By Peggy Matthews Rose

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

For thousands of people in the Saddleback Church network, The Daniel Plan began in January 2011. For others, Sam Felsenfeld, it’s reinforcing a journey he’s been on for more than six years—one that started when he was a self-described “poster child” for poor health.

“I got into drinking and smoking and my weight went up to 261 pounds,” Sam recalls. “I was in terrible condition with my cholesterol, my liver, everything.”

He says when he turned 30 years old in November, 2004, his wife bought him an iPod and suggested he start walking. He did, and gradually started jogging. And the pounds started coming off.

Later, Sam entered and ran his first half marathon, and then his first marathon in June 2006. The former non-athlete discovered a newfound self-confidence, born of finally being “in shape.”

A non-practicing Jew, Sam began attending Saddleback in 2008, thanks to another “dare” from his wife.

“On the weekend of May 17, she asked me if we could go to church as a family. I said ‘sure,’ I didn’t mind, and we went to Saddleback. I loved it. I wanted to go back the following weekend. In a matter of weeks I felt more comfortable at Saddleback than I did at any temple I went to growing up. I started reading the New Testament because I’d never read it before.”

Then Sam did something even more dangerous than attending Saddleback services. “I started to pray about what path to take, because I didn’t know.”

By 2009 and inspired by his autistic son, Jack, Sam decided to run marathons to raise money and awareness for an autism-related charity. The next year, he ran 61 races and a couple of ultra-marathons, raising around $90,000 for the charity.

Motivated by 1 Peter 4:10, Sam is now serving as a Daniel Plan health champion for his small group. “Our bodies are gifts from God,” Sam says. “We’re going to be asked what we did to take care of them, and it’s important that we do a good job with them. It’s also important that we use what we have to help others. I used to take terrible care of my body, but I turned that around, and eventually, once I chose to follow Jesus, He led me down the path of using what I’ve been given to help others.”

Sam is gearing up to run more marathons, including the upcoming Boston on April 18 and the July 31 San Francisco Marathon, as a tribute to a small group member who lost her life to cancer this past January 30.

More than ever, Sam is bearing witness to Daniel’s example of health and fitness in service to his King (Daniel 1). You may not be a marathon runner, but with The Daniel Plan, you can better run the marathon called life and go the distance for God.

Read more about Sam’s San Francisco Marathon goals for cancer charities at