure to choose a training plan that is appropriate for your skill level, experience, and pace. Remember, you are about to take a car that usually goes for groceries and drive it to Alaska and back. The biggest worry we runners have is getting injured and not being able to train or exercise. So training runs are a must. In the U.S., 93 percent of runners run at least 3 days per week. 64 percent run at least 4 days per week. And 35 percent run 5 or more days per week. Of the 75 million total runners in the U.S., a whopping 64 percent have completed at least one marathon. 17 percent have finished 10 or more. 94 percent are college educated. And in the course of a year, they've purchased, on average, 2.9 pairs of running shoes.
The Flying Pig (or "Pig" for short) is usually run on the first Sunday in May, but due to Covid it is being run on Oct. 31st this year. The weather then should be well-nigh perfect for a long distance run. I plan to use the race (again) as an opportunity to do some fundraising for UNC Women's Cancer Hospital (where Becky was treated for 4 years). I've talked to many runners who are racing in support of someone struggling with cancer. "If my friend can go through that," they tell me, "the least I can do is try running a marathon to help." I agree with that philosophy 100 percent.
Meanwhile, I've been culling my library for books to send oversees.
I often tell my students, the only book I read is the Bible. Well, sometimes I'll read a few other books. Okay, so many other books that it's embarrassing. My stars! We have the word of God, inerrant and sufficient, in our possession, and yet we are going to mere men (and women) for insights? Yep. I'm a firm believer in being well read. But not at the expense of reading my Bible daily and even many times during the day. Which means I could never view the Sunday morning sermon as the main conduit of biblical truth into my life. At best a good sermon can supplement what we're learning from our own study of the text. Belief may be confirmed by what others are writing and saying. But it's based only on the solid rock of biblical revelation. No matter how long you have been a Christian, you never outgrow your need to read God's word daily. There you will encounter Jesus, who is the stability you've been longing for. Let's fill our minds to the brim with the Bible. But let's not hoard our books. The need for books in the Majority World (and elsewhere) is unfathomable.
So there you have it. The farm. The books. The marathon. Ah, the marathon. The ultimate challenge. Tougher than tough. And yet I crave the distance. There is nothing like it.
Friday, June 11
5:22 PM To help me celebrate my 69th birthday on Wednesday I ran 69 miles in the past couple of days. Oops. Wait a sec. I seem to have forgotten to add a decimal point. It was actually 6.9 miles! But you get the picture. This was a week to celebrate! As I ran I was in no rush. I had nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. I wanted to appreciate and savor these precious moments. I wanted to celebrate life -- mine and everyone else's. At one point this little guy made an appearance on the trail.
Sweet thing! I slowed to a walk to applaud the One who created all good things for our enjoyment.
Also, did I mention that Greek 1 is in the books? That's right. Today was the last day of my summer school session as well as my final day of being in the classroom as a fulltime teacher. What a joy! Overcoming adversity and fulfilling one's calling in life -- that's the story of the Christian life. From start to finish, we faced challenges, but nothing our Lord couldn't handle. Good things come to those who wait -- an old adage that is a secret strategy for success in the 21st century, which is defined by instant gratification. The lessons we learn in life! Finding one's voice during one's lifetime is a dance between dedication and creativity. But first we have to make the effort to know ourselves and spend time every single day discovering who we are as persons. Once we discover who we are through knowing ourselves, then our voice will naturally reach the people.
I have simply loved my career. There was not a class I wanted to teach that was left untaught. There was not a book or journal article that I wanted to write that was left unwritten. There was not a goal that I wanted to meet that I did not meet. There was not a country I wanted to visit that I did travel to. I cannot stress enough that it takes time to find yourself as God created you, but it will happen if you employ prayer, patience, creativity, and perseverance. What a joy to have taught for all these years! Today life changes forever. As in running, life moves on. I would not want it any other way. We march on, we work hard, we love each other, and we listen to God as "he leads his dear children along." We can create momentum in life if we work hard at it and stay persistent in our daily activities. Once you begin, the ball is rolling, like a giant snowball. Once you move one foot forward, the other will follow. Gradually you build up momentum, and then one day you look back at 44 years in the classroom and you are filled with nothing but joy and happy memories. Once you have momentum on your side, no one can stop you except yourself. I hope that by publishing this blog I can help you see the potential in your own life and help you overcome huge obstacles and little ones as well. Most importantly, I hope you enjoy the process!
Thanks for sharing the journey of LIFE with me. Reading your emails is my favorite part of this blogging journey. Tough times, especially in the wake of Covid, can steal our inner peace and joy. Fear not. The Lord is still our Shepherd. I'm about to do something I've never done before -- retire. Or will I? I work, people. That's what I do whether or not I'm getting paid to do it. Just so you know, I will still have an office on campus. I will have the same email address. I will still teach classes. I will continue to approach the daily tasks of life with simple priorities. I will continue to refuse to reside exclusively in the Christian subculture. I will continue to look for kingdom opportunities to serve Jesus. I will continue to participate in and help create international partnerships that are bigger than me. I will continue to be honest and vulnerable with you, my readers. I will continue to serve the marginalized who need the good news not only in the form of salvation but in the form of assistance. I will continue to lure people to the simple ways of Jesus. I will continue to revel in the unbroken beauty and peace of his creation. I will follow him into every scary, broken place he leads me because I trust him. He is my life. He is the only breath I have. It is impossible for me to express my sense of gratitude to him for his providential gift of a teaching career that has spanned over four decades. A uniquely satisfying blessing it was! It would be hard to imagine a better or more fulfilling way to spend my life.
Life is an offering and a sacrifice. May we lift it up to him as a daily oblation, and with open hearts and open hands be ready to receive all that he has for us.
I love you all.
Wednesday, June 9
6:20 AM My simple goal in life: to be like Christ in his incarnation, his love, his service, his patience, and his mission. Oh to be like Christ!
Tuesday, June 8
3:28 PM Been mowing the grass all day. Cut to the backyard garden. Why is it that I have to water the plants and spray Round Up on the weeds? Aaaargh!!!
1:08 PM As I turn 69 tomorrow, and as I retire from fulltime academic work on July 31 (though I will continue to teach about two classes a semester), I am giving some thought to what the future might hold for me. Retirees often ask themselves, "How can I successfully transition from work to leisure?" For me, no such transition can take place. For I will merely be transitioning from leisure to leisure, seeing that I have never worked a day in life. Yes, I have been a school teacher for 44 years. But did you know where the word "school" comes from? It might surprise you that our word "school" derives from the Greek word scholē, which has the general meaning of "leisure." To the ancient Greeks, leisure made it possible for people to spend time thinking and pursuing knowledge. Eventually the term came to refer to a place of leisurely learning (as the "school" [scholē] of Tyrannus in the book of Acts). The Latins changed the spelling to schola, hence our word school (Span. escuela). Today, of course, "school" means anything but leisure to many. School has become more and more about vocational training, a place to learn the skill sets of one's life work. Leisure is something we do when we are not at school.
I have never viewed school that way. As you know, when I went to Biola to study the Scriptures and to major in Bible (changing from a music major at the University of Hawaii), I had no earthly idea what I would do with my degree. As with the original meaning of "school," I undertook my studies for their own sake and enjoyment. That I was asked to teach Greek at Biola in 1976 took me completely by surprise. Me teach Greek? What, are you kidding? I don't know if anyone ever said, "You can take the boy out of leisurely Hawaii. but you can never take leisurely Hawaii out of the boy." But it's true. I went to Biola as a student in 1971. I left for Wake Forest as a teacher in 1998. I will retire from my profession in 2021. But nothing will change. I am a life-long leisurely learner. That this "schooling" led to a career in teaching was completely a serendipity. Studies were never a bore for me. That includes 4 years of college, 5 years of seminary, and 3 years of doctoral studies. True scholars will make their way in life whether they are paid or not. That's just who they are. Students today, I believe, have largely forgotten this. Somehow we have forgotten how to play and have sacrificed "school as leisure" to the demands of a pastorate or some other vocation. I can assure you that leisure and learning are not incompatible. That's one reason I've never been able to separate my "devotional" study of the Bible from my "academic" study of the same. That's simply not possible when all of schooling is leisure and all of leisure is schooling. That's why I see education as much more than classroom teaching and degrees. It's about getting the tools for life. For many of us, formal education is simply a way that allows us to start that process. For me, studying is my leisure. For scholars, all of life is a laboratory where we subject what we have been taught to the test of daily living.
As I look back now, I think very little of the diplomas I've gotten. Nobody really cares that I have a degree from such-and-such a school. The educated person does not need degrees to grow into well-rounded maturity. They become men and women of thought. I will not deny that I am a professor of Greek or that I hold a chair in New Testament Studies. But that does not define me. I am, and have always been, a defender of "school" and its delights. Thus, very little will change when I "retire" at the end of July. Leisurely study will accompany me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the (school)house of the Lord forever.
10:40 AM Final exams for my Greek 4 class in Israel are now graded!
Whoop whoop! My goal in teaching has always been a very simple one: to develop in my students an increasingly Christian mind and to help them learn to not only think straight but to obey what they know to be the truth. Simplistic shortcuts are unhelpful. God has given us his word in order to direct our thinking. As we study it and absorb its teachings, our lives will be increasingly conformed to his. This is not because we have memorized a few verses of Scripture. It is rather because we have grasped the great principles of Scripture, relying on the Holy Spirit, who opens up the Scriptures to us and illuminates our fallen minds so that we can understand and apply its truth. That I was given the privilege of doing this in Israel (via Zoom) was one of the highlights of my teaching career. The idea was to develop a Christian mind -- a mind trained, informed, and equipped to handle the word of God. If we want to live right, we have to think right. And, for me, a huge part of this process is learning how to engage the Scriptures in their original languages. (Ignorance is not bliss.) And we do all this for the sake of the gospel. Introducing people to a meaningful and transformative relationship to Christ is what I live for. It's the reason I live and breathe. I want this relationship for my students so badly. Nothing is better than knowing and obeying Jesus. Students in Israel, my hope is that in studying Philippians together, you might identify where God is leading you -- along the downward path of Jesus -- and that you might chase after his will for your life without holding anything back. It had been my joy to have served you in this way. Lord willing, I hope to meet you personally in Israel one day. I am so proud of you. My heart is bursting.
Monday, June 7
6:02 PM This was my walk-run today.
I'm happiest when I'm outdoors, enjoying the Creation of our great God. I love running on trails like this one. I'm always looking for wildlife. My mind grows peaceful as I pass by trees shimmering in the morning sun under a sky of blue. When I was younger, I spent no time indoors. Neither would you if you lived in Hawaii. I came of age during the surfing boom of the 1960s and 70s. There's never going to be a period quite like the one I lived through. We were at the birth of something extraordinary, like when the first daffodils come up through the spring soil. The exhilaration I felt today while running was indescribable. It felt like I was back at Sunset Beach or Pupukea, dropping in on a massive wave with so much ocean spray in your eyes you can't see where you're going. Surfing wasn't just a hobby for us kamaaina haoles and kanakas; it was an all-encompassing lifestyle and an essential part of who we were. It was a necessary, life-sustaining passion, the way writing was to Hemingway or missions was to the apostle Paul. I wouldn't trade my growing up years in Kailua for anything. In the end, I was on the same solitary quest as you are to discover our potential as human beings.
Don't let fear of life paralyze you. Life, like light, is so much better when we let it in.
6:15 AM A word to my current students and -- shoot -- let's make it to all of my students in the past 44 years: Don't compare yourself to others. Just don't even go there. It's your life. It's your journey. It's your goals that matter, not someone else's. Just be you. There will always be students who are smarter than you. There will always be runners who are faster than you. There will always be people who are better looking than you. Want to be happy? Do the very best you can and feel good about yourself. Want to be unhappy? Compare yourself with everyone else. Get out of the competition trap (Facebook is a good trigger!). Do what you do for God and in his strength and trust him for the results. You have permission to love your not-so-perfect life, and so do I. Your race is yours and nobody else's. When I race, the only thing that matters is knowing I gave it my all, even if I finish at the back of the pack. Even a failure is not a wasted effort if we use it as a platform for growth. "Fall down seven times, get up eight." Drop beginning Greek after 3 weeks (as I did in college), then try again. The sting will wear off in time. It takes courage to lose and keep going. Besides, what would life be like if we didn't fail? We learn more from failure than from anything we succeed at.
Students, I salute you for your efforts this summer semester in Greek class. Keep running your own race at your own pace!
Sunday, June 6
5:56 PM Met Ira James yet?
Who's he? Only my latest grandbaby. He joins his older brothers Nolan, Bradford, Graham, Peyton, and Chesley. Welcome to the fam, Mr. Ira! We love you!
9:45 AM Boy is it hot. I just got back from doing a walk at the high school track.
My marathon recovery plan is to walk every day for 30 minutes to an hour. In a couple of days I will add some slow jogging. Maybe next week I will begin running again. The pace can be as slow as I want; just keep moving. I don't plan to race again for several weeks. In fact, I think my next scheduled race isn't until August when I'm doing a half marathon in Ashland, VA. But now is the time to accept the regeneration that is going on in my body, especially in my muscular system -- which tomorrow's massage should help with significantly. Tonight, of course, I'm watching The Longest Day, being June 6 and the anniversary of D-Day and all that.
Enjoy the heat!
Saturday, June 5
8:50 PM Hey, it's me again. My 17th marathon. Yes, let's celebrate!
As you know, yesterday I drove to the site of today's race (actually, almost into West Virginia). On the way I did what every respectable runner/carnivore does before a race -- pig out on a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce.
Mercy, I have never tasted better food. When I arrived near my destination, I couldn't resist making a detour to see a bridge I had heard and read so much about.
It's only a few miles north of the city of Covington. So unique!
Then I drove into town to get my hotel room.
The Hampton Inn was wonderful. They even started their breakfast an hour earlier than usual this morning in order to accommodate all these hungry runners' mouths. Covington has definitely seen better days but the people there were uber-friendly and they treated us marathoners like royalty.
I arrived at the event site this morning fresh, fit, and healthy, thank you, Lord! Today's race was a test of sorts for me. I give lots of tests in my Greek classes. Though nobody necessarily likes tests, we all need them. They help us assess our progress and can point out where we are strong and, conversely, where we are weak and need improvement. Going into my 17th full marathon I knew I needed to see if I had learned any lessons from past races -- especially from my tendency to go full out at a high heart rate and not listen to my body when it tells me I'm going too fast and too hard. When the race started I lined up, per usual, at the back of the pack.
Before you could say "Afterburners on!," the pack had moved ahead of me as if they were tied together at the hip.
But no, I was a good boy and stayed within myself. I was going to run MY race today, not anybody else's. Let them kill themselves before they hit mile 13. I will be content to stay within a low heart rate and do a run/walk at the ratio of about 4 to 1. I stopped at every aid station (which were spaced two miles or so apart) and made sure to share a word or two with the volunteers and thank them for being there.
Remember, I was in no hurry! At one of the road crossings, I met Ricky doing traffic control. His patrol car had a pink stripe and a pink cancer ribbon.
"That's so neat!" I said. "I've never seen that on a sheriff's patrol car before." Ricky then told me the whole story, how his wife had contracted breast cancer 9 years ago, then had a double mastectomy, then eventually was passed "cured" with a complete bill of health. She's been cancer-free for 7 years now. Ricky and I swapped high fives, then I mentioned how I lost Becky to cancer but that I thought we were both very blessed men to have had wives who were such fighters. I gave him a post-Covid hug and then went on my way. I continued to go slow and enjoy the process of running a marathon. My goal was never to increase my pace and to stay relaxed and enjoy the exciting process of getting in shape. I continued to run tall and run short -- "tall," as in a straight and erect carriage, and "short," as in comfortably short strides.
Most of all, I committed myself to running the enter race with a smile on my face, even when my body began to hurt. I told myself, "You are going to smile and greet everyone you see."
My customary start line picture -- smiling, as you see. I send this to all my kids on race day so that they see how daddy is feeling and looking.
In other words, I have been transformed into a marathoner who picks completing a race over competing in a race. You see, in every marathon there are those who want to compete in it, and those who want to complete it, and the beauty of the sport is that it's big enough to accommodate both of us. Thankfully, in today's race everything seemed to click. Throughout the race I got text messages from my kids.
I was so happy to read them.
What an energy boost!
Finally, I saw the finish ahead and my legs slowly plodded on and carried me beyond the finish line. A volunteer got a picture of me the moment I crossed that very special mat on the ground.
And yes, I was still smiling. I had smiled throughout the entire race. I then headed off for O'Charleys in Lynchburg to grab some post-race grub.
I do believe that running, for me, is a miracle. This time last year I couldn't walk let alone run. I feel so blessed that my body was able to carry me so far today. Today's marathon was one of the most fun experiences of my life. Prayers were answered and I got through the race without experiencing any major aches or pains. The marathon is such an incredible experience to be a part of. There is always such an energy and sense of togetherness among the runners. But today I saw that energy and togetherness extended to the wonderful people who serve us so sacrificially on the sidelines. It is incredible how many stories they have to tell if we would only take a few seconds to listen to them. Thanks, volunteers! You made my day a success and I loved getting to meet all of you. You hear it all the time -- say thank you to the volunteers. They really notice it when people take the time to thank them. Don't forget to do it! Will I do another marathon? Ah, the million dollar question. I have an idea floating around in my brain, but before I share it with you I think I'll let it percolate a little more.
Take time today to thank those people who help you. They will appreciate it.
Friday, June 4
6:18 AM Four simple words:
God has provided a stimulant for his people. It's not sports or drugs. It's not wealth or sex. Over against all this Paul sets forth in Gal. 2:20 the Spirit of Christ. It is he who arouses us to holy living and gives us serenity so that not only are we "drunk on new wine" like the earliest Christians but we rest in the Lord and his peace garrisons our thoughts and feelings. He who will quicken our mortal bodies at the resurrection will energize them now to accomplish all God wants us to do, be it on our knees in prayer or on our feet in a race. The Christian life is not merely our lives dedicated to Christ or lived by his help. The Christian life is Christ. May I display his character, be it in the classroom or on the race course.
Thursday, June 3
6:05 PM Help! I'm caught on the horns of a dilemma this evening. Which of these books that arrived today in the mail should I read first?
George Sheehan was a medical doctor who has probably been quoted more often by more writers than any individual associated with the sport of running. Tragically, he died of cancer in 1993. He's the Thoreau and Emerson of marathoning. "Boston Billy" Rodgers, on the other hand, is the poster boy for the ubiquitous happy-go-lucky underdog, working so hard that he eventually won the Boston and New York Marathons 4 times each. Each man refused to stop thriving, striving, and seeking new challenges. When I was growing up in Hawaii and watching TV shows like Leave It To Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet, a retiree wanted nothing more than to sit in his rocking chair on the porch enjoying a glass of lemonade and a sunset.
I'm also a big fan of front porches, lemonade, and sunsets, but I want so much more than that. Life doesn't stop just because you reach a certain age. A good goal is the greatest motivator of all. All of us have to learn to adapt and adjust. At every age of life we should be chasing down great-but-not-impossible dreams (I will probably never be a heart surgeon or POTUS). I am a sucker for inspiration. That's why I buy these silly books about running. Some of us through life never come close to reaching our potential and living only on wishes. I'm a huge believer that we can do way more than we think we can.
This afternoon the big thing was getting myself packed for the race. I had to make sure that I've packed all the gear I'll need as well as the indispensible Vaseline. Up to this point I was feeling more excited than nervous, but things have flip-flopped. I've done enough of these races to know that there's always a chance something won't go well and I could not run a good race. But at this point I feel like I've put in the work. If something happens it's gonna be out of the ordinary and not going to be because I'm not ready. Tomorrow, after teaching my class in the Forest of Wake, I'll drive to parts unknown (I'm totally unfamiliar with the mountains of this part of Virginia) to grab some z's at the local Hampton Inn before race day. About the only mantra I'll have at the beginning of the race is, "Starting out too fast is for idiots." No matter how difficult it gets, I'll try my hardest. That is my commitment. With a marathon you can't cheat yourself. There are no shortcuts. But that's what I love about this sport. I love trying something that forces you to ask, "How can I possibly pull this off?" It is daunting in every way. I'll also probably think back wistfully to my first marathon after Becky died. The emotion for me after that race was overwhelming. It reminded me that with God's help I could do anything I set my mind to. It literally changed my life. Running has helped me heal, recover, reach my goals in life.
But enough of all that. All of what I love and value is already right here in front of my eyes.
Thanks a million for stopping by!
Wednesday, June 2
6:45 PM All the vital stats about my upcoming race that you wanted to know about (or couldn't care less about):
At the end of the day (I hate that expression but it fits here), for me there is no better feeling than getting up early, working hard, and getting it done. Would love to see you on Saturday. If you do find Covington, VA, please send me an email with directions.
5:50 AM I'll be spending the morning the best way -- teaching my Greek class. I'll grade two quizzes, introduce two chapters, and then do triage on the class. Tough dudes we are, for sure. Happy incredible Wednesday!
Tuesday, June 1
6:36 PM I recently read that 90 percent of marathon registrants actually show up on race day, and that more than 95 percent of them reach the finish line. Those are surprisingly high percentages. More than anything, I think it's a testimony to the grit and intelligent approach to running that describes most marathoners. Each runner has to have a race plan in mind before hitting that starting line. For me, this means running slowly and conservatively on race day, with a mixture of running and walking. I once did a marathon with Jeff Galloway, who ran with a ratio of 15 seconds of running and 15 seconds of walking.
This sounds ludicrous, but for him it produces the best marathon results. Leading up to the race, as you know, I've been doing all my runs at a slow, relaxed pace. When I first started marathoning, I ran pretty much all out. Today, "slow-but-sure" is my racing motto. For a man who's about to turn 69 years of age, it's the best path to follow in my training, my rest and recovery, and my racing. Safety first! I will always try to keep in mind that running races is not necessary to good health. If good health is your goal, you never need to do more than 30 minutes of exercise at a time, 3-5 times a week. The goal is to hit a mere 150 minutes per week. And it doesn't even have to be running. If you choose to run, be sure to run as slowly as you can. Everything should be done at a comfortable pace. Aim for pleasure not pain. Don't be perfect but do be persistent.
Will this be my last marathon? I've been thinking a lot about this question in the run-up to Saturday's race. With increasing years it takes longer and longer to recovery adequately from a marathon. There's a point in every runner's life where you have to learn not to do too much. The most important thing is to maintain your quality of life. In other words, being healthy is more important than getting more marathon medals. We'll see. It may be wisest for me to do just one or two more marathons and then proceed to safer and healthier exercise patterns. On the other hand, light to moderate intensity exercise does not present the risks associated with excessive endurance exercise. A routine of moderate physical activity will add years to your life and life to your years. In contrast, running too frequently, too fast, and too far (as I did for the few two or three years of my running life) may be more debilitating than helpful. I am finding that is it possible to exercise with zero stress and zero impact, as long as I maintain a low heart rate. Sadly, our culture (including a big segment of the running community) all too often worships exercise. But to me, exercise is not an end in itself. It's not even about maximizing life expectancy. That is only one factor. I've recently begun to see marathons as being more about fun than about performance. Personally, I don't believe that life is all about how long we live. It's about the meaning of life, its adventures, and the accomplishments that God wants to perform through us before he calls us home. I want my lifestyle choices to be made with clarity, with biblical wisdom, and with the goal of taking care of the one and only temple God has bequeathed to me. At my age, more exercise may lead to improved athletic performance but it probably will not lead to better health outcomes.
In terms of the message I would try to get across to someone who is thinking about becoming more active in life, I would say that 100 percent of the training I do takes place at an intensity that would allow me to talk to you as if we were sitting on my library sofa. I call it "conversational effort." I think that's the misconception that people who have been inactive have about running or even about turning off the TV and going out for a walk. The level of intensity that you need to achieve fitness is actually very low. As long as you're active, you are getting what's called a training effect/benefit -- your cardiovascular system is improving. I think that's the first thing people have to be willing to acknowledge. The second thing I would say is that it's never too late to start.
As for this Saturday, my only goal is to enjoy the race. These days, I'm just happy to be alive, healthy, and reasonably vigorous. Running a marathon still excites me, though, regardless of my pace. As long as I'm moving I'm happy. Sometimes I hate to write about running and exercise because the subject is so loaded. Yet is it such an important subject, especially for those of us who believe that God is our Creator. Take what I say with a grain of salt. I don't know it all or have all the answers. Just be honest with yourself. Do you need to become more active? My recommendation to you would be: Always have a fitness goal, be it a walk, a bike ride, or anything. This will keep you motivated and on track. The more you are in touch with your own body, the more you will realize how diet and exercise impact your overall wellbeing.
I'll close by citing Eleanor Roosevelt, who said (one of my favorite quotes ever), "Do something every day that scares you." There's nothing magical about good health. Eat quality foods. Treat your body with respect. Exercise regularly. No one outruns aging. But that's beside the point. Choose your own activity, then stick with it. It's not about running a marathon. It's about taking a single step in the right direction.
8:20 AM So today begins a new month. What does my June look like? Thanks for asking, it will be great.
Things I won't be doing in June include:
One thing I'd like to do this month, should I be able to finish the manuscript of my book on the New Testament, is to begin writing a third edition of my book Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels.
Yes, this is the book in which I defend the "indefensible" -- Matthean priority (the chronological order is Matthew, Luke, Mark, John). I'm curious to see what impact, if any, this book has had on the way people think about the Gospels. A striking characteristic of "truth" is that it's often cyclical. In other words, wisdom developed in one generation sometimes fails to make it through to the next generation until it is rediscover by some misguided maverick in a following generation. No, I don't think there will ever be a wholesale rejection of the Markan Priority Hypothesis. But a dent, maybe?
Today is gorgeous. I had planned to get in a bike today but yesterday I experienced a minor muscle pull while running so I am going to take the day off and rest. I don't know about you, but I plan to keep active until the day I die if my body cooperates. I want to be the one raising money to build a track around my nursing home where I can do my tempo runs before I eat tuna casserole and fruit cocktail for lunch. And yes, we will allow walkers on the track (not walking itself but a contraption that allows you to walk).
Here's to a June -- and a life -- filled with happiness and fruit cocktail!
Monday, May 31
5:35 PM This was my run today.
As usual, the trail was deserted. Hence I usually run by myself. I don't mind that because it's a good time for me to reflect on life. But I've always enjoyed running with people. In bigger races, like the Chicago Marathon, you're never alone, not when there's 40,000 other runners competing on the same course.
At smaller races, like the Tobacco Road Half Marathon in Raleigh, I usually fall in with a pace group where after a while everybody seems to end up knowing everybody else.
In the sport of running, it seems everywhere you go you find people who share your love of running, your struggle to move beyond your limitations, and your determination to push through a difficult challenge. You are truly among friends. So what if we don't match up on a wide range of topics and philosophies. Running with others is wonderful. One day I'd love to be able to run races with my grandkids. Or even with my kids. Running partners offer the help you often need to run better and farther.
7:02 AM On the front porch this morning sipping coffee before I get my shoes on and do my morning chores. The sun is peeking through the trees while the fog slowly burns off.
I can hear the donkeys munching grass, while the neighbor's cattle are lowing. I cancelled class today because of the holiday but my students still have to take their quiz at home. I hope they do well. Nothing in life is impossible, but everything takes time, and often more time than we expected. I want my Greek students to dream big, to hunt down their dreams. Want to learn to read Greek? No problem. Hundreds of thousands of others have done this. They didn't have more talent than you. They simply set their mind to the task. I'm not saying it will be easy sailing. I don't believe in fairytale promises wrapped in pretty bows. Quite the contrary. I can guarantee you will face plenty of obstacles and setbacks. Everyone does. But these obstacles won't stop you, not when you learn with both your heart and your brain. That's one thing I love about being around marathoners. Marathoners tend to succeed in all areas of life, not just in running. That's because, for the most part, they are goal-oriented, disciplined, committed, organized, and consistent. They're not perfect. You don't have to be perfect in anything in life. You just have to be persistent. The modern marathon came about primarily because we crave challenges in our lives. It's the ordinary man's "Everest." I've completed 4 half marathons this year in preparation for Saturday's marathon. The half marathon takes less training than a marathon and offers a much faster recovery. I respect the marathon distance. Although I've never had to drop out of any of the 16 marathons I've been blessed enough to have run, I still can't go into a race with any confidence that I will finish. The distance is simply too great, the challenge too formidable, the uncertainties too numerous. But as I stand at the starting line I know that somewhere out there is a finish line. And I know that merely by showing up I will win no matter when, or how, or if, I finish.
Sunday, May 30
7:52 AM Are y'all having a good Memorial Day weekend so far? Any special plans? Whether you are a veteran yourself or have loved ones who currently or previously served in the military or, like me, are just deeply grateful for the freedoms we enjoy each and every day in our great nation, Memorial Day is a perfect opportunity to express our gratitude for the sacrifice of every veteran past and present. My thanks to you all, and to God, who is the ultimate source of every blessing spiritual or material.
My Scripture reading this morning was like a pinball machine.
Can't tell you how many passages I read! Henry Ford once said, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty." I never want to stop learning. I had to smile when I read in Heb. 6:7, "When a farmer's land has had many showers upon it and good crops come up, that land has experienced God's blessing upon it." How true! The rain is still falling and I am so grateful. It's no accident that the Bible often uses agricultural metaphors. The psalmist wrote that the godly person "is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season" (Psalm 1:3). We are not meant to remain seedlings forever. Spiritual seedlings are meant to become strong and mature, bearing fruit that is pleasing to God.
Earlier in the same chapter of Hebrews the author describes his readers as those who "have tasted for yourselves the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit and known how good the word of God is and felt the mighty powers of the world to come." Note: "How good the word of God is." Amen! The key is this: We develop into strong trees only by developing a healthy root system. Why is the Bible important to you, to me? The reason is simple: The Bible is God's word, given to us to teach us his truth and guide us through this life. The Bible is not optional; it is essential if we are going to be rooted in him.
Suddenly the pinball darted over to the book of Philippians, and I was struck by these words of Paul:
When I'm running in a marathon, I'm all too aware of all the things that make me different from the other runners. I know how slow I'm running and how awkward my stride looks. In the end, though, we come to understand that the victory of each race has nothing to do with speed or form, with winning or losing. Each race has to be run one step at a time. Running teaches us to enjoy the moment. It teaches us that the only time we have is the here and now. As you get better at living in the moment, at slogging away at each step, each mile, you'll find that you're content to let time march on. Your memories are those you are creating today. You can take honest pride in having done your best. And the last step of one marathon merely becomes the first step of the next.
Just so you know, long distance running is a painful sport physically. Which means you have to have a strong mental game while training and in the race itself. A marathon will certainly put you to the test and yes, I think many of the lessons learned while running a marathon can be applied to life as well. For mental toughness, I try to break things down into small chunks. In a race, it could be getting to the next bend in the road or the next mile marker. It doesn't always work, but building toughness is a process. Therefore, I welcome suffering because I know it produces perseverance.
Ok, enough for now. I will likely revisit this topic in the days to come. Thanks for bearing with me and, again, thanks to all you veterans!
Saturday, May 29
10:15 AM God is so good to me. With only 24 hours of rain, the hay is already looking so much greener.
We may get a second cutting this year after all. I don't deserve these blessings but I sure do appreciate them. Oh how I thank you, Jesus!
8:25 AM Today is the day I begin tapering. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the marathon is exactly one week from today. The goal is to arrive at the start line neither tired nor undertrained. That is the balance in this thing called running (and life). You want to arrive at the event as fresh and as fit as you can possibly be. Think about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
The story is a lesson about balance in life. Nothing should be too hot or too cold. Nothing should be too hard or too easy. The extremes are to be avoided, in life and in running. We are constantly seeking out that place where everything is "just right." It's a matter of finding that point of balance on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly basis. And the point of balance is constantly changing because our lives are constantly changing. We're getting older, our bodies are changing, our circumstances shift, etc. It takes a while to learn and to accept balance in our lives. But to be successful in life, we have to find that ever-elusive thing called balance that is appropriate to us. By working too hard we are actually working against ourselves. I've learned that lesson the hard way as a runner. Ultimately, finding the "just right" in our lives is a game of trial and error. Everyone who knows me knows that I believe we should always aim high but appropriately. To everything there is a season. We must continue to pursue excellence with all of our being even as we adapt to new circumstances.
The place of equilibrium is there every day; we just have to find it. And with God's help and wisdom, we can all learn to run the race of life with a balance between restlessness and exhaustion.
Friday, May 28
6:10 PM My body, which worked overtime this week both in the classroom and out on the trail, insisted on having Mexican food this evening in South Boston. Who was I to say no? These portions are ridiculously large.
I'll get at least three meals out of this order of arroz con pollo. Meanwhile, a storm is about to hit. Which means it's time to sit on the front porch and enjoy it!
5:58 AM Week 2 of summer Greek ends today. Only two more to go! Today we're having a review exam over chapters 3-6. Teachers give their students far more than facts. The best we can do is give them Jesus. He is so good, isn't he? When we are confused, he is there. When stamina fails us, he is there. When we lack wisdom, all we have to do is ask him for it. With good reason students may doubt their teachers. But it is harder to doubt a Teacher as good as Jesus. May he be glorified in class today.
Thursday, May 27
5:34 PM This morning I rode my bike to Jamestown.
I started in Charles City Courthouse, which meant a 20-mile ride each way.
Oddly, every time I bike, I get imposter's syndrome. "You are not really a cyclist, Dave." I mean, I don't look much like a cyclist.
I'm too tall and too heavy. And my outfit? Ridiculous when compared to theirs. When I started cycling several years ago, I didn't know anything about the sport. I was enthusiastic, and that was all that mattered. Fact is, I simply love to bike. In the end, if you bike, you are a cyclist. You bike the same paths as the big boys do, though you will never have an expensive bike or the latest gear like they do. A few of them even gave me a passing nod today as we went by each other in opposite directions. But even without their recognition, I would still bike. My slowness is not a measure of my value. Not as an individual, not as a cyclist or a runner. I am slow, but my passion is real. Cycling teaches the rider how to live in the moment and truly enjoy it -- to find the happiness and joy that comes only from being outside in God's marvelous creation and breathing the air he made and watching your body move. We must learn to appreciate these fleeting moments as they are happening, not a day or a week later. Day by day, moment by moment, I am adding to the mosaic of myself as a runner, a cyclist, a dad, a teacher, and a hundred other things.
Being an athlete is a journey. It never stands still. It is an odyssey in constant discovery. And it can be one of the best things in your life!
6:20 AM Wonderful time this morning in the book of 1 Corinthians in one of my favorite Bible translations.
Ecclesiastes teaches us that there's a time for everything. If we are to have our priorities in order, we need to keep in constant touch with God's precious word. Only a book of such perfect balance can keep us balanced in our own lives and activities.
Off to bike!
Wednesday, May 26
8:32 PM This evening I'm working on my book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! There are moments like tonight when I feel thankful and shocked at how blessed I am that I can do this. I began as a simple classroom teacher. But classroom teachers need textbooks, right? I surprised myself with writing a little book about Greek linguistics, not knowing exactly what would come next. When you decide to be on a journey with God, everything is up in the air. You just have to trust him to direct your steps. When it comes right down to it, I'd have to say that there really aren't any books I've left unwritten in my career. Thank you, God, for the opportunities you've given me to write and publish. Even this little book I'm working on tonight feels sacred and beautiful. Friend, the best things in life never happen on their own. It wasn't just Baker or Zondervan or T & T Clark that decided I would publish a book. In publishing I discovered my own twin natures -- that of writer and that of teacher. And so I keep reminding myself: Be careful. God may have some other surprises up his sleeve. Sometimes when I'm writing, if I try really hard, I can see a 10 year old boy in Kailua dreaming about things richer and brighter than anything he dared to imagine, wanting in some way to make a difference in this world. Following Jesus felt like a task so big I couldn't manage it and yet a calling so visceral I couldn't ignore it. When I look back now, with my 68-year old eyes, it's like there was a big broad path I was walking on and never even knew it.
No one is an insignificant blip on God's radar. Perhaps you, dear reader, are ducking God's will because you're troubled by low self-worth like I was. If so, you've been duped. God is never bound by our self-imposed inabilities. What we can't do, he can do. God already has a plan worked out. What may seem impossible to you is possible with God. For me, each day has become an experiment in which I, like the apostle Paul, strive to leave the past behind and reach forward to all God has for me in Christ Jesus. It can be a very radical way of living.
7:04 PM Here's my mileage so far for May, 2021.
If the Lord wills, I'd like to get it up to 200 total miles before the end of the month. I did manage one long bike in Wake Forest.
Then, after class today, I drove up to Rice, VA, to try and get in a 10 mile run. The day was sweltering hot and the run was just too much for me. I stopped at 5 miles and got back into my air-conditioned car. This is the same trail I ran for my ultramarathon a couple of years ago. We ran it end to end, all 32 miles.
It's a wonderful trail but today was just not the day to be out there running on it.
Tomorrow is another day of course. My plan is to get in a long bike but to do it in the morning before the day gets too hot. I believe that saying "no" to today's run wasn't quitting. It was the right thing to do. All too often we runners let our egos steal what could have been small victories for us. I don't believe I have run my last best run yet. I don't believe I've lived my last best day yet either. My best days are still out there somewhere, and every day is an opportunity to find them. Running continues to teach me that I am fully human. Sometimes I make dumb mistakes. Sometimes I do what is the right thing to do. Either way, I have to meet every trial head-on. Gone are the days when I couldn't find satisfaction in quality because the only thing I understood was quantity. More is not always better. Each run can't be a work of art. Sometimes you just have to stop halfway. As ironic as it may sound, though my pace has slowed and my mileage has dropped over the years, I am probably a better runner now than I have ever been. I have come to understand that the only person who can tell me how to run is me. I realize that every step I take is a step in the right direction, taking me closer to who I want to be in Christ.
What a liberating thought.
Monday, May 24
5:55 AM It may sound weird, but to me studying Greek isn't meant just to be enjoyed. It's meant to be a challenge and a chance to become a stronger, better you. It's an opportunity to build character traits such as stamina, perseverance, and long-term thinking, as well as help you improve your time-management skills and self discipline. Every single language I have studied has come to me the hard way. In fact, in one of my dreams last night, a Frenchman asked me if I spoke French. I had to admit that I was terrible at spoken French. (I love crazy dreams like that. Is someone trying to tell me something?) When I first started studying Greek, I had no clue what was in store for me. I got so sick of hearing myself and other people making excuses for why they weren't doing the things they wanted to do. Studying, like anything else in life, is a DECISION. It's not negotiation or anything else. You make studying a part of your routine and you just do it. That's it. It's like running. Don't let your brain make excuses for not going out for a run. Lace up your shoes and get going. There are many people who can't walk. MANY. You get to run. There are many people who never had the opportunity to go to college or grad school. You get to do that. I am no psychologist, but my guess is that our motivation is tied to our goals. If your goal is to read the Greek New Testament, then toughen up. The payoff is out of this world. It is ridiculously worth it. Say, "I will be tough. I will be grateful. I will not stop unless I have to." (Yes, that may happen. I dropped Greek after 3 weeks. That just wasn't the course or teacher for me. No shame in that.)
The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about sports. The athletic experience had three parts:
"Breaking training" was a sin. Self-mastery was required. How well the runner knows that. How well the language student knows that as well. Let's not forget that the agōn was freely accepted. Sports, like language learning, is a laboratory of dedication, sacrifice, commitment, mastery, discipline, and loyalty. There will never be a day in our lives when we don't need self-mastery.
Sunday, May 23
5:22 PM During the 2016 presidential campaign one candidate tweeted, "Greed, fraud, dishonesty, arrogance. These are just some of the adjectives we use to describe Wall Street." The grammar police were all over this tweet. "These are all nouns," said one. Of course, on Twitter you're supposed to be able to get away with this. (Twitter has its own rules of grammar.) Fact is, words can belong to more than one word class (part of speech). Indeed, nouns can often be used as adjectives in certain contexts (i.e., chicken soup). Anyhoo, it's time for the Greek adjective in class tomorrow, which means, yes, there are 24 forms to learn for the normal Greek adjective.
Oh my. What fun!
3:28 PM It's hard to believe that marathon #17 will be here in less than two weeks. It's kinda nerve-racking to tell you the truth. But I'm all in. Little did I know when I ran my first marathon some 5 years ago that this event would take me all around the country, from Arizona to Chicago to Utah to Texas to Baltimore to Richmond and, of course, to Washington DC for the Marine Corps Marathon. What I've come to realize is that when the gun goes off, all of us runners are pursuing the same finish line even though we are running for different reasons. We all have one thing in common: we want to experience the joy of moving forward. I leave marathons in awe of the accomplishments of so many different kinds of people. People run to fight cancer or find companionship or be a better person. Just stand at the finish line of a marathon for 15 minutes and watch the reactions of everyone reaching new heights and achieving new goals. Did I mention that running is fun? You can't help but get caught up in the excitement and joy. These kinds of experiences transfer to every other area of our lives, making us realize we can improve in our careers, our relationships, and even in our health. Even now I am humbled to run a few miles each week, aware and respectful of what my aging body can and can't do. The people I meet in running inspire me to keep going. My life has been molded and framed by the sport. I wish the same for every one of you, my dear readers. No matter what your aspirations may be, do something in life that will challenge you to the max. Every day is an opportunity to find those challenges.
P.S. The other day my son told me about a walking/biking trail in Danville that he and his family discovered recently. So I thought I'd try it out today. It's called the Riverwalk Trail. It's a very wooded trail that mostly follows the Dan River. You will pass through various communities, a few parks, and a couple of industrial areas. The whole trail is very peaceful and quiet even though you are passing through the heart of Danville. I had a very nice ride! Here are a few pics (along with an encouragement to bring your family here if you want a delightful weekend outing).
6:05 AM This morning I enjoyed two revelations of God -- his revelation in nature, and his revelation in his word.
As a farmer, I'm reminded that all we have on this green earth comes directly from the hand of God. If he sends rain, we have crops. But we must also work. Wise old Solomon said, "He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son" (Prov. 10:5). Yesterday one of my daughters told me she had just planted her summer garden. It would be foolish indeed to grow vegetables and never pick them. When we used to grow our own vegetables, regular picking was a way of life. Even if we couldn't use all of the green beans we grew, we could give them away. You can be sure that my daughter will be busy picking and canning this summer. You can also be certain that hay will be got up this evening because tomorrow it will be raining. God always commends diligence. When we neglect our garden, it gives itself over to weeds.
Greek student, our laziness affects our grades. Luck? Nope, not in this game. It really comes down to an off the charts work ethic. I'm a big fan of putting your head down and chasing down dreams. Doing your best is all it takes to be a real champion in this game called life.
Saturday, May 22
6:10 PM Maple Ridge, our guest house, has been closed for over a year now due to Covid. But that's about to change, and to get the house ready for occupancy again a number of young men and women from the Westwood Baptist Church-based American Heritage Girls and Trail Life USA came to the farm today with their leaders and did a bang-up job of spiffying the house and environs. They were joined by a couple of stalwart seminary students.
Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot thank you enough! I've been working very hard to see that our guest ministry can resume as quickly as possible, and today was a giant step forward toward reaching that goal. Yes, running is important, but sometimes it gets trumped by importanter stuff (like good grammar). One of my favorite quotes is, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others" (Gandhi). Paul put it this way: "Share what you have with God's people who are in need" (Rom. 12:13). So, thank you, men and women, for lightening my burden today so that I can lighten someone else's burden tomorrow. Life is so much better when we go out of our way to help each other, isn't it?
A few pics. Enjoy!
7:55 AM Happy weekend, guys! It's supposed to be 90 degrees today so I'm going to try and get most of my outdoor work done before noon. My hay fever is doing a number on me this morning. Sure makes life miserable. Add to that this silly growth above my right eye. It's getting so large I think I'm going to have a take out a birth certificate on it. I don't care. It won't keep me from doing what I want to do. It's one thing to make the decision to live an active life. It's quite another to keep on acting on that decision. What I know for sure is, even though I am awful at it, I love doing physical things. As I told my students yesterday, I want to become a "transition" person. Instead of simply transferring the scripts from the preceding generation (baby boomers tend to be sedentary), we can change them. And we can do it in such a way as to not put other people down while doing it. For example, let's say you have a bad temper and you blame it on the fact that your dad had a bad temper. You can still change. And your own change can affect many lives downstream. Or let's say you grew up with the "senior/lead pastor" model. (Eldership in the New Testament is completely non-hierarchical.) Since then you've come to realize that there's only one Senior Pastor (1 Pet. 5:4) and it's not you. The church you plant can change all that. Change -- real change -- comes through commitment to being a transition person who decides to rise above the false or negative scripting that has been passed down to you.
But enough philosophizing for now. Stop dithering, Dave! Time to get to work. Enjoy the day y'all!
Friday, May 21
9:40 PM It was another fantastic week on campus and here on the old farmstead. While my students were knocking themselves out learning Greek verbs and nouns, I kept plugging away at my marathon training. I got in a longish run.
As well as a longish bike.
After teaching today I came home to mow the yards and then get up some more hay. We worked until way past dark.
Thankfully, the evening was coolish and there was very little humidity.
The hay fever was another story, however.
Aaaargh!!!! I hate hay fever. Aaaargh!!!!
I've come to realize that our bodies will go as far as they need to go and no farther. They are hardwired to work, but you always have to pace yourself.
I love work. I could watch it all day!
I loved this week, all of it. The outdoors were so beautiful I couldn't stop taking pictures. I quickly realized that none of the pics I post on my blog could ever truly capture the beauty of the moment, whether it's biking, running, or farming. I face the challenges -- of growing older, of teaching a reduced load, of the good and bad things in this life -- in the same way I face the challenges of running. There will be good patches and bad, easy days and hard ones, but in the final analysis all is good because our God is good. Like Paul, I keep running the race set before me, stumbling along, panting sometimes to catch up, praying and trusting the same Lord who drew you after himself and will keep on drawing me. We have his promise. "Your light will rise like dawn out of the darkness and the Lord will satisfy your needs. You will be a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail" (Isa. 58:9-11).
Praying you have a wonderful weekend,
Monday, May 17
6:06 AM Hello virtual friends. I hope you had a wonderful weekend. I've been reading John McWhorter's book What Language Is. So far I'm loving it. It's masterfully written, brilliantly argued, and, in my opinion, simple without being simplistic. The latter point is why I still use my beginning Greek grammar in my classes after all these years and after so many recent contributions to the field. I've always appreciated succinctness and clarity, as long as you don't sacrifice essential content. Today we're reviewing chapter 1 on the alphabet and pronunciation.
We'll also take our first look at the Greek verb system which, unlike English, is highly inflected. I can still remember the day in 1975 when I dropped out of my beginning Greek class at Biola after only 3 weeks. I discovered I wasn't very good at languages, especially when the textbook was designed for students at Harvard and not for kids who grew up on a remote Pacific island and who never went to school. That was a heartbreaking moment, and the discovery sentenced me to a long period of introspection. Will I ever become a good student? Can I ever learn let alone master Greek? All I could see was the awful prospect of failure. A simple course in Greek from Moody Bible Institute's Correspondence School turned all that around.
And so it was that a funny thing happened on my way to adulthood. Surprise, surprise, I became a Greek teacher. I have discovered that being a teacher is a way of life that gives back more to you than you invest. My class that starts today is an invitation to my students to discover the accidental Greek scholar in themselves. My grammar is merely a guidebook for their own journey. Throughout the class the students will hear my story, which is sad at times, poignant at times, and downright silly at times. I made some mistakes in trying to learn languages only once and others over and over again. You may have too. In the end, though, the worst mistake I made was believing I couldn't do the impossible. With Christ, all things are possible.
My friend, you are your best teacher, your wisest coach, your harshest critic, and your biggest fan. You are both the player and the cheerleader. I hope you will join me as together we discover the life of an accidental Greek student.
Sunday, May 16
1:52 PM Tomorrow begins our summer Greek 1 class. Perhaps you too are taking a class this summer. The protocol for Greek is quite simple: study, then study some more. It's not long before you're asking yourself: How long can I sustain this routine? Will the benefits outweigh the pain? Each of us must have a mountain in our lives, even if to others it may look like nothing more than an anthill. We all need meaningful goals. Otherwise it's simply not worth the effort. I once read about a course in physical fitness at an Oregon university. Students were required to lift weights one day and jog the next. Week in and week out. Sound boring? Not to these students. They rarely lost interest or dropped out of the class. Why? Because the course prepared them to climb Oregon's Mount Hood. Having a real and tangible goal transformed an otherwise mundane course into a new and rewarding experience.
The person who finishes a marathon is vastly different from the same person who started the race. That's what makes the marathon so attractive. You need something you think yourself to be incapable of. You need to try something you've never done before. You'd be surprised at how many rewards are out there waiting to be claimed. The true competition is with yourself. You run against the absolute best you can do. In this game, everyone can be a winner. You are not diminished in any way by those who are ahead of you and those who are behind. You are running your race. The famous line in the movie Chariots of Fire says it all: "Let each of you discover where your chance for greatness lies. Seize that chance, and let no power on earth deter you."
So welcome, students, to Greek 1. When I stand at the starting line of a race, no one comments about the absurdity of a man my age competing against them. No one questions my reasons for entering an event in which there's a high degree of probability that I will come in dead last. No one asks, "Why are you doing this?" They already know the answer. My answer and theirs are exactly the same: "It is my heart that led me here."
When we all do our best, we are equal. None is any more heroic than the other. We are all engaged in the same struggle.
And I am here to help you succeed.
9:45 AM While waiting for their service to be live-streamed, I stumbled across Stonebriar Community Church's page called Adopt a Missionary. I think this is a fabulous idea. Maybe you could consider doing it in your own church. Through our prayers God changes otherwise immovable circumstances, strengthens weary missionaries, and draws people into a personal relationship with himself.
9:15 AM My former copy of this escape classic from WW 2 fell apart weeks ago so I ordered a new(er) copy.
This page is when he's captured. Fun quiz: Can you spot the errors in the German?
8:58 AM Just bought me some new hiking poles. Time to get back to the mountains.
7:48 AM If there's one saying of mine that my students have heard over and over again it's, "Take a teacher, not a course." I learned to do that at Biola. Yes, I enjoyed all of my teachers. (Well, maybe not all of them; I could never understand the philosophy prof.) But the gravitational pull of a few of them was irresistible. One of these profs was a man named Lloyd Kwast.
You've never heard that name before. He hadn't published much. But his classroom presence was spellbinding. He taught in the Department of Missions. In fact, if you attended Biola in the 1970s, you probably had Lloyd Kwast for Introduction to Missions and Evangelism. I also took him for the Book of Acts and others classes. Dr. Kwast had returned from the foreign mission field to study World Missions at Fuller and then take up his teaching post at Biola. And what a contribution he made. He never disappointed us in that contribution. He was more than a professor of missions to us. He was our missionary ideal, a constant rebuke, a stimulus to maintain at any cost the apostle Paul's methods of missionary work. His brilliant gifts were matched only by his humility and a tenderness that often brought him to tears as he talked about the nations. He taught me to be ready to make the most of my opportunities to share Christ. When Lloyd Kwast entered the classroom at Biola, he depended on the power of God. Nothing's changed. The same power still opens closed minds and softens hearts. He taught me that my goal in life is to see a church for every community worldwide. Where no churches exist we seek to plant them. But hear me and hear me well: Where the church is already established we assist its ministry and development. We do not come in as outsiders and impose our agendas. We come alongside the national churches and simply and humbly say, "How can we help you?" As you know, I'm committed to honesty as a teacher. I'm attracted to honesty in others. Lloyd Kwast always told us the most naked and truthful things about missions. He never sugarcoated a thing. He showed us that life with God is extraordinary and rich and worth devoting yourself to. Friend, God is calling you to a life of missions in this exact moment. That calling is enough and is worth celebrating and investing in. On Friday, we sent out our graduates. I pray that they will set out asking nothing but the joy of carrying the Name of Jesus further afield into the darkness.
Thank you for reading, and keep going.
Saturday, May 15
5:14 PM Hi. It's me again. No, the rapture didn't happen. I just got stuck in Wake Forest due to the panic gas buying. But all is well now. After a wonderful week on campus, I had a stirring interest to attempt a trail race. So I browsed the blogs and message boards, reading about the various races that were to be held today. When I came across a 5 mile trail run just west of Chapel Hill, I had an instinctual feeling that this was the race for me. It started out in an exclusive residential community.
I began in wave 14.
While out on the trail I had an epiphany: "Wait a sec. I love being outdoors pursuing my goals. And that's exactly what a trail race is -- a run through nature with an aid station in the middle!"
Once the race got underway, I felt right at home at the back of the pack. Yes, I did manage to pass a few runners, but not because I was necessarily faster than they were. They were just slower than I was.
That said, I did rev up the afterburners when my competitive juices began to flow. Honestly, I felt like I was in the Olympics. Suddenly I found myself on the ground. "Hmm. That's strange. Did I just face plant?" The reality was that the course was extremely rocky and rooty, if you know what I mean. (If you live in North Carolina, you know exactly what I mean.)
There was no option but to get yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue the race. On an Embarrassment Scale of one to ten, I'd rate this moment about a sixty-two. (Although it must have been something to watch.) I was no worse for the wear and kept running with one goal in mind: finish the race without murdering myself.
At the finish line there were no cheering multitudes.
No external rewards. Just the internal satisfaction of knowing that you persevered amid challenges and never gave up.
Oddly, I kept thinking about Becky while running. It was, after all, her birthday on Wednesday. My thoughts were filled with joy. I have never met a more selfless, compassionate, or giving person. I admired how quickly she was to laugh, to smile, and to serve. She had an ability to make people feel important, and when she smiled, her face glowed. I remember the hardships we endured in Switzerland because we were too poor to turn the heat on in our minuscule apartment. We subsisted on whatever food our meager resources could afford. But we had Jesus and we had each other, and that was enough. The heart and soul of life is about pushing hard, being determined, fighting through the adversities, and especially trusting the Lord and enjoying his goodness. I thought about this when I was grading these papers, exams, and notebooks this week.
Behind each of these projects were literally hundreds of hours of study and work. If that thought won't keep you humble and grounded as a teacher, nothing will. Yesterday, many of these students finished their course. They came here to be sent, so we sent them! Graduation is the beginning of so many amazing experiences.
A light bulb went on in my head: "You graduated with your M.Div. 41 years ago. I know exactly what these students are feeling!" As the time has passed, I've looked back on my life at things that at the time I thought were fairly mundane and insignificant but ones that ended up shaping the person I am today. I am so thankful to God for giving me all these years to help shape these precious young people. I could show you many post-graduation pictures, but I'll only post one.
This is my personal assistant with his wife. You will never meet a more gracious, Christ-focused couple. I start to get the shakes when I think of trying to accomplish everything we accomplished these past two years without Rodolfo's help and wisdom. Was graduation bittersweet? Yes, in some ways. It was bitter in that this is the last time I plan on attending a commencement service.
But it was sweet knowing that God's timing is always perfect. I fell head-over-heels in love with teaching 44 years ago. I love the whole campus environment. I love the excitement of wondering what new adventures are in store as you teach. I know the thrill of jumping off the proverbial cliff and then proceeding to soar. I know I am describing many of you. You are people who strive to live your lives to the fullest, and by doing so to inspire others to be brave and jump. The combination of life experiences, working with Becky's cancer team to help her beat back the disease, and the lessons I've learned through teaching and writing have all inspired my desire to keep jumping. I never want to become the guy in the movie Groundhog Day who, year after year, works from eight to five, comes home, watches TV, then goes to bed, only to repeat the whole thing over again the next day. I don't want to look back on my life as a long string of useless days. I want to jump! If there is a race I want to run, I'm going to run it now. If there is a goal I want to achieve, I will start working toward achieving that goal now. I want to keep challenging myself to grow personally and spiritually. Furthermore, I believe I've been blessed with a body that is willing to run, walk, bike, and hike, and I want to take advantage of that while I can. How amazing is it that a guy six years older than me would have the bravery to click the "register" button for the marathon I'm running in a couple of weeks? It goes to show that age doesn't have to be a limiting factor when you are chasing your dreams. Marathons teach an invaluable lesson: It is possible to suffer and keep going. It is possible to suffer and become a stronger person because of it. This lesson is applicable to every aspect of life. No, I'm not saying you should try and predict the future. Just focus on the mile of life you are running at this very moment. Expect that you will have to dig deep. You may have to find a level of courage you never thought you had. But it's there. Believe me, it's there.
Let me close by saying how incredibly thankful I am to Southeastern Seminary for providing me with a place to work and thrive for 23 years. There is no better seminary on the planet. Words can't adequately describe the gratitude and love I feel for our president Danny Akin. I'm thankful for my colleagues, my students, and all the staff who work so tirelessly to make our jobs easier. I feel so blessed to have had a wife for 37 years who was unquestionably supportive of all my career adventures. She never questioned or discouraged any of my vocational aspirations. The best decision I ever made was to ask Becky to marry me. Finally, I'm thankful to God for the opportunities he has placed before me. That includes the body he's given me, a body that allows me to feel his earth beneath my feet, breathe the fresh air he provides, and experience the beauty of his creation. Truly, Jesus, you are the wind beneath my wings. I love you!
Monday, May 10
6:20 AM Kathy Miller was your typical Scottsdale, AZ, teenager. That is, until she was critically injured in a car accident. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and lapsed into a coma. Months later she opened her eyes. When she was finally released from the hospital, she couldn't walk or talk. The months passed as she began to regain her coordination. At first she shuffled, holding onto the wall for balance. The first time she tried to jog she fell and fractured her nose. But she kept getting up, determined not just to walk but to run. Eight months after her accident, Kathy entered the North Bank 10K in Phoenix. She didn't come close to finishing first. But she won her race, because she finished.
Students, I want to thank you for not giving up this semester. I know it's been hard on many of you. Thank you for taking that one step at a time we talked about so often in class. It takes courage to continue. My motto as a runner is: "By perseverance the snail reached the ark" (C. H. Spurgeon). And my favorite Scripture is:
Even in the classroom -- yes, maybe especially there -- God is our refuge and strength. I love you, I appreciate you, and I will miss you. Have a wonderful summer and I will see you in the fall as the Lord allows.
Sunday, May 9
6:12 PM Today, at the Virginia Capital Trail in Richmond, I biked exactly 29 miles.
That's the number of years Becky spent on this earth as a mother. Afterwards I treated myself to some Ethiopian food at the Addis Restaurant in Richmond. I often took Bec here when we were nearby. Of course, I ordered her favorite item on the menu, kai wat.
Once again, the Scripture gets it right:
Thank you, honey, for being such a wonderful wife and mother. You loved us well. We love you and miss you.
Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms out there!
6:18 AM From my Bible reading this morning:
In his book Galaxy of Saints, H. F. Stevenson writes:
Postmoderns approach life differently than most of us did at their age. But there's one thing we have in common: we require safe spiritual environments where honest questions are welcome and where we feel "at home." I suppose my spiritual "mother" during my college and seminary days was my pastor's wife. I often turned to her for counsel, especially when it came to my relationship with Becky, whom I was dating. Ever the perfectionist, I was ready to marry Becky -- I had just been hired to teach at Biola -- but was punctilious about every detail to a fault. After Becky graduated and returned to her home in Dallas, I still had not popped the question. She was ready. But was I? Off to Doris Hakes I went. Over lunch she looked at me and told me in no uncertain words, "Don't you realize you're supposed to marry that girl?" I got on the next plane to Dallas and the rest, as they say, is history.
I beg God to bring mothers into the lives of my students, someone to help "raise" them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Yes, even seminary students need spiritual mentors. They hunger for love. Relationships deeply matter to them, even the most "self-reliant and ruggedly resourceful" among them. They must be allowed to wrestle without being put to shame. Who will be a sanctuary to them? How about Sanctuary Jesus, who sometimes looks an awful lot like a mother. Real parents say, "I love you. Now get off your behind and do your chores." They don't coddle or excuse. "You know what is right. Now go and do it."
Who will mentor our children long after they leave our homes? Let's give them a few more mothers à la Rufus.
5:52 AM Happy Mother's Day -- and 90th Birthday -- mom!
Saturday, May 8
6:04 PM What a wonderful next few months it will be. I'll attend my last commencement service at the seminary. I'll graduate my final Ph.D. student. I'll start my summer Greek class. I'll run my next marathon. I'll attend the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Remember when I wrote my book Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and 40 Years of Teaching? I don't. But I went back and reread it, wrote a scathing review on Amazon, and then remembered that I had the nerve not only to write a book about aging, I actually said nice things about getting older. Sure, your mind and body go wacky, but I promise you: aging will temper you like nothing else. This is me running today on the High Bridge Trail in Farmville.
Come close, all ye who think ye will never get old. I know, YOU will never age, but if perchance you should, just remember how a 68 year old dude kept chasing down his dreams. Which is so weird, because I don't know anybody who's 68, do you? There I was, getting in my daily mileage so that when I become a greeter at Wal-Mart I won't have to use a walker.
Oh, did I tell you? On the run back to Farmville along the River Road, who should I meet but these three sweeties out for a morning stroll alongside the highway.
Calves, you see, are too young to realize that car and cow encounters aren't a good thing. For either car or cow. I called the County Sherriff to report the breakout and they said they'd send someone to help me get the escapees back into a pasture -- some pasture, ANY pasture. Well, let me tell you, a young dude like me doesn't wait around for the cops. Drawing on my years of experience raising Angus, I had those babies back in the pasture long before the sheriff showed up.
Being a farmer, I guess, has its benefits after all.
I'll close by apologizing for posting yet another picture of my running mileage. I paid good money for my Garmin, and I plan to get my money's worth out of it. I eventually made it back home, where I promptly sat down in my lawn chair to soak up the sun.
Ever the optimist, I choose to think of this as a way of taking care of my body. Actually, I am just pain lazy. (Have I ever mentioned that?) Trust me, if I could get Vitamin D any other way, I'd do it. (Milk? What's milk?)
Well, I am completely out of excuses for prolonging this blog post, so I will sign off for now. Tomorrow's another day -- a long bike ride, Lord willing. Adios!
7:58 AM Seen this?
(Contemplative Haiku by Dave Black, frequent self-quoting author.)
I'm so lazy I thought "Marathon Man" applied only to the movie.
Whatever. Time to lace 'em up and go for my weekend run. I have no running aptitude. Zero, zilch, nada, Nichts. But I'm worse at other sports so I might as well stick with this one. My guess is you're sitting there contemplating getting up off your behind today and getting out the door for some exercise. I don't know if anyone has ever been given the Order of Hawaiian Beach Bum for being lazy, but I know I would qualify for that honor. Don't let my bad example hold you back.
It's not like we're forced to exercise, you know.
7:36 AM "Pray all the time. Ask God for anything in line with the Holy Spirit's wishes" (Eph. 6:18). I'm praying this morning with much hope and faith that God will give my students a refreshing summer and reward them for their efforts this semester. I beg your forgiveness where I was less than what I should have been in the classroom. I trust that my motives were godly. Remember always, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you ..." says the Lord. I'm so happy in Jesus this morning because I know he will continue to open our minds to understand the Scriptures. God bless you, students. Glad to serve Jesus with you. Let us boldly proclaim his goodness this day.
Friday, May 7
8:45 PM Pleasant drive into town.
What's not to enjoy about this evening?
Now it's time for a fire in the fireplace and a good book.
6:58 PM We teachers are driven, and sometimes we need to take the foot off the pedal and slow down a little bit. I'd much rather be driven than not driven, but it does require that we strike a balance between all of our other responsibilities in this life. This weekend I'm going to slow down and focus on the blessings of having been married to a wonderful woman who would have been celebrating Mother's Day and her Birthday in the next few days. Early in our marriage we decided that we would always try to be just plain old kind with each other. We sought to demonstrate our love in very mundane, ordinary ways. I can't tell you how many times Becky would come into my home office, set a cup of coffee next to me, gently touch my arm, then walk out of the room without saying a word. It always struck me that she didn't have to do that for me. But she did it anyway, acting entirely of her own free will. In his book I Married You, Walter Trobisch said there were three tests of genuine love in a marriage:
Love thinks of the other, not of oneself. Love makes each partner stronger, imbued with new energy and strength to serve the other day in and day out. And there is no true love without respect. My friend, if you are married, these guidelines may help you measure the health of your relationship. "Yes," say to your spouse, "I will love you completely in an environment of trust, respect, and sacrifice, no strings attached. I will love you like that because that's the way God loves me. I love you!"
6:10 PM Summer Greek begins a week from Monday. If you still need to get a copy of our textbook, Amazon is running a sale you might be interested in ($16.55 instead of $22.99).
12:22 PM First year Greek students -- check this out!
11:45 AM Morning again y'all. Jumping online again to share with you just how wonderful I'm finding The Living Bible this morning. Sometimes Kenneth Taylor nails it. This is my Bible reading this morning.
I'm doing a deep dive into the opening paragraph of 1 John 2.
I can tell that the man tried to take God seriously. He was so careful about the way he rendered the word. Not always, of course. But you have to at least give him credit for hitting it out of the ballpark on occasion. A few examples:
"My little children, I am telling you this so that you will stay away from sin."
This is exactly what the aorist implies here.
"But if you sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father."
Bingo! That's precisely what paraklētos means here!
"His name is Jesus Christ, the one who is all that is good and who pleases God completely."
"The one who is" captures the absence of the article terrifically.
"He is the one who took God's wrath against our sins upon himself."
Yes, yes, and YES! Many translations completely miss the reference to propitiation here.
As a general rule, I do not recommend a paraphrase of the Bible produced by one man to be used as your basic study tool. Yet there's a place for versions like The Living Bible. Exasperating as they can be at times, they can get us thinking about the meaning of the text. I remember falling in love with the Good News Bible when I was 16. The flame, fanned by subsequent years of following Jesus, has only grown since then. Something's burning, folks. It's the word of God as it sizzles in our hearts. Pure and simple, the Bible is the most life-changing book you will ever read. Deep inside me is the God-given urge to know him better, to have regular, audible conversations with him, to see him up close and personal, to worship him face to face. That's possible when we come to him in his word. If you have any doubts, just read it for yourself.
10:05 AM You might be wondering what it's like to run a marathon. Well, in less than a month I hope to be able to give you a pretty good idea, from start to finish. The Jackson River Trail Marathon is truly unique, the venue is one of the nicest you can find in Virginia, and I am excited to get back to running this distance after a break of over a year and a half. Marathon training is another level that you have to dig for sometimes. Today is cool and rainy, but tomorrow promises to be sunny and warmer and I hope to get in a 2 hour run in Farmville leading up to this incredible race. Filling in the gaps of training with proper rest and nutrition is absolutely key. Marathon training is nothing to mess around with. Overall I'm pleased with my efforts but I know I can always improve. I'm a little nervous but that's to be expected. We just keep breathing and moving forward, one day at a time in this world.
The start of the 2019 Chicago Marathon.
The finish of the 2018 Dallas Marathon.
6:58 AM Dealing with disappointment in life. How is it done? The curveballs that life throws at us are real. I had one of these thrown at me this week. The disappointment is too personal to share here, but it was very real nonetheless. We MUST roll with the curve balls. Disappointments do not cease for anyone, any time. I once read a book that suggested we treat life like a pet dog does: You live in the moment, you don't obsess over things you can't control, you focus on strengthening bonds with family and friends, and you love unconditionally. My dogs taught me more than I ever taught them, that's for sure. The best lesson they taught me was the permission to love with a wide-open love, like a puppy in a puppy box with all of his puppy friends, feeling warm and safe, loving with unmeasured and unadulterated love.
Yes, disappointments hurt, but when you put them in perspective in your greater life, they aren't that big of a deal. Ask yourself, will your sulking change the situation? If the answer is no, then there is literally no reason to be disappointed. It's wasted energy that could be used to focus on (1) what can be learned from the situation or (2) what can improve the situation. Obviously, life isn't always this simple, but I think it's definitely the best approach when we encounter the curveballs of life. Because of Christ, your life, right now, is exploding with potential, better than the best movie you've ever seen. I believe in the gift of disappointment. I believe that curveballs deepen us. Through disappointment you will discover a new gratitude, and it's gratitude for the way God makes something beautiful out of something not so beautiful. That's the kind of gratitude I talked about yesterday. It's the kind of gratitude that makes you want to slow down and smell the roses. Everything is a preparation for the next thing. Life with Jesus is a daring adventure, full of twisty and turny detours. But with the surprises come great hope.
I mowed the yard yesterday after work. Looking at Becky's rose garden turned the backyard into a wonderland, bouncing and brimming over with beauty and color and bands of light.
Seek the positive today, my friend, seek the positive.
Thursday, May 6
5:50 PM Today, like every Thursday after I get back to the farm, is a time for reflection. I sit on the porch reflecting. I think about this week on campus. I think about the ups and the downs, the positives and the negatives, the mountain tops and the valleys. I ask -- what did I do well this week, and what did I not do so well? And this time next week -- the last day of the semester -- I will be thinking not only about the past week but the past semester and the past 44 years of my career. I am truly grateful about it all. As a 68 year old, with a little of life behind me, I'm truly convinced that being grateful can help you accomplish anything in this world. If you are grateful to God for your current state in life, no one can ever take that away from you. No one can rob you of your inner joy in Christ. Gratitude wins, every time. Thank you all for this opportunity to share some of my story with you and hopefully to inspire you to remain in a state of gratitude toward the Lord, always. We mustn't give in to the ungrateful ways of the world. We must remain grateful. I'm so thankful for all the years God gave me in the classroom. Life is a balancing act between past, present, and future. Stressing about the future is not worth it. Sometimes you will achieve your goals and ideals. And sometimes you will not. That moment when you miss the mark is when you have to make a conscious decision to stay positive and filled with gratitude, centered always in Jesus. So here's to tomorrow, no matter what happened yesterday or what happened today. I look back, in gratitude, and I look ahead, with anticipation. I actually look forward to retiring on July 31st. It is a nice symbolic turning of the page. We look back and reflect, and we look forward and dream. I have many goals for the future. They will keep me motivated to live well. Be not afraid, ladies and gentlemen, to lean into your future. Share your goals with others so that they can encourage and motivate you to strive to get them. At the same time, THIS is the moment. Live always in the NOW.
P.S. These flowers, gifts, and card came from one of my classes today. God must love me very much to have given me such wonderful students. I am so thankful to them, and to him.
Monday, May 3
6:22 AM Here's just one of many takeaways from Chuck Swindoll's message from Stonebriar Church yesterday:
Bingo! Good things come to those who wait. An old adage that is a secret strategy for success in the 21st century, which is defined by instant gratification. We can all do a better job of being patient. It begins with realizing what's out of our control. God gives us so many chances each and every day to learn the virtue of patience. Marathon training is an incredible experience, especially when you open yourself up to the discipline it requires and the patience and consistency you will need to go the long haul. Patience is key. Patience is so important in the modern world. Stay patient, folks. It is important that you focus your time and energy on consistency and (as a teacher) bringing value to your students each and every class session. And consistency requires patience, because you will be tired or less motivated on some of those days. You need to train yourself to overcome those anxieties in your life. Overcoming adversity is a great trait to develop. What a gift we have as Christians to practice patience all the time.
Sunday, May 2
4:45 PM Just another beautiful day on God's green earth.
8:40 AM Goals. That's right, goals. I love to set them, as you know. I refuse to live my life staring in the rearview mirror. I'm not as fanatical about setting daily goals as some, but I still set them. Today's goals are to attend three virtual services, get in a recovery walk, and then work outdoors.
When people talk about their goals, that gets my attention. I eat this stuff up. You look to the past in order to prepare for the future. There is simply nothing better in my life as a teacher, runner, farmer, author, etc. Setting goals for the summer and the fall gets me excited to train and prepare for the arduous tasks God is calling me to perform. One reason I love running so much is that it is so simple and yet it invites you to think about details of life that are not simple. Take publishing for example. As you may know, when I graduated with my doctorate in 1983, I set the following writing goals: one major journal article every year, and one book every 5 years. I would also write two or three book reviews every year as time permitted. Eventually I ended up exceeding those goals, but you'd never know that unless you had set goals for yourself. Nowadays my publishing goals are to finish my book about the kingdom as well as my shorter book on how to study and apply the New Testament. As for teaching goals, I am 100 percent committed to continuing to teach with as much passion in retirement as I was during the past 44 years. My summer Greek students as well as those taking me for Greek 2 and Advanced Greek Grammar in the fall will see the same Dave Black. What a refreshing idea! Goals and activities may change, but you remain the same -- giving it your all no matter what the task is. And be honest, we teachers love it. We love getting into the classroom and inspiring students to become all that God wants them to become. Let's hold each other accountable to the opportunities that lie before us and then chase down our dreams. Races to run, mountains to climb, classes to teach and so much more.
We need goals, large or small, not only to survive but to thrive in this world. Some goals should be written down in pen, others in pencil. God will show you which are which. Don't box yourself into goals that are unattainable. If you don't believe you can reach them, you won't. As you know, for my races I have three goals: one I can just live with, one that stretches me, and one that's a dream come true. Our goals must always demand more from us. This is essential to staying motivated.
My friend, expect and deserve the best. Give 100 percent in all you do. Visualize yourself exactly the way you want to be. Come to know yourself, and you will avoid many hours of treading water.
Saturday, May 1
5:58 PM Yesterday, as you know, I made the trip up to Ashland to get my hotel room and hopefully a good night's sleep. As usual, the Hampton Inn came through for me big-time.
My room was as quiet as the farm and I slept like a baby. I was up early in order to get to the race venue in time for a 7:30 start for the half marathon.
As I drove into the Fawn Lake community, I found myself saying out loud, "Man, do people really live like this?"
I mean, even the grass along the streets was immaculately manicured.
After a few miles, I reached the clubhouse, got my racing bib, and off we went to run 13.1 miles.
Believe it or not, I ended up coming in under 2 hours and 30 minutes for the first time in a while.
I missed a new PR by less than 2 minutes. It's no Eliud Kipchoge, I know, but it's a fast time for me. The temperature today was exactly what it will be in heaven: perfect. It felt so good to be out there running. They even captured me at the finish line. Yes, I was smiling.
Well, that's my post-race report such as it is. I'm a bit busy so it will have to suffice. There are so many to thank. Thanks to all of you for reading. Thanks to the Fawn Lake property owners for allowing us to run through your subdivision. I didn't see any fawns but I did see lots of swans. Hmm, maybe you should rename your community "Swan Lake"!
Thanks to all the amazing volunteers along the course. You're always there when we need you the most. The course signage was impeccable. Thank you, volunteers!
Thanks to all the amazing runners I was able to share the course with. We had to battle through a few obstacles, that's for sure. The dam part of the course (no, I did NOT just swear) was super windy, as in gusts up to 40 mph.
Thank you, Lord, for showing me I can push myself to the limit without going overboard and hurting myself. Finally, thank you to my family for your love and support. I don't know why you put up with my running antics. Maybe it's cause you love me? :-)
P.S. Just took these pics in front of my house.
This hay is going to make some sweet horsies very happy!
Friday, April 30
8:22 AM Tomorrow, Lord willing, I will run. It will be proof that I am alive. When I hear my feet hit the trail and listen to my heart pounding and feel the air moving through my lungs, when I feel the morning coolness and then the heat arise as the sun comes up, I will know the joy of passing by the world rather than the world passing me by. What was once a slow and inexorable movement toward old age has become an effort to cover all the miles that my life (and the Lord) will allow. I know you won't understand. How could you? You will wonder why I drove so far and paid so much to run a race. Then again, you won't see the colors in the trees or the smiles on the faces of your fellow runners who are giving 100 percent to achieve their goals or the wonderful volunteers you pass or the deer and turkeys you encounter. No, those sights will be mine alone, to savor and to remember long after I'm no longer able to run. They will be memories for me to keep and for me to share with other runners.
Running, like teaching, is an experience I will never forget. I am thankful that both have been ridiculously hard, because the hardness has made me stronger. I know I will never be the same as a result.
Thursday, April 29
7:20 PM Hey internet community! I hope your week's been wonderful. Mine has been exhaustingly delightful. I'm so proud of my students. They are finishing their race with endurance. You want to cultivate the company of these kinds of people. One of them organized an outdoor lunch with several of her classmates so that we could all sit together and talk about the Lord. We are most free when we are serving others.
Back on the farm, the haying season has begun.
Can you believe it? And then there's this package I got in the mail from the Marine Corps. My medal and shirt for the "Historic Half" finally arrived!
As you can see, the Marines always do everything right.
What's next? Tomorrow I'll drive to Ashland to get my hotel room before Saturday's half marathon in Spotsylvania. These events are growing even faster than marathons. More and more runners are using half marathons as stepping stones to running full marathons. And many of us who've been running marathons are now stepping back into half marathons because the distance isn't as grueling. For some, the 13.1 distance is the farthest they ever plan on running. Moi? I am happy just to be running, period. I'd like to think that my life of running has inspired somebody out there to take up the sport. I've observed that people are more prone to think they can do something if they know someone else who has already done it. What is impossible suddenly becomes possible. In fact, it was after watching my daughter run a half marathon -- incidentally, it was none other than the Marine Corps "Historic Half"! -- that the crazy idea of me running in a race wasn't so crazy after all. Later we did a 5K together, and the rest is history. This little blog of mine is not so much about "Look at what I did!" as it is about "Look at what I did and imagine how you can do it too!" I know I'm bad at running, yet I still love the sport. At some point I simply ran out of excuses not to be physically active. There was simply no way of getting out of this. It was time to lace up my shoes and go. No, running 13.1 mile isn't easy. But that's exactly why we do it.
However, not running is as important as running. After yesterday's 5 mile run in Wake Forest, I am taking today and tomorrow off from exercising. I will not run or do much of anything for that matter. I want to hit the starting line Saturday morning refreshed and ready to run hard again. Just like with my years of teaching, running is an inspiring, challenging, and rewarding adventure. Those hours spent running make me feel alive. In the end, I don't care one iota what my finishing time is. It is not about how fast or slow I am. More than anything else, I focus on making my running fun, a celebration of the God who created the human body, even if I finish nowhere near first.
Friend, the harder you work for something, the more it will mean to you. Being challenged always makes us stronger. I still have so much to learn. But that's what makes life so interesting.
Monday, April 26
6:22 AM It's so wonderful to hear from close friends about how the Lord is blessing their ministries! One of them said to me yesterday, "Can't explain it." Yes, it is marvelous, mind-blowing actually, how the Lord chooses to use any one of us! My mind always goes to 1 Cor. 12:4-6. This is Christian ministry in a nutshell. The Living Bible reads as follows:
There you have it:
I've shared my testimony with you many times about how I sort of "fell into" my career. Most of us will discover that there are only one or two competencies to which we gravitate, but even we ourselves are hard-pressed to explain why it is this and not that. But remember:
Another friend of mine is a bicycle craftsman. When he finished his M.Div. with us he immediately into "the ministry" -- he opened his bike shop as a service to the community and as a platform for evangelism. It's clear to me that God gave both of my friends their gifts and their ministries, and the Lord is working effectively through each of them to bring glory to himself. I would like to propose that we cease trying to distinguish between talents, abilities, gifts, and skills and instead recognize that at the deepest possible level all of these competencies are heaven-sent. Use your gift, my friend, to serve the Lord Christ! No matter what your location or vocation, find a way to slough off the low-gear activities and maximize the overdrive ones. My friends have done just that and, in the strength of the Spirit, the results are glorious to behold.
Have a great, God-honoring week as you serve the Lord with gladness.
Sunday, April 25
3:50 PM Greetings, friends! Hope you're having a wonderful Lord's Day. Mine has been terrific. I've been counting my many blessings, as the old song puts it. First of all, we had rain last night. Not a storm or anything like that. No thunder and lightening. Just what we call a "farmer's rain" around these heah pahts. Most farmers will tell you they prefer drought to excessive rain. Too much rain can make the difference between a good year and a great one. That said, no farmer I know of will reject a light rain before it's time to get up hay. Isn't it just like the Lord to send this rain to freshen everything up before cutting?
When I got up at 5:00 it was still raining but predictions were that the rain would cease and we'd have a gorgeous day with a cloud/sun mix and temps in the 60s. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. So I jumped in the car and began driving to Farmville to get in 7 miles of post-race-day recovery running. Southern Virginia is a favorite destination for scenic byways and weekend vacations. And I live in the middle of it! As you can see, there was no traffic on the roads this morning.
It was a good time to listen to sermons, including a couple by my favorite preacher. Man, can he connect with his audience. Even better, he connects us with the Lord. Simple teaching without ever being simplistic. And no unnatural moving from side to side or silly gestures. I NEVER get bored listening to him expound the word of God. Funny thing, as I'm driving I'm going past all these churches where I've spoken. Here's one I think I've spoken in about 10 times.
It's in Charlotte County, which boasts it's the only county in Virginia without a traffic light. (It's true.) When I finally arrived in Farmville, I was the first one to park in the High Bridge Trail parking lot.
I never ever tire of this trail.
Right now it's closed off at the bridge for repairs.
No problem. You just take the River Road back into town.
The scenery along this highway is gorgeous. There are many old homes to admire.
But my favorite part is the fact that you are either running uphill or downhill, which is great on the legs. I once asked an elite runner, "How do you train to run up hills?" "Run up hills," was his wise reply. (Student, do you want to improve your ability to read the Greek New Testament? Read the Greek New Testament. Want to improve your ability to speak Spanish? Speak Spanish. Simple!)
By the way, tomorrow in my Greek 4 class (Israel) we'll be going over the article and prepositions. I'll also be having the students produce English to Greek translations. (Shhhh. Don't tell them. It's a surprise.) Tomorrow night in Greek 2 on campus we'll be in 1 John 1:5-10. In NT 1, it's the Gospel According to John, and in NT 2 it's time for our "Towel and Basin Ministry Reports." In our LXX class we are looking forward to a guest speaker who will walk us through two of the Psalms. I'm so glad I decided to become a teacher those many years ago. What fun!
Well, I hope you enjoyed my little update. Now go out and do something amazing.
Saturday, April 24
6:24 PM I have been teaching for 44 years. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!!??? I mean, it was just yesterday when I taught my first Classical Greek class at Biola. Then I blinked and, well, I think you could say I've taught a few more Greek classes since then. Knowing that I will soon be passing the baton to my students, I keep thinking about what I want them to take home with them from my teaching. What are the things I want to pass on? I figure I'd share some of them with you today. Here are 22 of the most important things I've picked up during my 44 years as a classroom instructor and professor. (Why 22 and not 44? Because I'm too lazy to do 44!)
1) Know thyself. That's where it all begins. Not what you think. But what God thinks about you. What has he created you to be and to do? Discover that, and you will never work a day in your life.
2) "Never be lazy in your work but serve the Lord enthusiastically" (Rom. 12:11). Holy shoddy is still shoddy. In the Lord's strength, always do the best you can with what you have.
3) Quitting is not an option. In the race of life, some people stand out more than others. They are the ones who are resilient. Be one of them. (Thank you, running, for teaching me this lesson.) "We'd better get on with it," says the author to the Hebrews. "Strip down, start running, and never quit!" (Heb. 12:1-2, MSG).
4) God is truth, and apart from him and his word there is no truth. To choose a God-centered identity is to choose for truth, the unfolding of reality. Always follow God's word, even when those closest to you think you're crazy. Jesus did. Call forth his blessedness in others. Speak words of power and mercy into their lives, teaching them who they are in Christ -- chosen, called, precious, essential, gifted, redeemed, empowered, cherished.
5) Get good at saying "no." Time is so incredibly valuable. Don't waste it. Don't get roped into doing things you don't really care about. (I wish I had learned this lesson ages ago. Sigh.)
6) Get good at saying "yes." Say yes to every door the Lord opens in your life. Say yes to his Spirit when he is leading you to pray. Say yes to fun. Say yes to adventure. Say yes to Ethiopian food. Always say yes to Ethiopian food.
7) Choose your friends carefully. Better to have fewer genuine friends than many shallow friends.
8) Stop comparing yourself to others. People will tell you you're not good enough. That you could never go to Europe for your doctorate. That you could never get a teaching position. Don't listen to them. You are enough. Just the way God made you. Accept his plan for your life. The guy knows what he's doing. Then stop worrying about what others think.
9) Take the path less travelled. Don't be afraid to color outside the lines. Resist groupthink like the plague. Celebrate your uniqueness. Different is good.
10) Get tough. Some day your world or some part of it will come crashing down around you like the first pane of glass you broke in childhood. The reason I call tell you this is because you are human, and that's what happens to humans. So what. You are stronger than you think. Focus on what you have and not what you lack. Be grateful even when you don't feel like it. Thanksgiving to God is something we should do all day, every day.
11) Give to others. When we take time for others, a sense of well being will always creep in. Faith is an action word. Don't just pray for others. Roll up your shirt sleeves and help them. How many, for example, are willing to spend time with the unpopular kid on campus who everybody is else is ignoring? You be that one.
12) Go for a run. Sheesh. Do I have to keep saying this? Our culture is lazy. We are overweight. We are stressed out. We think we don't have time for exercise. Hogwash. Do your best to accept responsibility for your body. It's the only one you will ever have. Why not start today?
13) Change it up. It's too easy to get stuck in a rut in our lives. Try a new hobby. Travel a little. Take a diet from social media. Read a novel instead of non-fiction or vice versa. When you are really struggling, do something -- anything -- differently.
14) Accept interruptions. When Becky died I knew I could not survive unless I knew God better. Either I had to deny how painful things were or I could numb my feelings with the temporary thrills of sin. I needed to come to God on his terms. I needed to seek him with all my heart. Be more appalled by your unholiness than by your discomfort. Interruptions are blessings in disguise.
15) Enjoy God's creation. I cannot remember a time when I was not aware of the sounds of the surf or the beauty of the sunrise or the glory of the Pali mountains or the deep sweetness of the Koolau rain forest. In Hawaii, God taught me to see, hear, smell, feel, taste. I learned to trust in the God who made it all, and who made me too.
16) Avoid politics. (Now I've gotten your attention.) Being citizens of Another County, Christians are subjects of a Heavenly King and are supposed to set their affections on him rather than on anyone else. It's a lesson I learned with mortal anguish. I only wish I had learned it sooner.
17) When I say that I accepted the "gift" of widowerhood, I do not mean that God made me a widower. He did not make cancer destroy my wife's body. He does not give people diseases or cause babies to be born with deformities or persuade a wife to leave her husband. These evils resulted from Adam's decision to disobey God in the Garden. He chose death, just as today we are free to choose his love and tenderness when we are left bereft of a spouse. God's love had allowed me to become a single man again. It's not what I wanted. Yet I have come to discover that even a painful loss like that can be a gift, for in my broken world God comes to me and gives me himself.
18) Stay centered in Jesus. There's a hunger in the human heart that only he can satisfy. There's a thirst that only he can quench. There is no inner emptiness that he cannot fill. Surrender to him today, again and again. He pursues us relentlessly even when we are running away from him to go our own way.
19) Don't feel hindered by your age or limited talents. Never say "I'm too young" or "I'm too old." Remember, these are not concerns to God. He can and will use your life in very extraordinary ways if you're willing to trust him in very ordinary ways.
20) Be joyful. This is something I'm having to learn and relearn. Joy is more than happiness. It's not a feeling that's here today and gone tomorrow. You can even be down in the dumps and still be joyful. Like Job, you can experience "joy in unrelenting pain" (Job 6:10). One of my goals in my waning years is to be more joyful in the Lord, as I am commanded to do (Phil. 4:2).
21) Love, love, love, then love some more. Love God. Love others. As a Spirit-filled Christian, you should be the world's greatest lover. Love is the hallmark of a Christian. (My definition of agapē love? "Love assigns unsurpassing worth to another person -- at a cost to itself." Don't forget that last part please.)
22) Be prepared. Jesus is coming back. It will be a homecoming like no other. He will come to rule a world that is currently in rebellion against him. And we will be with him!
Thanks for joining me on the journey, you guys.
Saturday, April 24
12:35 PM This morning at Liberty University I ran the annual Run 4 Their Lives Lynchburg 5K race, sponsored by the Run 4 Their Lives organization, which is dedicated to increasing awareness about human trafficking and to sharing stories about young women who are now free and thriving.
The race was held adjacent to the university's indoor track facility, which is a thing to behold.
I love this university. Its theology and apologetics departments are practically unmatched in North America. As per usual, there were wave starts, and you needed to be masked at the start and the finish.
I was excited to run this race. How often do you get to participate in an event that supports such a great cause?
One of the things I REALLY liked about the course was the last mile. It was all uphill. I think I'll dub it Heartbreak Hill because it was TOUGH. It was a surreal feeling at the end of a really demanding race to cross the finish line and think, "That was so much fun!" I was so proud of all 192 runners who finished the race.
Who would have thought that running a really hard course on a cold and gloomy day could be so rewarding! I'll leave you with two more pics:
1) At the turnaround point, these young men were holding up this sign. It says, "Number of Slaves in the World: 40 MILLION. There are more slaves today than at any point in history."
2) Meet Diamond. She greeted every runner as they crossed the finish line. She's a survivor of slavery and was a delight to speak with.
Have a blessed day!
Friday, April 23
11:34 AM My run this morning.
An easy 5 miles on a spectacularly beautiful day. I also did my errands for the week -- bank, post office, and grocery store. Today's run was another step toward reaching my goal of running my 17th marathon in June. Lord willing, next Saturday I will run my 5th half marathon of 2021 as yet another "tune up" run for the marathon. Nobody can deny that the marathon is a very special event. Completing a marathon is like earning your Ph.D. or getting married. Your life is never quite the same again. For me, and for so many runners, it's not just the race that's so wonderful. It's all the preparation that goes into it. Right now I will be resting for the remainder of the day. Rest is essential to the sport of running, I'm discovering. The goal is to be as fresh and fit as you can possibly be when you arrive at the starting line of your peak race. That peak race, for me, is the Jackson River Scenic Trail Marathon in the mountains of western Virginia on June 5th. Wish me well!
7:10 AM My reading this morning was in John 13-16. Had to think of my faculty colleagues when I read:
Whoever lives in me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit.
My true disciples produce bountiful harvests. This brings great glory to God.
My colleagues are such fantastic people. Excellent teachers. Publishers of ground-breaking books. Loving their students. Enter Jesus, with whom we are all bound together like branches to a vine. "A branch can't produce fruit when severed from the vine. Nor can you be fruitful apart from me."
My friend, bear much fruit for Jesus today. Let him transform you into a person with rivers of living water flowing from your innermost being. Let us remain attached to our only source of strength and peace. If we loved Jesus more than anyone else, we would be the best possible fathers and mothers and children and teachers and students and Christians. We'd get over ourselves and let him have the supremacy in all things. We'd be less likely to be distracted by politics and personalities. We would put all of our gifts and abilities at his feet.
Jesus was right. Apart from him, we can do nothing.
Thursday, April 22
8:04 PM My favorite new running trail in Wake Forest:
7:44 PM May I share with you a prayer request? The State Department informed me today that they have issued a Stage 4 Travel Health Notice indicating a very high level of Covid-19 in Ethiopia. In addition, border areas with Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia are experiencing higher than normal levels of armed conflict and civil unrest. The Ethiopian government has shut down or severely restricted internet and phone services. Becky and I have worked in many of these areas and I am concerned for the health and safety of the wonderful people of Ethiopia. Christians are very much in the crossfire. Thankfully, the Lord is with us "day after day after day, even until the consummation of the age." Our Shepherd majors in restoring hope to the hopeless.
Thankful for Jesus,
7:05 PM Earth Day meditation: Enjoying Nature Without Worshipping It.
Monday, April 19
6:44 AM Good morning, wonderful world of the internet! The compulsion to teach over these past 44 years has been borne out of my own experience in the classroom, as student and teacher, as follower and leader, as friend and counselor. I found that most of the help directed to students by the Christian community was addressed only to symptoms, ignoring the basic issues of foundational ecclesiology and church leadership and misappropriating such terms as senior pastor and authority. The church has long been remiss in giving honest and in-depth consideration to Jesus' teachings about the new society he would form through his death and resurrection. To fill this vacuum, many reactionary views are now being aired, and we are in great danger of becoming polarized rather than balanced. I find that many young people have long since resigned themselves to the status quo, whether out of despair or apathy. My own temperament, abetted by the thinking people in my life, has prodded me into a relentless pursuit of biblical answers to these problems. I am thoroughly and completely convinced that only the word of God, not any word of man, is the supreme textbook for us today, and that the church has far from exhausted the application of its truths to everyday life and ministry. I am painfully aware of the small contribution my efforts have been over these past 44 years. I can only hope that it will serve as a catalyst to encourage deep and meaningful biblical investigation and application. As never before, I believe God is eager to help us do this.
Blessings on your week,
Sunday, April 18
5:24 PM 'Twas another beautiful day. It began with a 3 mile recovery run at the track.
Then I did yard work all afternoon, including spraying Round Up and mowing the lawns.
While working I listened to sermons, like Chuck Swindoll's message from Ecclesiastes 5. I had to grin from ear to ear when he spoke on these powerful verses:
"To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life -- this is indeed a gift from God." How spot on! It was as though Chuck was speaking directly to me when he used losing a spouse as an illustration of accepting one's lot in life, followed up with illustrations from aging and retirement. Yep. That's me. Single. Aging. Retired. Each season of life has a specific purpose. And right now that purpose is to joyfully accept how God has arranged my life. It is indeed a gift! This is the season for saying "yes" to very specific things, and I plan on doing just that. Like enjoying these fresh eggs my daughter brought me today from her farm.
Or visiting the donks who wait patiently for me to give them their carrots each evening.
That's what I want my life to be like -- living in anticipation of the good gifts of God, living according to his promises, brimming with spirit and hope, absolutely overwhelmed by his goodness and grace. Thank you, God, for the things you heal, the people you redeem, the ways your hands are working behind the scenes as you weave poetry into our lives. You are truly amazing.
Such was my day. How was yours?
7:55 AM My morning Bible time was in Acts 20, where Paul tearfully says goodbye to his dear friends from Ephesus. The version I read this morning was Williams.
This particular verse struck me:
The Living Bible puts it this way:
I like the "racing" analogy. Paul has a race to run. He's tempted to quit. But he desires to finish the race because the race was assigned to him by the Lord himself. Incidentally, in some Greek manuscripts the words "with joy" come after "finish my race." Paul was no sourpuss. Even imprisonment couldn't make him lose his joy.
When I became an athlete -- mind you an embarrassingly awful athlete -- I started to look forward to running races. I liked the feeling I got from the effort of trying to do something hard. I began running 5 years ago after Becky went Home. That I'm still running today surprises me in some ways. Surely I would quit. You may have done that. Sure, you started well. You discovered the joy of exercising. You got out there once or twice a week for a run. Eventually, however, your enthusiasm waned. I know because I have spoken with some of you. As a mediocre athlete, I've discovered the gift that running gives you. The gift of tenacity. The gift of perseverance. The gift of caring for the temple the Lord has given you. What I know is that running is a way of life that gives far more back to you than you invest.
I have to smile when I read Paul's words, "If only I can finish my race." I think Paul enjoyed being an "athlete" for the Lord. As an athlete, he knew that it's the challenges -- physical, emotional, spiritual -- that make you stronger. In the end, he made it to the finish line. God's grace had carried him there. He had learned that being part of something great was better than being considered great. It's a lesson I'm gradually learning through running. The only thing worse than being a runner is having been one and given up. My friend, it's one thing to make the decision to live a more active life. It's quite another to keep acting on that decision. Paul knew that. Even though there's no hope I will ever win a race, I love the act of racing because I am learning how to pace myself in the race called life. I may be a teacher, but racing has become a classroom for me. I am literally running for my life.
How about you?
6:14 AM Recently in our NT 2 class we were discussing some of the "Let us" passages in the book of Hebrews. One of them is widely known: "Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another" (Heb. 10:25). I remember hearing this verse often while growing up in Hawaii. It was often used to make people who weren't attending church feel guilty. We were admonished to ask God to guide us to a church fellowship where we could grow in our faith through sound biblical preaching and worship. One thing that never seemed to be emphasized is where the author of Hebrews seems to have put the emphasis: on mutual edification and encouragement. Just as our physical bodies need exercise to be strong, so our faith needs exercise if we are to be strong spiritually. Nothing is able to live in the Dead Sea because no river flows from it. Without any outlet, it's become a truly "dead" body of water. The same thing is true with us. If we never allow the Lord to ministry through us to enrich others, if we have no outlet for our gifts, we will find ourselves like the Dead Sea. God wants to use us right where we are. Every day we come into contact with people to whom we can minister. We don't have to attend seminary to enrich others. Have you committed your life to serving the Lord Jesus Christ? No matter how young or how old, are you seeking to be his hands and feet? It is never too late to begin living a life of fulltime Christian service. If our lives are marked by greed or selfishness or irresponsibility, this is how we will be remembered by our children and others. Our greatest impact on others comes often not from what we say but from what we do.
I have only a few more weeks to influence my students. What is my hope for them? It is that they become men and women of compassion, responsibility, loyalty, self-discipline, and sacrifice, seeking to serve their Master every day of their lives. I cannot make this decision for them. I can only show them the way by being an example of Christ's love. May God help me to do this.
Saturday, April 17
5:44 PM In case you've ever wondered, there are 7 phases in running a long distance race:
1) Wow! Can't wait! You think to yourself, "This is going to be great fun!"
2) Denial. The race suddenly gets hard. You begin to question your sanity. Because maybe you are a lunatic.
3) Panic." "What have I gotten myself into here?"
4) Resignation. "Ok, time to put my your head down, Dave, pain cave and all."
5) Amazement. That you had the guts to even try this crazy thing. That your body still allows you to run, even if it's at the pace of a snail.
6) Prayer. You're desperate. You're looking skyward now. HELP ME!
7) Gratitude. "I did it! I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" (Yes, I know my exegesis is faulty, but no one is thinking about context at this point.)
I guess you could say that I went through each of these phases during today's half marathon in the great city of Roanoke, Virginia. You could not have asked for a better day to run a race weather-wise. The sky was clear and the temps hovered around 50 the entire time. This was my 28th half marathon and I was a bit nervous because I had heard that the race had something of a reputation for being "hilly."
Anyone know where I can hire a Sherpa?
I drove to Roanoke yesterday and checked into the Hampton Inn (and got a really quiet room that led to an excellent night's sleep). My prerace dinner turned out to include the best chili relleno I've ever eaten.
This morning I was up early and drove to Denny's for what has become a ritual for me on race day -- two pancakes and two cups of coffee.
When I arrived at the race venue in downtown Roanoke, I watched the full marathoners start in about 14 waves. Then it was our turn.
As usual, I joined the last wave.
I love doing these races. I love the kinship with all the other runners out there who have allowed the pain and triumph of this sport to become a part of their lives.
This was the hardest of the half marathons I had done to this point because there were plenty of major uphill stretches to overcome. The first major obstacle was summiting Mill Mountain with its famous Roanoke Star.
See the star perched on the top of the mountain?
The course was so steep at this point that everybody started walking, even younger runners. But the scenery was amazing.
I was so happy to finally arrive at the top of the mountain.
Cue the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive."
At this point we began a long downhill portion of the course. Needless to day, I took off like a bat out of hell to try and make up lost time on the uphills.
I was cruising along at a pretty decent clip and passing other runners when all of sudden 10 guys went flying past me. I guess "speed" is a relative term. Eventually we began climbing hill #2, called by locals Peakwood and by runners like me "Nemesis." I slowed my race and walked but eventually arrived at the top. From there it was all downhill back into town.
I averaged a 13:35 minutes per mile pace. This race was a whopping 30 minutes slower than my half marathon PR but somehow I did manage to come in under 3 hours -- my "Ecstatic" goal was achieved! Doing so well gave me some much-needed confidence going into my first marathon of 2021 in 7 short weeks. Plus, I got to add another great running shirt to my collection.
The aid station workers rocked.
And what can I say about the people of Roanoke who came out in droves to cheer us on? Bravo!
The best part of the race was just cheering on the other runners. We had so much in common since we were all competing against the same course.
My overall place was 596 out of 766 runners.
My plan was to run slow, walk fast, and stay within a level that felt like I was exerting just the right amount of effort. But the biggest part of the race was an overwhelming gratitude and happiness for the journey that had taken place just to get to this point. Last year at this time, when I got injured, I couldn't run or train. I couldn't even walk. But today was different. My tears flowed freely. Over the last decade or so I've adopted the philosophy that says, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing now." I don't want to come to the end of my life and have regrets about things I wished I would have done while I still had the health and strength to do them. I'm so thankful to the Lord for the opportunity to push my body and mind into places they've never gone before. "If you're going through hell," said Winston Churchill, "keep going." I couldn't agree more.
Friday, April 16
12:22 PM I need to pull off this toenail but I'm too much of a wimp to do it. Hoping it falls off before tomorrow's race :-(
8:30 AM The hay fields are almost ready to be cut. How green!
Reminded me of an old song by my namesake David:
You are never alone, friend!
Thursday, April 15
8:34 PM One of the highlights of my week was watching one of my Ph.D. students, Mr. Hassan Aziz Siddiqui, pass his dissertation defense.
His committee consisted of Charles Quarles (second reader), Stanley Porter (external reader), and yours truly.
Congratulations, Huss, on a job well done! His dissertation is titled "The Significance of the Byzantine Text for Textual Criticism within the Book of Acts." Its eventual publication is to be warmly welcomed.
6:42 PM Runners are crazy. Pure nut cases. Ought to be committed to an asylum. Case in point: This weekend is the annual running of the Blue Ridge Marathon in Roanoke, VA. Its claim to fame? It's "America's Toughest Road Race."
It has the most elevation change of any road race in the U.S. The total elevation gain/loss is 7,500 feet! You think I'm going to run it? Not on your life. Because of my full marathon in 7 weeks, I signed up to run the half marathon instead. That's a mere 3,800 feet of elevation gain/loss. I'd show you the elevation map except it would make you faint. (It looks like the up and down cardiac rhythm on an echocardiogram machine.) The race is called "brutal and beautiful." Sometimes runners have specific goals for races. My "Ecstatic" goal would be to finish in under 3 hours. My "Happy" goal would be to finish in under 3.5 hours. And my "Satisfied" goal would be to finish, period. After all, the first guy to run a half marathon/marathon ... died. By the way, the event also offers a DOUBLE MARATHON. That's right -- two marathons back to back, a distance of 53 miles and 15,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Yep. Runners are crazy. At least 115 of us are:
This is what I love about running: You're always testing yourself. I don't know about you, but I need new challenges. Constantly. I hope I never rust out or burn out. "'Tis not too late to seek a newer world," wrote Lord Tennyson in his poetic ode to aging men called "Ulysses." If this was true for warriors and kings in 1842, it is emphatically true for men today.
Monday, April 12
6:28 AM Recently I heard someone say how much he appreciated simplicity. "It's always helpful," he said, "when essentials are made simple and brief. Simplicity helps us understand the essentials. Brevity helps us remember them." I mention this because I've been working on a classroom lecture from Matthew's Gospel -- Matt. 9:35-39 to be exact.
I honestly can't think of a simpler or more brief passage about what missions is all about. Great writers are always brilliant on the basics, are they not? They work hard to keep things simple. People are always looking for statements that intuitively make sense. When things are made simple but not simplistic, when things are made free of unnecessary verbiage, people are more likely to put them into action in their lives. That's why I have to grimace a little when I peruse several New Testament Greek grammars that have been published recently. Two of them have 500 pages. One of them has 600 pages Another has 700 pages. Mind you, these are not reference grammars. They are not intermediate grammars. They are beginning grammars of Greek. The 700-page book even has the word "introduction" in its title. I strongly disagree with this approach. I love it when scholars provide their content in a simple, brief manner. "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," wrote Leonardo da Vinci. "Everything should be made as simple as possible," said Albert Einstein, adding "but not simpler." Of course, simplicity is not simple. But it's attainable. I'm hoping I can present Matt. 9:35-39 in a simple and brief way that my students can understand -- and remember.
Sunday, April 11
4:05 PM Today is what I call an active rest day. We runners must remain vigilant as to how our bodies are feeling. We Jesus followers must do the same when it comes to our spirits. Part of following Jesus is knowing when to work and when to rest. Especially since I'm teaching 7 classes this semester, I will be paying special attention to easy days and hard days. And yes, I'm still chasing down my dreams, folks. No time to rest on one's laurels. Here was my recovery run today.
What beautiful scenery.
It was an easy 5 mile run.
While running I listened to sermons. One of them was especially good. I mean, it was fantastic. You ask, "What makes a sermon good in your eyes, Dave?" I'd say, a good sermon always has a wow factor of 10 out of 10. And there two kinds of "wow" I'm always looking for in a sermon.
I also appreciate it when the speaker leaves his notes behind and maintains constant eye contact with the audience. Otherwise, it's been a relaxed day for me. Right now I'm fixing my meals for the week. On deck is a chicken/rice meal -- Sesame Chicken with Peanuts with a side of Spanish Rice.
How's that for a combo? I'll also take some Spam along in case I'm in too big of a hurry to heat up a plate of food. Spam? Yes, THE lunch meat of Hawaiian Islanders. The peeps of Hawaii consume more Spam than any other people living in any other state. They also live longer. You figure it out!
See you tomorrow with another blog post.
Saturday, April 10
9:20 PM Woooohoooooo! I just registered for the Fawn Lake Half Marathon in Spotsylvania on May 1.
The race was originally limited to members of the exclusive Fawn Lake community, but thanks to the kindness of the race director it was opened up today for non-residents like me. This will be my final warm-up race before my June trail marathon in the mountains of western Virginia. I hope they'll let us swim in the club house pool afterwards!
The race will also mark the beginning of my final week of fulltime teaching after a career spanning 44 years -- praying, growing, and serving with people like you. What an inestimable blessing. I began my teaching career by proposing to Becky in Dallas. I said, "I don't want to begin teaching without you by my side." One of the things that made me fall in love with Becky was the way she listened to my dreams. She saw in all of those crazy dreams of mine the possibility of a life of ministry. Together we pursued those dreams for 37 years. I was a young 24-year old when I stepped into the classroom for the first time. And at the very core of my happy world was my wife Becky. Walking through life together has been God's greatest gift to me. As a man, I always appreciated the perspective she gave me as a woman. She often saw through people long before I did. If you are married, thank God for your wife. She is your first commitment under him. Listen to her, for she is your spiritual equal. Pray with her, that you may both live for the glory of God. Give yourself to her as she gives herself to you. You will get what you expect from a woman -- a sop to your ego or a joyful partner in the gospel. Please, please do not try to be God with her. Let her see Jesus in you as you humbly serve him by loving her and others. Look for the Lord's purpose in every circumstance and experience of life. Ask the Lord to open your eyes together to see the needs all around you. Even if you should lose your spouse, find a way to use that loss to point others to him. As a soon-to-be retired widower, I still have work to do. Remember, God knows all about you. He knows every opportunity you have to serve him. He also knows your needs and limitations as you grow older. Wherever you are in life, make God's will your daily priority. Take every opportunity to point others to Christ. Keep your mind and body occupied. Thank God that you can still do many things, and make it your goal to do them faithfully and well. Emerson, at the age of 62, wrote in his journal: "I look inside and don't see wrinkles or a tired heart, I see an unspent youth." The best we can do is prepare for the future with hearts full of faith. That's why I love running so much. Running makes you an athlete in all areas, ready for whatever comes, ready to live each day, married or single, employed or retired, as a servant of Jesus Christ.
12:48 PM When I left the house this morning I was looking for some tarmac action of the aviation type but, as you can see, the weather was socked in pretty good. This was my view all the way to the Lynchburg airport.
The governor of Virginia has mandated that races can have no more than about 200 runners. Looks like we all drove there by ourselves because the parking lot at the airport was packed.
Overall, the course was nearly perfect. Per usual, I started in the last wave, after everyone else had moved ahead of me. (I don't like to run slower than the other runners who then have to pass me.)
One of the most amazing things about this race was the amount of teens who were running with their parents. That was inspiring. It was cool seeing the teens cruising down the taxiways just having fun. I wish I saw this everywhere I race.
I was so impressed with the people who ran the race. There were no slackers. Everyone I saw put their whole heart and soul into this 5K. I truly think that these two ladies who finished dead last worked just as hard as the first place winners.
I run because it's symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome obstacles. Sometimes you feel like you can't. But then you find strength you never knew you had (all from the Lord) and you realize you're so much more capable than what you thought. By the pure grace of God I finished 105 out of 204 runners even though I started dead last.
Here I am with the first place winner in my age group (males 65-69).
The dude was fast, as in FAST. He beat me by a good 10 minutes. Bonus points to him for looking so young as well.
No matter how fast I finish a race, I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I reach the finish line. Super kudos to the race organizers and the staff who put on a fabulous event for a great cause (United Way). I will be back next year, Lord willing!
5:05 AM I have been so blessed this year. I have a wonderful family, a fantastic job, a beautiful farm. I even get to wake up at an unearthly hour to go and run a 5K. Running can and should be fun! If it's not, you're doing something wrong.
I'll post a report of today's race later -- unless I get hit by a taxiing airplane.
Friday, April 9
7:02 PM A very Merry Christmas and happy holidays from my house to yours. Well, okay, I'm a few months early. But it feels like Christmas. Christmas is the only time I treat myself to Texas fajitas. Except for today. I figured it was a nice way to say "Thank you" to my body and mind for working so hard this week on campus.
While in the thanking mode, I'd also like to thank the Honda Corporation for placing its local franchise in the city of South Hill so that, when I take my Odyssey in for an oil change, I can easily access the Tobacco Heritage Trail in the same city.
As you can see, the weather was perfect this morning for a bike ride in the countryside.
In fact, the weather couldn't be any better for farmers than it's been of late.
I only wish the paved portion of the trail continued past Brodnax. Unfortunately, you need a mountain bike to travel any farther.
While I was in town esta noche having my Christmas comida, a hailstorm blew in out of nowhere. I wasn't even aware of it until one of my kids sent me this pic he snapped not 8 miles from the farm.
Whoa. Glad the farmhouse is still standing. Huge thanks to the Lord for taking such good care of me today both in good weather and bad. Did you get outdoors for exercise today? Your brain will come up with 6,320 excuses why you're too tired or too busy or too sore to exercise. Politely tell your brain to SHUT UP, then put on your running shoes and just do it. Get good at saying "yes." Yes to fun. Yes to naps. Yes to cinnamon rolls. (Always yes to cinnamon rolls.) And yes to your body when it wants to be active. You are never too old to crank up the old bike and get in a few miles.
7:40 AM A few odds and ends to get everyone caught up ....
1) If you didn't get a copy of my booklet Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? after my chapel talk yesterday, I've got another box of books on order. Please check back with my office in two weeks to get your free copy.
2) Here's my Tuesday run.
As you can see, I've discovered a new venue for these training runs. It's called the Smith Creek Trail and it's only about a 5 minute drive from the seminary. Perfect for that quick workout either before or after class.
3) My reading this morning was in Psalm 19 and I had to smile when I read this:
Man is that true. I still can't believe my next marathon will be here before you know it. I love the marathon distance. The marathon, I believe, is the perfect trial for the person who lacks talent or skill but is determined to finish. It's such a difficult race that instead of doing 2-3 a year like I used to, I now run only one marathon in a year's time. The key to completing a marathon is finding that nice, slow pace and settling into it for the long haul. There is no need to go fast. My opponent is me -- the Dave who would let this cup pass and who is willing to settle for a good try and not the painful and dedicated plunge into darkness that is required. But remember: You beat all those people who didn't show up :-)
4) Tomorrow I'm planning on running a 5K on an active runway at the Lynchburg airport. Yes, I said "active." (Kids: the life insurance policy is current.)
More later. Time to run my Friday errands and maybe grab some Mexican for lunch. I leave you with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Thursday, April 8
6:10 PM Weekend reading:
1) My colleague Matt Mullins was kind enough to give me a copy of his latest book. Thank you, Matt. I do enjoy the Bible!
2) These came while I was away. Shouldn't take me more than a few days to read them. Yes, I am a huge U. S. history nut.
Monday, April 5
6:42 AM Decisions, decisions, decisions! Which of these power points on Hebrews should I use this week in NT 2? We only have 3 hours, even less if we subtract time for our quiz.
The New Testament is the product of various writers covering vitally important truths about God, humanity, life, and the afterlife. Each writer had a different message to convey. What is the message of Hebrews? Surely it contains at least the following:
1) Christ offers the reality that Judaism could only foreshadow. The old revelation was piecemeal and fragmentary, but in the New Testament God has made a complete self-revelation in his Son -- a priest represented not by Aaron but by Melchizedek.
2) Through his sacrifice on the cross Christ has secured an access to God that Judaism could only preshadow. If this is sacerdotalism, then let us preach and practice it.
3) This same Christ has blazed a trail and opened for us a new and living way to the heavenly Jerusalem. The Christian life is therefore to be a pilgrimage; we are resident aliens (so the title of a wonderful book) on our way to the city whose builder and maker is God.
4) Until we reach that celestial abode, what is our calling? It is to go with God back into the world and call others to follow the onward-moving Christ. This letter is all about the Great Commission; the gathering exists for the going.
Hebrews has been called "a masterpiece of religious thought." But it is also a practical book. The author summons us to the pilgrim life of faith, and his challenge to "go forth to Jesus outside the camp, bearing the stigma he bore" (13:13) is still very much needed today. Being a Christian doesn't guarantee us freedom from hardships and confusion. In fact, it seems to ensure them. But in the middle of our difficulties we face at home, work, or school, we have a Great High Priest. His rest (Matt. 11:28) doesn't come in an isolated setting where we are immune from problems. It comes when we need it the most.
P.S. As I was packing my meals this morning, guess what I noticed? Sheba's water bowl. The water is evaporating and somehow I saw in that a lesson. Someday what we value will be gone and we are left with only our memories. The worst part is coming home and not being greeted. I've got a new normal and yes, it's taking time to adjust to it. Think of your own losses. It may have been a relationship. Loss of health. Having to move. The inability to do things you've always done. Grief is never linear. We move back and forth, from bargaining to acceptance. People who have pets do so with the complete understanding that we'll eventually face the pain of goodbye. We love them anyway, because the joy they bring us is so worth it. People who say "It's only a dog" have never owned a dog. I miss Sheba but I'm so glad she was part of our family for 14 years. She was such a wonderful friend. I think I will miss her for a very long time to come.
Sunday, April 4
6:48 PM Marathon training continues for me.
The race is less than two months away. Training for a marathon is no joke, especially when it's a trail marathon. But if you want to run well, I'm a firm believer in emphasizing aerobic development over anaerobic efforts. Marathon training is a whole other level of dedication that you really have to dig for sometimes. But crossing that finish line is such a special moment. I'd encourage anyone to take on the marathon distance at least once in their lifetime. If you are in good health, you can train yourself to run a marathon by gradually working up to that distance.
On to the next challenge -- which right now is teaching my 7 classes this week!
7:34 AM An Easter meditation:
Born in a backyard stable.
Lived our pains and hardships.
Died in disgrace.
Where was God?
Then came Easter morning ....
He burst his bonds.
Arose from death victorious.
Secured eternal salvation.
Lives for eternity.
The Great EXCHANGE:
Joy for sackcloth.
Dancing for lament.
Myrtles for briars.
Pines for thorns.
Blessings for curses.
Light for darkness.
Power for weakness.
Glory for humiliation.
A resplendent body for a vile one.
Life out of death.
REDEMPTIVE suffering ...
... bringing consolation, salvation, strength, fortitude, endurance, immortality for mortality, an imperishable body for a perishable one.
If we understand this, we need never again be bitter about our suffering.
It will one day be exchanged for wholeness.
Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. Martin Luther.
Saturday, April 3
4:56 PM I've never found anything as energizing, rewarding, humbling, or demanding as running. Today's jaunt took me just under 8 miles on our local Tobacco Heritage Trail.
Here's the turnaround point.
And here's the parking lot.
Per usual, it's empty except for my car. Of course, it is Easter weekend. But still, not many people take advantage of this wonderful resource right in our own backyard. For me, running always provides lots of teaching moments. I am so thankful for everything Heavenly Father has blessed me with. Even the challenges of life help me grow. I hope you are finding life to be that way too. I wish you and your family a very Happy Resurrection Sunday tomorrow and a positively epic rest of your year as you follow the Savior in obedience and love. Thank you so, so much for your encouraging emails. I can't tell you how grateful I feel.
9:16 AM Hey folks! Check out this new grammar. Not bad, not bad at all. And the best news of all? It's free. Just click and use.
All I can say is: there's still a lot of pushback, folks, about using "perfective" to describe the aorist tense form, as there rightly should be in my humble opinion. First, von Siebenthal pushes back (his three aspects are Aorist, Durative, and Resultative). When the greatest living New Testament Greek philologist in German-speaking Europe speaks, pay careful attention. Then along comes Michael Boler in his new grammar for Koine and Classical Greek in which he talks about Imperfect, Aorist, and Perfect aspect. Oh, and did I mention Ann Groton's grammar From Alpha to Omega, where she uses the exact same *outdated* terminology I use in my grammar, namely Imperfective, Aoristic, and Perfective?
So what does this new online grammar by Darryl Palmer do? Behold the following:
Yep, there's that dastardly language again -- Imperfect, Perfect, and Aorist. Reminds me of a page out of my own book:
Palmer is very clear about this. That's why this chart of his is so helpful.
I know it's impudent of me, but I might perhaps tweak it as follows (retaining Palmer's terms "imperfect," "aorist," and "perfect"):
pauō Present Imperfect ("I am stopping")
epauon Past Imperfect ("I was stopping")
pauxō Future Imperfect ("I will be stopping")
pauō Present Aorist ("I stop")
epausa Past Aorist ("I stopped")
pauxō Future Aorist ("I will stop")
pepauka Present Perfect ("I have stopped")
epepaukē Past Perfect ("I had stopped")
pepauxō Future Perfect ("I will have stopped")
Make sense? Food for thought at least? "Perfective" for "aoristic" is one example of nomenclature change I reject because it's unhelpful pedagogically. For more, go to this power point called Verbal Aspect.
Thanks for being my friend (or, I hope you don't mind I assume we are still friends). Off to run!
8:10 AM So I've got basically one month left of fulltime teaching. Part of me wants to make a list of things I'd like my students to remember about my teaching. However, I cannot reduce the challenge to a checklist of suggestions. A biblical rebirth of the church will never happen if we follow that approach. Such a list is not radical enough; it does not go to the heart of the matter. That will happen only when the Holy Spirit is given his rightful place in our lives, when we allow him to interrupt and even disrupt our thought patterns and traditions. At some point the church has to acknowledge that what it often proclaims and practices are not rooted in the New Testament. Then it must drive itself back to the New Testament in an effort to straighten things out. After 44 years of teaching, I would be well-satisfied with that. Beyond that, I can't give you any easy formulas. I don't believe there are any. Study. Pray. Discuss. Above all, maintain your allegiance to Christ alone.
To him who is able to do far more than all we could ever ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.
8:02 AM By now you know I'm not your ordinary farmer. I couldn't repair a tractor if my life depended on it. I don't know how to hook up a bush hog. (That's what kids are for.) Shoot, for years I didn't even know what a bush hog was. As for cleaning the two large farm houses, I wouldn't know how to scrub a toilet bowl if you paid me 1,000 bucks. I like to think of myself as unique instead of a klutz. That's why I've organized a farm work day for Saturday, May 22. We'll deep clean both houses (my house which is the guest house, and Maple Ridge which is the refugee/long-term residence house). Because of Covid, there's a great demand for our retreat ministry here. Seems like many Ms can't get back into their country and need a temporary place to live for a few months. The refugee house has been closed for a year now and I can't wait to reopen it. But it will need a woman's touch. A local church has volunteered to send a crew of guys and gals to help me get the work done. We'll work from around 9:00 to 3:00. I will provide lunch. The Lord will pay them on Judgment Day. I'm also announcing this to my students in case any of them might want to help that day. We'll wear masks and require social distancing of course. The men will help me with farm chores, repairs, and the like. (The list grows longer by the day.) Maybe I will even let them get up hay. The goal, however, remains the same: allow the farm to be used for its ultimate purpose -- helping others. Too often we promote in evangelism and missions a commodity we don't have in stock on our own shelves. If what we profess as Christians doesn't work at home, it will not work anywhere. We are not ready to send missions abroad when we are living in a mess at home.
How is your Jerusalem? Have you proved your profession in your home? Do you help your neighbors? Here is a grace that can be practiced anywhere. There is nothing weak or effeminate about helping others. Only great souls are truly kind. So a tip of the hat and a big shout out to a group of simple church folk who are willing to sacrifice their time and energy to help a klutz -- er, unique dude -- get his farm up and running for visitors again. In an age that glorifies hearers, I'm so thankful to the Lord for doers.
Friday, April 2
4:50 PM What a wonderful book by Billy Graham! I couldn't put it down.
If you have aging parents, take note of the three things Billy Graham recommends you do:
1) Tell them often that you care about them.
2) Pray for them constantly.
3) Keep in touch regularly.
Today I spoke by phone again with Becky's mom in Dallas. She turns 90 next month. Dad is 93. What joy. It's always a good feeling to be the object of someone's love.
7:55 AM To all of my German-speaking friends wherever you may live: Einen schönen Karfreitag! Danke, Herr Jesus, Du allein bist mein Heiland! Bei Dir findet meine Seele Erfüllung. Nur bei Dir ist Erlösung und Rettung. Es ist vollbracht!!!! Es bleibt nichts mehr üblich, was noch getan werden müsste, damit wir Menschen von unseren Schuld entlastet werden können.
Gott sei dank!
Thursday, April 1
6:02 PM Today I was thinking a lot about gratitude. Earlier I had nothing but difficulty trying to upload my blog to the internet. I rebooted my computer. Nothing happened. Tech support couldn't help. A call to the software company ended up placing me on an interminable hold. Okay, I said to myself, let's try it one more time. All of a sudden everything was working normally again. So many lessons to learn. Don't take anything in life for granted -- things can change on a dime. Live life fearlessly -- trust the Lord in every circumstance. He's in control and he knows what he's doing. Be grateful. I know I say this all the time, but one of the worst things we can do is fail to give glory to God when he does something for us that is, quite frankly, miraculous. Be thankful for all of it -- the good and the bad. All this to say -- I burst into tears of thanksgiving this morning when the Lord intervened in my problem. He pulled through for me even when I didn't think he would. You value what you notice, friends. I'm trying to notice miracles every day. Easter reminds us to give thanks for God's miracles. It is a reminder of what we should do every day. Make being grateful a part of your day just like combing your hair or brushing your teeth. Even when something goes wrong, try to learn from the situation. Make it a point to be the most grateful person you can be. Paul said, "I have nothing and yet I possess everything" (2 Cor. 6:10). This puts the Evil One in a spot. When he promises, "I'll give you this or that," you can say, "You can't give me anything because I already have everything." If he changes his tactics and threatens, "I'll take away what you have," you can calmly reply, "You can't take it away because I don't have anything." We have NOTHING because all that we have belongs to God. Yet we have EVERYTHING because we are joint heirs with Christ. Jesus perfectly illustrated this paradox during his earthly life -- having nothing and yet possessing all things. May I learn to do the same, be it in poverty or in plenty.
12:10 PM Just finished a half marathon bike ride to complete this portion of my marathon training for the week.
Hi road bike. It's me, Dave, and I just wanted to write a little thank you note after today's ride. You are beautiful. I love riding with you. I can't imagine still using my mountain bike on the roads. It was so slow! Now I feel like Speed Racer. I really, really like how your gears make biking so easy. I can't thank you enough for the amazing way you make me feel like I could bike forever. You are a bundle of light, energy, and kindness. Thanks for being the coolest road bike a guy could ever ask for.
7:40 AM So tomorrow is "Good Friday." In Germany and many cantons in Switzerland, it's actually called Karfreitag. The word means something like "Grieving Friday" or "Mourning Friday." I can think of no better musical composition to reflect on the suffering and sin in this world that Jesus came to heal than this piece by John Williams. Watch and weep along with the musicians. (Be sure to read the description before watching.)
This is the sorrow from which Jesus came to save us. The gospel is a bloody, gory story. There's nothing lovely about dying on a cross between two thieves and a battered body buried in a borrowed tomb. The death of Christ is foolishness to our age and a scandal to the unregenerate heart. But we are not saved from ours sins by an Example or a Teacher. We are saved by Christ the Propitiation for our sins, Christ slain and risen.
Note, as you watch the orchestra playing the theme from Schindler's List, that our great music was not produced in ideal circumstances. Much of it comes out of adversity and sorrow. It takes a grindstone to sharpen an axe. Dear Christian friend, we cannot only endure what the world throws at us but we must overcome it because Christ overcame it and we can face any circumstance in union with the one who loved us and gave himself for us. An aching soul and a satisfying God. What a combination. Praise God for Karfreitag.
Wednesday, March 31
7:54 PM Evening, I welcome thee.
7:12 PM Kenyan runner Abel Mutai was leading a cross-country race in Navarre, Spain, in December 2012 when he got confused with the signs. Only a few meters from the finish line, he suddenly stopped, thinking that he had finished the race. A Spanish runner named Ivan Fernandez was right behind him. Realizing what was happening, he shouted to the Kenyan to keep on running. Mutai did not know Spanish and didn't understand what the Spaniard was saying, so Fernandez pushed Mutai to the victory.
After the race, a reporter asked Fernandez, "Why did you do this?" Fernandez replied, "My dream is that one day we can have some sort of community life where we push ourselves and help each other to win." When the reporter said "But you could have won the race!", Fernandez replied, "I didn't deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn't have closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn't going to pass him."
Friends, it's never been more important for us to help each other across the finish line. May God bless the world (and the church) with more people like Ivan Fernandez. There is no glory to be gained in winning because of a rival's mistake.
8:15 AM Tomorrow, April will arrive. Beginning next week, there will only be 5 weeks of classes on campus before final exams. Where has the time gone?
For some crazy reason, I've been thinking a lot these days about the future and reflecting (more than I usually do) on the past. This week of Easter Break is also turning out to be a time of spiritual renewal. The farm is the one place in the entire world where I feel like I can truly relax. Nothing, I find, renews me more than a brisk walk on the farm paths or a quiet visit with the animals in their pastures.
One thing I hope to do more of during the next few weeks is "call out the gold" in the lives of my students. I'm not sure where that expression originated, but I like it. God has designed each of them with a very special purpose in mind. They are his "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works." I believe it's essential that all of them fulfill God's purpose for their lives. When I see a student who shows exceptional ability in their studies and potential to become a teacher, I try to make sure they know what I am seeing rather than just keep my belief in them hidden. I tell them never to limit God in any way, shape, or form. God created us to go after the seemingly impossible.
I know this is true from personal experience. Little did I realize when I entered Biola as a college student in 1971 that God was preparing me to teach. Looking back, I realize that my goal in becoming a Bible major at Biola had no utilitarian purpose behind it; I simply loved the Bible and wanted to study it. I spent all of my time pursuing this dream. Thankfully, though, others were observing my life, perhaps even more carefully that I had been. Isn't it crazy how sometimes the smallest decisions have the most significant consequences in our lives? In 1976, while I was starting my M.Div. in New Testament at Talbot, Dr. Harry Sturz approached me and asked me if I would consider teaching 11 units at Biola that fall. I suddenly found myself in the classroom not as a student but as an instructor. I felt God speaking to the depths of my heart for the first time about my vocation. God told me (not audibly, but you know what I mean) that he would use the talents he gave me to help others know him better through learning how to read the New Testament in Greek. I began to see the potential in me that I hadn't seen before. Everything changed. My purpose from then on was to nurture the talent that God had put inside me.
That September day back in 1976 was one I will never forgot. On that day I began an adventure with God that's lasted 44 years and even now is evolving into a wonderful new season of life. But that day would not have happened without the head of the Greek Department at Biola seeing potential in one of his students and taking a (big) risk in hiring him to teach Greek. I didn't realize it at the time, but God had been preparing me for that very moment -- from my days growing up in Hawaii to my college days at Biola to my choice to stay at Talbot for my masters degree rather than going somewhere else.
Dear reader, if you want to know God's will for your life, why not consider talking to someone who is older and wiser than you, someone who knows you well and can perhaps see your giftedness better than you can? Find someone who will tell you what your gifts are and what those gifts might be equipping you to do with your life. With my students, I don't want to just teach them Greek. I try to learn about them -- about their abilities, their gifts, their interests, their aspirations, their fears. There is no greater blessing for a teacher than to help someone find their purpose in life. My friend, God in his goodness has great plans for you. When I went to Biola, I would have never guessed what lay in store in for me. But God had it all planned out in advance. All I had to do was fully embrace his plan by faith, trusting that he would lead me all the way. He did, he is, and he will. And to those of you who are advanced in years and are perhaps even considering retirement: others are watching your actions and your attitudes. Don't diminish the impact you can make. Pass on your stories of hope and God's faithfulness to the next generation. The word of God should fill us with thankful hearts that he is personally interested in our lives and careers. Are you willing to be used by him perhaps in ways you never expected? You have the capacity to accomplish so much in life. God doesn't want you to end up feeling like you wasted your life. It's your turn to blossom. It's your turn to bring beauty to a desert like a cactus does when it opens up in spring time.
Problems and obstacles do not exempt us from fulfilling our purpose in life. Hope in God's unchanging promises. Look for his plan in every circumstance and in every voice you encounter daily. Ask him to open your eyes to what he has in store for you. When Harry Sturz approached me that day in 1976 to teach Greek, within a matter of moments my life was changed forever. Since then I have never doubted my calling.
Church, let's cultivate a culture of "calling out the gold" in the people around us. You never know what impact that can have.
Tuesday, March 30
5:40 PM Today I enjoyed another run at the High Bridge Trail in you-know-where Virginia. I know my blog is becoming soooo predictable.
Run 3.5 miles on the rail trail.
Then run 3.5 miles on the River Road.
I prefer to think of myself as being in a routine rather as being stuck in a rut. I love each time I get to run on this route. My running these days has been completely "get to" rather than "have to." It's been pure unadulterated fun. I've fallen in love with this kind of running. Right now I am so thankful for my running, family, friends, neighbors, job, writing, farm, animals, and especially my Savior who died and rose again on Easter Sunday. I could not ask for more.
Happy Easter and love from the Black family (me and the animals).
Monday, March 29
5:14 PM Today I tried to stay focused on my school and farm work and avoid lying around in the sun doing absolutely nothing-- and failed. Others who tried and failed:
Here's to many more failures in life!
P.S. Here's the theme of Heb 12:1-2 -- and of the entire book of Hebrews:
I think this is my favorite slide (among these) I'll be showing during my chapel message.
7:48 AM I have had my mind blown. I just finished reading A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald. It's one of the most informative, entertaining, and encouraging books I've ever read.
There are so many features that make this book amazing:
1) The adventure and excitement of the story. Gordon was a cross-country runner in his earlier years and so draws many applications to the Christian life from that sport.
2) His key passage is Heb. 12:1-2, one of my favorite texts in the Bible and one on which I'll be speaking in chapel next Thursday. Gordon renders the Greek hupomonē as "resilience." Brilliant!
3) The subtitle says it all: "You Can Move Ahead No Matter What."
4) His main points are all tremendous takeaways:
5) The book delves into how and why we can run the race of the Christian life that each of us has before us.
A Resilient Life has changed the way I read Heb. 12:1-2. I can't recommend it highly enough. You can find it at Amazon. Prepare to have your mind blown.
Sunday, March 28
2:40 PM My trip to Charlottesville was wildly enjoyably. No, I didn't run in the 10 mile race. It was cancelled due to the possibility of thunderstorms. Although the storms never actually materialized, you can't fault the race director for cancelling in light of concerns about liability and what not. So what if it cost me 6 hours of driving and a hotel room. My registration is now deferred to next year's race, when I shall absolutely CRUSH IT (my drive to Charlottesville and back, that is). I am a firm believer that we learn from disappointments in life. The silver lining was the beautiful countryside I got to enjoy on my drives.
If there was no official 10-miler today, it doesn't mean that there wasn't an unofficial one. My legs insisted on getting those miles in, so off we went to the local high school to make up for the race that was cancelled.
Although my body was running along the cracking asphalt of the school ...
... my mind was wandering disobediently to faraway places, including the beauty of Utah (St. George Marathon), the heat of Arizona (Phoenix-Mesa Marathon), and the hills of Cincinnati (Flying Pig Marathon). And so with that, I finished my 10 mile run all by myself.
All in all, it was the perfect experience. It seemed like the best reward for being so positive about the cancellation. I am SO, SO incredibly grateful that the Lord allows me to do things like this. While in Charlottesville, I left some flowers in memory of Heather Heyer.
It is unfathomable to think about what happened to her. I am infinitely sad for the hatred that led to her death. Let's use her story to help us keep fighting the good fight of faith. Be kind to each other, have hope, and smile. Anyways, time to go and check on the 4-legged family members. Talk to you soon!
Saturday, March 27
8:34 AM A good Saturday morning to you all. I'm currently packing for my trip to Charlottesville for tomorrow's Charlottesville 10-Miler. It's the latest race in the Co-Run-A-Virus 2021 series. I had to do my last pre-race run on Wednesday because I haven't had any time to do a run since. I did manage to get the gravel down on the driveways yesterday and then I had to spend an hour with a Hughes Net tech working on my new modem. I think I told you that the race venue has changed. Instead of being held in downtown C-Ville, Mr. Covid insisted that we run in the countryside instead. I have no issues with that whatsoever. Here's a pic they sent us of the race site.
It's called Foxfield. I imagine it's a place where equestrians do fox hunts or something like that. They've mowed a strip in the field for us runners. Sweet.
The race is actually being held both this morning and tomorrow morning because of social distancing requirements. I'm doing Part Deux. The amazing thing about a race like this one is that it really isn't a race. It's an event. According to the National Institute for Fake Statistics, only about 10 percent of runners actually "race" in a 10-miler. The other 90 percent of runners, including me, simply show up to have a good time. Just crossing the finish line is a personal accomplishment. Nothing can quite equal that sense of satisfaction (except maybe getting an A on Dr. Black's Greek exams). Here, by the way, is the course map.
I have no idea what to do with it. It looks more like a Current Map of the Atlantic Ocean than a race map. As an aside, here's a list of the beneficiaries for this weekend's race:
Something for everyone looks like :-)
Now get out there and run!
Friday, March 26
8:45 PM "Why do you run?" The answer is in the video below. Running is chicken soup for the soul. It's the best place to know beauty. On the roads, I give the Creator a standing ovation. He knows that I am a back-of-the-pack runner. I will never come home with a trophy. Like most runners, I am known as a runner only to my friends and family. It does not matter where I finish or how fast I can go. All around me are runners who feel the same way. They are trying as desperately as I am, not to win anything, but to succeed in the game of life. Every day is a day in which I stop and thank the Lord for his precious gifts. Among them is the gift of running. Every race is special and unique and I cherish them all.
"Why do you run?" I think it's pretty obvious. Enjoy :-)
5:50 PM Drum roll please. The moment we've all been waiting for. (#chillaxinginthesun.)
11:18 AM Here's an excellent Palm Sunday message. Finde die Predigt super. Mir hat es gerade sehr geholfen.
As with German, so with anything in life: Use it or lose it.
7:55 AM In NT this week we went through this power point on Romans.
Paul is sensing it's time to move on. He's been working in the eastern Roman empire for quite some time. Now it's time to start his new mission for Christ. For a while he's wanted to visit Rome and from there to visit Spain. He plans to make Rome his new base of operations and he evidently wanted the assistance of the Roman church in terms of prayer, materiel, and personnel. He also took the opportunity to explain to the Romans the gospel he'd been preaching for some 20 years.
The result is what many consider to be the "Cathedral of Christianity." The letter is Paul saying,"Here's the sum and substance of what I preach. It's the message I want to share when I travel to the West." Paul's letter to the Romans is a beautiful example of him practicing what he preaches. He loves others more than he loves himself. He's a team player. He never sacrifices doctrine but seeks to apply it to his daily living. He was always looking for new places of ministry as the Spirit led him. Paul forces us to ask which is more important: fulfilling our goals or fulfilling God's mission. Will we leverage everything we have for the gospel, even our chains? In other words, Paul wants us to get to know Christ as well as he does. If you want the inside scoop on the gospel, spend a quiet evening in Romans. Then carry on with your job as a Christian -- sharing Jesus' love with everyone you meet. When Jesus went back to heaven, he left us to carry on his work for him -- to serve him, love for him, speak for him. If others fail to recognize him, could it be that we're failing at our job?
P.S. Notice the linguistic makeup of Spain in that day.
I would not at all be surprised if Paul wanted the Romans' help in providing translators for him, since not everyone would have known Greek. Just a thought ....
Thursday, March 25
7:45 PM This evening I've been working on getting rid of all the potholes that have accumulated throughout the years.
This is an improvement, wouldn't ya say?
Tomorrow I'm having 4 truckloads of crush-and-run delivered and spread. That should do the trick. In the meantime I'm getting more and more excited about this weekend's race. I've always wanted a purple t-shirt.
Alas, this was the only run I got in in this week due to a crazy work schedule.
Still, I was so thankful. Afterwards I felt great and eager to get moving this weekend. I feel so blessed. I couldn't have asked for a better year so far. (Unless you could erase that awful ice storm we had in February.) Happy Easter Break from my house to yours.
Monday, March 22
7:58 AM Back to school as together we pursue knowledge (not for the sake of knowledge per se, of course). Greek, for example, has logical, even mathematical, precision. Aristotle would have agreed.
He was the founder of logical theory and (unwittingly perhaps) I love to use his stuff when teaching. For example, I tend to do a lot of moving when I teach. The Greeks called this a "peripatetic" style. Aristotle liked to lecture his students while walking. So do I. Not so the Stoics, who preferred to sit on porches (stoa) when they waxed elephant. One of Aristotle's best-known ideas was "The Golden Mean," meaning to avoid extremes. He counseled moderation and often saw the best solution to a problem in the middle rather than on the ends. This approach to teaching is often a tight rope. I hope to follow Aristotle's advice concerning moderation even though his most famous student, the over-achieving Alexander, obviously never got the memo. I know, I know. Studying Greek can seem like aerobics for the intellect and weigh training for the soul. But its most important feature is the one built into it: the ability to think logically and carefully. The study of Greek is one of the noblest activities in which we can engage because it promotes wisdom in our lives. I do hope you agree. A wise student is never all veneer and no substance. All ornament is backed up by a strong reality. It's that reality we're after this week and every week until the end of the semester. And this wisdom in found in God's word, not in anything I or anyone else may have written.
Sunday, March 21
6:18 PM Today I biked the inaugural Virginia Capital Trail Cycling Festival -- a race covering just under 40 miles. What? You've never heard of this bicycle race? Possibly it's because it didn't exist until today. The registration fee was free, so the event got off to a grand start. I'm disappointed in the race organizers, though. The course markings were terrible. In fact, they were nonexistent. I pretty much had to wing it the whole way. I was surprised to be the only cyclist who enjoyed such views as this one.
Maybe that's because the race director (who happened to me) capped the race at exactly one. The finish line festivities were a big wash. No party and no applauding spectators. But the good news is that I WON!
Instead of a medal, the race director treated me to a burrito supreme at Taco Bell. Plus a large Pepsi. Super unhealthy. And super delicious.
How was your race this weekend, even if it was only in your imagination?
P.S. Met this alpaca in Charles City.
He sure was sweet. I'm told they make good pets. May have to get me one -- preferably two, since they're herd animals.
Off to cook my meals for the week.
7:45 AM Well, we are officially over half way through the semester. It's crunch time, folks. Here are some tips that worked for me when I was a Greek student in college/seminary:
1) Learn about the end game. Review the course syllabus to know where you still have to go. Don't be blind-sided by surprises. If there are two more exams, be sure to write those dates on your calendar and plan ahead.
2) Have a goal for the class? Make it known to somebody. It will make you work harder.
3) Sit around and do nothing. All work and no play is not a good idea. Take time off to watch a movie or go for a run. This will help get you motivated and in the proper frame of mind to hit the books again.
4) Have faith in God. When things don't go the way you planned, this doesn't mean that the world is coming to an end. Never lose sight of your goals. If you don't get them right this week, keep trying. Commit your ways to the Lord and allow him to do what you can't.
5) Run your own race. It doesn't matter what other people think. Do your best with what you have. If you do, you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.
6) Expect ups and downs. That's just how life works. "It too will pass."
7) Be kind to yourself. School work doesn't define you. Neither do grades. You are not "good" if you get an A in Greek or "bad" if you get a D.
8) Seek out help. My assistant and I are always available to help you succeed. Just send me an email and we'll get a tutoring session on the books.
9) Smile. Never lose heart. Always be joyful, thankful, and prayerful (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
My final piece of advice is one that comes from running. Never assume the worst. There are many times in a race when you start feeling bad. Your legs get tired at mile 4 in a marathon and you assume that you'll never finish the race. Of course, the worst case scenario is sometimes true, but most often it's not. The trick is to accept the discomfort and stop obsessing about it. Chances are things will improve and not get any worse.
We are now in chapter 20 out of 26 chapters in my beginning grammar. You are well over 2/3rds of the way through the book. The great sports physiologist Timothy Noakes observed that in a run of any distance, fatigue always sets in around 2/3rds of the way through the run. This is true whether you are running a 5K, 10K, 10-miler, half marathon, or full marathon. In the beginning we feel full of energy, but now we feel like we need to really push to continue. That is perfectly normal. The main point of Dr. Noakes' observation is that the experience of fatigue is a mental one. You have similar levels of mental fatigue 2/3rds of the way through a 5K as you do during a marathon. So when we get uncomfortable while running, we shouldn't panic.
Bottom line: Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may be tough, but it's a small price to pay for accomplishing your dreams. Just ask this blind winner of the Flying Pig Marathon:
What an inspiration.
Saturday, March 20
7:14 PM Some days you go out and run and it's okay. Other days you feel like you're on Cloud Nine. Today was such a day for me. As per usual, I carted off my 68-year old legs to Farmville.
Here, as always, the High Bridge Trail awaited me.
After I had run about 3 and a half miles, the trail came to an end due to some construction work. So I finished my run on the River Road that goes next to the trail.
It was heavenly. Rolling hills. Nice soft asphalt. No cars to speak of (this part of Virginia is very rural and sparsely inhabited). The road was constantly rising up and going down, giving your legs a chance to vary muscle usage. Overall, the run felt great. I kept a chill pace and tried to stay even on the ups and downs.
This route is perfect for running and I do plan on running it often. Light traffic, gorgeous scenery, and a nice break from the monotony of the trail. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a postcard. (And thank you, dog owners, for keeping your hounds fenced up. I appreciate it.) But the biggest joy was a sense of overwhelming gratitude to my Father for the journey that had taken place in my life to get me to this point. Since I've taken up the hobby of running, I've discovered something about myself. I've discovered that I need the solitude. I need to get away from everything. I need to be in the middle of nowhere and not have a single soul within miles of me sometimes. I feel so blessed. I feel so blessed to have a family that has been unquestionably supportive of all my running adventures. They have never questioned me or discouraged any of my running aspirations. Most of all I'm thankful for God and the opportunities he's placed before me in life. I'm thankful for the career in teaching he gave me, and I'm thankful for the body he's given me. It allows me to feel my feet beneath me, to breathe fresh air, and to experience the beauty of God's creation. As I've often said, I'm not a gifted runner but I am tenacious. And in running, that can take you a long way.
Thanks for reading. Seriously. Thank you.
1) Next weekend is the Charlottesville 10-Miler. This will be my inaugural running of this event. I'm super excited to see that they've moved the course from the downtown area to the countryside.
2) Two weeks later I'm scheduled to run in the "5K on the Runway" in Lynchburg. That's right -- you're actually racing alongside an active runway at the Lynchburg Airport.
3) Then, on June 5, comes the goal I've been training for -- the Jackson River Scenic Marathon in Central Virginia.
As much as I love racing, I love the training that goes into these races. Marathons especially have a way of stripping you bare. The outside layers are all stripped away like an onion and you're left alone with your doubts and fears. Thankfully, step after step and mile after mile, the finish line gets closer and closer. And when you cross it, all the doubts and fears will have vanished, replaced by triumph and humble gratitude. To this day I still can't believe that I, of all people, am capable of moving forward for 26.2 miles. Reaching the finish line of each of my 16 marathons has changed me. The experience has been profound, painful, rewarding, and challenging. Maybe I'll write a book about it someday.
8:28 AM Keeping your foot on the accelerator, folks, keeping your foot on the accelerator until the end of the semester. If you don't, you'll lose momentum. Last night I opened to the Book of Odes from the Septuagint, many of which were sung in the early church.
One of them is the Prayer of Jonah, which comes from Jonah chapter 2 (which we just happen to be studying in our LXX class).
Let's not forget that Paul tells us we should "speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5:19; the word "spiritual" is absent in some Greek manuscripts). By composing hymns himself, Paul has given his readers a good example of the early church's ability to compose hymns for use in its gatherings. The Book of Odes in the LXX is located after the Psalms (except in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) and, as I said, was composed for use in Christian circles. In other words, when the early church was formed, it already had existing collections of songs, which in turn promoted the composition of new ones. Notice, too, that the purpose of singing was not so much for worship (though worship was involved) but for mutual edification ("speaking to one another ..."). The enjoyment of music alone was never its primary purpose. Only praise that served an edifying purpose was considered acceptable. The parallel in Colossians puts it this way: "teaching and admonishing one another" (Col. 3:16). Apparently the earliest church did just that! Hence Paul could write that, when believers came together, "Each one has a hymn" (1 Cor. 14:26).
You want stuff to impress people with at social gatherings? Then mention the Book of Odes. But don't get cocky. You have to read the Odes first!
Friday, March 19
9:40 PM On this day almost four decades ago our first child was born.
When we brought him home from the hospital he weighed 4 pounds, 9 ounces. Much has happened in those intervening years. When his mother graduated to Heaven, I thought of Amy Carmichael's beautiful poem:
When we come to Christ, dear reader, God does not whisk us away to Heaven. We are left here to suffer in our fractured world, fractured because of the after-effects of sin, sometimes ours, sometimes others'. Four decades ago I accepted parenthood as a wonderful gift of God. Seven years ago I accepted singleness as his gift, appropriate to the work he has called me to do. I have tried to accept it gladly and, for the most part, and only by his grace, have succeeded in doing so. I have such happy memories today of my wife and the birth of our son. Cherish, dear friend, oh cherish those years of companionship while they last.
Marriage and parenthood. What blessings of God -- overwhelming evidence of his lavish gifts of love. And when these gifts are taken from us, we remember: He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.
6:48 PM I've got another takeaway from Jay Kim's book Analog Church. In describing how "worship" should take place when the church gathers, he writes that "... worship leaders and musicians must give greater thought to how every part of our musical worship -- song choices, volume, lights, even stage layout and posture -- draws people into substance, not spectacle." He adds:
He cites a church that uses backlit lighting on stage during the singing. "Because these lights shine on the worship band from behind them rather than in front of them, it creates a very particular mood and, more importantly, communicates a very particular philosophy."
Having the lighting silhouette the people on stage "creates a healthy sense of anonymity [and] communicates that this experience isn't about the band up front but about us collectively encountering and responding to God together."
This same approach, I've noticed, has been used in European cathedrals for centuries. When we lived in Basel, Switzerland, Becky and I often attended organ recitals at local churches as well as in the city's great cathedral. For example, here's the interior of the Elizabethenkirche (Elizabeth Church).
It's in the heart of the city, right next to the theater. You'll notice that the seating is arranged in such a way that the people have their backs to the organist. And here's the Basel Cathedral (Grossmünster).
Again, notice how the organ is situated behind the congregation, just above the entrance to the building.
I sense Design behind this, don't you? After all, the purpose of a great organ and a great organist is to lift our hearts toward heaven, toward the Author of all music and the one who alone deserves the praise. (Incidentally, applause was unknown after an organ concert. This wasn't an accident. After all, we weren't attending a "performance.")
In his book, Jay Kim asks, "Are we inviting people to watch or witness?" Music is the means; transformation is the end. Like the brightest lights in our brightest cities, technology can blind us to what we really need to see -- a Person named Jesus Christ. He's the only Light that shines brightly enough to dispel the darkness of our age.
I hope you will consider getting this book and reading it carefully. But be willing to change course when you do.
What books do you find most inspiring? Please share because I think people might find them inspiring too.
7:58 AM The miracle of the storm is Jesus' first miracle over nature in Mark's Gospel. The passage is Mark 4:35-41 and was the focus of our Greek 4 class on Tuesday. The lessons for me personally?
If you'd care to see my paragraph titles for this passage, go here. Meanwhile, remember Paul's formula for peace in Phil 4:
1) Stay centered in Jesus. "Rejoice in the Lord always!"
2) Let your requests be made known unto God.
3) Then the peace of God will garrison your heart and mind. Go to sleep and rest in him.
Thursday, March 18
6:56 PM The winner of our book giveaway hails from the great state of Indiana. The book will go out in next Monday's mail. We'll have another giveaway soon!
6:38 PM Hey, guess what? There is life after teaching 7 classes. I have lived to tell about it. And boy did my students crush it this week. Never have they worked harder. So proud of them! I've got to get unpacked and settled in again, but let me post a couple of pix for your evening entertainment:
1) My view as I left the farm Monday morn.
2) It felt so good to get in a short recovery run this week.
3) Gary Habermas speaking on the resurrection in my NT 1 class yesterday. He was fabulous.
4) Jim Voelz has written THE textbook on Mark's Gospel. I simply can't get enough of it.
I have a million more pictures. But this is enough already!
Monday, March 15
6:40 AM Well, it's back to work for another week. If history teaches me anything, this will be another hectic week on campus. Ever feel like you're on a giant roller coaster except that you don't realize that your seat belt is unfastened until the roller coaster is upside down and you're hanging on for dear life? Why did I ever agreed to teach 7 classes this semester? Oh wait -- I love to teach! Despite that roller coaster feeling I get from time to time (anybody else feeling that way?), I'm so grateful for all my blessings. I have a good job. I have a nice house. I have food in the refrigerator. I have love. I have Jesus. I have everything I need. Here's a picture of the sunrise at "my" beach in Kailua.
I am hoping against hope that I might be able to return there this August to celebrate all of the years of fulltime teaching the Lord has granted me. It would be the perfect respite before the fall semester begins. In the meantime, each night when I lay in bed I think about how blessed I am. This is going to sound absurd, but every single time I drive to campus I feel so, so thankful that I have this ridiculously busy job. I love my work. I love my students. I love my family. I love exercising. I am thankful I have enough money to spare for an occasional eat out. I'm not exaggerating. My heart swells with gratitude whenever I think about these things.
I hope you and your family have an absolutely wonderful week. It will be hard to ever thank God enough for his blessings in our lives.
Sunday, March 14
6:28 PM I see that Eerdmans is publishing another Greek grammar this year. More power to them. I love reading what other grammarians and Greek teachers have to say. In fact, right now I am gathering a box full of Greek grammars to send to a Bible college in Israel. We all know that the more grammars we read, the better we can read Greek, right? It's like the gym. I want to be skinny and handsome. I want great abs. I want huge biceps. What I don't want is to spend months at the gym getting sweaty. It didn't take me long to figure out that hitting the books about fitness would go a long ways toward reaching my goals. Reading about fitness also had the pleasant side effect of making me feel that I was making progress, without having to actually move. (Yes, I'm being sarcastic.)
Ditto for Greek. I've known students who have read everything about Greek they could get their hands on. But they are no closer to reaching their desired goal of being able to read their Greek New Testament. Part of the problem is that there is money to be made in selling books about Greek. The Greek textbook market is, in fact, sizable and growing. (Just so you know, I am not into publishing Greek books for the sake of filthy lucre, okay? Years ago I decided that all proceeds from the sale of my books would go to needy children.)** But to learn to read the New Testament in Greek you have to read New Testament Greek. You don't spend time fishing in order to get better at playing chess. Right? That's why any of my current students can join my 5 Minute Greek Club this summer. Even though there are no dues and we never meet, this is a real club. All you have to do to get one of my books for free is read two verses from your Greek New Testament daily, Monday through Friday, throughout the summer. Show me that you've completed this assignment and, voilà, you get a book.
Here's hoping many of you will join!
5:54 PM This week in NT 2 we get to talk about some of my all-time favorite Pauline letters, including Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians. In these letters Paul clearly sets forth a theology of imitation. "Be like me, as I am like Christ." I think of Goethe's famous words: "Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are."
Plato had Socrates as a teacher. Aristotle had Plato as a teacher. Alexander the Great had Aristotle as a teacher. (This was when he was still Alexander the Average.) This is how it works. We become like our teachers. Not because of what they say. But because of what they do. We all tend to rise or fall to the level of the example set for us by other people surrounding us. Paul imitated Christ. Timothy imitated Paul. The Philippians imitated Timothy -- selfless and caring. Teaching is never just a matter of instruction. It involves guidance, encouragement, motivation, empathy. Most of all it involves modeling. Christian education is likeness education. Jesus said as much (Luke 6:40). We teach with our conduct what we truly believe.
Example is the foundation of human flourishing.
10:15 AM Book giveaway:
Just write and tell me why you'd like to have it. If more than one person responds I'll have a drawing to determine who gets it. My email is email@example.com. Be sure to send your mailing address when you write (U.S. only -- sorry). I'll announce the winner Thursday at 6:00 pm.
8:35 AM Last week a student of mine asked me if I had a list of my 10 favorite books on the church. Since I didn't have such a list, I decided to put together the following. Hope it's helpful.
Needless to say the evangelical church in America is deeply divided. Last week I read one author who claimed that evangelical Christianity in America is a failure. I'm not there yet, but there's much truth in what he was saying. Success-focused, entertainment driven, anti-intellectual, the evangelical church has fostered the cult of the speaker at the expense of genuine body life (see Ray Stedman's classic book above). We've adopted a business paradigm to run the church, and many younger evangelicals have had enough. Is it time to map a third way? Can one be an insider and an outsider at the same time? Have we forgotten that we have been called into the kingdom only to be sent out again? We might begin with reading the first book I mentioned above. Here are a few thought-provoking takeaways:
I'd like to thank all of the authors I mentioned above. They are all wise people. I thank the thousands of students I've had the privilege of teaching for 44 years. Their questions, their comments, their laughter, as well as their occasional looks of utter perplexity have lightened my load. They take nothing for granted but question and probe in search of insight, illumination, and truth. Getting a good start on that task is the humble purpose of this list.
Saturday, March 13
5:02 PM I rarely spend time in eastern North Carolina so I was really looking forward to my trip to Greenville. Seems everything in that town is oriented around the Tar River. South of the river is the gignormous hospital as well as East Carolina University. North of the river is the airport and more suburbs. During today's half marathon you got to see all of it. The race started at 7:00 am. You could not have asked for a better day to run. The sky was overcast and the temperature was perfect. Going into the race I thought about my goals. Should I run fast? Should I try for a new PR? Should I walk/run? In the end I decided against all of those. I told myself, "Dave, today you will run completely by feel. No looking at your watch. No concern about time. Just listen to your body and stay in your ability. Enjoy the experience, all of it." Added to that were a couple of additional thoughts: "It would be nice to finish under the 3.5 hour time limit. It would be nice to finish under 3 hours (like I used to do all the time). It would be nice if afterwards I didn't feel exhausted or worn out like past races."
Par for the course nowadays at races are staggered starts. Here I am bringing up the rear of my group.
The race started with a few uphills before reaching the Tar River, which we crossed going north.
We passed the airport and then began to make our way southward, again crossing the Tar but on a different bridge.
We then did a brief jaunt through town.
After that we entered a lovely greenway.
It made things a little more congested at times but the scenery was well worth it.
Finally I saw the finish line and crossed it. I felt so blessed that the body my Heavenly Father had given me was able to carry me so far. I was passed at least 10,769 times, but I kept going forward. The satisfaction in knowing that your legs have carried you 13.1 miles is hard to explain. When I looked at my watch I saw that 1) I had finished under the 3.5 hour time limit, 2) I had finished under 3 hours, and 3) I was only 20 minutes shy of a new half marathon PR.
The race was extraordinary. I wouldn't change one thing about it. It was an experience I will never forget. This makes 27 half marathons for yours truly, all in the past 5 years. Here's a photo of me about to run into a gaggle of people (hence I have my mask on).
You can't see it, but I'm smiling from ear to ear. I had a blast during the race. After it was over my mind went to a famous quote by C. K. Chesterton:
The heart and soul of running is simply pushing yourself hard, being determined, and fighting through adversities. A lot like living the Christian life when you think about it.
When I arrived back home it was so strange not to be greeted by Sheba. I love dogs. But not so much that I'm going dog shopping any time soon. As one of my daughters said, "Dad, you need to let grief do its work." Eventually, time will pass and I will think about getting another dog (from the pound probably). I am not quite ready. Right now I just feel empty and sad. These emotions are mixed with joy and gratitude, of course. God didn't have to give me Sheba for all those years. Plus, as he says in his word, there's a time to be born and a time to die. A time to be happy and a time to be sad. A time to stay and a time to leave (think: Beth Moore). I will never have Sheba again. But the memories of that puppy will live on in my brain forever. Our Lord did not stay behind the door of a tomb. Peter did not stay in jail. "Put on your shoes," said the delivering angel. A jail in Bedford could not hold John Bunyan. Blindness did not lock up Fanny Crosby. You cannot defeat a Christian who trusts God. You can crush his spirit but his soul goes marching on, just like the soul of a runner does during a race. This is what we are here for. In body and in spirit, by life or by death, in sickness or in health, by what we do and what we do not do, whether we eat or drink, stay or go, win or lose, our business is to glorify God.
Am I ready to pray, not "Lord, bless me," but "Lord, glorify yourself in me whatever happens"? Lord God, thy will, and thine alone, be done.
Friday, March 12
7:20 AM As you know, writing is like therapy for me. So thanks for reading my words and letting me have a caring platform on which to share my thoughts. It hasn't quite set in yet that Sheba is gone. A big house just got a little bigger. I'll probably have some (not very profound) thoughts to share with all of you soon about my feelings but right now I need to stay focused on getting my taxes done and cleaning the house. I'd like to get in a run today but I'm resisting that urge because I have to run 13.1 miles tomorrow in Greenville, NC. This week I was only able to get in a 5 mile run at a trail in Wake Forest. I barely had enough time for that. Yes, this week was that crazy. After teaching my Wednesday class we had a very long faculty meeting so when I did start running it was already dusk.
By the time I finished my run I could literally see the darkness at the end of the tunnel.
I enjoyed running in a brand new pair of New Balance 880s that I picked up this week at the NB store in Raleigh.
This shoe is a perfect example of excellent craftsmanship and design. The 880 model is famous for providing enough protection for longer runs as well as speed work in a very smooth ride. Win-win. Best of all, these babies are so light. The feel of the shoe is comfortable and cushy. New Balance shoes also run big and wide, which is good for my flat feet.
Oh, thought you might enjoy this pic, taken during our LXX class this week.
This is one of two groups in the class that was tasked with translating sentences from English into Hebrew. Both groups nailed it, under the expert guidance of my esteemed colleague and co-conspirator Chip Hardy. This semester is too much fun I tell you.
Hope you have a great weekend. The weather for tomorrow's half should be very nice so I hope to have a good post-race report for you tomorrow night. For me, life is an amazing adventure right now. The words joyful, confusing, lonely, and lovely come to mind. How 'bout you? Remember: The richness of life is found in continuing to move outside of your comfort zone.
Thursday, March 11
6:45 PM If you're a regular blog reader you know that Becky and I had Shelties for pets forever it seems. Our last surviving puppy is shown below.
Sheba -- the most lovable hairy fur ball you've ever met. Today I laid her to rest. I know she is no longer suffering but I selfishly long to bring her back. But the memories of her will live on sweetly in my heart forever. So grateful to God for the 14 years he gave her to us.
Thank you, Sheba, for caring for me in the truest and simplest sense of the word. You loved us well. You will be missed.
Monday, March 8
6:54 AM After a week off I'm eager to get back to campus and work harder on my craft than ever before. In his book Your Mind Matters, John Stott writes, "Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God's grace."
But then he adds:
That, I am ready to do, with the Lord's help.
Sunday, March 7
3:32 PM Hello again friends of the internet world! Hope you are having a wonderful day. Mine has been exhaustingly delightful. Lots to do, lots to prepare, lots to organize for the coming week, including my meals. One of the messages I watched today was on Matt. 5:22. The speaker tried to argue that the Bible universally excludes all anger, even what is sometimes called righteousness indignation, based on this one saying of Jesus in Matt. 5:22. (He also explained Eph. 4:26-31 and James 1:19-20 in that light, but the real question is always, "What did Jesus have to say about the subject?") Oddly enough, he never mentions the textual variant in Matt. 5:22. He is so wrong about that! Surely that variant ranks as one of the most significant in the New Testament. I don't know why he didn't mention it as that little adverb eikē changes everything. We who have pledged our lives to following Jesus are called to do one thing: Follow him -- both in how we think and how we behave. But what were his exact words? History shows that we neglect the art and science of textual to our own detriment. That is what concerns me the most.
Meanwhile, today I read this fine book as I prepare to teach from 1-2 Timothy.
Jay Kim's new book is a real page-turner. It's a call to come out from hiding behind our digital walls and be human with each other in real time. Kim says this idea occurred to him when he was walking on stage one Sunday morning to deliver a sermon and the service coordinator told him, "Don't forget to look directly into the camera at the back of the room so the campuses feel connected to you." That was a wakeup call for him. "I couldn't shake the sense that there was a better way forward." He argues that while digital spaces can be wonderful, they always fall short and leave us wanting. At best they provide "a facade of community." (By the way, I get this feeling whenever I watch a certain well-known preacher stare into the camera every Sunday while totally ignoring his live audience.) Kim found himself growing uncomfortable in a church that began to resemble more and more a television studio with bright stage lights and seating for audiences rather than for a community of congregants. Even Amazon, he notes, has begun opening brick-and-mortar bookstores because they offer real live contact to an over-digitized generation. (See this report in Forbes.) He suspects that many young people are getting tired of the "rock concert atmosphere" that characterized his own former church. All too often stage lighting and loud music have become "impediments and obstacles" to true worship. Services have become commercialized and impersonal, he says. "What was originally intended to close the gap and narrow the distance between the communicator and the community has now worked to create a disconnect wider and broader than ever before." Sermons, he argues, are meant to be more than monologues. He notes, "If we are not in the room, standing in the very midst of the people to whom the sermon is being delivered, if we cannot see their faces, hear their singing, feel their palpable anticipation, need, or yearning, then how can we possibly preach in ways that can be heard?"
Keep in my mind that the author is not an ornery old curmudgeon who wants to take the church back to the "good old days." He's a hipster. But I get the sense that he's "been there and done that" and is seeking something deeper than a digital community. This "something deeper" he finds in the analog church: real people, real places, and real things. You can find the book here.
Back to class prep!
10:12 AM A few takeaways from JoAnna Hoyt's commentary on Jonah (we're in Jonah 2 this week in our LXX class):
1) God allowed Jonah to disobey him. Hoyt calls this a "theology of disobedience." Why does God allow sin? We don't know. The point is that while God may allow disobedience, he never ignores it. Yet even when our disobedience brings great harm to others (here, the sailors), God can use it for his glory and our good. That said, "The good that God brings out of our sins should never be used an an excuse to justify our sin."
2) Jonah's confession and his actions are incompatible. Having orthodox theology doesn't mean that we have a right relationship with God. Jonah had the right words but the wrong heart. For more, see our power point with quotes from the book Diehard Sins.
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:
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:
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!
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:
"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:
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:
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.