"What to do with all this leftover life?" Here's my answer.
Sunday, September 24, 2023
I'm either hot or cold. Lukewarm is not in my vocabulary. I'm either all in or not in at all. This fall I will have been teaching for 47 years. I can tell you, I am more passionate about the classroom than ever. This November I will have been blogging for 20 years. I can honestly say that I love blogging more today than when I first started. I have been surfing for 62 years, running for 7, mountaineering for 6. Have I lost my passion? Not on your life.
"All in" means you accept every aspect of your life as a gift from your loving heavenly Father. It means you go through this life being yourself, but your best self. It means what Jim Elliot meant when he said, "Wherever you are, be all there." It means what John Newton meant when he wrote:
I'm not what I ought to be. I'm not what I want to be. I'm not what I hope to be in another world. But I'm not what I used to be. By the grace of God I am what I am.
It means what Paul meant when he said, "For me, to go living is Christ." 63 years ago I began my life with Christ. It was as though life began all over again. Since my conversion, there has never been a day when I have not lived in his presence. To all of his followers, Jesus gives his all-sufficient grace that is made perfect in our own weakness. If Christ were to be removed from our lives, there would be nothing left.
For Paul, each day's journey was one step closer to Home. But until then, his desire was to be ever willing and ever able to help and serve others. If we can learn to live like that, we will set such an example that unbelievers will be revolted with their way of life and will seek to possess what we possess.
Saturday, September 23, 2023
Been listening today to J. Vernon McGee's Thru the Bible audio sermons. I absolutely love it when he says, "Let me give you my own translation of this verse." I heard him do this twice in the same message. I wish more shepherd-teachers would do this!
More than anything -- even my morning cup of coffee -- I love reading my Bible at the break of dawn. I never fail to see something in the text I've never seen before. Never! Here's what I saw this morning.
While reading Acts 18 (the account of Paul's trip to Corinth), I was struck by Luke's use of an unusual verb.
It's chōrizō. Most English translations say that Paul "left" Athens and then went on to the city of Corinth. However, Greek has a perfectly good word for "leave." Luke does not use it here. Instead, he uses a term that often has the meaning "separate." Not only that, the verb Luke employs here is in the passive -- not the active -- voice. What could this mean?
Word study time! I looked up the occurrences of chōrizō in the New Testament and found a very interesting parallel in the book of Philemon.
In verse 15, Paul refers to the time when the slave Onesimus had left his master Philemon's home and had run away. But notice: Paul doesn't say that he "ran away from" or "left" Philemon. No, he says that Onesimus "was separated from you" (NIV) or "was parted from you" (ESV). (Please note the passive voice.) I think the idea is that the flight of Onesimus from his master was, however unconsciously, overruled by the hand of God. I might render the verse as, "For perhaps because of this he was separated from you (providentially) for a time so that you might have him back forever." I like how MacLaren puts it:
He "was parted" -- not that he was not responsible for his flight, but that, through his act, which in the eyes of all concerned was wrong, Paul discerns as dimly visible a great Divine purpose.
Isn't that great? In short, Paul is stressing the fact that the escape of Onesimus happened providentially. Oh how I wish I could see the events in my life through the same eyes!
Anyways, back to Acts 18:1. In my opinion, Paul didn't just "leave" Athens. Apparently events had forced Paul to alter his intended plan. Thus he was, in a sense, compelled to leave the seat of Greek culture for the seat of Greek commerce. Paul didn't know it at the time, though God did, that much greater fruit was awaiting him in Corinth than in Athens. The idea is that Paul was providentially separated from Athens. Interestingly to me, the NIV and ESV get this right in Philemon 15 but seem to to miss the very same point in Acts 18:1.
Sorry to bore you with all these details about Greek verbs and Greek voices and translation issues. But to be honest, I have a love affair with the Scriptures. As early as the age of 16 in Hawaii, I was drawn to the truths of God's word and captivated by its wisdom. My current dedication to the Scriptures can be traced in large part to my teachers in seminary who modelled for me careful attention to detail. And talk about the personal enrichment that comes from such study! Not long ago God seemed to close a door on a 10-year ministry I had to a nation that is now closed to me after over a dozen trips there. At first it was very difficult for me to "leave" this ministry that I believe God had called me to. But then I gradually realized that I had not "left" anything at all. God had been providentially separating me from that work for reasons known only to him. I venture to insist that we missionaries of the gospel (yes, I am a missionary, and so are you) have only one proper activity, and it is to be sensitive to the ministration of the Holy Spirit in our midst. We must not admit for one moment that our plans are indispensable to the work of Christ. Since the Day of Pentecost, followers of Jesus no longer insist on their own way; they obey a spiritual impulse. This is due to the fact that they did not begin their work under the direction of their own intellect but under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This explains why Luke, in the book of Acts, is always keen to show how the apostles went forth as men moved by the Spirit to communicate the Spirit to others. This guidance of the Holy Spirit is the key to all apostolic or missionary work. It alone explains how Paul could make his plans so flexibly, as I too must make my plans flexibly. At Pentecost, the apostles had received more than intellectual illumination. They had received the Spirit of Christ.
Obviously, the appropriate attitude is to embrace this fact: We are not the masters of our own fate. We depend on the living Christ for guidance in all we do. Never complain about a closed door. You weren't responsible for it opening in the first place. Remember: God has prepared ahead of time the good works he has for you. Don't miss them!
Friday, September 22, 2023
Thursday, September 21, 2023
It's a very precious thing to glean the wisdom of a mentor. Years ago one of mine gave me his definition of wisdom. "Wisdom," he said, "is looking at life from God's point of view." He added, "We're not born with it. We don't inherit it. We can't take a seminary course in it. We don't get it by osmosis. Wisdom is housed in the mind of our God, and he delights to share it with us when we need it the most."
Right now I'm facing a situation that calls for wisdom. It's a situation part of which I caused and part of which I didn't. I need God to enable me to see through his perspective what I can learn through this. I need his wisdom, and I don't have it in myself.
Wisdom is the ability to deal triumphantly with anything life can throw at us. It's something no circumstance of life can ever defeat, no trial can ever vanquish. Through wisdom we receive one of God's greatest gifts to us -- knowledge plus power.
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
A question that often came up in private conversation during last weekend's conference was, "Dr. Black, what do you believe about the rapture?" I am pre-trib. But that is irrelevant. I told my new Romanian friends that, in effect, the best way Jesus Christ could come to us is that he would find us quietly, efficiently, and diligently fulfilling our daily responsibilities. The doctrine of the Second Coming is not a reason to stop working. It is a reason for working all the harder for the sake of the kingdom.
Phil. 3:10 begins with three simple words in both Greek and English.
- tou gnōnai auton
- to know him
Paul uses a word for "know" that very often refers to personal rather than intellectual knowledge. The Hebrew equivalent is yada.
The aim is not to know about Christ. The goal is to know him. This can't be taught in seminary. Theological knowledge is hardly the same as personal knowledge. "To know him" is to experience him with such intimacy that we are as united with him as we might be with our spouse.
We cannot know everything about Christ. But we can all know him.
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
Monday, September 18, 2023
Today my Greek students took their first exam of the semester. I am so proud of them. They did great. I appreciate their endurance. If there's one thing they're not, it's quitters. In 1 Thess. 5:14, Paul uses a word for "lazy" (ataktoi) that originally meant "quitters." In every walk of life, there are the quitters. Don't be lazy, says Paul. Don't be a quitter. There is always another step you can take.
Don't give up.
I'm now in touch with my mountain guide in Switzerland.
He led me on 4 climbs safely in the past.
Folks, this is getting real. If I do decide to return to the Alps, I will be all in. I am both scared and excited. As soon as we decide on my trip dates, I'll let you know.
My Romanian family emigrated to the U.S. from Transylvania. This weekend's conference also saw many families from this part of Romania and thus many of the folks I met could speak German.
Every time I could, I brought up this famous exhortation of the great Norwegian scholar Ole Hallesby:
"Fange damit an, Gott zu bitten, er möge dir begegnen and dir ein persönliches Gotteserlebnis schenken. Bitte um den Heiligen Geist und lies täglich dein Neues Testament mit diesem Gebet! Dann wirst du ein Christ werden, d.h., du wirst Gott in Christus begegnen."
I could not agree more!
Sunday, September 17, 2023
This weekend a Romanian Baptist congregation near Atlanta held their annual fall conference at Lake Junaluska in beautiful western North Carolina.
It was my joy and honor to address them 4 times.
They welcomed me with open arms.
Maybe it was because I am half Romanian. But I think it's mostly because they are such wonderful people. Jesus, I argued, is the perfect model for the human developmental cycle. He stooped. Low enough to become the perfect man. Low enough to increase in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. And then he stood up from the dead and left us with a model for us to follow as we seek to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Do not accept the myth of adolescence. You'll get through child rearing. It won't be painless. It won't be quick. But God will use even your mistakes for good.
Friday, September 15, 2023
The Gospels contain two genealogies of our Lord Jesus Christ. Most people just skip over them. They are bored by the repetitive "so and so begat." This is a grave mistake. The genealogy of Jesus found in Luke 3 is an amazing account. Read Luke 3:23 and see for yourself what makes that verse unique in all of the Bible.
I am more convinced than ever that the entire Bible is inspired by God and profitable/useful/practical.
Thursday, September 14, 2023
Climbing a 4,000-meter peak is an amazing experience. You are wasted when you arrive at the summit. And you still have to climb down! Do I have one more peak in me? I have until next summer to find out. If you'd like an idea of what's involved, watch this great video (click "Watch on YouTube")
Can you now see why I love mountaineering so much?
Training for a climb like this takes a lot of discipline. Today's training was divided between a run at the High Bridge Trail and a workout at the gym. As you can see, the weather in Farmville was perfect for a run.
I took my same old leisurely pace.
Earlier at the gym, I completed my pull ups and then ran in place for some cardio.
I may not be very good at what I do, but people tell me that I train with a teanager's enthusiasm. An old sports saying goes like this: "It's never too late to start, and it's always too soon to stop."
These are words I live by. I hope you do too.
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
In two weeks the Virginia 10 Miler will take place in Lynchburg. I had to choose between it and the Chicago Half Marathon. Really, it wasn't much of a choice. No race can match the Virginia 10 Miler. Of course, I'm a little biased because I live in Virginia. But that doesn't change the fact that this is a great race. The course is a killer, but that's one of the reasons we runners love it so much. Here I am after setting a new PR for the race.
The final stretch is all uphill, and it's brutal. All of this is offset by a truly scenic course, excellent aid stations, and absolutely incredible crowd support. It's usually perfect fall weather too. It's also great to see so many professional runners from Kenya and Ethiopia there. They are fun to watch, but they can't compare to the historic match between two running giants, Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers.
It sure will feel good to get out there again.
I will be speaking again this weekend, and as I reflect on the decades that I've been a follower of Jesus, I can remember countless well-prepared, soul-challenging messages that contributed to my own spiritual growth. They represented truth that was drawn from the word of God, truth that opened my heart to God in ways that I would have missed on my own. When the application was driven home, it invaded some area of my life that needed correction. In these sermons I found both refreshment and encouragement. How eminently blessed I am to have been the recipient of such blessings, and how I hope and pray that I can do the same for my listeners this weekend. This weekend, may we all learn to find precious treasures in God's word and have our very lives transformed.
Tuesday, September 12, 2023
I've been watching the weather closely in view of Hurricane Lee's path up our eastern seaboard.
As you know, I love to surf, but it seems like the only time there are any waves in Virginia Beach is when there's a storm brewing. When I saw that there are supposed to be 7-foot waves there on Thursday, the news was so good that I practically fell out of my chair.
The problem is that the wave conditions will be anything but suitable for riding.
I called some friends in VB and they confirmed what I was thinking: The waves will be totally blown out. I'm kinda bummed because I was really looking forward to surfing again before the weather turned cold. The last time I was in VB with my board was last summer. This photo was taken on July 11, 2022.
That day the waves were smallish but the conditions were good. So I'll continue to monitor the surf reports and the weather. As with farming, you realize just how dependent you are on the Creator when you want to go out and catch a few swells.
Today I resumed my pull up challenge at the Y. The goal, you will recall, is to perform 5 sets of 5 pull ups daily for 30 days, taking one day off a week.
I'm grateful for the progress I seem to be making.
Even my triathlon swim times seem to be improving now that I'm working on my upper back and arm strength. The studies I've read about aging and lifting all seem to indicate the following for 60+ lifters:
- We have a vastly lower response to weight training than lifters who are under 60.
- Heavy sessions need to be less frequent.
- Lighter sessions should comprise MOST of our work.
- Injury avoidance is HUGE in our training.
- If you started lifting in your 60+ age group, you will see life-altering changes, but you will also begin to peak soon.
- If you started during an earlier age group, you will get smaller and weaker through this range.
So many of us can't accept the fact that we have to go lighter as we grow older. Plus, injuries when you grow older can be devastating. If you are relatively active, you are going to face the possibility of injury and you have to learn to work with it. Warm ups, warm downs, stretching, good nutrition, and adequate sleep are NOT optional. I'm not gonna lie. It's hard work, but it's also so enjoyable. Slow and steady is the name of the game, but making gains and seeing benefits is so encouraging. I just keep telling myself that I intend to keep at this for a long time so there's no rush to load on massive weights.
I have to say I am so grateful at how much more endurance the Lord has allowed me to attain. I am learning to be accepting of my limits, and I try to take what my body gives me and maybe just a tiny bit more. Persistence pays off. I'm watching my recovery and my joints really carefully but I'm not averse to risk. "Youth rewards the bold, age rewards the patient" are very wise words!
God willing, I'd like to age in place, meaning living at home. I love what I do and believe that I can continue to get better. I'm a little late to the party, but I can't thank God enough for letting me start when I did.
Monday, September 11, 2023
When Becky died, I knew I was not alone, even though I had just lost the love of my life. My heavenly Father said not a word because he knew I could not hear one. Instead, he was there with me -- a vast presence, silent and subtle, but nevertheless there with me. I didn't need him to say anything. I needed him to hold me, to hear my pain. I needed to tell him how utterly unbearable all of this was and that if he did not help me to shoulder the burden I would never make it.
The odd thing? More often than not, that loving presence looked a lot like my daughter's shoulder or my son's company. I held out my arms to them and they held me back.
Doug Manning once wrote, "Loneliness comes only in one size -- extra large." In a word, your world goes silent. Death is a wilderness so vast that most of us don't know how to negotiate it. You survive by remembering one thing. You are never alone. A common thread links us all together no matter who we are. It's called being human. It's called holding one another. It's called saying nothing but hearing everything.
When a spouse dies, you don't need a person to "fix you." Only God can mend a broken heart. But what you can do is reach out. Others will embrace your grief with you if you ask them to. It may help if you let them know that you would like them to call you frequently, to listen, to help with chores, to pray with you. You might tell them, "If I don't always make sense, please forgive me. Be patient with me." They'll understand. They are there for you.
Everyone needs something when a spouse dies. I needed someone to listen, to be there, to hold me, to talk to me, to go somewhere with me, to cry with me, to be the face of God in my life at that moment. They told me, in ways far deeper than words could ever express, that the ache in my heart would go away. That life would become more bearable. That there is a finished highway in my future. I might not know exactly when or where, but it is there. That hope would return. That I would be able to move on with my life.
My children have been a constant source of strength and encouragement to me. Almost every day I take a few moments to send them a text message. Occasionally I will call them just to hear their voices. My life is filled with bounty, even as I continue to miss Becky. If I have learned anything in the past 10 years, it's to rely on God's grace in the midst of all of my inadequacy. God's sovereignty is no longer an abstract doctrine to me. I have brought my pain to him as never before. I will never again be completely whole, but I know beyond any doubt that he is with me. Life fills me with joy and awe.
Brokenness drove me to God, and there I will stay until he calls me home.
One last pass at my chapter and then the book will go to the printer.
I am still amazed that I am an author or that someone would read anything I wrote.
I hope this book exhibits my conviction that, whatever else textual criticism is, it is an indispensable part of exegesis.
Sunday, September 10, 2023
Who would have imagined that this amazing woman would have said "yes" to me when I proposed to her!
But two months after this photo was taken, she did, and 47 years ago tomorrow we became husband and wife. This beautiful daughter of God made my dreams come true by saying "I do." I'm still in awe. Honey, you changed the world for the better, and we're so very grateful. You are gone but not forgotten.
P.S. If the Lord gives me the strength to do so, tomorrow I hope to share with you a few reflections on what Becky's life meant to me through 37 years of marriage, and what her death and its aftermath has taught me about God's grace. Your prayers are appreciated.
Basic to all discipleship is our commitment to the word of God. I was reminded of this during my morning Bible study in 2 Timothy. We must never underestimate the cost of what it means to follow the Lord Jesus. We want to "know him" (Phil. 3:10). Equally, we may say that knowledge of Scripture is knowledge of Christ. Hence Bible study demands our greatest effort.
May we so daily immerse ourselves in the Scriptures that our blood becomes, in the words of John Stott, "bibline." Yes, it will require hard work. But oh the privilege of studying God's word! Daily. Deeply. Doggedly. Deliberately. Diligently. We do not come to the Bible to prove a point or even to find a sermon. We read to understand and to experience what we understand. And note: Not all of its diamonds are exposed on the surface. Their richness is mined only through hard intellectual and spiritual spadework.
Is your blood type "bibline"?
Saturday, September 9, 2023
It sure seemed like fall today.
The temp was 72, there was cloud cover, and the humidity was low for once.
I still perspired a lot but that's just me.
Earlier, I had a monster workout at the Y. To change things up a bit, I performed a great high intensity form of training called myo reps -- a sort of rest-pause training that helps you gain muscle faster by condensing a larger number of effective reps down into a smaller window. Instead of performing a standard "3 sets of 8," for example, you do an initial higher rep set followed by a series of lower rep "mini" sets with only a very short rest between sets.
What I like about this technique is that it gets my heart pumping and I feel like I'm getting a fairly good cardio workout in addition to the muscle-building effect. It also helps me to avoid so-called "junk" reps.
Needless to say, all of this is extremely tiring, and when I got home I treated my body to a 3 hour nap. In addition, instead of taking only one day off from exercising this week, I'm going to take both Sunday and Monday off, have my usual sports massage in Wake Forest on Monday, and then return to the gym on Tuesday, Lord willing.
Time to cook supper. I pray you have a wonderful Lord's Day tomorrow.
Friday, September 8, 2023
I am currently in the process of doing a 30-day challenge. My goal is to do 5 sets of 5 pull ups 6 days a week for one month.
|At the gym today.|
Consistency will be the key. But hey -- consistency is the key in many other areas of life as well. My Greek students know this well.
There are two types of consistency in life. The first is the one we can control. This means all the decisions you make -- large or small -- to consciously start working on and sticking to your workout plan. The second is consistency that is totally outside of your control, for example being at the mercy of your health. So it is important to understand that being steady with your training (or your studying) without a solid plan is not going to cut it. If you are fighting to achieve a certain goal you are not as likely to fall off the bandwagon. So you need to learn how to schedule your priorities. As you watch your physique transform before your very eyes, you will know that your efforts will ultimately pay off.
Never lose sight of the goal along the way!
While in Texas I had the chance to visit an old friend who was Becky's youth pastor at Grace Bible Church in Dallas, where we were married in 1976.
Chuck is one of the best public speakers I have ever heard. On Sunday he was coming off a 9 week sabbatical, and you could tell how happy he was to be back in the saddle.
This month Stonebriar will be celebrating its 25th anniversary, so Chuck reflected on what he saw as his major priorities for the church for the past two and a half decades.
Chuck has always impressed me as being a very loving pastor. I think that's what makes him such an effective speaker. Do you see yourself as a public speaker? If so, do you see yourself as confident, prepared, and effective? Public speaking involves an organized, face-to-face, well-prepared and intentional attempt to inform, entertain, or persuade people through words, physical delivery, and visual clues. The ancient Greeks used public speaking primarily to praise or persuade others. Since all Greek citizens had the right to speak during the assembly, a need for skilled public speakers arose. I do enough public speaking to know how difficult it can be to do it well. If you do ever have a chance to view any of Chuck's sermons, I believe you will learn much about what is needed to do it well.
- Chuck smiles much.
- He focuses on his audience, not a camera.
- He pauses between key thoughts, thus allowing people to process information.
- He is an expert at making proper word choices.
- He avoids a monotone delivery.
- He speaks clearly, enunciates carefully.
- He speaks from the heart.
- He has a knack for simplifying the complex.
In addition, he rarely refers to his notes. When he does, it's mostly to quote someone verbatim. Pastor friend, if you can, refer to your notes as seldom as possible. And for heaven's sake, stop scrolling down your iPad with your index finger. Every time you do that, you lose your audience.
Through the years I've learned much about public speaking from pastor-teachers like Chuck Swindoll. Learning from his experience has reminded me again of the type of speaker I hope to become some day. Chuck is always a blessing with his balance, lucidity, and depth. His messages are worth watching.
|Stonebriar is a note-taking church. I love that.|