Sunday, December 31, 2023

Today's Bike Ride

Hey y'all. This afternoon I drove up to Richmond to do a bike ride on the Virginia Capital Trail. No, not all 52 miles of it. I've done that three times and I'm afraid that would have been too much for me on a cold day like today. Instead, I cycled to the Malvern Hill Battlefield and back. 

The bike trail, I'm glad to see, was just re-blacktopped. 

Believe me, I do not miss the potholes and tree root bulges. The battle of Malvern Hill, as you know, was the last battle in what came to be known as the Seven Days. 

Just like the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire, so the battlefield was hardly a hill. It is only a long open expanse, though I'm sure it seemed hilly enough to the Confederate soldiers who advanced across it. 

Deadly sheets of Union fire, both artillery and infantry, decimated their ranks. Confederate General D. H. Hill wrote, "It was not war. It was murder." One historian of the Army of the Potomac wrote, "Lee never before nor since that action delivered a battle so ill-judged in conception, or so faulty in its details of execution." Despite losing this battle, Lee still managed to drive McClellan's army away from Richmond. 

Walking the battlefield was exhausting. When I got back to the car I just sat there, breathing deeply for 10 minutes. 

Obviously I need to do more cycling if I'm going to finish the triathlons I've got planned for 2024. But I'll think about later. Right now I need to cook some supper and then chillax. I'm back on campus tomorrow and I can't wait. 

In the meantime, from our home to yours, a very sincere ... 

Saturday, December 30, 2023

For New Years: Praise My Soul the King of Heaven

From Paisley Abbey in Scotland comes this magnificent rendition of an all-time favorite. It's one of the greatest hymns ever written. Such beautiful and inspiring music on a great organ and in a great cathedral. Nice to see everyone singing with such enthusiasm, young and old alike. The Lord Jesus is working mightily in the UK. Thank God there is Youtube for this kind of music. Our churches have all but forgotten it. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. That says it all. This hymn never fails to bring me to my knees. Praise my soul the King of heaven! 

Are You Done Getting Better?

Another year of running and lifting has come to an end! What a journey this has been, sharing my story with all of you through a passion of mine, blogging. It's joyful, challenging, exciting, and yes, energizing. I wish I had more time to type out my feelings and thoughts on this past year. I will just say that I truly do love you all. Most of you I do not know and will never meet. But I have come to know a good many of you through your emails. For that I will never be able to repay you. 2023 has been epic, but you ain't seen nothing yet. This is the moment to set your goals for 2024. The New Year is a fresh opportunity. We can create fresh goals, fresh ideas, fresh dreams for our athletic endeavors and our life endeavors at the same time. Tomorrow night will be a symbolic turning of the page. We will look back and reflect and look forward and dream. Be not afraid, DBO family, to lean into the new year. Be not afraid to fail. Things like running and lifting are incredible gifts to the modern world. As children, we moved constantly. As adults we tend to drift away from activity. Why? We simply find other forms of entertainment. But in the end, to begin running all you need is a pair of running shoes. 

And to begin lifting, all you need are a couple of dumbbells. What a joyful morning I had at the gym today! 

Now is the time to take your next step. Own the day, seize it without hesitation. Are you done getting better? I hope not. We march on, fighting for our health and our families and the spiritual renewal of our nation. Let us run on toward our lofty goals, one day at a time, one step at a time. No, we are not done getting better.

Feeling God's Pleasure

Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite movies. And my favorite scene in the movie is when Eric Liddell tells his sister, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure." 

With these words he put his finger on a mysterious truth. When you are doing what God has called and gifted you to do, you feel his pleasure. Once you are called to teach or run or parent or whatever, you are never the same after this. God has spoken, and you sense "This is what I was made for."

Most of us know we are called to something. I've known Greek students who had this genuine sense of call. I see them and I think, "You seem so natural when you study. You glow when you're taking an exam. You are at your best when reciting out loud in class." When such students are in alignment with their calling, they soar. Things change in the hands of a called person. There's a mysterious passion within us that bubbles up when we are centered in our calling. Eric Liddell knew that. 

My call -- to be a teacher -- goes back to my college days. It was not just a call to some form of paid ministry. There was something deeper going on. I felt that I was aligning my life with a higher purpose than just the routines of life. If you, dear reader, are a 20- or 30-Something, where should you begin? Begin here: "What do I hear God telling me about the direction of my life?" Every called person has this sense that God is speaking, leading, calling. It's been 47 years since God revealed to me what my calling was, and there has never been a time when I've doubted it. Even today, though partly retired, I feel challenged to keep helping people to grow in their Christlikeness, their understanding of Scripture, and their discernment of their own calling. 

One final thought. A few called people with Jesus as the center may well be the most important testimony we can give to a lost and dying world. Dare we forget this? 

Friday, December 29, 2023

Up for a Fun Challenge?

If you'd had a year of Greek, care to try your hand at translating the Nicene Creed? 

Here's a complete list of its verbs. 

Have fun! 

Don't Forget Your Delts!

I often forget to train my delts. Frankly, they're not my favorite muscle to train. The delts are comprised of 3 muscles: the front delt, the middle delt, and the lower delt. Delts are usually trained with lighter weights due to the risk of shoulder injuries. I lift only very light weights. If you do this, you're going to have let go of your ego. The side-lateral dumbbell raise is my go-to exercise. I use 5 pound weights. Yes, just 5! Both raising and lowering the weights should be controlled movements executed with clean form.

The overhead dumbbell press is the other exercise I like to perform. This is probably the best dumbbell exercise around for overloading the shoulders to build strength. 

By using these 2 exercises you can train your shoulders for any goal, be it strength, power, or even total body health. Great-looking delts also benefit the appearance of your overall physique.

Don't forget your delts! 

Facing the Battle of the Century

In 2 Tim. 4:7, Paul writes as it were his own epitaph. 

It's something you might say after crossing the finish line of a marathon or after completing a monster workout at the gym. 

"I have fought the good fight." 

"I have striven the good strife."

A battle is raging in the spiritual realm today. It may be invisible, but it is real. Paul uses a metaphor here that refers to a contest in an arena. Whoever engages today in the theological disciplines steps into a battlefield, not a playground. Some battles are mere skirmishes. Others are more important. On rare occasions, there are major battlefields that require keen discernment and a courageous counter-strategy. This calls for a strong mind and an unintimidated will.

I will say it plainly. If you are a pastor or church leader and desire to do anything about this assault on biblical authority, you will need the biblical languages. No matter the size or scope of the attack, you must be able to allow the word of God to speak for itself clearly and unambiguously. You cannot guess as to what the text is staying. It takes keen eyes to see the dangers and to fight for what's right.

If you want a science-based approach to Greek that is suitable for self-learners, go here. You're not in this alone. The greatest honor we can give the Scriptures is to accurately know and teach them.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

My Word!

"My" beach is breaking 15 feet today. 

Wish I was there. :-) 

My Quest to Lose Belly Fat (What to Do and What to Avoid)

By now you know that I'm all about setting goals and having concrete ways to measure those goals. I am currently at about 20-25 percent body fat. I would like to get that down to 15-20 percent. In this latter range you will see some abdominal definition, which is my goal. 

At the gym this morning. 

If you are at a current level of 20-25 percent body fat, vascularity is not present, but the overall look doesn't give the impression that the person is badly out of shape. The reason belly fat is so hard to lose is because it's usually the last place you lose it. In other words, belly fat loss is directly related to your overall weight loss. As your overall body fat diminishes, your belly fat will too. The areas of body fat that we lose first tend to be face fat, neck fat, and shoulder fat. Eventually you lose arm fat, chest fat, and back fat. At this point, most guys will begin to see some big improvements in their midsection which, with everything else, is also getting leaner. This is when you're going to start seeing some of your obliques. The only thing that's left at this stage to develop is the lower portion of your abs. 

So what can you do to get rid of that stubborn belly fat? It all boils down to sticking with your resistance training program. Here I am this morning working off my belly fat. 

You say, "Wait a minute! You're not doing crunches or situps. You're doing dumbbell curls." That's exactly my point. Yes, we CAN lose belly fat. We just can't target our fat loss with exercise. We lose fat proportionately throughout our body with diet and exercise. Eventually the only place that will be left for my body to burn fat will be in my abs. I'm not there yet. But I won't get there unless I consistently work out. 

I'm sorry, but there aren't any shortcuts. I wish there were. I wish losing belly fat was as simple as these blogs and videos make it out to be:

How to Lose Belly Fat in a Week

5 Simple Ways to Burn Off Belly Fat -- Exercise and Diet Secrets

Lose Belly Fat Now and Get a Shredded, Strong Core

19 Science-Based Ways to Lose Belly Fat in Two Weeks

The #1 Exercise to Lose Belly Fat (Easily)

Lose Belly Fat Without Exercising

How to Lose Belly Fat in 1 Week

How to Lose Belly Fat (5 Weeks) 

How 4 Weeks Can Get Rid Of Your Body Fat For Good

Don't get sucked in by the hype. There's so much misleading information circulating in the online fitness space that it can cause many to run in circles and never get anywhere. Getting lean is a long-term process. It's not something you can just force by temporarily implementing a few online tips. You're looking at a scale of at least several months of consistent proper training and nutrition. To see progress in a truly noticeable way and to really transform your physique as a whole to go from, say, generally out of shape to having a lean, strong, muscular body is usually going to be measured in years. 

Be patient and consistent, and the results should come. 

A Message to My Students

Dear friend,

What is your goal for being at the seminary? To get a degree? If that's your goal, you'll accomplish that goal, and that piece of paper will be just a piece of paper. You say, "I'm here to study the Bible. I want to know the Scriptures." All well and good. But I want to put before you a higher goal than just getting a degree or learning the Bible. I want you to know God. God gave us a revelation of himself so that those who receive him will enjoy him. That kind of a relationship has to be pursued. The apostle Paul had a glorious, fulfilling ministry for 30 years. He was obedient to God's call to minister to the Gentiles. Near the end of his ministry Paul could tell the Colossians that the whole world had heard the gospel. He was fully satisfied in the ministry God had given him. But as he tells us in Phil. 3:10, it's not success or ministry that satisfied his deep hunger. The passion of his heart was that he might know him.

A new semester will begin shortly. May I challenge you to set as your goal in 2024 not just to know Greek, but to know God? Not just to know Jesus, but to know him intimately? Not just to know about the Holy Spirit, but to experience deep, intimate, personal fellowship with him? And when the semester comes to an end, it would be good to ask yourself, "Do I know him better than when I began?"

Much love in the Lamb,

Dave Black 

Today's Run

It was cloudy and cold today but that didn't stop me from getting in a few miles at the High Bridge Trail. 

I saw two other runners today. I normally don't see any. Truth is, I have a number of pet peeves when it comes to running. One of them is non-wavers. Some runners just stare at me like I'm crazy when I wave to them. So it's always nice when people wave back!

Here's the mighty Appomattox that you run over. 

It's actually a tributary of the James. The Appomattox originates near the town that shares it name and flows generally southeast to Farmville. From here it passes through Petersburg before joining the James at City Point in Hopewell. The Union capture of the High Bridge was a major factor in the forcing of Lee's surrender at nearby Appomattox Court House. 

A trip to Farmville usually ends up with a visit to La Parota Mexican restaurant. Today I enjoyed a delicious serving of camarones a la diabla with rice and beans. The portions are so large I could only eat half of it. I'll save the rest for lunch tomorrow. 

We humans tend to reward ourselves after we do something difficult that requires effort and determination. So, on your next run, think about the pleasant meal that awaits you at your favorite local restaurant. Incidentally, did you know that shrimp is a rich source of protein, providing 24 grams of protein per 100 grams of shrimp? I didn't. 

We runners are naturally obsessed with our style of running. Believe it or not, entire books have been written on, say, how to hold your arms when running. When I run, I try to run with comfortably short strides and an erect carriage. It seems to get the job done. 

As I trundle down the trail you will notice that my feet are terribly pigeon-toed. It seems like a miracle I can get any running done at all in such a bizarre manner. Chalk it up, I guess, to my upbringing on the beaches in Hawaii, where nobody wore shoes growing up. Actually, I don't worry too much about my running form. I simply try and run in a relaxed manner. The goal is to aim for pleasure, not for pain. 

If you ran today, how did it go?

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

An Invitation for the New Year

Hey folks. I was at the gym again today. I was assessing the progress (or lack thereof) I made in 2023. I remain frustrated that my percentage of body fat is higher than I would like it to be. When it comes to losing body fat, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. It's important to be very patient with ourselves because getting lean(er) does take time. As much as we might want to change, all people suffer from what psychologists call status quo bias. We tend to go back to what's familiar to us even if it might be bad for us. When I first started to train I realized that I was going to have to change what I considered "normal." Fitness had to become a part of who I am. I needed a new Operating System (OS). I needed to make a lifelong commitment to being the healthiest person I can be no matter what, to the glory of the God who created me. Folks, this is one of the most important mental paradigm shifts you can have in life. Getting healthy and staying healthy becomes a "new normal," and it succeeds because you're committed to that lifestyle long-term no matter what. You will be doing this for the rest of your life. 

For most of us, pursuing this lifestyle involves a lot of saying no -- to your poor diet, to your old lifestyle, to your self-doubt, to your laziness, to your excuses. You really do have to learn how to say no. In other words, fitness is a game of delayed gratification. You exchange having that short-term reward for achieving that greater reward later. In biblical terms, it's about crucifying yourself. You have to learn to manage your old, self-centered ego. And if you learn to do this, this can translate into more self-disciplined behavior across the board. Unfortunately, it appears that the majority of us aren't willing to make the sacrifices required to get there. Mere information is not the answer. We simply don't want to do it. Most of us want to have the results but aren't willing to put in the hard work. Like with Greek, fitness is honestly "Use it or lose it."

Let me wrap this up by asking you two questions. First, are you happy with your current body? What is your reaction when you look in the mirror right now? And second, if you're not happy with your current body, would you consider changing your lifestyle to one that is perhaps more pleasing to the Father? Now let me be clear. I'm not asking you to adopt any specific diet program. I'm not asking you to join the gym. I'm not asking you to walk three times weekly. Here's what I am asking you to do. I'm inviting you to go to God in prayer sometime between now and New Year's Day and ask him to give you the motivation it will take to adopt a "new normal" when it comes to your health and fitness. Please don't try and drum it up by yourself. We're simply not strong enough in the flesh to do this. Remember the promise of Phil. 2:13. God not only gives us the ability to do what pleases him but the desire as well. So if you haven't already done so, ask God for the motivation to change. I believe he will grant you your request if you ask with simple faith. You see, none of us can do something long-term if we don't like what we're doing. You might be able to fake it for a month. You might be able to fake it for a few months. But as a lifetime, long-term solution? No chance. Deprivation-based diets never work long-term. That's why so many diets fail. What you need is to dismiss in your own mind this concept of "I can never change." And so I ask: what are your goals? Determine your goals between you and God. I invite you to make sure that whatever you're doing with your diet is what you're happy with as long as you can consistently eat that way for a lifetime. Longevity is the key. If you're looking for quick fixes, you're in a short term mindset. The way to get a handle on your health is to look for a way that will allow you to be consistent. The fact that I generally eat clean doesn't mean that I can't have a cheat meal. Why, the other day my family invited me to have lunch with them at a fast food establishment. Not only did I agree to go with them, I gladly ordered the tastiest (and unhealthiest) meal on the menu. It was so unhealthy that I had to sign a waiver with the management before they would let me eat it. You see, nobody can stick to a deprivation-based plan for a lifetime. The goal is not just looking to lose weight short term, but to live this way and look and feel good year round, 365 days a year. 

The Bible teaches that every good and perfect gift comes from God. Ask, and you will receive. You have not because you ask not. Again, I'm not asking you to do anything on your own at this point. I am simply inviting you to ask God to give you a gift -- the gift of making a lifelong commitment to being the healthiest person you can possibly be no matter what, to the glory of the God who created you. It doesn't have to be complicated guys. That's the whole thing I try to preach here on this website. Yes, I'm happy to show you what I do and even share with you where I'm struggling in life, be it in the health and fitness department or in terms of the way I handle grief, deal with loneliness, etc. But you gotta have that certain level of dedication we're talking about today. You gotta do some self-assessment to determine where you fall in terms of your desire to make progress in this area of your life. I do know that this is the time of year when many of us will start to reassess our health, to reassess how we look, and to want to start making changes. I can't help you make those changes, but I know Someone who can. You gotta start somewhere. Why not start there, today?

Alright guys, I'm outta here. Thanks so much for reading and have a wonderful day in the Lord.

The Bible and Industriousness

Yesterday I talked about the trait called industriousness. Industriousness is deeply rooted in biblical truth. As we embrace industriousness, let's remember that our work ethic is not just for our own gain but is a service to the Lord and a way of actually worshipping him. Here are some verses that have spoken to me about the rewards of industriousness. I hope they will bless you today.

"The hand of the diligent will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor" (Prov. 12:24).

"Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2).

"The lazy person craves, yet has nothing, but the desires of the diligent shall be fully satisfied" (Prov. 13:4).

"He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully" (Prov. 10:5).

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going" (Eccl. 9:10). 

"Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Rom. 12:11). 

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not for men" (Col. 3:23).

I love this last verse so much that I commited it to memory today!

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Word of the Day: Industriousness


NOUN. Constant, energetic, or devoted effort. Habitual and diligent occupation with productive activity. Example: You will never see a beaver in action, but you will see the evidence of his industriousness. 

During my workout today, I thought a great deal about the word industriousness. No quality in my Greek students is more important than this one.

Successful students aren't necessarily the most gifted ones, but they are extremely competent and industrious. 

Being industrious includes efficiency, perseverance, and a strong work ethic.

Nobody is born with these traits. You must develop them. 

Eventually you learn to manage your time wisely, plan in advance, prioritize important tasks, and take steps to meet your goals. 

As you know, I have the goal of climbing the Allalinhorn in August. Behind every one of my workouts is a vision of a mountain. 

It is that vision that keeps me going. 

I will decide in March if I think I am ready to take on this enormous challenge. If I think I'm prepared, I will go and try. If I fail to reach my goal, I will accept that. I fully realize there's always the chance that I won't make it to the top. But if that happens, it won't be because I wasn't prepared. 

Mountaineering is an exciting, inspiring, challenging, and rewarding experience. In a perfect world where everyone is blessed with an amazing physique and rippling muscles, I would have no reservations about trying to tackle such an audacious goal. But one of the things I love about mountain climbing (and about marathons and triathlons and ultramarathons) is the adventure of never knowing what is going to happen. Results are not guaranteed. You never know how things will turn out until you muster up enough gumption to try. I love that uncertainty because it forces you to develop traits like industriousness. In five years, you won't care about the mountains you summited or the races you finished. (Certainly nobody else cares about them.) What will stick with you five years later are the ways you grew as a person. 

Friend, challenge yourself to do something big in the New Year. You are capable of doing so much more than you know. It's okay to be scared. Take a step beyond what is comfortable. Do something your grandkids will brag about. Show them what it means to be an industrious person. Inspire them to think about what they would like to accomplish if they had no limits. Then challenge them to DO IT. Remind them of the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, then to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat." 

Industriousness is a trait that can't be bought. But it is priceless. 

Monday, December 25, 2023

O Magnum Mysterium

Can't conclude Christmas Day without this worship song.

Good night everyone. 

Didn't Work Out Today?

Remember that the gym being closed on Christmas Day is the only reason you skipped your workout this week. It obviously has nothing to do with the fact that you never show up at the gym anyway despite your expensive membership. 

Thank You, Moms and Dads

For 47 years (48 starting next month) I've taught graduate students most of whom know how to study and are eager to make something of their lives. I believe this is LARGELY due to parents who kept their kids in school and out of trouble and who encouraged athletics as a means to an end and not as an end in itself. It's about time I acknowledged them on this blog. So ... THANK YOU moms and dads. I'm enjoying the fruit of your labor and I greatly appreciate it. 

On Good Preaching

You can always spot a truly profound thinker by his simplicity and clarity of language.  

The New Battle for the Bible

Have you noticed? There is considerable pressure these days to focus the church's mission primarily on the transformation of political and economic "structures of sin." There is also a strong tendency, not only among mainline liberal churches, but even among conservative evangelical denominations, to collapse the mission of the church into simply working for social justice and to diminish the importance of repentance and conversion on a personal level. These trends in turn are accompanied by a very strong and explicit acceptance of deviant moral practices. It should therefore not surprise us to see the total omission of bringing persons to personal faith in Christ, to repent of their sins, and to follow Jesus in obedience and love. This transmutation of liberal theology into the primary mission of the church could never have taken place without the perennial tendency of humanity to reject the revelation of Scripture and to accommodate its theology to the society. The hope is to bring the church's theology into greater harmony with the culture. Biblical Christianity is now seen as an obstacle in accomplishing this progressive agenda. The desire to coerce "recalcitrant" believers into conformity with secular ideology is hardly restrained. 

Conservative faculty members at our leading universities realize this first hand. "Never say out loud what you actually think" is frankly the new normal on these campuses. It is necessary to invent a new faith, we are told. Universalism is the new opiate of these modern theologians, whose purpose is to free the academy from the "ideological straightjacket" of biblical Christianity. Preaching the pure gospel is now equated with proselytism of the worst kind. 

Of course, there is no true evangelism unless the saving work of Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth we celebrate today, is proclaimed. The message of the gospel is not content free, and we do no favor to people if we fail to call them to repentance, conversion, and discipleship. Christians everywhere should be concerned about this erosion of biblical inerrancy and exert all the pressure they can bring to bear to see that their churches and denominations are fully committed to this non-negotiable commitment. Otherwise their churches and denominations will end up with interpretations that do violence to the Bible and undermine its authority, not to mention it infallibility. 

This coming semester I plan to remind my students of this often. There is a battle for the Bible taking place today the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1970s. For, apart from a trustworthy Scripture, I see no reason whatsoever to teach students Greek or Hebrew or exegesis.

Today's Run

One guess as to where (haha). 

Nice running temp, eh? The sky started out hazy and overcast. 

Then it turned gorgeous. 

My goal was an easy 6 miles. Needed to work off all the turkey I ate last night. 

But not to push myself too hard either. Easy steasy. 

Still hunting down my dreams. 

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve 2023

In a world that's unpredictable and phony, there's a way to experience something raw and unfiltered. 

In a society that pressures you into frenetic activity, there's a way to disconnect and hear. 

In a culture that tends to make you uncomfortably numb, there's an adventure that begins right here at home.

It's called family.

I honestly can't believe I once raised kids the age of my grandkids.

Suddenly I'm the aged grandfather they all look up to. 

Home is the place where we feel fully human and fully alive. 

It's an incredible adventure, not to be matched, not even by Pipeline or the Matterhorn.

Acceptance. Understanding. Protection. Love. Jesus. 

Family is awesome. 

The Hope of Christmas

Guess where I was this morning? (Hint: Not in Kentucky.) Can you tell from the front door?

Yep, it's the Duke Chapel. When I heard that their choir was performing all six stanzas of Bach's chorale "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" this morning, I knew I had to be there. I sure wasn't going to pass that up! Whenever I'm on the Duke campus, I am reminded of the great cathedrals I've been privilege to visit in Europe, including Notre Dame in Paris, St. Peter's in Rome, and, of course, my personal favorite, the Basel Cathedral, where Becky and I enjoyed so many choir performances and organ recitals when we lived in that lovely city on the Rhine. I don't know why they call the Duke Chapel a "chapel." 

It's like calling Notre Dame a "shed." 

When I arrived the carillon was playing. How beautiful. 

I don't know how many performances of great sacred music I've heard here through the years. Maybe a hundred. Once I even heard a concert where all three of the chapel's organs were played, though not at the same time. 

Anyone else love organ music? The acoustics in a cathedral this size will take your breath away. 

One always loves to hear the music slowly reverbating into a faint echo. 

Purists insist that Bach's choral music should always be performed in the original German. I tend to agree. Why hear something in a translation when you can listen to it in the original? (Shameless plug for my beginning Greek class starting in 3 weeks.) Here's the German and the English translation. The chorale did a magnificent job with their German diction. Clear as a bell! 

Bach wrote this piece for the first Sunday of Advent in the year 1714. It was one of his favorite chorales. Remember that church music in those days was a form of "musical preaching" -- music that was artfully composed to create a sermon in sound. The theme of this cantata is hope. Just read the words of the fifth stanza: "Though I am only dust and earth, he does not want to scorn me but to see his pleasure in me so that I become his dwelling." This will be my tenth year celebrating Christmas without Becky. It seems like such a small thing, but it's everything. For so many of us, hope is all that's left when your world comes crashing down around you. Hope is light in the deepest night. Hope is a foundation upon which to place our foundering feet. Matthew wrote that the nations would put their hope in Jesus. God knows our hopes. I hoped for a 70-year long marriage, and he gave me widowerhood. But there are no mistakes with God. He is making all things new, working tirelessly to draw the best out of bad situations. I can almost hear God laughing at me, not in scorn or derision, but the amused chuckle of One who can see the end from the beginning. And suddenly life doesn't seem so crazy after all. There's hope in the face of all this darkness. The hands who hold me are the hands that hurled the stars across the night sky. As Bach's cantata says, he is the Savior of the nations who made earth his home so that I might become his dwelling. Why not cry then, "Amen, amen! Come, Lord Jesus, crown of gladness; we are yearning for the day of your returning!" 

This Christmas my heart is full. Full of hope and light. 

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Thank You, American

I love flying. Most of the time. But not when the airline totally messes up your fights and makes you want to pull out what's left of your hair. My flights kept being delayed and delayed and delayed until I finally said enough is enough and cancelled my Christmas trip. I know the airlines are struggling, but the industry has gone downhill SO MUCH in the past decade. Meanwhile, I guess you'll have to put up with my blatherings sooner than you expected. I've been reflecting a lot about the current crisis in the RCC. I'm preparing a lecture on the subject and maybe I'll share a bit of it with you tomorrow. I'm rescheduling my visit for Easter 2024. That will be fun. Everyone is looking forward to visiting the Ark Encounter. 

Got any pet peeves about flying? 

Friday, December 22, 2023

Merry Christmas!!!

As you know, tomorrow I leave for Kentucky to spend Christmas with my daughter and her husband who's stationed at Fort Knox. Even though they have a home gym, I will be taking a break from lifting. I am finding it useful to take 4-5 days off every month so as to recharge. It takes a lot of willpower not to give in and go to the gym when feeling full of energy, but in the long term it really is the best way to keep from overtraining. Overtraining can be very subtle and can sneak up on you very gradually. So instead of lifting I'll take a good book with me to read and of course we'll spend a lot of time outdoors (the Louisville Waterfront Park is on our list of things to do). Please stay safe and warm out there and Lord willing I will talk to you again soon. 

Merry Christmas my friends! 

Greek and "The Fullness of Time" (Gal. 4:4)

Here's another thought from Gal. 4. Paul writes, "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Gal. 4:4, NIV). Jesus arrived on the scene in human history "at just the right time." No doubt we have a hint here of (a) the spread of the Greek language throughout the world, (b) the network of roads the Romans had built that would eventually facilitate the spread of the Good News, and (c) the presence of Jewish synagogues in many cities. 

Please remember that Greek was used for the inscripturation of the New Testament not because it was a superior language to other languages in the world at that time. Greek was used because of a man named Alexander the Great. In 330 BC,  Alexander conquered the Persian Empire following his great victory at the Battle of Gaugamela. He then marched to the Persian capital Persepolis, looting its treasures and and burning its palace to the ground. Here's a photo of  the remains of Persepolis that I took in Iran in 2017.

Thereafter the process of Hellenization kicked into high gear as more and more non-Greeks adopted Greek language and culture. Greek had produced a kind of cohesion in society. Common and cultured alike could speak it as their lingua franca. Thus the time was ripe for the coming of the world's Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In other words, God has provided us a big enough picture into the goings on of his universal rule to occupy us until Jesus returns. Today, English is our lingua franca. Somebody needs to use it to help spread the gospel. That "someone" sounds an awful lot like you and me. 

Going Where the Needs Are

Ever read the book Looking Out for Number One? Neither did I. I don't need any help in looking out for myself. I'm already an expert at that. No, God doesn't want us to love ourselves any less. He just wants us to love others the same way. 

When I was at Biola in the early 1970s, all students were required to do a "Christian Service Assignment" once a month during the semester. I chose to play pickup basketball at a place called Watts in South Central Los Angeles. You haven't seen anything until you've seen Watts. Yes, that's where the riots took place. 

I loved being with these guys. I felt a certain kinship with these kids because I too had grown up in a poor household and I too had played ball almost every day at the public park near my home. We'd play two periods of basketball between which I gave a short Bible study. I think it worked out so well because I was only a few years older than these players. What's so surprising is that rarely if ever do I hear of a Christian college requiring anything like a Christian Service Assignment nowadays. Our purpose as believers should be to penetrate the non-Christian community with the message of God's love and saving power. We shouldn't ever stand apart from the world and piously exclaim, "Man, things are such a mess in L.A. these days. The crime rate is off the charts. When are they going to clean up their act?" What, may I ask, is so surprising about that? That's just the way the world is. If we're truly the salt of the earth, we need to be about God's business and get out of the salt shaker. 

Because we are Christians, our success ought to be gauged by changed lives -- our own and others'. Period. No lives will ever change if we're unwilling to go where the needs are. 

A "Double Sending Forth" (Gal. 4:4, 6)

What a great time in God's word this morning! I was in Galatians chapter 4. See the words I circled below? 

They form an intentional repetition on the part of Paul that I had never seen before. It's what I'm calling a "double sending forth."

First, God sent his Son into the world. Second, God sent his Spirit into our hearts. That is fantastic! God not only secures our sonship by his Son, but he assures our sonship by his Spirit. If this doesn't light your fire, your wood is all wet!

Today's Workout (Delts)

This was my day for dumbbell side raises. Care to join me? 

This exercise is perfect for developing your delts. For 100 percent optimal results, here are three tips:

1. You want to lean forward slightly when you perform the exercise.

2. You want to raise the dumbbells at a diagonal angle.

3. You don't want your pinkies pointing directly up or your thumbs pointing directly down. Just try and keep your hands in a neutral position. 

Through the years I've gotten all kinds of advice on how to do the best lateral dumbbell raise. I've been following these tips for about a year now and have seen good results while mitigating injury. Give these tips a try during your next delts workout and see if you notice the difference!

When the Ground Is Too Muddy to Pull the Trailer...

Ain't nothing a tractor can't fix. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Life Is About Taking Risks

When Bethany Hamilton was 13 years old, she was surfing at Tunnels Beach on Kauai when a tiger shark bit off her left arm. A month later, she was surfing again. 

This week in Hawaii, Bethany Hamilton was a leading competitor in the Pipe Masters competition at the famous Pipeline Beach. You can watch it here:

She's doing what she loves. I can't tell you how inspirational I find that. What's more, Bethany loves Jesus. Within her Friends of Bethany Foundation she offers programs such as "Beautifully Flawed" and "Anchored in Love." Thank you, Bethany. You are an inspiration to us all. I can only hope to do some of the same in my life. It's an honor to be part of the surfing culture. 

P.S. I lost a friend in middle school to a shark attack at Kailua Beach. The shark bit off his leg. My cousin Pila died while surfing at Waikiki Beach. His board hit him in the head and he lost consciousness. His body was found the next day. Life is about taking risks and overcoming fear. Successful people never stop taking risks all their lives. So often we forget that quality of life counts more than quantity of life. Nothing significant happens in the comfort zone.