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.

Should the COVID Vaccine be Associated With the Mark of the Beast?

Is the COVID vaccine the mark of the beast? Should it be associated with the mark of the beast in any way? I’ve been asked this question enough times that I thought it was time to look at it in light of Scripture. Especially considering some political pundits continue to make the assertion that they are one in the same. I’ve even seen some Preachers equate the two.

Why is the vaccine associated with the mark of the beast? I suppose it is because, on the surface, there seems to be a similarity. The line of reasoning is typically that the mark is supposed to be on, or under, the skin and a person will not be able to buy and sell unless they have received it. The vaccine is administered under the skin and marketplaces were largely shut down due to COVID. Plus, there is a big push by our government for everyone to be vaccinated. The fear some people have arrived at is that by receiving the vaccine, they will be inadvertently taking the mark of the beast.

Is this a valid concern? Quite simply, it is not. Take a look at what we know about the mark of the beast from God’s Word:

Revelation 13:15-18 “15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.”

Most of what we know about the mark of the beast comes from this passage in Revelation. We know that this mark acts as a seal for followers of the Antichrist and the False Prophet. There are two other passages that designate these followers as “worshipers”:

Revelation 14:9 “9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,”

Revelation 14:11 “11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

Expositors differ on the exact nature of the mark and even on the meaning of the number 666, however, one thing is clear, the mark is reserved for those who worship the antichrist.

I’m going to offer three reasons why you do not have to fear “accidentally” receiving the mark of the beast either in the form of a vaccine or by any other means:

1. The mark is reserved for this who worship the beast. We know from God’s Word that He is a just and fair God (Psalm 89:14). Righteousness is simply part of God’s character. He isn’t capable of being unjust. Would a just God allow someone to accidentally accept the mark of the beast? Those who receive the mark are referred as worshipers because they will willfully and consciously worship the antichrist. They won’t have to be tricked into it. I would argue they will receive it with glee. The mark of the beast is a poor imitation of the Holy Spirit which seals believers as belonging to Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14). Just as one can’t accidentally receive the Holy Spirit, you will not accidentally receive the mark of the beast.

2. The mark doesn’t exist yet. I encourage you to check out my post on the Seventy Weeks of Daniel. Currently, we are positioned on the timeline as waiting for the final week of years to begin. This final week is known as The Tribulation and it will be heralded in by the antichrist rising to power through a coalition of ten nations and a peace treaty with Israel (Revelation 17:7, Daniel 9). While Geopolitically speaking, this seems likely to happen sometime soon, it hasn’t happened yet … and the mark won’t happen until all of this has taken place.

3. The Church hasn’t been raptured yet. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 makes it clear the Church will be raptured and spared from The Tribulation. The mark doesn’t come I until after this rapture occurs. While the Church will be raptured, those who remain will have to make a choice; Jesus or the antichrist. Those who choose unwisely will receive the mark of the beast. Those who choose Christ will likely be persecuted and martyred.

To sum this all up, God’s Word, when taken in context, prescribe a timeline of events. A coalition of ten nations will join together under the rule of the antichrist. Peace will be brokered with the nation of Israel. The Church will be raptured and the Tribulation period will be ushered in. Those who will remain will then need to make a choice. Christ or antichrist. Those who choose unwisely will be marked as belonging to the antichrist. A proper understanding of this should alleviate any fears that a person May accidentally take the mark of the beast by receiving a COVID vaccine (or by any other means for that matter).

Believers should have no fear of the mark. Unbelievers should choose Jesus as their Lord and Savior today to alleviate their fears. God will take care of the rest.

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/

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.

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 “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.

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).