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December 2016 Blog Archives

Saturday, December 31

9:24 AM Here we are again at the end of another year. There were lots of joys in 2016 and many changes. First of all, I'm having to get used to only one dog being around since Dayda died. The saddest part is watching Sheba having to adjust to life on the farm without her daughter and soul-mate. Sheba herself is getting old and has become very hard of hearing, which means I'm having to teach her sign language (which I've never done before). I think for a long time I suffered under the delusion that dogs actually understood complex sentences. Actually, unlike humans, who relate through sound, sight, and then scent (in that order), dogs are just the opposite. Dogs experience the world first through their nose, then their eyes, and then their ears. It's been quite interesting to begin to work with Sheba on the basis of the dog she is. She's still the Sheba I've always loved, except that now she can't hear very well.

The big news of course is that I've taken up the sport of running big time and have become quite the "competitor." Helping others get healthy is one of my greatest joys. Additionally, I've launched the Piggin' Out for a Cancer Cure fund which is the culmination of many of my greatest passions. I'm so blessed to be a part of the team at UNC Lineberger who are such amazing, inspirational and passionate people. Please take a moment and make a donation today if you can.

2016 also became the year of "no excuses." There are lots of unfair things in life. How dare I think I have the right to dictate the show. Life's not fair. REALLY? Suck it up, peeps. Today I'll race against guys in their 20s who will put me to shame time-wise. But that's the way 5Ks work. I won't blame anyone but myself if I do poorly today. Life will never be perfect. When you get bad news, recognize the problem, take responsibility for your attitude, and then make the necessary adjustments.

It was an awesome year travel-wise, of course. I just "happened" to be in Hawaii when a hurricane hit Oahu, which made for some pretty good surfing. Then I somehow ended up in Colorado, which has some of the world's best climbing peaks in the world. With 58 mountains over 14,000 feet, it attracts climbers from all over the world. While it may sound simple to grab your trekking poles and climb a 14er, it can be deadly. Every year people die while climbing one of these peaks. I was very careful to check the NWS before trying to summit Mt. Bierstadt and Huron Peak. My climbs were tiring but uneventful and I gained skills and confidence throughout my stay in the Centennial State. If you ever try one yourself, just be aware that there are LOTS of rocks, especially near the summit.

Finally, there was the trip to Zermatt. I am normally a pretty frugal guy, but I really splurged on this vacation, sensing that it would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I still can't believe I actually climbed the Alps. But nothing's a fluke. Least of all the Becky Black Memorial Fund that raised $25,000 for cancer research.

To sum up: I am at peace on this last day of 2016. I feel happier, healthier, and more satiated with my God. I strive to eat clean. I love my workouts. My work as a teacher is oh so satisfying. And I think I've finally adjusted to life without Becky. Well, sort of. At least I'm no longer gazing into an endless void. That tragedy will always be shrouded in mystery, but I've come to accept her passing as God's will for my life and I've decided that, yes, He can be trusted.

Now my goal is to reclaim the Word and make it useful, understandable, and meaningful for ordinary people like you and me. But I need something from you too. I want you to read my blog with your own life in mind, reflecting on how the Lord is perhaps turning your own tragedies into triumphs, or perhaps even challenging you to be a better you in 2017. I am just as interested in helping you discern how God might be working in your life as I am in telling my story. I still believe today what I have always believed: that even in the most painful of moments, God is present to us, offering us comfort that is powerful beyond all imagination. Rather than sit in a corner and cry about my problems, I am eager to launch out into the deep again in 2017. I have no idea where the road will take me. But I'll do my best to run the race that He sets before me.

Goodbye 2016! You were a very good year!


Friday, December 30

6:02 PM I had a great day of rest today. (Farm chores aren't really work for me.) It was a good day to rejuvenate my body and prepare for tomorrow. I'm heading to bed early tonight and then driving up to Spotsylvania. I'm not feeling 100 percent (my right hip is hurting) but I'm eager to see how it goes. For me, this will not be a performance race but a maintenance run. I'm pretty excited. The weather will be about 50 degrees at race time so I may run in shorts, which I haven't done in a loooong time. However the race unfolds, it's the last race of 2016. Cheers! 

2:08 PM The Christmas holiday is now ancient history or so it seems, which means it's time to get back into the routine of things around here. Today we worked mostly on various farm chores, including repairing the boards in our outbuildings, moving hay from the goat barn to the horse barn, and cutting down the fall growth that has begun to encroach on our hay fields. That's right, we are already preparing for our 2017 haying season. The weather has turned cold again but the animals seem okay with it, and Sheba and I have become tireless friends on the farm. She was only too happy the lick the food from the breakfast plates I served Nathan and me (ham and eggs). I hope you guys are looking forward to a wonderful new year. Stay warm and run strong!


10:35 AM Yesterday the Diane Rehm Show broadcast an archived interview with author J. K. Rowling. When asked how she knew whether a book of hers would become a best-seller, she replied, "I can never tell how well a book will sell. All I know is that I like it." As soon as I heard those words a light went on. Bingo! That's the key to writing. Or at least the key to everything I've written. My rule is to write for an audience of one. If I like it, that's all that matters. That other people should read anything I write is icing on the cake. And now it's a new year again, time to finalize my writing schedule. My world is as beautiful and broken as it ever was, but that won't stop me from dreaming. When you read a good book that pierces your spirit, thank God for the gift of writing. When you feel a profound sense of blessing when you've read a blog post by someone you admire, thank God for the way He wired us to be an encouragement to each other. When you go online and find just what you are looking for at Amazon and think, "I love this world I live in," thank God for those things. Even though I don't care much for Harry Potter, I love the way J. K. Rowling put it: Write to make yourself want to read what you write. So these days, I'm on the lookout for good books, books that will challenge and inspire me, books that feel like a long-lost friend, like a country song. If you're an author, don't worry too much about the advice others are giving you. Advice is a great warm-up, but you've got to bake the cake. Happy cooking!

9:50 AM Last night I fished writing the schedule for my New Testament Introduction 1 class (Jesus and the Gospels) that starts next month. Excluding exam weeks and two semester breaks, here are the weekly topics:

  • Introduction to the Gospels

  • Textual Criticism

  • The Synoptic Problem

  • Backgrounds to the Gospels

  • The Four Gospels

  • Jesus' Birth and Galilean Ministry

  • Jesus' Judean Ministry and Final Week

  • Matthew

  • Mark

  • Luke

  • John

  • The Message of Jesus

In addition, the schedule will provide a clear visual calender of coursework and assignments. The purpose of the first day of class is to create a starting point for the course. Guest lecturers will be added as their names are finalized. The final topic of the semester is the message of Jesus, which was the proclamation of the coming kingdom of God -- God's rule in our actions, thoughts, families, and cultures. Given how hard it is for us to grasp the radical nature of Jesus' kingdom, we'll see that choosing the way of Jesus means choosing the way of death. We live, not for our own glory, but for the glory of the King. The kingdom of God is to be the number one focus in the lives of His apprentices. I want my students leaving the course with a renewed commitment to being known as much as what they are for as what they are against. I want them to be able to affirm the authority of Scripture, the trinity, the deity of Christ, the efficacy of His death and bodily resurrection, but I want them also to see that social responsibility is no longer an item of passing interest but a matter of fundamental concern to the evangelical presentation of the Good News. I pray that they will be eager to commit their lives to a cause they can believe in and even die for, ready for a leadership that sees a church made up of many ministers, a church that is intergenerational and intercultural. I long to see them leading people who care little about being successful in the world's eyes and who care so much about being in touch with God and with the people of God that the reality of the Spirit's power will be evident to all. How do we return to a faith like that -- a faith that is as authentic, fresh, and passionate as the first love of a pre-critical faith? These are very practical questions. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that it's impossible to think deeply about these matters without a careful study of Jesus and the Gospels in such a way that the message takes up residence within the student's life and heart. It is scandalous for followers of Jesus to be biblically illiterate. At the same time, being zealous for the truth requires a gentle and generous attitude toward those who differ. The Good News is an all-encompassing story for all people in all places and in all times. Our churches have to embody that life in order to proclaim a Gospel that is both contagious and convincing.

Our assignments are twofold: Quizzes over the weekly reading, and two essay exams based mostly on the lectures (mine and others'). I suspect knowing who the Zealots were isn't God's highest priority, but at some point in one's education we have to study biblical backgrounds, and this class is just as good as any other to delve into these minutiae. But the main focus of the course will not be on the ABCs but on the the XYZs -- applying "right theology" to some of the most pressing issues of the day. Basing my exams on the course lectures may be a cheap trick to get a student's attention, but it's effective.

And so you have some of my goals for the class. From my vantage point I see a familiar villain: the tyranny of the urgent. This course will place a high premium on the student's ability to read and to read well (and a lot). Our textbooks are my The New Testament: Its Background and Message; my Interpreting the New Testament; my New Testament Textual Criticism; my Why Four Gospels?; and Strauss's Four Portraits: One Jesus. Unfortunately, it's very easy to skim over this material. On the other hand, I don't intend to lecture on material that a student can get in one-fourth the time by reading it in a book. And so I won't. Ultimately, I want it to be said of my students that they are witnesses to what it means to be brought under the reign of Christ, to bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord. His lordship calls all of us to live and work with each other with the attitude that Jesus modeled for us. I have no desire to tame the text of the New Testament. I want to let it out of its cage so that it can prowl around in our lives. The Bible is not a nice book. It's not even a guide to moral living. It's a revolutionary manifesto that could get us killed. Only if we surrender to it unconditionally can it transform us. 

Thursday, December 29

2:04 PM Today was a glorious day for training for my half marathon in March and my marathon in May. I managed to run 9 miles in 1:53 minutes at a pace of 12:38 minutes/mile. I post here a brief video clip for your amusement.

As you can see, my pace is not merely slow. It's slooooooow. But I'm fine with that. As I ran I kept thinking about that verse that says, "This is the pace that the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it." Or something like that. I'm only 11 weeks away from my half. Right now there's no real soreness or any sign that I just ran 9 miles. During my workout things were different, however. I kept noticing a small pain here and there -- in my groin, my thigh, my hip, even on the top of my right foot (are there muscles there too?). But my shoes worked out great as usual and I'm feeling no affect-effects so I am really, really happy. Tomorrow I'm forcing myself to take a day off to rest and recoup before Saturday and Sunday's back-to-back 5Ks. I can't but think that this is going to turn out to be great fun.

P.S. Thanks to all who've donated to the Piggin' Out for a Cancer Cure. "Y'all" (hehe) are the greatest!

9:38 AM I got a kick out of watching this YouTube last night about American dialects/accents.

At around 6:55 a young lady from BalDimore (not BalTimore!) jokes about learning to use "y'all" in the South when she lived there and then royally embarrassing herself when she used the same expression in BalDimore. Which got me to thinking ...

I wonder how many times in the New Testament we find a similar phenomenon? In other words, let's say I'm Paul. I know Greek pretty well, even though I'm a Jew. Yet the style of my writings varies considerably from letter to letter. If indeed I am the author of Hebrews (as one crackpot scholar thinks), then I'm responsible for the New Testament writing that probably attains the highest standard of literary quality in Koine Greek. My question is this ("my" is now referring to Dave, not Paul): Shouldn't this variation in language register be reflected in our English translations? Let's take the opening prologue of Hebrews as an example. As everyone who has studied Greek knows, Heb. 1:1-4 is a magnificent periodic sentence -- perhaps the "most refined and literary piece of theological argument in the whole of the NT" (so I write in my essay Hebrews 1:1-4: A Study in Discourse Analysis). Indeed, "Measure and balance and even a certain artistic unity secured by skillful coordination of clauses have produced a rounded and symmetrical whole, rivaled only by the prologue of Luke" (idem.). And yet most translations of Hebrews divide this periodic sentence into two or even three sentences in English. Why, looking at an English Bible, you wouldn't even know the underlying Greek was any different from, say, the prologue of John (1:1-5). But you'd be wrong. Here's what the author "literally" wrote (brace yourself):

On many occasions and in many ways, in the past, God, having spoken to the fathers in the prophets, in the last of these says has spoken to us in a Son whom He has made heir of all things, through whom He also created the ages, who, being the radiance of His glory and the exact impress of His substance, bearing all things by the word of His power, after having made purification for sins, sat down at the right of the Majesty in the heights, having become that much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than they.

Egads! Not sure what to do with this. We can't prickle over every little thing. One important feature: The emphasis is not on God the Father but the Son. As soon as Paul mentions the Son, he henceforth speaks only about Him, ending (finally!) with the proposition that the Son has become superior to the angels -- a theme he will develop in 1:5-2:18. Now, all of this stuff can't count the most. Something always gives in Bible translation. Intentionally or not, we often miss the structure of a passage because we are relying too heavily on our English Bibles, which often sacrifice such features as periodism for the sake of readability (also called "acceptability"). It sets people up for for failure, creating a translation-centric approach to exegesis in which one's favorite Bible translation becomes determinative.

Doesn't it make sense to at least look at the Greek here? This could be profoundly good for you and your church. If all else fails, you can triage your deficiencies in Greek by a glance at an exegetical commentary or two. The best commentaries, of course, are those that provide their own translations of the Greek. Much of the imagery in Heb. 1:-4 moves in a linear fashion, directing listeners toward the goal of entering into the author's main argument, namely, that Christ is superior to the prophets, the angels, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, etc. Hebrews' style is remarkable for the high register of its language. It's almost like the author is intentionally avoiding the use of "y'all." Indeed, the opening sentence of this magnificent homily is designed to foster greater attentiveness to what God has communicated to us through His Son.

The upshot is that you have permission to examine these features of the text. But do it well. You'll never regret spending too much time mulling over a passage. But you might deeply regret doing the opposite.

Wednesday, December 28

12:50 PM Hey everyone. I pray you are filling your hearts today with the joy and peace that comes from celebrating this season. I am so very thankful for a God who answers our prayers. As you know, I've been working tirelessly with UNC to get a fund started for endometrial cancer research. Well,

Oink! Oink!

This little porker is here to tell you that the Piggin' Out for a Cancer Cure web page is now LIVE!!!! I am so jazzed!!! I don't know how I would have made it through our cancer journey without the support of people like you. You made me realize I was not alone. The journey hasn't been easy. In fact, I've invented a new word to describe what I've been through: gratigrief. I'm grateful beyond words that I've hit the three-year mark since Becky's death. God has been soooooooo good to me. I love you men and women. At the same time, I have come to realize that I can affirm God's sovereign purpose in my life and still grieve, deeply. So I keep on circling around this mystery, exploring it from various angles and even trying to see if there are ways I can leverage it for good. My appreciation for UNC Hospital has grown immeasurably since Becky was treated there. So today, with deep humility and tremendous joy, I am announcing this new fundraiser. I am so full of HOPE that God will provide for the needs that Dr. Vickie has in order for her to complete her research. I want to thank Jennifer Bowman at UNC Lineberger for doing such a great job of setting up the web page. I think you'll like it! As you can see, the process is really very easy: I commit to run 26 miles in May, and you donate 26 (or more) dollars for cancer research in memory of Becky. My desire is to minister to those dear ladies who are facing the same kind of cancer that Becky had. Uterine cancer touches so many women's lives. It's a battle none of them chose. 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. That's the bad news. The good news is that today we have new tools at our disposal to fight cancer in ways we've never had before. When we unite our efforts into one movement, we are unstoppable. I don't mean to sound idealistic, but I really do believe that cancer research can make a difference in the lives of these precious ladies. Your donations can accelerate the pace of groundbreaking research that can get new therapies to women quickly. Please prayerfully consider helping me now (you don't have to wait until May to give).

Will you please make a gift of $26.00 today? UNC depends on great partners like you to help fund their innovative research. Even if you can't give, would you please join me in praying for Dr. Vickie and her efforts?

Together, let's stand up to endometrial cancer.

THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!


12:15 PM Today I put in 9 miles on my mountain bike at the Tobacco Heritage Trail near Brodnax, VA. All of this effort is in preparation for my marathon.

I just love this trail. It's flat and paved and even takes you past a rural airport. Parking is free at all the trail heads. I want to compliment the trail staff; the trail is immaculately kept. This is an unknown treasure even to those of us who live in Southside Virginia.

7:52 AM Living in Virginia you'd think I'd do lots of runs in this state. You'd be wrong. Most of the runs that are closest to my farm are to be found down south -- mostly in Raleigh, Cary, and Morrisville. There you will find a super fit culture. In fact, Raleigh was rated by Men's Health magazine as "the best city for fit, happy men." It's got over 100 miles of cycling, walking, and running trails. That said, I was looking for a 5K race for this weekend and there was nothing in the Raleigh area, so I expanded my quest to include the greater Richmond area and, lo and behold, I came up with this doozy of a race: Across the Years 10K. It's actually a combination of two 5K races -- one on Dec. 31, and the other on New Years Day. How cool is that? And it gets even better. The first race is held in Spotsylvania, and the second in Stafford -- both towns well-known for the role they played in the Civil War, so there's lots of history there. Here's the icing on the cake: If you're older than 34, your " ... times will be reduced to calculate a final combined time." I have no idea what that means except that maybe, just maybe, being an old fossil finally has some perks. Not to go on a tangent, but I really love doing runs in my home state. I am still a bit astonished that there aren't more of them. I'm going to keep my eye on Richmond and environs in 2017 for sure. I've only done one 10K race as you know. All I can say is it was FUN. I'll go into this weekend's competition with zero expectations because I usually have more fun that way. After all, my goal nowadays isn't to PR but to work on my stamina. I want to simply enjoy running this weekend. The weather promises to be cool and cloudy but rainless. Sure hope so. Wish me well!

6:45 AM Last night I was prepping for our LXX class in the spring semester (which I'm co-teaching with my esteemed Old Testament colleague, Chip Hardy), and I thought to myself, "Our once casual relationship with Greek and Hebrew is about to transition to 'It's complicated.'" I honestly don't remember how I decided to offer this course years ago. I think I just sent an email to my dean saying, "I want to do one. Haha." You know, like how Sir Edmund Hillary informed his friends he wanted to climb Mount Everest. "Summiting the world's highest mountain. I may want to do that. Haha." Well, we pushed the button, and the rest is history. This is now the fourth (or fifth) time we've done this. There are plenty of obstacles to keep us busy. The first fallacy we have to deal with is the supposed difference between Hebrew and Greek thought. Hebrew, we are told, is obviously good. Greek is irretrievably bad. Hebrew thought is better because it is holistic, concrete, and dynamic. We are told, furthermore, that the whole Bible, including the New Testament (written in Greek), is based on the Hebrew attitude and approach. We are reminded that the aim of the Hebrew system is da'ath Elohim ("Know God"), whereas the Greeks emphasized gnothi seauton ("Know thyself"). Thus in the Greek system, knowledge is emphasized; in the Hebrew system, the goal is to shape the character of the student. It's Athens versus Jerusalem all over again. Listen, it's all very simple. The Hebrew language was used by God to deliver His truth to Hebrew speakers. The Greek language was used by the same God to deliver His truth to Greek speakers. A "Christian" worldview bestrides them both.

I recall someone arguing that Hebrew is action-oriented because of its unmarked word order: verb, then subject. In English we say, "God created." In Hebrew we say, "He created, God." This is said to reveal " ... the dynamic variety of the Hebrew's thinking" (Thorlief Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, p. 28). Ergo, Hebrew thinking is dynamic; Greek thinking is static. What, then, do you do with languages like Korean, where the verb comes at the end of the sentence? Or German, which has a mish-mash of word order depending on whether the clause is a main clause or a subordinate clause: "I know that the student is good because he has studied" = "Ich weiss dass der Student gut ist weil er studiert hat" (lit., "I know that the student good is because he studied has"). Speak like Yoda I can! Woohoo!

And then there's the question, "Which language is easier to learn: Hebrew or Greek?" Some say that Greek grammar is more complex than Hebrew. Others argue that Hebrew grammar is more complicated than Greek. After all, "Hebrew often lacks a verb in its sentence!" Huh? Of course there's a verb there. It's just implied, as in the Greek sentence Ho anthropos agathos, "The man is good." This phenomenon even occurs in English: "KNX News Radio time, 10:30." My opinion is that if you enjoy learning languages, you'll find neither Greek nor Hebrew to be very difficult. You'll probably have to work harder at your Hebrew vocabulary simply because Greek shares more cognates with English. But vocabulary acquisition is simply a matter of rote memory.

The bottom line: I think it's a bit misleading to insist that grammar and thought are inherently related. There are just too many philosophical difficulties inherent in any theory of mental representations. Human language is an adequate vehicle to communicate divine truth. Every human language. Just ask Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Tuesday, December 27

12:35 PM How were foot races conducted in the ancient world? Glad you asked.

  • Runners (males only) ran naked. Well, there goes the Nike endorsement! Heb. 12:1 may well refer to the "laying aside" of clothing as athletes did before competing.

  • Most races were simple 200-yard (600-foot) dashes. That was pretty much the length of the stadium (hence a foot race was called a stade).

  • The longest distance was 24 stades, or about 2.86 miles. The "marathon" was unknown at the time (it's an invention of the 1896 Olympic Games).

  • Training was taken very seriously.

  • "Endurance" was considered important even during shorter races. Hence the reference to endurance in Heb. 12:1.

  • Victory brought great prestige. (Think medallion and bragging rights today. Oh, did I mention the t-shirt?)

For more, see Track and Field History and the Origins of the Sport.

I like to call myself a less-than-average recreational runner. I usually place in the middle of the field and in the middle of my age group as well. I love watching the chain of runners from the very front of the pack to the very end of the pack. We're all in it together, even though some of us are fast and others of us are slow and everywhere in-between. When I finish a race I always cheer the other runners as they cross the finish line (after cooling down, of course). I always stay for the awards ceremony as well. Everyone gets a standing ovation from this amateur. This sport is so awesome because it connects all of us. Every one of us is struggling with the same things. Every one of us knows the thrill of victory and the disappointment of not reaching a personal goal. None of us runs for the money. I've seen some snootiness at races but not much. (Snootiness comes at all speeds, by the way.) Running is all about endurance and patience. Thank goodness is isn't about being naked.

Whew, that turned into a longer post than I intended!

11:28 AM What a sweet review of Running My Race. Thank you, John!

11:10 AM I've just added this event to my 2017 race schedule: The Red Shoe Run in Birmingham. The date is January 21.

That's right. I'm such a running fanatic I've decided to fly all the way to Alabama to run in a 5K. Not really. I'm actually going to visit 5 grandkids (and their mom and dad, of course), so while I'm there I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone. It was actually their idea, and you know how compliant I am. (Cheesy.) As with many races these days, this one offers a variety of distances so that everyone can join in the fun. I've decided to do the 5K though I was tempted to register for the 10-miler. The cause? The Ronald MacDonald House. Personally, I don't eat at the Golden Arches, but hey, I fully support the charitable work they do for children.

9:56 AM The weather. This is obviously not something I can control, nor would I want to. A cold front is due to hit in about 10 minutes bringing with it rain. It might clear up this afternoon, in which case I'll try and get a bike ride in. I'm trying not to get anxious and instead let the opportunities come to me. Relax. Be flexible. I may just need a rest day.

7:34 AM This morning I read 3 John as part of my "daily devotionals." (I don't have daily devotions, as everyone knows. There's nothing virtuous about that statement. If you have "devotions," more power to you. But my relationship with Christ is such that I've never been able to schedule a time to meet with Him. Yes, I'm a crotchety grandpa about certain things.) Here are a few takeaways in no particular order:

1) The chiastic structure of the letter. Ah yes, another "chiasmus." There is a certain attraction to assigning the name chiasmus to just about anything we find in the New Testament. Here is the trouble: It's too easy to impose on the text something that isn't there. That said, I'd outline 3 John as follows:

A. Introduction

   B. Praise for Gaius

      C. Condemnation of Diotrephes

   D. Praise for Demetrius

E. Conclusion

The bull's-eye, the central matrix, is what John has to say about Mr. "Nourished-by-God," who wanted to be the boss of the church. More on that later.

2) How to filter the kingdom. The Christian life is more than being faithful to the truth. Gaius was that, to be sure. But John commends him for "living out the truth" -- living in a manner worthy of the calling he's received. God makes us worthy as we desire to "imitate what is good" (v. 11): meeting needs, nurturing little souls, the daily labor of parenting, etc. What keeps you from doing the truth? What changes do you need to make in 2017? Bonhoeffer, writing in prison, was on target when he said that repentance is "not in the first place thinking about one's own needs, problems, sins, and fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus Christ" (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 361). Good advice, if you ask me. I need to take it to heart.

3) Minimizing human leadership. Our human pedestals are such nightmares. They always backfire. Diotrephes had to be "number one." I don't mean to minimize the importance of pastoral leadership. But folks, our priorities are backwards. All the wrong things become too big (hierarchy, professionalism, success, size of membership) and all the right things become too small (Jesus first, humility, simplicity, everyone pulling their weight). This issue is no longer trite. It is destroying churches. When our Christian superstars fail, the church loses influence in our culture. It's high time we humbled ourselves as Christian leaders. Ultimately, the claim of being Top Dawg predicates the rejection of Jesus' sole lordship (Col. 1:18). It's just that serious.

4) The passive voice. Say what? Take a look at verse 12. The idea here is "Everyone speaks well of Demetrius." Many translations actually render the verse this way. But John actually wrote, "Demetrius is well-spoken of by everyone." That's the passive voice. And there's a difference between the active and passive voices. The passive voice usually calls attention to the grammatical subject. Compare these two sentences:

  • "Today, Japanese Prime Minster Abe will visit the Arizona Memorial."

  • "Today, the Arizona Memorial will be visited by Japanese Prime Minister Abe."

See the difference? The second sentences carries a meaning like, "Today, the Arizona Memorial [of all places!] will be visited by Japanese Prime Minister Abe." This is part and parcel of grammar. We study language, and we reap the benefits.

5) The importance of your physical health to God. Note John's greeting in verse 2: "I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit." Why isn't this a reality for so many? We live with such a ridiculous "the spirit matters" but "I don't have to care for the temple" mentality. What an insane approach to the body God has given us. I mean, we Baptists are the worst offenders. Of course, you can be a skinny person and still be a glutton. But if the number of self-deprecating potluck jokes from our pulpits means anything, we've got a problem, Houston. If you need to exercise, then exercise. Wrestle whatever is holding you back. You are too important to the body of Christ to lose years to heart disease and obesity. (Talk about pressure. I have to be fit to preach about presenting our bodies to God as living sacrifices?)

Well, I need to be off and running with today's chores. Yet who can deny the importance of lying back in our lounge chair and listening to Him? Then, and only then, can we make a hard and fast connection between the brute facts of life and the reality of God. Perhaps if you and I read John's third letter now and then, we'd find more ways to love God and people. 

Monday, December 26

6:45 PM Well, folks. I'm in love. That's right. You heard it here first. So who's the new love of my life? Trader Joe's organic soups. One of my sweet daughters gave me several boxes of them for Christmas yesterday. I'm already a big fan. Today I tried this one out.

It's tomato and roasted red pepper soup. Man, it hit the spot on a cold day and after a hard workout. I had leaked word a couple of weeks ago that I was really missing home-cooked soup, you know, the kind Becky used to make at winter time. I want to tell you: this soup here is the real deal. I'm reminded of the meals I would take at the Derby Restaurant in Zermatt last July. As a Vorspeise I would insist on getting a bowl of their delicious home-made soup, which, like the one pictured above, was often tomato-based. As someone who was climbing every day, I knew that soup not only tasted wonderful but was a great source of potassium, magnesium, sodium, and other minerals that my body needed as I was putting it through its paces. So I was delighted when I opened this present. One carton (for me) will make about 4 bowls of soup. It would make a great partner with a grilled cheese sandwich, but honestly, it's great on its own. Clocks in at about 300 calories so it's perfect for anyone trying to keep their weight down. Can't wait to try the three other flavors I got. I will never go back to Campbell's. Blech!

Below: The Derby Restaurant on Zermatt's main drag. You could find me here every evening of the week after a long day of climbing. I always ate on the veranda you see in this picture. Ach, solche glückliche Erinnerungen! 

5:52 PM I see that last week's training miles totaled 28.36. (The acronym is MPW = miles per week. Yeah, I didn't know that either.) Everyone is different. Many marathoners train 50-90 MPW. The key question is how to avoid injury. Running a marathon undertrained increases your injury risk. But so does running a marathon overtrained. I'm gonna stick with a low/moderate philosophy since at my age I'm injury-prone and, besides, it best fits with my lifestyle. I find I do better mentally when I balance walking/running with weight training and climbing. Everyone agrees that training for a marathon takes a huge mental and physical toll on the runner. Yet marathon participation is on the rise. I'm told that over half of the runners at this year's Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy will be first-timers like me. Over 1,000 different marathons are run each year in the U.S. So far my body has enjoyed the training it's done, but I've just started and who knows how things will go. I'm motivated for a number reasons, but high on the list is the fact that marathons have become a major outlet for fundraising and to express support for charitable causes. I hope to have my own fundraising page up at UNC soon. I suppose that having a "cause" is the carrot in front of me that keeps me going. Besides, I was wired to be a challenge seeker. I also enjoy the camaraderie of the running community. On the other hand, I won't stop celebrating 5Ks. They require just as much hard work and dedication. Bottom line: I need big goals to keep me motivated to exercise. But hey, even a short 5K race can be lots of fun.

1:05 PM Man ... I still can't believe I just read this today. A commentator repeats an age-old argument against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews by noting how Paul quotes the Old Testament: "Scripture says" or "It is written." Then he goes on to state, "The letter [of Hebrews] never uses these expressions but usually puts a simple "It says," without giving the subject (cf. Heb 1:6, 7; 5:6; 8:8, 13; 10:5; 12:26)."

Hmm. I wrote a big ol' book (38 pages) about this subject and guess what? The "It says/He says" method of introducing Old Testament quotations in Hebrews is paralleled in -- are you ready? -- 1 Cor 6:16; 15:27; 2 Cor 6:2; Gal 3:16; Eph 4:8 and 5:14. You can find all of this on p. 5 of my book The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. Look up these verses for yourself if you like. On the same page of my book, in footnote 12, you will also find this quote from volume 4 of Nigel Turner's A Grammar of New Testament Greek: "This impersonal use of 'he says' is quite rabbinical and also Pauline ...."

My only suggestion is that you, as a reader, need to examine carefully everything you read, regardless of who the author is. The includes, of course, anything I write. Follow the evidence wherever it leads. And as for us authors, let's try our best to set aside bogus appeals to data meant to shut down debate. I promise to work harder at this myself.

11:38 AM One thing I'm very thankful for is not having to write anything about an injury. God has spared me thus far and I couldn't be more grateful to Him. (Well, I have some annoying aches and pains here and there, but nothing major.) More than anything, I'm really looking forward to following my marathon training plan. That'll be a nice goal for the new year. I plan to do 3 short walk-runs and 1 long walk-run each week. Last week my long run was 8 miles. This week it will be 9 miles, next week it will be 10, and so on and so forth until I begin tapering off during the run-up to my half marathon on March 19. Today I had one of the most pleasurable workouts I've ever had. It started off with weight lifting at the Y, as I've decided I need to work a lot harder on my upper body strength in view of the climbing I hope to do this summer.

My goals in the Alps are threefold: The Riffelhorn, the Allalinhorn, and the Pollux. The Matterhorn would be icing on the cake, but we'll need to see how well I do on the first three peaks. Each of them involves a great deal of rock scrambling, which means that you use your arms as well as your legs to propel yourself up the mountain. Today at the Y, I performed the incline bench press, the bench press (supine), seated overhead shoulder press, lateral raises, standing biceps curl, and seated biceps curl. That was about it. Then it was off to the Tobacco Heritage Trail to get in 5 miles. I see that I averaged a 13-minute/mile pace. It took me just over an hour to do my 5 miles. I'm much happier with this method of walk-running than just running by itself. Today, when I finished, I wasn't tired at all. I've also turned over a new leaf in another area of training, and that is making sure I cool down for at least 5 minutes after doing any exercising. For some reason I would complete a 5K only to stop at the finish line to check my time, get my free bottle of water, and maybe take a few pictures. Not anymore. The more cooling down I can do after a race, the quicker I'll be able to get back up on the horse later. Anyway, if you're a little wishy washy about cooling down after exercising, take it from me: it's a definite MUST. Any little thing to help your body handle all that stress. Sadly, I just heard about the death of David Heath near the finish line of the London Marathon. He was only 31 years old and an Afghanistan vet. He died while raising money for wounded warriors. So yeah, there's always that risk when you run, especially when you're pushing your body that hard. But honestly, folks, whenever anybody tells me running (or mountain climbing) is dangerous, I remind them that there's a much higher likelihood that I will die from a sedentary lifestyle than from being active. As long as I have my doctor's blessing (I keep no secrets from her), I'm good to go.


7:34 AM My favorite YouTube of 2016. 5 thumbs up!

6:58 AM I thought dinner went extremely well yesterday. No cases of indigestion reported. (Yet.) It's hard to believe that in only a week we'll enter a new year and I'm sitting here thinking how I'm going to spend the next rotation around the sun. There are things I want to leave behind and there are things I want to run towards. "I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race" is the way Paul put it. Really, that's the thing. Just plain old-fashioned dogged determination. The longer I live, the clearer this becomes. It's time for reimagining, rethinking, maybe even restarting. I'm so proud of my family. I know they think I'm crazy. Yet they carry on so beautifully. We're all in this together. It's called having a relationship. And my relationship with the Father is no less important. Yesterday I read through perhaps the greatest homily/sermon in the entire New Testament, the book of Hebrews. I can't explain how this works. But as I read the Bible, the Bible reads me. Hebrews reminds me that I have to look to Christ first. The Scriptures all testify to Him. For someone who struggles with pride, it's good to be reminded that my heart needs to be fixed and established on Jesus. These past three years I've clung to Him more than I used to. I feel alive, as though touched by a priest who can sympathize with my weaknesses. Jesus' own trial granted Him an extraordinary capacity for compassion and mercy. It's foolish and damaging to look for solace anywhere else. God's love is ferocious. You can't escape it. I see it right now as I watch the morning sunrise. I feel it when cold air rushes through my panting lungs atop a tall mountain. I sense it in the small talk around a dinner table. We experience it when we pass the bread and cup and when we sing hymns (and even ridiculous choruses) and when we laugh or cry with a friend or when we get married or lose a loved one through death or divorce or when we wash the dishes or when we share our faith or when we advocate for the homeless or reject political ideology or apprentice ourselves to Jesus' way of life or pray or worship or work or make love or grow old and decrepit. And yet as I type these very words my hand trembles because I am still trying to figure out what to retain in my life and what to relinquish. I am learning, painfully, just how complicated following Jesus can be even though it should be simple. When I start getting angry at the hypocrisy in the church and peek around the curtain, who do I find? Me. I'm a teacher yet I desperately want to learn. I'm a talker yet I desperately need to listen. In my current vocabulary, I've replaced the word "disciple" with "follower," "trainee," "apprentice." I want to obey and not just know. I want my life to be an overflow of the Gospel, a life that tells the truth behind the facade. I want to reclaim church -- not the church of flashy programs and Christian superstars, but the messy, imperfect, powerful, ugly, beautiful, celebratory, open-hearted and open-armed and rescue-for-the-weary church I read about in the pages of my Greek New Testament. I don't care one whit where that church assembles -- in a living room or a school gymnasium or a "sanctuary" -- as long as every member is committed to playing second fiddle to the Senior Pastor and sees themselves as a sent community by a Sending God. Blessed are those who have the courage to live like that. Who refuse to take the manure out of the manger. Who are truly human like Jesus was. Who refuse to put the Bible over obedience. Who see their homes first and foremost as outposts for the kingdom of God. Who allow the holy to invade them daily. Who reject everything vindictive or warmongering in our society. Who grapple with deep theological issues. Who define "worship" as changing diapers and serving dinner and not just as attending the Sunday service. Who lead by equipping. Who freely share their money with people in need.

Jesus came to this earth to show us what God looks like. Whatever this new year may hold for you or for me, I think it would be wonderful if we told His story on our blogs and became honest with our Facebook accounts and gloried not only on the mountaintop but in the mundane and refused to outsource The Real Work of Ministry to paid professionals and followed the downward path of Jesus. "Therefore, let us go to Him outside the camp," wrote Paul in Hebrews, "bearing His dishonor. For here we have no abiding city, but we are seeking the city to come." Shall we refuse "His dishonor," or shall we grasp it with both hands, realizing that it holds just what we need most in 2017? 

Sunday, December 25

8:38 AM I woke up this morning scared to death. I have no idea how to cook a Smithfield ham. My idea of cooking is combining water with a bit of powder. So ... 15 minutes per pound. Where in tarnation is the poundage to be found on this silly pork chop? Okay, there it is. Let's see ... if we're eating at 1:00 it needs to go in the oven at 10:30. Oh wait. Does that include the time the oven is warming up? Something in the kitchen brings the worst out of me. Where is the oven mit? How long do I boil the potatoes before mashing them? Do the forks go on the left side or the right side of the plates? (I'm sorry, I know it's not your fault.) Sheba, out! This is MY space. I'm trying to serve 12 people. Man, I just hope they don't try to start a conversation that requires thought on my part. And God help the soul who says, "When will dinner be ready?"  

8:14 AM It's hard for me to sit here at the computer and try to describe what it feels like to celebrate Christmas for the fourth time without Becky. The incarnation interprets human existence. Without it, human suffering would remain forever a mystery. By the incarnation and crucifixion of His Son, God showed us the meaning of love through suffering. Thousands can testify that His wounds are the only things that can heal us. Christmas is a time when God comes to us to fill us up with love and strength and wisdom so that we can go back into the dark rooms of our lives and pour ourselves out again. It's no wonder we love to sing carols on this day. It's a day in which we seem to enjoy a unique sense of peace. Why? Because there's a little baby lying in a feeding trough. Because when we speak the name of Jesus we know that, ultimately, there is no darkness that has power here, no evil that can overcome God's grace. "We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars." Let's be honest. We need a God-man who became one of us. Unlike the carol that says "the little Lord Jesus no crying He makes," God understands our tears because He Himself wept. The bitter cup of suffering that He calls us to -- we drink it by trustful acceptance. Indeed, we do more. We offer back to God our tears as a sacrifice of praise. We bow in gratitude for this Christ-child who bore our sins and sufferings. Two thousand years ago God bent down and kissed us. Everything the world so desperately needed was won for it by the Lamb. Should we ask, "Is there no balm for our pain?," the answer is found only in the Good News. It's all there -- forgiveness, hope, solace, peace. The sorrows in my own life have given me the chance to learn a little bit more of what it meant when Jesus came to this earth to die on a bloody Roman cross -- the place where heaven's justice and heaven's love met. So much of the past couple of years has been a process of God showing me why He chose to bless me in the way He has. As the Gospels remind us, Jesus goes out of His way to meet damaged people. He is intimately acquainted with every ounce of human suffering and pain. This is the Jesus Story! When He walked out of that tomb, He made it possible for all of His followers to slay their own giants. So here I am, alone in a big house yet feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve, knowing that God has something momentous in store for me if I can just silence my doubts and fears long enough to listen to Him speak, believing with all my heart that His purpose is love. Acceptance is the key to peace. I must learn to pray, "Lord, do with me whatever pleases You. Give me or take away from me. You alone know what is best for me. And may I adore You whatever happens."

So a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. I'm ready to see God do more great things. I am now more than ever convinced that nothing can separate me from the love of my God. And no matter how hard things become, He has given me friends and family who show me with their love that He still has a way for me.

Saturday, December 24

3:20 PM Map My Run isn't the world's greatest app, but I like it when they send me updates, including today's "2016 Year in Review." Here are the barebones stats:

  • Total workouts in 2016: 211. That's like working out every day for 30.1 out of 52 weeks.

  • Total calories in 2016: 125,642. That's the equivalent of eating 339 slices of pizza.

  • Total distance in 2016: 994 miles. That would cover the distance from Houston to Jacksonville 1.2 times.

  • Total duration in 2016: 10,591 minutes.

Mind you, none of my climbs in the Alps or the Rockies were recorded. My longest distances in 2016 were: hiking (17 miles), biking (26 miles), and walking/running (26 miles). I feel soooo incredibly blessed. Being a runner who wants to chase personal bests at the age of 64 isn't easy. Thank you, Lord, for filling me with such awe and happiness and for the beauty and splendor that Your creation is. At my age, Lord, I'm obviously grateful just to be able to get out of bed in the morning!

3:05 PM Ahh! Just booked my flights and hotel room in Cincy for the Race of Races on May 7. Love it love it love it. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with all of this mentally. I can get very anxious about this race. I am seriously apprehensive. What happens if I get sick or injured before the race? What happens if I have to drop out during the race? Can I even go 26.2 miles again? Okay, Dave, just set all of that aside. Simply run for the joy of running. To ice the cake, it will be for a good cause. Remember that.

Stay tuned!

9:14 AM Andrew Wilson kindly sent me a link to his recently released Kindle book called Do Not Quench the Spirit: A Biblical and Practical Guide to Participatory Church Gatherings. It's free at Amazon. I think it would be enormously helpful in our church gatherings to make our goal not simply Bible study or prayer, although both are deeply important, but koinonia, our deep partnership in Christ. It would lead to a new commitment to participating and not merely observing. It would enable people to discover and exercise gifts they perhaps they didn't even know they had. Of course, leadership will be crucial in implementing such an approach, and this leadership should be shared (lest it become too much for one person), but when leaders and followers work hand in hand I see great potential for restoring to the church the kind of body life that seemed to mark the earliest Christians. I sometimes hear leaders say they fear that such participatory meetings will make their work seem redundant and unnecessary. The fact of the matter is, pastors will never work harder than when they find themselves training the flock to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). This is exactly the leadership role for which they were (hopefully!) trained. The old-fashioned method of apprenticeship has much to commend it over lectures, books, and exams -- and I say that as a lecturer, author, and examiner! Many of us who teach have often quoted Bengel's famous gnomon: "Apply yourself wholly to the text; apply the text wholly to yourself." Yet as Andrew points out, it was the very same Bengel who, commenting on 1 Cor. 14:26, wrote: "At that day the assembly was more fruitful than our own, when one man, whatever his state of mind, is expected to fill up the time with a sermon." Many are ordained today who lack an essential of ordained New Testament leadership: the gift of training in leadership!

8:44 AM In preparing for my NT 1 course, I was going to do a detailed study of the Gospel According to Mark and spend an hour in class going over its content, structure, theme, etc. But why do that when my students can get that information in one-fourth the time by reading their textbooks The New Testament: Its Background and Message and Why Four Gospels? I'm not sure what I'll focus on in class that day but it might well be my study of the textual variant in Mark 6:20, and that for two reasons. 1) It illustrates the importance of textual criticism in New Testament studies, and 2) it suggests that the great majority of scholars have gotten it wrong here by preferring the reading eporei over epoiei. Here the scene is Herod and John the Baptist, who is in prison. The NET Bible reads, "When Herod heard him, he was thoroughly baffled, and yet he liked to listen to John. The ISV, on the other hand, reads: "Whenever he listened to John, he did much of what he said. In fact, he liked listening to him." Here the ISV follows the reading epoiei. If you'd like to know why I think epoiei is original here, you can read my New Testament Studies essay -- and mighty bored you'll be. The upshot is this. Herod was hardly ambivalent towards John. He considered him a godly man, and the reading epoiei represents Herod as profiting from regular counsel with the prophet. That is, until his wife shows up. (Cue theme from Jaws.) Now, poor old Herod is trapped between his respect for John and his fear of public disapproval. Later in Mark, Pilate faces a similar dilemma. He is willing to do what justice demands in the trial of Jesus, but only up to a point. When his standing in the public eye is threatened, he too surrenders to evil. I don't think it's possible to overstate how much this theme permeates modern politics. To be "politically expedient" means you do something to advance yourself politically. You say and do the "right things" to please your audience. And, of course, when you're accused of political expediency, you respond that you're merely "adapting" as times and circumstances change. "I was for the war!" "No, you were against the war!" The issue may be crime, trade, or marriage. It doesn't matter. Your campaign works to set the narrative. This is just how politics work -- then and now. I hate to break it to you, but this is often how things work in the church too. One thing I've finally accepted about church is that, when done right, it's always a supernatural thing. To go against our traditions is so, well, daunting. I hate disagreements. I am a disagreement avoider. But I'm learning that some disagreement can be healthy. We're not called to be mindless sponges. That's one reason I've invited several of my respected colleagues to give guest lectures in my class. They and I hardly agree on everything. And yet, like iron sharpening iron, we choose to listen to each other respectfully. It's not natural to do this. Human nature strives to have its own way. So I'm hoping through exposing my students to differing views (about divorce and remarriage, for example), and then through respectful discussion, all of us can can develop the guts to go wherever we believe the Scriptures point us. If we can't embrace healthy conflict, then we'll never have a truly honest community.

On another note, today it's raining, which means my workout will probably be limited to the Y unless there's a break in the weather. I'm not going to lie. I'm going to miss my 5 mile run today. On the other hand, I've got a whole bunch of people coming here for dinner tomorrow, and it would probably be a good idea to clean up the house beforehand. It's the expedient thing to do, too.

7:50 AM I've begun rereading this fascinating book.

It tells the story of the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania off the coast of Ireland by a German U-boot during WWI. It's not often that I get to use the word "definitive," but that word applies here no doubt. This is an excellent history. The story behind it is both fascinating and sad. All the stars aligned for the German U-boot captain that day. Everything that needed to go right for him went right. The captain of the Lusitania gambled and lost. Many of the passengers thought, "Why, no submarine can sink us. We're far too fast!" My main take-away is the impossibility of laying blame on any one person. The lesson of the book is that the unexpected can happen and often does. On December 27 President Obama and Japanese President Abe will meet at the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombing of the U.S. fleet. All of us old-timers remember this as "the date which will live in infamy." Almost immediately after the bombing, Admiral Kimmel and General Short were relieved of command and forced to take early retirement. They were also stripped of their rank. Yet they were hardly solely to blame. The lack of adequate reconnaissance planes, the lack of pilots, the lack of intelligence (Washington failed to inform Kimmel and Short of many details because they feared it would tip off the enemy that their code had been broken) -- all of these point to shared blame. Many, including Vice-President Biden, have called for President Obama to right this wrong before he leaves office by undoing the unfair reduction in rank that happened following the attack. Many retired admirals and generals have agreed with Biden that this action is justified. I think they might have a point. It's a whole lot psychologically easier for us to say that it was all Kimmel's or Short's fault than to admit that we messed up. Pearl Harbor was the result of imperfect American leadership (both military and civilian), the political conundrum facing FDR, and almost unbelievable good luck on the part of the Japanese. Today the U.S. needs to be no less vigilant as we continue to see the place of our nation in relation to ever-changing threats and events and how we prioritize our resources for national security. If we think a December 7 or a September 11 could not happen again, we are only deceiving ourselves.

Friday, December 23

6:04 PM First it was Garrison. Then it was Click and Clack. Now it's Diane. Mrs. Rehm, you will be sorely missed. You are such a class act. 40 years. Wow. I enjoyed all of your shows.

(Note: No, I don't agree with her stance on physician-assisted suicide. At the same time, she bore her husband's death magnificently.)

5:14 PM Greetings pards. Just back from my jaunt up north to visit the Peaks of Otter. That's Sharp Top on the left -- which I climbed today -- and Flat Top on the right. Flat Top is the slightly taller peak.

I have to admit that I was really surprised to see how cold it was today in the mountains. Winters in Virginia are typically mild affairs, and today was no exception. Or so I thought until I saw this monster icecycle.

Anyway, I was off and running, that is, walking my way to the summit. According to Map My Run, it took me 54 minutes to walk 1.6 miles using 48,000 steps. Running down was a lot easier: it took me about 20 minutes.

About half way up you encounter the inevitable stairs that all good trails in Virginia seem to have.

You have to give the park service a lot of credit for cutting and hauling these stones up the mountain and placing them so perfectly. As I said, I ended up summiting in less than an hour, a pace I was very pleased with.

It kinda hit me that this was maybe the seventh or eight time I've been to the top of this beautiful mountain. Sheesh, and I haven't been climbing all that long. Sure beats a treadmill workout any day. Obviously I was feeling pretty good if I could run back down to the parking lot instead of walking there. Here I am at what we might call the "false summit."

Of course, the little boy in me insisted on scrambling to the top of the literally highest point on the mountain.

Now I'm getting excited again about the Alps.

I just have to add maybe 10,000 feet to the height I climbed today! On my way home I stopped by one of my favorite Mexican joints in Appomattox for a chili relleno and then I drove home through Amish country, just hoping and praying I would run into (NOT literally!) an Amish trap.

What's not to love about a horse and buggy? The problem I've found is that many people fail to slow down very much for these eccentric modes of transportation, and that can cause real problems for all involved. I always slow to a crawl and open my passenger door window when passing so I can enjoy the "clippety clop" of the horses' hooves.

Well, I'm pretty jazzed about today's climb. I met a young man at the top from Lynchburg who had a day off from his job as a mechanic at Piedmont Airlines. He took some super great photos and I want to thank him profusely. You know me and pictures. They make every climb a bit extra special. It's the little things that keep me going sometimes. I admit to being an absolute nobody in the climbing scene. In Zermatt they would look at me out of the corner of their eyes and I know they were musing, "I think the man is a little loco in the cabeza." Even so, I've learned a thing or two about climbing. For example:

  • Take short steps.

  • Push, don't pull (when rock scrambling).

  • Use your trekking poles when going downhill especially.

I learned all of these "rules of the road" from my erstwhile (and soon to be rehired) mountain guide Walter Rossini last summer. I'd share with you a few more tips but I consider it extremely bad mojo to let the cat entirely out of the bag.

So yeah. It was a great day. I'm sure I'll wake up tomorrow hearing my quads speaking to me, but that's all part of the game. Progress!

7:25 AM Good grief, it'll be 2017 in just a week. My heart is full of anticipation. What adventures, challenges, and opportunities lie ahead? For me, 2016 was a year of change. Seems I was constantly picking myself off the ground, dusting myself off, and building my life back up to a point better than where it was before, all the while coping with change. I lost a dog but gained a baby donkey. I tried out new things. I saw places in this world that previously I could only dream about. Each experience became a paver stone, one by one, moment by moment, as the Lord and I created a better story. I signed up for my first half marathon. I did so because I wanted to challenge myself and see how far I could push this old body of mine. Climbing the Alps was particularly meaningful to me. With each step I took and every mountain I climbed my confidence soared. At other times in 2016 I doubted myself and started digging my wounds even deeper. Which is one reason I love walking and running so much I guess. I've officially inducted myself into the 5K community and I'm not looking back. It always was and always will be important for me to be the best that I can be. Of course, I don't need a PR to feel good about myself because my identity is not wrapped up in running. I realize, too, that about 90 percent of what I write on my blog is not even faintly interesting to most of my readers (who stick with me anyway -- yall are the best!). That sounds harsh but it's the truth. Nobody really cares if I ran a sub-3-hour half or broke the 30-minute mark in a 5K. Running is more than that. It's a parable for the rest of life. As with running, so with life: you have goals, you have expectations, you have failures, and you have excuses galore. Running doesn't define me but it has helped me get through this year. I'm finally coming into my second adulthood (thanks Gail Sheehy!), trying to make the world a little bit kinder, better, more beautiful, wiser, and maybe even funnier. To switch to a musical metaphor, I am an orchestra musician playing my note just like you are playing yours, and together we are making fantastic music. We grin at each as we run our respective races, inspired by our mutual doggedness, realizing just how risky it is to step off on shaky legs, but we do it anyway because -- well, is there any other option in life? Wisdom is a process. It can't be rushed, just like I had to take one slow, agonizing step after the other to summit the brutal Breithorn last July. I think the biggest slice of humble pie I ever got was when we had to turn around on the Matterhorn because my foot was killing me (and a storm was brewing). It was a slap in the face and a much-needed one too, because I needed to learn how to respect the mountains and even more respect the training and time that goes into such things. I also learned through my mountain guide that no matter who we are we don't finish this life alone. We need each other. There is always someone to help you or cheer you on. That's what you have been to me in 2016. I think I must be an archetype for the academic turned competitive runner. I am beginning to enjoy life without being so type-A about it. Today will be yet another example of that. I'll hike and summit and post blog pictures and yak yak yak about this or that. I call my hikes my "church" climbs because I feel so near to the Creator whenever I encounter a song bird on the trail or squirrels playing on the path. I'd like to think that being an outdoor adventurer and a lover of nature was always in me, lying dormant, waiting to swell up within and bubble over into my daily life. I'm not a particularly gifted athlete, but I do love the great outdoors. Nowadays it seems I can find a way to relate everything in life to either running or mountaineering. When I'm active I'm really living. As someone has said, if you can find meaning in an absurd hobby like running (or climbing, or surfing, or whatever), maybe you can also find meaning in another absurd activity called life.

Well, as usual, I'm rambling, but nothing focuses me as much as writing, even when I ramble. I cannot write a word, not one, without thinking of my key verse as a blogger: "But when you proclaim his truth in everyday speech, you're letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience his presence with you" (1 Cor. 14:3, MSG). The NLT puts is like this: "But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them." It makes me so happy to do this! If you're a blogger, my advice to you is: just show up and be truthful. No one wants a friend who can't be transparent. We can get that on Facebook.

So ... as we come to the end of 2016, I want to thank you, reader friends, because I would be bereft without you and I cherish the safe space we've built together for the past 13 years. You are so for me and I know it. Be patient with yourself in 2017 and you'll reach your goals in no time. Can't wait to cheer you on!

Thursday, December 22

9:46 PM Tonight, as I read Psalm 90 (by Moses, a man of God), I was reminded that age can be a prison. But we have the keys. There is no alternative to aging gracefully. Okay, I guess there is, but nobody wants to see that. I turn 65 in 2017. Imagine that. That's the middle of my seventh decade. Which makes me a sexagenarian. (The prefix refers to "six," folks.) What will I make of it? I've always admired high achievers between 60 and 100 who crowned their careers with their best work. Everest at 65? Just ask Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Roget began work on his famous thesaurus when he was 61. Colonel Sanders franchised KFC when he was 62. Folks, yesterday is gone. All we have is today -- and possibly tomorrow. In any case, and for better or for worse, I've mapped out my goals for 2017. I have a whole slew of finish lines coming up, not to mention publishing deadlines, classes to teach, mountains to climb, etc. No more lamentations about "what could have been" for me. I am stronger than I think. So are you. There are plenty of finish lines in your future too.

11:48 AM Noontide greetings and happy holidays. I was in a bit of a conundrum this morning. I woke up intent on getting in a workout at the Y and then also getting in a training run but at the same time I felt an urge to climb -- climb anything -- stairs, a tree, a ladder, a mountain, a hill, a cliff, a bluff, a promontory, a glacier, a volcano, ANYTHING. The kicker was that I only had enough pizzazz for two out of the three exercises, so I had to decide. Et voila! It was off to the Y and then I hit the Tobacco Heritage Trail where I got in a 5K run at a 13-minute pace -- slow but efficient. Still, I was passing people like crazy. (Joke. There wasn't anybody else on the trail today.) So tomorrow's the day for climbing, and I think it's gonna be Sharp Top (again) since I can't seem to get enough of the incredible views from its summit.

1) Here's the perfunctory selfie at the Y. (We all like selfies. "This is what I look like [way too cool] and this is how I'm spending my time [obviously I have chosen the coolest thing].")

2) Here I am on the trail. I mean, who wouldn't want to run on a day like this?

3) While I was checking out my iPhone this morning I saw this video clip. Where it came from and who made it, I have no idea. It just showed up on my phone. Anyway, it's a great reminder of what I was doing not too long ago in a place very far away.

P.S. I just had the best bowl of tomato soup I've had in a very long time. I got it at our local Food Lion (the closest thing to Harris Teeter in these hea' parts) but it's all vegan and it was delicious! I plan to get a lot more of these soups and enjoy them over the cold winter. Now I'm off to attend to the weak and infirm. Me.

7:35 AM The text I've been studying this morning is Mark 1:1-3.

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ. Καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ· Ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου, ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου· φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ· Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ,

I've been noting the parallel between Mark's "The beginning of the gospel..." with Paul's " the beginning of the gospel..." in Phil. 4:15. That deserves further study. The next question I had involved two really important textual variants in verses 1-2: Is it "Jesus Christ" or "Jesus Christ, Son of God," and it is "in Isaiah the prophet" or "in the prophets"? Exegesis is a lot like running a race: it's a bit masochistic. There are so many factors to consider, so many questions to ask, so many problems and questions that arise. I read the Bible as if it were just about me. I know it isn't, but when I approach it that way I am always asking the "So what?" question. The Bible is given to me as a pure gift. I can learn from it without badmouthing others. Here, suddenly, is a word for me: "This is how the good news about Jesus Christ, God's Son, begins! It began exactly as the prophet Isaiah predicted: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you to open the way for you.' Someone is shouting in the desert, 'Get the road ready for the Lord! Make a straight path for Him to travel on!'" When God sent His Son into the world, He took great care to prepare for His arrival. McLaren spoke of the "strong forerunner" and the "stronger Son." The mission of the forerunner melts away completely in the light of the appearing Son. Christianity is really that simple, folks. It's a bunch of ordinary people living in ordinary ways calling attention to their extraordinary Savior. And we have to lead with our lives and not just our lips. Life is crazy hard work, and there are no guarantees of success. But if we allow God to be God (and ourselves to be human), there's a fighting chance that the kingdom will break through, even in the midst of a silly Twitter war and a super divided nation. Let's do this. Let's fulfill our role as forerunners for the stronger Son. Let's do the good works we were commissioned to do. Silence any voice in you that says, "You are not good enough." You are now "accepted in the Beloved," like it or not. Lay your issues on the table and let God deal with them. Take responsibility for your own spiritual development. As in any race, we'll stumble at times. We'll pant and struggle. That's all a part of running. But we'll leave no one behind. 

7:02 AM Good morning! The weather this week has transformed itself from dull and dreary into perfectly beautiful fall weather (even though it's winter). My training log this week is currently up to a total of 23.5 miles and it's only Thursday. I DO take rest days though. I simply can't wrap my head around NOT exercising on days I have available. It sounds simply blasphemous! Here's what I have leading up to the marathon in May:

  • Run for Young 5K on January 8.

  • Run for Roses 5K on February 12.

  • American Cancer Society 5K on March 11.

  • Tobacco Road Half Marathon on March 19.

  • St. Paddy's 5K on March 25.

  • Cary Road Race 5K on April 15.

  • Flying Pig Marathon on May 7.

Nothing over-bearing, as you can see. I'm feeling good about this schedule, knowing that being able to run over the long term, even in my 60s, is the key to my extreme joy over this sport. It's obvious that I enjoy running 5Ks. It's the ideal distance, in my opinion, for learning how to race. Certainly one race a month is manageable, or even two. Each time I run I assess my performance and try to figure out where I can improve. I work hard at controlling the start and not going out too fast. But there's always so much more to learn, and the way you learn is by doing, not by talking about it. Honestly, I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface of this running thing, which is one reason I like it so much.

Wednesday, December 21

5:50 PM Guess who's cooking dinner on Christmas Day? Yours truly -- aka, the Ultimate Un-chef. Just back from Food Lion purchasing the goods. The menu? A Smithfield ham (pre-sliced), mashed potatoes, green peas, avocadoes, and King's Hawaiian sweet bread rolls.

The girls will bring the desserts. (I hear key lime pie is in the works.) Meanwhile I have a confession to make. Today as I was driving back to the farm from Farmville, I decided to stop by a certain eatery (which will remain unnamed but whose initials are TF) on Hwy. 360. I'd passed it countless times on my trips to Farmville and I decided that today was the day to give it a try. Everyone knows about my personal dislikes of MacDonald's and fast food joints in general. Their burgers taste like cardboard. I'm so burned out on junk food that you can rest assured that I won't be resorting to it any time soon to assuage my hunger. But today I was tired and starving and so I did the unthinkable and stopped at a place I'd normally avoid because I just knew the food wouldn't be any different from the Very Bad Food you can get elsewhere. Honestly, the burger and fires I got there were disgusting. They were a stark reminder: Our diets as Americans are killing us. Paul said that no one ever hated his body but instead nourished it and cherished it. Then why do we act like we hate our bodies and refuse to eat genuinely nourishing food? I once thought I could act like that and get away with it. Obesity happens to the other guy, not me. Vanity of vanities. For this 64-year old, gone are the days when I could count on youthful invincibility to cover a multitude of sins. I've discovered that there's a healthy way of eating and an unhealthy way. Right now, I'm kicking myself for stopping at TF because I know that I should have driven right past it. What's more, even though I "know better," I have trouble keeping my hands off the Doritos. The Junk Food Experts aren't fools. They know how to make eating junk food pleasurable. And it's hard, really hard, to end junk food cravings and switch to eating real food. I need to learn how to cook better. I need to invest in a low tech crock pot and have a healthy meal waiting for me when I get home from a workout or from teaching. We used to grow our own vegetables on the farm but the garden now lies dormant since Becky passed away. I'm not trying to make excuses folks. Or maybe I am. We are not to live to eat. We are to eat so that we can live and pursue our dreams. I know that. Then why did I allow myself to become a human garbage disposal today? Life is really all about choices, isn't it? I'm curious to see how I'll do in 2017. For those of you who have this eating and cooking thing mastered, kudos and props. Keep it up! But sheesh, isn't it about time we all cut out the frankenfood?

P.S. Exercise made my day today. I love the feeling so much that I think I'm becoming an endorphin junkie. The less active I am, the more susceptible I am to stress. I've also discovered that exercise has many above-the-head benefits. I just seem to be way more productive and energetic when I exercise regularly. Let me warn you, my dear readers. Exercise is after you. Even if you've made it safely into adulthood, you aren't out of the woods yet. You may still get sucked in. If I can do it, you can too.

P.P.S. Jason Fitzgerald just published an essay called Five New Runnerly Things to Focus on in 2017. I love writers who come up with catchy neologisms like "runnerly." Even better are his 5 suggestions -- each of which I totally agree with (#2 is soooo funny)!

1:52 PM Today I decided to cycle 10 miles.

Biking is definitely helping me build strength for running and climbing.

The only problem was the condition of the trail today -- mushy and muddy. My clothes are filthy. I only have to wash for one person at this point in my life, but even so, I'm a procrastinator. Ironing? I draw the line there. Tomorrow it's back to the weight room and afterwards I'll get a good run in at a slow pace. LSD running/walking/cycling is so important for building stamina.

Lord knows, I need tons of it too. By the way, the day was perfectly gorgeous for a ride. As Emerson said, "The sky is the daily bread of the eyes." The point is simple: A healthy lifestyle will not cost you a penny. All you have to do is choose it.

Time for that walk? 

7:40 AM Best. Flash. Mob. Ever. Merry Christmas!

7:24 AM More running goals for 2017:

  • Be prepared for a lot of pain, suffering, ego-crushing, and maybe even a DNF or two. A marathon is a very long distance.

  • Avoid injury.

  • Beware of the "three toos" -- too much, too fast, too long.

  • Maintain a consistent training schedule.

  • Set achievable goals in my 5K and half marathon races.

  • Hope to PR but don't count on it happening.

  • Just cross the finish line.

  • Relax and enjoy the ride.

  • Stay positive.

  • Memento mori. That's Latin for "Remember, you will die." Being aware of my mortality ought to make every single moment of life precious.

Tuesday, December 20

1:52 PM I just did an 8-mile walk near the farm. I used to think 8 miles was a long ways. Very ambitious and all that. Not anymore. And I need to increase this distance to 20 miles at least twice before my May marathon. Today I settled into a very comfortable rhythm of about a 14-minute mile pace. I finished in less than 2 hours so I feel good about that.

My training walks/runs are pretty much effortless affairs. I put my body on automatic pilot and while my body is running or walking in one direction my mind is off and wandering in a completely different direction, sometimes praying, sometimes planning, often making mental notations of things I need to do later in the day. My route today was pretty much free of obstacles and over easy terrain. You do have to watch out for traffic, which (happily) is quite scarce out here in the middle of Mayberry. All I want is a safe and satisfying workout, with little or no traffic, and let the world take a back seat for a while and let me cogitate.

Right now I'm cooking up my carbs for the week. Then I'm going to pig out and call it a day exercise-wise. 

Run strong, my friends!

8:22 AM I've been feeling pretty good of late, getting in some good runs and trying to eat better. I definitely want to eat more soup this winter but I just can't bring myself to prepare fresh soup in my own kitchen and the store-bought stuff is horrendous. When I eat "clean" I actually feel more satisfied. I am disturbed by the food I buy in the stores, what is in it and what it is doing to me. Meanwhile, I've been reading a ton of books on marathons and I have to tell you, it's all pretty interesting. There are so many "methods" and "approaches" out there, and of course everyone has his or her own "key" to how to run your best race ever. There is only one sure thing: Not running a marathon is NOT an option for me any more. "If you believe it, you can achieve it" (cue my kids rolling their eyes). Speaking of races, I just signed up for the annual Run for Young. Rockin' in the New Year!

This is an awesome event and it's for a great cause. The race honors the memory of a senior at Wakefield High School in Raleigh named Sadiki Young who died as a passenger in an alcohol-related accident in 2007. The course is a certified 5K and begins and ends at Christ Church in downtown Raleigh. I've done this race twice already and really enjoyed the live music they played along the course. I thank God for every single race I get to compete in. I love being goal-oriented and I love helping out a good cause. The race is on Sunday, January 8 at 2:00 pm, which allows people to attend church in the morning and still participate with a clear conscience. By the way, it looks like we'll be in the 40s and 50s temp-wise here in the Piedmont all week, so I better get outdoors and enjoy this gorgeous day God made. Christmas day should be glorious.

Monday, December 19

2:30 PM Signing up for races is addictive! I'm taking a break, however, for this blog update. As you can imagine, I couldn't wait to hit the road today and managed 5 miles at a pretty good pace.

Then it was off to Nate and Jessie's farm to play with the boys, all four of them. I've included a few pix below. I really do love my life. I'm feeling super grateful today -- for the ability to run, for the love of family, for Jesus. I take pride in the self-discipline I've developed this past year. But I've got a long ways to go.

Hope you have a fantastic day!



7:34 AM Mic check. Testing, 1-2-3. Testing.


It's upon us, folks. 2017 that is. Whether we're ready for it or not. Two thousand and seventeen is just 10 days away. For me, it's time to hit the reset button and put together some new goals for myself. Not resolutions. I'm terrible at the resolutions thing. Resolutions are for, well, resolute people, not for beach bums from Hawaii. But I digress.

Driving 10 hours over the weekend gave me lots of time to think about my goals for the new year. Let me share a few of them with you. More to come.

Scholarly activity: Academically, my focus will be on the classroom, where it has been for the past 40 years. I'm a teacher first and foremost, and I have no greater pleasure than watching my students learn. That said, in 2017 I'm going to focus a bit more on reengaging the academy -- writing book reviews, writing chapters in books, and giving papers. Invitations have already come in. There may be more to come now that the cat is out of the bag.

Nutrition and health: It's time for me to get back to eating the right calories. I need to figure out how to fuel myself for my runs, especially my upcoming marathon. I need to do a better job of staying hydrated (I drink far too little water during the day). I need to maintain a regular sleep pattern. The key word in 2017 will be consistency.

Turn in my give-up cards: Races, mountain climbing, even surfing all require mental toughness. The key is to pay attention to what I'm doing, not what the other racers are doing. My skills and strength are not determined by them. I'm doing good at accepting myself (my age, my slowness, my limitations), but I want to do better. I want to persevere this year -- but not at the cost of being me.

Organize another fund raiser for cancer: The "official" announcement is coming soon!

Races and workouts: I decided to do the Cincinnati Marathon because it's a starter-course: relatively flat, lots of cheering crowds, and a generous 7-hour time limit. I can't even begin to imagine what the starting line will feel like with 20,000 plus runners (half marathoners and marathoners start at the same time). Mentally, I think I have a lot of preparation to do. My goals? Finish the race. Settle into a good rhythm, my rhythm. Focus on form and breathing. Be a "perfectionist" in a good way (i.e., follow a strict training schedule). There are lots of things I still haven't figured out yet. In addition, there are several 5Ks and half marathons I've got planned for 2017. I hope to run smarter if not faster in 2017.

Miscellany: July means the Alps again, and I've got another surfing trip planned for Oahu. Then it's back to Asia for ministry. Teach summer school (6 weeks). Pick up bales. Feed my dog a cookie. Read German poetry. Go to a concert. Change my bed sheets. Smell a freshly mowed field. Breath library air. Laugh out loud. Have a worship service on my front porch. How absurd for us to think that we can find God only in church. He isn't confined to brick and mortar any more than donkeys are confined to zoos. I'm gonna worship God spontaneously in 2017 as never before -- walking along a trail, climbing a mountain, riding a wave, doing lunch with my kids and grandkids. "Take a long and thoughtful look at what God has created," wrote Paul, "People have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: God's eternal power and the mystery of His divine being, for example" (Rom. 1:20). Oh, did I mention mountains that sing and trees that clap their hands?

A verse I've been thinking about a lot these days is Isaiah 40:31: "But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." See it? Isaiah talks about flying (I do a lot of that nowadays), running (ahem, future marathoner here!), and walking (my favorite pace). Of course, Isaiah didn't mention mountain biking or surfing, but hey, you can't expect him to think of everything. Speaking of running, I often think of that scene in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) where the father breaks out in a full sprint toward his returning son. Can you imagine how his son felt? Distinguished Middle Eastern dads normally didn't do 5Ks. Did he run to protect his son? Many think so. The boy had disgraced his father and had brought shame on the entire village. Were perhaps the elders about to intercept him and send him back to his pig sty? Can't you just see the father reaching his son and embracing him, at the same time telling the elders, "This is my son! I love him! If you tell him to leave, I'm leaving too!"

Wow. The world needs more dads like that.

I suppose my biggest goal for 2017 is to come to know the Father's love in that way, and then share that love with others by means of His power working in me. This sounds so basic, so elementary, but could it hold the key to a truly prosperous and successful 2017 for me, for you? I love Jesus. But only because He first loved me. From the very second He pulverized my heart at the age of 8, I've been in love with Him. But oh, to love God completely! What a goal that would be! Grasping our true resources in Christ frees us from our bondage to the opinions of others and grants us the liberty to love others compassionately, expecting nothing in return. How I thank God that He loves me! He is the One who is making me a better father and grandfather and teacher and runner and climber. "All praise to God," wrote Paul, "the Father of of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ .... We praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son" (Eph. 1:3-6).

Lord Jesus, I thank you for running toward me when others were running away from me. Thank you for Your power to transform nobodies into trophies of grace. I am so thankful for Your Love. You use everything, even loss, to show us who You really are -- a God of unchanging compassion and grace. Today I choose to believe in You and receive Your grace. I choose not to wallow in self-pity but to revel in the sweetness of Your presence. Use me, dear God -- my blogging, my teaching, even my running -- to show others how limitless Your love is. Empower me in 2017 to make You famous in and through my life, for the glory of Your name. Amen.

Friday, December 16

7:38 AM Looks like I'm having another A.D.D. weekend, in which I try to do 5 things at once. For starters, I'm registered to run a 5K in Maryland tomorrow morning. But the weather is calling for ice and snow. Oh what fun. An ice storm. Ha-ha. Love the irony. One day I talk about how I hate cold and wind. The next thing I know, my race is turned into a skating rink. This is so funny. I'll probably pass. I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid. The snow is supposed to turn to rain by midmorning, so it looks like I'll get to attend my play in DC. It's called Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly.

Not exactly sure what the plot is. Let's see, Mary Bennet (unmarried) is still a bookworm but is surrounded by her prettier and more charming (and married) sisters and wonders whether she can survive as a single woman especially in a patriarchal world led by men like Mr. Darcy who believes that women are not fully human -- or something like that. It's playing at the Round House Theater and seems like so much fun. I'm taking my DC daughter there to help celebrate Christmas. I really do love the arts but I haven't seen a real live play in a year. (It was A Christmas Carol at the Ford Theater, also in DC.) As for the 5K, I'm heartsick, but I do like to be safe and sound. I make no bones about my love for the great outdoors. But with weather like the kind we've got coming up, a forced rest is not a bad idea. Oh, this was the view that greeted me when I woke up this morning.

I don't think I'll ever be able to comprehend God's majesty. The very idea transcends the mind to fathom it. Life is a pure gift to me. I dare not ever take it for granted. My appreciation for the simple things of life -- the ability just to get out of bed, for example -- has grown immeasurably since Becky's death. Brokenness drove me to nature, and nature in turn drove me to the source of love -- the God who creates and sustains broken people like me.

At any rate, I won't be blogging for a few days. I'm leaving the farm in very good hands so I'm not worried about the animals. Have a great weekend, running or otherwise!

Thursday, December 15

2:28 PM Sometimes you just have an "aha" moment. Recently I had one of those. Let me explain.

Ever since I began blogging about Becky and our cancer journey together, so many people who were struggling with grief or loss have reached out to me. Many of us are struggling with one thing: how to balance our precious memories with the need to move on with our lives without our loved one. Yes, I'm taking this personally. I live in the constant knowledge of 1) how tough the journey has been and 2) how blessed I've been, and I want to give a little back to those who worked so hard to try and keep Becky alive. I get a little choked up every time I drive past UNC Hospital. Maybe I'm being hypersensitive, but that's how I feel. You never know, folks, when cancer will hit your family. So why not do what we can to help those who've been caught up in this amazingly difficult journey? Remember the Becky Black Memorial Fund? I started that fund last summer when I decided to climb the Alps. That fund meant as much to me as it meant to anyone. It was my way of saying "thank you" to all of Becky's caregivers at UNC. It was my anti-depressant, my friend, my blood sweat and tears, my challenge. It motivated me to climb some pretty hairy mountains.

And now I feel the Lord is leading me to start another fund. I plan to establish it in conjunction with my marathon in Cincy, which has the wonderful name Flying Pig Marathon. I'm not sure what I'll call the fund yet --  maybe the "This Little Piggy's Running for Cancer" fund, or something like that. The idea is for people to donate 26 dollars (the marathon is basically a 26-mile race) to help Vickie Bae-Jump with her research on endometrial cancer at UNC. What do you guys think? Would you be willing to give $26.00 to help Dr. Vickie succeed? I know I would. That's what I'll be running for, mile by mile. I'll be thinking about Becky -- her treatments, her surgeries, her courage, her testimony, her great smile, her super strong attitude. I'll be donating my running miles to her memory and hope you'll join me.

Right now I'm still working with UNC on the details. I'll post that information soon. When I do, please pray about supporting this cause. If you're a blogging friend of mine, please consider writing a blog post about it. I can provide you with any additional details you want. If you're a company, please consider sponsoring me for the race. I will gladly wear your logo! If you can't afford to donate anything you can still help just by helping me get the word out on Facebook or Twitter. Anything you do would be super appreciated. It would be the best Christmas present ever!

Hoping everyone has the very happiest of holidays and lots of smiles,


1:52 PM This and that ...

1) This morning I had breakfast at the local Amish bakery and took this book along with me.

Jim gave me a copy of it last August when we were together at SNTS in Montreal.

2) It's one of the best commentaries I've read on the Gospel According to Mark. (See, I really have repented! No more "Gospel of Mark" for me!) It's a great book for learning how the Greek of Mark really works. I highly recommend it. I'll share more about that later, but the students in my Jesus and the Gospels class can expect a lecture or two on the structure and style of this magnificent Gospel.

3) I love the Y! I owe my massive musculature to it. (Hehe.) Seriously, today I worked on my upper body strength. After all, I gotta get them arms moving properly when I'm running!

4) Had lunch with my buddy Nolan.

5) Three generations. How cool is that! They had just finished making a hay delivery to Chatham, VA.

I am a BLESSED man!

Wednesday, December 14

6:00 PM The winner of our Didache blog contest is none other than:


The book will go out in tomorrow's mail. Thanks to everyone who played!

5:34 PM Hey fellow pilgrims. First off, I have a goofy running fact. Did you ever notice that the areas of your body that are the most fat get the most cold whenever you run? That's because fat is inactive and generates no heat. Hmm. So that explains the coldness in those places. Honestly, I don't mind running in the cold. But I hate it when it's cold and windy. It takes my hands forever to warm up even when I'm wearing gloves. Anyhow, I did more training today. I still have my eyes focused squarely on May 7. That's the date for the marathon I hope to do in Cincy in memory of Becky (and to raise more funds for endometrial cancer research -- more on that later). Hopefully, I'm being sensible about all of this. I don't plan to kill myself while preparing for Cincinnati. I'll work hard. But I'll work smart.

To wit ...

Today was so sunny and warm (50 degrees!) that I couldn't resist a trip to Farmville to take a long walk on the High Bridge Trail. I loved every second of it. The scenery. The sunshine. The people I met (hardly any). It felt good. It felt like hope. Sure, my feet are a bit sore and my legs are a bit tired, but all in all it was a very good day. My original plan was to walk for about 5 miles and then see how I was doing. At the 5 mile marker I felt really good, so I continued on for another mile. Then, before I even knew it, I had gone a whopping 6.55 miles in one direction -- in other words, the intermediate point of a half marathon (13.1 miles)! Wow. How did that happen? Mind you, all of this time I was simply fast walking. I was trying out a new technique I learned from Jeff Galloway (i.e., don't lengthen your stride; increase your pace instead). So I just continued on, determined to finish the "half marathon" I had happened to find myself in. When I had only about 3 miles to go I decided to see how my body would react if I broke into a slow trot. Just then the adrenaline and endomorphs kicked in. I actually finished the "race" in 2 hours and 40 minutes -- a full 8 minutes better than the time I got last June in my first official half marathon. I'm REALLY jazzed. Two things stand out about my training today:

1) It gave me a chance to see how I would do even if I were to merely walk the marathon in Cincy. That's because, as I said, I walked the great majority of today's half. Let's do the math: Take 2:40 and multiply it by 2 (= 26.2 miles instead of 13.1 miles) and you come up with about 6 and a half hours. Sheesh!! This is well short of the mandatory cutoff time for the race in May (7 hours). Thats encouraging!

2) I was also pleased to see how well my body held up after "going the distance" today. My legs and feet are tired, as I noted above, but there's nothing serious. No cramps. No muscle pulls. Nothing strained. Only a minor blood blister on the bottom of my left foot, which will heal itself in about two days.

Now, I only put this information out there to let you know that there's life after an injury (I'm referring to the mild adductor tear I had on Saturday). As you can imagine, I'm taking rest days both tomorrow and Friday. My plan is to continue to work with weights at the Y (upper body only), but otherwise I'm going to rest my legs and feet. The main sin I tried to avoid today was going ahead and doing something when my body was telling me to do something else. But since my body kept giving me a green light, I decided to go for broke. I'll add this: I think New Balance deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for providing runners with odd-shaped feet like me with such comfortable running shoes. If you're like me, you don't like to spend money unnecessarily, but if you've become involved in running and haven't yet gone to the shoe store to be fitted with the right running shoes yet, you need to repent in terrycloth and ashes and I mean, right now. Payless sneakers will get you nowhere. (No offense, Payless.)

So ... I am very grateful today for the Lord's goodness, not only in giving me a nice day in which to train but another PR. Of course, this one doesn't really "count" if you're a purist -- which I'm not!

P.S. I know you're expecting pictures. I post the following in honor of National Geezer Running Day.

(Never heard of it? Me neither. I just made it up.)

1) Recognize this picture?

If you do, it's only because I've either walked, run, or biked here a couple hundred times. High Bridge is a Virginia Historic Landmark, and the trail is 31 miles long. It's the go-to place for me whenever I need some long-distance training.

2) The surface is finely crushed limestone and is plenty wide enough to accommodate a large number of exercisers.

Toward the end of my run a tiny piece of gravel somehow found its way into my right shoe -- which irritated me no end. I was kicking myself for not having tied my shoes on tighter before leaving the house this morning. I was now stuck squarely on the horns of a dilemma: to stop (and get rid of that nasty rock) or not to stop (and risk adding precious minutes to my time)? Eventually I made a quick stop to fix the problem (without putting my timer on pause, of course). I suppose during the real race I'll be faced with similar situations -- I gotta go to the potty but look! -- the line is at least a mile long and I'll add at least 5 minutes to my chip time. Should I stop or not? At least today there wasn't any horse poop around. Nice.

3) I only met two people on the trail today -- a couple of students at the local university. One of them was kind enough to snap a photo of the man in black.

4) As you know, I'm a great believer in setting goals, but -- hand to the heavens -- I didn't start my walk today with any specific goals in mind. However, when I knew I was going to end up walk/running the equivalent of a half marathon, I pushed the pedal to the metal just a little bit harder.

5) Running a longer race (half or full marathon) is a huge physiological challenge and it's a good idea to try and eat something within the first 30-60 minutes after running. Actually, I was far more thirsty than I was hungry, but I "forced" myself to scarf down a plate of arroz and an enchilada con queso. Delicioso! Yes, I realize that "other" types of food are recommended for eating right after a race, but who cares? I'll eat what I want to, folks. After all, it's National Geezer Running Day.

Right now I'm at home resting. I loved today's "race." Running fills me with such a good feeling. Today I gave myself permission to do whatever my body dictated to me (without indulging it when it began to whimper toward the end). I know some of you out there are commiserating with me. You've experienced both the joy of victory and the agony of dee feet. Whatever your inclinations are sports-wise, I hope you're gearing up for a great holiday season, and I hope that exercise will be a part of it. Never mind weight loss. Just make your goal to eat as healthy as you can. And maybe get outdoors once in a while, okay?

Good luck with your goals!


Tuesday, December 13

5:30 PM The rain is about to start up again, and so out we went to check the mail.

As we returned to the house we saw what looked like a haunted house. Adams Family, anyone? Let's see ... am I Uncle Fester or Lurch? 

3:46 PM Today I've been working on the syllabus for my New Testament 1 class on "Jesus and the Gospels." I'm just going to admit it: I'm so in love with these writings. I say this as someone who's invested a lot of time studying the Pauline letters. It used to be I much preferred hanging out in the complex semotaxis of, say, Romans or Hebrews. That was another life ago. Today the Gospels are my passion. Maybe not to the level of an obsession like my outdoors activities are, but truly, I love the Gospels. So how can I make this class both interesting and enjoyable? Not to mention challenging? Glad you asked. One way I hope to do this is by inviting guest lecturers who will take about one third of our class time each week. The reason I've asked them to speak is because they are experts in their fields. Now, good lecturers are as rare as the Mauritanian dodo bird, but I'm very fortunate to have colleagues who not only know their stuff but can communicate their subject matter in interesting ways. (At least their lecture styles are different from mine, which in itself is a good thing. Variety being the spice of life, and all that.) When  I was in seminary, good lecturers made a huge impact on my studies, just like good teachers did in high school. A good lecturer can irrevocably shape the understanding of students through clarity, relevance, enthusiasm, and passion. Here are just a few of the guests we've already lined up for class in the spring:

1) Dr. Andreas Köstenberger will talk about John 20:21 (love that verse!) and the relationship between the mission of Jesus and the mission of the church. This was the topic of his doctoral dissertation when he was at TEDS. Fantastic.

2) Dr. David Beck is another acknowledged Johannine expert who just "happens" to be my colleague. He's kindly agreed to give a lecture -- probably on the topic of anonymity in the Fourth Gospel -- the subject of his own dissertation at Duke under Moody Smith. Not bad, eh?

3) Yet another New Testament colleague of mine, Dr. Chuck Quarles, has written a fantastic book on the Sermon on the Mount and that will be the topic of his lecture. Looking forward!

4) Dr. Maurice Robinson (recently retired from our faculty) will broach the topic of the Pericope of the Adulteress in John 7:53-8:11 -- a subject to which he has devoted a lifetime of study. Should be great.

5) Dr. Alvin Reid ("Mr. Evangelism") will be speaking on "Jesus and Evangelism." Alvin and I have a secret in common, by the way: We are products of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s. I had long hair then. And wore mariachi sandals. Just like Jesus :-)

So there you have it. I'm hoping and praying that each of these lectures will spark major curiosity in my students and ignite their passion for the Gospels. Mine too!

12:30 PM As you know, I'm taking some mandatory time off from running. It's always a good idea to let your body recover after a long race. That way you lessen your chances of injury. That said, I was chomping at the bit today to get outdoors, so this morning I decided to go to the local high school track and see how my body did.

I walked an easy 5 miles and my legs aren't the least bit achy. Merry Christmas to me.

Afterwards I put on my farmer's hat and did a trash run. Ain't that yucky?

Finally, today I bought myself a Christmas "tree."

Don't laugh. Santa don't discriminate, folks. Let's see ... how shall I decorate it...?


7:46 AM Morning folks. Here are some of my 2016 goals and reflections.

1) Kept my weight down. (Yes, I struggled to do this. Shhhhhhh.)

2) Published Running My Race.

3) Climbed 4 mountains in the Alps and summited 3.

4) Found a better balance in life (between exercise and rest, being and doing, writing and thinking, etc.).

5) Did my first half marathon and my first 10K. Got PRs in both. (Wink.)

6) Hiked the Appomattox River Trail (9.9 miles).

7) Surfed in Hawaii in April and September.

8) Visited mom and dad in Dallas 3 times.

9) Spoke to 8 different congregations.

10) Celebrated my 40th wedding anniversary.

11) Taught a total of 9 classes.

12) Presented a paper at a regional ETS meeting in Dallas.

13) Ran 5Ks galore.

13) Started a Greek class at Windward Baptist Church (Kahuluu, Oahu).

14) Biked from Tuggle to Farmville.

15) Reach the tops of two 14,000-foot peaks in the Rockies.

16) Walked my first 26.2 miles.

17) Summited Mount Olomana in Kailua.

18) Learned to find peace in Him.

19) Last but certainly not least: Presented a check for $25,000 to UNC Lineberger Cancer Hospital to establish the Becky Black Memorial Fund.

Not too shabby, praise the Lord. I'm extremely appreciative and humbled. I've been feeling super blessed lately. I like how it feels to accomplish things. Of course, the really big goal was to get into running mode. To be honest, there was lots of self-doubt: Why push yourself? Nobody else cares. It doesn't matter. But it does matter to me. Not really sure why. Maybe it's just a coping mechanism. Maybe I'm seeking the fountain of eternal youth. Maybe I just need to try new things. The races I ran this year are treasures I will remember for the rest of my life. There is no greater high I have ever felt than to ride a big wave or stand atop a gigantic mountain or finish a grueling race. At my age of 64, that's a pure gift from God. 2016 showed me that no matter how painful things may get, I can still run my race.

I wish I had time to share more with you. I can close my eyes now and recall many moments that stood out, but I've got a full plate today. Of course, some memories are best forgotten, but we won't go into those.

I'm gonna set some goals for 2017. Will post later. How about you? What were your goals for 2016? What are your goals for the new year?

Run strong, my friends!


Monday, December 12

6:22 PM Hear ye, hear ye! It's contest time again. Here I'm holding in my non-nicotine-stained left hand a brand new copy of Kurt Niederwimmer's magisterial commentary on The Didache, still in its wrapper.

It could be yours! Contestants must fulfill three conditions:

1) You read the book of Philippians in Greek from beginning to end. You may use any helps at your disposal (interlinear, Reader's Greek New Testament, etc.), but you must read the Greek text. You may participate at any skill level.

2) You read my essay on the discourse structure of Philippians.

3) You write a brief summary of the letter's theme and at least one insight you gleaned from reading the Greek text of Philippians.

I'll announce the winner this Wednesday night at 6:00 pm.

3:52 PM Just got via email this photo of yours truly at the finish line at last Saturday's race.

I really want to thank you guys for your outpouring of love and cheerleading with the completion of my first 10K run. With apologies to the misoclintonists out there, it really does take a village to accomplish anything great in life. I'm hoping all of my enthusiasm about fitness is contagious!

My next big race is on March 19. It's called the Tobacco Road Half Marathon and is held every year in the great city of Cary, NC ("great" because Becky's brother lives there). I can't wait to see how that race goes. For my first half marathon last June, I set a goal of coming in under 3 hours. I finished at 2:48. This time around, time will not matter so much. I may not even PR. I'm just trying to stay on the running train if you know what I mean. When I first started running about two years ago, I couldn't even run a mile. But then I began to dream big. Eventually, one dream (my first 5K) led to another (my first half marathon). During the latter event I was so scared to even agree to try and I could have just ditched it altogether. But something in me wanted this victory bad. Today I'm grateful I said yes. It's wonderful to be able to say, "I did that." Attitude is everything in life, folks. If you believe you can go 13.1 miles, you can. If you believe you can go 26.2 miles, you can. If you see yourself crossing the finish line, you will. No dream in life is too big if God's in it. I know this sounds crazy, but one day I'd like to try a tri. I love swimming (did quite a bit of it in Hawaii) as well as biking. But the marathon has to come first. Do you know what makes running so special and unique? Which other sport allows first-timers to compete on the very same playing field as the elite athletes? Last Saturday I competed with some of North Carolina's finest runners. Notice I said competed "with" and not competed "against." I'm not racing against their time. I'm racing against my time. That's what this sport is all about -- how to better yourself. It's a great feeling!

Well, I'm rambling again. Thanks for listening!


7:55 AM "Christ died." That's in the aorist tense in Greek. So it must mean "once and for all action." I was actually taught this in seminary back in the Dark Ages. Nobody would agree with that assessment today. The aorist tense says nothing about the kind of action of the verb. To get "kind of action" you have to go outside the tense to 1) the meaning of the verb and 2) the context. When you do that with "Christ died," I suppose you could argue that the verb is referring to "once and for all action." After all, how many times does a person die? And yet when the author of Hebrews wants to make the point that Christ died "once and for all" for our sins, he actually uses the adverb hapax -- "once and for all." Likewise, when the author of 1 Thessalonians commands us to "pray without ceasing," not only does he use the present imperative, he adds the adverb adaileiptos -- "without ceasing."

Moisés Silva once reminded us not to place too much semantic weight on tense or aspect. He argues that it is the context that is determinative. Which means: Somehow we Greek teachers need to get our students to move beyond word-bound exegesis. Lexical analysis is important, but it is the "handmaiden and not the queen," as the author of Using New Testament Greek in Ministry puts it. We've got to move beyond individual words to study the ways in which words work together to convey meaning. This is why I no longer postpone "exegesis" to third semester Greek. Students need to get this straight, and get this in their first year of Greek instruction.

To my Greek 2 students: The spring semester will be upon us before you know it. For me, morphology -- how words are constructed -- is vitally important. Yet I also believe that a language's syntax is important, and getting the syntax right will help us to avoid the exegetical fallacies that many still commit. Furthermore, the study of syntax is where the fun is. Nuggets of truth often jump off the page instead of being buried under a wealth of morphemes. Yes, there is controversy over whether students can even be taught to read New Testament Greek. But I hope that one day we can put aside our methodological biases and equip our students with the tools they need to do accurate exegetical study. This includes the study of discourse analysis as an essential part of exegesis. It also means that we can no longer ignore the rhetorical level of language as a meaningful level for readers. To anyone who says style and rhetoric isn't important, I would simply point them to the scale of the cosmetics industry, which is predicted to reach 265 billion dollars in 2017.

Don't be discouraged from doing syntax. There is plenty of help for us out there in the cyber world. My friend Harold Greenlee is now with the Lord, but his essay The Importance of Syntax for the Proper Understanding of the Sacred Text of Scripture is still worth reading. Syntax has been one of the most enjoyable and fun things I've done in my 40 years of teaching, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

Sunday, December 11

7:20 PM It's cold outside but cozy warm in the library -- my favorite room in Bradford Hall. I'm concerned about Sheba, though. She'll come up to me, plaintiff look in her eyes, as if to say, "I miss her so much."

We all miss Dayda, Sheba. What should I do? I put my book down and give her a tummy rub for a couple of minutes, and she walks off. Five minutes later, she's back with the same look in her mournful eyes. I can't imagine how she feels, to be without her companion of so many years. Or can I?

Sheba, you just have to tough it out, girl. None of us, neither you nor me, has the power to control the circumstances that define the course of our lives. But we have the power to choose how we will respond. I can tell you one thing. You will grieve. For a long time. You will feel stuck in a never-ending intermission. You will feel an emptiness, will need to learn how to redirect your energy. But listen, girl. We still have each other. Each of us is lonely in our own way, and there is nothing we can do about it except to make the best of it and be grateful for the memories. God is here to comfort us. He understands suffering because He suffered. But I can't be Dayda to you, just as my daughters can't be Becky to me. Still, we can be companions to one another. Are you my shadow or am I yours? I don't suppose it matters much. But we'll do just fine, you and me. If we endure the bad that perhaps we do not deserve, we also enjoy the good that we definitely do not deserve.

Another tummy rub, and then back to my book ....

5:30 PM Evening, folks. As you know, I've been resting up today. I'm training for a marathon, after all, as unbelievable as that sounds. There's tons of advice out there on the web, but one admonition seems to keep coming up: don't be afraid to walk. Walking is totally, as in TOTALLY, acceptable, and many others will be taking walk breaks during the official race. Other tips include: make sure your running (er, walking) shoes are of high quality; pick a race that's fun; take care of your body; etc. My training schedule is a little odd -- a 5K here, a half marathon there. I'm not sure I'm willing to say it's a great idea for a novice like me to be running in a marathon, but I think I'll survive -- maybe (I walked 26.2 miles nonstop a month and a half ago). Truthfully, I love new challenges. But with the realization that my body has aged I believe I'm going to do a lot of walking during the race. So I thought it'd be a great idea to reread Jeff Galloway's awesome book The Run Walk Run Method since I know I'll be walking a lot. I know you're probably not even faintly interested in my takeaways from this book. At any rate, here they are, in no particular order. I'm excited to know all these new things and am pretty eager to see how the race in Cincy turns out in May.

Always observe the huff and puff rule: When you start huffing and puffing, slow the pace.

Walk before fatigue sets in. This allows your muscles to recover instantly.

In the first marathon in Athens (1896), every one of the athletes walked significant portions of the course.

You never need to be exhausted from a run.

You alone determine how often to walk and how long to run.

The human body was designed to walk, not run, long distances. We can adapt to running very long distances, but often at a great cost.

Walk breaks stop or significantly reduce the continuous buildup of stress on the muscles, joints, and tendons.

Most running injuries allow for walking during the recovery period.

Never sprint.

First races should be run to finish only.

Keep your ego in check. (Ugh. He had to mention that.)

It's better to start a little more slowly than you think you can run.

Beware of overtraining.

You cannot run too slowly on long runs.

30 seconds has been found to be the most effective walk break at paces 9 minutes/mile and slower.

Long walk breaks make it harder to start up after a walk.

Walk more going uphill (the "huff and puff rule").

Use efficient downhill running form (feet low to the ground, light touch of feet, moderate to short strides).

Wait until the last third of the race to cut down on eliminating walk breaks.

There is no one pattern for everyone.

Short strides reduce effort and orthopedic stress.

Many injuries are due to a stride that is extended beyond one's natural range of motion.

Ease into a walk break, and ease back into a run segment.

After an injury, walk with a gentle stride for 5-10 minutes. If all is well, continue the gentle walk for the full length of your normal run.

After an injury you should reduce the running amount and increase the walking amount.

An injury requires time off for recovery, usually 3-5 days for most. Once the healing has started, begin walking or running in short segments only.

Everyone has weak links -- body parts that get irritated more often.

Too much continuous running is the most common cause of injury.

Monitor your weak links and back off if there is irritation.

Even walking with no running produces endurance, based on the length of the walk.

Walking breaks have enabled thousands of very heavy people to become runners.

Capacity and performance decreases with age. (No brainer there!)

Older runners tend to run smarter because they have to solve more problems than younger runners.

Long walks should be done every 2-3 weeks.

Just walk the distance of the long run if you have serious challenges.

Walk breaks must be taken from the beginning of the race.

Walk breaks must be used consistently.

Walk breaks can be eliminated during the last third of the race if desired.

Mental toughness starts with simply not giving up.

Training yourself to keep going (either at a run or a walk) is 90 percent of the battle.

Always run according to what your body is telling you.


2:42 PM Listening to Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium evokes such powerful emotions. This is music that truly touches the soul.


I've been weeping listening to this over and over again, kneeling before our great Savior, whose incarnation can only be described as a "great mystery." If you have a few minutes of quiet, listen to it. It's insanely beautiful, even transcendent, and such a contrast to what passes for "worship" music today in our contemporary services. It's the best Christmas present I can offer you. Truly a window into heaven. Here are the words in Latin:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

And in English ...

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

7:44 AM Odds and ends ....

1) Just added to our Greek Portal two very fine pieces:

Hearty thanks to my assistant, Noah Kelley, for adding these to our collection.

2) I'll be in DC this weekend to attend a play and so I've signed up for a 5K this Saturday in some place called Odenton, MD. Problem is, they're calling for rain on Saturday. As you know, I ran in the rain last weekend in Dallas, so I kinda know how to put up with it, but the temps? Pretty crazy huh.

I have issues. I know.

Of course, I may decide not to run. I'll have a reason. Or at least an excuse.

3) I'm thoroughly enjoying the novel Gettysburg by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen. It's easily one of the best novels I've ever read. Everyone knows I love Gettysburg. I love its significance, its rolling hills, its fields and woods. I've visited the National Park there at least 7 times and would love to go back. The Battle of Gettysburg was a historic event, the turning point of the war, but the authors of this new novel take us into the minds of Meade, Lee, Hunt, Longstreet, and other key figures in the battle. The armies converge on the crossroads town of Gettysburg but the Union forces outmaneuver Lee and occupy the much-coveted high ground. This book tells the old, old story in a fresh way. I'm trying to remember it's only a novel -- a fictional account at best. But the book is powerful. The authors' use of language is poignant but never pedantic. At points I've teared up, mourning the loss of every soldier and even the ones who lived through that terrible battle. If American history was taught like this in our schools, I dare say that more of us would be clamoring to learn it. A tip of the kepi to the authors.

4) Seems like I strained one of my adductor muscles while running yesterday. I started off well enough. I felt really good. But by mile two I was hurting. Runderful, I thought. I pushed through the pain (I'm a RUNNER, remember), finished the race, then walked it off. Today I'm feeling tons better, but yesterday reminded me of just how blessed I've been not to have any injuries (major or minor) in my already long and distinguished running career (hehe). Looks like I'll rest up for two or three days and let my body fully recover before hitting the track again. There's a lesson for me here somewhere, though I'm not sure where. Maybe I need to start daily stretching exercises.

5) I don't know about you, but after a long day of work or exercise I like to watch YouTubes of the Late Show, SNL, etc. They are sooooo funny. They're all about Mr. Trump, of course. There's even one guy who rants about everything Trump does. He's called The Resistance. The only thing that matters to me nowadays is to make sure I'm praying for our president and his cabinet, as well as for our other leaders in DC. But I also like a good laugh, even if it's at the expense of our politicians -- who used to just roll their eyes at Saturday Night Live but now think they have to tweet about their "boring and unfunny" humor. Oops. I just got political!

Saturday, December 10

11:08 AM Hello all. I'm back. I'm still flying high from my race this morning. I had three goals today:

1) Finish the race.

2) Run the entire distance (6.2 miles) without walking.

3) Come in under 1 hour and 30 minutes.

I'm so happy. Things went well. I tried to be systematic today and run on autopilot since I was practically brain dead when I left the house this morning. Here are the steps I followed:

Step 1: Jump out of bed, get the coffee started, and put on five layers of clothing. Then get in the car, rev up the engine, and drive to the race venue in Durham. Scratch that. Get in the car, rev up the engine, SCRAPE THE ICE OFF THE WINDSHIELD, and drive to the race venue in Durham.

Step 2: Try to find a parking place at Northgate Mall. Practically impossible because about a billion cars have beat you there.

Step 3: Powder your nose.

Step 4: Cheer the half marathoners on as they begin their run.

Step 5: Warm up. It was cold today. Like in really cold. As in BRRRR. Thankfully, there was no wind.

Step 6: Start off slow.

Step 7: Hit a wall at mile 4. So, you dig deep. Really deep. I remember someone saying, "Quitters never win, and winners never quit." Hey, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

Step 8: At mile 5, enter the Twilight Zone. No more thinking. You just take one step and then another step. As I said, you're on autopilot.

Step 9: Cross the finish line. You realize: I did it. I finished strong. It was the first time in your life, Dave, that you ever ran a 10K and you made it.

Step 10: Check your time.

Step 11: Pig out.

Step 12: Say a prayer. Mine went something like this:

Thank you, Lord, for another finish line reached, another goal accomplished, another dream fulfilled. Thank you for the gift of running. It has given me something I've always craved: confidence, goal-setting skills, and health.

And get this, hardy har har. Not only did I finish the race, I did so without walking and under 1:30. My final net time? 1:16:27. This is about a 12-minute mile pace. In addition, I came in fourth in my division. I missed a medal by 1 minute. I give all glory and honor to the Lord God. 

Do the words "Happy in Jesus" make any sense? Today I thank the God of the universe for giving me this gift. Six miles is a lot of miles. Dave Black, I'm so proud to know you!

Sorry for another long post. I know I can be a bit wordy at times.



5:20 AM I love me a crisp winter morning -- RACE DAY. It's currently 21 degrees. I slept nary a wink last night, my excitement level being so high. I thought to myself, Sheesh, how will I ever get any rest the night before the marathon? Here's my race day toast to all of my fellow runners. It's an old German saying. (I wrote it with a German accent, but you can use any accent you like).

What's the use of running when we are not on the right road?

Wish us all success!

Friday, December 9

5:30 PM I just got back to the farm after picking up my race packet from Northgate Mall in Durham, where tomorrow's race kicks off at 7:10 am sharp. Nice shirt and bib, eh?

The line was sooooo loooong. The list of participants is staggering: marathon = 1,500 runners; 10K = 750 runners; 5K = 750 runners. Which means that the biggest challenge tomorrow will definitely be ...

The temp at race time will be 23 degrees. Lovely weather. I don't have a mask/neck thingy but I do have a ski cap that I wore in the Alps last summer, so maybe, just maybe I'll survive the Arctic freeze.

In other news ....

Earlier today we celebrated the goodness of the Lord during our commencement ceremony on campus. Below are a couple of pix. Very proud of my doctoral student Wesley Davey! I love my seminary. Cardinal Bernardin once spoke of the way we Christians do community as "a silent sign of God's presence." Being Christ's body is not just something we are. It's something we do. Together. One never graduates by himself. We all are the body of Christ.

Hope you enjoy your weekend,


Thursday, December 8

6:48 PM Last night I watched Tora! Tora! Tora! Tonight I'm nursing a sinus headache and reading Mission Escape by Sidney Smith. Today I began writing my review of this book.

I "retired" years ago from writing book reviews for publication, but when I was asked by JETS to review this book, for some crazy reason I said yes. I'm looking forward not only to summarizing the book but presenting a critical discussion of it. Since I've already read it a number of times, I have a pretty good of what I'm going to say. I really enjoy 2 views/4 views books, but I think this book should be called 3 views rather than 4. The division between the "Two Source Hypothesis" and the "Farrer Hypothesis" seems a little superficial and misleading to me, because even if you should dispense with "Q" (whatever that is) you're still left with Markan priority. So we'll see what the final review looks like. They've given me a whopping 6 months to submit it.

Meanwhile, I've been putting together my race strategy for Saturday. And boy, have I got a plan for me. Number 1 goal: Practice my finish line smile. How this for starters?

Number 2 goal: Dial it back the first 3 miles and then open it up in the second half of the race. Number 3 goal: Grab a starting spot near the back of the pack and begin nice and easy. I really think I've come a long ways in this running gig thingy. After all, a mere two years ago you could find me sitting on the sofa drinking beer and indulging myself with chips and salsa nonstop. (Well, I made the beer part up.) Then ... DING! I bought a good pair of running shoes and the rest is, as they say, history. Oh, did I tell you that I'm also working on my form? I really want to learn how to run more efficiently, as in not bobbing my head up and down and not swinging my arms like a big fat baboon. I will admit at this point that I still have a long ways to go. But, ahh, Übung macht den Meister, right?

10:54 AM The Greek teacher in me had to smile when I saw this quote today:

“Pupils don’t like ancient Greek classes. They think it’s tiresome and useless,” one high school teacher told AFP.

Now, should you be reflecting back on your seminary days and your own New Testament Greek classes, think again. The complaint actually comes from modern Greek-speaking students who are frustrated with their classes in ancient Greek. The essay is called Debate over Teaching of Ancient Greek. You see, in modern Greece, there are actually two kinds of Greek: Kathareveusa (ancient) and Demotike (modern). Reminds me of when I lived in Basel. We all spoke High German in the classroom, but as soon as you stepped into the hallway everyone began speaking their ancient dialect (Swiss German). Yes, things could get confusing in very short order. Which is why I eventually bought a Basel-German grammar and taught myself how to speak the local patois.

The late Rod Decker once had an interesting post about Greek pedagogy. Strangely enough, he quoted yours truly. Why, Dave Black actually thinks that the onus lies on the student as to whether or not they will master New Testament Greek! Nowadays, everything about teaching is up for grabs: pronunciation (The Great Pronunciation Debate), methodology, the use of electronic tools in the classroom, etc. As far as I'm concerned, all of this discussion is good and healthy for our discipline. I have no doubt we all have something to learn from each other. I'm no expert in Greek pedagogy, but if there's one thing I wish I could teach every fledging Greek professor it would be this: Connect. Orient your teaching to the students in the room. We -- and I say we because I am a teacher too -- need to understand what expectations our students bring to the classroom. Somehow we need to learn how to connect the new to the familiar. Somehow we need to learn how to move beyond cramming facts into students' heads and instead turn them into independent learners and thinkers. All of this sounds like common sense, but it is so difficult to put into practice. The usual step seminaries take is to hire "experts" in the field and then set them loose to display their deep knowledge of the subject -- thus putting students to sleep and leaving them with nothing but a shallow acquaintance with the subject matter. What would happen if, instead of simply asking students to translate and parse on their final exam, we asked them to read a passage of New Testament Greek and then explain its contents in a way that normal people could understand it? How about making every exam cumulative, with only the last one counting? How about getting students involved from the get-go in discussing disputed texts from the New Testament? (One example I use: when Paul says we all partake from "one loaf of bread" during the Lord's Supper [1 Cor. 10:16-17], was he serious? You mean the early church didn't have thumb-sized crackers when they observed "The Lord's Snack"?) There are three dimensions to learning -- thought, behavior, and affect -- and each is essential for meaningful teaching and learning. Sadly, most of us who teach Greek have had very little training in pedagogy. We simply default to the way our own Greek teachers taught us. On the other hand, I must say that all of the best practices I use in my own teaching I saw modeled by one of my professors either at Biola or Talbot. In that sense, Christian education is likeness education: We become like our teacher (for good or for ill). But certainly we can all do better than simply asking our students to absorb information and then regurgitate it. I for one am very excited about the current debate over Greek pedagogy. The focus is on how to obtain the most from our students. Somehow we need to learn to integrate our learning objectives into our students' lives and experiences. If you would, dear researcher, please show me (among other things):

  • How the best teachers connect content with real-world practice.

  • What the best teachers expect of their pupils.

  • How we teachers can learn more about teaching.

  • How we can write syllabi that emphasize what students can do and not merely know.

In the meantime, fellow teachers, we need to get focused on the right thing. In tennis, nobody looks at the net. In golf, nobody looks at the sand trap. Is it possible, do you think, that we teachers are so fixated on the problem that we are missing the goal we want to achieve?

9:08 AM Arriving tomorrow from Amazon.

The question is: "Can it beat The Killer Angels?"

9:44 AM I "God is preparing greater things for you." Friend, that saying is so true. I've been corresponding with Dr. Victoria Bae-Jump of the UNC Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill. This is where Becky was treated of course. What a joy it's been to read her emails. I'm no expert in cancer research, but I'm delighting in and learning right along with my family. Most recently Vickie wrote me to say:

Thank you once again - your support is invaluable and helps me explore more things for endometrial cancer.

Her email went into specifics:

I wanted to let you know what I plan to do with the Becky Black Memorial Fund money - my phase 2/3 clinical trial of metformin in women with advanced and recurrent endometrial cancer showed a promising effect in the phase 2 portion of the study and is moving on to phase 3 (Yeah!). 240 women were on the phase 2 study - 300 more will be enrolled as we open up to phase 3. In some of my laboratory studies and early pilot clinical trials of metformin, I had found some promising metabolic markers to predict response to metformin. With the money from the Becky Black Memorial Fund, I will be able to continue to explore this in the larger study which I hope will help identify which women would most benefit from metformin.

Your funds will help in the collection, storage and analysis of blood from patients. On all future publications from this study, I will acknowledge Becky's Fund and your contribution.

Imagine that. The Becky Black fund will enable 300 women -- 300! -- who are suffering from endometrial cancer to participate in a potentially life-saving study.

This next phase of research, what Vickie calls "Phase 3," could prove to be essential to her research. That hit me like a load of bricks. Of course, it was silly of me to think that God couldn't use Becky's death to bring about good. I mean, 300 women. Let's be frank. It was at UNC Hospital that I learned that God was real. The Creator of the universe crawled into my skin, into our suffering, into all of our anxieties and fears and doubts, and we came to know Him in love and mercy. I also learned the power of ideals. Ideals are good and helpful. A cure for uterine cancer in my lifetime? Maybe. Maybe not. Okay, probably not. But you have to keep trying. The key is to take our ideals and place them in the hands of God, asking, "Lord, what are Your thoughts on the subject?"

So come along, my brothers and sisters, broken and bruised, and let's walk side-by-side in this crazy world of cancer treatments and infusion rooms and lab tests and surgeries, trusting in the One who does the molding in all of us. Honestly, I feel more alive today at 64 than when I was young. Increasingly, I'm seeing new possibilities at what God can do and is doing in this fallen world. Uninhibited confidence is beginning to surge through this aging body of mine. This is so much like God. 300 women. Maybe one of them will be someone you know and love. These dear ladies could use a little hope right now.

Keep on, Vickie, and let's get to it!

Wednesday, December 7

6:36 PM I don't go in for year-end reports, but I'm also a hypocrite, so here goes. Here's my month-by-month race rundown:


  • January 2: 5K in Cary, NC.

  • January 10: 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • February 6: Fight Cancer 5K in Chapel Hill, NC.

  • February 14: Run for the Roses 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • March 5: American Cancer Society 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • March 12: Sola Hot Mini 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • March 19: Ella's Race 5K in Cary, NC.

  • March 26: Looking for a Cure 5K in Durham, NC.

  • April 2:  Whitt Elementary 5K in Sachse, TX.

  • April 10: Rock and Roll 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • May 14: Purple Cloth 5K in Cary, NC.

  • June 4: Half Marathon in Raleigh, NC.

  • July 2: Run for Liberty 5K in Cary, NC.

  • July 23: Cantaloupe 5K in Ridgeway, NC.

  • September 10: North Hills 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • November 12: Whitt Elementary 5K in Sachse, TX.

  • December 3: Allen 5K in Allen, TX.

  • December 10: Race 13.1 10K in Durham, NC.

  • December 17: Ugly Sweater 5K in Odenton, MD.


  • January 8: Run for Young 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • February 12: Run for Roses 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • March 11: American Cancer Society 5K in Raleigh, NC.

  • March 19: Tobacco Road Half Marathon in Cary, NC.

  • March 25: St. Paddy's Day 5K in Raleigh. NC.

  • April 1: Runners 5K in Dallas, TX.

  • April 15: Cary Road Race 5K in Cary, NC.

  • May 7: Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, OH.

  • More to come!

So there you have it. If Gaul could be divided into three parts, I suppose we can say the same thing about running. One is the preparation (training). Two is the event itself. (Yay! Yay! Yay!) And three is the aftermath. For a runner, the ultimate test is the marathon, which takes the whole idea of "running" to its ultimate limits. My marathon in May will, no doubt, fill my conscious thoughts over the next 6 months. It's racing raised to the nth degree.

And so it goes. Exercise now regulates my life. I recommend it to you. Exercise is and always will be the best thing we can do for our (aging) bodies. Like love, it covers a multitude of sins. 

3:55 PM Well, let's see. Yesterday we wrapped up our Greek 1 class. Ditto for our Ph.D. seminar. Today my dear students suffered through an essay exam their reprobate professor wrote for them. They'll have their revenge, however: he gets to spend the next two days grading them! Today was also a delightful time at lunch with a student working on his doctorate.

Good fellowship, great discussion, and (not to be forgotten) delicious Mexican food. Meanwhile, I can't tell you how psyched up I am for Saturday's race. You can do a 5K, a 10K, or a half marathon. Yours truly has signed up for his first ever 10K race. I love the running community. Everywhere you go you find support. Even if it's your first race, you're a real runner! The main thought that I have going into Saturday's 10K is, "Dave, you can do it. Get out there and be proud of yourself. You are a rock star. You have already experienced the indescribable joy of setting goals and accomplishing them. You can do anything." My hat's off to the 13.1 mile folks. A 10K is far enough for me this time around. My philosophy is, "Run until you feel tired, and walk until you feel guilty." I already know I can run 10K (6.2 miles). I know I can run 10 miles. And there's always the mojo you get from your fellow runners. I love being a part of this health-minded, inclusive, and motivating community. With some serious self-control and training, I believe I can actually see me crossing the finish line. But I've got to be smart. Notes to self:

  • Don't forget your lip balm. Cold means DRY.

  • Do layers.

  • Remember to bellow an enthusiastic "Thank you!" to everyone on the sidelines who is cheering you on.

  • Have fun.

  • Stop smoking. (Kidding).

  • Start near the back of the corral.

  • Wear shorts that don't chafe. (Ugh.)

  • Slow down going up hills.

  • Don't wear the race shirt they give you.

  • Don't go too fast.

  • Don't overhydrate.

  • Race against yourself.

  • Rest up two days before the event and two days afterwards.

I've always been a 1,000-percent person. No half-and-half for me. It's wholehearted or nothing. I'm learning tons about myself during this season of life. I can't be happier with how I've been running. I have gained a new confidence from successful runs. All of my finish photos are of me not in pain but smiling. Following my heart and the desires God has give me, I've become truly motivated to be all I can be. Pursuing the abilities God has put into me has become something I'm truly passionate about. Don't worry -- I'm not giving up teaching, writing, or traveling. Daily, I want to seek God's plan for me and choose to see that He is gracious even when I experience loss and pain. Over and over again, I remind myself that I am created in God's own image, and created for a purpose, just like everyone is.

And now I'm training for my first marathon. Can you imagine! Have you ever done something that pushed you beyond what you thought you were capable of doing? My doctorate was like that. 37 years of marriage were life that. Climbing the Alps was like that. All of life comes with challenges, with ups and downs. But here's the deal. The ups and down aren't negatives. God calls us to a life of hardship and self-discipline so that we would trust Him and not ourselves. He also created each and every one of us with unique desires and goals. We have a Savior who loves us, saves us from our sins and worries and insecurities, and encourages us to embrace the challenges and races of life with joy. A race is a celebration, fueled by joy and propelled by God's strength. This Saturday I'm excited to add another race to my training log and my "life" log. I own a huge thanks to all those who believe in me -- my friends and running mates and pen pals and encouragers. I choose running and biking and surfing and climbing because they're what God has given me to use to worship Him, relate to others, and love the lost. All of these activities are so much bigger, so much grander, than sporting activities. For me it means living daily in relation with Christ and with others. And so I choose to live in celebration, to keep moving forward in life, attuning my heart to God's, pressing on to maturity. Being outdoors is how I communicate best with my Creator God. My sweet Becky isn't here to enjoy it with me, but God is using my activities to raise awareness about endometrial cancer (more on that later). There is life after cancer, I can promise you that. God has plans to leverage Becky's death for good. More than anything, being active is an act of worship. Whenever I run, I rejoice in God's strength, in His faithfulness, in His promises for all of my needs. Mentally, physically, and spiritually, I believe I have what it takes to compete in the game of life.

So today I'm rejoicing. My cup is full to overflowing. Even when I'm empty, God fills me up again. He hears my crying and my praying and my laughing. My life is filled with beauty. I feel incredibly blessed to live on a farm. There's nothing better than mi casa. Every time I return home, Sheba and I reunite. She loves her Papa B and I love her. We've got a special bond. I serve a God who delights in me finding joy in the gifts He's given me, including goats and donkeys! I've never loved life so much. He loves me -- and you -- with an everlasting love.

Tuesday, December 6

9:28 AM Last Saturday was the first time I ran a 5K in the rain. Remember, I'm just your regular non-athlete who took up running to get into shape, not to win anything. So whenever I run in the cold (or rain) I have to ask myself why I'm doing it, and the answer always comes back the same: Because I'm an idiot. There is no way I can praise my New Balance shoes enough. Although they didn't leave a trail of fire, they felt great in the rain and puddles. It was a good race and a fun time, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Thinking back now, there wasn't much about this race that distinguished it, except maybe for the fact that I was aware I was actually training for a marathon. My pace was just over 10 minutes, and while I wished it could have been faster I was okay with it. All the young guys passed me with ease, and the last mile was a killer. No problem. I make no bones about my love for racing. I'm an incurable competitor at heart. That's why I'm really, really praying that my students finish well this week. You know, a marathon is not 26 miles. It's 26.2 miles. That .2 can't be ignored.  Some people are blessed with running ability. Others are challenged in this area. So how do you manage your deficiencies? You do your very best. Nothing is more frustrating to me than to see a student with great potential just getting by. To make matters worse, they don't seem to care. It's a classic sign of mediocrity. I guess this is sounding a little negative and I don't mean for it to be. I'm just a big fan of giving it your all, and it doesn't matter if you come in first or last. I'm glad I ran the Allen 5K. It was a nice race in a nice town with lots of nice people. But it was hard work. Without perseverance, I wouldn't have finished it. My time was not great but not bad for someone my age. I'd run this race again, and next year I hope to. But right now my job is to help others cross their finish lines.

Monday, December 5

6:40 PM Wow, life has been really busy lately. Here's a little bit of what I've been up to.

1) I ran the Allen 5K on Saturday (in the rain). The event was almost canceled due to the thunderstorms passing through the area. Despite the weather, a large crowd showed up for the race.

Yours truly was happy with his mark of 32:07.

2) Yesterday I attended the Vocal Majority concert in Richardson, TX, with mom and dad. Their music is always a delightful combination of satire and spiritual reflection. 5 out of 5 stars.

3) I enjoyed more eating out than I probably care to think about!

4) On Sunday morning mom's flute choir (the Flutes of the Spirit) played at the local UMC church. Their concerts are always a treat for me. Mom is the founder and director of the choir and pours her heart and soul into it.

5) On Friday I finished a detailed reading of the book Two Views of Women in Ministry. What a great book. The key question is: Does Scripture impose some limits on women in ministry, especially leadership? Most all agree that during the New Testament times women ministered as church planters and evangelists as well as in local church ministries such as prophet, deaconess, and patron. The question really has to do with teaching and preaching. The debate is a shifting one for sure. And some of the arguments are clearly straw men. A diverse range of opinions is possible among Bible-believing evangelicals. I think Craig Blomberg's view is most consistent with scriptural exegesis: As long as leadership is defined as eldership, women can teach men in ministry settings while still submitting to male leadership. As Tom Schreiner notes, the evidence that women served as elders in the early church is practically nonexistent. (My view is that the apostoloi of Rom. 16:7 refers to itinerant evangelists.) At any rate, this is by far the best book on the subject.

6) Here's something I failed to mention last week, but I would be remiss if I did not thank my colleague Dr. Maurice Robinson for visiting our New Testament class on Wednesday and lecturing on one of the most hotly disputed texts of Scripture -- the so-called "Heavenly Witnesses" passage of 1 John 5:7-8.

Dr. Robinson breaks with TR-defenders and agrees with the scholarly consensus that the passage is a Latin corruption that entered the Greek manuscript tradition and eventually the New Testament of Erasmus. Actually, Dr. Robinson and I agree in our conclusions about many places of textual variation in the New Testament, but not because we both embrace Byzantine Priority. He does. I do not. That said, we both would agree that the Byzantine text form should not be excluded from considerations of New Testament textual criticism. Dr. Robinson was very gracious to take the time to visit our class and answer our questions. Here's a 20-second YouTube of him lecturing.

If you'd like to become more familiar with his views, a good place to start might be our book Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism or the interviews I did with him here and here. He answers such questions as:

  • How did you become interested in textual criticism?

  • Do you allow the possibility that the Byzantine text preserved the wrong reading?

  • What advice do you have for novice textual critics?

7) Tomorrow I'll be back in the office for what is shaping up to be a crazy, hectic week:

  • Tomorrow is our final quiz in Greek 1.

  • I'll also be prepping the final essay exam for my New Testament class.

  • On Wednesday I'm meeting with a new doctoral student.

  • Thursday night is the banquet for our graduating doctoral students.

  • Commencement is Friday at 10:00 am.

  • Saturday is another race day in Raleigh.

Did I mention I'm grading papers too? It will also be a week full of easy biking and short runs. My quads definitely need to be in better shape if I'm going to try to run a marathon next year. I am SO pumped about that event.

So here's a high five to a great weekend with mom and dad and to a new week ahead. I'd like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. I'm so glad we serve a God of absolute sovereignty. He was there when Jesus died. He was there when Becky died. He was there when my little Dayda died. He was there when the votes were counted on Nov. 2. He can use any ruler to accomplish His purposes. Thankfully, we have a system in our nation of checks and balances, and no president is all-powerful. Let's pray that the system works as it should. Let's pray even more that as a nation we would stop expecting our leaders to solve our problems. Christmas is a reminder that Someone greater than a president is running the world. Peace doesn't come from politicians. It doesn't come from having perfect children or a perfect marriage. I can't find it in the Alps or the Rockies. I can't get it by exercising my body. Deep, elemental, soul-healing peace comes only from a Person. He is our Peace. He sees right into our hearts. What redemption from the depths!



Friday, December 2

9:05 AM This and that ...

1) Our book winners are Abraham in Indiana, Adam in North Carolina, and Michael in Indiana. Books will go out next week. Cograts to all three!

2) Just signed for up for the annual Run for the Roses 5K in Raleigh, to be held Feb. 12 at the Dorothea Dix Center. I'm doing it for Canines for Service and, of course, for my sweet Valentine. The course is brutally hilly. I should know: I ran it last year.

Would somebody please design an all-downhill 5K? Please?

3) Tomorrow's the great 5K in Allen, Texas. Wish me well! It will be raining (ugh).

4) Just finished reading this book.

Plenty of practical information here. If you're going to "preach," preach well, my friend. Inform us, yes, but also inspire us. And parishioner, hold your preacher accountable. There is no excuse whatsoever for boring, trite, and predictable talks from the pulpit. Ideas are currency. Preacher friend, make people want to buy. Dump your power point. Don't read your sermon. Look at your audience in the eyes. Tell stories. Be you. Embrace your weirdness. Be enthusiastic. Have a cause. And keep it simple.

A few quotes from this magnificent book:

"The worst sermon is the predictable sermon, because the Gospel is not the epitome of predictability" (p. 24).

"So, at all costs, the preacher must know where the people think the preacher is going -- and steadfastly refuse to go there" (p. 25).

"...firmly make a vow to yourself: 'Whatever I say this Sunday, it will not be the predictable or the trite'." (p. 25).

"This is why every sermon must resist the temptation to echo the world" (p. 26).

"The preacher may or may not know Greek or Hebrew, and probably if he does, our facility is embarrassingly slim. But digging into the original can make us more attentive, even if it only forces us to slow down, poke around not merely in a lexicon but in our souls, while dealing with even a single word" (p. 30).

Find this book and buy it. And remember: There's no such thing as a boring teacher. If they're boring, they're not teachers.

5) A prayer for anyone who has experienced loss recently.

My prayer for you today is that whatever it is you've lost, and wherever it is I've lost, will fade a little bit in the beauty of the Christmas season, that the Light will outshine the darkness, and that God would meet us in the voices of the people we walk with and talk with every day.

Merry Christmas,


Thursday, December 1

5:28 PM I'm so over trying to figure life out. I suppose that's why I've spent so much time with Sheba today. Dayda was Sheba's daughter, her very own offspring. Yet Sheba seems to be doing okay. Dayda isn't home anymore, and that's the way it is. On the other hand, Sheba is constantly at my side. She wants to go everywhere with me.

She seems to know that I am sad, seems sensitive to my body language and tone of voice, seems anxious whenever I get choked up. I know she'll bounce back -- probably whenever I do. All of our hearts are totally broken to have had to say goodbye to Dayda today. Dogs are incredible pets. They know what's going on in our lives. They have feelings too. Regardless of their age, it tears our hearts out when we lose them. Now all we can do is remember them in our hearts and minds. I am happy to still have Sheba. Now it's the two of us in this big house. When I am away she will be lonely I'm sure. I know someone will say, "Can dogs really feel loneliness?" Why are we even asking that question? Why wouldn't an animal experience grief or loneliness or unhappiness? So one of the best things I can do right now is to share Sheba's loneliness with her. In the final months of his life, Saint Francis of Assisi prayed these remarkable words:

My Lord Jesus Christ, I pray you to grant me two graces before I die. The first is that during my life I may feel in my soul and in my body, as much as possible, that pain that you, dear Jesus, sustained in the hour of your most bitter Passion. The second is that I may feel in my heart, as much as possible, that great love with which you, O Son of God, were inflamed in willingly enduring such suffering for us sinners.

Jesus knew all about sorrow and death. When we, in turn, become broken enough and tired enough and discouraged enough -- when are just done -- then grace is lavished on us like never before. So come along, my grieving canine companion, and let's walk side by side. It doesn't matter who seems to have it together. Let's walk and explore and be amazed at the One who does the molding and the shaping in His creatures great and small. God is everywhere, at all times. He has to be. He's omnipresent. But it's at times of death -- at the cross -- where we really know that God is with us and that the gates of hell cannot stand against us.

He is our peace.

He is our comforter.

He is our rock.

He is our companion.

When life's a stinker, God is good. 

1:42 PM Just buried one of my dogs. You loved us well, Dayda. You will be sorely missed.


8:10 AM Good morning, friends.

Life is messy. It's weird. At times it's painful. And frustrating. A friend of mine just lost his brother. Marriages I know of are desperate for intimacy. Dear colleagues have loved ones suffering from stage 4 cancer. I was blown away yesterday when our provost asked me to say a few words about my new book Running My Race in our faculty meeting. I realized all over again: I'm still dealing with grief over Becky's passing 3 years ago. (There, I said it.) Today I'm okay. I'm thankful for a friend's letter. Another sent me an email out of the blue. My kids love me. My students bring me oh so much joy. I'm feeling strong physically. I'm grateful for my blessings. Then I think of Becky and I begin to feel sad. Sad that I won't spend the last years of my life with her. Sad that she can't hold her grandchildren. God has a good plan in all the hard. I know that. But today I'm just plain struggling. I'm trying to pray about what God is trying to show me in this. Trying best to follow Jesus with all my heart. Trying to be a good dad and teacher and mentor and friend. I'm not okay but I am. Because God comforts me. Because He is always good. Because He is always my Friend. I might say of Jesus what Roberta Flack once sang about a singer she heard:

Strumming my pain with his finger/ Singing my life with his song/ Telling my whole life with his words.

The error of Christmas is the notion -- popularized in Bruce Wilkinson's book The Prayer of Jabez -- that God has a storehouse of goodies ("blessings") just waiting for us to back up our Ford 150s and load them. Coming to Christ isn't the resolution to our problems but often is the conveyor of a whole set of new problems (just read Lewis's The Problem of Pain). In the movie Steel Magnolias, a young mother named Shelby has died at the age of 27, leaving behind a young son. After the burial, Shelby's mother (played by Sally Fields) lingers beside the grave. Her friends try to comfort her. One of them says, "It should make you feel a lot better that Shelby is with her king. We should all be rejoicing." Shelby's mother replies, "Well, you go ahead. I'm sorry if I don't feel like it. I guess I'm kinda selfish. I'd rather have her here." Hollywood has seldom captured such raw emotion. "No. No! NO! It's not supposed to happen this way! I'm supposed to go first!"

The Holy Spirit tells me it's okay to be transparent. Just writing this I'm feeling refreshed. Our culture glorifies busy-ness. We put too much pressure on ourselves. And we don't have to. Ahh it's alright to do nothing. God's got me. He's good no matter what. So in the waiting, in the grieving, in the stillness, I'm okay. I'm in this FOR THE WIN.

P.S. Today I'm giving away my book Running My Race to three winners. Just send me an email at The first three people to email me will get a copy. Be sure to include your mailing address. I hope this book will encourage you to stay at it through the mundaneness of life, help you breath a little lighter, and cause you to reflect and know that you're not alone out there. So much thanks to Henry and Jody Neufeld for publishing it. You are impacting lives for the kingdom, and I'm grateful. Also, I was interviewed recently about the book. Here's the audio in case you're interested.

Joyful and free (hard fought),


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