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 espaƱol, 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.