Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Run YOUR Race

I did an Olympic Distance Triathlon this weekend. It was my longest distance thus far (1500 meter swim, 40K Bike and 10K Run). I predict that it will become my favorite distance. I now set my sights on the Half Ironman (or the 70.3 as it is called based on the total distance of the event in miles!). Admittedly, I have much work to do between now and June 24th. I reserve the right to pull out if I am not adequately prepared. Only time will tell.

However, I did learn a valuable lesson in this past race that I believe will help me in the Half Ironman or maybe even life in general. The lesson was about consistent focus.
What I have learned in my brief history with triathlons thus far is that no athlete finishes first in all three events. You may see strong swimmers who are not as good on the bike or run. Or maybe strong runners who are not good in the swim. But to date, I have not seen anyone win all 3 legs of the triathlon.
Therefore, I have learned that the key to doing well in a triathlon is consistency. I call this "running your own race". In fact, I have a little mantra that I repeat to stay focused during race when I start to become distracted. I simply tell myself, "I race no one. I run my own race."
You see, the tendency in any part of the race is to race to catch the person in front of you. The problem is, when you do so, you are no longer running your race…you are running their race! I have learned to know when I am at my best pace and then stick to it. On occasion I may catch the person in front of me. Other times, someone catches me. But one thing I know for sure: When I run my race, where I know my best pace and I keep it consistently, the result is always satisfying.

Hebrews 12:1-3 says, " 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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

In this verse I see a similar lesson as to what I learned this past week. The key to running with endurance, according to the writer of Hebrews, is fixing our eyes on Jesus. It is a matter of consistent focus. In fact, he goes on to say that Jesus is our example, who, although he had many distractions, did not lose sight of His purpose and plan set before Him. He "ran His race" so to speak. Not wavering based on what others were doing around Him but intently focused on what His Father had set before Him.
I desire to live the same. To run through life with endurance. Not pulling over to park or choosing to sit and say, "I'm not running anymore." Unfortunately we see it all throughout Christiandom. Men and women who give up and choose apathy over endurance.
Therefore, I must lay aside the "extra weight" of the sin that so easily entangles me. I must fix my eyes on Jesus. I must run my race at my best pace by following the path that my Heavenly Father has set before me, fixing my eyes on Him and depending on His power to strengthen me. I pray this would be so for all those who choose to be devoted followers of Jesus.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Finish the Race with Endurance

Runner’s World (8/91), told the story of Beth Anne DeCiantis’s attempt to qualify for the 1992 Olympic Trials marathon. A female runner must complete the 27-mile, 385-yard race in less than two hours, forty-five minutes to compete at the Olympic Trials.
Beth started strong but began having trouble around mile 23. She reached the final straightaway at 243, with just two minutes left to qualify. Two hundred yards from the finish, she stumbled and fell. Dazed, she stayed down for twenty seconds. The crowd was ticking—2:44, less than a minute to go.
Beth Anne staggered to her feet and began walking. Five yards short of the finish, with ten seconds to go, she fell again. She began to crawl, the crowd cheering her on, and crossed the finish line on her hands and knees. Her time? Two hours, 44 minutes, 57 seconds.
Hebrews 12:1 reminds us to run our race with perseverance and never give up.

Well, my finish at the Ransom Canyon Triathlon was not near this dramatic. Thank goodness! It was actaully fun for several reasons. First, I had convinced several people from my workplace to do their first triathlon this year. At several points along the way, I thought they might give up. However, they finished and had a great time. They are ready for another one!

This year was also fun becuase for the first time, I actaully enjoyed the swim. I'm still not very fast in the swim (although I did improve my time by almost 3 minutes!) but as long as I don't have a panic attack and see my life flash before my eyes...its a good day!

Perhaps the best thing this year is that when the race was done, I didn't have a migraine! What a blessing this was. I actually had my best time despite windier conditions than years past and I crossed the finish line with some gas in my tank.

Bottom line...it was a great race.

The only thing missing was my friend Andy. He had a business trip and could not participate this year. It was not the same without him. Afterall, he was the reason I started doing these events to begin with. However, after having crossed the finish line, his wife handed me her phone and I was able to give him the details. I look forward to next year when I can do it in person!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

How Low Can You Go?

Have you ever had a time in you life where disappointment seemed to be waiting for you around every corner? You feel ineffective at work. You seem to fade into the background at church. You sense your weakness as a spouse and your shallowness as a parent. A big red neon sign seems to hang over your head flashing “FAILURE”. Or so it seems…

It’s as if someone pulled the release valve when you weren’t looking and all of a sudden, the pressures of the world seem to push all the air out of your spiritual and emotional balloon. Limp and ashamed you feel lost in a cloud of insignificance. Your self-esteem looks like the bullet riddled street sign found along a lonely country road.

“God must be trying to get your attention”, some might suggest.

“Fine”, you respond. “But I really wish He would get on with it.”

Ever been there? I have. More often than I would like to admit.

As I considered this repeating episode in my life, I began to consider what it means to be disappointed. Webster says that disappointment is quite simply: the failure to meet expectations.

OK, fine. But whose expectations? If I seem to be plagued by disappointment, whose expectations am I not meeting? What is the standard I am being judged by?

I know there are times I look to others to determine this standard. I presuppose that my wife would like for me to perform in a certain way in order to demonstrate that I am worthy of her respect and admiration. I assume my sons have a predetermined ideal of the dad they would be proud of and I must strive to match that profile. At work I must be a leader worth following. A person with uncompromising vision and endless ideas for ever increasing levels of success. As an elder, of all people, I need to have the answers. After all, I spend endless hours in Bible study resulting in a flawless theological framework and a firm grip on all things Biblical.

Or perhaps they are my own expectations. Goals I set or objectives I strive to meet. But are they really? What am I using as the acceptable standard for comparison? All too often the expectations I have for myself are determined by the expectations I perceive from others. They are not my own after all. They are an unachievable, always changing, impossibility. The inevitable result…disappointment around every corner.

Yet the Bible repeatedly demonstrates what God does with those of us who struggle with their own inadequacy. Consider for example Elijah, “a man of like passions as we are,” who ran from his enemy Jezebel. Yet when he admitted his fears, God listened and used him powerfully. I think of Jonah, with whom God used dramatic circumstances to gain his attention. In His grace, God still used a bitter, reluctant man to save an entire nation. I think of Paul’s self-seeking contemporaries mentioned in Philippians 1. They were preaching the gospel out of unworthy motives, and were causing Paul distress, yet he acknowledged they were being used by God to spread the Good News.

Even Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in recent history knew well the limitations of his own self. Based on his enormous reputation and accomplishments, many people assume Spurgeon must have experienced great peace, contentment, and prosperity. After all, his dedication to God and the power with which God anointed his life and ministry were obvious. Surely his was a life of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The facts, however, are vastly different. Spurgeon carried a heavy burden throughout his years of ministry. Wrote Richard Day, one of his biographers, “There was one aspect of Spurgeon’s life, glossed over by most of his biographers, that we must now view with utter frankness: he was frequently in the grip of terrific depression.” Further, he was often ill, spending weeks at a time in bed, so many that he told the leaders of his church they ought to replace him. (They wisely chose not to.)[1]

Spurgeon, like the rest of us, was a man of many weaknesses. He had his doubts, his anxieties, his struggles with emotion. He wrestled mightily with the tension between being holy and being human. Yet the God he served is one who seems to specialize in making tremendous use of flawed instruments. I sometimes think, in fact, that God chooses to make the greatest use of those people with the greatest flaws.

In that I take comfort! I remember the Lord’s words to Paul when he says, “My power is made perfect in weakness,”(2 Cor. 12:9) to which Paul responded, as we should, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.… For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Except for Jesus Christ, God has always used flawed instruments. Always. It is a gift of grace I thankfully accept.

[1]Jay Kesler, vol. 13, Being Holy, Being Human : Dealing With the Expectations of Ministry, The Leadership library (Carol Stream, Ill.; Waco, Tex.: CTI; Word Books, 1988), 179.