January 1, 2011


"Every new beginning is some other beginnings end." - Semisonic

Good ole' upreacher.blogspot.com. You have been good to me - better than I have been to you. I began this blog in an effort to report back home on one of my first trips to Africa. Now, as I prepare for our big 3 month trip to Rwanda, I have decided to open a new site.

So . . . any lingering readers who would like to follow along on my next big mission trip, I invite you to turn the page to www.pastorryan.com - my new home for blogging and such!

March 12, 2010

Hiking Stick

With clear, cobalt skies and a warmth that has been long missed, I spent Thursday hiking around a friend’s ranch just north of town. I have been stuck in the gloom of winter for too long. A true child of South Texas, a true child of God – I am made for the sun and for the Son.

I hiked and hiked. I hiked along the river and watched the strong spring rains pushing their way through the recently dry bed of stone. I hiked through a field recently burned, scorched clean that new life might soon emerge. I hiked over green grass attempting to reclaim ground lost in the cold of winter. I hiked through the closeness of cedar breaks and I hiked through the open meadows cleared by the gardener’s plow.

I had great hope for all my hiking. I am desperate to clear my mind and empty my heart.

Along the way, I picked up a cedar remnant – lightweight, but tall enough to serve as a walking stick. I think it was once the trunk of a sapling that was cut down. It became my companion on my journey (though it didn’t say much). My stick had tough, flakey bard and a number of “nubs” – tiny protrusions marking where branches once grew. As I walked – three steps to each swing of the stick, my handhold slowly grew more smooth. The friction and sweat of my palm began to wear the walking stick’s hard edges down.

Of course, that same friction and sweat bruised and tore my palm. I contemplated that for a mile or two.

I find myself in the hand of God these days. I am pained as my hard edges are slowly worn off. My soul is sheared and I am left hurting.

But I am not alone. As much as a father experiences joy in his son’s pleasure so also a father suffers in his son’s trial. I mourn that my hard edges bruise and batter the hand of God as he patiently shapes me. His discipline shapes and forms us at such great cost. Oh how he must love us.

My mind is still too full and my heart still too heavy. What can I do but hike on in the hand of my God?

October 22, 2009

despues de

Now that I am home, I have had the chance to reflect quite a bit on our missionary expedition in Central America. Here are some thoughts I’ve had.

1) The people we worked alongside of in Costa Rica are amazing. They have literally sold out for the sake of the Gospel and it shows. From their countenance to the fruit of their labor, it is clear that God honors their radical obedience. This was true from Bishop Palomo to the Zirkels to the interns.

2) More than ever, I am convinced that there is a Movement of God’s Spirit restoring and renewing the Methodist Church. This Movement is inspired and fueled by the Will of the One. The fundamental dissatisfaction with the state of the world is found in all corners of the globe. People of all ages – but particularly young people are sensing that something is profoundly wrong with the world.

3) I believe that the message of Christ and his Revolution is universal. There is no language barrier or cultural limitation on the strength of the Gospel. My cute stories and personal anecdotes cannot change lives, but the Word of God does. It is a sword that is piercing the heart of people everywhere. It breaks the chains of oppression. Where the Scriptures are shared, lives change. My preaching has to be strong, researched, and the best God has for me to give – each time – every time.

4) The call to join in Kingdom building work is supposed to be challenging and life changing. Small alterations in our life patterns is not what Christ demands. He wants it all. If you want part of him, you must take it all. People know intuitively that the Gospel is a call to die – not just clean up a little. I must sell out to press the cause of Christ. My preaching is to be a fearless call to holiness that makes everyone uncomfortable. Necessarily, this will include me as again and again I am reminded of my own sin and love of comfort.

5) University may well be the epicenter of God’s renewal of the Methodist Church. I don’t say this lightly, I know it seems self-serving. Yet, revival begins somewhere – this I know. Why not here? Why not here? If we are a committed congregation of obedient people practicing radical sacrifice and ceaseless prayer, will God not delight in answering our prayer for regeneration? University is my home. The strength and gifts that God has placed in our sweet church are beyond the norm. Where much has been given, much is due. If we truly believe that God is willing to begin a Worldwide Methodist Movement from within our walls, then perhaps he will.

6) Finally, I am certain that there is no such thing as going deeper in our discipleship without growing wider in our witness. There is a subtle Christian lie that is quite popular. It states that we can concentrate on growing deeper while neglecting our evangelistic calling. The disciples were sent before they knew it all, before even the words of the New Testament were recorded and collected. Going deeper in our discipleship and faith is impossible unless we are reaching out with our witness and invitation. To this end, we can never stop going, never stop sending, never stop growing.

October 14, 2009

Segundo Domingo

We awoke bright and early Sunday morning with a full agenda. First, we traveled out to the sight where Ray, Lydia, and the Methodist Church is building a children’s home.

This is a project being supported by University. In response to overcrowded orphanages, Ray & Lydia are spearheading the construction of a campus where children will have their lives forever changed. Several years ago, the church was able to purchase seven acres just outside of San Jose. It is a stunning piece of property that is bordered by a river that cuts through the area. The first of several homes is now under construction. When completed, the campus will have a number of homes – each housing 10-12 orphaned children. Each home will have a permanent set of “house parents.” In addition, a large building will be constructed to serve as a rainy-day play place for the community. It is a huge undertaking that will take years to complete. When finished, children without hope and without a family will find opportunity beyond imagination.

On our scouting trip, Mark and I had visited the sight and taken in the vision. Together, we decided that we would use every opportunity we had to help support the construction. Thus, Sunday morning we filmed on the sight and are preparing a video to show everywhere we go this coming year. Mark and I get invitations all year long to lead worship and preach. Part of our “yes” this year will include the opportunity to show the video and take a love offering to support the children’s home in Costa Rica.

We finished filming and drove on to Puerta Viejo which is a couple of hours outside San Jose. We attended the Methodist Church there and thoroughly enjoyed worship. We met on an open air slab covered by a tin roof. Just across from us a permanent church building is being built. It will include a sanctuary, office for the pastor, free clinic, and an apartment for a missionary nurse from the states who will run the clinic.

As it happened, it was “Missionary Sunday” at the church. Pastor Fernando preaching one of the best sermons on outreach I have ever heard. I was seriously impressed and hope that someday I can invite him to University to share the message. More impressive than his sermon though, was the work of his church. Though they are meeting under a tin roof with an incomplete church building, this little congregation had already planted two others. Representatives from both churches planted in the last two years were there to report on their progress. As if that weren’t enough, Pastor Fernando then told the congregation that they would now start making plans to support a church plant in neighboring Nicaragua.

I was humbled by the entire experience. I was in the midst of a people who out of their poverty were planting churches and reaching beyond themselves while work on their own church slowly progressed.

After church, we had lunch in town and then took off for a little fun. The whole team zip-lined from tree top to tree top. It was an exhilarating experience that we all greatly enjoyed. The final zip line took us across a big river. Wow.

That night, we closed out our time together with some sharing and final worship. We sat around a little circle and shared, 1) what we learned about someone else on the team; 2) what we learned about ourselves; and 3) what we learned about worship that would enrich our community life back home at University.

All told, it was an incredible time of learning for us all. We slept well that night and in the morning the team headed for home.

October 12, 2009


Saturday morning we rose early in the morning and after a quick breakfast set out for a dormant volcano. It was our first time leaving the city of San Jose. We didn’t have to go far outside the city to become surrounded by some of God’s most stunning handiwork. We climbed into the mountains until we topped the clouds. Looking down into the valleys shrouded by the low hanging clouds quieted us all.

We arrived on the top of the volcano excited to see what we could. I think we all paused a bit when Javier (our driver) backed into a parking space and explained why. Everyone is expected to back in to their spot . . . just in case. Yes, just in case the volcano begins to erupt. We were all so cold by that point that we reasoned that if it did go off, at least we would warm up a bit!

It was an incredible walk out to the crater. The clouds moved in all around us. You could barely see ten feet in any direction. Occasional clear patches would drift by and we would catch a glimpse of a barren lava field. We arrived at the rim of the crater and almost on cue the clouds gave way and we peered deep inside the mountain into a crystal blue pool. It was tranquil and stunning. Of course, the pool was a lie – hiding the fiery chaos underneath.

We retuned from the mountaintop into the city to see Costa Rica flags flying everywhere. The national team was playing Mexico in San Jose that night.

We led worship for a final time that night. The collective youth groups of San Jose had been invited for a worship celebration. We were led musically by two different local youth praise teams and our own team. Songs were sung in English, Spanish, and sometimes both at once. We danced before the Lord until sweat poured from us all.

My sermon that night was, “Stand Up.” Through Ray who interpreted for me that night, I exhorted the young people to stand up for Christ. I commissioned them to take the authority God had given them to build his Church and bring about a great spiritual awakening in their country. I concluded by inviting all the pastors to come down and pray with kids who were ready to lead. Again, hundreds came for prayer and renewal.

After the service, we joined with a team recently arrived from Alabama to watch both the soccer match – and the Alabama football game. Our team was wiped out and didn’t make it through the whole match, instead retiring to the seminary for the night.

October 9, 2009


Added to our schedule during the week, we began Friday with a service for the 600 plus kids in the elementary school. Mark and the team sang and led them in worship. The little ones worshiped as kids do – without restraint or worrying about “being cool.”

As those of you who know me, I like kids a lot. I really like them when they toddle and again when they enter adolescence. I mean, it’s not as if I dislike them in between those time, I just don’t have a lot of experience relating or speaking to elementary age kiddos. So, I was a little at a loss as to what I would do.

The Lord really saved me with a distant memory of the one other time I was in front of small children. I stood before them and without words turned them into my orchestra. I used a drumstick (thanks, Callen!) to lead them in clapping on cue. The kids were really funny. At the end, I just spoke a few words about allowing God to be the conductor of our lives. In the end, it worked out alright – though I can’t claim to have thought it up on my own. As a good preacher who is in over his head is want to do, I totally stole the idea from someone else!

Toward the end of our time with the little guys, it started to rain – and I mean it started to rain in absolute earnest. It was as if the Lord poured out all the water in the sea right over us. In our metal building the sound was a roar! This delayed the entrance of the high school students somewhat – and when they did enter they were pretty wet!

Nevertheless, it was our final time with these students we had come to love and we wanted to celebrate! Once again we had the whole high school together. Friday I spoke about, “Spreading the Revolution.” I explained that discipleship and following Jesus demands a response the grows the Kingdom. We are each called to witness to the power of God in our lives in our schools, home towns, nations, and around the world.

I concluded the message with a call to action. Each of the kids was given a post-it note to place on one of two giant maps of the world with a commitment to carry the Movement to that place. By the end of the response time, the maps were beautifully adorned with multicolored post-it notes indicating which student would be responsible for each corner of our globe. In addition, kids were invited to respond by signing up to be a student leader, responsible for leading the Movement at the school and/or respond to a call to pastoral ministry. Ray and I prayed with the kids called to ministry. It was powerful to see these gifted young men and women make a promise to serve the Church.

We finished up with some pictures and lots of hugs. We had a little time off that afternoon, then we went to Ray & Lydia’s home for dinner. It was amazing. If you are looking for the best meal available in Costa Rica, you will have to secure an invitation to the Zirkel’s home.

After dinner, we had a time of worship with the Zirkel’s and some of the missionary interns who had been with us throughout our time in country. Mark led as we sang and I shared some scripture. It was a holy and powerful time as several people sought a baptism of the Spirit and we all prayed over them. Our time concluded as we all spread out around the Zirkel home (inside and out) and blanketed the place in prayer.

We returned to the seminary for bed and to get ready for Saturday.

September 29, 2009


Exhaustion set in on Thursday. We were carted off to the school once again where we would see first the Jr. High, then the Sr. High. This time, it was a little later in the morning. I spoke Thursday about, “Enduring in the Revolution.” I shared God’s desire for his revolutionaries to remain steadfast and vigilant. The Movement requires people who are not set back by set back. There is little room for casual Christians who expect things to get easier when joining ranks with Jesus. So, I invited the kids to be baptized with the Holy Spirit that day. Once again, we spread ourselves out down front and invited any who were in need of the Spirit to come down. In addition, I told the kids to just wave one of us up if they needed prayer, but couldn’t/wouldn’t come down.

It was important to me on Wednesday that the kids come down front. There is something important about physically moving toward God. (I know, God is in the bleachers and pews too, that isn’t my point.) Given the skepticism we found in those first days at the school, I truly felt that it was the kids’ move to make. Thursday was different. I wanted those who were still struggling to know that God finds them right where they are – if only they are willing to be found. So, over the course of the morning, we prayed with hundreds of more kids who were seeking blessing, healing, anointing, wisdom, freedom, and life. We prayed down front and we prayed in the stands. We prayed with individuals, pairs, and groups.

At one point, I looked up to see around 40 kids in a tight circle. RT had begun praying with three kids which multiplied again and again. By the end, RT was spinning in a circle laying hands on the kids praying blessing down upon them. As he said, “Amen,” the kids broke into tears and shouts of joy all at once. A mighty cry went up before the Lord from that corner of the room – let me assure you.

After services were over, I met with a young man who would become a real friend. Jose came and with tears expressed his joy at what he had found during the course of the week. He told me he wasn’t sure about this on Monday, but thought it was a good presentation. He said by Wednesday he had been found by the Lord and cried, Abba Pappa. Jose said he thought we were angels from heaven for sure.

I thought about that a lot. The word angel and messenger are the same in Hebrew. The angels were messengers who brought word from God to his people in their time of need. They played a role in the revelation of the person of God. Though I am certain we came from Texas and not heaven (though it is easy to confuse the two), I think Jose was right in the end. This week in Costa Rica, God used our little team to be messengers of His Word for His children.

That night was friend and family night for the kids of the school. We had a large group there that night for worship. I preached one of my favorite sermons, “Outrageous Ridiculousness” with the translating help of my friend Luis Palomo. Once again, Luis did a great job following me around as I preached, sang, and danced! I pointed out that God is in the habit of doing outrageous things – most notably in the person of Jesus Christ.

Alison broke out in “Oh How He Loves” and I invited all who would be saved by God’s outrageous and ridiculous grace to come forward for prayer as our team came forward. Once again, hundreds poured out of the stands to give their life to Christ. We were amazed by the number of young children who came to follow in the footsteps of their older siblings.

As Thursday drew to a close, we were full of God’s Spirit, but completely poured out. It was with a thankful heart that we laid down that night.