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 ryan@uchurch.tv.

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 (upreacher.blogspot.com): 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 . . .