Race Review: Mercedes Marathon 2015

From time to time, you will hear that a big part of running is mental.  That seems odd to say for something so intensely physical such as a marathon, but most marathoners would agree.

With that in mind, I was somewhat on edge heading into the 2015 Mercedes Marathon because I wasn’t sure how prepared I was mentally.  Yes, I had done the training.  Over a 16 week training period, I only missed 20 miles out of 600 – 18 because my wife was sick and two because I was.  But there was something missing in this training, a degree a passion.

My last long race was last year’s County Music Marathon in Nashville and it was fueled by the need for redemption.  And that need fueled all of my training and the eventual run.  When the race was over, and with redemption in tow, I moved on, so to speak.

I kept up my running over the summer and through the fall, but really missed the discipline of preparing for a marathon.  So, as fall wrapped up, I set my sights on this year’s hometown run and started training on November 1st.  The program took me through the holidays – which was great given all of the eating involved, and January brought the coldest temps and the longest runs.  But I made it.  I was fully prepared heading into yesterday’s run, but not totally sure how it would go given my lack of a theme for this race.

As it turns out, it went pretty well.

The weather in Alabama was pretty ugly this past week with low, low temps and some rain thrown in on Saturday.  I played weather app watcher all week and watched the chances of rain for Sunday go up and down and up again as the forecast was honed.  Ultimately, race day brought steady rain early, temperatures in the low 50s to start the race and overcast, ugly skies for the entire race.

Running i the rain isn’t fun, for lots of reasons (one in particular being my right sock that crept down and tried to bunch up under my toes), but it stopped early and wound up being no big deal.  Temperatures in the low 50s are pretty dadgum nice for running, so I can’t complain about that either.  Other than wet shoes and some cold legs, the weather really wasn’t an issue.

This was my first time to run the full Mercedes, which means two loops around instead of one, and for me, that wasn’t a big deal either.  In fact, I really like the course.  I’ve heard that some folks think it’s hilly, but it ain’t.  If want hilly, go four hours north to Nashville.  That’s hilly.  If you regularly run around the Birmingham area, the course would be considered fairly tame.

It was so tame in fact, that the first 13.1 can be navigated with really no stress and then you know what to expect for the next loop.  The course basically breaks down like this:

* Miles 1-6: Basically flat from downtown to the neighborhood that surrounds UAB
* Miles 7-9: A slight incline as you make your way to Five Points and up to Highlands Avenue where the course declines
* Mile 10: A slight incline up toward the Forest Park neighborhood and then a decent hill near Avondale Park
* Miles 11-13.1 – Basically flat to the finish line.

All-in-all, the course is pretty good in my book.

I cruised through the first half with a time around 1:49 and was far enough up toward the front to avoid most “crowded runner problems.”  In fact, I was actually cruising a little faster than I wanted over the first several miles (pretty common, right?) and throttled things back and ran a pace of around 8:20 for most of the first half.

When the full marathoners split off from the halfers, the crowd thinned dramatically, I grabbed two more water bottles from the back of my truck parked on the route and settled in to see how this thing would play out.  It was around this time that I began to wonder about my mental state for if and when things got tough.  Would I stop and walk?  Would I power through?  And would I have enough in my tank – physically and mentally – for a final kick?

I tried, as much as I could, to put these thoughts in the back of my mind and tried to focus on just running.  The runners, at this point, were sparse, so it was kind of tough to find someone to track down.  There were several runners in front of me – each spaced about 30 yards apart – and we were all content to simply run, not race, for most of miles 14 through 19.

When we turned left and headed up the rolling hills leading to Southside, the pack began to tighten as several runners felt the effects of the hills.  By mile 21, we had weaved our way out of the Five Points eating district and headed down Highland Avenue.  At this point, I decided to push the gas pedal a bit and left behind the group of runners I had been tracking.  I wasn’t in all out break-mode, but I figured I needed to pick up the pace just a bit.

I don’t suppose I ever hit the wall in this race, but the closest I came was probably near the old Silvertron Cafe.  This stretch is on an incline and leads up to a decent-sized hill.  At this point, I saw several older ladies walking the course, one with the help of a cane, and I decided I wouldn’t complain and simply motored over the hill.

At this point, with three miles left, the course was basically flat all the way home.  I was at a steady pace and was on track to beat my PR of around 3:41, but I decided to push the final leg.  I knew that if I went home without at least one big push, I’d simply regret it and we all know where running regrets can lead you (see: Nashville 2014).  So, I put my head down and pushed the gas pedal.  The pedal wasn’t as far down to the floor as it could have been, but it was far enough that the tach meter was approaching red.  It was far enough down to appease my mind before the next race.

The last stretch wasn’t fun.  I was tired, my legs were sore and, heck, I had already run over 23 miles at that point.  But, thank the Lord, I made it.  I finished with no regrets – at least not big ones, and tallied a time of 3:32.  That beat my previous PR by around nine minutes and after the race I wasn’t nearly as ripped apart as I had been after the last two Nashville races.

All together, it was a great day.  Not good, but not horrible weather.  A great course.  And a good finish.

And, oh yeah, my wife and a couple of our kids were waiting for me at the finish line and that was the best part.  They were so happy and excited and they made me feel special and loved.  Running a race is technically an individual sport, but we all know it takes a team for most of us.  My wife leads our team and makes everything happen so that I can run.  For that I am deeply thankful.  Shes’ the best.

Running and the Gospel

Yesterday I finished the “peak week” of training for the next marathon I’ve entered.  The week culminated with yesterday’s 22 mile run.

It’s hard for me to fathom that I would actually consider running for 22 miles or that I would actually do such a thing.  So much so, that as the day of the big run approached, I kept asking myself, “why in the world did you sign up to run a marathon?”

So, why in the world did I sign up to run another one?

The answer has several parts:

1) It’s a challenge – Everyone hears “marathon” and they understand what a challenge it is.  For those that wind up running one, there comes a time when we are ready to see if we can meet the challenge.  It may be because a buddy gets us interested in running, or because we want to hold off the effects of getting old.  It may be because we’re excitement junkies, or because it’s the next phase of our running lives.  The bottom line is, we attempt to run these things because it’s a challenge.

2) It’s a race – For most of us, running a road race has nothing to do with actually winning.  We head out with the clear understanding – whether it’s a 5k, 10k, marathon or whatever – that we will not win.  It’s not even a possibility.  But it’s still a race and a chance to get out and compete.  For me that’s something that I’ve missed since finishing high school sports and running a race brings back the “Friday night lights” kind of feeling.  It’s a chance to lace ’em up and see what we’re about.

3) It’s something most folks can’t do – This isn’t a reason to necessarily brag about, but it’s still a reason for most of us.  As we’re out and about in the world, we hear a lot of smack from people about how good they are at this or that.  Well, running a marathon provides the chance to say – whether out loud or not, that we took on the challenge instead of being all talk or instead of lounging around on the couch.  In other words, it’s a way to establish some street cred or bona fides.  (Kind of like throwing in a Latin phrase here and there when blogging.)  Again, this isn’t a point to brag about, but it does factor into the answer.

4) It’s a chance to train – Lord willing, this will be my third marathon and what I’ve come to love is the training routine.  I know that sounds nuts, especially after finishing a 22 mile run, but it’s true.  I punch a race date and distance into my Nike+ iPhone app and it spits out a 16 week training schedule.  Running becomes a constant in life.  Five days a week (most weeks) with a medium distance run on Tuesdays and a long run on Saturdays.  As you move deeper into the training calendar, the Saturday races become longer and longer.  This past month, the Saturday runs included jaunts of 18, 20, 18 and 22 miles.  Leading up to that, the runs were 12, 14 and 16 type mile runs.  This type of training quickly becomes very cyclical and routine and each week – with a long run at the end – becomes very much like a football season with a big game each weekend.  Make no mistake, this training is grueling and tiresome, but it’s also very encompassing and habit forming.  By the end of the 16 week program and race day, the program has become a part of who we are.

Put all of those things together and you have the reasons why I run.

So, what does this have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Our Sunday School teacher today, who happens to be on staff at our church, went over our church’s plan for how new members of our congregation are enfolded and assimilated into our part of the body of Christ.  In a nutshell, it goes like this:

1) Pursuit – new members are reminded that their pursuits in life should be for the glory of God.  (1 Corinthians 10:31)

2) Passion – new members are reminded that God has put desires in each of our new hearts and we should pursue these desires (which please God) with passion. (Psalm 37:4)

3) Person – God uses our “person” to fill these “passions.”  We are equipped with certain abilities, supported by various peers, designed with a certain personality and bestowed with at least one spiritual gift for this purpose. (Ephesians 2:10, 4:11-13)

4) Process – There is a process that believers endure as these are carried out.  (1 Peter 1:3-7)

5) Platform – All believers have an audience to hear the gospel message. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

It occurred to me as these things were being explained how easily it is for us, as followers of Christ, to become so much involved in the process of being a Christian.  As I mentioned above, part of my desire to run marathons has to do with the training process that prepares me to run.  I become absorbed into it.  It becomes a huge part of my life.  It is very closely (perhaps too much so) associated with who I am.

For many of us, accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior means stepping onto the treadmill of the “process of being a Christian.”  We become so identified with the “process of being a Christian” that we lose sight of what it really means to be a Christian.  We become so associated “ministry” work that the progress of our ministry is equated with our status in Christ.

For example, many find their outlet for ministry in an area that may be closely associated with their past.  If we have an addiction, we work with addicts.  If we have been abused, we work with the abused.  These are all great things, worthy endeavors  and can certainly glorify God, but our work in these areas isn’t simply part of the treadmill of Christian life where we say if we are on the treadmill, God is pleased with us and our salvation is secure.  We should not simply trade the yoke of slavery for the yoke of salvation work.

No, first Jesus Christ calls us to Himself and offers to carry our heavy load while He gives us the lightest yoke.  He says to us to cast our cares on Him, because He cares for us.  In Christ, we can fully realize and understand what it means for Jesus to be our all in all.  With Christ, we have what we need.  With Christ, our guilt and shame is acknowledged and defeated at the cross.  With Jesus Christ, our greatest need is met – salvation – and we are now free to live.

From this freedom, we are free to serve.  We are free to share what Christ has so richly done for us.  We are out from under the burden of condemnation and can serve with a love for others because we are not working to earn something.

Like with a running program, we can become accustomed to the discipline and pain and think that’s what we must endure to earn a spot next to God, but this is completely wrong.

Instead, with Christ, we can run the race that is set before us because Jesus Christ has first endured on our behalf.  Our race is already won.

Running with…Nike

2014-11-14 17.01.21There are certain technological advancements that come along that fit like hand-in-glove, we embrace them and never look back.

Like the fax machine and Xerox copiers.  Like my Fujitsu scanner.  Like my Nike+ running app for my iPhone.

Yep, that’s right, I put the Nike running app in that same category.  Most every time I run I use the app and I wonder how I ever got by without it.

I’ve been a regular runner since the very early 1990s.  Every day, practically, for at least 30 minutes or so.  I never had a problem with running the same course, so I would just hop into my car, drive the course and get a semi-sort of accurate distance.  I really never gave any major consideration to my pace or any other information related to my runs.  I just logged the 30 minutes and checked the box.

A couple of years ago, I used the Nike+ running  app with the shoe sensor.  It was certainly an advancement, but it never fully integrated into my running.  The sensor had to be in the shoes I used for the day’s run and my battery had better be fully charged.  It was good, but I never fell in love with it.

I had a friend with a Garmin GPS watch and that was very handy when we trained for the 2009 Country Music Marathon.  It was so handy, in fact, that I realized I could never train that way again without something very similar.  But it was also very expensive and I never took the plunge.

Then along came the Nike+ app in it’s current form.  I discovered it last Christmas Eve when my brother-in-law brought me into the loop.  It was free.  It was accurate.  And it had lots of handy features.

I downloaded the app on Christmas day and used it that morning for the first time.

Wow.  Running has never been the same.

I can track distance, pace and calories burned.  I can track the shoes I use, the weather for each, the surface of the run and how the run felt to me.  At the completion of each run, I can also see my course plotted on a map.  Starting with the iOS 8, I can also track the elevation of my runs.

An activity log shows me mile miles and statistics logged by month and the app also has a handy “coach” feature that provides a training plan for upcoming races.

And it’s all free.

As you can see, I love the app.  There are others out there, but I haven’t tried them.  I don’t need to.  This one does everything I need.

I’m not trying to sound like a Nike lacky or fanboy.  Honestly, I could not care less who developed the app.  I just like it.  It works and it has helped to transform my running.

Running…In the Cold

My idea of running in the cold probably doesn’t mean what some folks consider running in the cold.

I live in the deep South, so how cold could it get, right?

Well, this week it’s getting fairly cold.  The next couple of days call for highs in the mid-40s and lows in the upper 20s.  That’s pretty stinkin’ cold for Alabama in November.

Historically, I have hated running any time the temp dipped below 50.  At that point, my hands get cold and I have to wear more clothing and it generally becomes much harder psychologically to hit the trail.

I’m getting better, though.

Last winter, as I prepped for the Country Music Marathon, I was determined to toughen myself up.  I dialed back the clothing and only covered up my legs if the temp was less than 45 degrees.  I even ran a few times without gloves when it was really cold.

I am so brave.

The truth is, though, running with temperatures in the 40s is one part of the equation for a perfect long-distance run.  I still need the gloves, but after a couple of miles the body heats up and things are perfect.

The cold still doesn’t motivate me to get outside like a spring or summer day does, but I’m learning that it can be a pretty good running buddy.


So far in my running career I’ve completed two marathons, both of which were run in Nashville.  I did the first one back in 2009, but walked a bit and felt the nag to get it right, so I went back last April and did my second.

Training for and running those two races were two completely different experiences with completely different results.  The first was done in tandem with a running buddy and it wasn’t completely my race.  It was his and a merely tagged along and that left me with a void mentally that definitely hurt my performance.

The second was run with a purpose – to not walk! – and that totally changed everything.  The need for redemption definitely fueled the training and execution of the race.

Now, I’ve just started the training process for my third marathon.  As week one of my 16 week training program wraps up, I can definitely tell a difference from the first two…

1) It’s not the first one.  You really have not idea what to expect from your first marathon.  Everything is new, everything is a first.  While that isn’t necessarily a horrible thing, after all the excitement does fuel as motivation to train, mentally you just aren’t certain about what to expect.  And most people have no way in the world to prepare themselves for what hits them after the first 20 miles.

2) I’m not running to redeem a past performance.  The desire to finish the race without walking served as a huge motivational tool while training for and running the second race.  That was definitely a huge plus for that race.  I thought about “not walking” on every single training run and definitely used it for motivational purposes.  But that’s not here for this race.  How that affects my training is definitely something to track.

3) I’m not running to break a record.  I felt so good heading into the second race that I really thought about trying to qualify for Boston.  Things were going that well.  But, thankfully, I got that bug out of my head and ran a pretty smart race in Nashville.  Race day last April was hot and the course was difficult (at least for me) and those two things don’t work well with posting qualifying times.  This time, I’m training for a race in Birmingham in February and the course and the weather would be much better, but I don’t think I want to go that route.

So what is my plan?  What is my motivation?

Well, those are good questions.  I think the answer is that I just want to enjoy the process and try to run a good race.  It’s my hometown race, the course isn’t bad and there’s a good chance the weather will be fine.  So…why not give it a go?

When the marathon was over last April I had a very hard time coming off of my training program.  That sounds nuts, I know, but when the race was over it took a while to mentally recover from training for a 26.2 mile race to…nothing.  Physically I was definitely ready for a break, but my mind was not.  My mind enjoyed the challenge and missed it when it was gone.

A few weeks after the race, though, my body was healed, but my mind had readjusted to no training program and was skeptical about starting another. It’s funny how that works.

Now, one week in, I can feel the juice starting to flow again.  This could be fun.

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.