Why I Run

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Above picture: my first 5k with my wife and daughter, October 28, 2017.

I haven’t always been a runner. In fact, there was a time not too long ago when I hated the thought of going for a run. I didn’t run, wouldn’t run, and couldn’t for more than a few seconds even if I tried. But now I run at least 3 days a week and sometimes twice that. Here’s why.

It’s Healthy

I didn’t start by running. When you top the scales at over 300 pounds and it’s not from strength training, running is nearly impossible. Instead, I started my journey toward more healthful living by walking. But as I shed the pounds and gained endurance, jogging was the natural next step. And now I run. My exercise goal is actually the same as when I started my journey: 30 minutes of moderate exercise 4-6 days a week. But “moderate” is no longer a brisk walk. Instead, it’s a casual 3-mile jog through my neighborhood.

It Feels Good

I run whatever time of day best suits our family schedule. But my favorite time to run is first thing in the morning. Starting your day with exercise has many health benefits. But for me, starting my day with a run also lifts my spirits and puts me in a better mood for the rest of the day. It wakes me up, gets my day started productively, and I’m sure those endorphins released during my workout help as well. All of these help me start the day on a positive note that carries over into the rest of my day.

It’s Spiritual

Ultimately, for me, running is a spiritual experience. My goal to live more healthfully started with a conviction that my physical body is a stewardship from the LORD, a temporary gift given to me for the purpose of carrying out the Kingdom work that God has called me to do. I came to understand that if I wanted to be around to enjoy this life with my family as well as fulfill God’s calling on my life, I had to surrender my eating and exercise habits to the LORD. Also, when I run, I pray and listen to worship music. So running is one way I draw near to the LORD.

Final Thoughts

Running isn’t for everyone. And physical wellness is a very personal issue, though it does affect the lives of other people in our lives. But if the LORD is burdening your heart to live more healthfully or actively, I encourage you to step out in faithful surrender. Then wait and see how the LORD works in your life.

God Our Rock

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“For You are my lamp, O LORD; The LORD shall enlighten my darkness.
For by You I can run against a troop; By my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the LORD is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.

“For who is God, except the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?
God is my strength and power, And He makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

“You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your gentleness has made me great.
You enlarged my path under me; So my feet did not slip. (2 Sam 22:29–37, NKJV)

These words, sung by King David, are part of a song that David composed toward the end of his life. The song is quite lengthy, beginning in 2 Samuel 22:2 and continuing through verse 51. It is a kind of memoir of David’s life, an ode to the LORD, with its primary theme being how the LORD was David’s light, his strength, and his deliverer.

David describes how the LORD is like a lamp in his own life: He brings light to David’s darkness, which, in context, probably refers to how the LORD delivered David time and time again from death at the hands of the Philistines, Saul, Absalom, and everyone else who tried to kill him. The LORD illuminated David’s mind and heart, giving him wisdom on the battlefield and to overcome even the most challenging obstacles in his life.

We, too, have a lamp in the LORD our God. We were in a state of spiritual darkness. But when we surrendered to Christ and trusted in Him, the Light of the World became the Light in our lives, delivering us from the power of darkness and delivering us into the marvelous light of His eternal kingdom (1 Col 1:13).

In the second stanza David shifts his analogy to the idea of the LORD as his rock. The LORD made David into a man of war and used him to lead Israel in subduing the surrounding nations and expanding the borders of ancient Israel. So I think its interesting that David first speaks of the LORD as his rock, strength and power regarding his feet. But a warrior is only as effective as his foundation. And David’s foundation was the LORD God Almighty. There is no surer foundation than the LORD. And with the LORD as our champion, leading us into battle and teaching us the art of spiritual warfare, we need not fear the Enemy. We need only to trust and follow the LORD.

Similarly, our hope for eternal life rests on our foundation in Jesus Christ. He is both the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2), a faith based on the sacrificial love of our Savior who died the death we deserved and payed the ransom for our sins with his death on the cross. A faith secured by a proclamation on the cross, “it is finished.” A faith that was proven true when Christ conquered sin and death and rose victoriously from the grave on the third day.

In both verses 31 and 36, David describes the LORD as a shield—first, as a shield for all who trust Him, and second, as a shield of salvation. With David’s many run-ins with near-death experiences, both as a shepherd (with wild animals) and as King (from enemies trying to kill him), David surely knew first-hand about the saving power of the LORD, Who, as we’ve already mentioned, rescued David from death numerous times throughout his life.

As David surrendered his heart to the LORD Who delivered him from death many times, so we, too, receive the “shield” of the LORD’s salvation when we surrender our hearts to the LORD and trust Him with our eternal destiny. Then, as we learn to trust the LORD daily in our lives, His shield grows from a tiny buckler, barely big enough to protect our souls, to a giant Roman shield capable of deflecting the Enemy’s arrows and inflicting incredible damage when we use it properly in spiritual combat.

So, the LORD is our light, our rock, and our shield. All of these speak to God’s immense power to guide, strengthen, and protect us. And yet, David confesses, it is the gentleness of the LORD that raised him up. There are some who think that God is some kind of sinister overlord, actively checking a naughty list ready to zap us if we get out of line. Well, it is certainly true that God is righteous and just, punishing evil and wickedness. But God’s righteousness and justice flow from His love.

God’s love is so great that He decided to share it. So He created an entire universe and populated it with living creatures to share His love with them. Then, when  we humans rebelled against Him, we received the just penalty of death for our rebellion. But the LORD, not willing to condemn us without a means of deliverance, gave us a promise of salvation, and made good on that promise by sending His One and Only Son to live the sinless life we never could, die the death that we all deserved, and usher in a new era of salvation for everyone willing to trust in the name of the Son–Jesus Christ.

Black Bean Turkey Chili

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One of my favorite one-pot meals is chili. A warm bowl keeps the chill away on a cold day. A big pot serves a hungry crowd on gameday. And it doesn’t get much easier than browning some ground meat then tossing everything in one pot to cook for 30 minutes!

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This recipe keeps the calories low and the flavors fresh with a combination of ground turkey and smoked turkey sausage. Personally, I prefer black beans instead of kidney beans, Black beans are also high fiber and easy to find canned with no salt added. Corn for flavor and crunch, and a rich blend of tomatoes with classic spices round out the flavor profile for a traditional one-pot meal with a few flavor twists!

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Black Bean Turkey Chili

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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A fresh twist on a classic gameday dish that warms the hands and heart on a cold day and makes the taste buds happy, too.

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg (14oz) turkey smoked sausage (Hillshire Farm), coarsely chopped
  • 1 pkg (1lb) ground turkey 90% lean (Jennie-O)
  • 2 cans (14.5oz) black beans no-salt-added (Great Value)
  • 2 cans (14.5oz) diced tomatoes no-salt-added (Great Value)
  • 1 can (6oz) tomato paste (Great Value)
  • 1 1/4 cups frozen whole kernel corn (Great Value)
  • 1 medium white or sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1 package low-sodium mild chili seasoning (McCormick)
  • 1 3/4 tbsp granulated garlic (Great Value)
  • 1 tbsp parsley flakes (5th Season)
  • 1 tsp chili powder (First Street)
  • 1 tsp salt-free southwest chipotle seasoning (Mrs. Dash)
  • 1 cup water

Directions

Stove-Top
  1. In a large pot, brown the ground turkey and drain.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients and stir until well-mixed.
  3. Cook over medium-low heat for at least 25 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.
Slow-Cooker
  1. In a skillet, brown the ground turkey and drain.
  2. Add all ingredients to slow-cooker and stir until well-mixed.
  3. Cook on low (depending on your slow-cooker) for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Nutrition information

Makes 8 servings. Calories: 350, total fat 11g, cholesterol 78mg, sodium 735mg, potassium 666mg, total carbs 37g, protein 27g. (Courtesy MyFitnessPal Recipe Creator.)

Tips

  • Like your chili spicy? Use medium or hot chili seasoning, add more chili or cayenne powder, and/or add your favorite variety of peppers!

Zesty Grilled Tri-Tip

I’m a huge fan of barbecue. From the moment I started cooking I wanted to learn to barbecue. So far, this tri-tip is as close as I’ve come. Technically this might be grilled and not barbecued (depending on where you’re from and who you ask), but either way, it’s delicious!

One of the tricky things about barbecue is the seasonings and sauces often used to enhance flavor before and after cooking add extra fats and sugars that aren’t very healthy. That’s where tri-tip and dry rubs come in. Tri-tip is one of the leaner (and more affordable!) cuts of beef roast. And a well-thought-out dry rub can avoid some of the extra fats and sugars as well.

The flavor profile in this recipe is quite versatile and it pairs well with many different flavor profiles. Also, it makes several servings, so share it with family and friends or keep the leftovers for another meal!

Zesty Grilled Tri-Tip

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: moderate
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A zesty high-protein, low-sodium take on a classic grilled meat. This grilled protein takes a bit of work and time but the results are delicious and leftovers can save time preparing future meals.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs (or more) tri-tip
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 tbsp granulated garlic (Great Value)
  • 1 tbsp smokehouse maple seasoning (Grill Mates)
  • 2 tsp mesquite seasoning (Grill Mates)
  • 1 tsp salt-free southwest chipotle seasoning (Mrs. Dash)

Directions

  1. Prior to cooking, set the tri-tip out in a large dish to warm to room temperature.
  2. In a bowl, combine and mix the seasonings until well-mixed.
  3. Rub about half of the lime juice over the tri-tip. Then rub about half the seasoning mixture over the tri-tip.
  4. Turn the tri-tip over, rubbing with remaining lime juice and seasoning mixture. Then cover with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 15-20 minutes (up to 2 hours)  until ready to grill.
  5. Preheat grill to 450-500ºF. Keep one area lower heat for indirect cooking.
  6. Once the grill reaches at least 450º, cook the tri-tip over indirect heat, starting with the fat-side facing upward. With the lid closed, cook for at least 15 minutes for medium-rare, or a few more (3-5?) minutes for medium or medium-well.
  7. Turn the tri-tip over so the fat-side is facing down. With the lid closed, cook for at least another 15 minutes.
  8. When you’re ready to take the tri-tip off the grill, if you like crispier bark, place the tri-tip over high heat (or a searing burner) for about 30 seconds per side with the lid open. Watch carefully, because the fats in the meat catch fire very easily.
  9. Remove from grill, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Then slice or dice and serve.

Nutrition information

Makes 10 – 4oz servings. Calories: 164, total fat 7g, cholesterol 35mg, sodium 262mg, potassium 8mg, total carbs 1g, protein 23g. (Courtesy MyFitnessPal Recipe Creator.)

Tips

  • Here’s my formula for cooking time for this recipe: weight (lbs) * 12 = total minutes. A 2.5 lb tri-tip needs at least 30 minutes over indirect heat at 450-500ºF to come out medium-rare (as pictured). A 3.5 lb tri-tip would need around 40-43 minutes. If you need more than 4 lbs, you might consider getting multiple smaller cuts and cooking them at the same time, adding a couple minutes to each side of cooking.

Enchilada Casserole

For as long as I’ve known my wife, southwest-style dishes have ranked quite high among her favorite cuisines. So from the time we started our journey toward more healthful living a little over a year ago, staples like tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, etc. have become commonplace at our dinner table.

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This recipe was inspired by a combination of two of my wife’s favorite dishes: enchiladas and lasagna. So after a few hours of perusing internet and some experimentation, here’s my low-calorie, high-protein, low-sodium recipe for enchilada casserole. I would characterize it as mild, fresh, and flavorful 🙂

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Enchilada Casserole

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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A low-calorie, high-protein, low-sodium take on a family favorite. This casserole is a great prep-it-and-forget-it option when you only have a few minutes to prep but plenty of time for a casserole to cook in the oven.

Ingredients

  • 16oz ground turkey, 90% lean (Jennie-O)
  • 1 10oz can red medium enchilada sauce (Las Palmas)
  • 1 15oz can no-salt-added black beans (Great Value), drained and rinsed
  • 1 15oz can no-salt-added diced tomatoes (Great Value), drained
  • 1 cup frozen petite white corn (C&W)
  • 6 taco-size tortillas (Romero’s Casera-style)
  • 1 3/4 cups 2% shredded Mexican cheese blend (Kraft)
  • 1 tbsp granulated garlic seasoning (Great Value)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin seasoning (First Street)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder seasoning (First Street)
  • 1 tsp onion powder seasoning (Tone’s)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
  2. In a large skillet, brown the ground turkey and drain.
  3. Lightly spray a 9×13-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Then pour just enough enchilada sauce (about 1/4 cup) on the bottom of the dish and spread to cover the bottom. Set dish aside.
  4. Add the black beans, diced tomatoes, frozen corn, remainder of enchilada sauce, and seasonings to turkey. Simmer on medium-low, partially covered, for 7-8 minutes (just long enough to thaw the corn and get the flavors simmering together), stirring occasionally.
  5. Arrange two tortillas on the bottom of the casserole dish, covering the bottom as much as possible. Spread one-third of the skillet mixture over the tortillas. Top with one-third of the shredded cheese.
  6. Repeat step 5 two more times for a total of 9 layers: 3 tortilla layers, 3 layers of skillet mixture, and 3 cheese layers.
  7. Cover with aluminum foil and cook in the oven at 375ºF for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook another 8-10 minutes (cheese should be fully melted and gooey).
  8. Remove from oven, let rest for 2-3 minutes, then cut and serve.

Nutrition information

Makes 6 servings. Calories: 409, total fat 15g, cholesterol 78mg, sodium 774mg, potassium 267mg, total carbs 39g, protein 30g. (Courtesy MyFitnessPal Recipe Creator.)

Tips

  • Want more heat? Try substituting 1 cup medium or hot salsa for the diced tomatoes!

He Goes With You

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Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: “I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the LORD has said. And the LORD will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites and their land, when He destroyed them. The LORD will give them over to you, that you may do to them according to every commandment which I have commanded you. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.
(Deut 31:1–6, NKJV)

In Numbers 13, we read that the LORD brought the children of Israel to the Wilderness of Paran, on the southern border of the Promised Land. From here, Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan, 10 of whom feared the inhabitants and instigated the Israelites’ refusal to enter Canaan. Moses interceded for the people and the LORD forgive Israel’s sinful disobedience, but as a consequence, none of that adult generation were permitted to enter the Land except Caleb and Joshua, the other two spies who brought back a good report. Even Moses and Aaron were not permitted to enter the Land because of their unfaithful representation of the LORD at Kadesh (Numbers 20). Our passage today begins Moses’ farewell speech to the second generation of Israel before Moses’ death and Israel entered the Land.

The children of Israel, including Moses and Aaron, suffered severe consequences for their unfaithfulness to the LORD. However, while God prevented the adult generation from entering the Land, He did not forsake His promise to Israel as a nation. The LORD raised up Joshua to lead the second generation of Israelites into the Promised Land. God always keeps His promises. We may not always understand the terms, and we often forsake many potential blessings because of our sins of unfaithfulness and unbelief, but God is always faithful.

I want to you notice two details about this promise that Moses recounted to the second generation of Israelites. First, notice that God promised that the children of Israel would go to war. The Canaanite tribes were strong, numerous, and many would not leave the land willingly. But because of their sinfulness, which included ritual human child sacrifice to the gods Baal and Molech, God dispossessed the Canaanites and promised the land to the children of Israel (Deut 12:29–31, c.f., Jer 32:25). But Israel would have to take possession of the Land by force.

But notice also how God promised to go with the children of Israel. Not just to go with them passively, watching the battle from the sidelines. But actively going before Israel, weakening the hearts of the Canaanites, as well as going behind Israel, protecting the rear ranks which included noncombatants—women, children, and livestock—the weaker, defenseless ranks. Thus, the LORD tells the Israelites not to fear, because the all-powerful presence of Almighty God is among them, fighting for them and protecting them in and through the war.

For me, the daily grind of life is filled with uncountable battles with mixed results—many failures, a few victories, and many stalemates promising to revisit us again in the near future. But, in a similar way that the LORD promised to go with Israel through the war, fighting for her and protecting her, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ makes us a similar promise in our war against sin and death. Food was one of my battlefronts. But praise be to God who has given me the victory over gluttony and enabled me to better lead and care for my family in the way I eat, exercise, and prepare meals for our household.

Christ goes before us in our salvation experience and in the daily struggles throughout our lives. Indeed, Christ went before us in death (1 Pet 3:18–20); He went before us in resurrection (1 Cor 15); and He has gone before us into heaven to prepare a place for us (John 14:1–4). So then, we do not fear the final judgment, nor its servants—sin, flesh, and Satan—because the live of Christ has rescued us from the fear of judgment by delivering us from death and giving us eternal life (1 John 4:17–19).

Immanuel, God With Us

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This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matt 1:18–23, NLT)

I don’t know about you, but for me, the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s is a bit awkward. It’s kind of a twilight zone, sandwiched between the excitement and stress of the Christmas season and the anticipation and trepidation of the New Year with all of the hopes, dreams, and possibilities that go along with turning the page from one year to the next.

For me, Christmas is a time to look back on the previous year, asking the Lord to show me when and how He was working in my life. It brings to a close the season of thanksgiving that for many of us began on that fourth Thursday in November. New Year’s is a time when I look forward, asking the Lord for direction and wisdom to show me when and how He wants me to follow Him. It sets in motion many of the experiences I will have throughout the new year, or at least, through the first three-to-six weeks. But this in-between week is a bit of a let-down. There’s leftovers and gifts to enjoy but it’s time to take down the decorations, go back to work, and settle back into the daily grind of life.

Matthew records how the angel told Joseph that the child’s name is Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). As we look back at the last year, let’s not miss all that God’s done for us. In fact, let’s look back a little further, say, nearly 2000 years. Let’s look back and remember how God the Son added a human nature to Himself, became a human baby named Jesus, and entered the world with all the pomp and circumstance of a poor, humble peasant child. And let’s remember that world-changing, earth-shattering, veil-tearing moment 33 years later when Jesus the Son fulfilled his eternal calling by taking the sins of all people, who ever did and ever would live, as his own, enduring the excruciating pain of crucifixion, and the even more agonizing wrath of the Father toward sin, so that His blood sacrifice could provide an eternal, once-for-all sin-offering for everyone who trusts in Him. And let’s not forget that moment in our own lives, maybe only a few days or weeks or years in recent past, when the joy of His salvation entered our hearts for the first time in that moment we trusted in Him as Savior and Lord.

Matthew also tells us that Jesus’ birth fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, that this babe is called “Immanuel, which means God with us” (Matt 1:23). It doesn’t say, “God who was with us.” It says, “God with us.” Salvation isn’t a one-time event. Jesus doesn’t say, “hey, trust me just this once, now here’s your get-into-heaven-free card.” Salvation has a moment of beginning but it has everlasting results. Think about it—salvation from what? From sin, from death, from hell. But I’m still a sinner! And I’m still gonna die! Exactly! Which means salvation isn’t complete this side of heaven. It’s not complete until we escape the final judgment and enter the eternal state, abiding in the presence of our triune God.

As we look forward to a New Year, I want to encourage you with this: The Father is looking forward to spending more time with you this New Year. The Father is looking forward to wrapping his arms around you, just like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son did when his wayward child returned home. The Father is looking forward to answering your prayers, changing your heart, and transforming your mind. The Father is calling to you, inviting you to fellowship with Him. But, you say, “I’m a sinner, a wretch, a nobody, how can this happen?” It happens when we, covered by the blood of Christ, carried by the power of the Spirit, receive the invitation of God Almighty to commune with Him in prayer. It happens when we abide in His eternal presence. And when we mess up, we go to Him, humble ourselves, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and let our loving heavenly Father restore us back to full fellowship with Himself.

Christmas has come and gone this year. A New Year begins tonight. Whatever your goals, hopes, dreams, and resolutions, the Father is calling to You—to all of us—inviting us to dwell in His presence, ask Him for guidance, confess our hurts and fears and pains, and even vent our frustrations to Him. Our loving heavenly Father is continually inviting us to live every moment with Him. So, in this New Year, let’s embrace our spiritual adoption as children of the Almighty God and draw near to our loving Father, carried by the power of the Spirit, and entering His presence through Jesus the Son—God with us.