Mini Book Review of ‘Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success’ by Ted Spiker

I really enjoy Ted Spiker’s writing style and have gained a great deal from his articles and blog posts over the years. I purchased this book by and large because of his name recognition and, while I don’t regret it, I wasn’t exactly blown away either. Spiker is a famous big guy runner who has been open and honest with his battles regarding his weight over the years. That same honesty is present in this book which is greatly appreciated. He speaks as one who “gets it” and is far more relatable to me than most running authors. He has seemingly put the hardest of his struggles behind him and this book is about getting over that hump. Spiker shares his tips that, by and large, speak to the mental side of weight loss and fitness. He avoids the nuts and bolts that some authors might dive into by not not sharing the specifics of his diet or fitness routine. It made for an enjoyable read, I’m just not sure how much of it I would actually apply to my own struggles … or even how much of it I will remember six months from now.

Christian Conduct Toward the Government: A Study of Romans 13:1-7 Part 1

aaron-burden-143103-unsplashRight in the middle of what is perhaps the Apostle Paul’s most highly regarded book of the Bible, he offers what might be the most ignored passage in all of Scripture:

“13 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” Romans 13:1-7. 

When read from an American’s point of view, this passage might be somewhat easy to digest. While we may disagree on the particulars, most of the time, our government considers itself to be a positive force in the world and civic pride convinces us we are the side of right, even when we’re wrong. Consider, however, that Paul wrote this passage while living under the reign of Nero. Nero is historically considered somewhat unstable. He is the ruler who pinned the great Roman fire of AD 64 on the Christians in order to avoid blame. He was by all accounts a ruthless and oppressive ruler. One might expect Paul to encourage believer to rise up and revolt against such authority, but he says the exact opposite. Paul actually tells Christians to be in subjection to governing authorities. Paul explains that when we resist the government, we are opposing the ordinance of God.

I thought of this passage this week while watching the video footage of protestors storming state houses in opposition to various COVID-19 stay at home orders. I personally think our governments reaction to the virus has been heavy handed. I also suspect many of our leaders are making decisions in regards to COVID-19 for political purposes … but how is a Christian to respond when they disagree with their rulers? What if their government is evil? What if their rulers are ungodly? This passage raises a lot of questions … and I think, for the most part, most of us ignore those questions. Heck, just a cursory review of trending tweets tell me that. So, how are we supposed to apply this passage to our lives? 

The first question we need to answer is, “Are we supposed to apply it to our lives?” Context suggest we are. Beginning in Chapter 12 of Romans, Paul begins giving Christians guidelines for living in light of God’s grace. He passes on such wisdom as avoided pride, blessing those who persecute you, and conquering evil with good. But in Chapter 13, he gets personal by suggesting the gospel should govern the way we live in relation to the government – he knows we’re Americans, right? 

As I write this, it occurs to me that this will probably be a deeper dive than one post will allow. So I will take these questions one at time and write a series of posts.

First, what if I don’t agree with my government? 

I think it is worth pointing out that no where in this passage does Paul suggest we have to agree with our government. I don’t think his intention is to turn us into citizen cloned automatons. Rather, Pauls says we should live in subjection to our government authorities. Scripture’s use of the word submit has been hotly debated in terms of a husband and wife relationship, but here, Paul uses it to describe our relationship with government. In his commentary, Dr. Thomas Constable describes subjection as an attitude of deference or support. In the marriage relationship, I often define submission as voluntarily placing another’s needs above your own. I think the same is true in this passage. When I submit to the governing authorities, I am placing the needs of the many, above my own. As a rule of thumb, when I disagree with the government, I should ask ourselves, what’s best for the majority of the people? Is this an issue that allows me to place the needs of the many above my own? Does doing so violate my faith or religious conscience? 

In most cases, I think we’ll find we can submit to our government authorities (at least in America) with relative ease on most issues. I can remember when the laws changes requiring automobile passengers to where a seat belt. I hated it! Seatbelts aren’t comfortable and I felt like like I had the right to ignore the law. Guess what, I was wrong. The same is true with speed limits and even our current social distancing guidelines. I can stay 6 feet away from most people without violating my conscience. It’s just a rule of thumb, but in most cases, I think we can submit to the government.

But what about when their laws violate my faith? I’ll look at that matter in the next installment.

 

Mini Book Review of ‘Class 11: My Story Inside the CIA’s First Post 9/11 Spy Class’ by T.J. Waters

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If you are looking for a comprehensive examination of the CIA, this is not your book. Rather, this is book explores the training of a single CIA class. The 11th Class of spies was the CIA’s first class following 9/11. What made this story interesting to me is that 9/11 marks a pivotal point in the history of espionage in out country. In all appearances, human gathered intelligence had failed us in a major way. This presented a choice for the CIA. Would they continue with business as usual or would they learn from their mistakes. This book explores that struggle by telling the story of the largest class of spies in CIA history.

This book was a bit of a deviation for me. Most of the espionage titles I’ve read center around the Cold War Era. What surprised me was how much of the training and experiences of Class 11 seemed similar to what the CIA has always done. It seems to me that in many aspects, the CIA was playing catchup in an attempt to keep itself relevant. That was a bit of a disappointed. What wasn’t disappointing, however, were the sacrifices and motivation of the would be Case Officers. If you’ve never read anything about the training of CIA Case Officers, you will find this book informative. You will learn what life is like on The Farm and how such training impacts the trainees and their families.

I found this glimpse into the family life of the author very interesting. I’m not sure if T.J. Waters has written anything else, but I would be interested to see what his CIA life was life post training.

Mini Book Review of “The End Times in Chronological Order” by Ron Rhodes

EndTimesChronPaul Lee Tan defines a literal interoperation of Scripture as “… explain[ing] the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary uses of its language … consider[ing] the accepted rules of grammar and rhetoric, as well as the factual historical and cultural data of Biblical times.” Author Ron Rhodes begins this book by defending and defining such interpretation (the same method I was taught and adhere to) and then applies the method to lay out Biblical Eschatology in chronological order. This book is excellently written in a manner that is easy to understand. As such, I think it is a great tool to supplement Bible study. Having read through it once, my goal is to now go back and scrutinize and study particular points. I am certain this will be a book I turn to often in the future and I am looking forward to reading more by this author.

Having given this book a 5 Star review on Goodreads, I will be adding it to my list of recommended reading.

Mini Book Review of “Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy” by Lindsey Moran

blowingmycoverI really enjoy true life, behind the scenes, espionage titles. In most cases, truth is far more incredible than fiction. This title from Lindsey Moran should have checked off all my boxes, but in many ways it left me wanting. Her story was incredible enough; as a CIA Case Worker with an interesting foreign post, her story was intriguing. I especially enjoyed the details she shared concerning her time in training. She also did a good job portraying the melancholy I am sure many CIA Case Workers feel. Unfortunately, despite her service to her country, she almost conveys a sense of regret. She doesn’t seem proud of her career (as I feel she should). It’s hard to explain entirely … I could understand a sense of regret, however, she almost seems remorseful and maybe even spiteful. The author conveys a sense of regret for the sacrifices she made regarding her personal life in favor of her professional one and ultimately (no spoilers here) is faced with a decision.

While I enjoyed parts of this book, there are much better ones out there.

Mini Book Review of ‘Can’t Hurt Me’ by David Goggins

CantHurtMeDuring a conversation about ultra running, a friend asked me  if I had ever heard of David Goggins. He billed Goggins as the most inspirational man he had ever heard of and pointed out the author and ultra runner was a former Navy Seal. I was immediately interested because I am huge fan of the Seals. They are  the closest thing to actual, real-life super heroes I know of, so I immediately looked Goggins up and bought his book, Can’t Hurt Me. 

I don’t want to steal any of his thunder, but I will say that Goggins is, indeed, incredible. The things he has overcome and accomplished is beyond amazing. His life history is remarkable … but I wouldn’t necessarily say he is inspirational. I feel inspired when I read a book that encourages me to go out and reach beyond myself, and Goggins certainly attempts to do that, but he is so practically inhuman in the things he has accomplished that I can’t really relate. For instance, Goggins wanted to be a Navy Seal so he lost 100 pounds in a very short time frame and went out and did it. Likewise, he wanted to be an ultra runner, so he went out and completed a hundred mile event with no runs leading up to it. Who does that? He did, but can anyone else? I certainly can’t. I’m at the other end of the spectrum having just completed my first sub forty minute 5k. It took me two years to run a full half marathon. I want to be an ultra runner, but I’m no where near ready and I know it. As such, there’s really nothing from this book that I can take away and apply to my own life.

Goggins is incredible. He is other worldly. He is a hero, and I am now a fan, however, he is not inspiring. Physically and mentally, Goggins is a spectacle. He refers to himself as the hardest man alive and he may just be. I enjoyed his book and will be on the lookout for him on podcasts and such, but while he amazes me, he does not necessarily inspire me.

If want to be amazed, buy this book. Be forewarned, however – Goggins is a former Navy Seal and uses language you would expect a Navy Seal to use. If you are easily offended by four letters words, avoid this one.

It Feels Like Something is Broken Inside of Me

Saturday I participated in what, is for me, the hardest run on my schedule. For the second year in a row I signed up for and ran the Indian Run at the Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio. It is beautiful, well-organized run through one of the most beautiful parts of Ohio. But it is tough. When I ran it last year it was, at the time, my longest run ever. It included many sections of climbs that I was not prepared for and it was all I could do to finish. As soon as I crossed the finish line in 2018, I knew I wanted to come back and do the run again. My long-term goal is to someday do an ultramarathon, but this 20k run through Hocking Hills beat me and I immediately knew I wanted revenge.

That revenge was supposed to happen last Saturday. With another year of training and some modest weight loss, I was convinced I would do better than last year. In some ways, I suppose I did. I beat last year’s time by 18 minutes and physically, I think I feel better and am recovering faster than last year. However, once again, this run beat me.

My problems began at mile 4 with a steep climb up Steel Hill Road. I had strategically planned to walk the hill and did so, however, about half way up the climb I began suffering from painful calf cramps. These cramps plagued me throughout the finish and hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt while running. Every step was a struggle. These cramps put doubt in my mind that I would be able to finish and caused me to walk much more of the course than I intended. I only finished because turning around at that point would have been a more difficult run; plus, my cellphone was out of service which prevented me from calling my wife to come get me. So I trudged forward.

The problems got worse at mile 9. For the second year in a row, in that exact spot, I experienced what I can only describe as an asthma-like attack. Wheezing, a failure to catch my breath, and elevated heart rate accompanied a feeling as if I were about to pass out. It was a sensation I hoped I wouldn’t experience again after last year. It was sensation that put me in survival mode. I was no longer concerned about time, or crushing the run, I just wanted to survive it.

In doing so, it felt like something broke inside of me. I vowed in that moment that I would never sign up for the Indian Run again. It’s just too tough. The 20k distance had beat me down again and any hopes of ever completing the 40k or 60k distance were dashed. In fact, in that moment of suffering, I began to question why I run in the first place. I thought I had made some gains, I thought I had improved, but here I was suffering in the same ways for the second year in a row. It called into question all the work and training I have done over the last year. It made me feel like giving up.

I told my wife afterwards that I was never signing up for the Indian Run again. I could hear the shock in her voice when she responded by telling me she had no doubt I would be back. But beyond that particular run, if I’m being honest, I’ve entertained the notion of just quitting all together. I’ve thought about giving up. I’m not a natural runner, I’m built more like an offensive lineman than an ultramarathon runner, I’m slow …. and here’s the deal, I I always will be.

I don’t mean for this post to be a downer, but for the first time since I began running and losing weight, I am questioning if its all worth it. I’ve run a couple of times since then and I’m starting to recover physically, however, I feel like I’m a long way from recovering mentally. I feel like something is broken inside of me.

I’ve never experience this type of pessimism and dread following a run and I’m not sure how to recover from it. I don’t know if it is normal to feel this way after such a hard effort, but I know I don’t like. Running normally gives me pleasure and peace. That is not where I’m at right now … and I miss it terribly.It

Things I Would Endorse if People Cared That I Endorsed Things: AfterShokz Bone Conduction Headphones

aftershokzI must preface this review with a short story. I was running on a nearby rail trail the other day and almost got hit by a tractor. True story! One of the things I like about this particular path is the lack of motorized traffic. The most dangerous vehicle I normally encounter is a random bicycle. Because it is a safe path, I tend to turn on my tunes or a podcast and zone out while I run. Such was the case when the tractor almost took me out! I was running along in my own little world when this fella on a large tractor  passed me out of the blue. Maybe he yelled on your left, but I didn’t hear him because of my music, and I certainly didn’t see him until he practically plowed my over. I nearly jumped out of my skin and I instantly reached my maximum heart rate.

I came home right after that run and ordered a pair of AfterShokz Bone Conduction headphones. I have no idea how these things work, however the premise behind them is that they rest just in front of your ears and somehow transmit sound via vibrations into your bones. This leaves your ears open allowing you to simultaneously hear the noise that’s around you. Although skeptical, these headphones have intrigued me for quite awhile. I love the theory behind them. Having played drums all my life, I suffer from a nasty case of tinnitus. I have constant ringing in my ears that is made worse when listening to music through headphones, so I’ve always wondered if these bone conducting headphones would be a better alternative for me. My skepticism and general cheapness always kept me taking the plunge, however, the tractor incident pushed me over the edge.

I opted for the mid-priced wireless titanium headphones which were $79.95 on Amazon. There was another model that came in over a hundred dollars, but like I said, I’m cheap. Here’s my experience with them so far. Both Good and Bad:

The Good

Fit: These things wrap around the back of your head and feel like they should fall off, but they don’t. I have a pretty big sized noggin and they stay on me pretty well. They might come off if you take a nasty fall, but I think most headphones would do the same thing.

Function: I was surprised to learn they actually work as advertised. The sound is pretty decent. I can easily hear both music and podcasts while hearing the surrounding noise as well. When running on the treadmill, I was able to easily have a conversation with my wife without turning off my music. They probably aren’t quite as loud as some traditional headphones, but they are more than loud enough. Any sacrifice in sound quality is certainly surpassed by hearing oncoming tractors as they approach!

Connection: These particular headphones are wireless and connect to my phone via bluetooth. They connected easily and seem to have a strong signal. I can walk around the house with my phone in another room and not lose connection.

No Rubber Ear Buds: I think this is my favorite. You know those little rubber ear bud, stopper looking things on your headphones? I’m constantly losing them somehow. That’s not a problem with these. There’s nothing on them that can fall off and get lost.

Tinnitus: So far, these haven’t aggravated my tinnitus at all. That may not be the case for you, but I certainly think they are better for my hearing.

The Bad

They Tickle: There is a weird tickle from the vibrations where these headphones contact your head just in front of the ears. It’s really kind of weird and is going to take some getting used to. The more I wear them, the more I seem to be getting used to it, but for some people, it may be a turn off.

The Buttons: The button locations are not very intuitive. I imagine I’ll get used to them, but for now I’m having a hard time finding the volume up and down buttons while these are on my head.

As you can see, the good certainly outweighs the bad. I have yet to test out the battery life on a really long run, but if they come in close to they advertised 6 hour battery life, they’ll be golden! I really love these headphones and am glad I bought them. My only regret may be not buying the more expensive model … if they’re even better than the ones I bought, I’m sure they’re great!

If you’re on the fence about these, I would highly recommend you pick them up. I’ve gone through several pairs of headphones over the years and have used many different makes and models – the Aftershokz have quickly become my favorite.

Disclaimor: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I actually use and like these headphones. 

There Are No Shortcuts

This morning during prayer I was lamenting to God about the man I am as opposed to the man I want to be. I confessed to Him that I’m not the man spiritually that I aspire to. Paul wrote to Titus (Titus 2:2) that older men should be “temperate” and “self-controlled”  and I was convicted because I’m not quite there yet, even though I should be. So I was confessing this to God and asking for His guidance.

I’m not one to often say God spoke to me, but in my moment of prayer this morning, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and clearly articulated, “There are no shortcuts.”

There are no shortcuts. 

Results

Too often, we complain about a lack of results when we’re not willing to do the work required to get those results. That’s true spiritually and physically. I’ve stood on the scale and shook my fist because I didn’t lose what I wanted to lose even when I knew in my heart of hearts I didn’t put in the required work.

I have lofty goals, both spiritually and physically. I want to be the guy Paul is writing about in Titus 2:2, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” I have also set a goal to run a 50k at 50 years old (I just turned 49). Both goals are going to take work … and there are no shortcuts.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). No spiritual goal is going to be achieved apart from Him. To become a Titus 2 man, I need to continue in my study of His Word and continue seeking His will for my life. The same is true of running a 50k. During a recent 8 mile trail run, I struggled mightily. In fact, I struggled more than I expected. It showed me how much further I need to go before I can run a 50k … and the clock is ticking. It’s going to take work.

There are no shortcuts.

I’ll either put in the work to achieve my goals, or I won’t. But it occurs to me as I write this, that nothing worth achieving is easy. I expect my goals to take work. God has told me so, Not because He wants me to struggle, but rather because there are rewards that can be found in the midst of the work.

Every run, every study, and every workout is a lesson. There are no shortcuts.

My Goal to #Run50

Yesterday I turned 49 years old. I feel blessed to have done so. I once had a doctor tell me I would be lucky to turn 30 if I didn’t get my diet and obesity under control. I was a young man then with a newborn baby. Since that time, I have lost significant amounts of weight and unfortunately gained significant amounts on multiple occasions. Most recently, I’ve dropped in excess of 100 lbs and maintained it, for the most part, for the last two years. I could still lose some more weight, but I have managed to get off my diabetes and blood pressure meds. For that, I am grateful, because I recognize it as pure grace. There are plenty of people out there in similar situations who are losing their battles with obesity and diabetes. They would give anything to trade places with me and go for a run; even at my slow speed.

Even so, I live in fear of failing. Of giving up. I fear I will gain my weight back and sacrifice my health and new found fitness for food and gluttony.

My mind is constantly working out this tension. The desire to become more healthy and conquer my weight issues verses my desire to indulge in pizza, chips, and snacks. As such, I have formulated a plan to keep me inspired over the next year. A plan to run a 50k at 50 years old. My plan to #Run50.

My longest distance thus far has been a 20k ran through the hills of Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio. It’s a run that I will be repeating in September. It almost beat me last year. I bonked after mile 9 and struggled to finish … so I recognize I have a long way to go if I want to run a 50k. My goal is to structure my next year of training to enable me to run a 50k ultra at 50 years of age. In doing so, I’m going to do my best to lose as close to 50 more pounds as I can.

I want to do this for me. I want to do this for those who can’t do it. I want to do this to honor God who has blessed me with life. I hope you’ll follow along and help me accomplish my goal.