Mini Book Review of “Running to Leadville” by Brian Burk.

This book is very similar to author Brian Burk’s other book ‘Unfinished’. Like its counterpart, there are many grammatical errors. So much so that I felt I should lead with that in this review as it could deter some people. I will say this, however, it is a good book. Burk’s very strong at describing the ultra runs that are featured in his stories. In this case, that’s the Leadville 100. If you are even mildly interested in long distance trail runs, you’ll enjoy this book. Like ‘Unfinished’, there is a huge plot development, however, it occurs earlier in the story and doesn’t come off as an interruption to the plot. If you are choosing between the two titles, pick this one.

Mini Book Review of “Unfinished: Finding Yourself Among a Lifetime of Miles and the JFK 50-Ultra-Marathon” by Brian Burk

Full disclosure; I didn’t know what I was getting when I downloaded this book for my Kindle. I thought I was getting the author’s account of his own adventure running an ultramarathon and, as someone who has the goal of running a 50k this year, that was of interest. However, what I got was a fictionalized account of a young Olympic hopeful marathon runner and his girlfriend in a small, sleepy little West Virginia town. I suspect the characters and locations, including the running shoe store the protagonist works in, are all drawn from the author’s own experiences. Certainly, there were enough details of the JFK 50 that I expect Brian Burn has run it himself. Those details lended a bit of realism to the characters and the events described throughout the book. I found it readable and engaging. Now for my quibbles … and there are a couple. First, I downloaded this through my Kindle Unlimited and, like many of the books available on the platform, I am assuming this one is self-published. I have nothing against self-published works at all … I like good books regardless of how they are published, however, this one needed some more proof-reading. There were some mistakes in syntax and grammar. Normally, such mistakes are forgivable if the book is written well, however, in this case the mistakes interrupted the flow of the story enough to be a distraction.

As for the story itself, I liked it. Without spoiling anything, I will say there is a huge plot development about two thirds of the way through that happens rather abruptly and changes the whole story. I wasn’t for it. In fact, I almost quit reading. Instead, I sat the book aside for a couple of days and then soldiered through. Other readers may deal better with it than I did.

If you are a fan of ultra running and enjoy fiction tales, my guess is you would like this book. I will certainly be on the lookout for other novels written by Brian Burk, but I think he is capable of much better than this. I give it a solid 2.5 out of 5 stars.

My New Year Un-Resolution

We’re about to start a new year (just in time some might say). This is normally when we all start making resolutions for the coming year. I had many possibilities to choose from: lose some weight, exercise more, write more, worry less, and reaching out to some people I love were among my top considerations. But then it occurred to me not to make any resolutions at all. Why? Because resolutions are flawed. Just look at the definition of the word “resolve”:

As verb, to resolve means to decide firmly on a course of action, to make up one’s mind or to make a decision. As a noun it is a firm determination to do something.

While there’s nothing wrong with being determined or decisive, I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I need more than my own will power. I need God’s power in my life. I’ve seen the limits of my own determination while God’s power has no limitations.

God’s word says we can do all things through Him who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13). The sad truth is that even though we can, most of us don’t. The larger context of that verse is about enduring hardships. If I’m being honest, I tend to face all challenges in my own strength. Doing this tends to make my obstacles even bigger because I inevitably reach the end of my strength.

Thus, my un-resolution this year is to rely on Christ more, if not for everything. I want to experience Christ’s power and strength in my life.

In short, I want more of Him and less of me. I also wish the same for you.

Happy New Year! God bless you.

Mind, Spirit, and Body

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Thessalonians 5:23, NASB.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul prays his readers may be made entirely complete, in body and in spirit and in soul. I emphasize the last two because they seem to me the most ignored in our current day and age. Let’s face it; we understand all too well that our bodies are important. We live in a world that glorifies appearance. Spend a few minutes scrolling Instagram or watching TV and you’ll quickly understand what I mean. The health and wellness machine is all about appearance. The truth is, however, our appearance is the most superficial level of our existence; and when we overemphasize the superficial, we are neglecting what’s really important.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that we are not a body with a soul, but a soul with a body. In terms of Scripture, this is an accurate statement. the Bible teaches that when we die, we’ll be absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) and that at some point in God’s plan, we’ll receive new imperishable bodies (1 Corinthians 15:43). In fact, our mortal bodies can’t even inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). This begs the question, Why do we focus all of our time and attention on the one aspect of our being that matters the least?

It seems to me, that when it comes to health and fitness, we better work on our mind, spirit, and soul, before we worry about our body.

I have a long history of weight loss and, unfortunately, weight gain. Over the past 34 years or so, I have lost a great deal of weight at least 4 times … probably 5 now that I think about it. I have spent a great deal of time counting calories, counting reps, and mastering various programs. I have agonized over various workout routines and driven myself nuts over the tedious little details. But what I’ve never done, is focus on my soul and spirit first.

The truth is, you can do everything right physically and maybe even lose weight; but still be a very unhealthy person. I’m not just talking about those skinny fat people we’ve all heard about, you know, their BMI and weight is under control and they’re considered beautiful by the world’s standards, yet their cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure is a mess. More importantly, I am referring to people who focus all their attention on the physical yet sacrifice the spiritual and the eternal aspects of their existence.

Genesis 1:26 says that all mankind is made in the image of God. He created us with physical attributes, yet He also created us with immaterial attributes; “soul, spirit, intellect, will, conscience, mind, and emotions”1. I’ve lost and gained weight so many times in my life because my emotions, mind, and will were suspect. I could get healthy physically, but never mentally or emotionally. That’s why I would so often turn to food when my life got flipped upside down. That’s why I embraced every emotion I experience with food! Sad – get ice cream, mad – order a pizza, happy – go out to a restaurant and celebrate! Whatever happened in my life, good or bad, caused me to turn to the sin of gluttony for satisfaction. This isn’t a physical problem … it’s a spiritual matter.

Perhaps you’re there. If I’m being honest, there is still a part of me that is. That’s why the plan I’m embracing now involves the mind and spirit and not just the body. This may seem out of order to you, but when it comes to weight loss, I’ve learned that the body is the least important aspect of my being. I’m learning that meditation, prayer, Bible Study, and the formation of good, healthy habits should come first. The body will follow my mind and spirit’s lead. A healthy mind equals a healthy body and a sick mind equals a sick body.

Whatever plan you’re following, learn from my mistakes. Do not ignore your mind and spirit in favor of your body. Any success you achieve following such a plan will be an illusion.

Proverbs 4:23 instructs us “Above all else, guard our hearts, for everything you do flows from it” and truer words have never been spoken.

If you’re interested in learning more about the plan I’m on, leave me a comment. I can give you more information and introduce you to a health coach that can help you get your priorities straight. I can even help introduce you to the Savior who can heal your mind, body, and spirit.

Mini Book Review of “Reborn on the Run” by Catra Corbett

Reborn on the Run by Catra Corbett

This book depicts the incredible journey of a meth addict turned ultra runner. The feats that author Catra Corbett accomplishes on the trail, are incredible. Reading her story helped encourage me that I can recover from my days as a Type 2 diabetic. In comparison, my mountains aren’t nearly as big as hers. Unfortunately, there are enough typos and errors in this book that it detracted, at least for me, from the amazing story. I’m glad I read it, however, and I am now a fan of Cards Corbett.

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.