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November 2015 Blog Archives

Monday, November 30

7:48 PM As one would expect from a Greek scholar, I read only my Greek New Testament at night. Okay, maybe I will read someone else's books from time to time. Okay, it's all a big fib. I love reading books of any flavor, including good commentaries on the Greek. Tonight I opted for Walter Hanson's exceptional commentary on Philippians in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series.

Series editor Don Carson writes that "... the letter to the Philippians needs a commentator with a sure grasp and a warm heart...." Well, he found such a man in Walter Hanson. None of us has "all knowledge," and so we need each other desperately. Those who have never studied Philippians, listen up. To be stripped of our egotistical identities before Jesus is nothing shameful. And the result is often unbelievable unity in the church. Let's not forget that a civil war often leaves more casualties than an invasion. If we in the body of Christ are really gonna be one, let's be each other's greatest fans and supporters. (Did I mention that this takes humility?) Oh, and here's Dayda.

I wonder what thought is running through her mind right now. "Dad's really focused tonight. Must be that Greek particle in Phil. 1:28." Really? How about -- "If only Dad would get off this sofa and give me another cookie!" Sorry, Charlie, but you've had enough food for one day and, besides, we will tolerate no chubby doggies in this household. So there! (Fist bump.)

Night night to all,


12:12 PM Brock Osweiler. Perfection in motion.

I love watching people who excel at their trade.

11:44 AM Here's a great story about tipping. Sweetastik! I never leave less than a $10.00 tip regardless of what my bill is. Never. I don't eat out a lot, but when I do I try to do right by my servers, many of whom I suspect are single moms who are working their tails off for mere peanuts.

Just my opinion ... but if you can't afford to tip generously, you can't afford to eat out.

11:30 AM Sincere thanks are due to the wonderful people who run the local YMCA in town. It's raining outside but I can still get my cardio in on one of their 10 tread mills. Here's my personal favorite. I call him "Trecho." We're pretty good buds. Whew, did I work up a sweat.

Today's workout in stats:

Distance: 3.1 miles (5K)

Heart Rate: 128 average

Incline: 2.0

Speed: 4.4 mph average

Earlier I spent 20 minutes lifting in the weight room. Very intensive. Right now I'm enjoying a hearty lunch.

Then it's time to type up the Greek 2 syllabus for next semester and begin working on my final exam for Greek 1. After all, everyone knows that a good exam is not an accident!

8:26 AM My daughter just gave me this book about Lopez Lomong, whose journey from Sudanese civil war casualty to U.S. flag-bearer at the 2008 Olympic Games is a miracle of God's amazing grace.

I've been privileged to minister among the persecuted church in several places. Jesus put it in a nutshell when He said to His disciples, "I'm sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves." Imagine that. Here we have the Good Shepherd, the very Lover of our souls, deliberately sending His sheep out into the midst of ravenous wolves. Why would He do such a thing? Because that's where He wants them to be! Doesn't He realize they are in danger? Of course He does. Where, then, is safety? Ask those who are being persecuted today. It is only in the realization that the inward strength the Good Shepherd gives is sufficient to overcome the external threat of the wolves. Jesus Himself was sent as a Lamb among wolves, yet He was triumphant in the end. In a day when we in America are told to separate ourselves from a certain group of religious people, Jesus expects us to mix with the world, eat with unbelievers, befriend them if possible, enter their homes and invite them into ours. What a crazy notion of "separation" the church has today! Let me ask you plainly: Are you willing to risk physical danger for the sake of the Gospel? Isn't it obvious that a separation that seeks to remove all danger also removes the incentive to evangelism? Let's hear the words of our Lord again: "Just as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you" -- to reach the lost in My way, by associating with sinners, by becoming their friends, their companions, and by overcoming with My weapons: faith, righteousness, perseverance, and loving not your lives even unto death. If this is true, then we parents and Bible teachers and church leaders are at fault for letting our young people grow up without teaching them how to fight the good fight of faith. I remember a 14-year old coming with Becky and me one year to a very dangerous place in Ethiopia. Where is such courage found? The words of Thoreau come to mind: "If I do not seem to keep in step with others, it is because I am listening to another drumbeat." That's Jesus' message for all the mollycoddles in the church today. We must keep in step with His drumbeat at any cost. Separation unto God does not mean separation from others. We glory only in the cross of Christ. That is the place of danger, of course. But it is the place our Lord wants us to be.

Sunday, November 29

6:10 PM In case you didn't know, I'm heading to the great state of Texas later this week to speak in chapel on Friday morning at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics near Dallas. Because I'll be in the 'hood, I just signed up for my next 5K, and it's for a great cause too:

The venue is Burnett Park in Fort Worth. The race starts at 5:00 pm this coming Saturday. All brave and hearty Texans are welcome to join me. Here are the details. The goal is to raise $155,000 for the Arthritis Foundation of North Texas. Becky suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for practically her whole adult life. She was so brave about it, though, that nobody noticed. But it was something she had to cope with on a daily basis. In fact, she was hospitalized for it when we lived in Switzerland -- for an entire month. The amount of grace illness requires is sometimes unfathomable. So let's all try and help those who need help this Christmas season. Even if you don't participate in the race, you can still make a contribution. :-)

5:22 PM Today I've been working on the new syllabus for my Greek 2 classes this spring semester. I've done my best to figure out what needs to be covered, now that so many of our students fail to go on to Greek 3. I think one of the best moves I can make is to introduce the basic principles of exegesis in Greek 2 and then walk everyone through the interpretation and application of one entire New Testament writing. Our textbook already covers major portions of 1 John but I will also be taking the class through the book of Philippians in its entirety. Of course, the themes of both of these books are very similar. 1 John teaches two things:

1) True saving faith is manifested in those who practice the truth (and not just know it).

2) True saving faith is manifested in those who possess a genuine love for other believers.

As 1 John 3:7 puts it, "It's the person who acts right who is right." I don't think it's possible to over-emphasize this teaching of John. The early church actively expected and anticipated that the Holy Spirit would change the lives of believers.

What, then, of Paul -- the apostle of salvation by grace through faith apart from works? Many Christians consider that conversion -- forensic justification -- is the climax and consummation of Paul's teaching. From the study of Paul's letters we know this is most definitely not true. If ever a person knew of God's saving work by faith through grace, apart from works of any kind, it was the apostle Paul. His supernatural encounter with the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus is all the proof we need. But accompanying this work of salvation came another supreme step in Paul's life -- surrender. As the objective accomplishments of the cross and the resurrection of Christ became realities in Paul's life experientially, he was completely changed. In view of the mercies of God, he surrendered totally to the One who had forgiven and cleansed him. Little wonder that Paul always called Jesus "Lord," for he indeed did have a new Lord and a new life as well as a new service and a new business -- the Gospel business. This is the message of Philippians in a nutshell. The same Voice who spoke to Paul on the Road to Damascus now reveals Himself in the blazing light of a magnificent little hymn recorded for us in Phil. 2:5-11. A whole lifetime would not be sufficient to unpack the theological gems found in this profound passage. The revelation of Christ's humility in service to others can only come gradually, like the dawn breaking over the wide-spreading landscape. Once Paul had surrendered to the all-powerful Jesus of Nazareth, for the rest of his life he served Christ in humble obedience, as did his friends Timothy and Epaphroditus. This is the outstanding need of the church today -- people who are not only saved but who recognize the Lordship of Christ and yield to His mastery. This new mastery does not come easily. Evangelical hero worship is alive and well in our churches today. The way up is up, we are told. Bigger is better. Powerful is in. We love that smart jock exterior. Folks, many things in our churches are not fine, but there is only one proper place to place all of our evangelical superstars if we profess to love Jesus, and that place is dead last. True pastors will not object. They've read Phil. 2:5-11. It's so maddening that Christians fail to see what Paul is teaching us here. I've been part of the problem, believe me. I wish I could go back to my twenties and thirties and deal with my own ignorance and selfishness and ego. Even today I still find myself having to overhaul my personal priority system. Ugh. But you gotta start somewhere.

Philippians it is then -- along with portions of that great book 1 John (one of only two strictly anonymous epistles in the New Testament along with Hebrews). This spring we're going to cut to the chase. This is where the chili meets the cheese friends. Obviously, this will be tricky business. How do you cover so much in a single semester? The best way is to have the students read some good books on the topic. In addition to Learn to Read New Testament Greek, we'll be adding my Uncle Dave's works Using New Testament Greek in Ministry and New Testament Textual Criticism. (I have this addiction for stuff written by my uncle.) I mean, this has got to get done. So brace yourselves, my dear students. I won't lie. This is not going to be easy. But it will be worth it. Serving others is part and parcel of salvation. What an insane truth. But I love it!

Saturday, November 28

7:34 PM Nice visit from the Blacks tonight.

Nate was here moving around farm equipment in preparation for our final cutting of the year. #FamilyHappiness. (Yes, this was a tweet.)

5:34 PM As you may know, I have written a little book on what I consider to be a few of the "marks" of a New Testament church. Others have written similar books. Rarely is there any agreement. Books like these are reminders to me that the unity intended by Christ in His church is still very much a desideratum rather than a reality. Evangelicals agree about a good many things but we still have our sometimes passionate disagreements. As I look back over the past 55 years of my experience as a follower of the Lord Jesus, I'm amazed by the number of controversies I've lived through. When I was being considered for the draft at the age of 17, at the height of the Vietnam War, I asked to meet with the local draft board in Kaneohe, where a sizable Marine Corps Base was (and still is) located. Generally speaking, the men in my local Baptist church were pro-war and backed the president's policy of escalation. Well, the day of my examination before the board came, and when asked my opinion I replied that I couldn't in good conscience support a war that was (in my view) both unnecessary and unconstitutional (no declaration of war had ever been issued by Congress). At the end of the meeting the board saw fit to grant me a deferment based on my convictions. Amazingly, the man who drove me to the meeting was none other than my pastor, who at the time was an ardent hawk and a supporter of the war. As I left the conference room at the conclusion of my examination, he asked, "How did it go, Dave?" I told him that my request had been granted, and he gave me a huge bear hug and shook my hand. Even at the tender age of 17, I had begun to realize that Christianity couldn't be defined strictly in terms of one's positions on politics but somehow transcended it.

Later, I had to face up to another very important controversy while I was teaching at a large private Christian university in Southern California. In those days a whole host of activities were regarded as taboo, including smoking, drinking (of any kind), and dancing. When I took a leave of absence to go to Basel for my doctorate, I encountered an evangelical subculture in Switzerland that was a lot more broad-minded on these issues. We all got along together swimmingly enough, Becky and I being the only Alkoholfreier among them. I suppose that my personal conscience would have allowed me to sip a glass of wine on occasion, but my institution prohibited it and that was that. In many ways, my living in Switzerland was a good thing. It taught me, for example, that when it comes to wine one can be a theological moderationist and a practical abstentionist at the very same time without any hypocrisy involved. As Paul puts it, "Let every person be fully convinced in his or her own mind." It's clear to me that evangelical scholars can live and work on the same team and maintain integrity even when they disagree with each other. Each of us, within certain confessional boundaries, of course, is at liberty to use our God-given freedom as we wish, but we will all be held accountable for what we have done. I'm learning that faith doesn't pretend that we don't have our disagreements as evangelicals. Sovereignty means that all will work out for good in the end, as God defines good. In the meantime, let's not speak "peace" when there is none. Nobody has all the answers. The world in which we live is complex and very ambiguous at times. So is the church culture in which we live and work and have our being. I've lived through enough evolutions of myself that I've learned to hold my convictions in love and to try and avoid an over-critical spirit toward those with whom I disagree. To be honest, I think we all need humility more than we acknowledge that fact. Unity comes not from might nor by power but by My Spirit, says the Lord. Disagreements, whether political or ecclesiastical, should prompt us to ask questions we should never stop asking. We all have our own interpretation of "God and county" and our own approach to issues of social justice. This means that the political squabbles and power plays will likely continue during this election cycle, and the church will be tempted to divide along political lines. The fact is that most political issues are very complex, to the point where good, Bible-believing people can and do disagree about them. The simple fact is that we are called to follow Jesus, not some surreal notion of political justice. We who pledge ultimate allegiance to Christ would, I think, do well to remember that. In the words of John Keble: "The trivial round, the common task,/Will furnish all we ought to ask;/Room to deny ourselves, a road/To bring us daily nearer God."

9:46 AM A friend texted me recently and said, "You seem to really be enjoying life, Dave." It's true. Enjoying life is a marvelous blessing. It is really a vital expression of enjoying God. We enjoy God when we worship Him for His goodness and mercy and grace. I'm convinced that the single most painful struggle we share is the difficulty of enjoying God in the midst of our daily struggles. But His delight is that we discover what provides Him with enjoyment. He is both the source and object of our joy. He gives us faith to accept His love. He gives us strength when we are weak. He gives us correction when we fail. He gives us grace and forgiveness when we sin. But there's so much more. Go outside today. God has written His name on the natural world and has given us the capacity to enjoy the splendored beauty of His creation. He who takes up physical exercise is twice young. Everyone who has discovered the joy of walking or hiking knows that feeling. Exercise is a motivation for glorifying God. Few other things in life that aren't sinful or ruinous deliver us from inertia. We already possess all we need. We just have to do it. Fitness may take time, but it creates time as well.

Yesterday I was listening to the author of a new book titled Altruism being interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show. The author is a Buddhist monk. He spoke about morality and how humans can train themselves through meditation to become selfless and generous. Christians would avow: Only the Spirit of the living God can truly make a person altruistic. Can we apply that truth to physical exercise? Analyze with me for a moment the reasons people have for exercising. For many, exercising is done against their wishes. They do it only because they realize that the alternative is worse. Exercise at this level is little more than forced behavior. At the next level, the motivation is not fear but enjoyment. People see and experience for themselves the rewards that exercising produces (less fatigue, improved appearance, etc.), but the motivation is still purely selfish. The highest degree of moral impulse for exercising comes from the belief that exercise contributes to the common good. We want to do well not only for ourselves but for others.

Our environment plays a vital role here. When few people exercise, ever fewer people are likely to begin the exercise process. The values and virtues of fitness just aren't there. That's where example comes in. When we see others doing something and enjoying it, it enhances our desire to follow suit. Thus we take up exercising -- gradually at first, in fits and starts perhaps -- but before long the benefits become evident. Exercise gives us more energy. Improvement in performance becomes evident. Weight loss is noticed. The end is not simply fitness or happiness. My need, my drive to exercise is to achieve my full God-given potential as a human being. Each of us is a body-mind-soul complex. Running in 5Ks has made this abundantly obvious to me. I will never win a 5K race. But I can run to the very best of my ability to the glory of God and for the good of others. Thankfully, we've come to the point in America where poor health and obesity can no longer be ignored. Even our children are overweight. Half of all deaths in the U.S. are the result of our living habits. You don't need a college course in physiology to understand that a healthy lifestyle is a choice. The point: We don't need more information on how to become fit. What we must pursue are the deeper reasons for seeking fitness.

The apostle Paul was about my age when he wrote the book of 1 Timothy, maybe a little older. The Greeks of his day were known for their sensual, sex-centric, materialistic lifestyles. Their word for enjoyment was hedone, from which we derive "hedonism," the gratification of our desires without restraint. In 1 Tim. 6:17 Paul employs a different word, apolausis, to remind him that "the living God gives us richly all things to enjoy." I believe that Paul really meant that. Followers of Jesus enjoy the gifts He provides without making any of them the primary source of their enjoyment. One of my greatest joys is participating in a healthy lifestyle and thereby helping to create this mindset among my fellow Christians. Exercise is not just an idea to consider but a life to live. Enjoy God and use things. Never reverse the order!

If, when you're praying today, you find a conviction growing inside you that fitness is an act of faith, ask God to grant you the faith to get started. Go ahead. Take the risk! Seek the challenge! Invite the sweat! Enjoyment lies not beyond the finish line but in the running of the race.

Friday, November 27

5:34 PM The Civil War background to Thanksgiving.

5:25 PM I love reading letters from the Civil War era. Here's one I read tonight: A fascinating soldier letter. Lengthy letters like this one are rare today. Letter writers in the mid-1800s knew letters would take time both to write and to arrive and so they penned them carefully. The invention of the internet and email/texting has changed all that. One cannot overstate the importance letters had in that day and age. Wooing, courting, admonishing -- all took place through the letter. By the mid-nineteenth century, letter writing had become as commonplace as email is today -- no longer the privilege of the rich only. This is one of the ways the Civil War stands out in our history. Self-styled journalists were minted by the thousands as foundry workers and plantation laborers became soldiers -- and writers. In an odd sort of way, my texts have been getting longer, especially when there is an issue to be addressed or advice to be given to someone with whom I am close. Just as the letter created a sense of social unity then, so a text or email can serve that same function today if we would only take the time to write it. At any rate, read over this brief letter and see what you think. It was written by a major in the 139th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. It is filled with punchy sentences and period tidbits that delight the ear. It is also intensely personal. It's hard to imagine Americans writing letters like this one any more.

4:55 PM Maybe it's just my imagination, but don't you think there's a resemblance between Becky and her grandson Peyton?

It's the Lapsley chin. Lol!

11:58 AM Total calories burned to date: 462,000. Totals miles completed to date: 253.2. Today I revisited the historic Tobacco Heritage Trail.

It was an easy 5 miles. I completed the course in exactly 1:07:12. I'm pleased as punch with my walking pace. It's almost 5 miles an hour.

Earlier I did my weight training at the Y. The place was packed. Thanksgiving guilt maybe? Who cares. At least these folks had the gumption to get off their duffs and do something active today. And guess what? To celebrate Becky's 63rd birthday in May I've decided to hike the Grand Canyon. Down and back takes three days. I'm super eager to get back to Arizona. B and I used to camp there during the summer months. As you can probably guess, I'm really trying hard to get into shape for Kilimanjaro next December. It takes lots of planning ahead and forward thinking. Even if I never do go to Tanzania next year, I'll still benefit from the exercises I'm doing now. To go or not to go? Sometimes I think James wrote 1:5 especially for me. I need wisdom!  

P.S. The Lung Force Run/Walk Charleston has just posted their event pix over at Facebook. Here's the race start:

And here's yours truly getting his third place medal in the Geezer Division.

Look mom! I'm famous!

8:42 AM This and that ....

1) The consensus is in: If you're a grad student in biblical studies, you'll want to stay away from blogging. I am immeasurably thankful for my grad students. Many of them are bloggers, but not all of them. Blogging is a very personal decision and (in my opinion) probably has nothing to contribute to your "hire-ability" one way or the other. When I think about how God made us to live, when I think about true community and true intimacy, I see blogging as useful. It's a rather bizarre medium to be sure. And many do it poorly. So my only advice to grad students is this: If you are going to blog, remember that the key to effective blogging is twofold: (1) content and (2) frequency. If you have no original content on your blog, or if you find time to blog only sporadically, shut er down.

2) Someone please tell me how this is even humanly possibly. Start the video at 8:37.

This is crazy! You could not pay me to climb the Matterhorn!

3) One of my favorite publishers gives a post-SBL report.

4) Believe it or not, there are no 5Ks this weekend in Raleigh or Cary or Chapel Hill. None. Bummer. I will really miss racing this weekend. Believe it or not, church people aren't the only ones interested in looking out for other people. I've raced for volunteer fire departments and cancer causes and everything in-between. It's tempting to be a defender of the church as the only real community. I think community is healthiest when we believers share life with not-yet believers who are as fully human as we are. Here are people in a very materialistic world trying to make a difference by sacrificing their time and money. Friend, step outside the church system for a day and you'll see what I'm talking about. There are a lot of reasons to run a 5K, but a big reason is that we are all part of a village. Sometimes I feel out of place in pews and sanctuaries. I need folding chairs and sweat, tons of it. I am a careful worldling. I enjoy interacting with people whoever or whatever they are. I'm learning that the best evangelism takes place in relationships. A non-Christian is a person whose life is ruled by thirst. Let's give them some Living Water, eh?

5) Finally, here's a brief a video I shot from the summit of McAfee Knob.

Let me remind you: This is an easy hike for the whole family. Get away from the boob tube for a day. Go ahead! Hiking is healthy. It's fun. It's inexpensive. And it's for every body (yes, two words: every body). The older you get (like me) it may take you a bit longer to make it to the top, but who cares. Was this view worth it?

Thursday, November 26

6:10 PM Happy Thanksgiving! In case anyone is wondering, I had a great two days of traveling. In humble confession, I must say that I like being around family. Today I got to spend Thanksgiving with Liz, Matt, and the grandkids over at Matt's parents' home in Roanoke, VA. First obvious question: What did you have for Thanksgiving dinner? Well, you wouldn't guess it in a million years. Filet mignon! How cool is that? Thank you, Walt and Nancy, for being such wonderful hosts and for sharing your lovely table with me today. I can say with some confidence: This was one of the nicest Thanksgivings I've ever had.

I mentioned yesterday that I was planning on hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail during this trip. Well, I'm a man of my word. The McAfee Knob Trail left me speechless. It's one of the most photographed spots on the AT and offers a 270 degree panorama of the Catawba Valley to the north and the Roanoke Valley to the east. According to my Map My Run app, the trail is 4 miles each way, for a total of 8 miles. I did each leg in an hour and a half. The cardio was just what the doctor ordered. (There's an old fire road you can take on the way down if you like that knocks off about a half mile.) This is a truly great trail and the views are spectacular. The Lord was kind enough to give me a sunny (and un-crowded) day for the experience of a lifetime. It's a steady climb but nothing too difficult (a 3 on a scale of 10). You must try it sometime.


1) To get to the trailhead for the McAfee Knob Day Hike you need to get to I-81 just outside of Salem, VA. I took the back roads all the way. As you can see, the pre-Thanksgiving traffic was horrible.

2) From I-81 you head north on Hwy 311 for about 6 miles to the trailhead parking lot. Cross the road and then simply follow the trail markers to the top. (Note: Be very cautious crossing the highway. It's a blind curve and drivers do not slow down.)

3) Your hike will begin at about 2,000 feet and you'll reach the knob at around 3,200 feet -- a 1,200 foot or so elevation gain. It's a steady climb and I needed no breaks to make it to the top.

4) As I said, the trail is very gradual and follows the ridge line; anyone can do this hike!

5) You will encounter a couple of information kiosks on your hike. Since I was doing my cardio for the day I didn't stop very long at any of them.

6) But I did notice this warning!

7) Wherever it gets too rocky, the park service has built these easy-to-navigate walkways. I counted 4 of them in all.

8) If you want to camp overnight, you'll find a shelter with a picnic table and a fire pit. The park service has thought of everything!

9) When I arrived at the summit I was sopping wet with perspiration even though it was a cold day. But the view made the effort worthwhile.

10) McAfee Knob is said to be the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail. I believe it!

11) Switching topics, here's Matt and his wonderful family.

12) Before dinner I took the boys to Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spiced Latte.

13) The chef!

14) The sous chef!

I'll look back on this trip for many years to come. Special, special, special! This Thanksgiving was simply outstanding. God's creation, exercise, family, great food -- this is what makes life so wonderful. My life is filled with goodness and love. I am a blessed man!

Wednesday, November 25

7:52 AM Well, today I am declaring myself officially "well" again. I hate being sick, but even more than that, I hate the fact that I hate being sick. I'm in great need of patience sometimes. And a more grateful spirit. It's that time of the year when you stop and think about what you're thankful for, or the blessings you've been given (all undeserved), so let me say it out loud: I'm thankful for the forced rest I just had, for the breaking of things in my heart that needed to be broken this past year, for the way God brings beauty out of horrible things (like death), for family and friendship and food and failure and all the joys that come from reaching the bottom and then pushing back up to the top. Thank you too, God, for healing my head cold and ear ache -- which means I can get back to being active again. I owe my body an apology too. I'm sorry I pushed you so hard last Saturday during the 5K. I knew I had slept fitfully (at best) the night before. I'm sorry for not listening to you and I'm grateful that you carried on anyway and gave me my best race results ever. I owe you my gratitude. Thank you.

These days spent in bed have been good ones. I've slowed down long enough to look around my life and refocus a bit. I've even made for myself a little plan of action for the day -- a hike along the Appalachian Trail. I'm ready to be moving, to get this old body in action again. Really, when you think about it, the body is a wonderful thing. It allows us to experience a plethora of pleasures, from the intimacy of marriage to the enjoyment of a well-cooked steak to holding an infant grandbaby in our arms. And let's not forget the sights it allows us to see and the hugs it allows us to feel and the smiles it allows us to enjoy. So Lord, thank you for your healing grace. When You said You'd be my redeemer, You weren't kidding. Jesus, You're my hero. There's a Dave that exists only in You, and that identity makes all the difference. In fact, if I didn't have You, life would be quite discouraging. It was (and still is) a miracle that I ever got to know You in the first place. Folks, I'm here to tell you: There's no substitute for Jesus. He's the only one I know who has complete integrity. It's startling when you consider what a privilege it is to walk with Him day by day. So thank you, Lord. On Saturday I met You on a 5K course. On Sunday I met You in bed with a box of Kleenexes. And today, I'm going to gamble with the fact that You're still going to be with me wherever I go. Come, Lord Jesus. I am Yours. Have Your way with me.  

Tuesday, November 24

3:38 PM Glad the dogs and I checked the mail today.

A set of Helen MacInnis books!

Got them on EBay for cheap.

9:34 AM Ken Schenck makes some really good points about SBL.

9:12 AM Was the apostle Paul an athlete? The reason I ask are these verses in 1 Cor. 9:14-16:

In a race everyone runs, but only one person gets first prize. So run your race to win. To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best.... So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I'm not just shadow-boxing or playing around. Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to.

The subject here, of course, is self-discipline, not physical fitness per se. But let me ask you: How could Paul have endured all of the rigors of his missionary travels unless he was in good physical condition? Consider the two catalogues of suffering he lists in 2 Cor. 6 and 11.

We patiently endure suffering and hardship and trouble of every kind. We have been beaten, put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, stayed awake through sleepless nights of watching, and gone without food.

They say they serve Christ? But I have served him far more! (Have I gone mad to boast like this?) I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me their terrible thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I was in the open sea all night and the whole next day. I have traveled many weary miles and have been often in great danger from flooded rivers and from robbers and from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the hands of the Gentiles. I have faced grave dangers from mobs in the cities and from death in the deserts and in the stormy seas and from men who claim to be brothers in Christ but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food; often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.

Consider, too, what Paul writes about Christian marriage in Ephesians 5. How can he tell a husband to love his wife "just as he nourishes and cherishes his own body" unless he assumed that we naturally care for our bodies? Certainly a man does not have to be a star athlete to be a good husband. But the essential fact is clear: It's natural and normal for us to seek physical wholeness and well-being. Everything we accomplish in life will be done through our body. What high value, then, we ought to place on it! I agree with the Psalmist (Ps. 139:13-14): "Thank you for making my body so wonderfully complex. It is amazing to think about!" Many of us have fallen into undisciplined habits of feeding our appetites instead of our hunger. But Paul says, "Discipline is the price you pay for freedom from flabbiness, laziness, and harmful habits." Hence it's not at all surprising to me that Paul should write in Rom. 12:1: "And so ... I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice -- holy and acceptable to Him. When you think of all He's done for you, is this asking too much?" Why should we settle for the fatigue that so often sets in late in the day? The cure is: motion. Motion of any kind, providing it is vigorous -- walking, cycling, running, rope skipping. The game of life requires physical energy. Without it, what we do will be done badly or not at all.

As we approach National Gastric Indulgence Day, let me ask you: How do you feel about your body? How do you treat it? Respectfully? Or indulgently? The first impression people have of you is your body. You'd better not ignore it -- no one else is going to.

Monday, November 23

2:52 PM Everyone at Rosewood Farm is happy today. The doggies are happy because I let them inside on this sunny but cold day. The donks are happy because they have a nice thick winter coat.

And I'm happy because the doc just gave me antibiotic ear drops. By the way, my blood pressure today was 112/87 and my resting heart rate was 68. Not bad for an old geezer who was born before the ark landed on Ararat. Cardio seems to be paying off.

Much to be thankful to God for today! 

10:38 AM John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." Boy is that true. Today I'm looking at my day planner for 2016. I feel like I'm getting ready for the rest of my life. And I'm only looking at the expected. Only God knows what unexpected things will occur. In glimpses and flashes, my aspirations are becoming clear. For indeed, I (like you) still have a life to live. We have future goals, plenty of them. Not that I regret the past. I don't. In the course of my ministry I've had the joy of serving as a professor of New Testament and Greek in three wonderful institutions, had the privilege of teaching in a great many countries around the world, even had the audacity to write a few books that were less-than-status-quo-promoters. It's been an exciting adventure of faith. But I'm looking forward, not back. I still hope to make an impact (no matter how small) on the lives of others and engage in acts of love toward my neighbors here and abroad. So, then, here are a few of my goals, aspirations -- you could even call them dreams I suppose.

1) I dream of a church that exists not for itself but for its yet-to-be members.

2) I dream of a church that embodies the practical love that characterized the life of Jesus.

3) I dream of a church where members get to know, love, and depend on each other.

4) I dream of a church where training is not abdicated to paid professionals or youth pastors but is taken up by parents and mentors.

5) I dream of a church where teaching is not a one-way street but involves dynamic debate and lively discussion.

6) I dream of a church where the social implications of the Gospel are embraced.

7) I dream of a church where evangelistic zeal is commonplace.

8) I dream of a society where churches are in partnership with each other instead of in competition.

9) I dream of a church where alienation between "clergy" and "laity" is unheard of.

10) I dream of a church where leaders see their job as equipping Christians for the work of serving Jesus rather than trying to do all the work themselves.

11) I dream of a church where each person in the body realizes they are indispensable limbs and are fulfilling their calling.

12) I dream of a church where Jesus alone is the true model of leadership.

13) I dream of a church where believers experience the active and intimate leading of the Holy Spirit.

14) I dream of a church where members shed their masks and false expectations.

15) I dream of a day when all of our lives would be a proclamation of the Gospel, not only our words.

16) I dream of a church where Scripture shapes our prayers.

17) I dream of a day when studying and learning theology would be our vocation and not our hobby.

18) I dream of a day when we rid ourselves of all of our evangelical hero worship and celebrity Christianity.

19) I dream of a church where it's okay to regress, stumble, and rest and recoup.

Lofty expectations, I know. And there are plenty more I haven't even mentioned. I know I'm living out the final decades of my life. I'm excited about the past. But I'm leaning forward into the next crazy adventure.

What are your aspirations, dear friend? I pray for you. I pray that you would know you are loved by the Lover of lovers. Remember that, live it, breathe it, and rest in it. Let the Lord lead you into a new chapter in your life. Open your arms and welcome whatever comes next.

God be with you.


Sunday, November 22

5:35 PM I've heard it said that our theology is formed by our autobiography. I believe that's true. And I think the same thing applies in politics. My fascination with the Republican presidential candidates is not so much with their positions on the issues (which are fairly predictable) but rather on their personalities. How do they handle conflict? I think this question matters. When I was in seminary I was taught that there are basically three ways we protect ourselves from psychological pain. We either withdraw from others or, conversely, we placate them or, finally, we attack them. Each approach is based on a simple premise: Others will try to hurt me if they can, so I must not allow myself to be vulnerable. Withdrawers are experts at protecting themselves. Because of their fear of rejection, they build walls around their inner self that are basically impenetrable. This wall allows them to relate to others without becoming emotionally involved with them. The strategy is that if you can't get close to me you can't hurt me. Withdrawers are experts at cover-up. "I don't want to" sounds so much better than "I'm afraid to." Placaters, on the other hand, are experts at congeniality and helpfulness. They reason thusly: If I'm a nice guy, there is no reason for anybody to attack me. But behind the facade of kindness is a fearful individual who has serious misgivings about their own self worth. Finally, attackers employ the strategy of preventive warfare. They think: The only way to prevent other people from getting one up on me is to get one up on them first. Hence attackers go after others before they come after them. The plan of attack may be direct as well as indirect. Attackers may simply bully other people (the direct method) or they may subtly denigrate them by trying to make them feel stupid or inadequate (the indirect method). If you recognized one of the Republican candidates in the latter description, you are not alone. I hope the discovery made you very unhappy. Attackers may appear to be tough and strong but their hostility belies the fact that they are motivated, like the withdrawer and the placater, by fear. Their survival depends on always having the upper hand, of always being on top. Other people will always be an imminent threat to their security.

I'm not done yet figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates. The issue is neither simple nor straightforward. But at least none of the candidates has espoused a blab-it and grab-it theology. Always something to be thankful for!

1:05 PM Today I'm nursing a mild head cold so I'm taking some time to read a bit of systematic theology. For someone who loves practicing theology as much as I do, I confess that I really do enjoy reading well-written tomes on theology. When you come of age when I did, during the turbulent 60s, you quickly realize just how important sound doctrine is. The more I study New Testament Greek, the more deeply convinced I have become of the need for unimpeachable orthodoxy. Anti-intellectualism is a horrid trait of certain strands of evangelicalism. Nonetheless, I think this is much less true today than when I was growing up. No evangelical Christian in their right mind would minimize the need for proper theology. Bible study is one of the means by which we appropriate and experience God's grace. The word is milk and meat and a lamp to guide us. Of course, knowledge is not enough. We develop strong Christian muscles only by serving the Lord. The Bible alone will not do the job. Yet if the Christian life is to be one of obedience and discipleship, how can we obey and follow unless we understand what is expected of us?

"But there are so many disagreements among evangelicals," you say. This is, of course, very good reason for more, not less, study of Christian theology. When I was teaching at Biola and Talbot I was greatly encouraged by "Evangelical Affirmations," a careful statement produced by some 650 evangelical leaders in 1989.

Among its affirmations we read the following:

We affirm the complete truthfulness and the full and final authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures as the Word of God written. The appropriate response to it is humble assent and obedience.

In 1989 I had had my doctorate in theology for less than 7 years. So I was both humbled and honored to have been asked to represent Talbot (along with Robert Saucy) at that Evangelical Affirmations conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I tend to agree with James Packer (Hot Tub Religion) that all Christians are theologians, or at least ought to be. No, the kingdom of God is not simply orthodox theology. As a professor, I'm not in the business of disseminating information. I'm in the business of transformation. Like my students, I'm an exile in a fallen world, here to plant gardens of truth and love until that day when all things will be renewed and restored. And this, my friend, is why we study theology: to become the very best and most productive gardeners we can possible be.

Saturday, November 21

6:24 PM I'm sneezing tonight. Maybe I overdid it a bit today. It's just another reminder that I'm in exile in a fallen world where bodies get tired and even sick at times. I'm drinking an Airborne right now. That usually fixes it. Life boils to down to some fairly simple principles. It's all a matter of what the Greeks called epieikes, moderation. Our modern concept of moderation is a bit different I think. To the Greeks, moderation meant participating in activities that led to a consistent pattern of peak performance. It meant exercise, diet, and rest. The point is: Live your own life, run your own race at your own pace, and remember to rest (I had a nap today). I finished my run this morning feeling great. We will not do anything for any length of time if we find it boring. So tonight I have a plan of action: More Airborne if necessary and plenty of rest today and tomorrow. Every day, we must decide -- you and I -- what we're going to do and who we're going to be. To do that, we have to come to terms with our strengths and our limitations. When you run a 5K, you are in a sense tyrannizing your brain. You're engaged in a wily game of mind control. Your body dictates to your grey matter. Only through perseverance can you succeed. And in the end, it doesn't really matter what your time or pace were. It's the repeated performance that produces pleasure. When, then, is success attained? When a person realizes that being less than a winner in the activity is preferable to the so-called "good life" elsewhere. In this case, we may run out of time but, as Vince Lombardi used to say, we can never lose.

12:50 PM Got more pix to share with you today:

1) Today was the annual "Cleft Palate Gallop" (or, in my case, "Trot"). Our goal was to raise at least $6,000 for the UNC Craniofacial Center. I'm told that we exceeded that amount by quite a bit. Woohoo!

2) Here I am with the two race coordinators. They are both students in the dental school at UNC.

What marvelous people. I learned so much today about children born with cleft palates. Restorative surgery is now commonplace and begins as early as 3 months. The funds raised today will be made available to needy families on a case-by-case basis. So if you live in the Raleigh-Durham area and ever hear of a child born with cleft palate, please don't forget the services provided at UNC.

3) The weather could not have been better for a 5K -- clear, sunny, and cold. I'm told there were 350 runners in today's race.

4) Yes, I was pretty jazzed by the results!


5) Finally, what can I say about last night's concert? Something deep inside me was touched by Rachmaninoff.

Music is one of those eternal things that reminds you of who you are in the midst of all the rushing about of life. The second movement of the concerto brought me to silent tears. The music was both powerful and comforting. How is it possible not to love classical music? It touches your soul and you start thinking of all sorts of things -- a lost loved one, your childhood, your parents, your children, a trauma in your life that no one else knows about, the victims of war and terrorism, even life and death. Today it was particularly difficult for me to be back on the UNC campus, which is where I brought Becky countless times for her treatments. What helps me the most, when I can do it, is to relax into the arms of God and relinquish any effort to control my life. I accept life as it's been dealt me -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Music helps. So does running. Both nudge me toward complete reliance on God's love, which is "broader than the measures of the mind." I need protection from the demons that assail me in the night. The last thing I want for my family is a father and grandfather who can't shoulder his burdens. Once again, today I was enabled to sing a new song. "You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety! You are my refuge and strength in every trial, every danger, every challenge! Nothing I lack if I am Yours and You are mine forever! Thee I love, O Lord! O, how I love Thee!"

Friday, November 20

2:32 PM I think of myself as an old surfer, although I still think there's some big waves left in me. This GoPro video captures the world of surfing so well I just had to share it with you.

Riding a good wave feels like being at a 5-star hotel's breakfast buffet. You're overwhelmed by the options, which seem endless, but even more than overwhelmed you're fantastically happy and want to taste every little morsel you see. Surfing is always like that. Whether you are young or old. Whether the waves are tiny or huge.

I have got to get a GoPro camera for my next trip to Oahu.

11:50 AM A couple more things ....

1) Today's cardio.

I began my workouts on May 18, 2015. As of today, my totals are:

432,000 calories.

233.9 miles.

40 pounds lost.

2) My youngest grandson turns 6 months today. Happy Monthaversary, Mr. Peyton! Papa B loves you!

3) Again, Diane Rehm concluded her news roundup today with the words, "The world sure is in a mess." Yes, Ms. Rehm, it is. Permanent peace is an illusion until Jesus returns. In the meantime, you can forget about "security." The plotter of the Paris raids was in Syria as recently as the Monday before the attack. What kind of national security is that? When I walk through TSA "security" at the airports do I feel safe? While they're busy grabbing the bottle of water I forgot to take out of my carry-on bag, layers of security are missing, including the ability to "thwart" tests performed by the Department of Homeland Security. We are spending a lot of time and resources treating symptoms instead of the disease. People who do bad things have something more wrong with them than that. Removing the symptoms will not cure the disease. The basic trouble, Ms. Rehm, is the old self that is sinful and that does not consent to die. Only when a person begins to live in the truth of Gal. 2:20 and Phil. 1:21 can there be any hope whatsoever of change. But our God is able to make all grace abound even in this wicked and perverse world. The Christian can say, "Of His fullness we have all received, even grace upon grace, and those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by Christ Jesus." Thus we do not count our lives as dear unto ourselves, as Paul said (Acts 20:24). Jim Elliott's battered body was a horrific sight but his soul had gone home through gates of splendor. Human life is precious in God's sight. We Christians do not devalue it. It is a good gift and we will give an account for it one day. But when we count it as His and not ours (it never was ours), then we are free to "lose what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose."

7:38 AM Odds and ends ....

1) Just made my reservations for my next trip to Hawaii in April. This time I hope to do this:

I am praying the stairs will be legal by then. I mean, it's no more dangerous than climbing Mount Olomana, which I've done 4 times.

2) Henry Neufeld has published a book he can't read. If you're at SBL in Atlanta, you can ask him about it.

3) I watched "The Truth About Your Food" last night. Horrible. Our food is produced not on farms but in factories. Even if you don't eat at a fast food restaurant, you're eating meat that is being produced by this system. Chickens never see sunlight. Antibiotics are put into feed. Cows stand ankle-deep in their own manure all day. Beef cattle are fed corn to finish them. Nobody ever asks "Why?" The average American supermarket has 47,000 products for all seasons. I can buy a ripe tomato today. It was picked green and ripened with ethylene gas. It's not a tomato. It's the "idea" of a tomato. It's a disturbing notion to say the least.

Okay, wait. We know that eating at MacDonald's is bad for us. But we do it anyway. This has everything to do with discipleship, because the kind of person I am determines the kind of disciple I am. "We are subsidizing food that is making us sick," says one interviewee. He adds, "By 2030, 42 percent of Americans will be obese." As I wallow in self-pity ("But it's too hard for a single guy to cook healthy food all the time"), I am literally killing my body.

Can't we just say "no" to junk food?

4) Just a reminder that Eisenbrauns has my book Scribes and Scripture on sale. It's 40 percent off. Go here for more.

5) Lest we forget: The Nigerian terror continues. In 2014 alone, Boko Haram was responsible for 6,644 deaths. My stars!

Thursday, November 19

5:45 PM The best flash mob ever.


12:50 PM On my drive home from the gym today I happened to listen to a "conservative" talk radio program. I try to be charitable in my thoughts but I wince when the speaker describes how he would treat Syrian refugees. It's a small thing, I tell myself. But sometimes a small thing can become a hairline fracture that could break us one day if left untreated. The more I think about it, the more I believe there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of Syrian migration. I find it strange, however, that people claiming to be Christians can talk about bombing the ____ out of ISIS but never once mention the Gospel. One wonders if Jesus even loves Muslims. I checked out a new book from the school library on Tuesday night.

It's the kind of book I'd like to hand to millennials and church leaders and say "Read this!" I admire the author's charity toward Muslims without being naive about Islamic terrorism. Like him, I long for a church that calls itself to higher ways. Evangelism is a package deal with belief in Christ; we are an unavoidable trinity of God, you, and others. As Christians we are called to practice our faith as compassionate and cross-bearing citizens of the world. Following Christ requires the ability to hold many contradictions. It is not out of irreverence for human life that we rebel against hate-mongering. It is out of reverence for the heaven on earth whispered by the author of Hebrews (11:16). You are the people with whom I need to get together to co-create the most important reality of all: "Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven." I know it's audacious to believe that Christians might actually love their enemies, real or perceived. But Christians give away what they have received. This is the way of grace. It isn't enough just to say we love the lost. We need to give ourselves away if we want to experience the abundant, brave life Jesus promised. That's the miracle of the church. What other institution on earth asks people to lose themselves so that others might live? None of us is meant to keep the Gospel to ourselves. We are made whole by becoming broken vessels of truth and love.

A few takeaways from this excellent book:

"You do not need a PhD in Islam to share your faith with a Muslim. Instead, you need to know Christ, have a heart of an ambassador and an array of effective communication tools" (p. 17).

"Just as I needed Jesus, millions of others are in need of Jesus, including millions of Muslims" (p. 24).

"Bridging the gap with Muslims is part of our role on earth" (p. 26).

"The intention of dialoguing with Muslims is to have thoughtful, meaningful conversations -- not to enter a boxing match of theology and philosophy" (p. 35).

"Our Lord and Savior mastered the art of evangelism. As his disciples, we also must master the art of evangelism" (p. 38).

"Most Muslims have never met an authentic follower of Jesus" (p. 72).

"Muslims are watching Christians. They're waiting to see if Christians are for real ...." (p. 77).

"...more Muslims have become believers in Jesus in the past twenty years than in the preceding 1,400 years ...." (p. 87).

"It's important for us to have a solid understanding of what Muslims believe about how sin is forgiven" (p. 131).

"To respond to our Muslim friends ... we must be prepared to answer their questions about Jesus and the cross" (p. 134).

8:24 AM Yesterday a senior colleague of mine and I had a happy discussion about that day when we will eventually leave the classroom. It's amazing to think that I've been teaching Greek for 39 years. One day I will say goodbye to it all, hopefully before it is said of me, as was once said of a venerated Oxford scholar who refused to retire, that he had all the Christian virtues except for resignation. I somehow feel like the cowboy sitting on the rear-facing seat of a stagecoach so that he could watch the road over which he had travelled. I have taught thousands of students for whom, eventually, my name will be but a distant memory. Indeed, according to my observations, the grandchildren of scholars seldom read their grandfathers' books. I dare not expect them (or anyone else, for that matter) to feel fascination with my career. It's strange to think how many miles I've traveled down the road of academia. The old pursuits (and agonies) are lulled to rest. Instead of trying to make a scholarly name for oneself, the important thing now is to finish well and leave the classroom in fairly acceptable condition for the next generation of teachers. I suppose I have led an interesting life. My day's work, for four decades, has been more than a little satisfying. I was brought up to believe that a Christian never truly retires. Indeed, I still think of myself as a student of Scripture rather than as a scholar. Thus I do not mind becoming obsolete. I read, like everyone else, the works of such scholars as Tom Wright, but the reading does not transform the world for me as it seems to do for many of my younger colleagues. There are writers, it is true, who once turned the world upside down for me -- Eller, Ellul, Cullmann -- but even these stellar authors I no longer read with the same youthful enthusiasm. Some currently unknown American scholar may one day publish as good a book as The Subversion of Christianity, but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, I hope to communicate to everyone who will listen that the living Lord has designed a way to make the church work. He holds out a divine blueprint of hope and encouragement even in these dark days. And because He is the Bridegroom, I can declare without reservation that His plans are believable, attainable, reliable, and workable. The only question is: Will you and I trust Him through the painful yet inevitable process of change?

Off to the gym. :-)

Wednesday, November 18

6:45 PM Can't wait to hear this concert on Friday night at the NC Symphony. Rachmaninoff is arguably the greatest Russian composer of all time. His Symphony No. 2 is, to me, the definition of beautiful sadness.

4:50 PM More miscellanea:

1) So proud of my daughter-in-law, Jessica Black, who is featured as a doula in this story at WRAL.

2) Millions are asking: "When is your next 5K, Dave?" Answer: This Saturday in Chapel Hill, NC.

The goal this time is to support the UNC Craniofacial Center.

Children born with clefts have complex medical and social needs, requiring care throughout their growing years. Your contribution will help ensure access to comprehensive, specialized treatment for children with cleft lip and palate. The UNC Craniofacial Center receives your donations and subsequently allocates all of these funds to needy families on a case-by-case basis.

Care to join me? Here are the details.

4:25 PM This and that before I cook supper....

1) Congratulations to today's 110 Award recipient for getting a perfect score on our latest Greek exam. Ashish hails from Nepal. Free book time!

2) This week I was asked to read a paper at the Society for New Testament Studies annual meeting in Montreal in August, 2016. I gladly agreed. My paper title: "Contemporary images of Gehenna in the life of a single man."

3) As you probably know, I don't believe that church gatherings exist for worship – at least not in the sense that church is about the "worship set." When I go to church, I tend to look for what Paul described as oikodome, edification – believers encouraging other believers to grow in Christ. I must confess, however, that last Sunday at Old Fort Baptist Church I experienced something akin to real devotion as I sat through the worship sets.

I guess I just want to say "thank you" to the worship team. I came away with a strong impression that here were people who weren't interested in providing entertainment or in calling attention to themselves but rather had the ultimate goal of exalting Jesus. I found my gaze being directed beyond the platform or stage, toward God Himself. My esthetically-critical side gave way to a renewed focus on the internal dynamics rather than on the externals of singing. For once I wasn't distracted by the style of music. In an odd sort of way, I saw people exercising their spiritual gifts in accordance with 1 Cor. 14:26. The people on stage weren't entertainers. They were prompters. I marveled at God's ability to speak directly to people from all walks of life. I will always be grateful for that older gentleman I saw who stood with his hands raised toward heaven, caught up in pure grace. It was as though we shared – he and I – a common life, full of promise and hope. Paul Tournier once said, "There are two things we cannot do alone: one is to be married and the other is to be a Christian." I came away from that service impressed yet also troubled that maybe I've been missing a great truth of Christianity, one that C. S. Lewis wrote about many years ago:

I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it …. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.

I remind myself of Lewis's words whenever I find myself squirming during a "worship set." Yes, the church has become far too anthropocentric for my taste. Yet I have seen in my own life the direct and personal benefits of church music. Paradoxically, hypersensitivity to esthetics can be both a blessing and a curse. As a musician, I often have to force myself to enjoy church music. But on Sunday last, I believe I became more responsive to God than I had been in a very long time. Should I not have something of that same attitude toward congregational music wherever I am? In God's family, Paul tells us, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free." Perhaps I could add, "neither musician nor non-musician." All such distinctions are blotted out under the ink of God's amazing grace.

I am glad, very glad, for that experience last Sunday. As I rose up to address the congregation I felt I had become one with them, joined together in our identity in Jesus Christ, who breaks down every barrier and every wall of partition among His people. Indeed, I have come to believe that my own attitude may well be the most important factor in a worship team's "success" or "failure."

Tuesday, November 17

8:20 AM Who says seasoned citizens can't have fun?


7:45 AM Please don't take this the wrong way, but despite appearances to the contrary, I am a minimalist. I prefer the concepts simple and the words few. Recently I was asked to write an endorsement for a new textbook. The authors seemed to have a million things to say about every detail. I passed. Students don't have lots of time. They are fluent in fast. If I force irrelevant information down their throats, they'll know it -- and won't like it. Teacher friend, learn to speak the language of your students. Pay attention to what works and what doesn't work in the classroom. Each of your students is different. But none of them needs to be the object of intellectual browbeating. Jesus often drew tight boundaries around His mission. He knew how to say no. So did the apostle Paul. So can you. Fellow writer, say no to verbosity. Say no to the temptation to write everything you know about your subject. Yes, we know you're an expert. That is precisely the problem. (This, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with the two most recently published beginning Greek grammars.) Say yes to succinctness. Say yes even to humor. Use the first person. No one will object except for your high school English teacher, and she is long gone.

May I tell you something else? Maintain constant eye contact with your students as you address them. And try -- please try -- to be at least moderately entertaining. Telling a joke in class is not a sin. Being boring is. And there are plenty of boring teachers. Let's not perpetuate this trend.

7:30 AM My first post this morning is nothing other than a few random, undeveloped reflections that came to me as I sat in various air terminals over the weekend. (Don't we love air travel?) As I sat in my chair I reflected on my place in the world. How do I feel about my social roles, my work, my purpose in life, my family roles? How are my aspirations and goals being violated -- or invigorated -- by my current relationships? Disney's Lion King is famous for its theme song, "Circle of Life." It depicts the cycle of life and death in the animal kingdom. There is sunrise and sunset, safety and danger, health and illness, life and death. I imagine this same perspective applies to human relationships. In fact, one of the most important things about you is the relationships you have with others. And for these relationships to be strong, other people have to be intentional in how they maintain them with you. Moreover, we are constantly rethinking our relationships -- prioritizing, consolidating, simplifying, eliminating. We seek deep instead of surface relationships. We ask, "How big do I want my circle of relationships?" Relationships can be healthy and beneficial. They can also be toxic and harmful. This is, I think, one of the pressing human issues of the day. I have no shortcuts to offer. But I believe God will grant us healthy relationships when we dedicate ourselves to Him.

Most modern lives resemble a patchwork quilt. There seems to be no consistent pattern by which to function. There is no centralized, unifying force at the center of our lives. Our lives resemble an orchestra warming up -- a thousand jarring sounds. "Why should Dave mention all of this?" you ask. Well, folks, currently I'm praying about my circle of relationships. My quest is for what Augustine once called the "well-ordered heart." He suggested that to have a well-ordered heart we need to love (a) the right thing (b) to the right degree (c) in the right way (d) with the right kind of love. His point is that we can love others with an evil as well as with a good love. We can love others selfishly or selflessly. We can love others in a well-ordered or haphazard way. So how do we go about transforming our hearts into hearts that love the right thing to the right degree in the right way with the right kind of love?

Again, I have no answers. If there's one thing I've learned in 63 years of living it's that spiritual transformation can't be orchestrated or programmed. We need spiritual sails to help us catch the wind of the Spirit. For Jesus, that meant foregoing certain relationships, even with members of His own earthy family. It meant reducing (rather than increasing) the number of His followers. In a sense, each one of us chooses our friendships whether or not we are intentional about it. We choose by default. Today I'm seeking an undivided heart. "Purity of heart," wrote Kierkegaard, "is to will one thing." The goal is a life that is integrated, a life focused on one thing -- what Jesus called "seeking first the kingdom of God." Imagine having a mind cleansed of all the debris that blocks our single-mindedness. As difficult as it is for me to admit it, I often quench or stifle God's voice. As Christians we need to be responsive to God's leading. If we have a sense that God wants us to do something, we must say yes. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has come to guide us, and we can experience His leading as definitely and immediately as did the people of Israel when they followed the cloud by day and the fire by night.

Well, that's it for these cogitations of mine on relationships. For today at least. I'll be revisiting this issue in future posts for sure. God, it seems, is pouring His love over me in such an extravagant manner these days that it's all I can do to keep standing upright under the flood. At the same, He's nudging me from where I am to where I know I ought to be. And for once I have no pat answers, no Christian platitudes. I don't know how I'm going to do this, but it's got to get done.

Monday, November 16

6:36 PM Yo folks! Hope you had a great weekend. I had a wonderful time in the city by the sea. It was busy for sure. On Saturday morning I ran a 5K for lung cancer research at Folly Beach. I was shocked to hear that lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. And get this: over the past 37 years the rate of new lung cancer cases has risen among women by a whopping 98 percent! And it's not all due to smoking either. So it was great to be able to help the American Lung Association reach their goal of $70,000. There were tons of racers, which I was very happy to see. Then, on Saturday night, I spoke at a men's dinner at Old Fort Baptist, and the next morning I had the chance to speak twice at the same venue. To wrap things up, this morning I spoke at Charleston Southern University. Baptists love to eat and I feel like I'm going to pop. Since my hotel was next to the university, I did my cardio on campus. One evening I did 3 miles as the sun was setting. It was gorgeous.

As for the church meetings, I have rarely been part of a church missions conference that was so providential. The pastor had been teaching on "every Christian is a missionary" for the past month. They hoped my talks would be the icing on the cake. I was humbled to be given this important task. The messages burned in my heart as I gave them. My prayer is that God will use them to prepare God's people at Old Fort to live the most Jesus-looking lives they possibly can. My hope in making this trip was that my audience would take the risk of opening their minds wide enough to become in danger of challenging a view of Christianity that they may have held for 10, 20, or all the years of their life. We've all experienced paradigm shifts, but not all paradigms are created equal. I would wager that the most dangerous paradigm shift of all is the one that demands that we renounce "Christianity." It's a shift that produces a brand of Christianity that lives out the fullness of the Gospel and gives it the luster it once had. It's a shift that helps instead of hinders the progress of the kingdom. In effect, we are recovering the lost wisdom of Jesus, though it must be remodeled for a twenty-first century church. I desire to see a new generation of Christians who hunger for the Bible to touch each and every part of their lives. The only question left for us is: Are we willing to embrace a wider, smarter, humbler, and more biblical Christianity, or will we cling to the tassels of the Pharisees? All it takes is "repentance" -- a Hebrew idea that means, essentially, to "return." As believers, let's begin there.

My heartfelt thanks to my former student Charles McCallum (now at Old Fort) for arranging my trip and to Peter Link (Ph.D. in Old Testament, SEBTS) for inviting me to speak in his class on campus. Traveling and speaking is the hardest thing I've ever had to do but it's so rewarding. I'm so weak that I have to live in almost complete dependence and trust. Thanks so much for your prayers and texts. As always, they keep me going!

Some pictures:

1) At RDU. Have coffee, will travel!

2) Historic Old Town Charleston, with Fort Sumter in the distance.

3) Get ready to rumble at Folly Beach!

4) Where's my board when I need it?!

5) My personal best time and pace. Woohoo!

Still haven't cracked that 30 minute barrier. One day maybe!

6) The men's dinner featured frog legs. Now them is some happy boyz!

7) Speaking from Luke 3:23 on Sunday morning.

8) Charleston Southern University just gets prettier and prettier every time I visit it.

9) Peter Link's beginning Hebrew class. I had just cracked a lame joke.

It was a great privilege to speak to them about the importance of biblical Hebrew for New Testament studies.

This evening I'm writing a few thoughts about relationships. I'm also jotting down a few ideas about the value of succinctness. If I have time, I'll post my musings in the morning before leaving for campus. Until then, blessings!

Friday, November 13

8:06 AM I'm taking a couple of new books with me to Charleston to read on the trip. I have three "rules" when reading:

1) Whenever I read a new book I always read it through from beginning to end in one sitting and without pondering the things I don't understand. I find I have a much better chance of understanding a book on second reading after I've already gained a bird's-eye-view of its contents.

2) As for speed of reading, my golden rule is a simple one. I read a book no more quickly than I can read it with satisfaction and comprehension. I can generally skim a book on my first reading. This gives me some idea of its form and structure. I am thus prepared to read it well the second time around. I can always tell whether a book is a "good" book. A good book is one that is always over my head in some sense. It forces me to think, to stretch, and to pull myself up to its level.

3) As for marking in books, I do so religiously. My pen is my best friend in reading a new book. Whether underlining major points or placing an asterisk in the margin or circling key words and phrases, I try to read consciously and interactively.

How do you read a book?

7:58 AM If I were cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Turkey fail

7:46 AM Several years ago a 14-year old sent Becky and me a letter indicating her interest in missions. This was my response. Since Christmas is almost upon us, I thought it might bear repeating.

My dear sister in Christ,

How I praise God for your interest in missions! I am thrilled to see how God is stirring in your heart. It is a wonderful thing to live in a nation that is saturated with the Gospel and with churches. Yet even the very name of the Savior is still unknown to millions of lost souls. Sometimes I hear young Christians tell me, "I feel called to stay here in America and minister to our churches." I fail to hear any heart for the nations. How can that be? Jesus made it very clear, dear sister, what His mission mandate is for each of us who claim to follow Him. The fields are white unto harvest, and He is sending us into those fields just as the Father sent Him (John 4:34-38). Will you too make it your one goal to follow the Christ of the Gospel with your whole heart?

Soon it will be Christmas again. Christians in America will overeat, send cards to people they hardly know, and give gifts they can't afford. I think of a church that spends $25,000 each year just on the scaffolding for their "living Christmas tree." I've often thought to myself, Isn't our self-indulgence a strange way to celebrate the coming of the world's Savior? The shameful hoarding of our possessions prevents the rest of the world from discovering the truth. Jesus was not content to stay in Capernaum. He was always pressing on to preach the Good News in the next village. We must be willing, as He was, to leave our comforts behind and let everything go for the sake of the Gospel. We must be willing to exchange anything and everything for the pearl of great price -- the kingdom of God.

For Becky and me, "missions" is not something we do. It is simply an extension of Christ's life in ours. The church is nothing more than the living presence of a God whose heart is pounding with passion for the lost. Christ's heart cry was for the dead and the dying, not for the self-righteous. Just think about it. A typical new church building in America costs as much as 2,000 simple meeting halls in places like Ethiopia and India. Yet we still manage to rationalize away our extravagant, oversized, and inefficient church buildings. Where is the fruit that would authenticate our faith? Jesus is not the Santa Claus we have made Him out to be. With awe, reverence, and obedience, we are to worship Him by carrying out His desires and fulfilling His commands. Becky and I are fulltime ambassadors of Christ in the courts of a rebellious world. Our wills are submitted and surrendered. As imperfect as we are (and we are very imperfect!), we are willing to let go of family, friends, and our own agendas for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus never apologized for calling His disciples to a life of self-surrender and self-denial. Will you say, "Lord, I will follow You. I offer you what I have as a 14-year old. I am but a stranger and pilgrim on this earth, and I cannot be at peace until the whole world knows of You. I will pay any price to see others know the love of God."

This, my dear sister in Christ, is the "normal" Christian life. And none of us is ever too young or too old to learn the power of voluntary self-surrender. It's simply called obedience. And when we learn to run to it and embrace it, then we've begun to live the life of "reasonable service" our Lord requires of us (Rom. 12:2).

As never before, the world needs God's servants who are willing to give their all to fulfill the Great Commission. Will you be one of them?

In the Lamb,

Dave Black

Thursday, November 12

3:14 PM Here's another true confession. I guess you might say I'm not a huge fan of lengthy introductions when I speak. They sound too much like eulogies. Not long ago I was introduced with a long list of publications and superlatives. It was a nice introduction, but it wasn't introducing me. My past accomplishments are just that: past and unimportant. I've learned that life is to be lived in the present. I still have goals for the future, plenty of them. If I read Phil. 3 correctly, having goals is more important than attaining them. I've learned a great deal from the biographies of such scholars as F. F. Bruce who still had ambitions after they retired. What is my ambition in life? To be my best. To achieve everything the Lord wants me to achieve. I've crested many hills, but they're all behind me now. Life is a present race with constant demands. Each day is important. And always, it's more important to emphasize why something is done and not merely what. I admit, there are still some temptations toward self-indulgence. I still tend to look backwards. There's no denying how attractive those leeks, garlic, and honey of Egypt are. But there's no sense in living in the past. None whatsoever. Being forward-looking means becoming the best you can be now. No matter how old I get, the race of life remains a rewarding experience. My 5K times might be not be improving, but it doesn't matter. I'm still running. At my age, I'm free. Free to do something with the person God made me. I'm not sure where I read this, but studies have shown that the two life cycles with the greatest creativity are 38 and the early 60s. But frankly, it's not age but the self that's the issue. Are you living in the past? Is nostalgia a game you like to play? Is yesteryear what it's all about? I am a human being, created and recreated in God's likeness, capable of infinitely more than I ever suspected. I know I look old, but I feel like a healthy young man. On Saturday morning I'll get in that starting line and sweat it out. Then, that evening, I'll teach my heart out. I'll repeat that process on Sunday morning. The Old Adam will resist, of course, but I'll tell him to take a hike. Take Saturday's race. If I'm fated to be a mediocre 5K runner, I promise you I'll be the best mediocre runner I can possibly be. The lesson? I'm not sure. Maybe it's simply this: Never dwell on the past. It's, well, past. It is far more profitable -- and much healthier too -- to stretch our body, soul, and spirit in the here and now to find our limits.

I have come to agree with Paul's philosophy: Christians do not have convictions; they live them. And the time to live our convictions is now.

1:04 PM Well, I see that the Chinese version of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is about to be released. Here's the cover. I can't read a word of it.

12:55 PM One of my daughters has compiled a list of Becky's well-known "sayings." How cool is that?

Who was Becky? Can you even remember? I can. She loved God. She trusted Him. She prayed to Him, a lot. And I, her husband, prayed with her. I thought surely the Lord would protect and guide -- and give healing. But it was the cancer that won.

What, then, is faith? It's certainly not optimism. Faith is recoiling in horror because you expected God to operate in a certain way, and then deciding to trust Him anyway. This weekend in South Carolina, I'll be speaking about true discipleship. Discipleship is simply thinking as God thinks. Just look at Jesus' life. It means the end of self, the acceptance of hardship, and unconditional obedience. "If you care for your own safety, you'll be lost. But if you will let yourself be lost for My sake, you will find your true self" (Matt. 16:25). Becky was a woman who found her true self. She let go of what the world calls "security," surrendered to the Lord, and offered herself unreservedly into His hands. I think her "sayings" encapsulate this way of living well. See if you don't agree.

And now for my daughter's essay:

“Just want ya to know…”

And other phrases that mom used so frequently that they are forever etched in my mind.

As we have all discussed in the last few weeks, Mom was an incredibly special person.  There are so many things that made her unique that we would fail to try to write them all.  Yet, in the last days and weeks, I’ve found myself contemplating the phrases that she used so often that in our home they’ve become known as “her” phrase.  We find ourselves often saying, “well, you know what Mama B always said…”  Here’s my attempt at jotting down a few of those phrases.  I hope you’ll enjoy.

It’s just a guide.   It’s no secret that Mama B had a deep desire to make every single moment of her life count for eternity.  One of the ways that she insured a productive use of her time was through her lists.  Any person who entered her home would doubtless have seen her lists.  She had a “things to do” list for each day.  She had a list for groceries, a list for things that she wanted to accomplish but not necessarily for the immediate day.  And there’s no telling how many lists were needed for each mission trip that she coordinated.  She was well organized; there is no doubt about that.

But mom also knew that God was sovereign.  And mom cared about people and investing in people more than projects.  Often times God would bring a circumstance into any given day that would trump her goals for the day.  If there was a need, particularly from one of her daughters, she was always quick to say, “it’s just a guide” when contemplating the list of things that would inevitably not get done for the sake of caring for another’s needs.  I’m so thankful for the way that she modeled this for me. 

God knows.  Mom had a strong understanding of the character of God, and because of this she was able to (seemingly effortlessly) rest in His character.  She sometimes found herself in difficult situations with the various issues that accompany ministry.  And she would so frequently say, “God knows.”  There was no need for her to fight needlessly, or to defend herself, or to try to be something that she simply was not.  She would examine herself before the Lord and then rest knowing that He alone knew all. 

BacaThis is the Ethiopian word for “enough.”  Mom had learned as an MK at a very early age to train her emotions.  For her, there was no time for indulging in a pity party.  Whether mom was working with a fussy toddler or dealing with a grumbling 30+ year old daughter, she was quick to stop it with the simple word, “baca.”  The neat thing about mom was that she had such wisdom, and this single word could be spoken in so many different tones.  She knew when we needed a gracious gentle nudge back to truth.  But she was just as aware when we needed a firm rebuke.  While none of the people in my home have made the trip to Ethiopia (yet), we still often speak this phrase to each other.

And, Hulet, Zost, Bilu! Mom had a fabulous tradition that so many of us daughters have adopted into our own families.  When a meal was served, no one was to eat until ALL had been served.  The cue that it was time to dig in was simply counting, “one, two, three, ENJOY!” To make it all the more exciting and fun, we would count in Amharic and sometimes German, but very rarely in English.

It’ll be what it’ll be.  Again this phrase so often used by mom expresses her intense trust in the care and sovereignty of her Lord.  This phrase should never be confused with some lase fare attitude-- quite the contrary, in fact.  Mom knew she had a responsibility to use her life and every resource given to the fullest extent for God’s glory.  But at the end of the day there were times when she had no control over a situation, and so she would remain calm and unfrazzled about these situations.  Some examples that I remember clearly discussing with her were things like trying to apply for visas for travel, thinking through the effects of chemo on her body, and even things like the weather on student days and such.

This is grace.  Mom knew that she had been saved by grace, and she trusted that every single event that took place in her life came through the Lord’s hand of protection and was ultimately an act of grace upon her.  She was quick to make sure that each of us trained our minds to think this way too.  The piles of laundry, the house full of sick children, the flat tire, the unexpected pregnancy, the difficulties in church, all were to be seen as an opportunity to acknowledge God’s grace in our life.  The years of her instilling this in my head have been so critical in the last years as we all watched mom suffer so much and then to die.  Oh! that we could all echo with mom that this is all, indeed, grace.

Not gonna worry ‘bout that This goes along with several of her other often used phrases, but I’ve saved it for last for a reason.  The usual context that I would hear this phrase was in the daily mundane this and that of life.  However, as I sat with mom in her last few days of life on earth, it was hard to tell if she was altogether “there” or not.  But she would repeat some words over and over again.  Sometimes she made no sense at all, but other times it was as if she was working through some list in her mind…checking things off her mental list as she prepared to go be with her Savior.  And do you know one of the phrases that she repeated over and over again in those final hours.  It was this one, “not gonna worry about that.”  Perhaps it wasn’t a list she was working through.  Perhaps she was still facing attacks from the evil one.  She knew that she would claim Christ’s righteousness for her own, and there was no need to worry about any accusation that came from the evil one.  Whatever the context, she was able to rest safe in His care.

I bet that mom would be flattered for us to contemplate her words and to even incorporate them into our own use.  But I’m certain she would only be pleased if we looked beyond the woman and her words to the Savior whose character had affected every way of life for her, including her speech.

10:40 AM Travel update: Lord willing, this weekend I'll be back in Charleston, one of my all-time favorite U.S. cities. I have the honor of speaking Saturday evening at Old Fort Baptist Church at their sportsmen's banquet, and then in both of their Sunday morning services. On Saturday morning I'll also be participating in the annual Lung Force Walk/Run 5K in Folly Beach. The race starts at 9:00 am. The goal is to raise $70,000 for the American Lung Association. Believe it nor not, lung cancer is still is the number one cause of cancer in the U.S. The best news of all? It's a flat course!!!!!

Wednesday, November 11

6:24 PM Food-wise, it's so good to be home again. Tonight I had a homemade tuna fish sandwich and a carrot for supper. Delicious. But if I have to eat out, I sure wish we had this restaurant here that I found up North.

The food was outstanding, the service was excellent, and there wasn't a single TV set in sight!

4:42 PM This arrived in today's mail. I gave it a very strong endorsement.

4:36 PM I see that Talbot (my alma mater) has an opening in Old Testament.

4:26 PM Random reflections ....

1) I'm not over the hill. I'm just a little farther down the curvature of the earth.

2) Remember the name Michael Green. I know of no one who is more passionately engaged with what it means to call the church to its fullest potential. You can find his writings at Amazon. Pastor friend, I double dare you to read his books.

3) If the church cannot become a place for real, honest people (including real, honest leaders), it doesn't have a future nor does it deserve one.

4) God, pardon the cheesiness, but I still pinch myself whenever I think about You saving me when I was 8 years old. Thank You.

5) Thanks to my DBO audience for reading my stuff and treating me like I belonged among bloggers.

6) Thanks, R. C. You are a real friend. You are as wise as you are kind.

7) Thanks, K. B. I needed that Holy Spirit kick in the pants in the other day. You're the greatest.

8) Thanks, H. N. I wouldn't work with your company if it weren't for your absolute commitment to ministry.

9) Thanks to my Greek teacher, Harry Sturz, for giving me the gift of curiosity. It was 39 years ago when he hired me to teach Greek at Biola. Egads. Was it really that long ago?

10) Thank you, Rosewood Farm. You will always feel like home to me.

11) I've always dreamed of being an airplane pilot.

12) We choose how we will respond to heartache. We can move from a "broken heart" to a "broken-open heart." God, let Becky's death lead me to a more vibrant life serving You.

13) I used to groan for Christ's second coming. Now I groan with earnestness.

14) Our labels in the church strike me as being silly. Why can't pastors just asked to be called "brother"?

15) An increasing number of folks my age are getting into shape. They are saints in my book.

16) Give what you have. Because you have something worthwhile to give. It isn't enough just to get.

17) What makes the church toxic is not its size or wealth. What makes the church toxic is when it weaves the illusion in our minds that greatness is about physical things when real Christianity is nothing other than humble living in a way that actually looks like the ministry of Jesus.

18) A healthy community is always an honest community.

19) Today I like myself more than I have in years.

20) It is pointless to argue with people in the church about politically divisive issues. The one exception is The Donald's hair.

21) Even mainline denominations have in their folds strands of evangelicalism. I know. I've seen it.

22) "We belong in a bundle of life" (Desmond Tutu).

23) Family relationships are extremely fragile. Our legs are wrapped together in crepe paper. If we're going to move at all, we're going to have to move in unison.

24) I've been flirting. With bowling. Used to bowl all the time in high school. Love that hobby.

25) "I'm in this with you." Tell that to someone today.

26) Church no longer has a capital "C" in my book.

27) New word in my vocabulary: calendaring.

28) Someday I may rename my property Masterpeace Farm.

29) I want to be free of my fear of heights.

30) I like listening to a good sermon. I especially like listening to God speak through regular people.

31) I love tough women. Becky was one. She was, in that sense, a true Christian. "We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah," writes Dorothy Sayers, "certified him 'meek and mild,' and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand."

33) My favorite words include mercy, love, friendship, redemption, music, aging, health, conversation, partnership, healing, weakness, and brokenness.

34) Confession time: I ate two Dunkin' Donuts at the Dulles airport. It's a hazard of airline travel. Forgive me, Lord.

35) I really wish we celebrated the Lord's Supper as an actual weekly meal as practiced by the early church (Acts 20:7). Even if that means the sermon has to be cut short.

36) I'll confess that I get impatient with mediocrity. My own especially.

37) I think of Scripture as scaffolding. It holds up the old bricks in your life.

38) I don't believe in reading the Bible just to read the Bible.

39) I tend to compartmentalize my life. Of course it's wrong, but I do it anyway.

40) If you don't answer emails within 24 hours, you are rude, plain and simple.

Tuesday, November 10

9:55 AM Hey folks! My trip to G-Burg was just what the doctor ordered. I guess you could say I found perspective again. I teach. I write. I travel. I serve. I farm. I study history. But none of that is my identity. I don't even find my identity in being a dad. I am simply my Father's beloved, as are you. I worry that our evangelical superstars are ruining the church. Instead of seeing rulership in the New Testament I see relationship. Sometimes the most holy thing we can do is listen to those who are suffering and make their sorrow our own. This is how I want to live. See a need? Meet it if you can. Is someone sorrowing? Be there for them if you can. Feel like your batteries need recharging? Spend time with Jesus. I think the kingdom is far more simple than we make it. Enjoy a hike with God. Do a good deed for someone that no one knows about. Love your enemies. And fill your eyes with the light of Jesus. I am 63. I hope I can still change. I hope I can still grow. This weekend was like going for a long walk in a beautiful forest. Finally room to breathe. A cool, fresh wind in my face. Here I am, my Daddy's son.

Oh, Lord, You're beautiful.

Your face is all I seek.

And when Your eyes are on this child,

Your grace abounds to me.

P.S. Here are a "few" pix. Grab a second cup of coffee if you have the time and I'll show you where I've been.

1) After arriving in Dulles early Thursday morning, I made a beeline for a historical site I had never had the chance to visit before. The Battle of Ball's Bluff took place fairly early in the war. I hiked the battlefield and then headed to my next stop, Harpers Ferry.

2) To reach the old town of Harpers Ferry you have to stop at the ranger station and catch a bus.

3) Here, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, John Brown led an armed band of insurrectionists in an effort to establish an independent stronghold of freed slaves. He and his men overran the arsenal and took some hostages.

4) On October 18, 1859, a company of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Jeb Stuart overwhelmed Brown and his men. Later, in 1862, Harpers Ferry would be captured by Stonewall Jackson during the Sharpsburg Campaign.

5) During that battle, A. P. Hill's Division was left behind in Harpers Ferry to parole the Union prisoners. But when Hill got an urgent call for assistance from Lee, he marched his men to Sharpsburg and reached the battlefield just in time to neutralize the threat to Lee's right. 

6) This was my fifth visit to the Sharpsburg/Antietam battlefield.

7) Becky and I once spent our anniversary on the battlefield, here in the Piper Farm House, which was used by Longstreet as his headquarters during the battle. It's no longer a bed and breakfast, but I have fond memories of taking long walks in the adjacent fields with Becky.

8) Everyone knows about the famous "Sunken Road" at Sharpsburg. When we reenacted the battle many years ago, my unit was on the far right of the road and took many "casualties." Ah, the fates of war.

9) That evening I arrived in Gettysburg intent on jogging the field of Pickett's Charge. I made the round trip in less than 30 minutes.

10) This is as far as Confederate General Lewis Armistead got on that fateful day.

11) Off in the distance were the Round Tops. I decided that the next day I would ascend both.

12) On Friday I began my trek at the national park visitor center. A ranger suggested I hike from the center to the Round Tops and back. To do this, you have to make your way south along Cemetery Hill and Ridge, the sturdy perch from which the Union army made a stand for two bloody days.

13) My walk took me past the Leister Farm House, which served as General Meade's headquarters during the battle, then along Hancock Ave. As the fight on Day 1 died down, Meade called his corps commanders together at this house. By candlelight the generals decided to remain and fight it out at Gettysburg rather than retreat south. "Such then is the decision," said Meade. The house is tiny. It has but two little rooms. I suppose it would have been torn down many years ago but for the vagaries of history.

14) As you can see, the park was almost completely deserted.

15) Eventually you arrive at Meade's statue along Cemetery Ridge. (It was an odd war: Meade's sister married a planter from Mississippi and her son died at Fredericksburg fighting for the Confederacy.) The statue does a good job of portraying Meade's balding head and pouchy eyes that always seemed to give an air of melancholy. At Gettysburg, Meade was at his best. Sadly, his reputation took a considerable nose-dive when he let Lee escape back into Virginia. Lee won the race to Williamsport, and the war dragged on and on.

16) Here is the famous "clump of trees" that everyone knows about from the movie Gettysburg.

17) The largest of the 1,200 monuments in Gettysburg belongs to the great state of Pennsylvania, for obvious reasons.

18) This is the George Weiker farm house. It stands in the shadow of Little Round Top. It served as a field hospital during the battle, with wounded filling every room and arms and legs piled up outside the windows. Horrible.

19) As you continue south you see the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field to your right. (Like the Sunken Road at Sharpsburg, certain place names in America deserve capitalization.) I was reminded of Union General Sickle's folly in moving his men forward contrary to orders. From this point you begin to ascend until you reach the summit of Little Round Top. Here, on the second day of the battle, Federal signalmen waved their flags to communicate with other portions of Meade's army. General Gouverneur Warren was one of them -- the army's chief engineer. He still stands here today, field glasses in hand.

20) The Federals resisted repeated Confederate attempts to flank the Union Army. The struggle for Little Round Top was ferocious. But none of this was obvious on this peaceful November day.

21) It's eerie standing on the exact spot and seeing the exact stones where the 20 Maine made its stand.

22) "L" stands for "Left." This was the end of the line for the entire Federal Army of the Potomac on July 2, 1863.

23) Five minutes later I had made it to the summit of Big Round Top.

24) The round trip was about 7 miles and it took me exactly 1:39 to walk it. The little curl in the line at the bottom shows where I stopped at Little Round Top.

25) I love the Lutheran Seminary building. There's a wonderful museum in it now. 

26) On Sunday I was blessed to find a Southern Baptist congregation in Gettysburg.

27) Here's pastor Steve. He baptized three young people that morning. Woohoo!

28) My final goal of the trip was to see where Lee had sent Jeb Stuart and his cavalry on the third and final day of battle.

29) It was in this field that Stuart's attempt to get into the rear of the Union Army was thwarted by a newly minted Union General named George Armstrong Custer.

30) While in Gettysburg I couldn't resist having my picture taken as a general in gray...

31) ... and as a general in blue....

32) ... and as a general nuisance.

So ... a great trip it was, in every way. I'm never sure how to respond when people ask me how I'm doing. Obviously the loss of Becky was devastating. I will never have her back again. Yet I can say without any hesitation that God has used this experience to grow me in Him. The process is so slow I am never really conscious of it. But this weekend I realized again just how much He loves me. The loss that so impoverished me is also the loss that made me rich with new relationships, new experiences, new interests, and a closer walk with Him. I miss Becky like the dickens. But she died with dignity and with a glorious future ahead of her. I can still hear her laughter, see her face in every room of Bradford Hall, watch her hands busy working for Jesus, and I end up believing with greater depth and joy than I had before.




Thursday, November 5

4:03 AM Run your race. Don't bury a single talent of yours. God designed you to be good at something. Now find it and do it.



Wednesday, November 4

5:32 PM Odds and ends ....

1) I love Old Wake Forest. It was here that the Manual Labor Institute was founded in 1833. Students took courses in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and mathematics. They lived in former slave cabins and went to class in the carriage house. The town of Wake Forest College was eventually founded in 1880. So much history to see when you're doing your morning exercise!

2) Here I am giving away boxes of books to Moncy Mammen to take with him back to India, where he serves as principal of the Hebron International School.

Love it. Listen, just because everyone else is building their gigantic libraries doesn't mean you have to as well. I am a guy who loves books. That's who I am. I love reading them and I love writing them. But take a lesson from me: Don't think twice about handing your books over to people who need them far more than you ever will. Giving away books is just a matter of good stewardship. Most of your books have been completely untouched for years. But in India (and a dozen other countries) there are students who just can't wait to get their hands (and eyes) on them. When I retire I don't want any books left in my library. Not one!

3) Oh, and here's Moncy's dad, Mammen Joseph. He's given my daughter Nili the keys to her new scooter.

Writes Nili:

I am so very grateful to you for providing me the gift in the form of two-wheeler (scooty). The scooty is very beautiful in maroon color. It’s the most expensive gift I have ever got. And I am so much enjoying riding it. God truly fulfills our needs and He has fulfilled through you. Every time I ride it, I remember you.

"Scooty" she calls her new two-wheeled motor bike. Cute. Nili tells me she uses it to get back and forth to college. Good reader, I don't mean to sound selfish, but man, I love what God is doing in Nili's life. Every good, meaningful possibility in life comes from Him. Amen!


4) Tomorrow morning early (as in 6:00 am) I fly to Washington Dulles to begin my trek to Gettysburg. Who knows the routes I'll take in getting here? I'll probably start out at Harper's Ferry, then traipse on up to Sharpsburg, MD, following in the tracks of Lee and his troops in 1862, and from there to Chambersburg and possible Carlisle before heading south toward The Burg of Getty. I just had a full-blown-tears-down-the-face-cry thinking about Becky, and I believe I just need to get away from the house for a few days. Mind you, I am not interested at all in Civil War history. Zero, zilch, nada. (I love to tease.) I plan to do a lot of hiking in the national military parks. I might even have my likeness taken again in the role of Lee after he became the president of Washington College (remember that old photo of him wearing an oversized black suit and looking like a grizzled old bear?). Here's Lee with some of his old cronies at White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia in 1869, a year before his death.

Gettysburg could have been a huge success for Lee had not the Union Army regrouped on a place called Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge -- the twin foci of my research on this trip. I've even hired an authorized park guide to help me. He better be good. The "Wo-ah" (as we say here in southern Virginia) is one of the most riveting stories of history. It will gobble you up if you're not careful. Then you'll end up buying a bunch of books that you'll end up giving away anyhow.

Tuesday, November 3

8:25 AM Two more from the "testimony file":

1) I am thinking about my dear friend who left us two years ago. She was so very precious; a joyful and delightful giant of a lady. I will never forget the day she announced that she had cancer.  My heart was deeply saddened as I wondered what the days ahead would be like.  She demonstrated true trust in our Lord as she moved forward adding the new challenges before her to her already full life. 

I remember being amazed at how she refused to let the doctor’s visits, sickness and all cancer related additions stop her from living daily life to the fullest.  I thought people “stopped life” to concentrate on the urgency of cancer, but not BeckyLynn. Her plans were altered, but her following hard after Christ never changed. Yes, she had difficult days and bumps in the road came, but she flowed along through them resting in her sovereign Lord. All who watched her could plainly see that she had vision, purpose and determination to follow God. She had no intention to quit pressing forward to do those things she was passionate about.  Serving God, loving her husband, living life to the upmost and making a difference in the lives of others motivated her as the months came and went. Oh, how I miss that joyful smile, words of encouragement, little outings together, lunch, and her laughter that gave me a happy heart.

No matter how we spent our together times she intentionally included Christ, without fail.  BeckyLynn had a special greeting for others and it went like this, with her beautiful blue eyes sparkling and a big smile on her face,  “How are YOU?” with the emphasis on “you.”  How I loved to see her and hear that greeting.  Now to end this, I want to say that she loved her husband dearly, and she expressed concern for when she would no longer be there to take care of him. Even with that concern though, she trusted Dave to God’s keeping. Now that I have mentioned Dave, I must say that watching him care for his dear wife was a most beautiful picture of God’s mandate for husbands to love their own wives as they love themselves.

Dave and BeckyLynn lived out the Word of God in their marriage, and together they truly demonstrated Christ’s example of loving others more than themselves and His directive for marriage. Together, and individually, they stood strong hand-in-hand with the Lord of their lives through the easy times, the hard times, and ultimately the day of separation in this life. The friendship that I had with BeckyLynn Black was a privilege, an honor, and a true gift from God. I treasure the memories of her life with delight and gratitude.

2) Brother Dave,

I've been praying for you.  I walked through the cemetery this weekend and we had our time of corporate prayer for those being persecuted for their faith yesterday.  Those things always make me think about Becky (and you).  I've been thinking about ways that she impacted my life over the weekend.  Not only mine but so many others.  Yesterday as Moncy shared about their ministry again I was reminded of the selfless life that she taught me to live.  I'm not even close to being the example that she was or that the Lord wants me to be but I am desiring to be.

I know that she challenged me to be all that God created me to be.  She raised the bar of expectation and though sometimes the task seemed daunting she somehow knew what I was capable of doing in the Lords strength.  It was in those times that I truly began to discover my gift of teaching.  It thrills my soul to be in His Word studying in an effort to teach other women the things of God.   For that I am so grateful!! We will often say, "this is not Mama B in charge."  Anyone who was ever a part of her planning a trip or event would know exactly what that meant.  She was an amazing organizer and planner.  She even thought about how we would be affected after a trip and prepared us for that as well. 

She would drop me a note of encouragement from time to time and that would always mean the world to me.  I have a devotional book written by Amy Carmichael that she gave me.  Those little treasures I hold onto because I have never received anything like that from my own mother.  She knew that too.  I miss her and I'm so very thankful for the time that I had with her.  What a glorious day it will be to see her again as we live together forever with our precious Lord and Savior!!

May God Bless you brother Dave.  Thank you for all that you do to serve King Jesus and for sharing Becky's life with us.

8:10 AM So I survived the weekend. Yippee! So much love to all my kids. Without you, life would be a lot tougher. Thanks for being there (and for giving me space when I need it). Endless gratitude to my church family and blogging buds (you know who you are) who have taken the time to write me such encouraging emails. You are my cheerleaders. Thanks for letting me be me. Finally, thank you Jesus for being your brilliant, loving, and magnificent self. Yes, I need my friends. I need their companionship and counsel. But mostly, Jesus, I need you.

You folks may recall that I was whining the other day about how difficult the 5K course was last Saturday in Raleigh. (Yes, I know that Paul outlaws all "grumbling" and "complaining," but he didn't say boo about whining.) Well, today I discovered an elevation graph of the course:

Okay, wait. That only looks difficult. You should try and run it to realize its true hellishness. Lately, it has become clear to me that being a racer means that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Not every course is level. Um -- ain't the Christian life a bit like that? I mean, just when you think everything is going well, kazaam! Cue the music from Jaws. Yep. That's what last weekend was like for me. But just think -- that's over and done with! I'll never have to face that again! Smooth sailing from here on out!


Look at that chart again, Dave.

Jesus was correct: Following Him wasn't going to be easy. In fact, it seems to get tougher and tougher the older you are. I should know, since I'm an old geezer. I keep telling myself, "Self, if you truly loved Jesus more than anyone or anything else, you'd make a lot steadier progress in life." Well, I just lied to good old "Self." I'm engaged (as you are) in a war with the world, the flesh (myself), and you know who. How much harder can this possibly get? we ask. Life is going great -- and then you have a miscarriage. Or a cancer invasion. Or a nervous breakdown. None of us means to, but it's just so easy to make the Christian life into some kind of Christian utopia. A true fantasy world. Kinda reminds me of one of the Republican presidential candidates who, during a rally, held up his Bible. "See? Lookie here! Do you see it now? I'm an evangelical! See?" People like that remind me of a half-filled bag of Doritos-- not exactly "pressed down, shaken together, and running over." (And no, Mr. Trump, it's not okay to insult other people, even though you most certainly are better looking and richer than anyone else on the planet.)

So where does this leave me on ... THE DAY AFTER? About the same place I was three days ago. Trying to step graciously into my role as the household patriarch. Encouraging my students and the church at large to fill in each other's potholes and gaps so that the body of Christ can be whole. Taking one day at a time, knowing that I am surrounded by God's all-surrounding grace and the freedom it brings -- and the hope, and the joy, and the peace, etc. I've learned that life begins every day. Every when you get old. In the words of my dear sister-saint, Sarah-Patton Boyle:

I felt more alive as my seventy-fourth birthday rolled by than I had when I was young. Increasingly, I saw new possibilities, uninhibited confidence surged in me again. I was my own woman -- in some ways more than ever before.

Substitute "man" for "woman" and you'll get the idea perfectly. I can get older without getting old. My doctor tells me that my lifespan is related to my lifestyle. I believe her! Clearly, my body benefits from my workouts and races. But my mind and soul and emotions do too. When my students are taking a quiz I sometimes look out over my captive audience and ask silently, "Are you content with this total living person you are now? If this were your last day on earth, would you be satisfied?" You know, Becky was always in a state of "improving." She was never, ever satisfied with the status quo. In this respect we were a lot alike. Always growing. Always challenging ourselves to new and greater heights. We've all met octogenarians who felt younger at heart than many people half their age. But such perseverance requires spiritual resources. It means we can't avoid courses like the one depicted in the graph. You see, each one of us has three ages: our chronological age, our biological age, and our psychological age. You may be 30 but you may have the biological age of a 60-year old, and vice versa. You may be 60 but true age is measured by how you feel and act.

God still has a plan for this lump of clay. It may be old, but it can still be reworked. My prayer is that God would show me, this day, what new purposes He has for me. How 'bout you? Have some Face Time with Jesus today. This has everything to do with how you negotiate the ups and downs in the course of your life. And, by the way, isn't it time you got that old bod in shape?

(*Dave gets down off soapbox.*)


Monday, November 2

6:16 PM Bless your hearts, my dear readers. You've put up with me for two days of random reflections about the woman I called my wife for 37 years. For much of the weekend, the pain was unbearable. I sank back into the all-familiar waters of discouragement and anxiety. I was reminded: This was the hardest thing you've had to do, Dave. This weekend was a time to weep. Weeping offers its own consolation. Now it's time for my soul to take courage and travel on. At the age of 63, it seems to be a little late for God to be building character. But that's what He's doing. This is yet another chance to count on God's grace. With infinite wisdom and love, my life is constantly sustained. "And so God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage" (Ezra 9:8). This is a wonderfully comforting word to me tonight. Acceptance of loneliness is not passivism. Tomorrow I will teach my classes and mentor my students and participate in the victory of Christ. There is still the joy of sunlight and the scent of flowers and the breathing of pure air and the stars smiling like the eyes of God. My ruined plans now somehow fit into His larger plans. I begin another year -- without Becky. It's merely a new chapter, and I will go on living in a fractured world with fractured relationships. I am a widower. That's my assignment now. Another gift. Is it the end of the story? No. A thousand times no. It's just another chance to count on God's grace, just as you are doing in your life.

Folks, it has been my privilege to have shared my thoughts with you these past two years. Thanks for tuning in. Now let's all make tomorrow an offering to God, who can transfigure it into something for the good of others. After all, that's what He's left us here to do.



2:32 PM Thank you, Nate and Jessie, for a wonderful lunch with four awesome grandsons.

Nolan, I absolutely loved your new train layout. You and your pop are having way too much fun. Brings back memories of when your daddy was your age!

Alright Mr. Peyton, stop showin' off. I already know how cute you are!

A dozen roses in memory of my Texas belle. :)

10:18 AM Morning bloggers! Despite a rather tumultuous day yesterday emotionally, the Lord gave me a good night's sleep last night. My subconscious must have been wide awake, however, because I awoke at the exact time that Becky slipped into eternity. I got up, prayed, then began my normal Monday morning routine. I worked out at the gym, did the tread mill (it's raining outside), got gas for the van, then came home and had a light breakfast. Right now I'm playing catch up with your emails. Today I will celebrate Becky's life by placing flowers at her grave and then having lunch with one of my children and their family. For what it's worth, here's a list, by no means comprehensive, of some of the things I've learned in the past two years:

1) Whether life takes a dramatic turn or it stays the same, God is dependable. Always.

2) "You have to tell your story," people said. I chose to do so. I hope it was a blessing and a challenge to you. It was certainly cathartic for me.

3) My life is just about "normal" again. I have learned to make life work, the whole time relying solely on God's grace.

4) Loss means choice. One has to choose that God is still God, that He is wise and good and sovereign and loving and benevolent and all-powerful and compassionate. As shattered as I became two years ago today, I determined to learn as much as I could from the loss and understand how God works good out of evil.

5) Memories still flood my mind. That's a good thing. After all, I still love her.

6) I have not remarried. I have no desire to. I am content to learn how to function as a single father to all of my kids and grandkids.

7) My life is as rich today as it has ever been. It's not that my circumstances have changed. I have changed. I ponder life more deeply today than I did two years ago. I am also more content with the ordinary stuff of life. I have slowed down, smelled the roses (literally), and begun to live as joyfully and serenely as possible.

8) To my children who still feel sorrow on this day: It's okay. I expect we will all feel some sorrow and sadness for the rest of our lives. When you tell me, "I miss mom," I know exactly what you mean. We have gained much from her legacy and heritage; now we need to resolve to pass on that heritage to those who will come after us.

9) I have had wonderful encounters with many people over the past two years. I've reconnected with old college buddies who wrote to say they were praying for me. I've gotten back to the Islands. I've forged new friendships at the gym and on the track. It is moving to hear the stories of other people's losses. None of us has escaped death or loss. I hope we can continue to be an encouragement to each other.

10) Anniversaries and holidays are the hardest. I know this. You know this. But when those days come, they almost always seem to catch us off guard. Yesterday I felt so oppressed by sadness I could hardly function. And I realize that both Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the bend. My goal is to budget in breaks around those times so that I can give God time to work in my heart. Hold me to it, will you?

11) Developing new hobbies has been a life-saver for me. No matter how old I get, I want to continue walking and running and hiking and racing. In Saturday's race, I guess I ran at the middle of the pack. The eight-minute milers were long gone. As I neared the end of the course, I had run up and down several hills and was paying for the effort. As I crossed the finish line my chest was on fire, my legs felt like lead, I was losing my form. It was all I could do to finish. It mattered little, once I saw the smile on Anna's face. She was worth it -- and so was the cause of raising awareness about mental illness in our country. Each race for me is a challenge, a drama, and hopefully something God uses to stretch me. I'm glad I discovered this sport.

12) As I blogged yesterday, my dogs have come to mean a lot to me. I admire them. They live as we have to be told to live: one single day at a time. Like the birds, they look to God to meet their needs. They may not have "faith," but they sure do exercise "trust." They have become my new teachers.

13) My children and grandchildren have become a source of encouragement to me as well. Almost daily I hear from at least one or two of them either by text, email, or an occasional phone call or Face Time. Just before I crawl into bed at night I pray for each of them and ask God's richest blessings on their families. When it comes to family, my life is a bounty, and I am so grateful for that blessing.

14) At first, my loss made God seem distant. Now He is so close I can almost touch Him. This is the promise of true transformation. This is the power of the Gospel.

15) Catholic theologians often refer to the "sacrament of the present moment." Becky's death has made me more alive to the here and now. Today is the eternal now. It is the only chance I have to be alive, to know God, and to serve others.

16) Finally, the recurring challenge for me is to model for others, who will have their own turn to experience loss and grief, something of how to face their loss with integrity and an open heart. A few folks I know want me to write a book about my journey, but I have long since tabled that idea. My blog posts will have to suffice. As for tomorrow, I imagine the focus of this blog will change a bit. This is now my time to make every new day an offering of my best to the One who deserves our best. I hope that between now and November 2, 2016, I will learn to practice the Presence of Christ as never before, to come before His throne with new urgency and with a heightened eagerness to see His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. But whatever my condition when I show up in His presence -- whether as a Doubting Thomas or a trusting saint -- I have to believe that God will meet me there, providing what I need for that single day and for all the tomorrows of my life. As with anyone who has suffered a loss, I still have issues. I still have matters to work out. I'm far from perfect. But God's grace is mercifully wide. Despite all of our hang-ups, He loves us still.

Thanks to all of you for caring. Time and time again I have heard one of you say, "Dave, you have no idea much your blogging has meant to me." If you have been blessed, it's because you allowed my suffering to become yours. And now we must choose, likewise, to suffer with those who suffer, whether they be family members or friends or those being persecuted in the Middle East. Suffering is a pure gift to us. Let's all make the most of it.



Sunday, November 1

8:05 PM "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret" (Matt. 6:6).

But what about the dogs? I can't keep my grief private from them, can I? Even if I wanted to, I don't think I could. You see, my dogs have this sixth sense about them. Always have. I can't keep my pain entirely to myself because they witness it. They are members of this household and -- for crying out loud -- they will take their place at the great circle.

Here I am reading. I have my Bible and two books. Sheba jumps up on the sofa, while Dayda stands guard on the bottom deck. "He is lonely," their eyes seem to say. "We'd better stay close by."

It's an irony, but often the things that are taking place in the spiritual life are hidden to all but the eyes of God, while the outward appearance seems almost incidental. But I can bear solemn witness to the fact that dogs can indeed empathize. It's as though they are telling me, "It's okay to grieve, daddy. God is already here, and God's promise for you is, 'He shall still bring forth fruit in old age'" (Ps. 92:14). (I guess dogs know Scripture too.) Pets never seem to worry or fret. They know they will be cared for, fed, watered, and bathed. There isn't a man or woman anywhere, I am convinced, who does not long for the love of a dog. All creation praises God all the time -- the sun, the moon, the stars, the rivers, the sparrow. I have seen His face more than once in the faces of my puppies.

Big hugs, then, to Sheba and Dayda. I love it when you come over to be with me, regardless of your motives. I love keeping you safe, happy, and healthy. Yep, you're part of the family!

6:40 PM "I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God's purpose is that people should fear Him" (Eccl. 3:14).

I intended to go to the assembly this morning and thence to the grave, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. As you might surmise, that 100-foot wave I mentioned to you the other day? Well, it's hit, and with full force. Community is such a basic human need, but right now I just want to be with Him. Today my library was turned into a sanctuary. It's where I hear Jesus say, "I will see you through this." The Christian life isn't easy but it is simple. Be real. Cling to Jesus. And if you want to be a leader, become a servant.

So here I am, holding a worship service in a farm house. The tears come in bucket loads. It helps to remember that when Becky died, she was simply going home. There were days when she feared death, and days when she felt an odd exhilaration, knowing she would be meeting the One who met her daily in her prayers and in her deeds of service. Though I know those who love me are praying for me right now, it's exhausting just to walk or eat. It's a paradox: You relax into the pain, knowing that the force of the 100-footer eventually has to dissipate. Jesus refreshes us even in the midst of our suffering. His purpose is that I should "Fear God," as Solomon put it so long ago. I am being tested in ways I can't control, but I can still trust. Because God never leaves His people comfortless. Never.

11:06 AM The story of Julianna is the most heart-warming and heart-wrenching story you will read today. (Kleenexes handy?) Julianna is a dying 5-year old who has chosen heaven over hospital.

As Becky lay dying in our bedroom 2 years ago, I asked God to teach me the discipline of full release. If it was His will to heal Becky, I prayed for healing. But if it was my time to release Becky as she entered a new life with Him, I prayed that He would deepen my trust so that I could lie down in peace and sleep at night in the safety of His arms. In life or death, Becky and I were His. He gathers us all to Himself one by one and brings us home. God, today I join with all those who are losing someone they love. I ask that you lighten their sorrow and give them a strong sense of Your presence. Guide their doctors and hold their families near Your heart as they face this going. Preserve those who are left behind from resentment, fear, and despair. Sustain in them a spirit of thanksgiving for every day they had with their loved one. Help them to accept what they must and enjoy what they can until that day. Be near them and comfort them, and let them find their rest in you.

10:22 AM "Who will console you? Who will comfort you?" (Isa. 51:19). Human words do help. Thank you. Here are three more testimonies. The last one, by the way, reminds us to pray for the persecuted church around the world. This being Persecution Sunday, that's not a bad idea. 

I'm just thankful for how she invested in my life. She cared for me and my family!  She spoke truth and love into my life. She didn't have to do that. She chose to do that. I believe she did that because of her love of Jesus and because she wanted to obey Him.  She thought of others more than herself. She gave of her time, wisdom, and finances to help many. I still think of her often and I'm thankful God allowed me to be a part of her life.

It’s hard to imagine that it has been two years since MamaB went home to be with the Lord…. She is missed, there is no question about that. The truth is my wife and I think about her all of the time. A tall and beautiful woman, gentle and tender in how she expressed the love of Christ, full of wisdom, and always mindful that everything in her that was good and imitable—and there was much—was all the work of her wonderful Savior. She was an advocate. She was a nurturer. She was the most intentional disciple-maker we have ever known. Her life is evidence of how God can take a person and give them a huge impact at home and abroad, if they would just place their life in his hands and surrender it all. Her impact in so many of our lives is just one more example of how a continued, sacrificial, and resolved investment of one person’s life into someone else’s can really make the world a better place. MamaB’s investment in our lives is a constant reminder of the cost of discipleship. She taught me that though the cost is extremely high for one who is a disciple, it is even greater for one who makes disciples. The world needs more “moms” (Titus 2:3-5). There’s no question about that either. But, for us, there is and always will be only one MamaB.

I never gave Ethiopia any thought until I read Becky’s book. My heart was opened and began to pray for people suffering for Jesus around the world. I am grateful for that book because it challenged me to follow Jesus with an intense faith.

10:12 AM Since thousands have been asking what my race time was yesterday ....

9:40 AM Two years ago today Becky and I were still together. I sometimes ask myself: "What did we learn in 37 years of married life together?" Here are a few random answers to that question:

1) Contentment. "There is great gain in godliness with contentment," wrote Paul (1 Tim. 6:6). Becky and I knew what contentment was. We had learned to live with things we knew we couldn't change. We had learned that no matter how hard we tried, some relationships were never going to be healed. We had learned not to squabble over little things. We had learned not to expect too much from life. Contentment does not negate a commitment to caring. We cared about people, a lot. But life does have its limits. There are only so many things you can do, so many places you can travel to, so many people you can help. And contented people are okay with that.

2) Discernment. "Be very careful how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16). Two years ago Becky and I were 60 and 61 respectively. People over 60 don't believe in "killing time." They realize that life flies by. Time is a precious possession. Becky and I spent much time in prayer, seeking to discover God's will for our time, energy, and resources. Discernment led us to let go of certain pursuits and ministries. But it also led us in new directions in our work for Jesus. Both of us felt that even greater demands awaited us in the Lord's service. We were working harder than ever for the kingdom. We had learned to work wiser and not only harder. We rarely felt nostalgia for days gone by. Life needed to be lived in the "now." Wrote William Barclay, "The fault of age is that it has come to a stage when it prefers things as they are." What a shame. Jesus was always forward-looking. And that's how Becky and I wanted to spend the rest of our married life together.

3) Faith. I love Acts 2:17: "Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." As Becky and I entered the winter of our married life together, we continued to expand our horizons. We felt that our last years could be our best years -- a grace-filled period in which we leveraged our wisdom and experience for the Gospel. Though we both keenly sensed our heavenly citizenship, we knew we were here on earth with a heavy responsibility to return the gifts we had received. One of Becky's final dreams was to help a ministry in India establish a school that would make their ministry self-supporting and less dependent on funds from the West. We were always looking for new directions to stretch our faith. Growing older was simply a new leg on life's journey. We knew that God still had work for us to do if we only had the eyes of faith to see it.

4) Vulnerability. "The Lord said to me, "My grace is sufficient, because My power is made perfect in weakness '" (2 Cor. 12:9). Isn't there a touch of the Savior in being vulnerable? The older Becky and I got, the more committed we became to transparency, both in our writings and whenever we counseled with people. Our weaknesses and struggles could become places of healing and power for others. Have you noticed? There are some people you know who seem to be able to rebound from one loss after the other. They seem to have a deeper acceptance of life that carries them through life's sorrows. They don't have fewer problems than the rest of us. But they have a gusto for life that amazes you. Becky and I wanted to be like that. We shared honestly with others so that maybe they could learn how to rebound from their losses. Becky's book My Life Story is a reminder that she experienced pain in her journey. Scars are road maps that tell our life stories. What is important is what we do with those scars. Becky was a person who made even the bad things count for Christ.

5) Acceptance. About a year before Becky died we both came to the realization that we would not grow old together, that God was calling one of us Home to be with Him. We thought we had perhaps 12 months to say our goodbyes. We would often sit on the front porch recalling earlier days, memories of life together in California or Switzerland or Ethiopia. At other times we would sit there without saying a word, carefree and happy, old in body but young in spirit. We could not turn back the clock of years, but we could relish His Presence and anticipate a future Easter.

In his book How We Die, Sherwin Nuland says the aged and diseased "do not succumb to disease -- they implode their way into eternity." I smile whenever I read that, because that's exactly how Becky entered heaven. She died leaning forward. For her, entering eternity was merely the next crazy venture that God had in store for her. I want my final goodbye on this earth to be like that. I want it to come with a blessing -- and a nudge in the direction of heaven. "Goodbyes are part of every single day," wrote Joyce Rupp.

Sometimes we choose them, and sometimes they choose us. Usually they are small, not so significant losses that do not pain us very much, but at times they are deep, powerful, wounding experiences that trail around our hearts and pain inside of us for years....

Becky lived her last chapter with amazing courage and love. She never wanted to be the object of pity. She left a closet-full of unfinished projects and to-do lists, but I don't worry about that now. I didn't choose to say goodbye to Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. We had much work for the kingdom left to do together. But perhaps incompletion is itself a blessing. Perhaps it is a small closure that I need to accept. Possibly what is unfinished will remain unfinished. As John Milton put it so long ago, "God does not need man's work or his own gifts." One thing I do know, however. I know that on November 2, 2013, the God who began a good work in the life of Becky Black brought it to completion. If it is His will, God will carry through to completion all the acts and intentions that Becky left unaccomplished. And when I die, God will perfect what I leave imperfect. What I want now is to travel with grace over every new pathway, across every new threshold of life. Now, as I await the day when Becky and I will be reunited, I am aware that old things have already passed away, and all things are being made new.

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