Category: Running

Breathing in Bugs

Finally our long hot humid oppressive suffocating summer has ended, and fall has begun. Towards the end of summer I set an unpleasant, unofficial, new personal record. Running in Mountain Lakes early one morning, I sucked in yet another bug. Reminded me of when my wife and I went to a bluegrass concert in Overpeck Park in the Meadowlands back when we lived in Bergen County. One  band had to stop their set early—-the poor woman who was their lead vocalist had breathed in one bug too many !

My bug-breathing led me to reflect more generally on when things seem to just happen to us.  Where it is not our choice—and yet —stuff happens. Yes, my bug-sucking is  a picture of what it means to be living in a fallen world.  After all, when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they didn’t have to worry about breathing in bugs on their morning runs.

My bug-sucking is an example of what economists calls a negative externality. It’s when someone else’s activities harm you and cost you and you’re not compensated — like a  nearby factory that creates stinky toxic smoke that you breathe in. Or someone doesn’t clear their yard of places where bugs breed.

When that happens, what are  our choices ?

Sue the bums? Call the EPA?

Or just put up with it?

You mean we can’t always fight it? Yes, sometimes we need to put up with certain crappy things that are out of our control.

At first glance that sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it ? And it would stay so if we didn’t believe that things will be finally set right. I’m not advocating inert passivity when we should act — but sometimes there really is no action we can take. (I mean, should I have run with a netting over my face?)

But we believe that Christ will set all things right, if not in this life then in the next. We have cause for optimism in spite of the slop. That’s what Christian hope is all about !

When to Slurp

out of service

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others. (Judges 7:5-8)

When my run is hot and sweaty, I go into the St. Clare’s Hospital entryway. There’s an ice-cold fountain and a restroom. I’ll drink at the fountain and splash my face in the restroom. On a recent sweltering day, however, there was a sign on the fountain: Sorry, Out of Service. So, I went into the restroom and decided to drink at the sink. Unfortunately, it had an auto shutoff, so I could only get a tiny swallow at a time.

But then an incident from the Bible came to mind. So, I cupped my hands under the water, made them into a little basin, and slurped.

Yes, the details of the incident I remembered are in Judges 7. This is how Gideon narrowed down the number of his fighting men. The purpose of him having a small fighting force was to let him know that the real power comes from God. So, only the limited number of guys who lapped went into battle against a much larger foe.

My slurping leads to a good reminder for any day. Sure, we do go out and put forth our best effort. But we should not forget that the real power to run well … or to do anything in life…. comes from God.

I’ll never Fall!

trip fall

 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

I went running in the woods in Tourne Park in Mountain Lakes recently.  The trail is narrow and rocky at many points, so I was extra careful with my footing in those places. When I reached a part that was a little wider and clearer I thought: “Good, I don’t need to be as careful here; I can let my mind wander. No problem.”

Suddenly I stumbled and fell forward and ended up flat on my face! I was tripped up by a hidden root.

My lips, hands, and knees hurt.

Inspecting my body, the only blood was from some scrapes on my knees. I was glad that falling on a trail is softer than falling in a road!

Only briefly deterred, I resumed my running.

Later, after my wife helped me clean my wounds, I reflected on vigilance.  Often, we are good at being vigilant when we know we should be watchful—say during a time of worry, stress and temptation.  But it’s easy to feel complacent when everything is going great; and to be less prayerful and alert.  That is the dangerous time when temptation trips us like a hidden root and we stumble!

How can we keep from stumbling?

We may think that standing firm depends primarily on keeping our guard up to the best of our ability. It depends on us. But the book of Jude says we need to rely on Jesus, who “is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 1:24)

We receive the power and ability to stand firm from the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Then, and only then, we get to enter Jesus’ glorious presence without fault and with great joy (Jude 1:25a and 1:24)

We would not dare to say this out loud: “I’m so mature and experienced—I’d never fall into sin like _____did — that could never happen to me.” But isn’t it easy for that smugly complacent and superior attitude to secretly sneak in — and then we start to act proudly with an overconfident attitude?

So, my fall in the woods leads to today’s warning: It’s precisely when I feel my most confident in life, that I most need to call on the name of the One who will keep me from falling on my face!

 

 

Unexpected Medal

silver medal shrunk

I ran a 5K race one morning near St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville last month. I like the age group competition in these races.  My days of being at the front of the pack are long in the past, so it’s fun to have rivalries with those who are my own (advanced) age.

After the race, I was disappointed.  I ran 2 ½ minutes slower than last year; last year I got no medal; so, I knew I had no chance to get a medal this year. I left before the winners were announced.

That afternoon, I looked up the results online. To my shock, I got the silver medal in my age group! (A friend who did stay for the awards later gave me my medal which you see in the picture.)

What an ironic outcome: my training was much weaker this year; yet I got a medal despite all that. So, the medal was quite a surprise and an unexpected gift.

Doesn’t that sound like grace? We get an unexpected free gift, as opposed to something we work so hard for and think we can earn!

Romans 6:23 ESV describes the best free gift.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And another of my favorite grace verses is:                                                                                                                       For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

At the race, I certainly could not boast about how hard and well trained my effort was. Or how I kicked the butt of some tough competitors in my age group. (Nope, a couple of them did not even enter the race that day.) So, the medal was an unexpected gift.

I can’t take credit for anything good I have ever done that could possibly get me into a favorable place with Jesus. Salvation through Jesus is a far better unexpected gift!

 

Is it good to be a crackpot?

crackpot 1

 

I recently read Joni Eareckson’s book on the mysteries of suffering. 1

Comparing ourselves to clay pots, she stated that if we are meant to display the treasure that God put in each of us, then

“that display often works best when there are faults and cracks and chips in the pot! It is through these that the radiant, resplendent glory of Jesus shines through to the wondering eyes of the world.”

Joni has been a cracked pot for over 50 years, ever since the diving accident that left her a quadriplegic. Reading her quote, I reflected on how she’s an extreme example.  But how would the cracked pot comparison apply to all of us? Would it even apply to someone who is strong, vigorous, and healthy?

To check that out, I hunted for Scripture about crackpots.

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Here the apostle Paul implies that we would take the credit if we were overpowering and strong. But we are weak. Even the strongest of us gets exhausted if pushed hard enough. And, if we get old enough, it’s guaranteed that even the most strong, vigorous, and healthy of us will begin to show cracks in our own jar of clay!

Many of us have a special love for autonomy and independence. But look at what it says in Isaiah and Jeremiah:

And yet, Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hand. (Isaiah 64:8).

But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to Him. (Jeremiah 18: 4)

Hey, wait a minute. These verses say that I was formed by his hand. And as seemed best to him. So, what does that imply about any complaint I have about how I was made?

Personal example: God gave me a slight frame instead of a mighty frame. As a young man this shaping was not according to the design that I would prefer. So how did I react?

Well, I discovered that my frame allowed me to outrun almost everyone on long distance runs. My attitude was: “I’ll show them! I’ll run them into the ground!” Only years later did I learn to develop a thankful heart to the Lord in my running, to see that God could take pleasure in me as I ran, and to use my influence amongst other runners instead of having a vicious need to run them into the ground.

Joni Eareckson has now reached this point: seeing how bountifully God has used her as she is, she would not trade her life as a quadriplegic for what her life would have been like had she remained able-bodied.

Even though few of us have a disability as extreme as Joni’s, each of us can view our weaknesses in a similar light.

Can you see how even your weakest parts can be used for God’s glory?

 

1    A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty.  https://tinyurl.com/ybknk87m

From Fog to Sunshine

For  God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

On a recent morning, my home in the valley was enveloped in thick fog. I planned to go for a run in Mountain Lakes. Its elevation is several hundred feet higher than where I live. To get there, I first drove  uphill through the town of Boonton. As I climbed in altitude, suddenly I left the fog and burst into bright sunshine. All the scenery that was hidden from my view suddenly became bright and clear and filled with color!

My climbing out of the fog illustrates two different things about how we relate to Christ. First, before we knew Christ in the first place, we were walking around with scales in our eyes.  God unblinded us and had the scales fall from our eyes to invite us in to believe in Christ. Before the apostle Paul got baptized, when he was still called Saul, he was temporarily blinded after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus—and then:

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. (Acts 9:18)

Second, once we have decided for Christ, we still have remaining sin and deception in our lives. Often, this kind of deceptive sin is something we are not even aware of. (Even if it is obvious to everyone else!)  I am praying for someone who has an attitude that subtly puts people down.  No one even dares to mention it any longer, knowing how defensive this person is: “What gives you the right to say that and judge me!” But at the right time, God will bring them out of their fog and they will say, “Yes, Lord, you are right.” Then, they will have the beautiful experience of seeing how God’s sunlight replaces the fog as the scales fall from their eyes.

Just as it was for Paul, scales in our eyes are only temporary. It is wonderful when God causes them to fall! I know I have plenty of them left and most likely you have some too. Let’s pray that we both get freed from them.  Then, like when I climbed the hill into Boonton, something that was hidden from our view suddenly becomes bright and clear and filled with the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.

Headwind or Tailwind ?

 If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors. (1 Samuel 12:14-15)

I ran on a local track before church on a cold February morning. On the northbound straightaway was a strong headwind from the northwest. The wind was so cold that it was physically painful and it held me back.

But on the southbound straightaway, by the home team’s stands, a strong tailwind pushed me—I started to gloat about how fast I was running, because I did not really feel how much the wind was helping me.

My cold run on the track gave me a picture of what it means to walk with God or resist God.

The headwind and tailwind reflect two different heart attitudes. To live in obedience to God is to live being pushed along by a grace-filled tailwind. But my experience on the track suggests a warning:  it’s easy to forget that God is pushing me, and to take the credit for myself for doing well.

To rebel against God is to run into a very strong headwind.  I wish that when we do this in real life, it would be as quick to be felt as I felt it on the track. But, since we can unfortunately be rather pig-headed, sometimes we start to get a hardened heart, and we begin running into the headwind, often without even realizing that we are doing it. I am thankful, though, that God shows us mercy.  He loves us enough to give us a shout of warning that we are running into the headwind. And…… That means we can stop and turn around and start to run with the tailwind— we call this repenting!

Running on the track, I was forced to run into the headwind half of the time. But, in our walk with the Lord, we can pray “Lord, I always want to run with the tailwind, and do warn me quickly if I start running into the headwind.”

 How are you doing? Are you running with God’s tailwind today? Or do you need to repent and do a quick turn around?