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Shalom, Salaam, Peace

The Bible says that man was made in the image of God (Gen 1:26), yet all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Sadly the second part of that feels a lot more real these days than the first. We live in a world where throughout the Middle East, Africa, and many other places extremists claiming to be Islamic terrorize the people around them – raping, torturing, and murdering anyone who gets in their way. That violence has spilled over to the Western world in attacks in Paris and San Bernadino. Here in America, an extremist claiming to be Christian committed a terrorist attack on an abortion clinic in Colorado Springs, a racist committed a terrorist attack on a black church in Charleston, and way too often civilians and police alike have been all too quick to make themselves judge, jury and executioner over another’s life – pulling the trigger first and asking questions later – leading to way too many unjust lives lost. It is easy and quite understandable to be scared and want to retreat from this broken world. To attempt to wall ourselves off from anything that is different and feels remotely threatening. To feel in our hearts and in our souls Longfellow’s poignant words:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Yet if we open our eyes we can still see glimpses of God still at work through the wonderfully imperfect creature He made in His image. In February 2011 during the Egyptian revolution, Christians protected Muslims during their prayer times, and Muslims protected Christians during their Masses. In September 2013 Pakistani Muslims, Hindus, and atheists formed human chains around Christian churches after those churches were attacked by suicide bombers in those countries. In London, Jewish “Shomrim” (Hebrew for guards) protect their Muslim neighbors against hate crimes. In February of 2015 Muslims in Norway formed a human chain around a synagogue to protect their Jewish neighbors and chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia.” In June 2015 thousands of all races and political backgrounds came out in Charleston to respond with unity to the attack meant to create division. In November 2015 after the Paris attacks a Muslim “blindfolded himself and stood with a placard which (roughly translated) asks: ‘I’m a Muslim and I’m told I’m a terrorist. I trust you, do you trust me? If yes, hug me?’”. In December 2015 Kenyan Muslims protected their Christian neighbors when their bus was attacked by extremists, telling the attackers to either kill all of them or leave them all alone. And also in December 2015 a 15 year old African-American young man in Tennessee died when he jumped on top of three girls to shield them from a spray of bullets and save their lives.

It is events like that still give me some tangible hope and remind me of a few great truths. First, each and every one of us has the capability to do horrible things due to our fallen state and sin nature, and each and every one of us has the capability for amazing acts of kindness, grace, and sacrificial love due to being made in the image of God, regardless of our nationality, our religion, our race, our cultural background, our political leanings, or any other categorization someone wishes to come up with. Second, that “our side” is not always right and the “other side” is not always wrong. Or said another way, “our side” is not always good and the “other side” is not always bad. And third, each and every one of us needs a little hope, a lot of peace, and immeasurable grace.

So, my hope and prayer this Christmas is for shalom, for salaam, for peace. And I hope my friends that are Jewish or Muslim can join me in praying to the God of our father Abraham that He can reach into this world, soften hearts and minds, and grant us peace for all peoples so that our children and our children’s children might come to live in a better world than the one we live in.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

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The Miracle

Today I got to hold in my arms a miracle – our beautiful little girl. I know I’m not alone in saying that trying to describe all the emotions involved is quite a challenge, but I’ll try.

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The past 18 months or so have been filled with many of the pregnancy ups and downs one might imagine: The excitement of trying to conceive, and the disappointment of discovering a condition that made it very unlikely for us to conceive naturally. The acceptance of having to do IVF in order to achieve our dream. The surprise and joy at a completely unexpected natural conception right before we were to start our round of IVF. The ever-present risk of IUGR (intra-uterine growth restriction) and the relative nuisance of a diagnosis of gestational diabetes. The presence of a marker that indicated a higher than normal risk of Down’s Syndrome and a premature labor scare at 32 weeks.

Meanwhile, my job has been challenging and stressful to say the least. Many times during this period I’ve been at the end of my rope and wished I could simply quit my job and do something else – anything else. My wife has had to deal with being laid off from her job and facing the challenge of trying to interview for future jobs while pregnant and knowing that she’d be off work no matter what for some amount of time for maternity leave. It’s been a challenging time to say the least – challenging to live in acceptance of whatever God’s plan would be for us.

All that said, that’s only a small part of why I feel like I’m holding a miracle. The real reason goes a lot further back than 18 months. See, for most of my adult life I felt like this day would never happen for me. I’ve battled depression and loneliness for more of life than I’d like to admit, and that’s caused my life to be a roller coaster of emotions and events. There have been incredible periods of success and joy, but also periods of seemingly total failure. Times I felt like I made a difference and mattered, and times when I wondered why I even existed. Countless times I asked God why? Was there a plan? And if so, did it lead to anything good? And why did it have to be this painful?

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We’re at the start of Easter Weekend, so I thought I’d share a Sunday school lesson I taught on Palm Sunday in 2009 regarding Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Hopefully God will use this to bless you!

In His love, John.

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I guess I’m in this “retro” mood in music. Third song in a row from the 90’s. This time it’s DC Talk’s Jesus Freak from their 1995 album of the same title. What’s not to like about some serious 90’s Christian rock that talks about grace, rejecting the powers of this world, John the Baptist, and being totally unashamed of being Christian. Continue Reading »

I recently wrote my 2010 review, so I guess it’s time to talk about major plans & goals for 2011…

Spiritual/Faith
I have to admit I’ve never read the Bible in it’s entirety. All the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament, but there are certainly significant portions of the Old Testament I haven’t read. So one of my goals is to read the entire Bible (meaning the 66 books of the Proterstant canon).
I’ve gotten to where I really like going on mission trips. I’m not 100 percent sure, but right now I’d like to get back to Egypt. In light of recent events there I really want to make it back over there and see my friends and encourage them.

Relationship
As I mentioned in another post, I am dating someone. It is an incredible experience – exciting and happy, yet humbling and not without its challenges at the same time. I pray often that God will continue to mold me into the man He wants me to be and the man she needs me to be. I don’t know where it will all lead, but I hope somewhere amazing. And I continue to thank God for her prescence in my life!

Training/Races
Here’s where you may think I’ve lost my mind. I’ve decided that in 2011 I will train for and race an iron-distance triathlon. Yes, 140.6 miles – that’s 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking, and then 26.2 miles running (a marathon) – all in one day (actually 17 hours or less). I’ve done some arguably crazy things, but this definitely takes the cake. I’m expecting my training load to average between 10-15 hours per week. I’ll try to blog about it, so you can follow the journey. So mark your calendars for October 29th, 2011 – the day I hope to become an “Ironman” at the Beach2Battleship Triathlon.

So those are my goals. I’d appreciate your encouragement and prayers this year.

New music post. Another “classic” that I love – this time from Newsboys. The song is Spirit Thing, off the Going Public album from 1994.

Spirit Thing – Newsboys

It’s not a family trait
It’s nothing that I ate
And it didn’t come from skating with holy rollers
It’s an early warning sign
It keeps my life in line
But it’s so hard to define
Never mind

[Chorus]
It’s just a spirit thing
It’s just a holy nudge
It’s like a circuit judge in the brain
It’s just a spirit thing
It’s here to guard my heart
It’s just a little hard to explain

It pushes when I quit
It smells a counterfeit
Sometimes it works a bit like a teleprompter
When it’s teleprompting you
I pray you’ll let it through
And I’ll help you with the how
But for now

[Chorus]

[Bridge]
I took the pulpit
Then backed down again
Some things in heaven cannot be explained

I took the soapbox
Then backed down again
Some things in heaven cannot be explained

I took the airwaves
Then backed down again
Some things in heaven cannot be explained

[Chorus]

2010 Year in Review

Well, it’s mid-February which seems like a little late to do a review of the prior year, but I’ve been busy with other stuff and I’ve been a bit lazy about blogging. So, here it finally is:

2010 Training/Races

  • Miles run: about 857
  • Miles biked: about 600
  • Spin bike sessions: 10
  • Yards swam: about 53,500 (over 30 miles)
  • Races completed: Houston Marathon, Austin Marathon, Rodeo Run 10K, Hog’s Hunt 50K, Big Sur International Marathon, Tejas Triathlon (Sprint), Vineman Ironman 70.3, Rocky Raccoon 25K Continue Reading »