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February 2016 Blog Archives

Monday, February 29

8:06 PM Just back from Dallas and I'm very excited, because I'm hoping to spend a week in March climbing in the mountains. I would really like to get out West -- to Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon -- but that will depend on the weather. I need to spend time alone, time to come to terms with my feelings more than two years after Becky's death, time to set aside my writing and my computer and just be. I am still lonely for her company. I still cry. Sometimes I feel emotionally drained and vulnerable. I am deeply grateful for the many people who have made the effort to write to me, but in the end this is a journey I have to experience as an individual. I know deep within that happiness doesn't come from climbing. I am happy. Still, I feel a nudge to spend time enjoying my new-found love of the outdoors, where I truly feel at home. I want to test myself among the peaks and crags of the mountains. I need to break out of the limitations of my ordinary routine. I have what the Germans call "Wanderlust" and the Aborigines of Australia call "Walkabout." Despite the heartaches and disappointments of life, it is still possible for us humans to celebrate life and transform tragedy into triumph. It's obvious to me, at 63, that I have only a few more years left to broaden my horizons and to enjoy life with all its contradictions. Climbing is my "yes" to the life God has given me, my tribute to life's amazing beauty, a way to leave the sorrows of the past behind. The best way to honor the memory of Becky is to carry on what she did so well -- live life to the fullest. I know that climbing is more than a superficial act of self-gratification for me. To me, it's obvious that in the time I have left, I must strive to reach my potential. It's time to work towards the Alps in July, to intensify my training program and prepare myself physically and mentally for the challenge of climbing 15,000 foot peaks. Who knows? Perhaps one can move from scaling outer heights to ascending inner ones. Perhaps this is why I love reading expedition biographies so much. Maybe it's because I see myself in these quests for adventure.

I'll hike alone, as I usually do. I prefer enjoying the solitude of nature alone and not having to adjust my pace to anyone but myself. And yet, I never go mountain climbing alone. Wherever I go, I am aware of His presence. Oh, am I aware of it! And I realize: There is no other way to live life. Life is merely a series of mountains. There is no way to avoid them. The only way to make it to the top is by going forward.

Dallas was a wonderful respite from my normal routine. I spent 5 days with mom and dad.

Then on Friday night I saw the Fab Four in concert at SMU, along with 1,800 other gyrating geriatrics. The band really looked and talked the part.

The music, the acting, the dialogue were all mesmerizing. It's amazing just how much these guys look like the real Beatles. The show began with their earliest hits and moved through the Sgt. Pepper era and then to songs like "Imagine" and "Hey Jude" (the finale). The band played and sang well, although it was obvious that both Paul and John were struggling with their vocal chords. (Poor Paul; his voice was raspy the entire evening.) Technically, the sound and light crew did an admirable job, though they missed a couple of important transitional cues. Thankfully, whatever mistakes were made were smothered by the high energy coming from both the band and the audience. Robo was freakishly good at being Ringo (his drum solo on "Strawberry Fields" was phenomenal). And when John sang "Imagine," there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Almost without exception, it was impossible to tell the difference between their versions of the songs and the originals. It's obvious that these guys love what they do. 4 (out of 5) stars!

On Saturday I decided to participate in a 5K fund raiser for the local high school in Allen, TX, not far from mom and dad's. I became an "Allen Eagle" for the day --

 -- along with I'd say maybe 2,000 other racers.

I felt really good about my time even though I didn't beat the magical 30-minute mark. Yet!

Right now I've got to wash clothes and cook my meals for the week, so you'll have to excuse me. Make it a great week, folks, and remember:

Keep climbing!

Thursday, February 25

8:14 AM This book also came from Amazon yesterday. I dig the author's last name.

(We guys named Black have to stick together.) Chapter titles include:

  • How BiVo Saved My Ministry

  • Calling Is Not about a Paycheck

  • The Benefits of BiVo

  • BiVo and the Priesthood of All Believers

  • The Nitty Gritty

  • A Job or a Career?

  • Making Ministry Work

I haven't been able to put it down. In the preface we read:

Eight years ago, I stopped "full-time" ministry to become a mental health social worker and keep doing ministry at our growing church....

After all this time, our now former student ministry is in the hands of some very capable, homegrown, "unschooled ordinary mean that had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13) who are seeing more growth than we had. We are bivocational church planters in Philadelphia. I've never in my life been happier in ministry.

I won't get into a fight with anyone about it, but this approach makes good sense to me. There's a dispute over whether this philosophy of ministry has biblical support for it. I guess you'll just have to exegete the relevant texts for yourself. Either way, pastoring/eldering is no role to accept lightly. And I suppose BiVos can be placed on a pedestal as easily as other pastors. (Shame on us "laypeople" for doing this.) At any rate, healthy churches have healthy pastors. And they are pastors who have learned to think biblically. Even about their own roles.

I commend this book to yall.

7:28 AM A few Thank-You notes:

1) Thank you, American Airlines, for online check-in and electronic boarding passes. All with one touch.

2) Thank you, Traverse Sports, for my awesome bike helmet. (Darth-Vader-black-edition to boot.)

3) Thank you, CompressionZ, for my new compression running pants. But do people actually wear these things in public?

4) Thank you, "Stop Trump" campaign. But I don't think you're going to succeed. His is the voice of U.S. self-interest. His is the insistence upon American sovereignty, independence, and freedom of action. His is the conviction that the overriding concern of the U.S. federal government is to be a narrowly-defined set of black-and-white issues. The bipartisan governing elite may not like it, but the Trump campaign has tapped into an unquenchable ardor among citizens to "make America great again," meaning to make the protection of U.S. interests and citizens the federal government's top priority. This reality, my dear Stop-Trumpers, goes far toward explaining the series of seemingly irreversible successes Trump has been enjoying. Mr. Trump, as much as any leader in America has done in my lifetime, has learned how to exploit the enormous gap between the hardworking, patriotic middle class and their soft, compromising, and ineffective bipartisan leaders in DC. And as long as his rhetoric and personal rapport with Americans continues to intimidate the perpetually fearful class of government elites, I predict he will successfully attain the goals that are so feared by political insiders. (Side note: Could this possibly mean we're getting what we deserve?)

5) Thank you, Greg Fishel of WRAL Weather, because I treasure getting accurate and up-to-date reports about the tornados about to descend upon the greater-Raleigh area.

6) Thank you, Apple, Inc. You make my life possible.

Wednesday, February 24

6:52 PM The weather has turned ugly in our neck of the woods. I shot this pic just after a huge storm moved through the area. Isolated tornados have been popping up all over the place.

Earlier today someone sent me this picture of a tornado that had touched down in Vance County, NC not 30 miles southeast of my farm.

Now I'm told that three people have died from a tornado in Waverly, VA, to the northeast of us. As the storm continues to move in a northeasterly direction let's keep praying for the people in its path (DC, Baltimore, Philly, Jersey, etc.).

4:54 PM I ordered this used book through Amazon. It arrived today.

As you know, I admire people who have big dreams, the sort of dreams that inspire others to be all that God meant for them to be, the kind of dreams you have to be really prepared for in order for them to become realities. Dreamers are dangerous people. They must learn how to dream with their eyes wide open. We all have our own personal Everest. I know I have mine. Hopefully, my dreams are realistic and achievable. Hopefully I will use good judgment and common sense when I climb the Alps this summer. Hopefully I will one day be able to finish my book Godworld. I never want to stop thinking big, as long as the key ingredients to success are vision and hard work. Lene Gammelgaard had an Everest-sized dream, one that almost killed her. Maybe I can learn from her experience. Her lesson is one I need to remember again and again and again: when you are setting out on a long and difficult journey, you will never be able to foresee every potential obstacle. But with every step comes experience, skill, and confidence. I am a rank beginner when it comes to mountaineering. And I am loving it. There is something magic about beginning. Things start to happen. Sometimes big things. Sometimes very dangerous things. It's about listening to your inner voice. It's about doing what other people either can't do or won't do. It's about never losing sight of your goal -- whether the goal is a mountain summit or a new publication that you hope will bless and challenge many people.

Friend, what is your dream? Follow it and let your talents and abilities thrive. Stick to it through thick and thin. Follow your goal with all of your heart and see where your dreams take you. As you travel, embrace the obstacles, embrace the adversity, remembering that diamonds are formed under pressure. Do this often enough and you will change, for the better. Stop letting fear and worry weigh you down. Stop letting others' criticisms and judgmentalism distract you. Claim Christ's promises over your fears. Learn to live in the present. And remember: The rewards go to the patient.  

3:32 PM Two hours ago the wife of my one of seminary colleagues went home to be with the Lord after a long struggle with cancer. I have no advice to give. I know how hard it will be for my friend. The last fragile thread has been broken, and with it the loosing of a marriage. But our loving Savior understands perfectly. He knows our frame, knows what's best to give and to withhold. We thank Him for every blessing and trust Him to give us all the strength we need. Death will be followed by resurrection -- in His time. Praise be to God.

Tuesday, February 23

7:58 AM "Only a generation of readers will spawn a generation of writers" (Steven Spielberg). As much as I love to write, I think I love to read even more. When you're a writer yourself, you appreciate the work that goes into a good piece of prose. I'm a teacher because I want to kindle a fire in my students to want to do both.

Monday, February 22

5:28 PM Just registered for the eighth annual Allen Eagle Run 5K and Fun Run/Walk this Saturday in Allen, TX, only a few miles from mom and dad's house in Murphy. Over 3,000 participants are expected in this year's race. The weather promises to be a very pleasant 73 degrees and sunny. The 5K race starts at 8:30. The event is a fundraiser for the Allen Independent School District. I'm all for that! The race starts and finishes at Eagle Stadium.

4:50 PM Today I tried out a new hiking trail. Twin Lakes State Park is located between the farm and Richmond just past the village of Green Bay off of Hwy. 360.

It took me just over an hour to get there. What I found was absolutely beautiful -- a pair of pristine lakes surrounded by hardwoods and wedged into a valley. Since it had rained yesterday I'm glad I had my trekking poles with me, as the trail was slippery in places. The paths had an excellent elevation gain so I felt as though I really got my cardio taken care of for the day. The English poet George Herbert once said, "Every mile is two in winter." But I wasn't in a big hurry today anyway.

The hiking paths were easy-to-moderate in terms of difficulty level and very well-groomed. The landscape was varied and interesting (see the video below). The initial stages of the trail gave you excellent views of the lakes. The park staff was extremely friendly and helpful as well. Unfortunately, rain was vectored right in my direction so I had to boogie at the end. I did, however, manage to buy a couple of mementoes in the park's shop for several of my younger grandkids. Grandpas are always of thinking of ways to spoil their grandkids, right? I would love to come back here this summer and swim in the lakes or maybe even rent a cabin and get some writing done. For information on the park, go here.

Here's the GoPro I promised. Enjoy!

8:52 AM Becky's dad sent me this picture. It shows the day in 1967 that Sweden changed from driving on the left hand side of the road to driving on the right.

It is good to remember that change in our lives often comes after periods of disequilibrium. Young marrieds, take my advice: Change is inevitable in your relationship. So don't fight it. Don't fall into the marriage trap of making everything a big deal. Keep the big deals "big." Pastor friend, you live in a strange, unprecedented time when people are questioning your status. I remember one of the greatest lessons I learned in seminary. As you may surmise, it wasn't about Greek grammar or about the doctrine of the Trinity. It was simply this: Jesus Christ never entrusted leadership in His church to a single individual. I meet pastors all over the country and I look many in their eyes and see loneliness. What an acute assessment of the risk of trying to do it all. Peoples' unhealthy and unrealistic expectations don't help either. Maybe as a pastor you've begun thinking about shared leadership, and that's a good key. Remember the theology, though: Jesus Christ wants to have first place in all things (Col. 1:18). Nothing is more important than this. Don't fear your convictions; they are your best offering to Jesus.

Thus in many areas of life we have to learn to drive correctly: Either on the right side of the road or on the left. But, conversely, I've learned that in many situations it's necessary to meet somewhere in the middle. Even if we disagree about our ecclesiology, we can still love each other and challenge each other in healthy ways. Above all, we can practice constant empathy. Wonderful? Wonderful. But don't expect me to stop saying "Friend, I think you're driving on the wrong side of the road. If you're not very careful, you're heading for a major head-on collision." My point is that each of us is to have strong convictions about why we do what we do, and then hold those convictions in love. This isn't complicated, folks. It's just Christianity 101. I'm learning to behave like a friend, and not a critic, to those with whom I disagree. Of course, some relationships are toxic. People in our lives can have destructive habits. I must steward my time and energy well vis-à-vis these people. In some cases, the only healthy response is to quit the relationship altogether. On the other hand, there are some relationships you just have to accept the way they are. You learn to live with the disequilibrium of constantly handling a high-maintenance, really difficult person. Either way, we have to keep growing. Hebrews 5 puts it like this:

I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one—baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong.

Meat is for the mature. When I read that I practically freaked out. Here I am, at the ripe old age of 63, and I know so little! WDWD is no reason for you to do anything! But I do know what I am seeking in life: a sort of New-Testament-Like-Church in which everyone pulls weight, a kind of fellowship that isn't fancy or built on entertainment, a sort of gathering that frees up our leaders to be ordinary, real people, a kind of church where we assemble for dinner and spiritual meat as well, a kind of assembly where kingdom adjectives rule -- small, invisible, a hidden treasure. I know that for this to happen, change will have to take place. And the really good news is that, if we are at least willing to change, to drive on the other side of the road as it were, the church will have a fighting chance. Do we really believe that Jesus deserves first place? Do we really believe that each and every one of us has a gift worth offering to one another? Do we really believe that we should treat each other charitably even as we provoke one another in our thinking? What makes the church toxic is not its inability to change. What makes the church toxic is when it creates the illusion that it doesn't need to change.

Questions of disequilibrium -- how to foster it and how to cope with it when it happens -- are questions that will only grow in importance as the millennials begin to test my generation's ideals with experience. And that, I think, is a very good thing.

Sunday, February 21

5:58 PM Paul in 1959. The original selfie?

5:52 PM It got up to an amazing 70 degrees today and right now a gentle rain is falling. I feel really good about my training this weekend, which included 13 miles on foot and 16 on bike, both in a single workout. (I got in another 5 miles today.) Year to date, I've managed to eke out a total of 205.8 miles with a duration of 46 hours in 38 workouts. I'm averaging 4 workouts per week with an average distance of 14 miles every week. My training goals this year have shifted a little. In addition to competing regularly in 5K races, I want to compete in my first half marathon this year and, in addition, I want to climb three of the Alps in July (Breithorn, Allalinhorn, Matterhorn). From everything I've read, these are two of the most challenging and rewarding things you can do for yourself, and it's obvious why they have made their way onto countless bucket lists. I'm not going to get there, however, without proper training and becoming as well prepared as I possibly can be at my age of 63. I'm allowing several months of mileage buildup and activity-specific training to give my old body time to adjust to chugging away regularly. I'm fully committed to investing the necessary time and effort throughout my months of training. It all sounds pretty daunting, but physical exercise helps strengthen me mentally and physically for the challenges I face on a daily basis. My workouts are marked on my calendar and I try hard to treat them like I would any other non-negotiable appointment. I'm also trying to balance mileage and recovery time and to "work hard" at resting, if that makes any sense. (I just enjoyed a three-hour nap.) If there's one thing I'm known for, it's probably for becoming overzealous and pushing myself too hard. This week I'm taking an extra day off to allow my body additional time for recovery. I've noticed that, for me, I quickly lose interest in training without both consistency and variety. Rotating between cycling and running/walking has been a great way for me to give my feet and legs some much-needed variation. I'm also trying to be wise about hydration, since I've always been able to work out without drinking very much. 13.1 miles is a long way to go. So is 15,000 feet in elevation. My body will need good nutrition and proper fueling and hydration if I'm going to succeed.

Tonight, like last night, I'm looking forward to sitting on the front porch. I'll do some editing and then some reading for pleasure, but mostly I'll just savor the goodness of the Lord and reflect on the beauty of His earthly creation (including the joy of watching the animals romp and play). I'm a guy who needs rhythm in his life. I need to go to bed at the same time and wake up early. I like to keep my world "small," that is, I like to remain focused on a few priorities and attack them one at a time. My life always gets pretty shoddy when I allow less-important things to become my master. Intellectually, I still have a ways to go, and certainly I still have lots to learn. But I don't want to be a hearer of the word only. You know, a Christian can have good theology and still be an insufferable jerk. My focus right now is on seminarians -- crafting them into something that can please God and truly serve the world. This week, as I teach my Greek students the importance of textual criticism, I'll be thinking back to my own teachers in college and seminary, the men and women who didn't give up on me -- and didn't let up either. They kept dragging me back to Christ and to His standards of excellence. It's no wonder that I can't help pushing my students forward, pleading with them to think through -- really think through -- what they believe, because belief always precedes behavior. There are plenty of bad excuses for being mediocre. I think many young people in our classrooms have lowered their standards because they found no echo in our own lives as teachers as to what true kingdom living looks like. The apparent contradiction between faith and reason is still one of the most confounding parts of the evangelical Christianity I am most familiar with. Students need to be shown, and not just told, what the downward path of Jesus looks like. Jesus' critique of the Pharisees -- that they were overly judgmental -- could easily have targeted people like me who enjoy talking about the "New Testament" church but whose own churches often come up way short. I suspect that I might have made a good Pharisee had I lived in Jesus' day. It occurs to me that I can be just as overly-critical -- and as lacking in compassion. Believe me, I have my own giants and monsters that need slaying.

Which brings me back to the subject of training. Jesus Himself was once in training. The boy had to learn how to hold a carpenter's tool. He had to learn the skills of table making and house construction. He had to learn how to work carefully, dependably, promptly, faithfully. He had to learn the simple joys of working with His hands, of keeping a schedule, of being gracious with cantankerous customers, of not cutting corners to save a buck or two. Imagine the Creator of the Universe learning obedience on a construction site! Surely He worked carefully. Later, as an itinerant rabbi, He would also learn how to work alone, for He never married. Today God is asking me to accept the fairly small discipline of singleness as a part of my walk with Him. But He never waives the standards: dependability, faithfulness, attention to detail, self-discipline. A half marathon requires all of these virtues. So does mountain climbing. People are watching us Christians. How well do they do their work? How passionate are they about life? Why is there so little joy in their lives? They promised they would help me, but they never followed through. I think there will always be a part of me that will feel out of place at a 5K event, a part of me that says, "You don't really belong here, not at your age." The fact is: I can belong wherever I want to belong. But I must make the effort. Faith is a surprising and radical call to "belong." But it usually involves a level of self-discipline and self-denial that can't be avoided. Not if we want the good, brave life that Jesus promised us.

And so I keep on training -- my spirit as well as my body. I often feel like the widow of Zarephath who was destitute. She thought she had nothing in the house to offer the prophet, and then the word of the Lord came to her. And when it did, she obeyed. In the end, life's really that simple, isn't it? When you feel like you are standing alone against frightening forces, just get out the last of the flour and the oil and sit back and watch, because the Lord is about to work a miracle. I laugh out loud when I think of myself summiting a tall peak or finishing a long-distance race. That's not really you, Dave, is it? Yep. It's me. I feel like a little kid all over again splashing in Waimea Falls, head upturned to feel the gushes of water playing over my face, hands cupped to catch it all. It always feels good to be on the receiving end of God's love.  

7:50 AM Our amazing God.

Saturday, February 20

7:06 PM Thanks, Nate and Jess, for a wonderful evening! 


3:20 PM As Mr. Rogers would say, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Today I put over 16 miles on my mountain bike.

I rode a portion of the Tobacco Heritage Trail that starts in LaCrosse, VA, just east of South Hill and adjacent to I-85. The course starts out paved.

But then you encounter packed gravel, which today had the consistency of mush due to the recent rain.

Trying to negotiate your way through the "mush" is like trying to peddle your bike with two flat tires. Was great cardio, to say the least. The trail is super well maintained and has several picnic tables and bathroom facilities along the way. The road bed is basically flat but, as I said, can be susceptible to "wheel suck." How many miles do I plan on putting on my bike this year? It's a fair question. My goal is to bike at least 50 miles every month (in addition to running, climbing, walking, etc.). The trails around here are great, completely free of vehicular traffic (and foot traffic too, for the most part). As I biked today I kept thinking about the church and how it seems as though we're so often "stuck." Progress is like moving an elephant. Apparently, the elephant doesn't want to be moved. You can't really make it move either. Pushing and pulling won't do it. The elephant itself has just got to make up its mind to get moving. So in what direction is your local church moving? Is mine? Opportunities for growth must be seized because they don't last forever.

Well, I'm supposed to cook supper tonight so I had better boogie. I get to feed four hungry grandsons (and their mom and dad too, of course). Woohoo!

P.S. Care to ride with me?

Friday, February 19

4:18 PM Evenin' pards!

The launching season of my life as a half marathoner begins this year, and I am so excited I can hardly talk about it. Life is going by way too fast. There's so little time to develop new hobbies, so if I'm going to launch out into the deep I had better start now. My first half marathon will be this May in Greensboro, and (as you know) I will use it both to commemorate Becky's birthday on May 12 and to raise funds for uterine cancer. My goal is to finish the 13.1 miles under 3.50 hours. I'm also determined to get in at least 5 practices before then, so today I drove to the town of Tuggle and took advantage of the High Bridge Trail State Park trail to get my workout done for the day. I walked, jogged, and slipped my way along the trail (it still had some icy patches). When I reached the 4 mile mark I said to myself, "Well, Dave, since we're doing so well, why not go the full 13.1 miles?" So I did. Even I was surprised and amazed at the results: 3.07 hours. And that's with a full backpack on and slogging through ice. Praise the Lord! As I exercised I took full advantage of the privacy to sing at the top of my lungs. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days, all the days of my life." Or how about this one?


Here I am, a crotchety old grandpa singing praise songs. Folks, as far as I can see it, God is either real all the time or He ain't real any time. I have access to the kingdom now: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don't need to wait another day to have life "figured out." I'll never have life figured out! So why not just live life day by day, in the strength of the Lord and the joy of the Holy Spirit?

I'll close by apologizing for posting the following pictures. But hey, I'm just me being me! :-)

1) The "city" of Tuggle. Ain't it sweet?

2) The trail head.

3) Great conditions (for the most part).

4) I do not like ice.

5) After about 6 miles you reach the town of Farmville, where you turn around and head back to your car.

6) By the sheer grace of God I went the distance and my feet don't even hurt thanks to REI!

7) I passed one guy the whole day. He was kind enough to snap this pic of me in a victory pose. Hey, just be glad I'm not wearing manpris!

8:58 AM The best line from last night's GOP Town Hall: 

"I'm not that great a guy, OK?" he said. "I'm just doing the best I can."

Our leaders are terribly human, as are our pastors. Yet so few are willing to admit it. What a blessed relief when one of our leaders owns up to his or her humanity. Mr. Kasich, you will never have the star appeal of a Donald Trump. Count it a blessing, Sir. Let others protect their façade. You be real. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'm done with superstardom. I'll follow nobody who doesn't have a limp.

8:26 AM Last night I watched the movie Risen. It's the story of Jesus' resurrection as told through the eyes of a non-believing Roman investigator named Clavius who is charged by Pilate to investigate the rumors of a risen Jewish Messiah. I entered the theater thinking, "Well, this is probably going to be just another Hollywood attempt to rewrite biblical history." What I found instead was a powerful film with beautiful locations (it was filmed in Spain and Malta), an incredibly interesting (and at times humorous) script, and one of my favorite actors (Joseph Fiennes) playing his role to near perfection.

In fact, Fiennes carries the film, which alternates between subtlety and sensationalism. Cliff Curtis made a compelling Yeshua (as "Jesus" is referred to throughout the movie) and -- believe it or not -- the message of the Gospel came through loud and clear. For those of us who are already followers of Jesus, there is probably little of apologetic value in the film, but that wasn't its purpose. Risen tells the story in a CSI-style that I'm sure will appeal to a secular audience and maybe even get some people to rethink their agnosticism about the resurrection of Christ. If, that is, the movie gets shown. The multiplex where I saw it had only one showing last night (as opposed to several showings for all of their other movies). That's a shame. Risen is less preachy than most of the "Christian" movies I've seen -- and more entertaining. At one point when the disciples had gathered I had flashbacks to my days in the Jesus Movement of the 1960s --  when Jesus was our best friend and there was much laughter and gaiety. This is especially seen in the character of Bartholomew, whose one-liners had the audience in stitches. I loved the movie. It's rated PG-13 for "some violence and disturbing images" but I really wish it had removed the loin cloths from the men being crucified. (A strong argument can be made that crucifixion took place without clothes, thus adding mental torture to the physical.) But at least we can be thankful that Yeshua looks like a 33-year old Middle Eastern male rather than a California Surfer. On the other hand, I wish we had been treated to subtitles, with the Romans speaking Latin with each other, the disciples speaking Aramaic, and Yeshua speaking Greek with Clavius. But you can't have everything.

4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 18

1:58 PM What a blessing this day has been. Just had lunch with one of my best friends and closest brothers. Before that I did my weight training at the Y and then biked over 11 miles on the Danville-Richmond Rail Trail. Here's the trail head.

And here's the quaint terminus that you reach after 5.6 miles.

As you can see, the trail is mostly uphill there and downhill back.

I sprinted most of the way, averaging 9 miles per hour. My thighs are feeling it.

Before I get back to writing, I plan on reading an interesting essay I discovered called "Why Baptist Ecclesiology Is Non-Voluntary."

Make it a great day!


7:24 AM Goals for this weekend:

  • Finish my book.

  • Edit a manuscript for the Areopagus series. This one's on the topic of perseverance.

  • Train, train, train.

  • Clean the house.

I must add a word about politics. If we're going to follow King Jesus, I think we're going to have to be countercultural. This means that we will bear witness to the truth in the face of human arrogance. We must insist on true Christian values by confronting the religious and political pragmatism of the day. Think of the work of the Anabaptists in 16th century Europe. They were prepared to be countercultural and to stand against the trend of their times, and vast numbers of men and women were converted. The same thing can happen today. We as God's people are always called to stand in contradiction to the world and its values. We do this by bearing humble but firm witness to the Gospel, however much others rail against the truth. The only way for the church to stay in the game, let alone to improve, is to be rigorously self-critical, and that includes welcoming dissenting voices, such as Allan Bevere's (see his excellent book The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World).

In particular, the spirit of fear needs to be exorcized from the church once and for all. Let's boldly do battle against the foes of darkness. If the trumpet gives an uncertain call, who will enter the battle? Nobody will, and nobody should.

Off to the gym. :)

P.S. Dallas Seminary has posted a tribute to the life of Charles Ryrie, who died Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 17

6:52 PM A few random reflections (again!):

1) Over at the Logos Bible Software blog, Mark Ward has written a superlative essay called Greek Is Not Math. He writes:

I do believe that the Bible gives definitive answers to human questions, but I don’t believe that Greek is math. Koine Greek, like Hebrew and English and Swahili and Old Norse, had to be used by regular people (Koine means “common”) who didn’t have vast education and couldn’t hold on to all the fine shades of meaning often supposed to be hidden in Greek. I’m not saying there are no subtle nuances in the Greek New Testament, only that the path to finding them doesn’t end with parsing and case uses.

I have had the good fortune to be a Greek teacher for many years and never before has this warning been more timely. As I tell my students: Greek will not tell you what the Bible means but it will limit your options. I passionately reject the notion that Greek is the Open Sesame or the Abracadabra of biblical interpretation. And I say this as a Greek teacher! We who have pledged our lives to follow Jesus in obedience and love are called to do one thing (or maybe it's two things): understand what He is telling us to do in His word, and then do it. As Mark argues, to do this we have to possess a nuanced approach to the Greek language that involves at least a basic knowledge of linguistics. I find his arguments to be very compelling, and I heartily recommend that you read his essay in its entirely.

2) It was a great pleasure and honor to welcome Dr. Peter Gentry to our LXX class today. Dr. Gentry earned his doctorate at the prestigious University of Toronto and currently serves as the Donald L. Williams Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at our sister institution, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. His interest in and enthusiasm for multi-disciplinary study of the LXX has done much to shape modern research on the Septuagint. Today he led the class in a discussion of the apparatus of the Göttingen text of Numbers.

Let me say that I have the utmost respect for scholars who are conversant in as many languages as Dr. Gentry is and even more impressed when they wear their considerable learning lightly. Students, honor God with your minds. This is all a part of living in the way of Jesus. Thank you, Dr. Gentry, for blessing us with a lecture that was both interesting and practical. I sure learned a lot! 

3) This book arrived today.

The author likes to say that on May 25, 2006, he died on Everest. This is the amazing story of how he survived cerebral edema in the Everest "Death Zone" and lived to tell about it. People, I love books like this. My brain is just wired that way, I guess. I had a professor in seminary who extolled the power of story telling, saying that such stories help all of us to deal better with real life. I'm eager to see where this book leads.

4) Jody Neufeld's post over at the Energion Discussion Network called Am I Willing? touches upon a subject I'm constantly thinking about. She writes:

I am to love. I am to give. I am to go. I do not judge. And isn’t that freeing when I think about my life and what God asks of me, calls me to do in this world?

Of course, you and I know that already. The question is: Am I willing to become the hands of Jesus in this world? Yes, everything hangs on this. Rather than feeling righteous by comparing ourselves with others, we have to ask ourselves: Do we do everything in love? Do we place love even (at times) above dogma? Do we truly love Muslims? Do we truly love undocumented workers? "Live in love, as Christ loved you and gave His life for you" (Eph. 5:1-2). This is the only kind of "power" that Jesus used against His "enemies." Jody's peroration says it well:

My friends, my brothers and sisters who are loved by Father God, let us not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9). Let us just keep doing good like Jesus did. Whoever may come into my path today needs to know that Father God loves them. And Father God has given me the opportunity to deliver that message in a real, true, tangible way. Am I willing? Yes, LORD!

Thank you, Jody, for the reminder that when we act like our Father, we reflect the fact that we are His children. If only I could do it more consistently. Argh!

5) And now, for something totally unrelated: Today in the mail I received a pair of padded biking shorts. (No pictures. Aren't you grateful.). I'll just say that as my rides get longer and longer a certain portion of my anatomy tends to get sorer and sorer. That will all change starting tomorrow. (I hope so.) (It better.) (Or else.)

Tuesday, February 16

8:18 AM Hey folks!

I'm off to a good start on a busy week. I hope to finish my final chapter this week when I'm not teaching my three classes. It snowed yesterday but now we're getting rain, and the temps are beginning to warm up for the weekend, when I hope to get some real distance in again on my bike. I don't see a bit of snow on the ground this morning. I'm in the countdown mode for my next trip to Asia, which begins in 4 weeks. I think this is my 14th trip there in the past 5 years. The nice thing about going back to the same city is that you get to see friends you've made over the years. Meanwhile, from around the web, over at CNN Daniel Burke discusses the seven types of evangelicals and how they might affect the presidential race. Which category do you belong in? I also enjoyed Taylor Brown's post about how he celebrated Valentine's Day as a single guy. Finally, let's continue to pray for the Abedinis. It's heartbreaking to read what is going on, but in Jesus there is always hope for a troubled marriage. Yesterday, in my chapter on marriage, I wrote:

I don't suppose that there has ever been a marriage that at some point has not reached a seemingly irredeemable low point. And it's only normal that we should want to be deeply intimate with another human being. The problem is when we allow our relational needs to assume greater priority than simply doing what God wants and tells us to do. I am unconditionally opposed to any line of thinking that undermines the concept of personal responsibility in marriage, but I also oppose the notion that following Christ guarantees a life of satisfying emotions and fulfilling experiences.

Love always seems to be more authentic when it grows out of brokenness. The consequences of our actions are inexorable, but so is God's love. Thankfully, the God who creates and sustains community for broken people like me is still on His throne, and He eagerly listens to the cries of our hearts. Even though we are alone we need not be lonely, and our prayers will bring us one step closer to spiritual maturity.

Press on!


Monday, February 15

5:50 PM Odds and ends ...

1) Elizabeth Elliott is now with the Lord. Our home is filled with her writings. Like Becky, she was a spiritual mentor to many. As she often said, loneliness can be a prison, but we have the keys. And now the Lord has perfected her works. Who, then, will pick up her mantle of mentor and big sister? Many a work of God has never grown to maturity because there was no Barnabas to exhort young believers to cleave to the Lord. My generation had Jim and Elizabeth Elliott. They were indeed precious gifts to the church. And now she has been reunited with her loved ones Jim, Ad, and Lars. "You are loved with an everlasting love," were the words she used to open her daily radio program, "and underneath are the everlasting arms." For Elizabeth, loss functioned as a catalyst for growth. It led her to God, and it can do the same for us.

Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!

2) You never know what a day will bring forth. It might be helpful to unpack the root motivation behind all of the conservative hand wringing going on since the death of Justice Scalia. I suspect the culprit is fear. What will happen to the Constitution? What will happen to the pro-life cause? Will we ever be able to "take back America"? And how dare President Obama think he can appoint a successor! Well, if the current president were a Republican, do you think the Republicans might be pressing him to nominate a replacement wiki wiki? This is the face of politics. Liberals want things to go their way, and conservatives want things to go their way. Obviously. So why are we so taken aback? It's the sitting president's constitutional responsibility to choose a justice and the Senate's constitutional responsibility to confirm a reasonable choice. And if the process turns into shambles? Jesus is ever faithful. Meanwhile, a me-and-mine stance against you-and-yours has no place in the church. Government has and will continue to fail our generation in profound ways. Despair is not called for. A healthy dose of cynicism is.

P.S. My heartfelt condolences to the family of Justice Scalia. I'm very grateful for a man who could articulate his positions so lucidly.

3) I'm eager to see how many of my Greek students will get a free book of mine because they got a perfect 110 on their take-home exam this week. You know, you can lead horses to water, but sometimes horses are ornery and rambunctious and weird. Mine never are, of course :)

4) I've started mountain biking, so I'm glad I stumbled upon this page.

11:22 AM Just finished editing my chapter called "Marriage." Thank you, Autocorrect. Only one chapter left to go.

10:05 AM Did you say "I love you" to your wife yesterday? Great! Now say "Thank you." And then show her the other 364 days of the year that you mean it. That's the only kind of love that means anything. For 37 years Becky and I explored what it meant to be truly one. We each had to come to the realization that the other person was the perfect mate -- "perfect" in the sense that she was the perfect one for me, the one God knew I would need to grow into Him. In marriage we learn to see the other as a precious gift bestowed upon us by God. It should be clear that love and appreciate are for all practical purposes synonymous in a good marriage. When it comes to marriage, therefore, we are faced with a question: Will we accept that stranger we call our spouse as truly the best gift that God could have offered us outside of salvation? If two people can learn to love like that, then their marriage can survive all the ugly vicissitudes that life will throw at them.

Husband, don't wait until your wife is gone before learning how to bask in the light of your spouse, in this glorious, maddening, frustrating gift of God, this unpolished gem you get to live with in the midst of all the mundane stresses of married life. I sometimes struggle with the issue of unfinished business between me and Becky. Statements were left unsaid, issues unresolved. Not many, but there were some. Husband, what can you do to finish what is unfinished? For one day you may say goodbye to your spouse. You will miss it all -- her presence, her voice, her laughter, her body, her stubbornness. You will cry buckets of tears over her. You will have to adjust to life without your loved one. And saying goodbye is just the beginning.

I guess my message to you on this day after Valentine's Day is simply this: Husband, it's all a matter of appreciation and gratitude. God has granted you a precious gift. Accept it, be thankful, and live in the joy of your oneness. You have made the decision to love her, and there can be no reneging. Your marriage is nothing less than the free and spontaneous embracing of a gift, of a destiny, of a responsibility. She is yours, to have and to hold, for life.

8:44 AM As someone who loves linguistics, I've been following the "So does Cruz speak Spanish?" controversy with glee. Hispanics I've talked with seem to agree: Cruz's grammar was okay (just barely), but his American accent was a problem. Pundits argue that he took the bait offered by Rubio and failed the test. What Cruz said "... was the kind of grammatically unorthodox thing you might say when flustered, when non-fluent and or when trying intentionally to sound tough." For me the question arises: How fluent do you have to be to claim that you "speak" a foreign language -- Spanish, por ejemplo? Cruz himself has admitted that his Spanish is "lousy." Thus many doubt that he is really bilingual. And there is no shortage of viable critics. Today the U.S. has more native Spanish speakers than Spain and almost as many as Mexico. Jeb Bush holds his own in Spanish interviews. (I watched several last night.) I wish I was better at Spanish but I'm working on it. (I speak Spanish like Peter Sellers -- the Pink Panther -- speaks English.)

Politics aside, I'm here to defend bilingualism, or at least to encourage it. In fact, one of the first questions I ask my students is, "How many of you can speak a foreign language fluently?" Rarely if ever does a single hand go up. Which means that, as we begin to talk about New Testament translation principles, much of what we discuss will be purely theoretical to these students. They know little of what is actually involved in speaking another language and the decisions you constantly have to make in terms of vocabulary, idioms, accents even. In Germany I speak High German, not a dialect. And in Switzerland, where I lived for a time, I still speak High German because I would make a complete fool of myself if I tried to speak, say, Basel German. Even in German you have to be careful about the linguistic "register" you use, that is, the level of formality. Do I say "Du" or Sie" to a stranger at church? When should I speak "formal" German and when should I switch to "informal" German? It's the difference between walking up to a colleague and saying "Wassup?" instead of "How are you, Sir?" 

Interestingly, in the Greek New Testament we find different linguistic registers even in the same author and in the same writing. The book of Luke is a good example: it begins with one of the most classically "pure" sentences in all of the New Testament (Luke 1:1-4), but then the book switches in 1:5 to some of the most colloquial Koine Greek you will ever read. In fact, we could say that the style of the Septuagint practically permeates the first two chapters of Luke. Luke seems to have mastered the ability to modify his writing register for rhetorical purposes. I think it's helpful for interpreters to pay careful attention to these changes in register from formal to informal. The problem is that most of these nuances are completely lost in English translations of the Bible; they must be seen and heard and felt in Greek.

As I finish my book Running My Race, I'm constantly faced with difficult questions. Who is my audience? How do I want to sound to them -- like a "scholar" or like a "friend"? Should I use the first and second persons or just the third? How about the use of inclusive language? Do I capitalize pronouns like "He" when I'm referring to God? Do I write "For example" or "As an illustration"; "However" or "Conversely"; "So," "Therefore," or "Consequently"? As you can see, questions of register are not so much questions of right or wrong as they are questions of appropriate and inappropriate for that particular social setting. Some Spanish speakers cut Cruz slack. Others were quite adamant: If he's going to use Spanish in a formal debate, he had better use a level of language that's appropriate. Even in my academic writing, issues of tone and formality arise. It's Still Greek to Me even includes zany cartoons and dumb jokes ("Up the Greek without a Paddle," "To Koine Phrase").

So let's be aware of the people we're writing for. (Or in the case of Ted Cruz, the audience we're trying to impress with our Spanish.) What are their expectations? What kind of attitude or personality do I want to portray? What assumptions can I make about my perceived readership? Many times, we writers inadvertently choose an inappropriate tone for our writing. Getting this "right" is no simple matter and requires lots of practice. Understanding the various levels of formability will help us gauge the effectiveness of our communication, be it in an email or a formal term paper.

Sunday, February 14

7:06 PM You know the trouble with runners, right? They're always talking about their latest exploits. I'm no exception, I reckon. However, running is just the back story for an everyday life story -- about the human struggle to make hard choices in the face of the everyday pressures of life. Today I especially wanted to pay tribute to my Valentine and to thank God for the gift of her love. And indeed, He made it one of the best days of my life. After going to church I drove to the event site and picked up my race bib. I sometimes wonder where I get the desire and stamina to run these races. Today it was literally freezing cold -- 22 degrees -- at race time. At the end of the race I felt physically wasted. I also felt relief that I didn't have to take another step. At the same time, I felt a sense of triumph and satisfaction deep inside that comes from doing a hard thing when you don't want to. My lungs felt like they were going to burst, so cold was the dry air I was trying to breathe. I kept telling myself, "Dave, you're going to need to do this in the Alps, so be thankful for this practice." I finished with a really good time of 31:53 and a pace of 10:16 per mile -- not bad for such a difficult course and such cold weather. But today wasn't only about a physical challenge. The challenge to run a 5K race is, for me, a very different kind of challenge. Physical toughness and sheer will power didn't matter all that much. I faced an even greater challenge than running 3.1 miles without stopping. My challenge was myself. I had to make a choice as I ran. Back and forth went the struggle: Keep running, or stop? I was fatigued and dehydrated. My hands were frozen despite the thick gloves I was wearing. But the voice of ambition drowned out the voice emanating from my frozen digits and my aching lungs. "God give me strength." Yes, friend, that's the constant, habitual prayer of my life. I know I need the strength of Someone Else to make it through this life. We all do. The center of my life is not running a race. My perspective is God. Today, sheer will power kept me going. Nothing could stop me. This was race day, and I was in it to the finish line. After all, that's the way I want to live my life. Step by step by step by step. One breath at a time. A weaker force -- overcome by a Greater One. "I can do this." And I did. All glory to God.

Pix (naturally):

1) "Ready!"

2) Glad to see such a large crowd on hand for a really good cause.

3) I was so impressed with Canines for Service that I became a volunteer for them today. Here I am with sweet little Yada.

4) Afterwards I drove to the local Ethiopian restaurant and enjoyed a meal in honor of my bride.

I ordered Becky's favorite dish and savored every bite. By the way, honey, this song's for you.

"And somehow I'll return again to you."

I love you, sweetie.

8:30 AM Last night I watched, for the umpteenth time, Steven Spielberg's classic flick Duel. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

After a few minutes, the dogs lost all interest :)

8:18 AM Been reading up on Canines for Service, one of the sponsors of today's 5K race. I'm impressed. Their dogs learn over 90 commands, including retrieving items and opening doors. If you know someone with a physical disability who desires to be more independent, give them a call. They serve a large variety of individuals with disabling conditions, including:

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Spinal cord injury

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Stroke/traumatic brain injury

  • Severe heart conditions

  • Limb amputation

  • Muscular dystrophy

  • Arthritis

  • Spina bifida

  • Ataxia/poor balance

  • Post traumatic stress disorder

7:50 AM "The edges of God are tragedy. The depths of God are joy, beauty, resurrection, life. Resurrection answers crucifixion; life answers death" (Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki). On this Valentine's Day, let's remember that God covets our love more than anything else. "Our" love, of course, is nothing other than a response to His love for us. Loss and pain may call the existence of God's love into question for a moment. That's why we have to choose to love Him, again and again. Even if, miraculously, we were to regain what we lost, we could not keep it forever. So let's choose to love, over and over again, even though we live under the risk of further loss. Brokenness and love are not opposites. They belong together.


P.S. Happy Valentine's Day, Becky Lynn.

Saturday, February 13

10:58 AM Can't believe I'm gonna see the Fab Four in just two weeks in Dallas. Shakespeare and the Beatles -- two of the greatest examples of British talent that ever graced our planet. This performance is FAB-ulous.

Very few vocalists can do what this guy does with George's voice. This George was actually born in Liverpool. He IS George Harrison! Mazing.

10:50 AM Biked the gorgeous Danville-Richmond Railroad Trail today. Hope to go a lot farther the next time but time was of the essence today.

7:22 AM Nine people coming over today for lunch. 7 kids. I thought about making Sloppy Joes. Then I saw this:

Friday, February 12

8:04 PM Tonight I'm grinning ...

1) My supper:

Chinese stir fry. Yummy. But am I stuck in a rut or what?

2) Tomorrow the real feel will be 16 degrees. Perfect day for mountain biking. I think I'll try the Richmond to Danville Rail Trail near Sutherlin, VA.

3) Just ordered these books from Amazon. All three, including shipping, cost me a whopping 12 bucks.

  • Dead Lucky: Life After Death on Mount Everest

  • The Kid Who Climbed Everest

  • Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy

Life ain't bad.

7:08 PM Just added to my hiking bucket list:

1) The Kuliouou Ridge Trail. Here's a view of Lanikai and the Mokulua Islands, where I surfed as a kid. What a great view.

2) The Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail. It's a nice intermediate level hike.

Again, excellent views of Windward Oahu. On the left is Mount Olomana, which I've climbed three times and plan to climb again. The dates of my trip are April 23-30 (Spring Break).

5:48 PM I see that Nicholas Moore has just reviewed Albert Vanhoye's latest works on the book of Hebrews. The review is outstanding and rightly calls attention to both the considerable strengths of Vanhoye's chiastic approach to Hebrews and its weaknesses (mostly due to Vanhoye's limited interaction with other scholarship on the epistle). My own assessment is similar to the one offered by Moore (see: The Problem of the Literary Structure of Hebrews: An Evaluation and a Proposal). Just think: Professor Vanhoye is in his 90s and he's still making a contribution to biblical studies. Wow.

2:40 PM Talk about using chopsticks!

2:20 PM Hiked 10.3 miles. With a 25-pound backpack. I'll eventually work my way up to 50 pounds. If I'm going to go 13.1 miles at the Greensboro half marathon in May, I can't wait until April to start training. I'm kicking myself for misplacing my gloves yesterday. But if Mary could lose the Savior of the world, I guess it's only natural that I should lose something from time to time. Thankfully Wal-Mart had gloves. I needed them too: we had snow flurries while I was hiking. Here are my totals for the past 30 days:

  • 22 workouts.

  • 105.2 miles.

  • 24.6 hours duration.

  • 2186 calories burnt.

To celebrate, I pigged out on Mexican food afterwards. The nice thing about working out regularly is that you can eat anything you want and not worry about putting on weight.

Well, it's high time I got back to writing. Keep putting Jesus on a pedestal!


8:30 AM Random reflections ....

1) Hoping to get in 10 miles today. It's still 22 degrees.

2) Sunday is the 36th Annual Run for the Roses 5K in Raleigh. The goal is to support "Canines for Service," which trains service dogs for those with limited mobility, and "Team Red, While and Blue NC," which seeks to connect veterans to their communities through physical and social activities. Good causes! Race starts at 2:00 pm. Look for the old guy near the back of the pack wearing his new red ski hat. 

3) Today I'm reading a dissertation chapter then working on my chapter called "Missions" for my book Running My Race. If I don't finish the book this month I might become unglued and threaten to get a tattoo. (Just joking.) (No I'm not.)

4) Saw The Finest Hours last night. I love movies about rescues -- think Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips, San Andreas, The Monuments Men, and Schindler's List. The Finest Hours is a crowd pleaser that fills the "rescue" bill to a tee and does so with just enough historical accuracy to make it seem real. (Actually, Bernice Webber and his girlfriend were already married at the time of the disaster and she was home sick and never left the house. Then, too, can't something be done about those phony-baloney New English accents?) The setting is 1952 -- the year I was born. Four coastguardsmen go out into a massive winter storm to rescue some guys who are trapped in an oil tanker that's been torn in two. Chris Pine (as Bernie Webber) is superb, as is the entire cast. As I said, it's a riveting story based on real events. Even the special effects seemed real. You feel like you're there. I felt cold and wet during the entire two hours. The only negative involved the wave scenes, which were clearly impressive but way overdone. (I'm a stickler when it comes to surf.) This is the stuff of good story-telling, much like Everest: courage, heroism, sacrifice, danger. I'm a total sucker for movies that extol bravery in the face of adversity.

Bottom line: The movie is definitely worth a watch. Even the sound track was tops. I left the theater thinking, "Wow, that was one amazing feat!" Even the clichés were good. It's a mind-boggling rescue of some very frightened men by some very brave men. Happy I saw this film. Would see it again.

Dave Black, movie critic, à votre service.

Thursday, February 11

2:42 PM Odds and sods ...

1) Graham demonstrating the only proper way to dispose of spaghetti.

2) Gotta love those gas prices.

3) Completed 5.34 miles today at the Dan River Trail, walking the first half and then jogging the second. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous day. 23 degrees and cold. Nothing like worshipping God in the sanctuary made without human hands.


Wednesday, February 10

5:38 PM This and that ....

1) These came today.

Added to my bucket list are:

  • North Carolina: Stone Mountain, Blowing Rock, and Chimney Rock.

  • Zion: East Rim, The Watchman, Emerald Pools, and (especially) Angels Landing. The exposure of the latter trail will be good training for the Matterhorn.

  • Bryce: Rim Trail, Peekaboo Loop, Mossy Cave, and the Navajo Loop.

2) Lord willing, I'll be heading out to Dallas in two weeks to spend five days with Becky's mom and dad. I always enjoy their company. While there I'll be attending a Fab Four concert. These guys are, like, unbelievably amazing. See for yourself.

On a scale of 1-10, they rank at least an 11. Who needs Ke$ha when you can have the Beatles?

3) Here's my Wednesday Greek class prepping for their take-home exam over the indicative mood.

Man, I'm so proud of them. I do believe they are pretty excited, though some I'm sure are praying for the Rapture.

4) I've been studying Psalm 90. I may be wrong, but I believe this is the only Psalm written by Moses. My favorite verse is verse 12: "Teach us to number our days, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Moses understood old age. He began serving God at the age of 80, and ministered for 40 years. (Oddly enough, I've been teaching for 40 years.) When he died at the age of 120, "his eyes were not weak nor was his strength gone" (Deut. 34:7). During those 40 years of ministry, Moses experienced pain and suffering. Folks, we are 100 percent certain to suffer in this life, and Christ is 100 percent certain to meet us in our trouble. Numbering our days means seeing our lives for what they are: brief opportunities to live under the reign and mercy of God. The New Living Translation renders verse 12 as follows: "Teach us to realize the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom." I suggest this hits the nail on the head.

Moses says we are to number our days. Becky lived from May 12, 1953 to November 2, 2013. That's exactly 22,089 days. As of today, I have lived on this earth 23,256 days. In view of eternity, that doesn't seem like a very long time. Our 37 years of marriage went by in a flash. I still miss her. Lots. Yet I'm finding new strength and joy each day that I am alive. I love what I do. I love teaching and writing and traveling and sports. I love being around my kids and my grandkids. I love trying out new things. I love being with good friends. I want to spend my last years in ways that count. Psalm 90 reminds me that:

  • We are all mortal.

  • Life is very brief.

  • We neither live to ourselves nor die to ourselves.

  • What matters is not growing older but growing wiser.

We can NEVER give up. The outer man may be wasting away, but the inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). Robert Murray McCheyne once said, "For every one look at your sins, take ten looks at Christ." We all tend to reverse that ten-to-one ratio. We brood over our sins and forget the Lord. I want to learn the lesson of the 10:1 rule. I want to so discipline myself that every sentence I utter about the pain of Becky's loss is matched by ten sentences talking about the goodness and mercy of God. I am not promised a pain-free life but I am promised the tools to survive and even thrive: God and others. Praise His name.

5) I am cooking myself a rib eye steak for supper tonight. There's a 100 percent chance it will be restaurant quality. Becky was a good teacher.



Tuesday, February 9

7:24 AM You know you're getting old when you say "Bo Reicke" and people go, "Who?" Bo Reicke was my Doctor Father in Basel from 1980-1983. (In case you can't remember back that far, that was about when the ark landed on Ararat.)

I remember my first meeting with Prof. Reicke in the university library in Basel. The prodigal son couldn't have had a warmer welcome. I can still recall how he shook my hand and said how glad he was that I had come to Basel. I knew immediately that I was glad too. Doctoral studies can be quite an experience. That experience can be bad or good – or even great. Mine certainly was the latter. Of course, that was all the Lord's doing. He knew I would benefit from studying under Bo Reicke. A kinder scholar never graced any university campus. No one could know the man without having his or her life touched permanently. I will be forever grateful to God for that wonderful experience.

When you get to be my age, you often enjoy bouts of nostalgia. I heartily approve of it. As a history addict, I would be shocked if I didn't find myself rehearsing my own biography from time to time. For one, it makes you grateful. For another, it reminds you that no matter how old you get, you will always feel young. I can't be 63! But the mirror doesn't lie. However, there's good news too. By 63 you are free to be you. You no longer take the safest path through life. What others think of you doesn't matter. And, again, you are ALWAYS young. In your mind's eye, you're still the eager-beaver doctoral student on the cusp of writing the best thing since the Book of Revelation.

No, aging isn't easy, my Dearies. But if you trust Jesus, believe me: it's not a bad life at all.

Monday, February 8

3:52 PM I am a hero. I am washing clothes, putting up the dinner dishes, and disinfecting my bathroom. Well done, cleaning warrior. In the meantime, I've been doing a little study of compound words in New Testament Greek for a talk I'm giving in Dallas in April. I'm one step away from an emotional outburst. You see, we're often told that the New Testament (especially the apostle Paul) teaches that husbands are to love their wives and wives are to submit themselves to their husbands. That's quite a gross over-generalization if you ask me. And the proof is nothing other than a compound adjective in Titus 2:4. Here Paul instructs the wives to love their husbands in no uncertain terms (lit., be "husband-lovers," philandrous). The Greek reads:

... φιλάνδρους εἶναι ....

Please note: We get the English word "philanderer" from the Greek term Paul uses here -- a fact that is utterly irrelevant but preaches well. Now, I will admit that the predominance of Paul's commands are for the husband (and not the wife) to love. In fact, in Ephesians 5, not once, not twice, but three times Paul commands husbands to love their wives (verses 25, 28, and 33). In all likelihood, we husbands need more encouragement than wives because we tend to be prone to offer cheap gestures as substitutes for selfless love. But both spouses are to love each other. That's because people are the same everywhere you go: we need to be loved, to be known, to be appreciated, to belong. Love is a basic human need. According to Jesus, love is the way of the Christian, and no less is expected of a Christian couple. We are not promised an easy marriage in the Bible, but we are given a potent tool to overcome every obstacle: love.

So husband: love your wife.

And wife: love your husband.

This will take courage, but what's the alternative? 

12:32 PM Just got this email about my 13.1-mile half marathon in May:

In case you haven't heard, this year's race will feature a brand new course with a 40% decrease in elevation!

Did I read that correctly? THANK YOU, RACE ORGANIZERS!

12:25 PM At the age of 63, this is me, staring at the object of my quest.

I find myself in a teachable period of life. Baby Boomers reach their peak around 60 and start their Second Adulthood. It's a time of new discoveries, not least about one's self. So what is my quest? What am I seeking in life? Or am I better off leaving the most profound questions in life unanswered?

I hope to provide some answers in my book Running My Race. For now, let me just say: successful aging in one's later years is a choice. You will have to rewrite the script completely. Gone is a careless attitude toward exercise. Gone is the notion that our later years are to be lived "comfortably." We older folk need to be engaged, active, and passionate. We need to get outdoors and we need to get out of ourselves and take part in spirit-boosting social activities. We need to keep mentally stimulated. Intense involvement in work that is enjoyable pays rich dividends. Reading books about men and women who conquered great odds fires the imagination and reminds us to listen to our own spirits. The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes asked, "I know that many people feel that old age is a time to take it easy, but I compare my life now to being the last runner in a relay race. Would you have me slow down as I near the finish line?"

Every day I'm making new discoveries. There's no part of me that can't be stimulated by constant reading. The pain of loss has moved me to seek a Higher Power in life. The same God who sends us storms also sends us periods of solace. It is never too late even to find love again. My new loves are the result of new ambitions and goals. As long as I am able, I'm going to be active. God alone knows how long that will be. But the best way I can love my children and grandchildren is by taking the trouble to stay healthy and independent as long as I possibly can. I have only one life to live. It is a wild and precious thing. The quest will be imperfect for sure, but I dream of being a better man next year than I am this year. And did I mention Wanderlust? I've got it in spades. Next month I leave for Asia. Then it's back to Hawaii. Then it's hiking the Grand Canyon and the Alps. Did I mention Toronto? I'm ready to lay down the junk in my life and begin to call forth the best in others -- and myself. Life is incredibly powerful. As Christians we get to point each other to God. In Him no one is worthless. I'll never stop beating the drum for the underdog and serving others. This is what we were made for. This is how we can live well. And Jesus is better than anything else. So let's raise Him high.

11:50 AM Today it takes longer to grow old and even longer to grow up.

8:58 AM Well, the day we've all been waiting for is here. No, not Super Bowl Monday. Not National Kite Flying Day. Not National Frozen Yogurt Day. It's International Septuagint Day.  

In appreciation of this most auspicious occasion, why not take a moment and read a favorite Old Testament passage of yours in the LXX? PDFs of the New International Translation of the LXX are here. I think I'm going to read "Jesus."

8:40 AM The official race stats from Saturday's 5K are now in:

  • Fastest time: 19.52

  • Slowest time: 46.01

  • My time: 31.40

There were 115 officially-timed racers. 67 runners were faster than me and 46 were slower. Doesn't seem like much, but I'm pleased as punch.

7:54 AM One of my favorite publishers is giving his Discussion Network a new look. Bravo, Henry! (I borrowed that exclamation point from tomorrow's stash.) I have no idea why other publishers aren't quite so, say, intentional about publishing their goals. Henry loves to mix it up. Few issues are actually worth arguing about. But some are. Some issues are very big deals. And at Energion you're likely to get more than one perspective on any biting issue of the day.

Publishers and authors ought to have good relationships with each other. After all, we are individuals who are walking our spiritual road together. God isn't a wedge between Methodists (like Henry) and Baptists (like me). In your church, encourage people to grow together, serve together, seek together, and -- here's a big one -- learn together. Good books will help. Good books are magic. If you have no idea where to start, check out Energion. "I have all the answers and so can you" is definitely not their motto. Believe it or not, as authors we all have a long ways to go. We just don't want to turn out looking like complete fools. Which is another reason I love good publishers. They work hard at improving my writing. Even if you didn't grow up in the Christian subculture like I did, you probably realize that we have our good share of inch-deep superstars. I meet students all the time who bend the knee at the altar of their (current) favorite author. People crave to be told what to think. I think there's a better way. So, apparently, does Henry.

  • Think for yourself.

  • No fussing or fluffing.

  • Be truthful.

  • Instead of waiting to be spoon fed on Sunday, dig deep in the Bible yourself and you'll end up a much richer soul.

I highly recommend Energion. But nothing beats an hour in the Word itself.  

7:25 AM Woohoo! Saturday's 5K raised $3,000 for cancer research at UNC! Last year's total was $2,200! A big thank you to those of you who donated to the cause! (I have now used up my quota of exclamation points for the day.)

7:14 AM So there was a game yesterday? Must have missed it. Listen, I really am glad the old man is going to Disneyland.

Yeah, I know I'm supposed to root for the Panthers, teaching in Wake Forest and all. Okay, fine. Whatever, man.

Sunday, February 7

5:25 PM Biked 10.77 miles today. The High Bridge Trail State Park in Farmville is a flat and easy mountain bike trail. I loved every second of my ride. I feel like I'm on happy pills. Life is certifiably insane.

The bridge itself offers an amazing view of the surrounding countryside and is (true to its name) very high. Be sure to brush up on your Civil War history before you go. Next time I want to jog it. Either way, after your ride be sure to chow down on some good Mexican cuisine in town. You have two restaurants to choose from.

P.S. Thank you, GoPro, for helping me bike my way through my teen years again as a 63-year old grandfather.


6:48 AM On days like yesterday, I'm reminded why I enjoy the endurance challenge that a 5K represents. You have to overcome not just your physical fatigue and suffering but also your natural resistance to them. In other words, you have to be a good sufferer. Your body wants to quit, even though your mind keeps telling it not to. Your mind and not your body must win the struggle. During a 5K race, it's a constant struggle, especially for those of us for whom running doesn't come naturally. The minute your inner voice says, "I can't do this any longer," the party's over.

I suppose this summer in the Alps will be more of the same. Mountain climbing offers challenges of its own -- high altitude sickness, poor climbing conditions, avalanche, crevasses, high winds, and other obstacles. My mental toughness will be challenged to the max.  If I lose mental focus and motivation, I might as well pack my bags and go home.

I mentioned motivation. To me, that's a huge consideration. The other day I was invited to participate with someone in a 5K race. The first thing I wanted to know was, "What's the cause?" You see, I love being an amateur runner and climber. The origin of the word "amateur" is Latin: to love. Be definition, we run and climb just for the love of the sport. Needless to say, participation in any strenuous physical activity teaches us plenty about how to live our lives on a daily basis. The story is told of three college students who went climbing one weekend. As they approach the summit one of the climbers slipped and tumbled about 60 feet, landing on a small ledge. "You okay, Justin?" "Yeah. I'm alive but I think I've broken both of my arms." "Hold on, man. We'll toss you a rope and pull you up." They lowered one end of the rope and started tugging and grunting together. Suddenly they remembered that Justin said he had broken both of his arms. "Justin!" they called. "If you broke both of your arms, how in the world are you holding on?"

"With my TEEEEEEEETH" came the reply. That's exactly how I felt yesterday.

This week, this month, this year, I've set before myself several goals -- physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. We read that our Lord "set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). Paul the apostle did the exact same thing. He left some things behind and he was forgetting them. This is the only right thing to do with our past. Learn the lessons God wanted us to learn, then forget it and move on. Paul was done looking back. He was too busy looking forward "to those things that are before" (Phil. 3:13). Paul would have made a great 5K runner, I think. "This one thing I do" was his philosophy.

What does your week look like, friend? Your month? Your year? Make up your mind about "this one thing I do." Set your face like flint and bring all things into their proper relation to that supreme goal. To my pastor friends: You are so special to me. I respect you immensely. But you take on responsibilities that are far beyond your capacity. 90 percent of you think you are inadequate at managing the demands of your job, and 50 percent of you would abandon the pastorate if you had another job option (see Bo Lane, "Why Do So Many Pastors Leave the Ministry?", Jan. 27, 2014). That's not good. We needn't mistake healthy commitment with unhealthy ambition. You can have the first without the second. Put yourself on the bench for a while if you need to. (Our farm makes for a wonderful spiritual retreat.) Share leadership if you can. A church where one man does all the work is surely not the church Jesus intended. Your attend-every-meeting schedule sets you up for failure. Delegate -- and then instruct your people that the Bible never measures commitment merely by attendance. I am also suggesting this, pastors: Get out and exercise. If your church has a fitness center, use it. (Yes, set the example for others.) Exercise provides wonderful relief from the daily stresses of life. And church people: free up your pastors to be real people with real problems with real families and real weaknesses. When was the last time you offered them a sabbatical?

When a man like the apostle Paul comes along he is very disturbing to us. His single-minded devotion to the work God called him to do -- and not the work God called others to do, including local church elders -- shows up our busyness and poor time management skills. He was a doer and not a dabbler. He was not a double-minded man. He had learned how to say no. He did one thing. All of him was going in one direction. He knew what the goal was.

Do we?

Saturday, February 6

3:42 PM Up early this morning. I had to make a long drive to Chapel Hill. I wasn't surprised at this morning's sunrise. It was God's way of saying, "Hey, Dave, I'm with you, man. Give it all you got!"

Carolina Fever is UNC's largest student organization and here I am with its president who organized today's benefit for cancer research and treatment. Go Carolina Blue!

A total of 142 registrants ran their hearts out for a great cause.

I had completed this same course last year and I knew it was a killer. I can guarantee you that it was designed by either Attila the Hun or Count Dracula. You go up and down and up and down ad infinitum.

I knew I could walk away from today's race with my head held high if I came in under 33 minutes -- that is, with an average of 11 minutes per mile. Praise God, I did it! So grab my hand, dear reader, and I'll show you how amazing today's event was and how amazingly good our God us. I hope this vid will inspire you to run your race well, to live wide, and to practice the wholehearted life you were created for.



Friday, February 5

6:48 PM Tonight I was suffering from EUS (Exercise Urge Syndrome), so off I went and before I knew it -- 5 miles!

When I turned back toward the farm, this is the view that met my eyes:

5 by 5 baby! All systems go! I'm locked and loaded, filled to the brim, good to go, and ready to scoot and boot and rock and roll!  

12:16 PM Today was my final practice for tomorrow's 5K race. If you don't like my videos, blame GoPro. They make doing this way too much fun.

7:18 AM This is the story of Beck Weathers, who lost two hands to his climbing passion (and whose adventure is recounted in the movie Everest).

I am proud of him. I just finished reading his book Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest. I am inspired by people doing what they do best. But for Beck, coming "home" from Everest meant more than leaving mountaineering behind. It was a pilgrimage from being a self-centered fool to a solid husband. Thankfully, his marriage was restored -- but it was a very close call. I don't like it when people neglect their families for the sake of their "passions." It never occurred to Beck that he had any obligation to put his wife's needs above his own. Husbands, I am watching you. You are making the world a better, kinder, more beautiful place for your wife. Or you are making it hell on earth. How many trot out that tired cliché -- "I'm only doing what I love!" Sure you are. I just wish the bull's-eye was different. Look at your spouse. She is the wife you've been given. This isn't a small matter. This is not make-believe marriage. Let her be proud of you. And if you've made a mistake, the timing is always perfect to say you're sorry. And then, like Peach Weathers, maybe your wife will give you a year to prove to her that you've really changed. Yes, some of us have passions to climb mountains. I know. Fine. Listen, just don't let it destroy your relationships. Your self worth doesn't depend on your achievements. We reclaim our merit when we go through with our promises. Go ahead. You can do the hard thing. It's never too late to heal your marriage. Hopefully it won't cost you $65,000 and two lost limbs in the progress.

Beck ends the video with these words:

Because of Everest I've had to change my priorities and it's worked.

So many of our marriages crash and burn because of misplaced priorities. Even Christian ones. Jesus is the only thing that will endure. When your marriage fails, Jesus delivers. He trumps even your best-made plans and stupidest mistakes.

Thursday, February 4

2:06 PM Lifted. Did 4.2 miles. Went to the bank. Had lunch with the Blacks. Peyton is groooooowing!

So is Bradford. (Note his mastery of the chopstick.)

The little men's club.

Love you, boys. You are a delight.

8:38 AM A few "Thank Yous" before heading to the gym.

1) Thank you, Curt, for reminding us about the dangers of using study Bibles.

(Yes, I'm a huge fan of study Bibles and even contributed to the one pictured above, but the dangers of misusing them are real, folks.)

2) Thank you, Steve, for the great job you do in keeping my patriotism in check. Loved this quote:

Politics works on another plane altogether. Its notions of “to the victor goes the spoils,” divide and conquer, us versus them, winners and losers, has no place in God’s vision for the world. Therefore, I engage in political conversations merely as a good citizen. I have no illusions that anything resembling the Kingdom of God will emerge from political activity. With the church’s consumerist mentality and unwholesome entrance into the political sphere, I have my doubts that it can do any better than Rome.

3) Thank you, Brian, for feeding my split personality by inspiring me to keep up with studies on the book of Hebrews after losing all interest in the letter several months ago.

4) Thank you to the organizers of World Cancer Day for reminding us that 8 million people die every year from cancer, half of whom are between the ages of 30 and 70. May the world see in us Christians a thankful, caring family who loves their God, adores their King, and can't do enough to help others in need.

5) Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for writing, "When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place." Dear Dave. Today you can either reflect on your past misfortunes or your present blessings. Your choice, buddy.



Wednesday, February 3

6:58 PM Thank you, Jamie Dew, for this stimulating interview with Derek Hicks of Duke Divinity School about the racial divisions in our society and churches. And thank you, Derek, for being gentle with your truth-telling. 


6:40 PM Thank you, editors of the new online journal Inservitus, for publishing a superb first edition.

And kudos to my assistant Noah Kelley for his outstanding essay on Philippians. In multos annos!

6:24 PM Physically speaking, the past two days have been tough for me. Seems every time it rains I come down with one of my "patented" sinus headaches. Still, I'm eager to run in this Saturday's "Fight Cancer" 5K at UNC in Chapel Hill. I've come to the place in my life where I need to find my reason for being in something more than my career. Becky's death threw me into a confusing identity crisis, and although the pain has subsided it has not gone away. More than anything, I've needed to come to grips with my need to know God better. In the past 6 years God has been immeasurably good to me, and a huge part of His goodness came via the staff at the UNC Cancer Hospital. Through our 4-year cancer journey together, Becky and I learned to go the second mile, endure suffering, and live not for this life but for the next one, all the while clinging to the promises of God when we didn't feel His goodness. We came to realize that we exist for Him, not the other way around. Cancer mattered, but God mattered more. Resting in the undeserved grace of God, we came to the realization that there is so much more to life than merely living. We both knew we could not survive our ordeal unless we found in God our all in all. Nothing mattered more to us than pleasing Him. And then, after 4 years of fighting the good fight, when God finally decided to take Becky home, I became passionately determined to do whatever it takes to make my life count for God in this maddeningly uncertain world. The question became: How can I best deploy my resources (time, energy, wealth, vacations) not to gain the approval of others but to bless them? I wanted people to see in me a person who endured loneliness and heartbreak with uncomplaining sadness. As the old foundations crumbled, I was asked to ascend to greater heights. There is more to life than relief from pain, I kept telling myself. God is good regardless of what happens in our lives. Indeed, life is simply about reflecting that confidence in God in all our relationships and activities.

Which brings me to this Saturday's race. As I struggle to find God in the midst of ongoing pain, He replies with an invitation to live as He lived, to give and not simply receive. Up until November 2, 2013, I had no inkling of what widowers went through. Imagine a man as he sits alone at the breakfast table. He hurts, but he is moving forward in the midst of his unresolved problems. He is finding God in his pain and, by the miracle of grace, is a person who is committed to a far higher purpose than relieving loneliness. God alone now satisfies him, and that realization releases his passion to bless, connect, and love. He rests in the confidence that God is still very much at work in his life, and he knows no greater joy than the joy of bringing healing to others. No, my participation in Saturday's race will not provide a cure for cancer. But to the degree that I can do something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, I am content. A quiet sense of achievement is replacing the despair and loneliness. The message from God seems clear. "Do whatever I am leading you to do, Dave. You are free from the need to 'have it all together.' You have received mercy. Now go and dispense it."

If you'd like to help, please go here and make a donation. If you like, you can stipulate that you are making your contribution in the memory of Becky Black, and your contribution (and Becky's name) will appear on a scrolling list.  As you "run the race with me" (so to speak), I fervently hope that a passion to know God better will be stirred within you, perhaps a deeper passion than you have ever known before.



Tuesday, February 2

7:12 AM Speaking of goals ... here's the Breithorn.

Only 161 days to go until I attempt to summit it. 13,661 foot elevation. Mount Hood is only 11,250. A bit intimidating to say the least. All the more reason to train now. "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." Ernest Hemingway.

6:30 AM This morning I read a post called 5 Books You Should Read This Election Year. Were I to draw up my own list, it would look a bit different. These books will make you laugh as much as they will make you cry. They will stir your soul and leave you feeling like their authors were patting you on the back, encouraging you to leave status quo thinking about politics behind and step into all that God has for you in the upside-down kingdom He is establishing. Believe me, each book is a breath of fresh air.

1) Jacque Ellul, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man.

2) Jacque Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity.

3) Jacque Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom.

4) Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy: Jesus' Primacy over the Powers.

5) John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus.

Grab these books, dear reader, and you'll discover how amazing the kingdom is and how shockingly gracious God is. (Oh! I discussed all of this in a little book I published a few years ago called Christian Archy.)

Reading books in an election year. This is going to be so fun!

6:12 AM Do atonement theories continue to speak to the human condition? Allan Bevere say yes. Allan nails it. Thank you sir!

6:05 AM Hola amigos! Bill Gates once said that people tend to set their sights too low when they plan for the future yet set their sights too high when they plan for the short term. When you teach a biblical language, you have to plan for both. Our ultimate goal after one year of Greek instruction is a very simple one: to be able to read our Greek New Testaments with the use of a lexicon. Our shorter-term goal has been to complete our study of the indicative mood, which we will do today and tomorrow in my Greek 2 classes. A milestone has been reached! Let's party! (Say hello to Krispy Kreme donuts.)

Numa Numa

A new class logo is also in order, don't you think? How about this one:

If you're a State fan, we also offer this option:

I can have it printed on mugs and then we'll be true Baptists. Seriously, milestones in our lives are important. They allow us to celebrate (ever so briefly), enjoy the day, take a deep breath, and regroup. Greek students, think of it like this: You've just summited Kilimanjaro. Next stop: Everest. Man, what a party that will be. (We'll have to move up to Dunkin' Donuts.)

By the way, Oprah Winfrey, that great American theologian, once said: "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate." Guys and gals in Greek class, today is a day to celebrate. It represents a major achievement in your life, and you'll be on WRAL if nothing else. Your teacher says "Thank you!" and "Great Job!" Now let's set our brains on our milestone-based path toward complete success. With God, nothing is impossible.

Monday, February 1

2:24 PM Odds and ends on a gorgeous February day:

1) Just buried one of our farm animals. God attended the funeral.

2) Had a great workout at the Y this morning. Here are two of my exercise buddies.

On the left is Ibrahim who manages the local Italian restaurant (and is teaching me Arabic), while on the right is Ken who pastors a local church. They keep me humble.

3) As promised, I did my 8 miles today. This gives me such comfort. To hike the Alps you need strong legs. Stamina matters more than speed. As Walter Rossini, my guide, often tells his clients: "Langsam. Laaaaangsam. Kleine Tritte machen. Kleine Tritte machen." Jawohl, Herr Bergführer!

4) This Saturday's 5K race will be in Chapel Hill at 8:00 am. The theme is Fight Cancer. I'm all for that!

5) Had my teeth cleaned in South Boston today. I had to severely rebuke both my dental hygienist and my dentist. Both, it seems, have been inexcusably derelict in their education. Neither has seen the movie The Marathon Man!

6) Finally, I'm throwing a party. And you're invited. The cause is Becky's 63rd birthday on May 12, 2016. To commemorate this auspicious occasion I've signed up for my very first half marathon on May 15 in Greensboro, NC.

You can help me celebrate by sponsoring cancer research at the UNC Women's Cancer Hospital. I'm asking you to give 1 dollar per mile (13.1 miles total) and then, if I'm able to finish the race under my target time of three and a half hours, you would agree to double your donation. More details to come. For now, just make a note of that date. I can't think of a better way to remember Becky!

7:46 AM The semester is off to a great start and I'm snuggled in my library reading John 1:1-2 in Hebrew. Some people have called this the most important verse on the Deity of Christ ever written. But what caught my attention was the use of the Hebrew word etzel in verse 2: "He was in the beginning with God."

We might say this is a bit of an unusual Hebrew word for "with." The same is true for the Greek pros (instead of sun or meta or para) and the Latin apud (instead of the much more common cum). Indeed, Luther used bei instead of the normal mit. As a writer, I am sensitive to how people use words. In Greek, the word pros used here by John implies active interchange or interface. Hence Williams' rendering, "face to face." The word pros seems to imply an intimacy with God. According to John 1:1-2, Jesus wasn't merely in the presence of the Father; He was enjoying intimacy with Him. It helps me greatly to know that the Persons of the Godhead enjoy intimacy with each other. Sometimes I get tired of all the shallow relationships I have. With God, the size of your ministry isn't important. It's more about depth. The idea of being vulnerable with people scares me. I feel insecure and unqualified. Maybe God made a mistake when he took an introvert like me and made him a teacher. If you choose to follow the Lord with all your heart (and make no mistake about it, that's what He requires of us), you will probably worry about the limitations you have. Just remember: None of us will ever measure up to what we think God requires of us. The only thing God doesn't need are any more superstars. Are you willing to go wherever the Lord wants you to go, do whatever He wants you to do, and speak to whomever He brings your way -- even if it's that self-centered student who thinks the whole world revolves around them? Jesus was so intimate with God that He could call Him "Abba." He seemed to be very informal in the way He prayed. "Daddy ..." (Mark 14:36). You know, such familiarly is not reserved for Jesus or for a few other spiritual alpha males and wonder women. Today, I too can enjoy an intimacy with the Father. I too have direct access to Him, regardless of how I feel about my inadequacies. Friends, God longs to hear our voice, to have fellowship with us, and not only when we're in trouble. He has not left us to stumble our way through darkness. Rather, He helps us in our daily walk. All we have to do is take His outstretched hand.

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