Friday, June 12, 2015

Lessons Gleaned from "Brothers, We Are Not Professionals"

I received the book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals from Barry Carpenter of Expositors International Ministries over 9 years ago. I placed it on my book shelf and neglected to read it. However, this summer I am taking the Applied Ministry class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and it is one of our required readings. I can not commend this book to pastors or those who aspire to be a pastor enough. Piper brings out a lot of key issues pastors deal with on a day to day basis, all the while reminding pastors to keep God in the center of all that they do. I wish I had read it before now, but I know I have appreciated this book more now than I would have before. 


     The first significant lesson I gleaned from Dr. Piper’s book was that being a pastor is not glamorous. The secular world has outlined a false reality when it comes to being a vocational minister. The minister’s life is one full of messes and not one of ease, as some would think. No-- being a pastor is hard work. The life of a pastor is one given to prayer and the Word of God. These two things take much time and labor if done correctly. I have struggled with both of these in my ministry for the fact that I do not see them as laborious. Regardless of how much time and energy I have put into praying and studying God’s Word, I have felt like I have not truly "labored or worked." The reason behind this is the false perception I was given while growing up in the church. The pastor was nothing more than a glorified chaplain. In other words, he really did not “work” because work consisted of hard, physical labor. Even though the pastor may not do physical labor, the mental and spiritual work is often just as laborious, if not more so. However, by God’s grace, I am learning each day that prayer and the study of God’s Word is essential and difficult work. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

            The second significant lesson learned was for me to stay fervent in God-honoring, Christ exalting, and gospel-centered prayer. A reality for me has been falling into seasons where I honestly fail to pray. It was not that I did not believe prayer to be important, but I failed to pray. I would think about praying; I even knew that I needed to pray, but I did not pray. As a pastor, I believe that this is the very thing in which Satan wants us to fail. If Satan can make the men of God too busy to pray-- not only for his family, church members, community, and the lost-- but also for his preparation of sermons, then Satan has accomplished his mission. The pastor’s sermons will be dead, dry, and dull without the aid of the Holy Spirit. A truth I have learned is that when I begin my day by praying for my family, God’s people, and for opportunities to share the gospel, I find the power and the presence of God to be so much stronger. A pastor who fails to pray is a pastor who thinks he can accomplish what only God can accomplish.

     The third lesson I gleaned from Piper’s book was the life-giving doctrine of justification by faith. As Piper so well stated, “The preaching and living justification by faith alone glorifies Christ, rescues hopeless sinners, emboldens imperfect saints, and strengthens fragile churches” (17). The doctrine of justification by faith glorifies the Lord because it strips man’s ability in setting himself free from the bondage of sin. This freedom from sin is due to the fact that God chose to send His Son to provide a way of escape for all those who would believe upon Christ by faith. Living by justification by faith sets not only the believer free, but also the one who preaches this doctrine. I have found that living justification by faith is much more of a reality for me, as I continually embrace this truth on a daily basis. It allows me to live without any condemnation because I am justified in Christ by faith alone. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

     The fourth lesson gleaned from the book was that I need to watch out for sacred substitutes. Piper stated, “Ministry is its own worse enemy.” There are several interruptions that can prevent the pastor from doing what he has been called to do. One survey surprisingly showed “the three top ministry obstacles were; busyness (83 percent), lack of discipline (73 percent), and interruptions (47 percent)” (59). Thus, Piper combated, “The great threat to our prayer and our meditation on the Word of God is good ministry activity” (60). I can certainly relate to this survey. Often I find myself being busy, yet rarely ever accomplishing work. I have to continually pray and seek wisdom from above in making the right ministry decisions of where I will spend my time. This particular chapter was convicting, yet liberating.

     The fifth and final lesson I gleaned to be valuable was “Brothers, Fight For Your Life.” I found the quote by Dr. Martin-Lloyd Jones to be of great value, as he expressed the importance in fighting for your time. As a pastor, I must be growing continually by reading, studying, meditating, and writing as I lead to teach and grow God’s people. This takes time-- precious time. I have found myself wrestling with the idea of not being available for people. I think this largely stems from being prideful thoughts, such as, “My people need me.” It makes me feel wanted. In reality, it is sin of which needs to be repented. However, by God’s grace, I am working at fighting for my life by reading in twenty minutes spurts throughout the day, turning my cell phone on silent, and turning off e-mail and social media in order to accomplish the work which is placed before me each day.


Monday, May 18, 2015

"Lessons Learned from the Challenge Family 70.3 Race"

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2)."

   In life, there are a few basic questions that men, at one time or another will ask themselves. Who am I? How did I get here? Where am I going? How do I get there? These are questions, if we’re honest, all have contemplated. I know for myself, I began thinking about these very questions early in life. However, I was told only to "believe" or "you’re not supposed to ask those type of questions." God's Word has the answers to these questions that man seeks for his life. By the way, the truth is never afraid of questions! (Thanks Chris via Frank for this quote. I like it a lot.).

Therefore, the past three years, I have been on a journey in seeking to live out the answers to those questions, which God has revealed to me through His Word by taking better care of my temple (1 Cor.6:19-20). This journey started out with walking once or twice a week three years ago. Now, it has ALMOST come full circle with me completing my first ever 70.3 mile Challenge Family race in Knoxville, TN. If you would have told me three years ago I would be competing in a 70.3 endurance race, I would have told you that you had lost your mind! But, that's exactly what took place yesterday. 

Me at 290 and Me at 190
     My family, including my mother, arrived in Knoxville late Friday evening to get checked in to our hotel and pick up my race packet. While trying to find transition, Dylan, my youngest son, wanted to sign up for the one-mile Glow Run. So, we hung around the festivities and cheered him on in his race. Afterwards, we went back to the room where we hunkered down for the night and slept like a champ.    


Dylan getting ready for the Glow Run
     Saturday morning after breakfast, I met Brian Sarapin to pick up my new Borden Dental race kit. He jumped in with me and we headed to the University of Tennessee Row Boat House where we were able to practice our swim in the Tennessee River. It was a perfect time to get instructed on the wet suit, since I have never wore one, nor swam in one. Big kudos to Brian! He was a huge help, not only in letting me use the wet suit, but in instructing me how to put it on and making sure it fit properly. The water temperature was perfect at a cozy 72 degrees. We did a warm up swim to the first buoy, then to the second one, then back to the pier. After the practice swim, I went for a 10 minute run with a few strides to loosen up the legs. Then afterwards, I took the QR out for a 10 minute stroll, making sure all my gears changed properly and placed it into transition. At 4:00, there was a mandatory athlete meeting discussing the rules, road hazards, and penalties.

    After the meeting, we headed back to the hotel to rest, while my wife and mother took my boys to watch the University of Tennessee and Mississippi State play baseball. This was a perfect set up that allowed me to get about a 45 minute nap before dinner. When they arrived back from the game, we got ready and headed to Market Square. This was a very interesting venue in downtown Knoxville that was made up of all types of people and restaurants. We ended up having dinner at the Blue Coast Bar and Grill where I ate an all natural steak and chicken burrito. Perfect fuel for a 70.3 race. Right?

Family at UT & Miss.St. game

Family at pre-race meal

Saturday night, I was told I would probably not sleep very well. However, I slept like a baby, to the point that I woke up about 30 minutes later than I wanted to for the race. Once awake, I scurried around eating my 2 bananas, 2 tablespoons of all natural Jiff peanut butter, and a cup of coffee for breakfast.  I was ready to race. I took my sidekick (and future triathlete), Dylan, who wanted to go with me to transition. He is a great help in keeping my head straight. I made it to transition at 6:30 with my wave set to leave at 7:10. After I got all my things laid out for the race, I borrowed a bike pump, gave my tires a quick pump or two, put on the wet suit, and off to the water I went. Where we started our swim was about a half-mile walk from transition.

Headed to the swim
    After arriving to the dock where we were to jump in to begin our swim, I saw a lot of orange swim caps. As 7:10 began to approach, I felt my nervous energy starting to take over. I started asking myself, "Can I swim this far?" "What if I drown?" "The water is choppy!" We were to swim approximately a half a mile up the river, make our turn, and swim the remainder of the course down with the current. But, the announcer called for my age group with only 2 minutes before we were to start (they said we would have 5 minutes, but we didn't). The next thing I know, 10,9,8,7,6...3,2,1 and the horn sounded and off I went. I was surprised I didn't get kicked or hit anymore than I did. For the first 200-300 yards, it was a mess trying to figure out what I was doing. I also figured out that swimming in the open water is totally different than the pool. My normal stroke to breath pace in the pool was breathe every 3 strokes, but I found myself breathing to my right side every two strokes and sighting every 10 strokes. After getting into the groove with my breathing and stroke pattern, things seem to settle down and I just began to swim. I thought to myself around three quarters of a mile that I really enjoyed swimming, even in the Tennessee River in the rain. (I was actually having the time of my life). OK. Back to the race. One major mistake I made was swimming too wide once around the turn buoys. At this point, my googles were fogging up and it began to rain pretty steadily. At this point, I started turning toward the sight buoys for a straighter line and a better shot at getting out of the water faster. After reaching the pier and coming out of the water, I got to catch a glimpse of my wife, Dylan, and mother cheering for me coming through the boat house to transition. 


T1
         Once into T1, I grabbed my gear for the ride while asking myself, “Should I carry the sunglasses since it is raining?” I went with the sunglasses, even though the sun was not out. After crossing the mounting line and getting clipped-in, I went to peddle, but my chain had come off. So, I had to play mechanic and was able to get it back on quickly. As I started the ride, it was sprinkling and roads were wet and slippery, but I wanted to concentrate on my race while riding cautiously.

Representing Borden Dental Racing



 Beginning the ride, I felt good reminding myself of riding 30 minutes aero before turning up the notches. The bike course was very sporty with a lot of rain, turns, hills, roller—and did I mention slippery roads? Around mile 10, I saw the aftermath of a serious wreck with an athlete holding a bloody and cut up right arm in a lot of pain. Not much later, I was passed by a speeding ambulance in pursuit to care for the athlete. During this time, I missed the first water station, as it was right after a right hand turn, which made it hard for this rookie to grab while turning. However, I had around 900 calories of Infinit in the bottle on the aero bars, which helped fuel me through my ride. Around mile 25, the bottom fell out and it was a pretty torrential downpour. At this point, I was glad I brought my sunglasses. The glasses helped block the pouring rain from getting in my eyes. Through the rain, I was doing my thing, riding my race and keeping it at an easy pace. Mile 45-55 proved to be a challenge, as there was quite a bit of climbing. Not long after the climb the championship, race riders intersected back with the halfers. I caught myself pushing on the pedals a little harder when there began to be more traffic (for some reason?). Climbing the last hill, I tried to keep my heart rate down by climbing the hill not easily, but not roughly, trying to preserve my legs for the run. Finally, I made it back to T2 safely without any accidents.

Finishing up the 56 mile ride
        This is what I had been waiting on—the run. If you were to ask me, I would say the run is my best of all three disciplines. Once inside T2, I put on the Zoots Ultra 7.0 (no socks), sun visor, race belt, grabbed my nutrition bottle, and out I went. My plan was to run a 8:30 pace for the first 5k, progress to 8:00 the next 10K, then finish the race at a close to tempo pace. The first mile I tried to run as slow as possible, trying to get the legs right. The first 5K was good and felt as though I was on top of my race. However, it was only a few minutes that the cramps set in. All of a sudden the cramps came right before the big hill. I cramped on the inside of both thighs.  Thankfully, I would have to walk up the hill. After getting to the top, I began to run at a slower pace and not cramping as badly. Around mile 6, my calves begin to cramp as well as my things. I was almost completely locked up. I was in pain and hurting when a lady came by and gave me two salt tablets. Not knowing what to do, I took them. It was around the time of these cramps that there was more hills to be walked, so I walked. Once again, I reached the top and began to run again at a much slower pace. At this point of the run, I was merely telling myself that I just need to finish. I made it past the turn around and back up the hills I had just ran down.  As I passed mile 8, I thought to myself, “Five more miles.” I walked a little more along the route, telling myself I will run until the water stations and walk through them. At mile 10.5, I had a cramp so severe in my thighs I had to completely stop. Finally, at mile 12, I noticed the bottom of my right foot began to hurt from the blisters on it, but this was not going to stop me now. Passing transition and up the greenway, I heard the crowds cheering and the music playing, which gave me that little push that I needed. After crossing the railroad tracks off the greenway, the pain was almost unbearable, but I was too close to start walking (only 50 yards from the finish line). The highlight of the whole race was turning to the right toward the finish line and seeing my three sons waiting on me.  My pain seemed to subside as we made our way to cross the finish line in a sprint all together, except Dylan. He outran us. He had fresh legs!

Crossing the finish line with my boys. Awesome!

Here we come...Dylan out ran us:)

















Lesson I Learned from the Challenge Family 70.3 Knoxville, TN.

What did I do wrong? Swim: I believe I lost time on the swim by not focusing on the sight buoys enough. Therefore, swimming too wide instead of staying close to the buoys cost me some time. Having to deal with foggy googles doesn’t help matters when trying to sight the buoys as well.
Bike: I began to push a little harder and faster when I got with more riders from the championship course. Pushing a little harder and faster probably got the best of my muscles on the inside of my thighs, therefore affecting my run. A power meter would probably help quiet a bit in training and racing.

Run: I really didn't have time or the legs to do anything wrong. They were shot coming off the bike! 

What did I do right? Swim: Breathing every two strokes and being conscience of my swim form. Stretching, reaching, rotating, keeping my face in the water as I swam. Ultimately, enjoying the open water swim.

Bike:  I rode my pace at the beginning, easing into upper aero, lower tempo pace, taking on the hills not really easily, but not too hard. I felt as though my ride was right where it needed to be for the most part; although, my legs didn't seem to think so.

Run: I didn't start out like a mad man. I was conscience of keeping my pace low and running at an aero pace of 8:30. However, when the cramps kicked in everything feel apart. But, the positive part of it was that even though my legs were wanting to quit, I knew I had to do whatever it took to push through to the finish line.

What did I learn? 
Lesson #1:  I learned that although I train in all three disciplines, most days twice a day and sometimes three times a day, when it comes to putting all three disciplines together in a race things can be different. There has to be much respect to all three disciplines being raced on the same day, back-to-back-to-back.

Lesson #2:  I learned the importance of not setting too high of an expectation for yourself when you are new to an event. I had figured (I thought) if all went well, I could finish around 5:00-5:15 (perfect race), 5:15-5:30 (great race), and 5:30-5:45 (good race). I had set goals, which is not a bad thing, but honestly, I was disappointed by not reaching the perfect race. However, I find that completing the race under the circumstances was a great accomplishment in itself. 

Lesson #3: I learned to remember the "why." Why was I doing what I was doing? Swimming, cycling, and running is a great way to be a good steward of my body, but there are much easier ways to be a good steward of one's body. However, the competitive side of me comes out when it comes to racing. Thinking about all the training for the last 8 months, I wanted to do my best. Even though there are several other athletes competing, the real competition is myself. I am competing against myself to be healthier, faster, and fitter, so I may have many more productive years in serving the Lord, caring for my family, and enjoy life to its fullest. Keeping my why in front of me helped me push through the mental aspect of the pain and cramps.

Lesson #4:  I learned that no one can do well at this sport on their own. Even though you must compete and complete the race on your own, it takes support. There must be support from one's family. My wife and boys have sacrificially supported me through the last several months of training. From waking up at 4:30 in the morning for me to go run to going swimming with me late at night, it has really been a beautiful thing in integrating my family in with my training. One must also have a great support from other athletes. Borden Dental racing team offers just that. They’re a great group of athletes who are there for support, answer questions, and give encouragement when doubts arise.

Lesson #5: Good coaching is priceless. Coach Chris Borden dialed up the notches at just the right time. He helped me understand how my body would respond to the amount of training it was going to endure. The heads up on how my body would respond to the training was much needed. As I learned, stress on the body will often bring out the not so nice side of you. Therefore, I was able to keep things in check by not letting things get out of hand with my attitude around my family, friends, and others. My training schedules were always spot on for getting me faster and fitter, which I really enjoy! One thing I absolutely value about the sport of triathlon is there is so much to learn—not only about the sport, but also about yourself. I am thankful I have a great coach and team to learn from.


Lesson #6: (I say this as humbly as I know how). I never knew the people that God has touched or encouraged by me simply starting to exercise and now to compete as a triathlete. There has been so many people who has reached out sharing with me how they have been greatly encouraged. My prayer and plea is God would use this sport by opening doors for me to share His work in my life both physically and spiritually with others for as long as He would allow and all for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31)! 
A little sugar for the cramps
Mom made the trip from Alabama to watch her boy race