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!

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/

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 “No God But One” by Nabeel Qureshi

nogodbutoneFrom the moment I read Nabeel Qureshi’s first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I wanted to read more from him. His first book details his conversion from Islam to Christianity and essentially serves as his testimony. In this book, Qureshi offers the reasoning behind his conversion. In essence, he subjects the claims of Islam to the same scrutiny skeptics demand of Christianity and the Bible, however, he does so in a fair and heartfelt manner. In doing so, he details the debates he used to engage in with his Christian friends and compares the claims of Islam with the claims of Christianity. In scrutinizing his Islam, Qureshi eventually arrives at a place of spiritual bankruptcy and discovers that Christianity holds up well to scrutiny. This discovery is what leads him to sacrifice all he’s ever known for the conversion that is detailed in his first book.

When I learned of Qureshi’s passing last year, I immediately resolved to read this book. I am glad I did so. He writes with the authority of one who has lived both faiths and loves people from each religion. His writing is honest and his testimony is incredible. His voice is unique and is sure to inspire. I highly recommend his work to anyone who wants to learn more about Islam, especially as it compares to Christianity.

The Answer to Our National Heartache

Public debate always deepens after horrific events like the one that happened in Florida on February 14. After a shooter tragically took the lives of 17 individuals inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, much of the debate has revolved around gun control. Well-intended people on both sides of the debate argue over the means and methods necessary to save future lives and I fervently believe it is a debate that we must have in our country. Our children’s live are very much at stake and I believe we should explore every possibility to save them. However, it is not the gun debate that I woke up thinking about this morning.

This morning, as our country tries to understand and make sense out of events such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland, Florida, God is often at the center of discussion. The memes and comments I see most often on social media flow as follows:

“God, how could you let this happen in my school?”

“Child, I am not allowed in schools.”

The point is easily derived. In a country where God has been outlawed in our schools, we should expect horrific events to occur. Right? I fear, however, that the culture shift we have seen in the United States goes even deeper.

Consider, if you will, the very notion of outlawing God? How can we outlaw the Divine  Supreme being? The Almighty God is omnipresent. He exists in every time and every space at once. God can be manifest to every person and every situation as He sees fit (Isaiah 57:15, Psalm 33:13-14). We cannot control where and when God decides to make Himself known. He is God and we aren’t. In the early sixties, the Supreme Court made decisions that removed forced prayer and Bible readings from our school systems across the country. Prior to that time, communal prayers and Bible readings were common place in our schools. However, removing those prayers and those studies did not remove God. Why? Because the Supreme Court has no power over the Supreme Father. You cannot simply remove Him with the pounding of a gavel. Our God doesn’t change (James 1:17) and He has not changed since the sixties.

However, something has changed dramatically in the short 50+ years since the Supreme Court first ruled on prayer in schools. We have changed. Prior to the sixties, students in the public schools grew up watching their teachers and school leaders pay reverence to God. Even if they weren’t believers, they were exposed to people who were. Students were exposed to Scripture and were allowed to consider the truth of God’s Word without facing ridicule or derision. Such lessons left a mark on their personas and when they faced heartache, angst, and confusion they knew where to turn for answers. That influence has been removed from our school systems and what we now see is a troubled generation at a loss for what to do and where to turn. In two short generations we have begun to reap what we’ve sown.

The answer to our national heartache is not more or less guns. The solution is more Christ. Undoubtedly, some will read my words and call me a zealot or a “Bible thumper.” I’m okay with that. But mark my words, if we don’t figure out a way to bridge the divide between the secular and the sacred in our school systems we will continue to suffer heartache after heartache.

Know that I am not advocating “forced” prayer or “forced” Bible studies. I am convinced by God’s Word that He values the freedom of choice. However, we need to create environments where our young people are able to consider the Truth of God’s Word free from ridicule and mockery. These environments need to be fostered primarily in our homes and in our churches, but also in our schools.

Christians, please join me in praying for our young people. Pray for our school leaders. Pray for our political leaders. Pray for the brave men and women in law enforcement who have accepted the call to protect our children. Know that what happened in Florida can happen in any school district in any town in America. I believe we need to tighten our security wherever able and protect our kids as much as possible, however, we also need to arm our youth with something far more powerful than any weapon. We need to arm them with the truth of God’s Word.

“7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” Galatians 6:7 (NASB). 

 

 

Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer. 

 

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!

Obedience is Not Optional

“To God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with His blood…” (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV emphasis mine).

mo9vkbg5csg-ben-whiteThe above passage is rich with theological implications. It contains trigger words that light the Bible student’s heart on fire such as ‘elect’ and ‘foreknowledge’. It also mentions each member of the Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit. However, when I read it this morning three other words grabbed my attention …

“… to be obedient …”

Why were God’s elect chosen according to the foreknowledge of God? To be obedient. Too often, Christians see obedience to God’s Word as optional. We tend to pick and choose the passages we’ll respond to. I’m not talking about the things we rule out after careful study and exegesis. It’s a truth of Scripture that not all commands within its pages apply to Christians today (hint: think shellfish!). What I’m talking about are the no-brainers — commands to worship God with all our heart, soul, and strength; to love others, worship together, and to be holy in all our conduct. We tend to pay attention to commands such as this when it’s convenient to do so, but the moment things get rough or difficult we abandon them.

When reading 1 Peter this morning I wrote the following words in the margins of my Bible:

Obedience is not optional. 

That phrase — obedience is not optional, is my new mantra. I will repeat it when things get rough. I will repeat it on the days I don’t feel God’s presence in my life. I will repeat it on those days I’m not feeling particularly Godly. Obedience is not optional!

It’s hard to justify disobedience when God’s Word says we were chosen to be obedient!