Pastor Rick teaches us not to seek the good life, but the better life. Eight years ago, I thought I was living the good life. I was happily married (and still am) with two great kids and a good career. Life was pretty good. There was one big problem, though. At close to 300 pounds, I was leading a sedentary lifestyle that probably would have robbed me of many years of life.
On March 3, 2007, I went to church like any other day. I didn’t know that God was about to send me on the adventure of my life. Pastor Rick challenged those of us who were carrying around a few extra pounds to set a weight loss goal. I committed to lose 25 pounds by Christmas.
I didn’t have any special feeling or excitement when I made that commitment. I figured it would be like every other time in my life I said I would lose weight … and didn’t. God needed me to step out in faith that day in order to go to work on me. And He did go to work on me. By Christmas, I had lost 65 pounds and finally gained control over my life-long battle with my weight.
I had personal evidence that God works in ways that we will never understand. He led me to sign up for my first triathlon. This was amusing to me because I didn’t know how to swim, didn’t like to run and didn’t own a decent bike. I thought people who did that amount of exercise voluntarily were crazy.
When God calls you to do something, He equips you with the tools for the job. He led me through my first race and unleashed a passion in me that I never knew existed. From that race in 2008 until 2013, I completed many more triathlons, as well as cycling and running events.
In November 2013, I achieved my ultimate triathlon goal. I completed Ironman Arizona – a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike and a full marathon, 26.2 miles. God led me from the couch to the Ironman finish line. Crossing that finish line was one of the greatest experiences of my life. My plan was to bask in that personal victory for a while. But God had a different plan.
Shortly after the race, I came to the realization that God did not deliver me from being an overweight 36-year-old to a 43-year-old Ironman finisher so I could bask in my own glory.
He is the one who deserves the glory. So, I asked God what he wanted me to do with this gift he had given me. He told me that I needed to start a triathlon ministry at Saddleback Church.
The two most dangerous (and rewarding) words we can say to God are “use me”.
I reached out to my friend Heather, a fellow Ironman finisher and Saddleback member to see if she would be willing to help. God had used the sport of triathlon in both our lives to grow us and make us better vessels of the Holy Spirit. We prayed that God would transform others’ lives like he transformed ours through the sport of triathlon.
In April and May of 2014, we held Triathlon 101 informational meetings not knowing if anyone would even show up. Close to 100 people showed up. Only God knew this many people would want to learn about this crazy sport. The Saddleback Triathlon Team was born shortly thereafter. We did not know how to coach and lead this many people. Where God guides you, he provides for you. He brought us six wonderful coaches with servants’ hearts to help lead our new team.
God has woven together a very diverse group of people to create our team. There are people of all different ages, shapes and sizes and life experiences. God has used every single team member to create a team that glorifies Him and His transformative powers. We prayed that He would change lives and He has. Not only have the lives our team members been transformed, but each of them has been a living testimony to the people they know.
Nearly 100 people have raced with us since the team was started. Many more lives have been changed because of those 100 people. On race day, we wear our team jerseys with Philippians 4:13 proudly displayed on the back. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Through running, biking and swimming, we have the privilege of sharing the good news of Jesus. Our team continues to grow with incredible people. I am excited to see where God leads us.
I thank God every day that He has led me on this journey. I am so happy that I was willing to be led and that I listened and continue to listen to Him. God only works on us when we are out of our comfort zone. I have been out of my comfort zone a lot over the last eight years. He has done amazing things in my life and the lives of others. I am living the better life, the life God wants me to live, because I am using what he has given me to serve others. Fitness has been the tool that God has used to change my life and the lives of my teammates.
Watch more of Joel’s story and his transformation here: