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, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015...Hello 2016

This is it. The last day of 2015. This morning I ran 5.76 miles to finish the year with 2015.01 logged running miles. Put simply, I was blessed by God with a fantastic running year.

I set a goal last New Year's Day to run 10 marathons this year. On December 19th, I finished my tenth for the year at the Jacob Wells 3 Bridges Marathon in Little Rock. A couple of fellow Marathon Maniacs, Ryan Westin and Ed Childress, ran with me and paced me to a PR of 4:17:16. I was fortunate to run several shorter races too, hitting a PR of 14:20 last March in the 2 Mile at the Chase Race and a PR of 48:39 in the 10K at the Capitol City Classic 10K.

Not every running experience was rosy though. I ran the Soaring Wings Inaugural Marathon as a pacer. The weather turned unseasonably warm and humid that day, and I failed miserably in my attempt to finish in 5 hours. Pacing the RussVegas Half Marathon didn't work out too well either, even though I crossed the finish line right at my goal pace. Misplaced mile markers on the course convinced me I had to drastically pick up the pace the last five miles, causing me to leave behind several runners who were counting on me to get them across at 2:10.

But the tough times just make the good runs seem even sweeter, and I am certainly grateful for all the experiences of 2015. Every race, and every mile gave me chances to share Amanda's story and the source or my strength, Jesus Christ. Sometimes there were opportunities to directly address others and sometimes indirectly, but I definitely felt God's presence all through the running year.

So the question arises, what's in store for 2016?

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. ~ James 4:13-14

Well...I've learned not to say what I'll do, but without goals, it's too easy to drift and stray. So I'm going to set some goals, but they'll be quite different from those of the past couple of years.

This year, my goal is to NOT run 2016 miles, and not run so many marathons. That might sound crazy to those who've followed me the past couple of years, but you read right. I'm not planning to run as much this year. That doesn't mean I won't be running. But this year, I'm going to try to run fewer, but faster, miles.

I want to try to run fewer marathons, but more shorter races. I'm also hoping to hit PRs in every distance I race. Not necessarily PR every race, though that would be nice, but to strive for at least one PR at every distance I race this year.

Many might also have noticed that I've let this blog pretty much go for more than a year now. I hope to remedy that too, and post regularly. So you can look forward to more race reports, and more short sermons on my daily Bible reading too.

So, as I close out 2015 and start a new chapter, titled 2016, I want to wish everyone who reads this a very happy and blessed New Year. I hope to see you at the races, and to hear from you here and via our social media pages.

May God bless and keep each of you this year! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

All Idols Aren't Made of Wood, Metal, or Stone

Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? ~ Ezekiel 14:3

Reading this made me think, we often consider idols made of wood and stone, but we seldom think of the idols we set up in our hearts. The idols God speaks of here are any and all things we consider more important than, or that we put before God.

Idols can be money, drugs, drink, sex, even family...ANYTHING we place more importance on than we do God.

As difficult as it is in this materialistic, selfish culture we've created, it is our duty to put God first in everything we do. He should be more important to us, pleasing Him should be more important to us than ANYTHING!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the Lord. ~ Ezekiel 13:14

This passage refers to the false teachings of false prophets. God promised those who were misleading the children of Israel they would be severely punished. How many churches, some with thousands of congregants, are teaching anti-Biblical doctrine today? How many preachers are perverting, or outright contradicting, the word of God? How many are being misled, and therefore disappointing the One True God?

Would God not punish these contemporary false prophets like He did those of Israel?

Folks, get out your Bibles. Make sure the preacher you're following, the church you're attending, is following the Sovereign Lord. God didn't change. God doesn't change. God is the same as He was when Ezekiel prophesied the destruction of Israel's false prophets.

The only way to know if your preacher is teaching the Bible is to get it out, read it, and study it!

Heed the Warnings! Pray for Revival in America

But I the Lord will speak what I will, and it shall be fulfilled without delay. For in your days, you rebellious people, I will fulfill whatever I say, declares the Sovereign Lord. ~ Ezekiel 12:25

God's word tells us what we can expect when we refuse to honor Him. We see that His wrath was poured out on the Israelites over and over again.

Here, God recognized that Israelis disregarded the prophesies against them, because the prophecies they heard had not come to pass yet. Much like a misbehaving child, threatened with punishment by a parent over and over again, but yet to suffer the promised consequences. The child comes to think the promise of punishment is just an empty threat.

But that loving parent repeatedly warns, not because he has no plans to follow through, but because he wants to give the misbehaving child every opportunity to change and do what's right. Eventually though, if the child continues to refuse to heed the warnings, the punishment comes, swift and sure.

Israel was like that child, and God that loving parent. Looking at our American society today, we seem to have become THAT misbehaving child, and God has warned us and warned us and warned us. But we refuse to believe He will follow through.

Just remember, He did follow through with Israel, and I am convinced He will follow through with us. He is giving us opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to repent and turn back to Him.

Now is the chance. God is giving us the opportunity, just like He did Israel, to turn from our wicked ways and return to His perfect path. Now is the time. Otherwise, judgment will come, consequences will follow.

So let's get down on our knees and pray for revival in America, a return to the One True God, who has blessed us with so much.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Every Knee Shall Bow...Eventually

And you will know that I am the Lord, for you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you. ~ Ezekiel 11:12

God removed His hand of protection from Israel when they refused to repent after turning from Him. And here God promises, in the suffering that follows, that Israel will "know that I am the Lord."

How often did God warn them? How many chances did they have to turn back to Him and avoid His wrath? Plenty. They were warned and given numerous chances to recognize the error of their ways.

God wanted them to turn back! He didn't want to punish them. But they refused. Much like we are doing in the US today.

God has warned us as our nation declines in strength and standing, as more and more of our people slip into a state of poverty, as violence increases.

But our people have hardened their hearts and refuse to recognize the warnings. We refuse to turn back to the God who blessed us for more than two centuries when our hearts and heads were focused on Him. But God also promised to bring Israel back once they had learned their lesson and turned back to honor and worship Him.

And so it should begin with those who believe. It's easy to get swept up in the ways of this world, our ungodly culture's wicked ways. It's hard to stand for right while the majority proclaim and celebrate wrong.

But we must stand up and stand firm in the face of adversity and persecution. We must proclaim the truth when our society proclaims the lie. How will he who has ears hear if nobody speaks the truth? How will he who has eyes see if all believers are slinking in the shadows?

It's better to stand alone for right, than in a crowd for wrong.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Choose Christ this Christmas!

then  the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. ~ Ezekiel 10:8

Merry Christmas everyone!

As long as we walk this earth, our lives are one long string of choices, followed by the consequences of those choices. In general, good choices lead to good consequences, and poor choices lead to bad consequences. In the verse above, the people of Israel had consistently made bad choices, and the Lord departed from the temple, removing his protective hand and leaving them to the mercy of their enemies.

I have been blessed and fortunate to have made mostly good choices in my adult life. (Lots of poor choices in my younger days. And some pretty bad consequences followed.) And I am blessed to see good consequences that came from those choices. I'm blessed with a great wife, a good job, and financial stability. And while those things lead to a level of comfort in life, none of them can, alone or together, were enough to give me the peace I now enjoy.

While I may have bad days where I get down, when things don't go my way, I can honestly say that I now have a peace that surpasses understanding, a peace that turns the darkest hour bright with light, peace that calms the seas, and quiets the torrents that rage from time to time. And that peace, that ability to weather any storm, pass through any valley, find light in the darkest of places, that peace is the result of the absolute best choice I ever made.

That choice was to hand my life over to Jesus Christ, to make the One whose birth we celebrate this Christmas day the Lord of my life. That choice was available to me my whole life, but as I sought peace and happiness through the things of this world, peace and happiness eluded me, even though I made good choices, and reaped the rewards of those good choices, earthly rewards. But those earthly rewards were never enough, and they did not bring the peace and happiness I sought.

Only Jesus Christ could do that. Only the Son of God could fill the void. I don't make as much money as I once did. I'm not as close to some people as I'd like to be. But regardless how great or not great things are from an earthly perspective, I now have a peace that stems from the hope and confidence in eternity in Heaven, a place with no tears, pain, or suffering. The worries of this world slip away once the awesome realization hits that eternity in Heaven with Jesus awaits!

Life is a constant series of choices. Every one of those choices have consequences. But only one of those choices has eternal consequences. That's your choice to accept Jesus Christ, or not accept Him, to believe He is the Son of God, or to not believe. Your good or bad choices regarding earthly things will lead to good or bad consequences in this life, which is only temporary for all of us. But your choice on Jesus Christ is a choice between Heaven or Hell, eternal joy and peace or eternal suffering and torment.

So, as you gather around your tree and open gifts, I pray that you have made or will make the most important choice of your life, the choice to make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life.

Merry Christmas everyone! I thank God for the gift of His Son, for whom this holiday is named. He's the reason this is a national holiday, and He's the reason we can truly find peace in this life.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Remember the Reason for the Season!

and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” ~ Ezekiel 9:4

In Ezekiel's vision, God had each person who sought him marked to be spared from His wrath. Today is Christmas Eve. Tomorrow, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whom God sent to live, teach, suffer, and die, so that we, ALL of us, can have an opportunity to spend eternity in Heaven.

So, as you celebrate today, think of the priceless gift given us by God, His only Son, so that we might be spared the wrath of God.

I hope and pray you all have the merriest Christmas. But more than that, I hope and pray you all remember to thank the One for whom this holiday is named.

Jesus IS the reason for the season!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Praying for a Turn Back to God

He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.” ~ Ezekiel 8:15

Speaking to Ezekiel, God was showing the prophet the "detestable" acts of the rebellious children of Israel. Over and over again, with each detestable act He revealed, God told Ezekiel he would see acts even more detestable.

Today, in our culture, whenever someone points to the Bible and names detestable acts that have become quite common today, that person is quickly denounced as a judgmental bigot by non-believers. That's not surprising, since those doing the denouncing don't believe.

But another thing I hear and read often in response, by believers, is something along the lines of, "God is love," insinuating that God would never punish us, not even for becoming a culture that embraces those detestable acts. I've also heard believers claim that many acts, called detestable in His word, aren't offensive to God because the believer committing the act gets enjoyment or fulfillment from it. The idea that God wants us to be happy, and this makes me happy, so it must be okay with God permeates our culture today.

And this is how we justify committing, accepting, and embracing things God called detestable, even as we claim to believe.

But remember, God is the same today as He has always been. He does not change. What is good today was good when Moses led the people of Israel into the wilderness. What was detestable then is detestable now. We don't get to define something as good or bad, right or wrong, when God defined it millenia ago!

God severely punished Israel for its rebellion because the people refused to turn back to God. We need a revival. We need a movement of repentance. We need to read, study, and embrace the word of God, not just the idea of God.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Prayers This Year

In five days, we'll celebrate Christmas. This holiday is set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ, God Himself who came to earth in human form to live, teach, and die, so that we might have eternal life. Less than a month from now will be the 5th anniversary of Amanda's murder. This will be our 5th Christmas without her.

I've seen lots of people posting some version of something asking people to remember that not everyone is happy at Christmas, and I've had lots of people these past several Christmases offering to pray for me. And while those prayers are appreciated, and have been appreciated the past 5 Christmases. I'd ask you to pray a different prayer this year if Amanda comes to mind.

Though there will always be a hole in our hearts that Amanda once filled, though our lives forever changed that fateful night five years ago, though damage was done that can never be repaired, we have learned to get by and get through even these most celebratory days.

I can honestly say the only reason we have reached that point, where we can get by and get through, is the hope in the promise of the very One for whom this holiday is named. Salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ, that promise is only available because God humbled Himself to come to earth and live alongside man and then die a humble and humiliating death, taking upon himself the punishment for the sins of all who believe in Him. We will make it through this Christmas because of what Jesus did for us.

But not everyone has that hope, because not everyone believes. Instead of eternity in Heaven, many will perish and spend eternity burning in Hell because they refused to believe in the One who came to save them. Some who have lost children, and others who will lose children will, refuse to believe because of their loss here on earth.

As our society drifts farther and farther from celebrating the true Reason for the season, choosing instead to celebrate with decorations and presents while forgetting the very One for whom the holiday is named, I'd ask you to pray for these people. Not just those who've lost children and have no hope, not just for those who will lose children and refuse to place their faith in Christ who can give them hope, but for ALL who don't believe.

So, when you pray this Christmas season, don't worry about us. We're going to be okay. We know Amanda is safe in Heaven and we will one day be reunited. Instead, pray for all those who refuse to believe and refuse to accept the gift of salvation, the greatest gift any of us could ever hope to receive. Pray that something they see, someone they know, or just anything they see or hear this Christmas season, will open their eyes to see the Light and open their ears to hear the Truth and soften their hearts to accept the Way to an eternity in Heaven.

Jacob Wells 3 Bridges Marathon

Sorry I haven't been writing much for so long. A second job and taking on more responsibilities at my first job have taken me away and stretched me thin. But next year, I'm giving up the second job, so I hope to have more time to write. But for now, let's get on to my latest marathon.

It was near-perfect weather for running a marathon, and I was blessed to get a new PR, finishing in 4:17:16 on the beautiful flat course alongside the Arkansas River. The weather and the course weren't the only blessings God gave me that allowed me to reach that PR today. He also sent two other Marathon Maniacs my way, Ryan Westin and Ed Childress, who ran with me the entire distance and pushed me to my fastest marathon ever!

These guys were great. We started off at a pace to finish in four hours, but I told them at the start I might not be able to hold it the whole way. Ryan, who paced me to my previous PR last February at Mississippi River Marathon, told me if I couldn't hold the four hour pace, he'd run me to a PR. I'd never met Ed before yesterday, but he, in true Maniac fashion,  joined us at the start and said he was there for the duration.

The first ten miles went great, but I was feeling the faster-than-I-am-accustomed-to pace. We crossed the timing mat at the half after 1:58, on pace to meet the four hour goal, but with little room to err. Not long after that, the effects of pushing the pace must have been showing. They suggested we pull back for a bit. But I told them I wanted to maintain that pace until at least mile 15. By the time we reached the 14 mile mark though, I was easier to persuade. So we backed it down, and that was definitely the right decision.

Just past mile 17 was the long climb up the Big Dam Bridge, one of the bridges for which the race is named, and we decided to walk the uphill portion. That proved another wise decision, because the last eight miles were really flat and I still only beat my previous PR by a little more than two minutes. It's pretty much certain that if we hadn't backed down when we did, I'd have faded even more in those final miles, and that would have cost me the PR.

Many thanks to Jesus Christ for getting me to and getting me through this marathon, and many thanks to Ryan and Ed for sacrificing what could have been much faster times for themselves to help me get a new PR!