My First DNF – The Germantown 50k

For the past 12 weeks, I have been training for today. The Germantown 50k Trail Run. Four, torturous loops through the Germantown MetroPark expertly ran by the Ohio River Road Runners Club. Why? Well, I happen to love running — especially trail running. Also, I firmly believe God put this specific distance on my heart, which is odd considering I’m not an especially gifted runner. I’m slow and not built like a runner at all. But running has become an avenue for prayer and contemplation. My best conversations with God tend to happen when I’m alone on a run. So I didn’t argue or complain that God put the 50k (31 miles) on my heart.

Until today.

I gave Germantown my best. My biggest fear was missing the time cut off after the third loop and not being allowed to start loop four. To qualify, I had to finish the third loop by 2:45 pm. A generous time allotment, but as I mentioned, I’m slow. Out of fear, I ran more and walked less than I had planned on the first two loops. According to plan, Stefanie joined me on loop three to pace me. It was slow going to say the least. I was experiencing severe stomach distress that wasn’t allowing me to take in much nutrition. What nutrition I did take in was a struggle to keep down. Basically, I was a train wreck. Dizziness, cramps, stomach cramps … the works. But I finished the third loop before the cutoff with about 20 minutes to spare. Mission accomplished. The problem? I didn’t have a fourth loop left in me. After loop three, I dropped.

The dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish). I managed to cover 22.83 miles with 2467 feet of elevation. But ultimately, I didn’t finish. Which made me mad at first. Specifically, I was a little mad at God. Why would He put the 50k on my heart only to allow me to DNF? I didn’t understand … and, if I’m being honest, I’m still struggling. But I have realized something in the last few hours.

The God of Victories is also the God of DNFs.

Perhaps there was and is something God wants me to learn amid this DNF. We Christians talk a lot about living the victorious Christian life. But God’s Word is clear, we claim an ultimate victory that was won by Jesus on the cross. In life, however, God often uses failure to grow and mature us. The Apostle Paul understood this. That’s why he wrote, “And we know that for those that love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul praised God though victories and imprisonment. Following his example, I will praise God in my DNF.

I have yet to decipher what God is trying to teach me. Perhaps I need to rely more on Him and less on me to finish a 50k. Perhaps, He is simply teaching me to wait on His timing. Whatever the lesson, today wasn’t the day. But I will keep plugging away. As Stefanie has reminded me, I need to focus on what I did achieve today. I did make the cutoff. I did complete 22.83 difficult trail miles (my longest yet) and almost 2500 feet of elevation. And I am praising the God who has blessed me by allowing me to do it.

I guess my first DNF isn’t that bad. It’s back to the drawing board. I’m now on the lookout for a 50k with a little less elevation!

Trail Running is 90% Mental

Some people may make the case that a person must be mental to go running out in the middle of the woods, but that’s not actually what this post is about. Rather, I am simply making an argument that a successful trail run, especially a long trail run, is mostly about mental fortitude and attitude.

Case in point, I am currently training for my first ultra run; a 50k run in the Germantown Metro Park that will consist of four 7.75 mile loops around the park. Last week for my long run, I set out to do two loops in that park. Basically, I wanted to know what I was in store for. I’m not a big fan of surprises come race day. So, I set out and drove the hour and a half to see the park for myself. My first impression was that there were far more hills than I expected. About four miles into my first loop, the elevation started adding up. I instantly got down on myself and the negative talk began. Perhaps you’ve been there. “You can’t do this. You’ll never be able to complete four loops. You’re not a real runner. You have no business trying to do this.”

I hate to admit this, but the negative voice I hear in my head at times is my own. I have a tendency to focus on the negative when it comes to myself. Perhaps it comes from years of fighting obesity, but I am able to quickly forget how far I’ve come. I forget that I am not the man I used to be. I can do it quite easily. Long story short – I did not complete two loops during my first encounter with Germantown. I hit my limit after just one loop.

I walked away feeling defeated, discouraged, and embarrassed.

Today was a different story. I completed two loops in their entirety. Yeah, it was tough. I even got attacked by a swarm of bees at one point. But I overcame the bees and the hills. What had changed in a week? I’m still basically the same runner I was last week. The handful of training runs I competed over the last seven days didn’t make me twice as capable as I was. I’m still not fast or naturally gifted. The one thing that did change, however, was my mental state.

I went into today’s run accepting that it was going to be tough. I began the run in prayer. I asked God to give me strength, to protect myself and my companions from injury, and to protect me from myself. My negative self talk has the potential to cause some damage and I had no desire to go down that road today. I confessed that to God, asked for His forgiveness, and put my trust in Him.

I then spent the entire first loop focusing on staying positive. It helped that my wife stayed positive as well. Despite some aches and pains from a foot surgery she is recovering from, she stayed more or less in a good mood. That helped – a lot. I am convinced that surrounding yourself with positive people is the most basic way to stay positive yourself. Basically, I just tried to enjoy that first loop. I focused on the blessing of being on a trail with my wife and our son. I slammed my Tailwind to stay hydrated and walked the big hills with no apologies – I had bigger fish to fry.

The second loop started after a changed shirt and a PB&J sandwich – calm down, it was was sugar free jelly, natural peanut butter, and low carb wheat bread! Both Stef and Zach opted out of this loop, which left me on my own. The aftershokz went on and my running playlist was engaged. My running music is comprised of loads of positive, upbeat praise and worship music. Casting Crowns, P.O.D., Skillet, and Toby Mac. Before long, I found myself singing out loud; much to the chagrin of the various hikers I passed. I find it impossible to focus on negative things when I’m praising God.

This strategy worked well. The second loop seemed to be flying by. That is until mile 11. As a rounded a corner I saw a dog harness, cell phone, and various articles of clothing strewn about the trail, which is weird, but my brain didn’t even get a chance to process it before I was attacked by a swarm of bees. Before I knew what was happening, I had probably been stung about a dozen times. Eventually, I realized all the stuff on the trail belonged to another runner and his dog who had been attacked as well. The dog had accidentally stumbled into a hive and upset the bees. This was at about the same point the hills began.

Everything post bee attack was tough. Real tough.

My heart rate skyrocketed and I had some breathing issues. Fortunately, the inhaler I carry on my trail runs helped some. The hills were made tougher with the pain of the stings, but I had to take moment and thank God it hadn’t been worse. I also prayed for the dog, because she seemed to take more stings than the rest of us. The bee incident did manage to shorten my planned 19 mile run to just under 15, but on a positive note, I managed to complete two full loops.

The only change was my mindset an my attitude.

God’s Word tells us to to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable … excellent or praiseworthy” Philippians 4:8. I’ve learned the mind is the most powerful weapon a trail runner has. Sure … it would be nice to have the endurance and lungs of Jim Walmsley, but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen. Through dedication and hard work, I may be able to slightly improve my running performance … but nothing will have a more dramatic impact on my running than an improved attitude!

My advice for trail runners, regardless of their skill level?

1. Stay positive! Don’t allow negative thoughts to get a foothold.

2. Focus on those things lovely about being on a trail! There are plenty of people who wish they could enjoy a train run, but for whatever reasons can’t. You are blessed!

3. Begin each run in prayer and praise God frequently throughout your run. You are never alone in the woods!

4. Finally, prepare yourself mentally before the trail gets tough. Spend time in God’s Word and in prayer during the week before your long run. Don’t wait for hills to talk with God … know that the hills are coming, and talk to Him in preparation!

I’m a work in progress, but this lesson is going to stick with me.

The All-Consuming Power of Hate

I’ve long pondered that Twitter is little more than a cesspool of depravity. There seems to be something intrinsic to this particular social media platform that brings out the fringe and extremists on any particular issue. Why is this the case? Perhaps it’s all in the pursuit of adding followers. Perhaps, people are simply bolder on the internet than in person. Whatever the reason, it sometimes gets hard for me to stomach. For example, I recently clicked on a thread started by an atheist account which seemed to be blaming Evangelical Christians on increasing COVID cases due to their reluctance to get vaccinated. I clicked, because I am an Evangelical Christian who is vaccinated and I honestly wondered if Christians are getting vaccinated at a slower rate than the rest of Americans; but what really caught my eye was some of the hateful comments that the post attracted. One presumed atheist commented that the world would be a better place if COVID killed off all the Evangelical Christians. I won’t link to the actual tweet because I don’t want to bring attention to the moron that posted it, but needless to say, the tweet caused me some consternation. Why? It wasn’t because I’m soft or it hurt my feelings. In fact, if anything, I was simply mad. But as I pondered the comment for awhile, I actually found myself feeling bad for someone who could be that consumed with hatred.

So there I was reading that tweet and finding myself geng angry. But God’s Word reminds me to hate the tweet and evil sentiment it communicated, but to love the person that tweeted it. In fact, Jesus Himself said to “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). So that’s what I found myself doing. I know nothing about that person … but I prayed for them. And I feel like God thought me something in that moment.

Think about this for a bit. How much would you have to hate a person, or group of people, to not only wish them death, but to put it on the internet for all to see. It stunned me that someone could be so callous. It is in this example, however, that I was reminded of the all-consuming power of hate. Everyday Health compares hate to a “… mental venom [that] can pollute your spirit, poison your soul and seep into all of the relationships that surround you.”1 Could there be anything more damaging and unhealthy for your spirit than hate?

God’s Word calls on us to hate evil, hypocrisy, and godlessness; however, it is also very clear that if we hate our brothers and sisters we live in darkness (1 John 2:9). The Bible commands Christians to get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger (Ephesians 4:31). Why? Because it stirs up conflict (Proverbs 10:12). When hate begins to occupy your mind and heart there is always the danger it will consume you.

You can hate something for all the right reasons … and still be consumed by that hatred to the point that it is unhealthy. Reader, when you find yourself feeling hatred toward another person, you are on dangerous ground. Don’t believe me? Notice that God’s Word likens “hate” with “murder” (1 John 3:15).

Hate your political opponents? Hate those who disagree with you? Hate Democrats? Hate Republicans? Do so at your own peril. The Everyday Health article I quoted earlier quotes Siddhartha Buddha as saying, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Want to live a happy and healthy life? Learn how to let go of your hate. God bless.


1 https://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/destructive-power-hate/

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.

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.

Cornerstone Verses: John 13:35 “… if you have love”

35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another – John 13:35, NASB. 

aaron-burden-143103-unsplashPastor James Macdonald recently preached a series on what he called game changers. These were some of the individual verses that he said changed everything when it comes to our faith. A game changer is defined as “an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.” As I listened to his recent podcast, I couldn’t help but wonder what verses I would add to such a list. What verses are cornerstone verses? What verses are fundamental to the way we do church, discipleship, faith, and Christianity? While all Scripture is “God-breathed and useful for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16), certainly some verses can be considered building blocks that all Christians should be familiar with and eager to live out in their lives.

As I considered which verses I would include on such a list, John 13:35 was among the first that occurred to me. We know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but in this verse Jesus tells us that others will know we are His disciples because of our love for one another.

We are connected to Jesus by our love. It makes sense. When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior we become indwelled by the Holy Spirit. If God lives in us, and God is love, it is inevitable that His love will impact the way we view others. In fact, Scripture teaches that “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). It appears that the absence of love for other believers signifies there is something dreadfully wrong in the life of a believer. 

They Will Know Us By Our Love for One Another

We live amid a cultural climate that is characterized by many things, but love is not one 136aa4cc778661545ba36ff2d1069a2eof them. Divisiveness, bitterness, hatred, and outrage seem to be the themes of social media, but not love. A quick scan of Twitter will reveal that virtually everyone is mad about something. The left hates the right. The right hates the left. It seems everyone has picked a tribe and gone to war with others. We’re characterized by our skin color, politics, geography, sexual preferences, sports teams, and even diets. The vitriol can be smothering at times and it’s easy to get sucked in, but Jesus tells us that the Christian “tribe” should be identified by their love for one another. In fact, He tells us in John 13:34 that we should, love one another as He has loved us. Jesus is talking about sacrificial, unselfish, supernatural love. 

That’s a kind of love that will stand out in the world we live in. The love Jesus is talking about rises above mere tribalism. It’s bigger than skin color or nationality. It rises above politics. It puts others first and makes Christ the center of our lives. The love Jesus is talking about honors God. It is a kind of love that should naturally flow from Christians who are indwelled by the Spirit. In fact, its a kind of love that is impossible without the Holy Spirit. 

Too often, though, Christians choose to quench the Spirit by treating each other poorly. I’ve witnessed Christians on Social Media lambaste one another over politics, social causes, sports, and all sorts of other things that are inconsequential when compared to eternity. It’s even worse when such squabbles escape the confines of social media and infiltrate the local church. 

Let us never forget that we have been “raised to new life with Christ Jesus” (Colossians 3:1). It is a new life that should be characterized by our love for other believers. Everything we say and do should be filtered through that love because there is no cause greater than the cause of Christ. 

When in doubt, we should look to Christ as out example of love. And pray that others would see that love in us (John 13:15). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from The Apostle Paul: Paul Was the Real Deal

Rembrandt as Paul
Rembrandt self portrait portraying himself as the Apostle Paul 

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

“… Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV. 

The above passage from 2 Corinthians blows me away. Paul is writing to a church that had shunned his authority and instead turned to false teachers. Paul calls these teachers “super-apostles” and does so rather sarcastically. In chapter of eleven of 2 Corinthians he acknowledges that compared to these “super-apostles”, he isn’t a gifted speaker. He acknowledges that he humbled himself so that the Christians in Corinth could be elevated.

He then, rather reluctantly, tells them of a time he was “caught up into the third heaven” into the very presence of God and “heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paul could have grown conceited or arrogant because of this vision he received from God, but instead, he was humbled by a “thorn in the flesh” that God allowed him to suffer from. Why? Just to make sure Paul didn’t grow conceited.

Paul was humbled by a thorn in the flesh. He prayed and prayed for God to remove the thorn but God refused; choosing instead to teach Paul the lesson that “[His] grace is sufficient … and [His] power is made perfect in weakness.” I relate to the lesson Paul learned from this thorn because God is teaching me something similar. 

Not all of the Corinthians, however, appreciated Paul’s thorn. They saw Paul’s weakness and held it against him. They chose the  “super-apostles” who were just a little too perfect. Some members of the church preferred a “different gospel” (see chapter 11) preached by fake apostles because those apostles looked the part.

I wonder if the modern church does the same thing at times. We need to be wary of church leaders who are “too perfect.” If our teachers and preachers never struggle, it might be a red flag. Paul was the real deal. He had been called by Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus. He had been called into the very presence of God to witness things most people will never see on this side of eternity … but the church chose fake, super apostles because they spoke well and looked the part. I can only imagine they were good looking, wore fancy clothes, and had perfect hair.

The Corinthians had been duped.

Too often, we are quick to metaphorically crucify church leaders who make mistakes. We  expect them be perfect even when God doesn’t. Paul’s thorn in the flesh made it apparent that any success he had in ministry was solely because of God Almighty … and that’s exactly how God wanted it. God used a flawed man with a checkered past to accomplish mighty things in order for God Himself to receive all the credit.

Be wary who you follow. If they are too “perfect”, there will be no room for God to move. We don’t need “super apostles.” We need humble leaders who constantly point to God as the source of their strength.

In the church, humility, transparency, and honesty should always be preferred over false perfection and self promotion. Paul compared the false teachers in Corinth to Satan who “masquerades as an angel of light” ( 2 Corinthians 11:14). It is imperative that we don’t allow ourselves to be fooled.

If it looks to good to be true, it probably is.

Book Review of DNA of a Christian by Daren Wride

DNAHaving never heard of the author, Daren Wride, I loaded this book onto my kindle because it was offered for free on Amazon and it had a catchy title. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect too much. As the title suggests, Wride offers what he feels are the essential traits of a believing Christian, as follows:

 

  1. Lover of God
  2. Lover of People
  3. Holy
  4. Truth Based
  5. Evangelistic
  6. Persevering
  7. God-Dependent
  8. Focused on Eternity

Wride admits that this list is not exhaustive, however, he tried to create it in a way that includes all other possibilities. As might be expected, some traits were more challenging than others, however, as a whole this book serves as a great reminder that our faith should change the way we live our lives. I actually used this book as a teaching tool in our church covering a different trait each week. It served well for that purpose.

Book Review of “Christian Horror” by Mike Duran

DuranThis book serves as an apologetic for the “Christian-Horror” genre. On its surface, the term Christian-Horror may seem like an oxymoron, however, Duran makes compelling arguments for Christians to embrace the genre. The most logical argument for me is that Christians must first acknowledge the evil in the world to then present the Light. Duran spends a great deal of time examining the history of the horror genre and its close relation to Christianity. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Duran argues that many classic horror stories are deeply spiritual and ultimately redeeming in nature. Duran also points out that the Bible has much in common with these stories of redemption as it refuses to shy away from presenting evil in a way that ultimately glorifies God.

I appreciated that Duran was careful to differentiate this type of redemptive horror from the more senseless or grotesque examples of the genre. “Hack and slash” movies that needlessly glorify violence or entertainment that serves to romanticize evil ultimately have no redemptive qualities. Duran also points out the difference between Christian Horror and Naturalistic/Atheist Horror such as H.P. Lovecraft, “Christian horror is based on the God Who Is There while naturalistic horror is based on the God Who Isn’t” (p.82). Basically, there is enough variety within the “horror” genre that Christians need to be discerning as they engage it. Christians should be reminded that there are some examples of the genre that could be damaging to their spiritual walk.

This book is carefully written. Duran does an excellent job of evaluating the weight of Scripture on the subject. It is obvious he knows both Scripture and the horror genre. My only real complaint with his treatment of the subject is that Duran seems to rail a bit against evangelicals. Duran seems critical of evangelicals who have withdrawn from the horror genre in favor of whitewashed “Christian” media. I must admit there are some “whitewashed” stories I enjoy a great deal. Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous are among my favorite movies! Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I believe Dracula and Facing the Giants can both be enjoyed and are not mutually exclusive. However, literature and film are ultimately about entertainment. If a Christian chooses one over the other, it is exactly that, a choice. I see no reason to be critical of the Christian who avoids horror stories as a rule. I also see no reason to be critical of a Christian who enjoys a redemptive horror story provided they are engaging their discernment and are actually watching or reading a ‘redemptive’ story. A Christian who spends their Friday nights enjoying Faces of Death probably needs to be criticized!

Overall, I enjoyed this thought-provoking work. Duran has also written several books that I assume fall into the Christian/Redemptive Horror genre and I plan on trying one of them out soon. I recommend this read to any Christian who enjoys a good scary story and is looking for ways to be discerning as they choose their books or movies.

Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Growth: A Devotional

gfgm2hcq92s-aaron-burden“… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18, NASB)

In 2 Peter 3:17, Peter warns believers not to “… lose [their] footing and get swept off [their] feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers” (2 Peter 3:17, Message). Not only are believers prone to stumble on their journey with Christ, there are those who would intentionally trip us up if given the chance. There are false teachers who would lead us astray in our walk … this is why it’s crucial we stay faithful to the gospel as it has been passed down to us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of all the pitfalls that confront us in our walk, it is important that we take a proactive stance when it comes to our spiritual growth.

Too often, we treat spiritual growth as something that just “happens” to us. We go to church, hang out with other Christians, and listen to Christian music in the hope that we will grow through some sort of ‘spiritual osmosis’ – and we will, to an extent. However, we will grow the most when we actively contribute to the growth process. When Peter admonishes believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior,” we must understand he is encouraging us to actively participate in the process.

Do you want to know the secret to avoiding pitfalls in your spiritual walk? Take responsibility for your own spiritual growth. In the power of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. When your feet hit the floor in the morning make it your daily goal to study God’s Word and put it into practice in your life. Don’t wait for Sunday morning to soak up some spirituality, rather, make spiritual growth a priority in your life every day of the week! Peter has warned us there are people who will lead us astray … we can avoid their traps if we know what we know what we know! Scripture equates this process with a baby who gets off of milk and begins to eat solid food (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2).

Take command of your spiritual life and take responsibility for it. Never be satisfied with just milk. It is time we all begin eating solid food!