Thankful for Traffic

Okay, so I am a day behind posting the things that I'm thankful for during this week. But I have a good reason. We didn't get to my parents house until late last night and this is the first chance that I've had to be online (dial-up so I use the term online loosely). It usually takes about 3 to 3 1/2 hours to get from our house to my parents. We left Lockhart at 4:15 or so yesterday afternoon and had a stop to make in Austin. We got to my parents house at 10:30. Needless to say the traffic was thick, especially through Austin.

And that has me thinking about the "strange" and "weird" things that I am thankful for. I am trying to look at things a little different this week and see the little, overlooked, even sometimes irritating things that I am thankful for.

So I am thankful for traffic. Yep, you read right. I said I am thankful for traffic. I am thankful that to travel for a holiday weekend requires me to sit motionless on what should be a fast moving roadway. I am thankful for traffic...because it means that I have a family to go home to. Having to sit in traffic and go through the "stress" of holiday travel means I am going somewhere to spend time with a family that loves me. So I guess this post really is more about being thankful for an incredible family than anything. I have the best family in the world. I have an absolutely amazing wife, who is unbelievable in so many ways. I have parents who love and support me and have always been there for me, urging me to be my best and loving me when I wasn't. I have the great opportunity to still have two grandparents living that I get to learn life lessons from and I cherish every extra day I get with them. I have a brother who is not only blood, but my best friend in the world. And that doesn't even include my extended family and friends. Those friends in life who are as close as family, who share life and all it's ups and downs with you. I truly am blessed with a great number of people in my life and around this time of year, and really all year long, I am reminded to be thankful.

Traffic...that maddening, irritating, schedule ruining, anurism causing, enigma...I am thankful for traffic...because it means I'm on the way home.


Lebanese Assasination

Pierre Gemayel, an anti-Syrian political leader in Lebanon, was assasinated today. He was part of a prominent Christian family involved in the political affairs of Lebanon. It seems from most of the news reports that I have heard and read that the assasination was more politically motivated, than specifically religiously motivated. However, in much of the Middle East right now the line between politcal affiliation and religious affiliation is almost non-existent. Either way, the news of this tragic event has me thinking of a couple of things.

First of all, it reminds me of how easy and cush we have it as Christ followers in America. We have no fear of being persecuted, imprisoned, or otherwise harmed for our beliefs in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don't have to secretly worship or be involved in any type of underground church movement. Most believers wear symbols of their faith openly in jewelry, car stickers, t-shirts, and more. In fact, Christianity has it's own little sub-culture hear in the USA, which has turned into a big money business. I think maybe that's why we miss the point of what Jesus has called us to so much these days. As I look at the New Testament I don't see a world that was friendly, welcoming, open, and even a good consumer of Jesus and what He called people to. I find a world that was against so much of what Jesus stood for and consistently misunderstood the love and grace that he taught and lived. In light of that, I think that the ease and popularity of Christianity and church in general in America has caused a lot of people who claim to be Christians to look a lot more like this "church sub-culure" that we have developed instead of the Jesus who calls us to leave everything behind and follow Him in reckless, radical, risky, rebellious faith. In fact, I think that when a person does try to follow Jesus in this way, many times the "Christian culture" that we have created works against him or her and is a big hindrance to what Jesus has called that person to be. In light of all this thought, it also reminds me of my own responsibility to pray for other Christ followers around the world who live in an environment so hostile to the ways and truth of Jesus that I cannot possibly begin to get my mind around it.

Secondly, this news makes me think of how muddy the waters have become between politics and religious beliefs these days. It seems that the idealogy of much of the religous Crusades where one's religious belief system was identical to one's country/kingdom/region has crept back into the mindset of many people when it comes to politics, power, and religion. This causes me concern for a number of reasons, the biggest one being this: Any time a political party/idealogy/country/policy is linked to or seen as identical to the beliefs of a certain religion, specifically Christianity, we do a disservice to our religious identity. The calling to follow Christ trancends any obligations toward a certain politcal viewpoint and even any loyalty to a country or political leader. As Christ followers we are called to be devoted and loyal to one entity and that is the person of Jesus. Any time we mix politcal ideas in with this calling we muddy the waters for ourselves and for anyone who we would try to reach with the gospel that cannot make a logical connection between what our politics say and what our faith says.

With all that rambling said, let me encourage you to pray if you are a person of faith for those followers of Jesus that live in places where loyalty to following Christ may cause them pain, punishment, imprisonment, and even death. And pray for yourself too, that you might know the kind of passion and devotion to Christ that those who live in these places exhibit.

Wedding Weekend Pics, Part Two

Justin & Christie's Last Dance at the Reception - The Song: "At Last" - kinda fitting :)
The Couples at the reception
Cool pic of my mom and Justin before wedding

Wedding Weekend Pics

Me, Justin, Mom, & Dad before the ceremony
Johanna & I outside hotel after rehearsal dinner The traditional ZX pic (Taken at all the fraternity bros. weddings)
Myself, Johanna, Christie, & Justin at Rehearsal Dinner Johanna & I before the wedding


The Wedding and Thankfulness

My brother's wedding went great. He was nervous all weekend while his fiance seemed to just be loving every minute of it with no nerves at all...I really thought it would be the other way around with the nervousness. But the ceremony and the weekend was great all around. It was a great symbol of how much Justin and Christie love each other and how great they are together. Johanna and I are so happy for them and we love that we're family. Overall a great weekend and I hope to post several pics soon....

At the reception I got to give a speech and a toast, and while I tried to be funny and keep it really light, I did talk about how I won the "brother lottery." I really think I did. Not only are Justin and I brothers, but we are best friends and it truly is an honor to be in his life and have him in mine. Part of my speech/toast went as follows. I got the idea from a song by Kendall Payne. Anyway here is a little of what I said:

May God be with you and bless you.
May your heart break enough that you find the arms of comfort in one another.
May you experience enough trials together that your character is molded and shaped into what God wants it to be.
May enough struggles come your way that you truly appreciate the peace and security that you have in one another.
May enough of your plans together for the future fail that you learn to walk daily fully trusting God.
And when happiness seems beyond your grasp, may you find true joy in being together.

On another note, I am going to try to post something each day that I'm thankful for this week....Talk to ya' soon.


H-Town Baby!

I am typing this from my hotel room in Tomball, just outside of Houston. We are here for the weekend for my brother's wedding. It is so great to be able to get away for a few days and spend some time with family and friends. My parents and grandparents are already here and college friends and old buddies from high school will be here throughout the weekend. We are looking forward to a great weekend and I am super excited for my brother and his fiance. They are great together and I am so happy to share in their joy. I get double joy out of this 'cause I get to be the best man and I get to perform part of the ceremony. It's gonna be a great weekend and its always good to get to spend time with family and renew relationships with old friends. Hopefully I'll have lots of pics to post early next week...

Jesus With Skin On

The Message Bible talks about the ministry of Paul in this way:

With things back to normal, Paul called the disciples together and encouraged them to keep up the good work in Ephesus. Then, saying his good-byes, he left for Macedonia. Traveling through the country, passing from one gathering to another, he gave constant encouragement, lifting their spirits and charging them with fresh hope.

There are times in life when it just gets tough and it seems that we only hear the negative voices and the complaints of others. In the midst of those storms, it is so good, so refreshing to be encouraged. I have been reminded of that throughout the entire morning this morning. Paul was accused by the writer of the book of Acts of being one who gave constant encouragement and charged people with fresh hope. I have been the recipient of those who align accused with Paul today. There have been a small handful of people who have made it their duty and call today to be my encouragers in this time and in so doing have charged me with fresh hope, even if they have not realized it. The storms are still there and I'm sure that the negative voices are still lingering but they seem more bearable now. Nothing has changed in the storm. No major break through has come that has calmed things in the storm. But the encouragement of people who look a lot like Jesus have calmed things in me.
It always does my heart good when people who claim to follow Jesus look like Him. It does good for us as believers to be on the receiving end of people who love and talk and act and live like Jesus from time to time. It really does charge us with a fresh hope! If you've been that encourager, if you've been the one who spoke the positive when it seemed like there was only negative or that lifted someone up who was being torn down, let me say Thank You. Maybe you encouraged someone and they never told you, but you gave them fresh hope. I know that is what people have done for me today. And in my eyes and in the eyes of those you encourage, those of you who stand accused like Paul of being a constant encourager and a charger of fresh hope, from where I see things, you look a lot like Jesus with skin on. Thank you.


Gotta' Love The Net

There is some crazy stuff out there on the good ol' world wide web....Check out this site I found yesterday afternoon...It's already been good for several email laughs...You've heard of snail mail, voicemail, and email, but have you heard of Hairy Mail? Check it out at http://www.hairy-mail.com.


A Baptism Rant (Or Ramble)

Yesterday at church I got the opportunity to baptize one of our Junior High students. It was the second student we've baptized in the last couple weeks and I have got to perform both the baptisms. It's been pretty cool. But anytime I see a baptism in church it gets me thinking about what that represents...The pastor at the church I grew up in used to have a certain saying when he would take someone under the water. He would say "Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in a new kind of life." I always here pastors, preachers, and professors talk about how we believe that baptism is a symbolic act. That there is no special power in the act itself or the elements involved, but it is simply an outward symbol of an inward change, being our choice to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Here's my deal, I guess. I know that baptism is biblical and that Jesus' modeled it. But aren't there some "bigger" ways to outwardly show our relationship with Christ. Any time a student is hesitant about getting baptized soon after their profession of faith in Jesus, many adults, pastors, parents, etc, begin to put undo pressure on them to "be obedient in the first thing that Jesus calls us to do." Now, I agree that it is a good thing, a thing Jesus modeled, and something we should do. But what if we, as the church, leaders in the church, and pastors, were as adamant about people outwardly showing their faith by the way they live as we are about whether or not they outwardly show their faith through baptism. What if people in the church were encouraged and challenged to let baptism be the smallest act of obedience in their walk with Christ? What if we put more emphasis on living a new kind of life and looking like Jesus in our daily life instead of just emphasizing one act of obedience? I wonder if church membership and numbers on the roll weren't influenced by baptisms if it would be that big of a deal?
So I guess my rambling is this: I want to challenge myself and others not simply to live out and call others to live out simple acts of ritual as obedience. I want to live a lifestyle that reflects Christ in all I do and challenge others to do the same. When all is said and done, I don't want people to be "suprised" that myself or those I lead have been baptised because that is the only symbolic act of obedience we have ever done. Following Jesus and His way is not about walking down an aisle, going to church, or getting dunked in water. It's about being raised to walk a new kind of life...One that looks like the Master.


A Tragedy In The Making...

First off, this short post is dedicated to my brother, a true lover of the McRib. I don't know whether you know it or not, but McDonald's is planning on final farewell tour for the McRib and then it's done...What an outrage! But the people have the power. You can go check out mcrib.com and sign the petition that you are a McRib lover and cannot live without it...And you can also get some crazy "McRib Wear." What random odditties of life we find on the world wide web...


Did You Know?

Did you know that over 300 Million people in the world live on less than $1 per day? Did you know that for $20 Billion dollars we could provide clean drinking water and basic medical treatment for THE ENTIRE WORLD? It sounds like a lot, but did you know that Americans spent $20 Billion dollars on Ice Cream alone last year? What consumers we have become, especially those of us in the church that are far more likely to spend $50 on a Third Day concert or $20 on a new Christian t-shirt than to sponsor a child through great ministry organizations like Compassion. Find a way to show someone God's love today in a real, practical, sensible way.


The Weekend Update...

Hope you had a great weekend. Our's was pretty good. On Friday Johanna had to take a test at one of the testing centers for her college classes so we headed to Austin for that. After she got done with the test, we had a date night. We had been talking about buying a digital camera and so we went shopping together to look for one of those. We found one we liked at Best Buy, but decided to look at Sears in the mall as well. Both places had the camera for about $400, so we decided to think about it and we headed off to supper at Abuelo's. It was my first Abuelo's experience (in Austin) and the food was amazing. I highly recommend it. After that Johanna suggested that we go to the Sears Grand in north Austin and just goof around so we did. While we were there we found the exact same camera that we had look at earlier on sale for $100 off. So we definitely had to get it. We got the camera and then headed back home....Be looking for lots of pictures on here now that we have a nice, quality camera to use. Saturday involved sleeping in and football for me. After sleeping late, Johanna headed back to Austin with some friends from church to pick up dresses for upcoming weddings and to watch Marie Antionette. Since I neither care about dresses or girly movies I headed to Austin to go to the Longhorns vs. OSU game. I have a season pass that one of my former studnets who attends UT picked up for me. It was good football, good company, and an overall great time just hanging out and relaxing. Sunday consisted of church most of the day. We got to hang out with some great friends Sunday afternoon who are engaged and so we all watched our wedding video....This may not sound very "manly" but it was cool to watch and reflect back on those times and the blessing that it is to be married to the most wonderful woman in the world....All in all, a good weekend spent with friends. You really can't ask for more than to spend time with the people that mean a lot to you.


Pain, Hope, & Real Friends...

I've come to the conclusion that far too often it is harder to watch those you love deal with pain and hurt than it is to deal with it yourself. I think that watching those who are closest to your heart being hurt and belittled may be actually more painful to you than actually being hurt yourself. And I have come to another conclusion along this same path: Some of the most hurtful, rude, mean, abrasive, condescending, pain-causing people claim the name of the Savior I serve. Why is it that so many people who are in the church are so mean-spirited and hurtful? Is it because they are trying to hide a pain of their own? Is it because they have issues allowing God to control them instead of controling others? Is it because they so much love the rules and checklists of their "church religion" that they fail to see the love of God that motivates those types of obedience? I'm not sure. But I do know one thing: I am sick of it. I am sick of people who claim to belong to Jesus yet behave nothing like Him. I am tired of those who use their mouths to sing praise to my King on Sunday and then with the same mouth sow seeds of slander and deceipt on Monday. I am weary of dealing with people who act one way to your face and another to your back. I'm sick of talking to non-believers about my faith and the joy and grace of being a Christ-follower only to learn that they have been deeply hurt by people who claim to believe and follow after my Jesus. And I know this: Jesus came for hope, not hurt. And anyone who is an agent of hurt is not doing the business of Jesus, but rather of his enemy. So I take hope in the fact that those who love Him look like Him. Those who are my brothers and sisters act like Him. Those who hope in the Lord become agents of His hope. And in the midst of pain, hurt, struggle, and in watching those we love deal with those things as well, our hope is found not in the high expectations we should be able to have on people who claim to follow Him or even in those who teach and lead us in His ways. Our hope is found in Him. It reminds me of a song that Third Day sings that I absolutely love. It's called Cry Out To Jesus:

To everyone who's lost someone they love
Long before it was their time
You feel like the days you had were not enough
when you said goodbye

And to all of the people with burdens and pains
Keeping you back from your life
You believe that there's nothing and there is no one
Who can make it right

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He'll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus, Cry out to Jesus

For the marriage that's struggling just to hang on
They lost all of their faith in love
They've done all they can to make it right again
Still it's not enough

For the ones who can't break the addictions and chains
You try to give up but you come back again
Just remember that you're not alone in your shame
And your suffering

When your lonely
And it feels like the whole world is falling on you
You just reach out, you just cry out to Jesus
Cry to Jesus

To the widow who struggles with being alone
Wiping the tears from her eyes
For the children around the world without a home
Say a prayer tonight

When all those around us disappoint us. When people who should act like Jesus don't. When those who should love us unconditionally and regardless of our merit cause us hurt and pain, there is hope. And we cry out to Jesus.

And while I am thinking about Third Day Songs, I am reminded of another song these past few days because of some great friends that we have. Those of you who have been there to support us and to hear us vent and to be our shoulder and to show us the love of Jesus in real and practical ways: a drive from work to a funeral, a phone call, an offer to come do stuff at the house, a myspace message that simply says "hang in there": Thank You. These lyrics (again by Third Day...crazy) remind me of you:

When the rain comes it seems that everyone has
gone away
When the night falls you wonder if you shouldn't
find someplace
To run and hide / Escape the pain
But hiding's such a lonely thing to do

I can't stop the rain / From falling down on you again
I can't stop the rain / But I will hold you 'til it goes away