Go On to Maturity

It’s been a while since our last study from Hebrews (like since last August), but here we are again.  Today we pick up our study with Hebrews 6:

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  And this we will do if God permits.  For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.  For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. – Hebrews 6:1-8 (ESV)

Since it’s been a while, let’s remind ourselves about what is happening in the book of Hebrews.

This book is all about the supremacy of Jesus Christ.  The author, as we can gather from the title of the book, is addressing a congregation of followers of Jesus Christ who have a Jewish heritage.  So, the author makes a case for the audience explaining the superiority of Christ.  He is superior to angels and he’s even superior to Moses, who has a most exalted status in the Jewish religion.  In fact, God has made Jesus “a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.

The audience, meanwhile, is left to consider its response to Jesus.  In other words, after we’ve heard and learned and accepted these things about Jesus, how do we respond?  When we left off in chapter 5, the writer was reminding the audience that they “have become dull of hearing.”  The audience should be approaching maturity in their faith, but, instead, must be taught again “the basic principles of the oracles of God.”  This theme continues as chapter six begins.

(v. 1) “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…” - The writer gives these instructions (“therefore”) as a continuation of what he finished with in chapter 5.  You get the idea of a congregation (or at least parts of one) that are struggling with the same old things and not really getting anywhere.  Instead of moving forward in their faith in Christ, the audience can’t quite get the grasp of certain “elementary doctrine(s).”

Another point is worth making here.  As the original audience for this letter was likely a church, it is very likely that some receiving the letter are indeed true Christians and some are not.  This is like any large church today.  The pastor’s sermon is not only addressing the followers of Christ, it is also addressing those who need to come to Jesus.  This is important to remember throughout this passage.  Some who are hearing the message aren’t yet in the family of God and are being encouraged to hear the call of Christ.

(v. 1-2) “not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” - These are the “elementary doctrine(s)” referred to in verse one.  

* “…not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God…” – This refers to a basic part of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  You can’t work your way into heaven.  Eternal life is a gift received by faith.

* “…and of instruction about washings…” – Some worry about the things we have to do once we follow Jesus.  In the age of the writer, many were coming to Christ from Judaism and wanted to hear (over and over) what kind of rituals should be performed. Christians are instructed to be baptized, but this is viewed as an act of faith and isn’t normally repeated.

* “…the laying on of hands…” – Christians do, however, often perform “the laying on of hands.”  This most frequently today happens when some are praying for others.  This doesn’t “guarantee” that a person will be healed or that some supernatural act occurs.  Today, some use this as part of an act (e.g. faith healers), but is mostly done during prayer as a symbol of uniting believers and as a show of faith because we have heard of great things God has done.

* “…the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” – These are two separate events both occurring during the end times.  We should always have our thoughts above, where Christ is and from where He is returning, but in the case of some early believers, these doctrines had to be addressed repeatedly.

(v. 3) “And this we will do if God permits.” - The instruction in verse one, is to move from the elementary things and onward to maturity in Jesus Christ.  This can either mean moving forward in our relationship with Christ, or actually coming to Christ if we don’t yet know Him.  How does this happen?  If God permits.  We need to realize that in everything we do, we only proceed by God’s grace and mercy.  It’s one thing to realize that we need to mature, but another for it to happen.  And it happens by the hand of God.

(v. 4-6) “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. - Again, the context of the passage (v. 1-8) is the necessary movement to maturity.  This represents either Christians growing in their relationship with Christ, or unbelievers turning from their sins and following Him.  Both groups have heard the gospel (in a sense, the elementary doctrines).  The time is now to move on to maturity.

Here, in verses 4 through 6, the passage turns to specifically address unbelievers.  How do we know this?  Because true followers of Jesus Christ don’t fall away.  True followers of Christ persevere until the end.  The writer’s point is true:  if a person has “been enlightened,” “shared in the Holy Spirit,” and “tasted the goodness of the word of God,” and then falls away, that person can’t come to Christ again because the person would be “crucifying again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”  Therefore, it’s not possible for a person to gain and lose and gain and lose their salvation.

Can a person fall away?  Yes, but they were never truly in Christ.  Can a person backslide?  Yes, but disobedience isn’t the same thing as being apostate.

(v. 7-8) “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” - The writer uses verses 7 and 8 to illustrate the point being made in verses 4 through 6.  This passage reminds us of what Jesus said in John 15:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5 (ESV)

So what do we take away from this piece of Scripture?  We need to move beyond the elementary doctrines and move to maturity in Jesus Christ.  This doesn’t mean moving to perfection, but this does mean having a relationship with Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we are experts in all things Christianity, but it does mean that we are committed to a growing relationship with Christ.

 

 

 

A Look Back at Colossians 3

On this blog, we’ve recently completed a verse-by-verse daily devotional series of Colossians 3 (with a bonus verse from chapter four).  I started this study because of the practical value that this chapter provides to followers of Jesus Christ.

How is this chapter practical?  Primarily because of three things:

1) The chapter realigns our perspective.  As Christians, there are certain things that we need to hold close and remember all the time.  The problem is, though, that even though these things are clear, obvious and important, we drift from them.  And when we drift we take our eyes off of Christ.  And when we do that, our walk with Him suffers.  Here are some examples:

* (v. 1) “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…”

* (v. 2) “Set your minds on things above…”

* (v. 3) “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

* (v. 4) “When Christ, who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him…”

2) The chapter reminds Christians about how to handle sin (“what is earthly in you”).  We have a tendency to get cozy up to what is earthly so that we are really comfortable with it, even if we think we have no desire to commit the sin.  But the closer and more comfortable we get, the more likely we are to succumb to it.  Colossians 3 gives clear reminders of what our approach should be toward sinful practices.  Here is what the chapter says:

* (v. 5) “Put to death therefore, what is earthly in you…”

* (v. 8) “But now you must put them all away…”

* (v. 9) “…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.”

3) The chapter reminds followers of Christ what they should be doing.  Hearing “no” or “don’t do that” is important and we shouldn’t complain about these things, especially if not doing something stops a sin against God.  But when changing a practice or habit (such as doing the wrong things), it’s often helpful to replace the “don’t” with the “do.”  Here’s a reminder of what we need to “put on”:

* (v. 12) “Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.”

* (v. 13) “Bearing with one another and…forgiving each other.”

* (v. 14) “And above all these put on love…”

* (v. 15) “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…”

* (v. 16) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…”

* (v. 17) “And whatever you do…do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…”

* (v. 18) “Wives, submit to your husbands…”

* (v. 19) “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”

* (v. 20) “Children, obey your parents in everything…”

* (v. 21) “Fathers, do not provoke your children…”

* (v. 22) “Bondservants, obey in everything…with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”

* (v. 23) “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord…”

The idea here is that our perspective of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us should change everything.  When we remember the great mercy and forgiveness He has shown toward us – and when we remember that He is coming back, how we view life should change.

When we have this perspective, we should focus on doing the things that please the Lord.  And when we focus on doing that, we won’t see the things above as a checklist of things to do, rather these things will simply flow out of us.

I wish I could say that I do these things as I should.  No, I am one who is regularly crushed by the world.  I am one that needs a constant reminder of what my perspective should be as a follower of Christ.  Hopefully, I can remember this passage frequently so that my perspective will be as it should.

Know That You Also Have a Master in Heaven

We’ve been travelling verse-by-verse through Colossians 3 and with our last post, we reached the end.  But don’t despair, we’re not quite finished.  There’s a “bonus” verse at the beginning of chapter four that we need to talk about before being done:

Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. – Colossians 4:1 (ESV)

This verse, though it’s in chapter four, falls right in line with what has been discussed in chapter three.  Beginning with verse 18, the Apostle Paul starts to give instructions for wives, husbands, children, fathers and slaves.  It makes sense, to also give instructions to “masters.”

When we reviewed verse 22, we discussed the meaning of bondservants or slaves.  These are people totally devoid of rights; they are owned by someone else.  In this verse, Paul is giving instructions about how to handle those with no rights:  “treat your bondservants justly and fairly.”

Just because someone may be devoid of status here on earth, it doesn’t mean that person is worthless.  We get an idea about that here because the Most High God shows concern for them.  Slaves had previously been given the command to “work heartily, as for the Lord.”  In turn, “masters” are told to treat those subject to their control “justly and fairly.”

The reason for this is simple.  Though God has allowed these masters to act “justly and fairly” toward those they own, this authority, ultimately, points them back to God.  Paul notes, “knowing that you also have a master in heaven.”  The relationship of the masters with their Heavenly Father should control how the master deals with the slave.  When tempted to act unjustly or unfairly – which is easy to do when all power rests in your hands – the masters should remember how their Father in heaven deals with them.  Though God is all-powerful and all-knowing and sovereign, He is also good and kind and just and slow to anger.  God presents the perfect example to follow for those who happen to have authority.

Technically, slavery has been abolished here in the United States.  But, practically, we can still become enslaved.  Our master could be our job or debt or some person we allow to control us.  Likewise, we also play the role of master.  Perhaps it’s related to our children, people work for us or people we hire to do a job.  In both cases, we have instructions from above as to how to act.  If slaves, work heartily, as for the Lord.  If masters, we should know that we have a Master in heaven and we should follow His example in how we treat others.

“The wrongdoer will be paid back…”

Karma.  Cosmic vengeance.  People getting paid back for what they’ve done.  Do you believe in these things?  Sort of sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well, I can tell you for sure that there’s no such thing as “karma,” but we can rest assured that all of our wrongdoings will be given an accounting.  Let’s discuss this by first taking a look at the final verse in Colossians 3:

For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. – Colossians 3:25 (ESV)

The lead in for this verse is the Apostle Paul reminding Christians to do their best in everything that they do, not because there is some earthly reward, but because the Lord will deliver the inheritance:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. – Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)

The command to “work heartily” could seem overbearing if not for the reminders of our work being to honor God and that our reward will come later.  There’s also that part of our human nature that always seems to know when “others are getting away with stuff.”  We just can’t stand it (though we aren’t as sensitive when it comes to our own sin).  Though we have the promise of the reward – “the inheritance” – in our eyes, things seem to be left undone because others are having their way.

But this reminder from Paul in verse 25 let’s us know that, end the end, an accounting will be given for all wrongdoing.  There are two simple reminders here:

* “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done…” – Followers of Christ are called to live a different way.  They are called to honor Christ with their lives and this means that certain things aren’t OK to do anymore.  Others that don’t follow Christ, won’t feel such a call and their sinful practices may continue.  Here, Paul reminds us that such wrongs are given an accounting.  In fact, the wrongdoer will feel the specific retribution for the sins he has committed.

* ” …and there is no partiality.” - The promise that the wrongdoer will be paid back is also followed by the stark reminder that no partiality will be shown.

Again, I think the reminder for this verse is at least two-fold:

  • It is intended as encouragement for follower of Christ who are suffering in the present age.  It serves to provide a broader perspective that can’t help but encourage.
  • It also serves as a stark reminder that sin will not go unpunished.

Sin, which is present in the lives of us all, is accounted for in two ways:

1) Our sin is paid for by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and lived a sinless life so that He could be presented as the perfect Sacrifice.  He died on the cross to pay for our sins and then rose again on the third day to guarantee the payment for these sins.  (Had He not rose again, the sacrifice would have had to be made again.)  To receive the gift of what Jesus did for us – dying for our sins – we have to accept Him by faith.

2) If we haven’t received Jesus Christ as our Savior, we will pay for our sins eternally in hell.  This is the stark reminder Paul is giving us.  There is no partiality.  The wrongdoer – the person without Christ, will be paid back.  God is just.  That means He must resolve and reconcile all sin.  For those that follow Christ, sin is crushed by the work of Jesus Christ.  For unbelievers, their sins are paid for throughout eternity.

This is not an easy thing to speak or teach.  It is gut-wrenching, but our sin is horrible and we must take it seriously.

“You will receive the inheritance as your reward”

In my last post in this series of devotions from Colossians, the Apostle Paul gave us another perspective reminder:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. – Colossians 3:23 (ESV)

In whatever we do, we aren’t just working for the applause of men.  No, the ultimate audience for our endeavors is God.  Because of what He has done for us, our response – in whatever we do – should be to honor and please Him.  This even includes our work.

This is obviously a great reminder and a great verse, but the verse that follows – our verse to study for today – contains just as great of a reminder:

“knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” – Colossians 3:24 (ESV)

When we “do things,” whatever we do, as I mentioned above, there should be the continual elements thanksgiving and giving praise to God because of what He’s done for us.  But verse 24 takes this one step further.  This verse gives us three additional reminders of why, in “whatever you do, [we should] work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

* “knowing that from the Lord…” – As followers of Christ, we live with a constant sense of delayed gratification.  Yes, we are saved, and we can rejoice in that, but this isn’t our home.   Because of Jesus Christ, we have something that awaits us and this comes “from the Lord.”

* “…you will receive the inheritance…” - What awaits us, from the Lord, is our inheritance.  As we are reminded in Hebrews 9:15:

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. – Hebrews 9:15 (ESV)

* “…as your reward.” - Our reward, our inheritance, does not come here, it comes later, when we are with Jesus Christ.  Our temptation is to seek our reward here and we tend to forget about what comes later.  We generally want our “prize” right here, right now.  But listen to what Jesus says about the timing of rewards:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:1-4 (ESV)

Let this be our perspective as we live with our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.

“Work heartily, as for the Lord”

What is our motivation?  Why do we do what we do?  When all is said and done, what really matters most to us?

As we’ve noted throughout this study of Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul is delivering a message to Christians that helps to readjust our perspective.  That adjustment begins in verse one (“If then you have been raised with Christ…”) and continues, as well, with verse 23:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. – Colossians 3:23 (ESV)

Verse 23 immediately follows the instruction given to wives, husbands, children, fathers and slaves and is really a bookend to the command given in verse 17:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

Like with verse 17, verse 23 is addressing “whatever we do.”  And “whatever we do” really means “whatever we do.”  In some verses, the idea of “whatever, ” or all, is presented, though there are some obvious exceptions (which don’t dilute the meaning or integrity of the passage).  Verse 20, for example, exhorts children to “obey your parents in everything.”  The obvious exception to this would be parents instructing their children to do something that would not please God.  In this case, a strong argument could be made that children should not obey their parents.

But there are no such exceptions to verse 23.  The command is made to for whatever we do:

* “…work heartily…” - The idea behind working “heartily” is to give our best.  Our best, no matter how weak we may be or how strong we may be, honors God.  Less than our best does not honor the Lord.

* “…as for the Lord…” - We are doing our best, or working “heartily,” for the Lord.  This part of the verse gives us our perspective.  We may be taught to have a good work ethic, or be taught to do our best in all situations, but our motivation should clearly come from wanting to please God and honor Jesus Christ.

* “…and not for men…” - Conversely, our motivation should not primarily be to please those around us.  Yes, it is important to do our best for our boss or for our parents, or even for our spouse, but our perspective should not be on pleasing these folks alone.  No, our perspective should first and foremost be on pleasing God with what we are doing.

If what we are doing pleases the Lord, then we should be satisfied that it pleases those around us.  But, we really should make sure that what we are doing is our best, that we really are working heartily to please the Lord.  And remember – we aren’t working our best to earn our salvation, but we’re working our best to say “thank You” to the Lord for what He has done for us.

Country Music Marathon: It’s Over

The 2014 Country Music Marathon is in the books and I’m very happy to report:  “I made it.”

Last week, as I finished up my prep for the run, I outlined four goals for the race:

* Don’t walk.
* Less than four hours.
* Strong on the last six.
* Qualify for Boston.

Two out of four isn’t bad, right?

Qualifying for Boston, was never a realistic option (3 hours 25 minutes), but I threw it out there as the best-case in the world type scenario.  The reality is a) that’s an incredibly difficult time that’s not reachable for me right nor (or probably ever) and b) April races on the Nashville course are not part of the recipe for personal bests.

But I was fairly confident – perhaps too much so – concerning the other three.  As it turns out, though, I achieved two of the three, but was perilously close to only making one.

Saturday, April 26, 2014 was a beautiful day in Nashville, TN.  When we left the hotel – around 5:30 a.m., the temperature hovered in the upper 40s and was probably in the mid-50s when the first wave of the race started just after 7:00 a.m.  I was located way back in corral 15 (out of about 40+ corrals) and we took off around 7:26.

2014-04-26 06.45.10

Over 30,0000 people signed up to run (half-marathon and full) and the huge crowd of runners made for the first challenge of the race.  The first seven or eight miles were like running through a mall on the day after Thanksgiving.  The crowd was smothering.  I tried to stay on the outside at all times, but some poor soul would break down and start walking on the outside and that nearly caused a bunch of wrecks.  At every hydration station the throng of people would form an almost impenetrable mass as the entire crowd would stop.  This is a race that supports a charity, but the crowd is almost too big.  The huge crowd generates a lot of money and a lot of excitement, but it makes for a much harder race.  (More on that later.)

I guess it’s also normal for folks to fudge on their estimated finishing time, but it seemed like 90% of the crowd ahead of me were just totally out of place.  The two hour pacers for the half and the four hour pacers for the full were in my corral and there was no possible way – based on what I saw – that the crowd ahead of me could run that fast.  Folks were stopping to walk after less than a mile.  That was a little bit ridiculous.

But, even with all of that said, the first half of the race, due to the crowd and the throng of runners, is filled with energy and excitement.  The crowds lining the streets through Nashville were incredible and provided a ton of encouragement.  I felt like the race organization provided enough fueling stations, but the folks of Nashville also went out of their way to provide hydration and fuel to the runners.  The people of Nashville certainly get an A+ for how they embrace the race.

The first 13 miles of the race were fairly easy.  Despite the crowds, I was able to manage my pace down and was averaging about 8:32 per mile over the first half.  The racers split off around mile 11 or so, so the crowd became much more manageable and I actually cruised from miles 13 through 17.  This stretch of the race includes a run through a business park and then takes you back onto Rosa Parks and up by the state capital.  It also includes some pretty nasty hills.  In 2009, these hills absolutely crushed me, but on Saturday, I cruised right over them.  Despite being 17 miles into a run, I was actually feeling pretty good.

Around mile 17, the race takes you by the finish line for the half marathon and then takes you up a climb that lasts a mile or so.  You then turn right, run a couple of blocks, turn right again and then work your way back down.  This portion of the race was added when the start-finish lines were adjusted and when finished with this portion you are around the 20-21 mile mark.

It’s also the point when things start to get real serious and real nasty.  In other words, this is when I hit the wall.

In the 2009 race, along this same point, I stopped running a began to walk.  It was the first time in my running career (dating back to the early 1990s) that I had actually stopped and walked.  And that walking is what led me back to this race in 2014.  Finishing strong on the last six miles was THE primary motivation for this race.  It was on my mind during every training run.  I was bound and determined to whip this race course over the last six miles.

Ah, you silly boy.

Somewhere between mile 18 and 20 the wall appeared.  Most of this stretch included a slight decline, so I suppose it was the dread of what was ahead that helped to erect the wall.  Suddenly, every step became torture.  Suddenly, I began to think about walking.  Though I had cruised through 20 miles, the siren call of “stopping” was wailing in my head.  All of my training plans and motivational tools were out the window; they were simply no good.  With every step, I had to make the decision to keep going or to stop.

I had answered the siren call in 2009 and stopped.  Stopping, in fact, was quite easy.  But stopping didn’t get me to the finish line.  I still hurt.  I still had to finish.  Stopping had not helped me at all.  It had made things worse.  Plus, stopping had haunted me for five years.

During every training run, I would imagine myself on the last six miles.  My plan was to better prepare my mind and my body.  The last six had crushed me before, but I would strike back.  The last six wasn’t a surprise anymore.  I knew what was ahead and I would be ready.  I would have my mind right.  I would remind myself constantly with motivational points of emphasis.  I would race on the last six and I would win.

But when the last six happened, nothing went as planned.  The power songs didn’t help.  Wanting to whip the course didn’t help.  There was nothing I could do except to keep running.  So that’s what I did.  I just knew that I couldn’t stop.  There was nothing fancy.  There was just prayer and running.  I just put my head down and ran.

It was also at this point that the mass of people at the beginning of the race also became a factor again.  While zig-zagging through the crowd, I wound up adding an extra half mile to my race.  I was tracking my race with my Nike+ iPhone app and I was clicking off miles way before the mileage flags.  As the race wore on, this became like an albatross around my neck.  I wasn’t sure how far I was over-running, but my guess was about a mile.  So instead of having a rush of adrenaline kick in with only a mile or two left, I had the mill stone of the extra mileage around me.  That may sound like a small thing, but as you near the end of a marathon, it’s huge.

The last five miles or so of this race also take you through an area known as the Shelby Bottoms park.  You run into the park going down an decline that lasts about a mile.  You circle a huge park area, also about a mile long, and then run back up the incline.  Wow, this stretch is hard.  You may think it’s a break to run down the slight decline for a mile, but that’s offset by the knowledge of having to run back up it.  The circle around the park isn’t a bad run, but it’s the exact opposite of the first 13 miles of this race.  Over the first half you can’t stir the people with a stick; in the park, you can’t find a spectator.  It’s just you, a few other runners and a nasty stretch of pavement.

Coming up out of Shelby Bottoms provides no relief, though.  Due to the new course configuration, you have several hills to climb before making the triumphant march toward LP Field.  This stretch – probably miles 24.5 to 25.5 – is absolutely horrible.  In fact, I’m stunned that I made this stretch without stopping.  I’m not sure what was happening to me at this point, but it was like my eyes were closing.  I thought for a second that I might pass out, but what the heck, I just kept running.

Then, somewhere around 25.5, you make a left turn and head toward the stadium and the finish line.  By this point in my race, there was absolutely nothing left in my tank.  But by the Lord’s grace, my feet and legs kept moving.  Soon, I saw my beautiful bride and heard her cheering me on, then I made one final left turn and made the short stretch to the finish line.

I was totally spent.  There was nothing left.  But I had finished.  And I had not walked.

I actually wound up running an extra half-mile over the course of the race and with this extra distance factored in, I ran an overall 8:16 pace.  My official time was a bit lower, and that stinks, but all-in-all I’m happy with the results.

So I didn’t walk.  That was a win.

I beat four hours.  That was a win.

But I can’t honestly say I attacked and won the last six of the race.  Not after hurting so bad.

Later in the day, though, I started studying my splits and here’s what they were for the last six miles:

* 21 – 7’48”
* 22 – 7’51”
* 23 – 7’52”
* 24 – 7’56”
* 25 – 7’56”
* 26 – 7’47”

Given how horrible I felt, there is nothing else I can say about this but, “Praise the Lord.”

Over those last six miles, I hurt worse than I have ever hurt.  Mentally, I was totally spent.  Physically, I was totally spent.  There’s really no logical reason why I kept going.

Earlier that morning, I read a piece of Scripture from Psalm 108:

With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes. – Psalm 108:13 (ESV)

I had not planned to read that specific passage; it just happened to be in the Psalm I was reading for the day.  At the time I read it, I thought it was cool and I thought it was very applicable – especially the treading part.  But I really didn’t understand all of the significance of the passage until after finishing the race.  A race is a small thing, in the overall scheme of things, but on Saturday, it was my “foe.”  I realize, even more so today, that God is strong and sovereign and all-powerful.  So I want to praise Him for blessing me and watching over me and for treading down my foes through this run.