31 December 2008

Countdown to 26.2: 18 weeks

I realized yesterday that I begin my marathon training regiment in less than two weeks. I am not exactly ready for this, let alone the thought of running 26.2 miles in one day. But for the sake of seeing some actual progress, here are some baseline statistics which will be used for comparison throughout my training.

  • Starting weight: 240 (yep . . . ouch)
  • Miles run in December: 24.4
  • Notable decisions made this month: I realize that food is always going to be my toughest area to control. I love to eat, and, unfortunately, my standards are low, so I'll eat all kinds of stuff I shouldn't be eating. Two days ago, however, I started (once again, see my posts from Jan. 2008) cleaning it up somewhat, not as strictly as before, but focusing on not eating so much at a time, and not eating when I'm bored.

Last year, the half marathon was more of a logical next step in my evolution as a runner. This year, however, I feel that the full marathon is more of a life-changing event, some kind of metaphor for finding oneself in life and conquering fears. Taking a marathon seriously will change your life: you eat differently, you run differently, you face physical and mental challenges you've never had before, you have to invest many, many hours in training, and you must believe in yourself or you will not get past week six or so in the sixteen-week training program.

The timing in all this intensifies the greatness of the moment: my final semester in grad school (which brings its own worries and challenges), my ten-year anniversary, turning 32 next week (and realizing just how mortal I am), and noting that my dad had his heart attack at age 35, and he weighed only about 20 pounds more than I do right now when it happened. Not only do I want to run this marathon; I need to run this marathon.

So I will check in with this countdown every four weeks, or as often as it takes to succinctly yet fully convey this experience to you. For now, however, it's time to sleep.

23 December 2008

"Happy Holidays": A Sign of The Coming Anti-Christian Apocalypse?

Some Christians believe that there has been a war on Christmas, some kind of systematic attack on the religious aspect of December 25 which seeks to accomplish several objectives:
  • Replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" at retail stores
  • Remove or ban nativity scenes on government property
  • Replace traditional, Christian Christmas carols with songs like "Jingle Bells"
  • Emphasize Santa and de-emphasize Jesus
While the above items have indeed happened in many places, does this constitute some kind of organized, premeditated attack on Jesus and his followers? Do we need to take Christmas back from the evil hands of the far left?

I don't know if it's an organized thing or not, probably not. Even if it were, why do Christians care so much about non-Christian people doing non-Christian things to a tradition about which they neither know much nor care much? I have some random thoughts to help us Christians put this whole "war on Christmas" thing in perspective:
  • This is primarily a North American thing; few people, including Christians, outside the US care about this at all.
  • The word "holiday" means "holy day." It's still religious!
  • Why should Christians get all the attention, anyway? Christmas, technically speaking, is only on December 25; therefore, if we insist that people say "Merry Christmas" at Wal-Mart, shouldn't they only have to do it on the day itself (and Wal-Mart is closed!)? We are being greedy to insist that people greet us the way we want them to on days that aren't even our holiday.
  • There are four major holidays in December, only one of which is Christian. Dec. 9th is Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday. December 21-29 is Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday. December 25th is, of course, Christmas. And December 26-January 1 is Kwanzaa, a non-religious African-American holiday. If we really are a nation whose core value is freedom (even freedom to practice any [or no] religion), shouldn't we say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" alone?
  • "Xmas" is not an attempt to avoid saying "Christmas." The X is the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter in the Greek form of "Christ." It's shorthand, not desecration.
  • Americans need to put their perceived persecution in perspective. Thousands of Indian Christians in Orissa will be celebrating Christmas hiding in forests and jungles because their homes and churches have been burned and destroyed by Hindu radicals. Many of them will celebrate Christmas mourning the loss of family or friends killed in these attacks. And we think that the cashier at Target saying "Happy Holidays" is worth even caring about? "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" (Hebrews 13:3).
  • Who cares if people in our society are trying to take Christ out of Christmas? It's not their job to teach the meaning of Christmas to your kids; it's your job, and it's the church's job.
  • The way to teach the meaning of Christmas it not to declare war on the war on Christmas. We must give a reason for the hope that we have, but we must do it "with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously about your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of your slander" (1 Peter 3:15-16). Has our behavior in reaction to this "war" been good?
Let Christians be the guardians of Christmas, especially the part about peace on earth.

20 December 2008

Christian Songs That Annoy Me

Today, I present another sour morsel for you to chew on. It is none other than Point of Grace's megahit "How You Live (Turn Up The Music)" [my comments in red]

[Before we begin, can I just say I don't like songs
with two titles? Yes, that includes you, Chris Rice with your
ironically-titled "Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)"]

Wake up to the sunlight
With your windows open
Don't hold in your anger or leave things unspoken
Wear your red dress
Use your good dishes
Make a big mess and make lots of wishes
Have what you want
But want what you have
And don't spend your life lookin' back
No harm done so far, just a little sentimental
and nothing overtly Christian.

Chorus:
Turn up the music
Turn it up loud
Take a few chances
Let it all out
You won't regret it (maybe)
Lookin' back from where you have been
Cuz it's not who you knew
And it's not what you did
It's how you live
What does that leave you with? Pretty much all of life
is summed up in "who you knew" and "what you did."
I guess their emphasis is on how you did what you did.


Verse 2:
So go to the ballgames
And go to the ballet
And go see your folks more than just on the holidays
Kiss all your children
Dance with your wife
Tell your husband you love him every night
Don't run from the truth
'Cause you can't get away
Just face it and you'll be okay

Chorus:
Turn up the music
Turn it up loud
Take a few chances
Let it all out
You won't regret it
Lookin' back from where you have been
'Cause it's not who you knew
And it's not what you did
It's how you live

Bridge:
Oh wherever you are and wherever you've been
Now is the time to begin

Verse 3:
So give to the needy
And pray for the grieving
Even when you don't think that you can
'Cause all that you do is bound to come back to you
So think of your fellow man
Stop, stop, Stop! What are you, Hindu or something with
all this karma stuff? This is not Christian. There is
"a man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7), but that is a different context.
Make peace with God and make peace with yourself
'Cause in the end there's nobody else
except everybody else in your life . . . duh.

Apart from the "make peace with God" part, there really is nothing that says "this is a Christian song." I've heard Tim McGraw songs that were more Christian than this ("Drugs or Jesus," anyone?). Heck, I've heard Poison songs that were more Christian ("Something to Believe In"). If this were not intended to be a Christian song, that's one thing and I can accept that. Just because a Christian group records a song, it does not mean that they must always record overtly Christian songs (for example, Sixpence and their "Kiss Me").

But what irks me is that our local Christian station, as well as K-Love, have heralded this song as "song of the year" material for the Dove Awards. It was, in fact a nominee for Country Recorded Song of the Year at the Dove Awards for 2008, which it won.

Long review short, fix up the unbiblical karma stuff, and it's just another sentimental "live life" song. I just like to complain.

10 December 2008

When Pigs Fly (aka May 3rd, 2009)

All right, another update on my progress toward 26.2. Right now, not so good. I've gained about four pounds since I announced that I was going to run in the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon next May. Yep, that puts me at about 235, our about 20 lbs away from my pre-running days weight. I can't believe it: my low this year was about 210!

The hardest part has been re-establishing a post-baby, yet-another-busy-semester running schedule. Heidi works about 20 hours a week, in the mornings, which means that three or four days a week, I don't get enough sleep (reminder: I get home from work about 4am) to want to run when I get up. That and I love food. Food has always been my weak spot. I don't just eat to survive; I enjoy eating. Not to an obsessive, never-gets-enough extreme, but I do love me some Tendercrisp chicken sandwiches.

I'm still running; it's just sporadic and not enough to establish the kind of basline I need to begin formal marathon training NEXT MONTH!

Wish me luck. Ugh.

05 December 2008

Christian Songs That Annoy Me (Christmas Edition)

It's been a while since my last installment in one of my favorite passive-aggressive hobbies: cynically (but somewhat legitimately, I hope) analyzing and rolling my eyes at various Christian songs out there. 'Tis the season for sappy, warm fuzzy songs, and none of them drips with as much tortured emotion and heart string pulling as Christmas Shoes. It's Christian because Newsong does a version of it, and the movie version (starring Rob Lowe?!) and its sequel (!!!) are sold by Christian Book Distributors. So here we go (as always, my comments are in red):

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Trying to buy that last gift or two
I'm really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me
Was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing around like little boys do
And in his hands he held
A pair of shoes

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe
Does Daddy not know how to run the bath water? The kid can buy shoes but not operate a bathtub? Maybe he works at the coal mines.
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry Sir?
Daddy says there's not much time
Here son, go get some shoes while Mommy dies. Priorities.
You see, she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes will make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful
If Momma meets Jesus tonight.

They counted pennies for what seem like years
Daddy lets him go get shoes but doesn't help with the bill?
And cashier says son there's not enough here
He searches his pockets frantically
And he turned and he looked at me
And he said Momma made Christmas good at our house
Most years she just did without
Tell me Sir
What am I gonna do?
Some how I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes

So I layed the money down
I just had to help him out
And I'll never forget
The look on his face
When he said Momma's gonna look so great.

Sir I wanna buy these shoes, for my Momma please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry Sir?
Daddy says there's not much time
You see, she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes will make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful,
If Momma meets Jesus tonight.

I knew I caught a glimpse of heaven's love as he thanked me and ran out.
I know that God had sent that little boy to remind me
What Christmas is all about
Buying stuff? Loving a dying parent? Is that limited to Christmas?

Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry Sir?
Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes will make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful
If Momma meets Jesus tonight

I want her to look beautiful
If Momma meets Jesus tonight

I propose a final chorus, with some modifications:
Sir, I wanna buy these shoes - yes, on Christmas Eve,
I probably should have done this weeks ago.
Could you hurry, Sir?
Daddy says there's not much time.
You see, I should be with Mom right now
And I can't imagine what I'd feel
If I'm stuck here buying Christmas shoes
And Momma meets Jesus tonight.

24 November 2008

What are we trying to restore?

This semester, my favorite class has been Issues in Acts, a study of the various themes and theological emphases of Luke-Acts. It's one of my favorite class formats, too: everyone writes a paper on a chosen topic, and each week two topics (represented by one or two people each) are presented. For each topic, we read the presenters' papers and some assigned chapters in our textbook. Everyone reads everyone's paper. In class, the presenter gives their presentation and the group discusses the presentation, paper, and related topics. I finished my paper and did my presentation early in the semester, so I have been able to sit back and enjoy the other papers and discussions.

One question has come up in various ways as we have studied through Acts: what should church look like in light of ________? (_______ being whatever topic was presented) As a member of a church that is part of the fellowship of churches known as the Restoration Movement, I find this question of special importance.

[For the uninitiated, the Restoration Movement was and is a philosophy of ministry articulated by men in the early 1800s who were disheartened by the depth of division and bitter rivalry among churches in their day. As an example of such foolishness in the church, consider the denomination from which Thomas Campbell (basically the father of the restoration movement) came: The Old-Light, Anti-Burgher, Seceder Presbyterian Church. They thought they were the one true church, and all others were heretics! What Campbell and others sought to do was unite the church (the whole church, all denominations) on the sole basis of the teachings of Scripture. No creeds were necessary because they are the inventions of man. The goal, then, was and is to restore the New Testament church, accomplishing unity, but unity in truth.]

Obviously, we aren't trying to restore everything about the NT church (Acts 5 and 1 Corinthians 5 for example!). The NT church, even the church in Acts, was flawed, not because God's plan is flawed, but because God's plan involves people. Nevertheless, we strive to restore things like open-handed generosity to those in need, deep dependence on God for all we are and all we have, and boldness and confidence sharing the good news about Jesus.

Sometimes, though, it looks like the Restoration Movement is trying to restore baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins and local church autonomy, which are great but are only a fraction of what we ought to be restoring. We in the RM should, must, evaluate how we have done over the last 200 years at achieving our goals. I'm not sure the evaluation would be very positive. In our history, three new denominations (Christian Church/Church of Christ, Church of Christ [A Capella], and the Church of Christ-Disciples of Christ) have been formed, and things are just now beginning to heal some of the wounds, a positive step indeed but indicative that we have a long way to go as the movement that promotes nondenominational unity.

Am I being too optimistic? Too pessimistic? What are we trying to restore?

14 November 2008

What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church? A Parable.

Thanks to Matt Crosser for the post on Facebook. Well-thought out - it hits on the head several things, albeit sarcastically, that the church sometimes does wrong. I'm interested in checking out the website at the end, since "relevance" as a trend in churches is one area of thinking about church that makes me squirm in some deep, unexplainable sort of way.

12 November 2008

Matthias: Wrong Man for the Job?

A hermeneutically funny thing happened lately. Twice in the past couple of months, I have heard an argument that has struck a small nerve with me. What makes this all more interesting to me is that I am taking a class this semester called Issues in Acts, a class in which we have looked at various themes in Acts, including the theme of the apostles and the people of God. First, the argument, then what I don't like about it.

The first time I heard the argument, it came from Andy, our very capable preacher. He began a sermon on who knows what with the scene in Acts 1 of the apostles replacing Judas Iscariot with Matthias. He used this event to bring up the question: is it possible that the 11 apostles acted rashly when they replaced Judas? We see later in Acts how Saul is chosen by the risen Christ to be his messenger to the Gentiles. Andy suggested that the 11 just could not wait on God's will to be fully realized and also suggested that Paul was supposed to be the 12th apostle, if only they would have waited on God. I then heard this argument again in another class in Johannine literature after a discussion on John's understanding of Judas. So the argument is that Paul, not Matthias, should have been the 12th apostle. I assume this means that the 11 just should have waited until Saul was converted before they added the 12th apostle.

Here's the text of Acts 1:21-22 "Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-- 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection."

Here's what I don't like about this interpretation:
  • The single Greek word (dei), translated "it is necessary" or "must," a word that occurs more in Luke-Acts than in the rest of the New Testament, almost always occurs in the context of the will of God or the work of God, indicating that whatever "it" is that is necessary is necessary by divine will. To see this word in action, see Luke 2:49; 4:43; Acts 4:12; 9:6, 16 and several other places.
  • This word occurs in 1:21, indicating that the replacement of Judas is the will of God.
  • The conditions laid out in v. 21-22 would preclude Paul from consideration: he must be one who "accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us - beginning with the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us." Paul had not done that.
  • The disciples prayed, asking God to intervene in the process: "show which of these two you have chosen" (1:24). They then cast lots, not an equivalent of rolling dice, but a means of revealing God's will.
This may not be a big deal to anyone out there; there is certainly no important bit of Christian theology at stake here. It is, however, a matter of paying attention to the text and doing a little concordance work, which ought not to be too much to ask of anyone preaching or teaching this passage.

03 November 2008

Run, Fat Boy, Run

So it hasn't been the best year for running, at least not since the Pig. I logged a whopping 8 miles in September and an even less impressive 5.4 in October. For the sake of comparison, last September I ran 68.2 miles and last October I ran 56.1. Ouch. This and the fact that I've let my eating habits return to their undisciplined ways has led to me bulking up to 232 lbs. In June of this year I weighed less than 215. So . . . yeah: it's not been a good few months for running or for eating right.

That's why I have chosen (yet again) to bare my runner's soul to all (two) of you out there. I still plan on running in the full marathon next May, so I've got some work to do. I am basically starting from scratch; my longest run in the last month is three miles, so I have only a minimal endurance left from earlier in the year.

I have an excuse: we had a baby. He has had a way of totally changing our lives, and by that I don't mean he's made our lives worse. Definitely not. But he has most definitely changed every aspect of our daily lives, including what I do with my spare time. Running was an easy thing to push aside as we've tried to reorient ourselves to life as The Three of Us.

There is a plan, however flexible it is. I should be able to run at least twice a week until the semester is over, after which I should be able to run three to four times per week. I will need to start my official training regiment on December 28.

So I will keep somewhat frequent updates, letting you know how things are going.

Here are my goals for the marathon:
  1. Weight: under 200
  2. Finish Time: not really worried about it, but under 5 hours would be nice.

31 October 2008

02 October 2008

10 Ways for Worship Leaders to Hinder the Church

Yeah. This pretty much summarizes the things about contemporary Christian worship that can drive me crazy. Most churches don't commit all ten of these, but many churches fall into one or two on a regular basis. Though it's cynical and sarcastic (which is, admittedly, part of why I like it), it hits on some very important yet dangerous trends in contemporary/"relevant" worship.

27 September 2008

The Soup: The Mail Nurse with Christian group The Way and Gospel Dancing - 9/19/08

Thanks to Jared for bringing this to my attention via his blog. Funny stuff.

29 August 2008

Thy rod and thy staff shall stay at the gate


I saw this sign while doing some driving for a temporary job. I'm still not sure what the problem was that necessitated this sign. It's not like there are a lot of shepherds in Milford, Ohio. Actually, shepherd rods are devices used to hang flowers over a grave marker. So it does make sense; it just took me about three weeks to figure it out.

26 August 2008

Book Review: 90 Minutes in Heaven (Part Two)

(Note: this part won't make as much sense unless you read part one below)

Theological Accuracy: 20/40 Why the low score? The question ought to be this: why the high score? The score is not lower because, for once, the low number of pages actually dealing with heaven helps him here. Surely he cannot err too many times in 16 pages?

Here's what makes grading this so difficult: how do you say to someone, "your experience was wrong"? You really can't. You can say, "Your experience is different from the experience of other, more trustworthy, people who claim the same thing you have." And that's what I'm doing here. The "other, more trustworthy" person in this case is the apostle John. But we can say Piper is wrong because when you say something different from what the Bible says (for example, the Bible is the Word of God, but so is the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, etc.), that is wrong. The Bible is the standard against which we measure our experiences. Scripture is the filter for experience; experience is not the filter for Scripture. In other words, the Bible tells us what our experiences in life mean. It is not "our experiences tell us what the Bible means," as is the mistake of so many.

Back to Piper. Here are my biggest peeves with his experience of heaven.

1) He believes there is no sense of time in Heaven. Apart from some philosophical objections to finite creatures living in a timeless existence, my concern is biblical. He writes, "I'm not sure if they actually said the words or not, but I knew they had been waiting and expecting me, yet I also knew that in heaven there is no sense of time passing" (25). Here he's speaking about loved ones who came to greet him in Heaven. Piper betrays his own conclusion about there not being a sense of time when he "knew" they had been waiting and expecting him, things no one can do without a sense of time. If we look in Revelation, we see more than once a sense of time: Rev. 6:10-11: the martyrs (in Heaven!) "called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?' Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed." See also Rev. 8:1 and every reference containing the word "then" (about 53 times in Revelation).

2) Piper believes there are no songs in Heaven about Jesus' death. "As I stood before the gate, I didn't think of it, but later I realized that I didn't hear such songs as 'The Old Rugged Cross' or 'The Nail-Scarred Hand.' None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus' sacrifice or death. I heard no sad songs and instinctively knew that there are no sad songs in heaven. Why would there be? All were praises about Christ's reign as King of Kings and our joyful worship for all he has done for us and how wonderful he is" (31). This has to be one of the most mind-boggling contentions in the whole book. A few notes here:
  1. There are indeed songs about Jesus' death in Heaven (Rev. 5:9-14). According to the song in Rev. 5, the reason Jesus is worthy to open the scrolls is "because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (5:9)!
  2. Every mention of Jesus appearing as a Lamb is a reference to his death (5:6, 8, 12, 13; 6:3, 5, 7, 16; 7:9, 10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 15:3; 21:9 to name a few). Even if these are not songs, Jesus being the slain Lamb is a central theme in Revelation. Apart from the OT imagery of sacrificing lambs to atone for sins, this metaphor would not make any sense.
  3. How could there be songs about "all he has done for us" if those songs did not include his death for our sins? The greatest work of Jesus was done on the cross; "all he has done for us" is almost meaningless apart from the cross.
  4. Are songs about Jesus' death really sad? I would submit that songs about Jesus' death are some of the happiest, most joyful songs we sing. His death and resurrection is the good news!
3. Piper did not see Jesus in Heaven. In the 16 pages describing his experience, he makes no mention of seeing Jesus there. Friends and family come out to meet him, he mentions hearing songs praising God, but nothing about Jesus. This does not necessarily disprove his experience, but it does seem strange. What makes Heaven Heaven is that Jesus is there! Otherwise it's just a really nice place. I can't wait to meet family and friends who have gone before, let alone the apostles and other giants of church history. But the one I most want to see is Jesus (Rev. 22:4).

Persuasion: 10/25 I am not persuaded because of two factors: 1) the glaring theological errors, and 2) the self-centered nature of the entire book. Yes, it's autobiographical. Yes, it's about experience. But at times it goes beyond "telling my story" to "promoting my story." Take this excerpt for example: "I'm writing about what happened because my story seems to mean so much to people for many different reasons. For example, when I speak to any large crowd, at least one person will be present who has recently lost a loved one and needs assurance of that person's destination. When I finish speaking, it still amazes me to see how quickly the line forms of those who want to talk to me. They come with tears in their eyes and grief written all over their faces. I feel so grateful that I can offer them peace and assurance" (128-129). Me, me, me, me, me, me. Forget the Bible, I'm just glad my story can help people. How arrogant! Mr. Piper, you can't truly give assurance of anyone's destination; how do you know?

There are other things about this book I just don't like, little statements here and there that get me bent out of shape. He says that "I've changed the way I do funerals. Now I can speak authoritatively about heaven from firsthand knowledge" (129). To me, this says, "I trust my experience more than I trust Scripture. I could never speak authoritatively just using the Bible." Doesn't that sound crazy? Later he talks about knowing that heaven is real because he's been there (195). Pardon me, but I know heaven is real because Jesus said it was. I knew it without having to go there first! Does Piper need to go to hell to know that it, too, exists?

Conclusion: I don't recommend this book to help people cope with death or uncertainty about Heaven. I recommend Scripture for that. It's a somewhat interesting read, but I grew weary of reading about how much pain he suffered in his leg and how depressed he was. I really grew weary of him describing how much he (not God) has helped people with his story.
Something happened to Don Piper that day, but I don't think it was a trip to heaven.

22 August 2008

Book Review: 90 Minutes in Heaven (Part One)

I read Don Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven as part of my research for a series of lessons I taught on Heaven to my Sunday School class at church. After reading it, I must say I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I don't think he's lying; I think he had some sort of experience, and as far as we know, he really was dead at the scene of the accident. On the other hand, his experience is not consistent with what the Bible says about Heaven. But we'll get to that in a little bit.

Since this is my first book review, I am devising an arbitrary grading matrix for book reviews. I will give the book up to 100 points, split up into the categories of Readability (15 points), Theological Accuracy (40 points), Accomplishment of Thesis (20 points), and Persuasion (25 points). If I don't like this setup, I'll change it for the next book review.

Here's the basic story of the book: Don Piper, a Baptist minister, was driving home from a convention in Texas on January 18, 1989. While crossing a bridge, a large supply truck from a prison lost control and hit him head-on, crushing his little Ford Escort and killing him instantly. He was declared dead by EMTs at 11:45 am and was left in the car until the coroner arrived. Meanwhile, a fellow Baptist minister and convention attendee came up on the scene and felt a strong burden to pray for the then-unknown man in the car. After persuading the EMTs to let him pray for the dead man, he climbed inside the car and laid a hand on Piper's good shoulder (the left was barely still there) and prayed for quite a while, intermittently singing hymns. At 1:15 pm, during a song, the dead man began to sing along with the minister. Piper was rushed to the hospital and the rest of the book details his time in Heaven, his recovery, and his subsequent ministry.

So here we go. Readability: 10/15. Piper and co-author Cecil Murphy are not the best writers I've read. They're not bad, either. At times, you can sense them struggling for the right words to express what Piper experienced, and sometimes it just ends up summarizing overwhelming experiences with somewhat cliche wording: "I still didn't know why, but the joyousness of the place wiped away any questions. Everything felt blissful. Perfect" (23).

Accomplishment of Thesis: 10/20. The reason for the low score is because when I bought this book, I expected it to be a book about Don Piper's 90 minutes in Heaven. Only 16 out of 205 pages actually describe his time in Heaven, a major bait-and-switch. The book should be called Back From the Dead: One Man's Painful Journey of Recovery After a Fatal Car Accident. Nearly 170 pages chronicle his physical and emotional recovery.

Stay tuned for part two.

14 August 2008

On Becoming a Father, Part One

Assuming our little guy waits until the week of his due date, we have three and a half weeks left until we become parents. This is one of life's milestones that sticks with you and cannot be undone (even if your child dies, you are still a parent to that child, or at least you would say you have been a parent. But let's not be too picky). And it cultivates the kind of love inside you that you did not think you have: complete love for a total stranger. We've never actually met face-to-face, yet I would give my life for him. This love comes bursting out in certain moments, like when I imagine his sleeping on my chest, so small, so innocent, so fragile, so beautiful, so trusting, so lovable - I often cry for joy and love at such thoughts. There are such intense emotions connected to becoming and being parents. One minute I cannot wait to meet him and hold him and hear his coos and touch his face, and the next minute I am terrified that he is completely our responsibility for the next 18 years or so. But I'm sure it will all be just fine.

17 June 2008

Responding to Chain Emails #1: Can Muslims Be Good Americans?

Here is the text of a recent chain email I received, after which I offer the response I gave to the person who sent it to me.

----------------------------------

CAN MUSLIMS BE GOOD AMERICANS?


This is very interesting and we all need to read it from start to Finish and send it on to anyone who will read it. Maybe this is why our American Muslims are so quiet and not speaking out about any atrocities. Can a good Muslim be a good American? This question was forwarded to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. The following is his reply:


Theologically - no. . . . Because his allegiance is to Allah, The moon God of Arabia .


Religiously - no. . . Because no other religion is accepted by His Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256)(Koran)


Scripturally - no. . . Because his allegiance is to the five Pillars of Islam and the Quran.


Geographically - no . Because his allegiance is to Mecca , to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

Socially - no. . . Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews .


Politically - no. . . Because he must submit to the mullahs (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and destruction of America , the great Satan.

Domestically - no. . . Because he is instructed to marry four Women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34)


Intellectually - no. . Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.


Philosophically - no. . . Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran does not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.


Spiritually - no. . . Because when we declare 'one nation under God,' the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as Heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran's 99 excellent names.


Therefore, after much study and deliberation....


Perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. - - - They obviously cannot be both 'good' Muslims and good Americans.


Call it what you wish it's still the truth. You had better believe it. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future. The religious war is bigger than we know or understand. . ...


And Barack Hussein Obama, a Muslim, wants to be our President? You have GOT to be kidding! Wake up America !

--------------------------------------

Barak is a member of the United Church of Christ, a Christian denomination. Obviously there are many Muslims who love America and function well in society. Remember: not all Islam is radical Islam! The description below only applies to the Al-Quaeda types, the freakishly radical.

Geographically, I'm not a good American either because I look to Heaven, not Washington, D.C., for my inspiration. And frankly, who says America is a Christian nation? Yes it was founded on Christian principles, but have we forgotten one of the key principles, the first amendment of the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I do not recall the Constitution or the Bill of Rights specifically saying that America is a Christian nation. Perhaps I'm wrong. The first amendment gives freedom for Muslims (and Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, atheists, pagans, Wiccans, etc.) to live here, be citizens AND worship however they like. For there to be a law preventing their theological allegiance to Mecca would contradict the first amendment. So the first four items on his list are irrelevant. Most of the others are based on comparing Osama bin Laden with GI Joe and represent a version of Islam that NOT ALL MUSLIMS ACCEPT.

-----------------------------------

I must admit, I often cringe at the emails sent my way that are supposed to inspire patriotism and attempt to flaunt Christianity as THE religion of America. It often comes across as blind embracing of all Republican policy and a confused hybrid of Christianity and patriotism which accuses you of heresy or treason should you question either. This doesn't make me a liberal (either politically or theologically); generally, I support the war and think it is actually working (to see why I refer you to my capable friend Jared). However, I do think there are people in this world who love Jesus and hate the war, who read their Bibles and yet disagree with President Bush. It's possible, so deal with it.

29 May 2008

12 May 2008

New Balance LOVE/Hate Anthem

A thoughtful friend flabbergastedly states the same thing every time I talk about running in an upcoming race: "I don't see why anyone would pay money to run on streets my tax dollars pay for" or something like that. It's a good question, and I've been thinking about why I run and why I actually pay money (the half marathon was not cheap, by the way) to run in a race when I can run anywhere and anytime I want to for FREE. Here are some of my reasons mixed with some of my followup questions for those who can't understand why:


1. Signing up for a race (which includes paying money) keeps me accountable: I had better train since I paid for the race.
2. It's motivating: I want to finish the race strongly, not wheezing and crawling on my hands and knees.
3. Having a deadline helps me to train on a schedule in a focused way that not having a deadline cannot accomplish. If there's no deadline, no distance goal, no time goal, then what am I running for?
4. Running for purely health reasons isn't enough for me. I would probably quit running if there were no other reason to run. Entering and paying to race is another reason to stick with it.
5. Why pay money to go to a gym when you can exercise (including resistance training) for FREE? Because it's a place to meet other lifters. Because you gain access to experts in the field. Because it keeps you accountable. Because it is encouraging to you as a lifter. Because it is helpful to know that other people are interested in the same thing as you. Because it is invigorating to go to a place where others are cheering for you and are interested in you doing your best. Now, substitute "runner" for "lifter."
6. Anything that's worth anything in life will cost you something. Running is worth a lot: there are many health benefits, it has a calming effect on your mind and body (after the run, that is), it's a place to achieve more than you thought possible. It costs you time, money (shoes and stuff), sweat, occasional pain, energy, and commitment, but it pays you back in joy, sense of accomplishment, visible results (more muscular legs and a thinner waist for starters), measurable results, and a new component to your identity, that of "runner."
7. When else do police block off streets just for you?
8. Because of the pre-race expo, where you can find all things running and meet and speak with experts in shoes, apparel, nutrition, injury prevention and treatment, etc. You don't meet these people on the street.
9. Because always training and never showcasing is boring.
10. How can you criticize it if you've never done it?
I mean these points in all gentleness and respect to my friend and anyone else who don't see running like runners do. Like many things in life, to experience it is much better than to simply witness it. Pro football is much more exciting at the stadium than on TV (this is especially true for baseball). Either way, the same thing happens; it's the experiencing of it in person that makes the difference. When you walk into the stadium, you think Wow, this place is incredible. I can feel the energy. It's like that at a race: you feel an energy, a sense of awe at the magnitude of the event, and a little bit of fear about the race itself that you just don't get running sidewalks by yourself.


For me personally (as you can see from the reasons above) it boils down to the intangibles. Yes, the health benefits are the same whether you run by yourself at the park or run in a race, but the emotional and experiential benefits cannot even be touched by always running by yourself in training mode.
I really like New Balance's new ad campaign for their running shoes. They have tapped into the mind of the runner and their relationship metaphor is spot on. The video posted here is one example.

04 May 2008

Half Marathon Training Check-In: Mission Accomplished

Well, I did it. I ran the half marathon. In addition to the photos (I threw in a couple of pics of Heidi's 5k from Saturday) which speak for themselves, I offer you a few stats:

1. Miles Ran: 13.1
2. Time to Run 13.1 miles: 2 hours, 14 minutes, 5 seconds
3. Number of People who ran the half marathon: 7,353 (I placed 3,322nd)
4. Number of people I saw throwing up: 1 (only three miles in!)
5. Number of people I saw who looked like they were about to throw up or pass out: at least 2
6. Number of gel packs and Sport Beans packets I saw dropped on the road: about 50
7. Money I saw rolled up and dropped by someone: about $6
8. Number of times I've iced my knees in the last 8 hours: 6










25 April 2008

Random Photos

Here are some interesting things I've seen recently:


This happy fella was my chicken sandwich from Chik-Fil-A. What's great is that I totally did not mean to make a smiley face with the honey mustard.


I made this miraculous likeness of the Blessed Virgin Mary during, of all things, Doctrine of God class. It's made from three twisted-together mini-York peppermint patty wrappers.

This is the sign currently displayed at the Burger King next to our apartment complex. Note the misspelled "Steakhouse" and the hand-drawn "R" in "Burgers."

18 April 2008

Earthquake!

So there was an earthquake in Illinois this morning, a 5.2 magnitude quake that I felt this morning about a minute after I lay down to go to sleep. I was lying there when I felt a gentle rocking feeling from the bed, as if someone were at the end of it pushing and pulling for about fifteen seconds. It wasn't anything severe or intense, but it was enough to make me wonder What's going on here? The thought of an earthquake crossed my mind, but I didn't think there were any fault lines around here. My first candidate for an earthquake was the New Madrid Fault in southeast Missouri, the one that was supposed to be "the big one" like twenty years ago but hasn't done anything yet.

Did you feel it?

This is my second earthquake, but the first one I actually felt. The first was in India, when the Sumatra earthquake sent the tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people. We were sleeping when it was felt in India.

05 April 2008

Thanks a lot, Skybus . . . Jerks.

I am committed to speaking at a week of high school camp this summer (where one Jarod Anderson is the dean), and I was all set to fly, round trip, from Columbus, OH, to Kansas City, for $90. How could I accomplish this feat? Skybus, a budget airline that offers really cheap tickets if you book way early.

The only problem now? Skybus announced yesterday that their last day of operations is today. Something about rising fuel costs, blah blah blah. Yeah - they're done, and they are encouraging customers like me who lost money to contact their credit card companies to apply for a refund. They won't even issue the refunds themselves!

So now I have to figure out how I'm going to get to Kansas City and back this June. I really don't want to cancel. So Jarod and Laura, this is probably news to you. We'll figure something out.

28 March 2008

Sit Next To Me

It's not every day that you come to theological realizations at McDonald's.

As I sat alone, eating my double cheeseburger and wondering what I needed to do next on my list of errands, two ladies entered the restaurant, each with one son who was friends with the other. The boys were pretty excited about being at McDonald's, as evidenced by their sprint through the open door and subsequent opening of everything with a handle, starting with the door to the trash bin. While the two ladies ordered lunch, they apparently sent the boys off to secure a table. They scurried about, weaving in and out of several tables before settling on a large, rounded booth with more than enough seating for two little boys and their moms.

One boy said to the other, "Come sit with me."

The other asked outright, "Why?"

Without any hesitation, the first boy said, "Because I love you."

I smiled, and immediately my eyes began to tear up. I tried to hide it: people might have thought, what's this guy's problem? Is the food that bad? It wasn't the food, however, that brought tears to my eyes. It was the nature of the conversation and the sheer honesty on the part of both boys, one wondering why he should sit next to his friend, and the other wanting him to simply because "I love you." You could interpret the conversation this way:

"Come, sit with me."

"Why? What have I ever done to deserve or warrant you, my best friend, wanting me to sit next to you?"

"Nothing. Sit with me because I love you. Isn't that enough?"

I have not had that conversation with any of my friends. At least, not yet. But I know someone who has.

Jesus told the church in Laodicea, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we overcome life in this sin-filled world, if we escape the corruption of immorality and the manifold temptations waging war on our souls, Jesus will one day say to us (even us who, like the Laodiceans, have at times been lukewarm in our faith), "Come sit with me."

And we'll say, "Why?"

And Jesus will say, "Because I love you."

27 March 2008

An Evening with Phillip Johnson

Last night I attended a presentation called (you guessed it) "An Evening With Phillip Johnson." If you're thinking who is Phillip Johnson, then you should know that he is basically the guy who started the Intelligent Design movement and has been one of Darwinism's fiercest critics. He's also a guy that naturalists (Darwinists) hate because he's not an easy-to-make-fun-of fundamentalist; he's not even a young-earth creationist. In fact, he doesn't even like to be called anything with an -ist at the end. If you're into the literature surrounding the debate, then you will be familiar with his most famous book, Darwin on Trial.



Mr. Johnson, born in 1940, has had at least two strokes in recent years, making walking quite difficult and somewhat slowing his speech. He is still quite sharp, however, and once he got going on a topic, the words flowed quite smoothly.



I arrived a bit early at CCU (where the event was held), and I happened to walk in right behind Johnson and his wife. I introduced myself as he and Jack Cottrell (the interviewer) were meeting. We spoke briefly about Cincinnati in general and the seminary in particular. I must say that Phillip Johnson is a real gentleman. He shows respect for evolutionists and creationists (he made mention of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, located just across the river in Petersburg, KY), and he speaks very gently but clearly regarding the fallacies committed by evolutionists.



All in all, the information given was not really anything I haven't heard or read before. It was nice, however, to meet him in person and to experience an event like this while Johnson is still willing and able to travel and speak.

21 March 2008

For This Christ Died? (a repost from last year)


Easter, like most holidays here in America, tends to be marked

by mixed messages. There is truth, and there is all the crap on sale at Wal-Mart.



"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,

so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21)






"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5)





"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,


for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' He redeemed us


in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus,


so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit"


(Galatians 3:13-14)


"And they sang a song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,

because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation. . . . Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!'"

(Rev. 5:9-10, 12)

The contrast is phenomenal, is it not? Now, the Easter bunny is not the Antichrist, nor is Easter egg hunting a sin. But, as is the case for most holidays, we need to stay focused on the source of the holiday and the true meaning. Easter is a bouquet of truths given to us by God. Lean in and savor them for yourself:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

"The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many."

"While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

"It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out in a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last."

"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."

"For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him."

"For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. . . . But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him."

"Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

15 March 2008

Tuesday, a Big Day


I’m really looking forward to Tuesday. It’s Heidi’s birthday, and we are going for our second visit to the doctor, this time to hear the heartbeat! (In case you didn’t know, we’re having a baby! Heidi is due September 16) By then she will be starting week 13.

We really feel blessed by all this. Blessed, but surprised. God’s timing is, it seems, strange. Just when we were at peace with the thought that we may never have our children through natural birth (adoption was certainly on the table), and just when we thought It’s a good thing we don’t have any kids right now, with me being in school another year, maybe more after that, etc., God smiled on us and reminded us in a beautifully poetic way that "in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). We have jokingly said that if it’s a boy, we’ll name him Isaac, which means "he laughs." Perhaps God laughed (in a "bless your heart" way) at our thinking.

We’re ready. We’ve loved this child for seven years already. That’s about how long it took for us to conceive. And I’ve gotta tell you, it was a profound moment when I first said the words (in a prayer) "our child." Wow. Every parent can identify with that feeling, and with the words of Psalm 139:13-18:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know them full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

01 March 2008

I've Been Featured . . . Sort Of

On one of my favorite blogs, Apostrophe Abuse, I've had two photos displayed in their latest entry, "Resident's, Balcony's, Patio's, and Case's." If you've never seen this site, it's a funny collection of instances where people use unnecessary apostrophes. This would be a good time to go over some basics about our friend the apostrophe:
  1. An " 's" never makes a word plural. So please don't write stuff like "Case's of cold Red Bull for sale."
  2. An apostrophe serves a few purposes: signaling contractions (don't, can't, etc.), signaling possession (Mike's book, my parents' names), and, rarely, to indicate the shortening up of a word, usually to represent in writing an accent or unique use of word ('twas, buggin', " 'allo there, 'ow are you?" some Irish guy asked me).
  3. Though not officially an apostrophe rule, its misuse in "its" and "it's" deserves special mention. "It's" always means "it is" or "it has." "Its" always means "belonging to it." It's time for its uses to be clear.

There may be more uses as well as better explanations for the three above (those were off the top of my head). For now, though, class is dismissed.

26 February 2008

Christian Songs that Annoy Me (Part 3)




This installment's (dis)honor goes to Michael W. Smith for his horrendous attempt to garner more charismatic fans with the debacle known as "Healing Rain." Here are the lyrics, interspersed with my biting sarcasm and slightly insightful criticism (my comments are in red):


Healing rain (which is what, exactly?) is coming down

It's coming nearer to this old town

Rich and poor, weak and strong

It's bringing mercy, it won't be long

(good, 'cause we've been without mercy for some time now. . . what?)

Healing rain is coming down

It's coming closer to the lost and found

(Have you not read Heb. 4:16 or Luke 1:50?)

Tears of joy and tears of shame

Are washed forever in Jesus' name

(Yes, but not by some mysterious "rain," but by

the fact of our justification)


Chorus

Healing rain, it comes with fire

(Again, what is this, exactly? And talk about mixing metaphors - rain comes as fire?)

So let it fall and take us higher

(I don't understand what "take us higher" means -

Michael, vagueness does not equal being spiritual or pithy.

It does rhyme with "fire," though)

Healing rain, I'm not afraid

To be washed in Heaven's rain

(All the occurrences of "rain" and "heaven" in the same verse

have nothing to do with Heaven, where we go when we die,

they refer to heaven (small h), another way to say "the sky")


Lift your heads, let us return

To the mercy seat where time began

(Stop the music! "The mercy seat where time began"?? Perhaps I'm being overly literal, but was there not time before the mercy seat existed, say, from Gen. 1:1-Ex. 25:17, where the word for "mercy seat" first appears in the Bible? My vote for where time began is "in the beginning")

And in your eyes I see the pain

Come soak this dry heart with healing rain


And only You, the Son of man

Can take a leper and let him stand

So lift your hands, they can be held

By someone greater, the Great I Am


Healing rain is falling down

Healing rain is falling down

I'm not afraid I'm not afraid


---------------


I'm not a big MWS fan to begin with, so this really didn't hurt to do. Again, Nashville, listen up: pay attention to the meaning, not just the rhyming, of words, especially since what makes Christian music Christian is the meaning of the words! This song doesn't make sense biblically or theologically, so it really can't be helpful to people who stop to think about or try to get what he's saying. Theology matters, and everyone is a theologian. Let us study God's Word, lest we blindly accept songs with all fluff and no substance as "poignant," and "lacking only time to become a classic" (actual comments I found about this song).

24 February 2008

Lunar Eclipse

There was a pretty sweet lunar eclipse the other night. Here's a look:




Not my best work photographically, but I didn't have a tripod.

You may wonder what the difference is between a lunar eclipse and lunar phases such as the crescent and the full moon. I refer you to this article for a good explanation (as well as
a cool animation of the moon's slight wobble).

07 February 2008

"Singable Doctrine"

There's an interesting article in the current issue of Christianity Today called "Singable Doctrine." It's an interview with Keith and Kristyn Getty, songwriters specializing in "modern hymns" that attempt to go deeper (doctrinally and existentially) than the modern worship movement has gone. If you know the song "In Christ Alone" (made popular by the Newsboys), you know the Gettys. Here's a few snippets from CT's interview.

Keith (on his emphasis on doctrine): "I wanted to do two things. One was to write songs that helped teach the faith, and the second was to write songs that every generation could sing. I don't think of music as only teaching, but I do think that what we sing profoundly affects how we think."

(On their success): "If you took a list of subjects, say, attributes of God in the Psalms, probably only 10 percent of them are used in virtually the entire canon of modern worship music. Modern worship songs tend to have a very thin range of subjects. They also tend to explore subjects in a less deep way than traditional hymnody does."

(In answer to "In a worship service, is there an ideal mix between contemporary worship, modern hymns, and classic hymns?") "I don't think there's an answer. You choose great songs that have great words and sing well. Every word you give people on a Sunday has to count for something. The same thing applies to what is sung - in fact, in some ways even more so. . . . If members of a congregation aren't singing, serious questions must be asked, no matter how good the show is at the front."

This was a very good (but short) article, especially for someone like me, who, on this blog, has at times been critical of modern worship and contemporary Christian music. The philosophy of the Gettys resonates with me. They are right: so much of modern worship is shallow and does not really touch on deep thinking or profound doctrine. Don't get me wrong; there is occasionally beauty in the simplicity of a "How Great is Our God" or a "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord," and for that I'm appreciative. But we Christians tend only to go as deep as we are led, and often that's about an inch deep. Emotionally, we go deep, but intellectually, we often don't.

I'll offer more on this another day. For now, I must go to work.

31 January 2008

Half-Marathon Training Check In (January)

I love January, not only because it's the month of my birthday, but also because of the feeling of a clean slate given to each of us for the upcoming year. I know that any day of the year can be like that, but January in particular seems to hold extra promise.

This, my friends, was a good month. When I realized on my birthday (the 6th) that I have not lost a single pound in a year, it dawned on me that the solution to losing weight was not running more, but eating better (not necessarily less). Of course, I have known this for years, but actually doing it is the rub. As you will see, I ate better, and I went ahead and ran more anyway.

Here's how January went (last month's numbers in parentheses):

Miles run: 80 (50.25)

Weight: 213 (225)

Pounds to Goal Weight: 18 (30)

Miles run this year: 80 (last January: 43.5)

Days to the Flying Pig Half Marathon: 93

Basically, I just limited myself with two criteria: 1) eat 1500-1600 total calories a day, and 2) stop eating out...except on Sunday. Sundays were free days, and boy did I take advantage of them. The first Sunday I had IHOP's all-you-can-eat pancakes for lunch (comes with a side of sausage, eggs, and hash browns), and Papa John's for dinner with about 4 cans of Dr. Pepper thrown in as well. (Did you know that one slice of Papa John's chicken BBQ pizza is 340 calories and has 40% of your daily recommended sodium? Yikes...I had five slices that night.)

The calorie limit, although probably not the best way to diet, forced me to make better choices. Salads with a can's worth of tuna on it and fat free Zesty Italian dressing replaced a 1 from Wendy's. Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper (and various other diet drinks) replaced my beloved DP (except on Sundays - don't worry, Doc! I still love you). Water intake went up. And so on happily ever after.

Finally, I think I have settled on this program for my training. I like the days off, and it has good (but not too much) mileage. My first day of training is Feb. 25th.

See you next month!

29 January 2008

Some Random Quotes I Like

“in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.”
- Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?, p. 93
"God's love is an action toward us, not a reaction to us. His love depends not on what we are but on what He is. He loves because He is love."
- David Seamands, Healing Grace, p. 115

"The Lima Bean Gospel"

In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Mark Labberton wonders whether our gospel is too small and bland, like a lima bean. The church is often bland, he argues, and "the fruit of this vine appears to be lima beans." Here are two paragraphs for you to chew on:

"Rather than seek the God who spoke from the burning bush, we have decided the real drama is found in debating whether to podcast our services. Rather than encounter the God who sees idolatry as a pervasive, life-threatening temptation, we decorate Pottery Barn lives with our tasteful collections of favored godlings. Rather than follow the God who burns for justice for the needy, we are more likely to ask the Lord to give us our own fair share. A bland God for a bland church, with a mission that is at best innocuous and quaint - in a tumultuous world."

And,

"The apparent smallness of our gospel is directly related to the smallness of the church's love. When prominent Christian voices call for protests and boycotts over things like our freedom to say 'Merry Christmas,' the gospel seems very small indeed. If, by contrast, such voices called the church in America to give away its Christmas billions to the poor and needy around the world - as an act of incarnational love - that would leave a very different impression of the faith we profess, and offer a far greater hope for a love-hungry world."

I'll leave it at that, without further comment other than to say that this guy needs to get out more and see what the church is doing in the world. Chew on it and let me know what you think.

21 January 2008

Not Sure How to Train

I've been shopping around various half-marathon training programs, and I'm not sure which one to choose. The one I'm currently planning on using (from coolrunning) looks good but has a high amount of running (peaks at 35 miles a week). Another one has only three days a week of running: one speed day, one tempo day, and one distance day and peaks at about 24 miles a week. And a third site matches up perfectly with the days I want to run and the days I don't want to run (Sunday and Tuesday), peaking at 26 miles a week. Lastly, Hal Higdon has a novice training program that looks easier but still sufficient.

My concern is that if I go with the higher mileage, I might increase the likelihood of injury by over training, especially considering I'm still over 20 lbs heavier than I should be. The second site almost seems too easy; however, it is put forth by RunnersWorld.com, a trusted source, not some guy who thought it would be funny. Hal Higdon's looks good, too, and I'm already running at about the demands of week four.

I'm pretty sure, therefore, that I won't be training with the coolrunning program. It seems a little advanced for me, as well as possibly a little too much running for my knees and hip and lower back.

I've tried taking one-minute walk breaks every mile (as recommended by Jeff Galloway, marathon stud who also has a regular column in RW). This might be the way to go for me. The walk breaks only add about 20 seconds to my mile pace, and they sure make 13 miles seem less intimidating by chopping it into 13 one-mile segments. Knowing that at each mile marker I get to walk for a minute helps psychologically. Galloway says that it also helps speed recovery and lessens the strain on the joints.

So, fellow runners (especially you fellow half marathoners - Shannon and Courtney!), let me know what you think and what plan you are using.

PS - I'm excited about the next training check in. I'm running more and eating better (vegetables, fruits, grains, and lots of protein - and no fast food [except on Sundays, when all bets are off!]). I anticipate some numbers (distance) to go up and some (weight) to go down.

17 January 2008

Of Wedding Gifts and Coming to Faith

I bought a book from Half Price Books the other day, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. That I bought this particular book is not important (although it's got a great title); what intrigued me was the card left inside of it. Apparently, Grandma and Grandpa bought Jess and Brian the book as a wedding gift, writing the following in the card: "Hope you'll read this book for yourselves. It is a difficult, tough read/only for the brightest and best. We are so thankful that we could come to your wedding. Hope your honeymoon is full of fun. We love you both. . . ."


It's not difficult to figure out what happened. Jess and Brian read the title (apparently they are atheists or at least not Christians, whereas Grandma and Grandpa are Christians), rolled their eyes, and tossed it in the pile of stuff to take back. They probably kept it in the house, hidden, for a good year or so before deciding to take it to HPB.

This is not the first time I have gotten a used book that had some sort of message in it. Last year, I bought a book from Amazon about the death of children and infants (I worked it into a teaching series on Heaven), and in the front was a message to a lady who had lost a child to miscarriage.

What I get from all this is the fact that sending someone a book does not change much. If giving someone a book to read, or actually reading books, really accomplished what the giver/author intended, there would be very few problems left in the world. The Bible, anyone?

Bringing someone to faith in Christ involves more than a presentation of facts, be it in a book, a discussion, or some other method of sharing the gospel. There must be (caution: trendy word ahead) authenticity, an evident and consistent genuineness of one's faith. The world will know two things when we live what we believe: 1) because of Jesus, new life is available to everyone, and 2) belonging to Jesus really does make a difference. Jesus himself prayed, "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:20-21).

01 January 2008

Half Marathon Training Check-In (December)




Okay, this photo was taken today, but close enough.


December: not so great. Here's how it breaks down (last month's numbers in parentheses)


Weight: 225 (224)


Pounds to goal weight: 30 (29)


Miles run this month: unsure - stupid coolrunning.com changed to a new sign in system and I haven't been able to access my running log. I changed to logyourrun.com, so I can tell you that from Dec. 13-31 I ran 29.1 miles.

Days to the Flying Pig Half Marathon: 123

See you next month!