December 15, 2007

bring on Christmas

A growing pile of unwrapped presents wait patiently under a well lit tree. The house is blanketed in lights. The mall is past crowded.

Some little elf crew has targeted me for extra cheer. I found a tasteful holiday sign bearing my name hanging outside my garage. On it was a note explaining that gifts would be forthcoming as Christmas approached. I got a pretty little cross this week. I have no idea who it is, but they have sure put some time into it.

I love this time of year.

November 28, 2007

pictures are worth more anyway

So, we have been on the go. We've been moving around Boston, went through Lexington, Concord, Marblehead, Rockport, Cape Ann, Plymouth, Martha's Vineyard and all points between. We have seen no less than 100 Duncan Donuts (no idea, but they are EVERYWHERE here.) I am beat and we are headed to Cambridge for dinner soon. I am sure that I will have the energy to summon hugely witty and enlightening thoughts about my trip at some point . . . but probably not today! Instead, you will have to settle for a few pictures (on the right) and make up your own stories about my vacation. Oh, and how about Pat's place up above? Nice, huh?

November 25, 2007

morning worship

So we set out this cold Sunday morning headed for church. We had two plans in mind, neither of which came to fruition. Instead we ended up wandering through Cambridge looking for a church to attend. Every time we saw a steeple, we would venture a little further along and go up to read their posted worship hours. We were either too early or too late for each church we found.

Finally, we saw a large Baptist Church and decided to go in. I assumed that a Baptist Church in Boston would be similar to a Methodist Church in San Antonio – at least theologically. I was wrong. It was a unique experience that I would neither trade nor repeat.

This congregation’s twin missions were clear within five minutes of our arrival. The whole of the service, worship guide, and interest card spoke of what they considered their identity as a community. They exist for the promotion of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender folks and for reaching out in love to the homeless of Boston. We prayed the prayer “Inspired by Jesus,” it may be almost familiar to you – “Our Father and Mother, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.”

Though the church was massive, the congregation was small. The inside of the church was decorated like a dance studio. Why you ask? Well, they sublet the sanctuary out during the week to a ballet company. Between that, leasing out their parking lot, and receiving of grants from the historical preservation society they keep their church open. As it happens, I sat next to the church’s treasurer.

The people of the church were sweet as could be. My neighbor, the treasurer, opened his hymnal to the right page and handed it to me every time we were to sing. We were greeted warmly and welcomed with what was clearly authentic joy for our presence among them.

Yet for all that, I couldn’t help think – it matters what you believe. It matters what you believe about Jesus, his heavenly Father, and the work of his Spirit and Church. This line of thought isn’t quite developed enough to flesh out here, but I will work on it.

Hope your Sunday is blest and that you spend some time today with the Creator of all. As always, I missed the good folks of University this morning and became more convinced of the supreme blessing it is to be part of the movement of God’s Spirit blowing new life into the heart of a congregation. This simply isn’t the reality of most of America’s churches and we must never grow complacent or forget how greatly we are blest.

but it is a dry cold . . .

Rusty and I spent the day wandering through the Cambridge area of Boston. It is the home of Harvard and MIT. You could almost feel the brilliance all around. We were nicely layered up for the cold – and boy is it cold.

Boston is an amazing city. Its buildings speak of the city’s brilliant past. Here is the home of the great American experiment. Almost every building seems to have a sign of some sort claiming to be America’s First or Boston’s longest running.

We had dinner last night in the Italian area of town. A large party of Italians ate on one side and another large family of Italian Americans ate on the other. The host, Paul sat us quickly while telling others it would be an hour to an hour and a half wait. I’m not sure why he extended us such kindness, perhaps he knew we were from out of town.

The thick accents of Bostonians, Italians, and Irishmen are everywhere. Culture and ethnic identity evidently never quite melted here. You get the feeling that sights, sounds, and smells observed today could as easily have greeted visitors two hundred years ago.

At the same time, the city is young and vibrant. Home to numerous colleges and universities, Boston is a youthful city. Everywhere we go there are young people. The city is active and vibrant, contradicting the age of the structures – but in an oddly complementary way.

November 23, 2007

vacation update

What a great vacation. I hope to have some time to share some good thoughts I have been considering during my time off, but I thought I should at least update you on my adventures thus far.

I spent a few days with my sister and her boys in Houston, then flew to Miami where I met an old friend from seminary. Needless to say, we pretty much owned South Beach from the moment we set foot on the island. What a wild place. Surreal, really. From there we jumped on a cruise ship and headed to Nassau, Bahamas. We rented scooters and toured the small island paradise.

I know they are not for everyone, but I loved the cruise. I am definitely a cruiser and will be doing it again. I ate a ton, went to the shows, and enjoyed the water immensely. Even the first night when we had 15 foot seas and lots of people were in their cabins sick, we had a huge dinner in a largely deserted dining room and laughed as we lurched our way around the boat!

After the cruise, I spent Thanksgiving with my folks in Houston. The usual huge supper, making crosses in my dad’s shop, and generally enjoying the comfort only felt in the house you grew up in.

So, I had a quick pit stop tonight in San Antonio to unload one suitcase, reload another, and drop off Maddie (my dog). She is staying here this week with a good friend who is house sitting for me. I will be in Boston this next week seeing the sights with my friend, Rusty Freeman. Look for us Sunday night, we will be at the Patriots game. We will be the ones shivering in the cold!

November 19, 2007

from my one reader

In my last article in the Encourager, I asked reader(s) to share things about our church for which they are thankful. Here is a list emailed to me from one of them:

Things I am thankful for at UUMC:

The wonderful people
God's salvation
God's love
The beautiful building
Our many missions
The children
The Youth program
My friends
Our wonderful, smart, overworked pastors
Mark and his many talented musicians and vocalists
Volunteers with servant hearts
Mary McKay and her wonderful music minsitry
Did I mention the children?

and especially...

The Space for Me!!
It fits me perfectly.
No one else would fit in my funny-shaped "ME" space at UUMC!
I especially thank God for my space!

November 9, 2007

a slow start

I always seem to have trouble starting a vacation. I have put work aside, but now I am just messing around the house. I have this thing where I don’t like to go out of town unless it is clean. Why this should be, I have no idea – particularly since I don’t generally keep it clean when I am in town . . .

I finally have some plans for my time off. I had really wanted to do a visit to NYC, do something tropical, and go home for Thanksgiving, but Rusty’s passport had expired so we decided to go to Boston for a week instead of Costa Rica. I am pretty pumped – he somehow managed to get us tickets to see the Patriots play! Given that this may be a perfect season now that they have squeaked by the Colts, it will be cool to say, “I was there.”

While I was online trying to get some tickets and hotel reservations for NYC, I noticed this thing called, “Last Minute Deals.” One of the options was a cruise to the Bahamas for only a couple hundred dollars. So, I called my friend, Rob who I was scheduled to see in New York and asked him if he would rather hit up Miami and the Bahamas for a couple of days. “Last minute deals:” It feels so wrong to be rewarded for procrastinating.

Before and between the two trips, I am going home to see my family!

Oh, and for those waiting for word on the hair, don’t worry, Nancy wouldn’t do red. It’s more of a purple.

November 7, 2007

ready or not, or not ready

Well, day one of my annual vacation is off to a stutter start. I woke up early with 1000 things on my mind – none of them tropical beaches, snow covered mountains, or reclining chairs. So, I am spending the morning cleaning out my email inbox – at least responding to the people who got their correspondence in before I set up my, “I am out until December 1” auto response. I figure it would be pretty rude to leave people in the lurch for 3 weeks without them knowing they are in the lurch! I also have a decidedly non-vacation meeting this afternoon with my mentor for covenant connection. This is our last meet – we have met once a month for the last 3 years – so I am justifying the work time during vacation as a visit to an old friend! (I know, I know, but we really are friends and it is absolutely the last “work related” moment of the vacation, I promise. (Ahem.)

After that, I am going to see the wonderfully gifted and talented, Nancy Madden. For those few of you who don’t also go to Nancy, she is a barber extraordinaire. Ok, technically she is totally a stylist, but my manhood can only tolerate going to a stylist – not admitting that I have one. I am pretty excited. We have been planning something a little different for some time now. I fully intent to walk out with some red hair today. Unfortunately, some of you have gotten to Nancy somehow so she is unwilling to make my hair RED, but will make it just, red. I was really hoping for some fire engine type highlights. Apparently though, word has gotten out and some of my friends who also get their haircut by Nancy complain loudly every time she does something a little too creative with my hair. Anyway, we shall see.

Beyond my haircut today, the rest of the vacation is a little bit fuzzy. I am positive now what I will be doing, just not 100% on the when. I will be stomping around nyc with my best seminary bud, Rob – a New York native (Buffalo). I will also be home for Thanksgiving. The pollsters have spoken! Finally, Rusty Freeman and I are headed up to Boston to catch a New England Pats game. That should be pretty cool, I think. I have not ever been in the North East, so I am excited to see some new country.

Well, I best finish tying up loose ends. Maybe I’ll put up a picture after I finish my stint in the . . . er . . . barber’s chair. No promises though, we’ll have to see how it comes out!

November 2, 2007

vacation plans (or lack there of)

Well, I have managed to take procrastination to a whole new low. I am scheduled to begin my annual vacation in just a few short days, but I haven’t confirmed a single plan yet for my time off. At one point, I had an itinerary to Rwanda, a plan for Costa Rica, and information on a number of cruises.

Vacation begins next Wednesday and I have no idea what I am doing! The great news is, I can pretty much go anywhere in the world at a moments notice. Not everything about being single is great – but this is sure one of them! I have my passport and shots from previous travels, I just need to get a move on.

Here is what I know for sure: My friend Rusty and I are going to something, sometime. I’d like to do Thanksgiving with my family in Houston. I wouldn’t mind a little NYC trip to see my seminary bud, Rob. I really enjoyed being in Colorado for my work trip last month and haven’t been skiing in YEARS.

So, I invite you to take the survey off to the side and cast your vote on Ryan’s fantasy vacation schedule. Don’t worry; there is plenty of time to cast your vote . . .

November 1, 2007

giving thanks

The following was orginally written for and published under my"Inspiring Word" column in the November issue of our uzine, The Encourager. To view the whole magazine go to our website at and click on "News & Calendar."

Last year during the Thanksgiving holiday my dad took a little notebook and passed it around. He started with the grandchildren, moved onto the children, and finally he and mom filled in their pages. We were all required to list the things for which we were thankful. I thought it was a little silly – until it was my turn.

I started with the obvious, paused, and then filled the page with my gratitude for all that God had done in my life. Big and small, it was all there in my heart. Acknowledgment of God’s provision and providence humbled me.

When I was done, I couldn’t help but sneak a peek at what the others in my family had written. I was moved by their obvious love for God and one another. I could see that taking some time to give thanks was an equally worthwhile endeavor for them.
This month, I want you to pause as you read this column. I want to invite you to grab a piece of paper, pick up a pen, and begin to make a list of everything about University for which you are thankful. Go ahead.

Seriously, stop reading and start writing. The column will continue when you are done. . .

This year as I reflect on God’s good gifts, I am overwhelmed by the number of blessings I could list. As always, I am thankful for the people of the church – the ones who are new this year and those who have been standing by my side for years. I thank God for the opportunities to share the Gospel he has given with our new unite service. I am grateful for Charles Anderson’s leadership and the exciting movement of God’s Spirit in the church.

Most of all, I am simply marvel that God has given me the opportunity to be a blessing. Have you ever considered that idea? God, in whom all glory and honor rests, has invited us to be partners with him in building his Kingdom. It is almost unfathomable to me that God would invite me to be his friend, his partner.

This is the good news of the Jesus’ Gospel. We are invited not only to serve his kingdom, we are invited to be co-heirs in building and administering it. When God first called his servant Abraham, he instructed him to be a blessing to all people. When he called Israel, it was to be a blessing to the nations. When he called the church, it was to bless sinners and saints alike.
It is remarkable that God has called flawed and broken people to be the instruments of his holy work. Yet, that is precisely the course he has chosen. You and I have been invited to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of Man. Together in ministry we are invited to share in his work, his suffering, and his glory. We are invited to be active participants in the redemptive work of God among his creation. We get to go where Jesus goes, feel what Jesus feels, and do what Jesus does. God has blessed us by allowing us to be a blessing to others.

By the way, I would love for you to share your list with me. Post it here on the comments section, email it to me, or drop it off at the church. I will post some of your thoughts on my blog throughout November!

October 27, 2007

high gear

It has been such a hectic time. By nature I am such a frenetic person – a true workaholic who enjoys a fast paced environment – that I usually feel as though I am moving faster than the world around me and trying to pull my life along behind me. These days, just the opposite is true. I feel like my world is moving faster than I am and I am being drug along into the future.

A lot of this added pressure comes directly from the impending opening of our new facility. There is so much work to be done – so many decisions to be made. They arrive in interconnected waves. Even the ones that on the surface appear simple have a way of compounding through time.

On top of that, I have my ordination examinations looming and have one final push of work to complete for that process.

In the end, I feel as though I am probably short-changing everything just a little in order to keep pace with all my spinning plates. Worst of all, I know that I am doing a poor job of keeping up with friends and family (somehow they get the shortest end of the stick).

So, I did the best thing I know to do when I find myself in this place. Yesterday, I took the day off. All the way off. I didn’t even check email and refused to answer the phone for anything business related. It was really great to put everything in neutral and take a deep breath. I feel like I can now put it back into high gear and run the next leg of the race.

October 11, 2007

white knuckled

The following was originally written and published in the October edition of our uzine: The Encourager. To view the entire magazine in PDF form go to:

When I ride a roller coaster it is with both arms up in the air – I don’t hold onto the rail in front of me. That’s because I trust the machine. I’ve ridden a lot of roller coasters – the faster and more insane the ride, the better. I’ve taken enough rides to trust that I’m not going to fall out. That’s why I can raise my hands and let the adrenaline flow. I noticed that when I went with our sixth grade students to Astroworld in Houston that many of them clung on for dear life. Their little knuckles turned white from the pressure exerted from their grip. They obviously haven’t had enough experience on the rides to just let go and enjoy the ride – trusting in the experience.

When it comes to generosity, I have to confess that I am a “white knuckle” giver. This is a marked improvement from where I once was. It used to be that I didn’t give anything to anyone. As I grew in my faith, I started putting a little something in the plate at church (just whatever was in my pocket at the time). Finally, I tried making a pledge to the church. I wanted to be accountable for the spiritual discipline of giving that is necessary to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Full of good intentions, I made my pledge and wrote a few checks. Unfortunately, I would get behind in my giving and before I knew it, I wasn’t giving anything at all because I was so far behind in my pledge that I thought I could never catch up – so I gave up.

One year the option to make an EFT (electronic fund transfer) became available. Now this is where the rubber hit the road. There was no waiting to the end of the month to see if I could honor my commitment with leftovers. My faith was at stake. Did I trust God or didn’t I? Had I had enough experience with God to begin to release my death grip on my possessions? I am not over-exaggerating when I call it a death grip. My need to control my possessions was killing my spiritual growth. So, I took the plunge: I pledged 10% (the tithe that God requires) to the church and signed up for the EFT. The money rolled out of my account every month and I had to adjust the rest of my spending habits. I bought fewer new clothes, ate out less, and found cheaper ways to entertain myself. Instead of giving God the leftovers, I gave him the first fruit of my labor and I lived on what was left.

It has been an exciting ride with calls too close for comfort, but you may have noticed that I have not only survived, I have thrived. These days, God is doing an even deeper work in this white knuckle giver. I have been discovering the joy of sharing my financial resources beyond just my tithe and my building project pledge. In trusting the one who holds me, I find that I don’t have to hang on quite so firmly. I am slowly discovering that generosity lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

Any understanding of faith that ignores generosity is theologically bankrupt (pun intended). All life was born from the overflow of God’s creative generosity. Consider the heavens, the complexity of life, the earth’s broad biodiversity – ours is not a stingy deity. Our relationship with God was cultivated from his generous love. He invited us into relationship with him. He invited us into his presence. Even when we rebelled against his love, he maintained his steadfast generosity, making final payment to ransom mankind away from sin and death to life and life eternal. Jesus gave everything for us – pouring out his blood, his life, and his Spirit in the ultimate act of generosity.

Like everything else in our spiritual life, being faithful in our giving requires trusting in God. We have to start by climbing onto the roller coaster. We have to ride it a few times. At some point though, we have to choose to let go and trust. Let go of control. Let go of the safety bar. In the end, it isn’t the tightness of your grip that keeps you safe.

October 4, 2007

catholic mass

Last Saturday night, I decided to check out the Catholic mass at St. Joseph’s in Salida. It was a great experience and I learned a few things as well. The priest was German, I think – though I could be wrong about the accent. He did a nice job on a very brief homily about the rich man and Lazarus.

There were a couple of things about the service I really liked. I liked how the people bowed to the Lord’s table before they went up on the chancel to read or speak. I liked how the women kind of curtseyed when they left the pew and headed out. I really enjoyed when the congregation knelt down together. We protestants are missing out. I know God has called us friend, but you still kneel before your friend when he is the king.

The thing I learned is how uncomfortable it feels to be a visitor who doesn’t really know what is going on. The songs were unfamiliar. I know the creeds and Lord’s Prayer, but not the ones they knew! They used 3 different resources to guide the service and I rarely knew which book to look in – much less which page once I figured out which book! They all knew when and how to respond to key liturgical exchanges. I did not. They sat, stood, and knelt in unison. They knew when to hold hands and when to raise their arms. I did not.

Truly, I felt like a fish out of water – and I am a pastor. My lesson learned is this: No matter how hospitable we think we are; no matter how self-explanatory we think something is; no matter how visitor friendly we think we are – we can always to better. People who visit our church don’t know our rituals. They don’t know what to read or say or when to respond. We are moving into a time when people have no Christian memory – no past experience with the church to guide them.

Our hospitality must be ridiculous. It must consider ever moment of a guest’s experience with us – from the time they pull into the parking lot to the time they leave. I am very thankful for Pastor Adam, Luanne Mire, and their team of people who are even now working to continually improve our welcoming ministries at the U.

Oh, and thanks to the faithful saints of St. Joe’s. The authenticity of your worshiping body was refreshing to my soul. I give you my highest praise: I experienced the power and presence of God while I was among you.

PS: I did go to Sunday services at the Methodist church Sunday morning!

October 3, 2007

times are a'changin

So, I made it over to Garden of the gods today and as inspiring as it was, I left a little disappointed. I remembered going there as a child and crawling all over the huge formations. Last time I was here, you could hike all over the park – getting up close and personal with the giant formations.

Things are very different today. They have paved the sidewalks and placed signs every 50 yards reminding you to stay on the path. Apparently back in 1994, they began a process of reclamation of the natural grasses and protecting the park. I understand the need and applaud their effort, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I was all geared up for a long hike punctuated by scrambling up exquisite red rock formations. Oh, well.

It was a great drive back over to Salida. I stopped at Walmart on my way out of town (I couldn’t find any other place!) and bought a bandana to hold my hair out of my face and 3 cds (coldplay, the fray, and passion worship). The sun was shining and it truly was a perfect day. I rolled all the windows down, opened the sunroof, turned the stereo all the way up, and enjoyed the 2.5 hour drive. It was truly spectacular.

October 1, 2007

a couple of days off

I decided to take a few days off from the grind and enjoy Colorado a little bit. So, I left Salida and headed over to Colorado Springs. I haven't been here since I was a kid, but I vividly remember a few places -- 7 Falls, Garden of the gods, and Pikes Peak. I decided to revisit these treasured places. I spent today at 7 Falls. I climbed all the steps and took all the trails. Because of that, the other two attractions will have to wait until tommorrow. For now, my poor legs need a break. I am not sure if I will have time to visit the north pole (on Pike's Peak), but the Garden will certainly be visited! Enjoy this picture of 7 Falls -- oh, and the other ones along the side panel of the blog -- I used my auto-timer to take all of those myself. Luckily, the park was really empty today so no one was there to witness my scrambling into position as the 10 seconds ticked off!

September 30, 2007

salida colorado

Well, week one of the Rocky Mountain Preaching Retreat is drawing to a close. I have been so blessed by my time here. I have gotten weeks – even months – worth of work done during this time. So far, I have completed the upraise and unite preaching calendars for 2007 & 2008. (Seriously, every week is titled with Scriptures included). I have the first 11 weeks of sermons in 2008 outlined. I have written several articles for our uzine, The Encourager, as well as some church wide correspondence that has to go out next month. I finished updating the 2008 Confirmation Curriculum and even managed to squeeze in a little reading. Of all that, I am most excited about the 2008 preaching calendar. Next year in upraise & unite we will be doing the following sermon series:

Alpha: Basic Training for Christians
Living Beyond Myself: based on the Volunteer Revolution curriculum
Forgive us our Debts . . . Please: some practical teaching on managing family finance in a godly way
Meaning in a Meaningless World: this will be our summer series and we will study the entire book of Ecclesiastes.
University for Life: We will present the Vision Map for discipleship at the U.
Enough: Next year’s stewardship campaign
Maximum Exposure: God’s character revealed
Christmas Now & Then: a look at the people who witnessed the birth and what it means for us today

I still have a lot of work on tap for next week, but even if I didn’t get anything else done, it has been hugely productive.

It has also been fun to share meals with some of Charles’ oldest friends and peers in ministry. They are great men who I have enjoyed laughing and sharing the fellowship of the table with.

September 28, 2007


The following has been long in coming, though its long gestation in my hard drive does not mean that it is accurate, informative, or particularly helpful. However, it is something that I have thinking about for a while.

Movements are chaotic: they can move from point A to point B, but only after visiting points X and G – and maybe coffee at point M. Movements are led by passionate people who will try almost anything once. They buck convention and seem to turn their nose up at established norms. Many of them smell strange.

Movements and the people who lead and participate in them are not always easy to get along. They don’t seem to recognize the long history of those who came before them. At their worst, movements become mobs that lose their focus and never arrive at their destinations. At their best, movements forever alter the landscape of human history.

It is hard to know exactly why a movement begins. Actually, it is even difficult to pinpoint when a movement begins. Generally they seem to be best defined retrospectively – both in terms of their duration and ultimate destination. Movements seem to generate energy of their own, carried forward by an increasing number of increasingly passionate people. They will have a nucleus of people who are prayerfully guiding the direction of the growing multitudes. The successfulness of the overall movement will largely be defined by how well the nucleus holds together and how well they can charismatically articulate a vision.

I think that University is in the midst of a burgeoning movement. I am watching with interest as people – people that I respect and admire – leave everything to come and be part of the church. Over and over, I am interviewing potential leaders for ministry (both paid and unpaid) who say they just want to be part of what God is doing. Likewise, extraordinary opportunities regularly pop up for our highly gifted staff. Yet, they say no to those opportunities to say, yes to the one at University. They are willing to sacrifice in order to be in the center of a movement of God. They aren’t even sure what it is he is doing, but they are willing to sell out to it.

Certainly the winds of change are blowing. You can’t see the wind, but like the strong southerly flow over the Gulf of Mexico – you can certainly feel the waves the wind is producing. For some, the waves are cause for great concern. They were for the disciples (Mark 4.35-40). For others, the waves are cause for great joy – because, hey, surf’s up!

As I step away from our church in particular and look at the history of the church universal, I find that we are not on unfamiliar ground. Since its beginning 2000 years ago, the body of Jesus Christ has moved in a particular cycle. There is a time of renewal and growth led by a group of people committed to personal and social holiness. There is soon massive momentum propelling a movement among God’s church. It grows and swells as people come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Soon the movement begins to institutionalize in order to hold everything together. Buildings are erected. Systems of management are put in place. An institution replaces the movement and everyone takes a long needed deep breath. As it stabilizes, the church is able to be more things for more people. The mission widens to good and great ends, but some focus is lost. This period of stability and success may last for a generation or more. Sooner or later, the Spirit of God begins to stir change and a movement once again begins. The whole cycle repeats itself again and again. This process is always marked by the struggle and necessary tension between the stability that the institution provides and the push toward new birth that a movement generates.

September 26, 2007

grandmom's funeral

Right before Spring Break in 2004, my paternal grandmother passed away. I was in my final semester of seminary, rapidly approaching graduation. Grandmom had been sick for a while and in and out of the hospital. Although I should probably have been expecting the call, I wasn’t. Not really. She had made a series of good recoveries and I guess I just thought she would again.

Anyway, my dad calls me and tells me that Grandmom has died and it is time to come home for the funeral. I get everything squared away in Wilmore, Kentucky (where I am in school) and prepare to spend my spring break with family remembering my grandmother. While I am packing, my dad calls and asks if I would be willing to say a few words on behalf of the family at the funeral. Sure, no problem.

My dad calls again and says he has talked with Grandmom’s pastor and wants to know if I would do the “homily” at the service. Now, for a Methodist boy like me, homily is just another word for really short devotional thought. In my mind, I have just been asked to include some scripture in my few short words on behalf of the family. Sure, no problem.

I go flying off to Dallas where my dad lives. The day of the funeral arrives, Dad and Susan leave for the service. My little brother and I take a separate car – for some reason that I don’t remember, but had significant consequences. We arrive JUST before the service is scheduled to start. Somehow we got lost or ran late. I don’t remember, really. Actually, I only think it was my little brother in the car with me – considering I was most likely lost it seems unlikely that he was with me (that kid is like a breathing mapquest).

I digress. It doesn’t really matter why we were late (or even who was with me . . .) the important part is that I arrived shortly before the service began.

I walked into the holding room where my extended family was gathered to the relief of my parents who said the church pastors were looking for me. They needed to know what my Gospel reading would be. And whether I would be reading it or if I wanted one of them to read it for me. My confusion turned to inward panic when they handed me the bulletin for the service and there in the heart of the whole shebang was “Rev. Ryan Barnett” – homily. First, I am not a “Rev.” at this point. Second, I look in vain for the other “Rev.” with “sermon” by their name. Nope.

Apparently when you translate “homily” from Lutheran into Methodist it means “sermon.” Lots of prayers in a short amount of time.

My grandmother’s pastor finds me and asks me if I would like to “see their pulpit.” Sure, no problem. They ask if I want to go ahead and put my sermon in the pulpit now or if I want to hang onto it. “I think I will hang onto it,” I say as I pat my empty coat pocket.

In the end, it went fine. My grandmother was the kind of woman it is easy to speak of during a funeral. She was a Christ-centered, Godly woman who gave grace and love in abundance to everyone. She was loved in her family, her church, and her community. I think I am glad I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’m not sure I could have/would have done it had I known in advance.

September 21, 2007

up the mountain

Headed for 2 weeks in Colorado. Charles and I each have a suitcase full of clothes and a trunk full of work. We plan to plan our way into 2009 over the next couple of weeks away. Taking our cue from our Leader, we are going up the mountain to be with the Lord. This time of vision is timely as I am pretty wiped out. I have been preaching non-stop and moving through life like my hair is on fire. (Which is ironic since I have been contemplating getting red streaks put into my hair . . .)

Church, pray for us as we go and meet with God. Pray that we can return renewed and with a clear picture of the preaching calendar for the next stretch of life together at the U. (Pray also for my good friend who will be staying at the house with my sweet puppy too!)

September 19, 2007


I preached tonight in New Braunfels, just north of San Antonio. A friend of mine there – Matt is the youth director at First Methodist. He and the other youth leaders from around the city rent out this old theatre in what seems to be historic “downtown.” This was a first class event. They committed true excellence to Jesus Christ. The whole place was packed out with kids from the community. The worship band did a great job and really pumped the kids up for Christ. The sound and lighting people were phenomenal – one of the best events I have seen church people do. I was really taken that they spent the time and energy to be so excellent. Unfortunately, excellence is far too rare among the church. This group of leaders obviously spared no expense or amount of labor to make this a life changing event for the youth of their community.

I was really blessed to be a part of the event. I just got this picture of towns all over Texas bringing the youth of their community such excellence on a regular basis. I saw a vision of transformed schools and communities that get claimed for Christ. Make no mistake, the enemy holds nothing back in his quest for our young people. And though we have so much more to offer, we often fail to be significant in ways that are relevant. So, thank you dedicated youth leaders of different denominations of the Church of Jesus Christ for your love, your labor, and your extreme excellence.

September 3, 2007

on being famous

It is tough being famous. Yes, I am referring to my recent interview/stardom on the local SA news. All the paparazzi, the autograph seekers, and the groupies who just want to use me to get backstage at all the best concerts. Stores send me exclusive offers – I get up to 10% off just for making a personal appearance at their location! (They mail those right to my house.) At all my favorite restaurants, absolutely no waiting. I just drive right up to a window and they hand me my food. It is really too much. Seriously folks, I am just a regular guy like everyone else.

August 28, 2007

getting lean

The following was originally published in the September edition of The Encourager:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.” – Semisonic

Regeneration – new birth and new life – are at the heart of Methodist Christianity. John Wesley rightly believed that the great work of redemption begins when we experience the second birth – when we are made into a new creation in Christ Jesus. Regeneration represents the ultimate change in the life of a human being. It takes place when we allow our sinful self to be crucified with Christ and when we join with him in his glorious resurrection. It involves the circumcision of the heart and a transformation of the mind. We put off our old, childish, sinful ways and allow Jesus to become our living Lord. The reign of sin is broken in our lives and we begin life anew – in the pattern of holiness God always intended. It is a glorious work of God. It is also a painful process of letting go.

Considering the central role regeneration plays in the life of the Christian, you would think that we would be better at handling change than we are. I wish to speak plainly to you church. I pray that God gives you ears to hear the rhythm of my heartbeat so that you may share in my hope for the work of Christ in our midst.

Well over a year ago, I began to discern that we as a body were moving through a time of transition, change, and new birth. The word that kept coming to my mind was “winnowing.” In my mind’s eye I kept seeing a boxer preparing for a prize fight. He was slightly out of shape, bathed in sweat and working with every breath to get down to his “fighting weight.” He knew that the battle was approaching and that it was time to get prepared by getting lean. He wanted to shed every extra ounce of fat and be pure muscle. He had to narrow his focus and place all his great will toward one end. I felt then, as I do now, that this is a picture of our church.

I believe we are in the process of getting lean. It is an exciting, though exhausting, time.

It is my perception that we are currently experiencing some anxiety about our future together. This is being fueled in some large part by the impending opening of our new facility. Though I was not here at the time, I strongly suspect that University has had to wrestle through similar experiences with each new chapter of life together. This is not a bad thing. We should embrace our feelings of anxiety, excitement, hope, and even fear. Each of them needs to equally owned so that they can be laid at the feet of Christ.

Have you ever moved homes? I have. Moving generates enormous stress for your family. Even if you are moving into your dream home, it is often bittersweet. There is always so much to do, so much chaos in a major move. We have never lived in that new house. We don’t know where all our stuff will be located. Our neighbors are strangers. Even worse, we are leaving the house we raised our family in! We just love our neighbors and our neighborhood. We know where every pot hole is on the way in and the way out! It is our family’s home. It is our place of sanctuary and security. Nevertheless, we move into that new house. And once we have unpacked all the boxes? Once we have met our new neighbors? Once we have our first peaceful night’s sleep and see our kids at play in their new back yard? Our minds are comforted and our spirits find peace.

I think it is the same for our church family. As we prepare to move into our new facility, we may harbor fears and anxieties. Will it be too big? Will we become two churches? Will I get lost in the shuffle? Where will my place be in the future? Will I still count?

Hear me: these are natural concerns when faced with new beginnings. Change is difficult – even change that we truly long for, hope for, and even work for. Even our new birth in Christ is difficult while we are experiencing it. It is painful to let go of familiar patterns of behavior – even the ones that in the end are destructive to our souls. It is often only in hindsight that we recognize the good work of Christ during times of transition.

Church, the fight that we are preparing for is much more important than any boxing match. We are preparing to launch an assault on Enemy occupied territory. We go into battled armed only with the name of Jesus Christ. Now is the time for us to become singular in our focus. We must rally as one around the Captain of Heaven. We cannot allow anything to distract us.

God has done amazing things at University. I don’t believe he is done. Our Woodlawn pioneers and long-term members have made an incredible sacrifice of obedience on the altar of God. It would be an offense not only to God, but to these saints if we ever supposed that God’s best days for University are behind us. No, God’s best days for our church lie ever before us.
Now is the time for us to renew our commitment to personal and social holiness. Any word or deed, any selfish or vain attitude, anything that not in Christ, needs to be crucified and left behind. We must stand together, unified by the Gospel of Christ and enter together into the new beginning he has laid out before us.

August 19, 2007

breaking through

It is usually only in hindsight that I recognize monumental moments. Somehow it is just easier to see them retrospectively then when you are in the midst of them. This week marked an exception to that rule.

On Saturday night two long held dreams were realized. First, our general contractor lifted the church’s new skybridge into place. Two massive cranes swung the steel frame over the closed 5 lane road around 1030 Saturday night. Several hundred of our church members where there to witness the work of God become reality. It was awesome. The bridge is really just an expensive hallway, but for us it is so much more. It is the symbol of the whole campus expansion. In many ways, it is a symbol of the past and future of University United Methodist Church. Just as our founders stretched themselves to find new room to grow when they moved out to our current location, so now we are bridging the way forward once again. Seeing those workmen drive those bolts in place was the culmination of years of work, prayer, and the faithful generosity of God’s people.

The second dream took place before the bridge went up. We held our dress rehearsal – our consecration for our new Saturday night, “unite” service. Our official public launch is next week, August 25. It was a spirit filled time to be sure, but I didn’t realize how significant it was until we had completed Sunday morning services. For the last several years, the upraise services have been stuck. It is a not so invisible space barrier – we simply haven’t had room for more people. We have averaged between 800-900 people per week in worship, but always found a ceiling around 1000 people. It was a hard rule that if we ever edged above 1000 it was too crowded and we would see less and less folks until we were back to our average. People want to know that there is room for them!

Between unite and upraise, we had around 1200 people in worship this weekend. And, we now have room for even more. Ten people joined the church and two were baptized. Praise God. It may be that we have finally broken the barrier and will now set a course for exponential growth once again. Just in time too, since our new facility will be online this January and our new sanctuary will hold 1500 people per service!!!

I feel as though God is on the move. It has been a season of preparation and soul shaping. Now is a season for growth and new life. Even the weather has turned from drought to deluge. It’s as though God is using every means to communicate the outpouring of his blessing – beseeching us to commit ourselves to holiness and following where he goes.

As tired as I am from all the work this week held, I am energized by the Spirit of my God who is fulfilling his word and honoring his promises. And so we move onward with the sure and certain hope of our Lord Jesus for whose sake we labor night and day.

August 15, 2007

the start of school

Summer is coming to an end. Goodbye to vacations, youth camps, interns running all over our campus, swimming at the river, and getting wounded playing ultimate Frisbee. For those of you who don’t know, summer is my absolute favorite time of year. You can keep Christmas, Thanksgiving, Spring Break and even Arbor Day. Just give me the bright Texas sun (or this year: rowdy summer storms) and turn me loose. I work longer, play harder, and stay up later during the summer than any other time of year. I am most aware that I am a beloved child of God during the summer months.

By the time fall arrives, I am ready for it. I begin to look forward to new routines, to seeing folks that have been scattered throughout the summer. I look forward to the start of Day School and the little ones holding hands as they move down the halls. I begin to peek out the windows around the time school lets out to watch all the youth of our community come flying out of Lockhill and Clark. Our worship services swell with people who are determined to start this year off right. New Sunday school classes and mid-week Bible studies form. You can no longer find a parking spot on campus at any time of day or night!

I come screaming full tilt out of summer into fall full of life and love. I am reminded of God’s goodness and filled to overflowing with his mercy. It is a chance to live out the call of Christ in our schools, on the sports fields, and everyplace we gather. In Matthew 5.13-16, Jesus issues this word: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Over the course of the summer we experience the greatness of knowing Christ at SOS, Chrysalis, Operation Paintbrush, Student Life, and even in a big shaving cream bubble! We spend the summer on the mountaintop letting God speak to us and shape our character and commitment. My encouragement for you is to remain steadfast in the commitments you have made this summer. The time you have spent with God this summer needs to be shared with your friends and classmates who don’t know about Jesus. Take this opportunity when people are focused on a new season and new beginning to live out your “saltiness.” Don’t let others make you bland in your fervor for Jesus Christ. Jesus has placed a light in you that has the power to outshine even the darkest darkness. Don’t cover that light up or put it away now that school is upon us.What have you to do, but save souls? God has given you your schools and neighborhoods as mission fields to share Christ and serve Christ by serving others. Make a Godly start to this new year. My prayers and presence are with you. Blessing upon you all in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ for whom we live and breathe.

August 10, 2007

on becoming all things

I am not sure why we are doing new things. The old way obviously works because it worked for me. Can’t people just learn about their need for Jesus the way I did? Can’t they just hear his message the way that I hear it? Can’t they carry on the mission that he gave to me?

The Christian heart must continually wrestle against the self-referenced gospel. While it is true that Christ came to save us, we are not the only sinners in need of his grace. In fact, once we have been saved, he invites us to join in his great work of redemption! Like him, we are called to die to self that others may live.

The Apostle Paul well understood this holy calling. Though he had great reason to boast and be confident in his flesh, he boasted only in knowing Christ. Paul was a unique individual. As both a Pharisee (a Jew among Jews) and a Roman citizen (status beyond compare), Paul could well have been convinced that others should bend to his understanding and interaction with the gospel. Instead, he wrote these words:

1 Corinthians 9.19-23: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

What if as a church, we adopted this passage and owned it for ourselves? Perhaps it would read:

1 University 9.19-23: “Though we are a free church and belong to no earthly principality, we have opened our doors to people very unlike us, to win as many as possible to Christ. To the traditional Methodists, we offered traditional worship to win traditional Methodists. To those who speak Spanish, nosotros hablamos español, to win those who speak Spanish. To those who live on the internet, we spoke in html and trendy graphic U logos, to win those who live on the internet. To those who are starving, we became food to eat, to save those who are starving. We did all of this for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that together in ministry for him we might advance his Kingdom and share in its blessings.”
There is only one way to avoid self-referenced Christianity (which in the end destroys a living faith). We must all hold loosely to the trappings of religion – cherishing the tools we use to reach others for Christ, but resisting the temptation to create idols of those tools. In the end, the race has clearly been marked out for us and Christ is expecting us to run it with zeal and perseverance. As Paul writes, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

August 8, 2007

time to u|nite

That's right. Over 250 people have commited to attend the new Saturday Night Worship experience at the U. We will be having a consecration of the launch team (255 strong as of today) on August 18 in our first ever unite worship experience. Then, on August 25 the service will go live to the public. God have mercy on us sinners. Christ is on the march -- it is time for the troops to muster.

So, if you are in S.A. on Saturday night: turn off the lawnmower, finish watching Texas beat the Oklahoma out of whoever they are playing, and come on down at 6.27 pm. We'll be the loud group of people in the gym of University United Methodist Church.

August 6, 2007

serious business 2 - quest camp

I asked Mark Swayze for permission to blog this for you and he agreed.

Ryan S. and I were walking up to the auditorium a little late. There was already a big group of people gathered out on the loading dock to pray – more than just the band and leaders. I motioned to Ryan and pointed at a dead bird that was lying on the sidewalk just outside the building. It appeared to have crashed into a window pane.

We went inside and set up the room for worship – the cross wasn’t yet in place and the altar needed to be moved. Evidentially, we weren’t the only ones running behind. The kids came screaming into the auditorium full of energy. The band came in and began to play and I stood behind all the kids straight out in front of Mark.

My spirit was not well. I was in an agitated state. I was watching the kids singing and moving around. Suddenly, I was taken with the idea that this was all a show. There wasn’t anything real here for anyone – just a charismatic trick fueled by the kids’ energy and desire. Finally, I screwed my eyes up tight and focused in on the living Christ. In my quieted mind, God spoke familiar words and I relaxed.

I turned to Ryan and told him we were going back stage. When he asked why, I told him that I was tired and I wanted him to be behind me praying when I went up to preach in a few minutes. We got up behind Mark and the band and knelt down. I began to pray the sinner’s prayer, “God have mercy on me a sinner. God have mercy on us sinners gathered here.” Then I began to earnestly pray a prayer that was new for me. Only later did I remember with surprise that I had even prayed it at all. “Jesus bring everything under your authority. Jesus put everything here under your thumb.” I felt Ryan lay across my back issuing prayers of his own.

Mark stopped singing and began to weep and speak. Just as he started to talk the sound system died with a loud pop. Mark shared that he felt as though there was someone who was struggling to believe that God was real. With genuine tenderness, Mark shared how God saved his life. He finished speaking, set his guitar down and began praying over the kids.

In the silence filled only by the quiet crying of the kids, I whispered to Ryan: “Mark has just experienced the gift of mercy. In those moments he actually felt the heartbreak of God for the brokenness of these kids’ lives. God’s compassion broke loose through Mark.”

As Mark prayed over the kids he felt as though he could see each one standing there wearing a mask that just prevented them from seeing God. He prayed that each one would be pulled back and that God would be revealed. I didn’t see it happen, but just as I got up to preach Ryan watched as Mark collapsed to the floor. He said he had never felt so empty before – as though his life had poured out of him.

I stood before the kids and preached the Gospel from John’s Revelation. I shared with them a picture of a new heaven and a new earth. I spoke about Christ’s call to live passionately in the kingdom – admonishing them with the words to the church of Laodicea. I am not sure that I have ever spoken with such clarity or simple authority.

With the utterance of my first word, Mark was filled with an overwhelming desire to stand up and shout me down. He wanted to scream for me to shut up and stop talking. Uncharacteristically, his mind filled with obscenities that he wanted to shout at me to make me stop preaching. He was told that everything that was happening was a lie and just a trick. YOU ARE JUST TRICKING KIDS NONE OF IT IS REAL. .He began to shake and moved over to where Rusty was sitting and asked for help. Rusty began to pray. The Sinner’s Prayer.

As Rusty prayed the multitude of voices that crowded around the back of Mark’s head filling him with anger began to subside. In their wake he began to see his baby lying in the street repeatedly getting run over by a car. He was convinced that because of what he was doing everything would be taken away from him. His family, his wife, his child, everything he loved was in jeopardy.

Rusty and some of the other brothers and sisters continued to pray for Mark and soon the enemy withdrew from around him. I finished preaching and sat down while one of our high school students rose to sign “Voice of Truth” while it played off an ipod. (The sound system had been rebooted sometime during my sermon – though it was out the entire time I spoke.)

The music started to play, then it started to crack and hiss, then it started to drop in and out. Every time it failed, the kids filled in with their singing and our signer just carried on. That ipod worked before and after the service perfectly – we checked.

As that was drawing to a close I ran over to Mark. Not knowing what had happened, I grabbed his arm and said “come on, let’s worship.” No sooner was he up on stage that his wife came in holding the baby asking for the nurse. Mark’s daughter had fallen off the bed. Praise to God that the angels surrounded her and she checked out just fine.

That night we organized the servant staff team to anoint all the doors of the campers’ cabins and pray Christ’s protection. Just as we were getting started on one end of the building, a fist fight broke out in a room on the opposite end. One of the boys fled down Methodist Encampment Road where a deer stepped out in front of him. He moved left, it moved left. He moved right, it moved right. He advanced, it advanced. Rusty and I found the boy standing on the side of the road slowly turning in circles unsure of what to do now that God had sent this deer to block his path.

The next day we called for prayer and fasting from our staff. We blanketed the auditorium in prayer, anointed it with oil, and spoke scripture into every square foot. The enemy was thoroughly rebuked. That night’s worship began with shoes flying off of feet on the front porch because holy ground was being trod. Each person entered receiving communion and an anointing of oil. That night a call went out asking who would go for God – who would preach to the nations, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Student after student stood with arms stretched to heaven and declared “hinani” or “here am I.”

I have left very little out of this account though I am sure that there was more going on than I know. Rusty said afterwards, the angels and demons were warring in the rafters tonight. For sure, I believe that legion laid on a vicious attack and nothing but the name and blood of Jesus Christ and the prayers of the community of saints protected us.

August 3, 2007

who is the u?

We stand on the edge of a new day of ministry at University. Years of planning, hoping, dreaming, and sacrificing are about to come to fruition. Soon we will be opening a facility consecrated to God and dedicated to reaching generations who are perishing. As we look forward to that great new day, I want to encourage you to pause and simply remember from where we have come.

History, they say, has a way of repeating itself. As we consider the great and glorious future that God has for us, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that who we are is who we have always been. In the midst of new logos, new buildings, and new paradigms for communicating and sharing ourselves with our community, we must remember that all this newness is nothing new for the U!

Consider these words that I shamelessly pulled and redacted from our spiffy new website ( University began with twelve faithful laypersons and the Reverend A. E. Rector. The year was 1890 and the place was the west side of Woodlawn Lake. This dedicated group assembled to worship on July 25th in the West End Methodist Church, so named because it was then the west end of San Antonio! With a strong sense of mission, our small congregation reached out to others and grew.

By 1915, we realized that we had made a mistake in locating the church. Our buggies got stuck in the mud whenever it rained! After 1920 it was clearly time to move. So, move we did to a small wooden structure built on Woodlawn Avenue, which became known in 1923 as Woodlawn Methodist Church.

We grew in every way. By 1925 we provided a variety of ministries to reach others and to support our 327 members. In 1927 we erected a new building to accommodate a membership which eventually grew to over 1,500.

As the area around the church changed, the congregation tried to reach its neighbors in meaningful ways, while also purchasing a site on De Zavala Road on which to establish a new mission church. We consecrated the new site as Woodlawn North on December 29, 1974. We held Sunday School in a farm house on the site and, to serve our new community, soon began a Mother's Day Out program.

The Woodlawn church building was sold in 1976 to the Rio Grande Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was sold for $250,000 less than the top bid so that it could remain a Methodist Church. Neighbors in that area now worship God and offer a vital ministry through the El Divino Salvador United Methodist Church.

The Woodlawn and Woodlawn North congregations began worshipping together on the northwest location on August 27, 1978, with approximately 250 members. Signifying our desire to be relevant in to our neighbors and people had put before us to reach for Christ, we changed the name of our church to University.

In 1980 we finished a stone multi-purpose building to house our expanding ministry. On Christmas Eve, 1988, we began worship in our new Sanctuary, in 1996 we opened our new Education Facility, and in 2000 we opened our Children's & Music Facility. In 6 months we will open our Student and Multipurpose Building.

This is our story. It has not ended. As long as there are people who are in need and who do not know the love and joy of Jesus Christ, our story will go on. Because we are the Church, Christ is our story.

Amazing, isn’t it? Our spiritual ancestors have left us a legacy that compels us to do everything in our power to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. It is through the teaching and example of our oldest generations that we continue to be relevant to new upcoming generations. It is because of the faithfulness of our dearest saints that we know we are bound to our history in such a way that compels us toward a new and changed future!
Over the years, our church has been known by many names: West End Methodist Episcopal Church; Woodlawn Methodist Episcopal Church; Woodlawn United Methodist Church; Woodlawn North; University United Methodist Church. Whether people know us as “Woodlawn”, “University”, “University UMC”, “University United Methodist Church”, “UUMC”, “The U,” or very likely, “that big stone church,” we will continue to be the same Body of Jesus Christ – committed to sharing his grace always and everywhere. Let us honor our spiritual mothers and fathers by continuing in the legacy they have bequeathed to us. Let us be unafraid of change that we may speak to our neighbors and those in need in such a way that transforms their lives into new creations of Jesus Christ.

August 2, 2007

good stuff

So, I don’t normally just peruse through the Book of Discipline (catchy title, I know), but since I am working on my ordination papers, I was reading and came across this gem:

“Our theological task is constructive in that every generation must appropriate creatively the wisdom of the past and seek God in their midst in order to think afresh about God, revelation, sin, redemption, worship, the church, freedom, justice, moral responsibility, and other significant theological concerns. Our summons is to understand and receive the gospel promises in our troubled and uncertain times.”

Anyway, just figured since I had to read this stuff, we might not enjoy it together!

August 1, 2007

coming soon

I have much to share with you – incredible experiences for an action-packed July. I am really excited to share with you some moment from this year’s Quest camp in particular. Stories of Biblical proportion – literally.

However, it will have to wait just a little longer. This week I am working at home on two major projects for my ordination process. Step one is completing a theological and doctrinal dissertation for the Board of Ordained ministry. They will use my writing to conduct their 25 to 1 oral examination of me scheduled sometime in February. (Not that it is in the least bit intimidating. I’ve only invested my entire life in this process . . .)

Second, I have to complete a theological project for my covenant connection process (also part of the ordination process). I am doing it on biblical leadership and definitions of success.

I may try to post some of this work for those of you who would be totally uninterested. (The notable exception being my mom who I am pretty sure is the only one who reads this thing. Love you mom.)

u|nite a reality?

Well, after week 1 we have had 199 people sign up to attend our new Saturday Night service "unite" I am hopefull that the other 51 we need will sign up this Sunday.

July 27, 2007

serious business 1

It is easy to loose perspective in the church – for the pastors as well as the parishioners. We get so wrapped up in ourselves and what the church does or doesn’t do for us that we forget that we are their to serve – not to be served.

I find myself embroiled in huge dramatic debates on who knows what about who and when they knew it. How come they get to sit in the first pew, but I am in the second? Is there anyway to get a better ratio of chocolate covered to glazed donuts in here on Sunday morning? Don’t get me wrong – those are my issues! I am the one worried about all this stuff that seems so unbelievably important.

Then I go to Chrysalis or Quest or Jam camp and minister among the young people. Or I go to Rwanda. Or I go to the movies to watch Transformers. I just get a little bit of perspective and realize how unimportant things are. The world beyond the bubble I too often inhabit is hurting, scared, and in desperate need of what is hiding underneath ridiculous non-priorities that consume much of our days.

I am convinced that we have managed to equate slightly inconvenienced with actual suffering.

I will never forget coming home from my last trip to Africa and hearing myself complain about having to ride the shuttle (the air-conditioned shuttle) from Clark H.S. to the church (2 blocks). I suddenly flashed to my Rwandan friend Nathan telling me that he is planting a new church because he doesn’t want people to have to walk more than 10 miles to get to church. I know that we have different standard in the States – we are more used to certain comforts, etc., but really? I am not suffering for Jesus, I barely tolerate being mildly inconvenienced for him. Most days I won’t bear not getting my own way for him.

What we, the church, are doing, what we are to be about, this is serious business.

July 21, 2007

if not u, then who?

The success of Jesus Christ’s ministries at University United Methodist Church are dependant on U. He needs for U to answer his calling and serve. U are needed in the economy of Jesus Christ. There is a whole lost and hurting world that is suffering at the hands of Satan and the Captain of Heaven wants U mobilized for action! Who is the hands and feet of Christ? U are! Who is the beloved son and daughter of God most high? U are! Who is called to unity in mission and purpose for the building of Christ’s Kingdom? U are! U are an important part of God’s economy. He is counting on U to live out his commands and ordinances. That’s one of the reasons why people are so excited about the new U logo and design. It is a constant reminder that U are the church and Christ is counting on U to live out his purpose for your life. Consider some of the ministries of our great church:

  • Outreach: ureach
  • Children: ukids
  • Shepherding: ucare
  • Discipleship: ulearn
  • Worship: uworship

In all of these are ministries, Christ is depending “U!” Of course, the new logo has some fun applications that have no theological significance, but can be highly entertaining at a Sunday school luncheon. For example:

  • campus maps: ulost
  • pot luck dinners: ugrow
  • one of my sermons: usnore

Please feel free send any that you come up with to me at

inside the U

In a great electronic to print and back again journey . . . the following article was an expansion of a previous blog that became an article in our church paper, which I am now publishing on my blog for those of you (like me) who paper just confuses. Is that at all clear? No? Good.

I recently wrote the following on my blog ( One of my really good friends is in seminary and wrote about our last trip to Rwanda in a paper. She said, “In this otherness, which is someone else’s someplace, someone else’s home, you are left grasping for something familiar until you accept that all familiarity is gone and you must allow the otherness to come in.” This may be one of the most profound theological statements I have ever come across. It cuts to the heart of our faith and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. As a people called to live in a world not our own this otherness is a place we must seek to find.

Since writing that, I have continued to come back to this “otherness” idea. Although I do think foreign missions allow disciples to more easily surrender to the otherness, I don’t think it is necessary to go to distant shores to discover what it means to be in unfamiliar territory. I often turn on the television or look around the room and discover that I am hopelessly lost. Nothing looks the way it did when I was a child. People speak differently. I can’t get a phone call anymore – I get a text message. I find the otherness of a world that I live in all around me – pressing in and challenging me to stretch and grow in uncomfortable ways. (Big words for a guy in his 30s, I know.) The danger comes when we lose our focus on that which is eternal. We mistake the packaging of eternal truth (“the way it has always been”) for the truth himself. Jesus spoke to farmers in pastoral parables. He quoted the law to Pharisees. Paul used philosophy to convince Romans. Rwandans practice a sacrament of presence. We have a spiffy website and shiny U logo. All of this is done to create access points to a particular people at a particular moment in history. Whether you are in far off places or in your own church home, eternal truth does not change. The power and presence of Jesus Christ is made manifest by those who speak his truth and do his will.

The thing about the otherness is this: if we struggle and fight against it, we are lost. We will grasp ever tighter to a fistful of sand and become bitter as it all disappears. My friend is right when she supposes that the solution is not resistance to the otherness, but surrender. Surrender is not the same thing as resignation. Resignation is tacit consent – apathy of the will that turns quickly to fatalism. Surrender is an active act of your will. It is letting the things of little eternal consequence sink to the shadows. Even as the world and our place in it changes, surrender is knowing that God does not change nor does our place in him change.
Let me speak bluntly lest my point go unsaid. Our church, our culture, our whole world is in a state of rapid change. It could be easy for us to get lost in exciting new websites, new logos, and new buildings and miss that which remains unchanged: Christ Jesus. More than ever, it is essential that we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Let us throw off everything else that so easily entangles us and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

July 16, 2007

generation x

The following is an admittedly half-baked, totally un-researched, and perhaps unbelievably silly line of thought that I’ve been contemplating. Enjoy.

I am a man who lives between two great generations. My peers and I split the gap between the Boomers and the Millennials almost evenly. We are a generation without an identity of our own – perhaps that’s why we are called Generation X. I think it is our lot to simultaneously honor the values of our fathers while ushering in those of our children.

Being bilingual no longer just means speaking the language of two nations – it can also mean speaking the language of two great generations. I think that society is undergoing massive changes. We are rapidly shifting our primary means of communication. We are moving from a dominantly oral paradigm to one built largely on text and graphics. Instead of getting a phone call, we get a text message. We now have the capacity to take and send pictures anytime to anywhere. Ironically, the telegraph replaced the post mail, the phone replaced the telegraph, the newspaper replaced the town crier, television replaced the newspaper, and now instant text messages are replacing the telephone, and the internet is replacing the television. We seem to be bouncing back and forth over the generations from oral to written and back again.

Remarkably, these changes are no longer isolated in the west. When I was traveling in Rwanda, I was struck by how when you drive out of the city – you are not just commuting from an urban to rural area. You are also traveling through time. In Kigali City, you can access free wireless internet at the International Airport while sipping a cup of gourmet coffee. Drive two hours outside of the city and the clock turns back hundreds of years. People are living in small round mud huts with thatch roofs. Even though I have been there a couple of times, I still cannot fathom what that must mean to the people of that tiny country. At least in the States, everyone is compelled to navigate these changes equally.

In the midst of all this change, it is easy for people to feel lost and become desperate for something familiar – especially those in the Boomer generation. They have been this great sweeping force, not only in the States, but really have had a world shaping impact. For a long time, their values were the clear, dominant force shaping the culture. That is beginning to change. The Millenials and their cohorts are asserting themselves and their ideals and it is beginning to generate competition in society. It strikes me as slightly humorous that no doubt the Boomers experienced this whole generational shift from the other end when they began asserting themselves with the “Greatest Generation.” I mean that is a tough nut to crack – succeeding a generation whose very name implies their claim on societal norms and values!

This shift in society and competition to define societal norms will necessarily impact the church. As it does, people need not feel left behind, put out, or ignored (on either end of the generational spectrum). Our means of communicating, doing life together, and generally ordering our lives may continue to change. However, our primary mission will not. For those of you who may be looking for something familiar to hang onto – something solid upon which to stand: Let me suggest that the familiar is here and – so long as we are faithful to him – always will be. Christ is the unchanging in our church and he is sufficient.

As a genXer who is stretching himself to “become all things to all men,” I’d love to hear your thoughts in and around this issue . . .

June 30, 2007

perfect day?

I sent a text message to a few friends that said, “Describe the perfect day.” Their responses (and lack of responses) were interesting. I didn’t really have anything in mind when I send the message; I was just passing an idle thought. But, the responses I did get got me to thinking about how I would answer.

I think the perfect day is one that is unexpected. It isn’t scripted or planned. It just unfolds like a flower in bloom. You really only see the beauty once it is complete.

I find this to especially be true when a day gets suddenly redeemed. You know, one of those days that is booked from one end to the other that suddenly breaks loose when things get cancelled or rescheduled. All of a sudden you have absolutely nothing constructive to do because you had been planning on doing something else. Those days tend to turn out especially well for me.

How would you describe your perfect day?

June 27, 2007

da beach

I am definitely enjoying my time at the beach. The other evening, I was sitting on the balcony and the sunset just seemed to linger for me. It is amazing at how little one mind can think in moments like those. I don’t know if it is a human trait, a male trait, or a Ryan trait, but my mind can go completely and totally void. It just fills with what my five senses bring in and that is the sum of what I am able to comprehend in that moment. In everyday life, this is not the case – but in certain spots during the right times, I simply exist. Nice.

June 20, 2007

hans and frans

I have a love/hate relationship with the gym. (I love to hate going.) My favorite part about going – the part that gets me there is that I get to hang out with my work out partner and shoot the breeze for a couple of hours a week. In fact, when he is out of town I don’t ever make it over to the gym. My problem is, I am not really committed to it. I want to be in better shape, but don’t want to do the work that would show results. Since I don’t see any real results, I am not very motivated to go do the work. Hmm. I am sure there is some spiritual parallel that I could draw here if I was a really good pastor . . . well, I’m off to lunch.

June 14, 2007

the sparkling city by the sea

I spent last week at annual conference in Corpus Christi– and came home tired and frustrated. I thought I had left my political career behind me when I went into ministry, but alas I was slightly naïve. Annual Conference this year held elections for delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. General Conference is our governing body who meet once every four years. Jurisdictional Conference also meets every four years to select and assign bishops to Episcopal areas. University should be proud of Mark Nerio who was elected to serve at General Conference as a layman along with former senior pastor, Mike Lowry who was elected to serve on behalf of the clergy. In addition, Walt Lengel was elected as a delegate to Jurisdictional Conference. Walt is a youth who has been providing great leadership for the conference camp ministry for a number of years.

On the plus side of my week in Corpus, I did really enjoy seeing good friends who are doing amazing things for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It was great to hear the way that faithful people are transforming their communities and changing lives. As serious as things seem when you are in the midst of voting and politicking, I was reminded that the true battlefield is not in a convention hall stuffed with religious leaders. Rather our fight is for the hearts and minds of those who are perishing in their sin for lack of knowing Jesus Christ. It is there that our victory lies and there that our hope comes.

May 17, 2007


One of my really good friends is in seminary and wrote about our last trip to Rwanda in a final paper. She said, “In this otherness, which is someone else’s someplace, someone else’s home, you are left grasping for something familiar until you accept that all familiarity is gone and you must allow the otherness to come in.” This may be one of the most profound theological statements I have ever come across. It cuts to the heart of our faith and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. As a people called to live in a world not our own this otherness is a place we must seek to find. I think that is perhaps why so many people go away on a mission trip to some foreign place and come back to find that though they went to change a life it was theirs that was transformed.

May 14, 2007


I just can’t seem to get enough rest these days. I am tired quite a bit and it is really frustrating. I don’t know if I picked up a bug or am having some serious allergy problems, but I am just exhausted all the time. I am reminded of a line from some movie whose title I can’t recall (I am sure it is totally inappropriate and you will recognize it and think, “I can’t believe he watched that movie.”) that said, “I thought I was depressed, but it turned out I had mono.”

What do you do when you get to that place of exhaustion? When I can get away with it, I like to just lay down on my couch with a blanket and pillow and watch movie after movie. Actually, I have discovered the joy of watching TV series on DVD. You can have hours of uninterrupted storyline that way. I call it “cocooning.” I withdraw from the world for a day or two – refuse to answer the phone or even get the door. I like to say that it is in this state that I can just put my brain in neutral. One thing that is very important – it doesn’t work if you have to do ANYTHING else that day. A true “cocoon day” must be from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep.

As it is unlikely that I am going to get any time in my cocoon before mid-to-late June, I guess I am going to have to figure something else out. In the meantime, I will try to snatch a little renewal where it presents itself!

May 5, 2007


It was a hard week for some reason. I don’t know why, but my heart has been hurting some lately. I am pretty sure that part of it has to do with Nathan going home. It was so great to have him staying here with me and sharing his supreme joy for life. I know that many of you in church got to hear him sing during church, but I got to hear him sing every morning and night!

Anyway, I am glad the week is drawing to a close. The weekend has been good. I went to Seguin with Mark, Matt, and the band for Youth Choir Rally. YCR is a great event that my friend Rusty Freeman hosts each year for church youth choirs from all over Southwest Texas. Anyway, we had a late night in Seguin -- engaging worship and decent Mexican food. Mostly, my soul was warmed by the warmth of our laughter and friendship. We got a big kick out of a billboard on I10 that reads (in hand painted red letters) “Sign f Rent.” We think they realized that they didn’t have room for the “or” a little too late. If you rent that sign, you may want to paint it yourself.

April 28, 2007

never before today

I woke up this morning with such a spirit of gratitude. My friend, Nathan Amooti – who is a pastor in Rwanda – is visiting with me.

It is really quite amazing to consider. When I was younger, I often longed to live during another period in history. Truth be told, I wanted to live in the wild west. I’m not exactly sure why as I would have made a terrible cowboy. This morning I realized with joy that this is the first time in human history where it is possible for Nathan and me to have a true friendship. Between international air travel and instant messaging over the internet, we can keep in touch and get together throughout the year.

For all the horrible things progress brings, there are some truly amazing ones as well.

April 23, 2007


I raced up to the Chick-fil-et parking lot Monday morning when I heard the first panel had been installed. I was not planning on going up there as I had a lot of work at home to do, but I finally couldn't stand it any longer. I watched in awe – and in my house shoes – as the culmination of a multiyear dream began to come true at last. The entire wall panel for the entrance to the Youth side of the new facility was up standing all on its own. I couldn’t help but begin praying for all the children of our community who will walk through that door for the next 50 years and discover the life changing power of Jesus Christ. It is almost 3 years ago exactly that Pastor Mike stood on the lawn in front of the sanctuary smoking his pipe and pointing to an empty field as he shared a vision for a new dedicated youth facility. I wasn’t even appointed to University then, I was just considering my options as I prepared to graduate seminary. I think more than anything else on my tour of campus that day, that vision is what first began a stirring in my heart for our church. I figured that any church who loved their youth that much would be a church worth serving! Now, the reality of the building is even bigger than the original vision for it. God is good and faithful to allow us to partner with him in this great work.

I got an email from a member this week that summed it up when they said, “It’s really happening. It’s like Jericho – but in reverse. Woo-Hoo!”