Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Running in the Dark

The Run

It's a new semester at school. For our seniors, it's their last semester of high school. It's also when our school offers its AP Calculus class. I don't teach the class, but a lot of my students take it, and I do love the subject. So, I get lots of opportunities to help those kids when they're struggling.

Well, today was their first test, and last night a mom texted me to relay a request from her daughter, "Could you come in at 7 and help us with Calculus?" Since I'd rather do Calculus than eat, I said I would. Going in early meant I had a choice to make, cut this morning's run short, or get up earlier than usual. (This Janathon challenge takes the choice to not run off the table.)

So my day began at 3:30 instead of the usual 4:30. I hit the road at 4:30 instead of the usual 5:30. And I returned home at 5:30 instead of the usual 6:30. All so I could come in early and help some kids study for their Calculus test. And I'm so very glad I did! (I know it sounds crazy to most, but I really do love Calculus.)

When I let the dogs out this morning, I noticed it didn't feel as cold as I expected. But, by the time I stepped out the door for my run, the wind was whipping and I felt a pretty cool chill. For a second, I thought about grabbing a jacket but decided not to. That turned out to be a really great decision.

About 3/4 of a mile into my run, I passed the marquee at a local church. The sign showed 480 for the temperature. The wind was still biting and I still felt chilled, but decided leaving the jacket was the smart thing to do.

This was a pretty tough route, and one I don't run very often. It's tough because it's pretty much another 3 mile climb to the top of the same hill where I turned around yesterday. But instead of an out-and-back course, this one's a loop. The difficulty isn't so much why I usually avoid it though. It's the traffic.

Early in the run, for more than a mile it runs alongside a pretty busy highway with almost no shoulder. In the dark, I carry a flashlight to let drivers see me, but it's still a little hair raising sometimes. I figured I could survive today since I was leaving even earlier than normal though. Surely at 4:30 traffic couldn't be to back. I did survive, and had a pretty good run in the process.

I finished the 6 miles in 59:59, an average pace just under 10 minutes/mile.

The Message

The majority of my running takes place in the dark. Mainly because I'm a morning person, but also because I have so many other things going on during daylight hours. The early morning hours are just the best time for me to get out and hit the road.

When others find out how early I rise, I get varied responses. The most common, though, is, "You're crazy." It's hard enough for them to understand that I get out of bed that early, but it seems worse to them when they realize I'm up that early to run. They just can't understand it. So today, when I had reason to rise even earlier than normal, I thought about all those people and found yet another parallel that yields today's message.
" 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -- Ephesians 2:8-10

Paul makes it clear in his letter to the church at Ephesus that good works will not get us into Heaven. Doing good deeds is not the key, it's not the pass, it's not a ticket that allows us to pass through those pearly gates. Plain and simple...I can't do enough good deeds to earn my way to Heaven.

My salvation, my ticket to Heaven if you will, comes only through placing my faith in Jesus Christ. Accepting the fact that God sent His One and Only Son to earth, born of a virgin, that He lived a blameless, faultless, sinless life, that He was crucified, died, and was buried, and that He rose from the dead, ascended to Heaven where He lives forever. Having the faith to accept all that, and admit that I am a sinner, and that Jesus' death was a sacrifice to pay for my sins, these are the things that gave me a ticket to Heaven. The faith to accept and believe all that returns the gift of eternal life. And having that faith, accepting that gift of salvation, invites the Holy Spirit to enter your heart and dwell within you.

My works cannot earn me a spot in Heaven, but Paul goes on to say we were created to do good works. God places the opportunity before us to do these good deeds and He expects us to do them. So, if we're already promised a spot in Heaven, and doing good deeds isn't the requirement to get that spot, what does it matter if we do or don't do those good deeds?
" 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." -- Matthew 28:19-20

The Great Commission. A direct order from Jesus to His followers, an order to get out and actively work to spread the Gospel. We are tasked by our Savior to spread the Good News, to let others know the source of our salvation, to teach them what we have learned. And there are many different ways to accomplish this.

Direct witnessing, I mean sitting someone down and just telling them the Gospel, is definitely on way. But it's not the only way to share our faith. Another way to let others in on the secret to eternal life is by doing those good works God "prepared in advance for us to do."
" 14You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." -- Matthew 5:14-16

The world is a dark, dark place with evil all around. That evil was evidenced last month when a deranged killer busted into an elementary school in Newtown, CT and murdered 26 children and teachers. One of the best ways for us to witness, to adhere to the Great Commission, is to let our light shine in the darkness of this world.

We have to run through the darkness, doing the good deeds God gives us the opportunity to do, so that others can see that the Holy Spirit lives within us. Not to bring attention to ourselves, not so others will praise us, that's not why we run and let our light shine.

We do good deeds, we run in the darkness so that others will ask, "Why would you do that?" or "How can you do that?" We don't want them to ask these questions so that we can boast or gloat or pound our chest. We want them to ask so the door will be opened to tell them why and how, what motivates us to do good even while evil lurks around every bend, what motivates us to keep running through the darkness of this world.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

We do it because Jesus Christ lives within us. He is how we can do those good deeds even when everyone else around us is doing bad. He is how we can make good choices when we're surrounded by others making bad choices. He is how we can find the motivation to get up and run in the dark.

Why do we do good deeds? Why do we make good choices? Why do we get out and run through this dark, dark world? Not for pride, not to boast, but to glorify Jesus Christ.

So when you see me running at 5 in the morning, know that it's not my strength, or my will that gets me out of bed and on the road. It's the strength that comes from Jesus Christ and the motivation to glorify Him.

If you don't know Christ as your personal Savior, you can accept God's gift of salvation. Click the link below and find out how!

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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