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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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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 (more…)

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Wow, what a year or so it’s been. My birthday is coming up soon and that tends to move me to reflection, especially after this past year or so. In the past 12-18 months or so I have:

  • Led a very fulfilling mission trip, then left the church that was with to join a different church.
  • After joining that church (which I still love) and being greatly blessed by the preaching of our gifted senior pastor, seen him follow God’s call to a new ministry opportunity.
  • Taken the leap of faith to finally sign up for a triathlon, then got in a bicycle accident and broken my hand.
  • Set two new personal records for race distances completed (a 50km/31mile ultramarathon and a 70.3 mile triathlon), and set two new personal worst times for marathons.
  • Experienced the let down of finishing difficult races with no one there to greet you afterwards, and the high of getting to see friends afterwards (particularly Austin, and most special to me – the Vineman 70.3).
  • Said goodbye to old friends that moved away from Houston, and tried to make new friends at my new church.
  • And welcomed two beautiful baby girls into this world (daughters of two couples who are like family to me), then laid to rest one of my closest friends.

Like I said, what a year. It’s easy in those circumstances to get down at times, and I certainly have. It’s easy to be mad at God, and I’ve had those moments too. And it’s easy to feel like life just might be pointless or to lose faith, and I even had a few of those moments. But somehow, when everything is said and done, while my faith may have been shaken it has not been broken. Instead it has been strengthened. I’m more convinced in my heart and soul that God is in control, even when it seems like our world is spinning out of control. I can’t really explain it, or even take any credit for it, but simply say “Praise God for working through these events to change me.”

So, what’s next? Well I hesistate to claim I have much if any idea of what God may have in store for me, but in the next 12-18 months I’ll be going on a mission trip to El Salvador, and I’m planning on a series of races including a 25km trail run, a marathon, a 70.3 triathlon, an iron-distance aquabike (swim, bike – no run), and a 140.6 (iron-distance) triathlon. Is it a little nuts? Probably. But why not give it a shot.

Pray for me!!! 🙂

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This is a follow-up to my last blog post about my recent ultra-marathon. You can read that post here.

One of the things I like about endurance sports is that they’re such a great metaphor for life itself. In fact, frequently the Bible uses that metaphor in both the New and Old Testaments in two key aspects – the race analogy itself (see Jeremiah 12:5, Acts 20:24, 1 Corinthians 9:24, Galatians 2:2, Galatians 5:7, and 2 Timothy 4:7), and the concept of perseverance or endurance (Romans 5:3-4, James 1:2-4, and 2 Peter 1:5-9). In Hebrews 12:1 we see the great union of these concepts:

“Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”
– Hebrews 12:1-2, HCSB

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Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog. I’m sure the first question you’re asking yourself is what’s this blog going to be about? Well, as the tagline says, it’s my meditations about faith and life. So, you’ll see my thoughts on faith and religion. You’ll also see my thoughts about anything else in life that may catch my fancy, especially where it intersects with faith and religion. That could be running, cycling and other sports that are a big part of my life, the arts, social issues, politics, etc.

I hope that you’ll find my postings to be thought-provoking and meaningful. On posts where comments are open, please feel free to comment and let me know what you think, just remember to be respectful of me and of any other people out there.

– John

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