November 9, 2008

Barthelona (Barcelona)

Rob and I are in Barcelona. We are at a hotel that sits on top of the Metro station so getting around should be easy, even if sleeping is not . . .

Once again, time is of the essence because they charge by the minute around here for internet! We´ll be in Barcelona until Tuesday, then we´ll head for Madrid and finally back home on Thursday. I probably won´t be online again until Madrid, but you never know!

November 8, 2008

On the Med

Rob and I are alive and well and near the Med. We are about an hour south of Barthelona (Barcelona). We had a great time in Sevilla and Gibralter. That's right we threw in a trip to the British rock. Inside a cave on the Rock of Gibralter, I ran into Suzanne, a member of my church. Small world! We will be in Barcelona for a few days. Wish I could say more, but time is money when you are buying time on the internet! Thinking of all my friends and family as we see the wonders of Espana!

November 5, 2008

Safe in Seville

Well, Roberto and I made it safely into Spain this morning. We left Madrid right away deciding to end our time there since we will be flying out of there next week. We made our way down to Saville in the south of Spain and had a great day walking around and brushing up on our Spanish. We will be here for a couple of days at least, then I strongly suspect we will make our way to the coast at Gibralter, then track the coast over to Barcelona. So far, lots of laughs and lots of being lost, then found, then lost, then found! I´ll try to touch base in a few days, but it may be until we get into Barcelona early next week before I have another chance. Love to my sweet family!

October 17, 2008

Miles

Like most college students, I got a credit card shortly after arriving in college. I have used the card ever since. Earlier this year, it came to my attention that this particular card allowed me to accumulate airline miles. Unbeknownst to me, I became part of the frequent flier program and every flight and every purchase I have made contributed to my miles account. Low and behold these many years later, I have accumulated quite a pile. I called the airline to see how this whole things works.

When I was in high school Spanish class, we used to watch these Spanish soap operas called, “Destinos” to help with our education. Although I couldn’t understand much of what was said, I was really taken with Spain! My dream to see the country has never left me.

By now you should see where this is going . . .

During my annual vacation this year, my good friend from seminary and I are going to Spain courtesy of American airlines! I am so excited! We don’t know where we will go or stay. We don’t have a plan or agenda. With just a few bucks in our pocket and our backpacks strapped on, we are off on an adventure.

September 28, 2008

Psalm 8

Saturday morning, I woke up, went to Walmart and picked up the new Coldplay cd. I loaded it into the disc player and headed out.

How do you explain sorrow or define exhilaration. Endless words can be used, but in the end only an experience of the emotions will lend understanding. I will use the best words I have, but even as I write, I know they will be insufficient to describe the sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings I experienced.

The hillsides are a riot of color. Green, orange, yellow, and red explode like fireworks all around. The blue sky yields to lazy clouds that become heavy with moisture. A single cloud fills and falls to the earth. Like dark angry fingers, the cloud unfolds visibly dropping its rain precisely in one spot.

Huge rock croppings push upward from the earth, laughing at gravity’s pull. They stand like sentries forever guarding the ancient secrets that propelled them up out of the ground. With each bend in the road, I have to will myself to breath so stunned am I by the beauty of what I am seeing. Words like: spectacular, incredible, indescribable all come to mind. I am thrilled to be alive.

Suddenly I am in the southwest. I know I didn’t sleep, but with the blink of an eye it is as if I have woken up in a different place. The soil has become red and the aspens have been replaced with low standing cedars who seem crouched against the ground, prepared for an onslaught of wind and snow. I turn off onto an unpaved road that will consume the next 35 miles of my trek.

Just as quickly as it came, the red rock of the desert west is gone. Instead the hills are littered with the black rock of magma spit forth from generations gone by. Entering into the canyon, I find myself paralleling the Colorado River. The river is in a hurry, anxious to reach its destination before the snow and ice slow its progress. In wonder, I examine the walls of this place and consider the painful work the river has completed to burrow itself so deeply into this place.

As I continue on my journey, the scene shifts again and again. The immeasurable display of God’s creativity stuns me mile by mile. In literally thousands of spots along the way, I could have simply stopped and spent the rest of the day doing nothing more than contemplating the colors, the rocks, the ravines, the river, . . .

Like the swiftly changing scenery, I find my mood has changed. Imperceptibly, I have gone from exhilaration to sorrow. I am a spectator to forces and power that are beyond my imagination, much less my control. My insignificance is being illustrated out of every window. I am hemmed in by credible evidence that my movement through the canyon means nothing to the mountain, to the river, or to the sky.

In the face of all this, I ask the Lord, “And who am I that you are mindful of me?”

As soon as I arrived in Aspen, I found myself standing outside of a little church whose Mass was about to begin. I went in and sat in the back as the Father preached: “Get over it, it’s not about you, it’s about Jesus.”

September 27, 2008

Weekend

Well, it’s the weekend. Although this is a “working weekend,” I have decided to set off for some time alone. I left Estes Park today and traveled over the Fall River Road to the western side of the park. It was slow going on the dirt road (that is closed in the winter – which begins sometime in the next week or two up here!). To say that it was beautiful is an understatement. In addition to the always present evidence of God’s imagination, the road was also a not too subtle reminder of my mortality. To say the road is slightly treacherous is to say that sticking your finger in the light socket is mildly stimulating.

I did manage to get out and hike around a bit in the upper areas of the park. It felt good to stretch my legs and I even managed to walk through little pockets of snow. For my non-Texas friends, that’s a big deal. The closest we get to snow in September is a blizzard from the DQ.

I stopped for lunch in Granby a place where Lee Brookman and I once took a helicopter ride during our summer of fun following high school graduation. The sign advertised a number of dinning options including German, American, and Mexican. Inside I found a husband and wife team whose thick German accent led me to a Brat, Sauerkraut, and some potatoes. Over a great lunch I opened up my map to select my final destination for the day.

A beautiful drive ensued and I found myself in Steamboat Springs. I found a quite place to stay that met all of my requirements: a balcony with a view, internet access, and CNN on which to watch the debate. I spent a great night with one eye on the debate and one eye watching a gorgeous sunset. I’m off now for another day of sight seeing and sermon writing. I think I’ll head south and look for a good place to watch the trees and work on plans for next year’s sermon calendar. Along the way, church, know that I am praying for you and miss you a lot.


September 25, 2008

I quit. No, I don't. Yes, I do. No, I don't.

I decided this morning to go on a little hike. I set out from the cabin and headed up the “hill.” Just a little one mile jaunt to get the blood pumping. One mile above the cabin is a sign that offers you two different hikes. One is 2.5 miles, the other 2.2 miles. I looked at the sun, considered the photo quality for going each of the two directions and set off for the 2.5 mile hike.

I was headed to Deer Mountain Summit. The first part of the trip was great. I was laughing, taking pictures, and generally amusing myself as I went along. I was hiking down a ridgeline for a while with spectacular views to both my left and right. Here’s one of my self portraits – the rest are on facebook.


About an hour and half into my hike, I started thinking that I was never going to make the summit. I had set a two hour limit for the outbound leg of the journey, not wanting to hike for more than four hours. This was the point where the trail really began to ascend. I was on a series of cutbacks that were leading steadily upward.

With fifteen minutes left on my two hour deadline, I started really praying. I was thinking how great a sermon illustration this would make. You know, I was tired – at the end of my strength, wanting to quit and turn around, but no I pressed on and look how great it all turned out. Each step I took was starting to be painful. I was experiencing “jelly legs.” That’s the technical climbing term, I think.

As the two hour deadline came and went, I was starting to resign myself to having to turn back before reaching the summit. I couldn’t tell if I was close or not. I was really wishing that there would just be some sort of sign – something to let me know I was still on the right track – and preferably that I was almost there! I started looking around for a place to lay down. I figured I should rest for a little bit and then start back down the mountain. As I kept going forward, I began to think this might turn out to be an entirely different kind of sermon illustration.

I was becoming genuinely concerned that the moral of this hike when told on Sunday would not be about perseverance and trust, rather about vanity and pride. Twice I quit and turned around. I never took a single step, but spun the rest of the way around and kept going. Once, I think I even spoke out loud, “I quit.” “No, not yet.” The really disturbing part about all this was knowing that as tired as I was, as weak as my legs felt, as low as my water was running – I was only halfway through the hike. Every step forward at that point was worth two steps because of the return.

I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t seen the sign. Maybe I would have gone on indefinitely. Maybe I would have turned around pretty soon. I know that I should have turned back well earlier. So, at the summit (and halfway point), I had hiked about 3 miles and ascended right at 2000 feet (from 8200 to 10200 feet)!


Still, the summit was spectacular and after spending forty five minutes up top, the two and half hours back down the mountain just breezed by . . .


September 24, 2008

In Estes Park

I haven't written on the old blog for quite a while. The truth is, I have been in my bunker - hunkering down and weathering storm after storm and I just didn't feel like sharing.

After not even 24 hours away, I find myself emerging once again. It is truly lovely here in Estes Park, Colorado. I am here on my annual sermon preparation retreat. By the time I come home, I will have every sermon title and scripture selected for the entire 2009 calendar year. Along the way, I fully expect to be inspired by God's creation (and have a little fun!).

Oh faithful (and neglected) blog readers, have cheer. I am on line again and will keep you posted on my latest adventure.

August 13, 2008

a mirror, not a window

How often I read the scriptures as though they were a window. I am reading along looking for insight into the world and people around me. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Word of God doesn’t give us insight into the world and people around us. It certainly does. The mind of God sees all things, all people, all of time as though at once.

Nevertheless, the scriptures are always first to be a mirror into our own hearts. The Word of God is a sword that pierces the heart and deflates human ego. I confess in my own mind, I often as not see the sword as I would hope it pierces the other – rather than as I would hope it pierces me.

In my daily reading on August 8, I read: 1 Corinthians 4.5: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

I first read this passage as though it were a window, not a mirror. “Yes,” I thought, “God is going to expose the motives of people and reveal the secrets of their shadowy hearts!”

I then realized that this was a mirror, not a window. “Uh, oh,” I thought, “God is going to expose my motives and reveal the secrets of my shadowy heart!”

A disturbing thought to be sure. As I processed this word of truth, I became thankful for two things. 1) Jesus Christ has died for the shadows in my heart. The light he shines into my soul isn’t to convict me of sin, but to free me from it. I should fear staying in darkness where death is my only reward. Though painful, the exposing light of Christ ultimately frees me for life eternal. 2) I can trust God. I can trust him to shine light into my life and reveal the intent of my heart. I can trust him to judge me at the appointed time for when payment comes due, I will find it has already been paid. When the sentence on my soul for my sin is delivered, I will find it has already been served.

August 11, 2008

new thoughts for me

I am the chair of the Conference Council on Youth Ministry – arguably the most fun conference council in South Texas! It is populated by students and adults who love young people and who work tirelessly to bring the Gospel of Christ to teens. I spent the last couple of days with my council in Marble Falls. We played together, worshiped, and did our annual planning.

During our morning worship, we were singing our praise to God. I was looking around the room at all the sweet faces of youth and adults who had just spent four exhausting weeks leading summer camps for all the kids in Southwest Texas. They had given of themselves to serve the Lord. We were in a spectacular spot on Lake LBJ. The sun was streaming in, the open water all around us, and the communion elements were on the table.

We had to improvise a little bit with the bread and juice. Somehow we had forgotten the elements. So, we found a grape Capri-sun – though it must have been white grape since the liquid looked more like apple juice. For the bread, we had a plain bagel.

The singing came to a close and painfully I shared what was on my heart:

We are here in a beautiful place and you are all such beautiful people. We are of one mind and one accord. The unity of the Spirit is among us. Our worship of God is easy in this place – and it should be. And it is real. But, it is not the only place we are called to serve. In truth, much of our work and worship is to be done in the sewers of the human spirit. And that is being generous. Most of the world – often even the church exists in the selfish sewer of human depravity. We spew filth on ourselves, on each other, on our God, and on his servants.

Worship and service to God is more often not in a place of beauty, but instead in a place of desolation and waste. Jesus didn’t come to save pretty people, he came to save those in the sewers. Jesus offered more than words – I confess that I often only offer words. Jesus told us the greatest love is the love that lays down his life for his friends, then he called us friends. More than just offering words, Jesus laid down his life for all people. By his sacrifice he made us – he made me – who are enemies of God by our sin – his friends. He mopped up our sewer stained lives and made us gleam as though brilliantly white.

Our faith is messy. Consider that the great symbol, the great memorial, the great mystery that binds us together with God comes in the form of a broken body and shed blood. Blood that pours from hands and head and side is the enabling agent of a new covenant of peace.

In my daily scripture readings this week, I read the following and was mightily convicted. I know I don’t live this as I should, but pray God I am learning and growing in it.

1 Corinthians 4:11-13: (Paul describing the apostles) “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”

And 1 Corinthians 4.20: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.”

August 4, 2008

State of the U

The following was originally published in the most recent edition of The Encourager, the monthly magazine of the U. The uzine may be found on line at: http://news.uchurch.tv/Encourager/2008-08-August.pdf.

Another new school year is quickly approaching. Children will be entering new classes, new grade levels, and new schools. Families will say goodbye to the madness of summer and prepare to settle into a more normal routine. As the page is turned on another summer and we head headlong into the fall, I am preparing to deliver a “State of the U” address in our contemporary worship services. Coming hard on the heels of a seven week study on the book of Ecclesiastes and serving as a transition into our church-wide “University for Life” sermon series, I will seek to celebrate some of the past year’s accomplishments, examine some of the work yet undone, and share some prayerful hopes about our years ahead.

In an effort to prepare for this address, I asked our ministry leaders to share with me some of the things they celebrate about the past year. I was overwhelmed by the response. There has been so much in the last year for which to be thankful. God has truly and richly blessed our church. At the end of his Gospel, John said that there is simply no way to record everything Jesus said and did in his lifetime – there wouldn’t be enough parchment to contain it all. As I compile a list of celebrations, I completely understand! There has been simply too many wonderful Christ moment to record them all, but by way of previewing my pending State of the U address, I offer these celebrations.

In Sanctuary Music:

The Chancel Choir was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in March of 2008 and will be taking 48 members of the group to perform.

Over 1,100 people attended the Christmas 2007 community outreach concert

Music Camp had 98 campers!

In usk8:

The kick off event led to 55 people accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior!

In the first 12 weeks of the ministry, the Gospel has been preached to 204 different skaters
6 people have been given their first Bible.

In Food Ministry:

A program was launched that has recycled 12,000 plastic bottles in the last six months.

In Foundation:

Over $18,000 in Scholarships Awarded – four college scholarships and two music scholarships

Over 200 people participated in Stewardship Development Events (Good $ense, Debt Reduction workshops, Financial Peace University, Putting Your House in Order Seminars)

In Magdalena House:

Successfully opened the U’s Woman's and Children's shelter – a home for domestic violence and human trafficking victims

In Outreach:

126 people joined the church through Pastor’s Welcoming Luncheons.

Non-University children were bussed from local apartment complexes to participate in Vacation Bible School.

Ongoing mission work on the Gulf Coast (Disaster Recovery Trips for Hurricane Rita), on the border, in Uspantan, Camanchaj, Antigua, Rwanda, Memphis, Corpus Christi, Under the Bridge, and places around the city.

Held three “Amigo Dinners”

Provided leadership and team members for Epiphany #3 and #4

Angel Tree –bought presents for 50+ families .

Hosted the Blue Sunday & Teen Conference

Provided Samaritan assistance for over 300 people (rental assistances, gas, CPS, and/or food).

I would invite all of our contemporary worshipers to make plans to attend services on August 17 to hear the complete State of the U address.

July 19, 2008

Men vs. Wild

I took yesterday afternoon off and met my friend from Austin, A.J. up at the Guadalupe River for a little fun in the sun. We swam in the river, basked in the sun, and generally had a good time talking theology and catching up on life.

It was nearing twilight when we saw a snake making its way from the opposite bank over towards our spot – just a little downstream from us. We did the only thing a guy can do in such a situation – we started chuckin’ rocks. Well, the snake turned around, swam back across the river and holed up in its lair. Being the manly men that we are, we declared our victory and (after the slightest pause . . . ahem) jumped into the water to claim our domain.

While we were swimming, we noticed the serpent again making its way from the opposite bank towards our camp. The tribal man in us sprung into action. In a flurry of activity we emerged from the water, scooped up rocks and sticks and headed for battle. As the viper beached himself we threw a warning shot into the river behind him – hoping to block his escape. He wasn’t planning on going anywhere. It was on.

As I hurled my first projectile, he coiled, began shaking his tale and unhinged his jaw giving us a good view of his fangs set against the white background of his mouth. His sudden movement caused my first shot to be a miss and he shot up the bank after me.

AJ was just behind me and now the snake was between us. He swung hard with a large stick which shattered against the rock just missing the snake. Unfortunately, drift wood isn’t all that sturdy! Nevertheless, AJ’s shot caused the snake to turn and head back for the water. He had had enough of us.

Little did he know that I am a student of King David. I threw the rock in my left hand and watched it momentarily sink the snake now a few feet from the shore. Even while the first was in flight, I transferred the much larger projectile from my left to right hand and let fly. I got him square on the head. Whether he was stunned or dead at that point, I don’t know. Just to be sure, we pulled him out of the water and finished him off, again. And, again.

This morning, I decided to do a little research on our snake and here is what I read.

Water Moccasin:

When sufficiently stressed, this species engages in a characteristic threat display that includes vibrating its tail and throwing its head back with its mouth open to display the startling white interior, while the neck and front part of the body are pulled into an S-shape. Many of its common names, including "Cottonmouth" and "gapper", refer to this behavior, while its habit of snapping its jaws shut when anything touches its mouth has earned it the name "trap-jaw" in some areas.

At night, they are at their most active, when they are usually found swimming or crawling. Contrary to popular belief, they are capable of biting while underwater.

Symptoms commonly include ecchymosis and swelling. The pain is generally more severe than bites from the copperhead, but less so than those from rattlesnakes. The formation of vesicles and bullae is less common than with rattlesnake bites, although necrosis can occur. Myokymia is sometimes reported. On the other hand, the U.S. Navy (1991) states that the venom has strong proteolytic activity that can lead to severe tissue destruction.

Yikes. Happy tubing campers . . .

PS: Just so I don’t hear from PETA or the like, remember:

Genesis 3:14-15:
“14 So the LORD God said to the serpent,
"Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust all the days of your life.

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

July 18, 2008

Bishop Mike Lowry

On the 11th ballot, Rev. Dr. J. Michael Lowry is elected a Bishop of the United Methodist Church. When you next see him, he is no longer Pastor Mike, but Bishop Lowry. What a great moment for the United Methodist Church. Congrats my dear friend.

July 17, 2008

pray, pray

The first ballot of the South Central Jurisdiction is now taking place. One of University’s own members, Mark Nerio is a delegate at the conference as is one of my young padawan’s, Walt Lengel (a great guy I have known since he was in 6th grade and who is now a sophomore at Texas and the youth intern at Pflugerville UMC!) This conference in Dallas will elect the new Bishops who will serve in the Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Nebraska Episcopal areas of the United Methodist Church. My good friend and former boss, Rev. Dr. Mike Lowry is a candidate for Bishop this year. I sincerely believe that God has called him to this work and am praying for the wisdom of the holy conference. Beyond Mike’s election, I am watching the happenings with interest as the only Bishop I have ever served under, Bishop Joel Martinez will be retiring in August. We will be assigned a new Bishop by the Jurisdictional Conference later this week. Obviously, when you work in an appointive system who your Bishop is makes a big difference in your life! So, I invite you to join me in praying for this conference – for Mike, for Mark, for Walt, and for a Bishop to be named later!

If you want to follow the elections, a good site for watching ballot summaries is at: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.4340133/k.97F/Episcopal_Elections_Ballot_Results_Summary.htm

We are in the SCJ (South Central Jurisdiction).

July 11, 2008

ice

So, in a recent sermon I was talking about man's stewardship of the earth - that while God has certainly given us dominion, we must move beyond domination and possession towards true stewardship. I made mention that one can't help but wonder if we aren't seeing evidence of our need to do better with all the wild natural events occuring around us. At that time, I noted that scientists predict that all the ice may well melt off the North Pole by the end of this summer. I have had a number of people ask me about this particular piece of information. I promise, though I make many things up - mostly about my prowess at sports - this was not one of them. If you are interested you can read the article on cnn.com. It is posted at http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/weather/06/27/north.pole.melting/index.html?iref=newssearch

The data comes from the National Snow & Ice Data Center - their website is at www.nsidc.org.

busy

Busy barely covers what I have been over the last several weeks. If I was a car, I’d be in high gear! Life around the church has been great – very rewarding. Strangely, I have really enjoyed doing the work of the Operations Pastor. Though it is a lot of extra work, there is something great about doing a job that produces immediate results. A lot of my duties for my job produce results that are difficult to measure. Much of my work is about a journey, a process. When I do the operations work though, there is a product at which to point. When I write a Building Usage and Fee Schedule – it is done, ready for consideration by the Trustees. When a room is renovated, you can watch the progress until it is finally complete. Though it has really added a number hours to my week – and unfortunately taken me away from some areas in my own ministry that need additional attention – overall, it has been very rewarding.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be more than ready to turn all these additional responsibilities over, but I am grateful that God is allowing me to learn new skills during this season of our church’s life.

On top of all these things, I have been on the go quite a bit. I attended a clergy retreat, took a much needed week of vacation, was ordained at Annual Conference in Corpus, went on a mission trip to Rwanda, preached at a Jr. High Youth Camp in Kerrville, and led the Saturday night Girls Chrysalis service – all in the last six weeks! In fact, in a 7 day stretch I preached 10 times!

It has been good to get back into the groove this week. There’s nothing like a busy schedule to remind you of how good normal can be! Traveling and preaching is something I never want to give up, if for no other reason than it reminds me that there really is no place like home. When I am able to get even just a little outside of my own environment I gain valuable perspective and find my ability for ministry greatly enhanced.

July 6, 2008

JAM 2008

So I spent part of last week preaching out in Kerrville at a Southwest Texas Conference summer camp. It was a camp for Methodist Jr. High youth – sponsored by our Conference Council on Youth Ministry and led by my good friend, the Rev. Dr. Rusty Freeman! The camp runs from Sunday evening to lunch on Thursday. For the first time, two of the kids at camp came from the U! (They and their parents wanted to experience “those camps Ryan & Mark are always talking about!)

Overall the camp was a great success. Swayze was leading the music – bringing our buddy Kyle Brown out to play guitar along with some of his traveling musicians. One of our favorite pastimes up at camp is to play with our Nerf dart guns. We have those sticky dart guns that you can make shoot long distances with a little rubber band modification! This year, we didn’t have a lot of time for that as we played pretty hard with the kids. Lots of ultimate Frisbee and underwater freeze tag wiped this guy out!

Every morning at camp includes morning devotions, alone time with God, small groups, and family learning rooms. The afternoon is given to recreation with a large group activity after dinner. At night we worship.

You might not believe me, but 9 out of 10 kids would tell you that worship is their absolute favorite part of camp – and the reason they come. They have discovered that nothing compares to finding yourself in the resurrected presence of Jesus Christ – and they love it. To be honest, so do I. It’s the reason Mark & I go back year after year.

Every year we are amazed by the activity of God in young people’s lives – and this year was no exception. This year, 19 kids gave their life to Christ; 31 rededicated their lives to him; and 43 professed a calling to full time ministry.

Let me say that again, 43 Jr. High students professed a calling to full time ministry. God is raising these young leaders up just in time too. In Methodism, the average age of someone who is being ordained is somewhere around 55. Books are being written about the church’s coming crisis (now being realized) regarding the lack of first career clergy. Yet, part of the solution must be putting examples out in front of our young people. It must include a deliberate encouragement from the pastor and the congregation. We must tell our young people that there is nothing better that they could do with their lives than give it in service and ministry to their God.

I noted with joy that one of the young men who believes himself called to ministry mentioned my former intern and now Corpus Christi Associate Pastor, Mark Montgomery. Having been there less than a month, his very presence – his earnest desire to serve God has shown a young man in his congregation that ministry is a real option for him.

May God add an increase to this young generation who is ready to stand and serve their God.

June 22, 2008

The rain that falls

The rain that falls, may it fall again. So the saying goes in Rwanda. In Texas it might be: Yall come back now, ya hear? Right now I am sitting on the last airplane I want to even see for a long time. I have been on the go for 27 hours and have another 2 before I get into San Antonio.

As you can imagine, I am more than a little bit tired and raw. You will excuse me if I lose a little grammar and/or flow. To be sure, I am not even certain I have a purpose in composing this post.

I was just looking at my pictures from the trip. Once again, I got far too few. I always regret not having taken more while I was there, but when I am in the moment the last thing I want to do is remove myself from living that second by retreating behind my camera.

This trip was tough. By far, the toughest experience for me yet. Obviously the most disappointing part is not having the rest of the team make it over. That really crushed my spirits. I was so looking forward to having everyone. Because Van & Debbie didn’t make it, I am still without significant ability show you the incredible story of redemption playing out in that small nation. Add to that I got really quite sick for a couple of days. I also was with some good, but human people struggling to be Godly everyday – sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. There were points this year when I wondered if this would be my last trip to Rwanda for a while. I don’t know what the future holds, but God is good and before I flew out of Kigali I knew I would never leave Africa, not really.

After my first trip to Rwanda, I distinctly remember telling people that the nation reminded me of a newborn fawn trying to find her legs. You watch with anticipation knowing that it is equally likely that the newborn will collapse as gain its balance. In just a few short years, Rwanda has found her legs. They are building bridges – not just over rivers, but between their past and their future. This is a country who faces new national challenges every day. Filling one need inevitably reveals two unexpected new ones. Yet, this little nation sits as an example of what is possible to its neighbors: Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Chad, etc. (to say nothing of Zimbabwe).

Real change takes commitment. It takes good people willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. It means expecting Christ and His Church to be leaders in shaping the future of the country. (I don’t mean participating in politics really. I mean actually being the center of community life and everything that entails.) It takes men like Nathan Amooti sharing his laughter when it’s a choice between that and crying. It takes women like Jan organizing widows and leading the way toward reconciliation. It takes saints like Emmanuel Kolini exerting his own personal holiness as a covering for the people. It takes survivors like Harriet seeing the worst the devil can dish out and still choosing to see love people in a way that envelopes your whole being.

I don’t know if I will blog anymore about this trip. I find that once I get home it takes me several months before I can share my experiences. That being said, I will put up some pictures on the blog once I am at a high speed location!

Finally, I ask you to keep praying for the saints in Rwanda: Nathan, the Mango Tree Church congregation, Amy, Tiffany, Harriet, Archbishop, the kids in Hope Village and all the others who love us and are loving their people so well.

June 21, 2008

Coming Home

Today is a sad day. It always happens this way. The end of the journey comes and I find that I am just not ready. I am wheels up on Saturday around 1 p.m. Central Standard Time (8 pm here). I will land in San Antonio on Sunday night at 8 p.m. Yes, that is 31 hours of traveling – assuming no delays! Pray for me and my long legs, kiddos! I love you all and will look forward to being with you soon. Blessings from Kigali. Muramukeho.

Hope Village

Amy, Tiffany, and I went out to the Hope Village in Kabuga today. It is one of the child-headed villages supported by the Church here. It has been such a successful model that now the government is building some of their own to house the orphans of the genocide.

The child headed villages were started by the Anglican Church here in Rwanda following the genocide. The children needed a safe place to be stored away and a place to grow and learn. So, the Church took the surviving members of families and placed the children in their own small homes. The oldest child was in charge of the house, though the title for the house was put in the name of the youngest child (to ensure they would all reach adulthood with a roof over their head!). In addition, they were given a small plot of land next to their house to grow crops. This was as much vocational training as it was sustenance. It would have been a disservice to put these kids in an urban orphanage when their people had always been growers. In fact, 80% of the country is rural/agricultural.

Once again we were greeted with great joy from the young people. They showed us around their village – pointing out additions and updates. I noted with interest that they are completing another house, have added water catching devises to their homes, have a large cistern for each house, and the head “man” (he’s really still a youth), Claude, now owns his own cow! The kids have big plans for their village too. They would like to build a chapel for worship that can double as a meeting hall and community center for their village. They would like to add a water well so that in the dry season they don’t have to walk 2 miles for clean water. The diocese would like to add a counseling program for them as well to help them begin to unpack and process the events that stripped them of their homes and families.

We were taken to a house that I have mentioned before – so burned into my spirit that I shall never forget it. Inside, the only wall hanging is a beautiful family all dressed in white. Dad, Mom (who is clearly pregnant), and 9 children are all clothed in white. Even the smallest children are standing straight and looking quite smart. A black ball point pen has marred this black and white photograph. Across the chest of Dad, Mom, and 8 of the children is a + (including the infant in Mom’s arms). The second youngest child and the baby in Mom’s belly are the only two without the +. They are the residents of this house. Together, they have pruned their garden into the words, “God is Good.” In the face of such loss, I suppose it is good to remind yourself everyday you walk out of your house.

Anyway, we were out there because Amy and Tiffany came up with such a great idea. Many of the kids are now in secondary school or have completed secondary school, but have no where else to go – no other opportunities to explore. So, they have worked with the Diocese Administration to create a form for the kids to fill out indicating what they would like to do next: finish secondary school, go to a trade school or even to university.


The girls goal is to start with 10 of the kids and have them fill out these sponsorship forms and take each of their pictures. Then, try to find folks who might sponsor these survivors in school. I am very hopeful of their success. Most of the sponsorships will be around $600 U.S. per year. Can you imagine? $6,000 U.S. to send all these kids through vocational school and/or university! Like the girls, I think it can be done. Claude, the village head man, filled out the first form with us and will give instructions to all the others to get them filled out. The girls will go back on Tuesday to collect them and take their pictures. I know you will join me in praying for their success.

Choose to Shine

“Choose to shine.” That is the slogan for the Star School, founded and built by none other than our own favorite son, Nathan Amooti!

One year ago, Nathan walked me up and down a very steep and overgrown hillside. He pointed to bushes and clumps of grass and banana trees. Each was a marker in his mind’s eye for the ideal spot for a classroom, dormitory, or other school building. Nathan is the product of education. He studied hard and worked for all his education. He began life as a simple cattle keeper who now has a master’s degree from an American Seminary. He has built a number of schools for and with the Anglican Church.

Nathan shared his lifelong dream of opening a Rwandan school for excellence. It would be educationally rigorous and open to children of all income levels. He wanted a school that would give poor cattle keepers the same boost through life he received – regardless of their ability to pay. He told me that he wanted to put a rocking chair on the porch of the school building so that when he retired he could be surrounded by children in his old age.

We returned this year to the Star School site. Where only plants grew out of the hillside one year ago, now buildings have sprung from the ground. Nathan has raised funds and built a classroom block (with 5 classrooms) and the attendant bathroom buildings. He has now almost completed separate boys and girls dormitories that will hold 500 children when complete. Let me tell you, I have seen a number of building go up in Rwanda. Never have I seen work happen so quickly! And so much has been built with so little. What makes it more amazing is how much has been done in the face of massive inflation here. For example, when he priced his drawings a bag of concrete was 7,500 frw ($15) and is now 12,000 frw ($25).

Soon Nathan will complete the dorms and be ready to build a cafeteria. His future plans include buying out the land next to him (currently owned by the Muslims – how heartbreaking to consider a possible madras being built next door to the Star School), building a primary school on those lands, and installing soccer and volleyball fields between the two schools. Oh, yeah: and a porch with a rocking chair, but he has a few decades left before that is absolutely necessary!

I don’t know when my friend will be able to finish building his dream, but I believe in him and his ability to raise the funds necessary to continue. I met the children of the Star School and their teachers. I have spoken with the headmistress. Most importantly, I have prayed on those lands with the school’s founder. I have no doubt God will bring all His good works to completion for his servant.

June 19, 2008

moving

I will be working on a few more posts, but I am not sure when they will be posted. Shannon and Emily left tonight to head home (please pray for their travel), so I am moving out of the hotel in the morning to save some money! I am moving into the Guest House at the diocese compound where Amy and Tiffany (our awesome diocese interns) have been staying for the last month.

In other news, I am feeling much better so thank you for your prayers. Also, Harriet is home where we visited her today. She is feeling better. Shannon is bringing her CT scan home for our stateside doc friends to take a look at. Harriet will be in San Antonio soon as she has been given a student visa and will start classes at SAC this fall!

Hook em Horns

We spent Monday with a group of folks from the University of Texas at Austin. As you know, UT has one of (if not THE finest) library systems in the world. All burnt orange pride aside; it really is an internationally recognized system.

A foundation has selected them to get a grant to help create a national archive here in Rwanda, especially documenting and recording the events of 1994. They are working with the group that founded and runs the various memorials here in Rwanda.

After a quick lunch with their group, we headed out to show them some of the country. We took them to two different memorials, both of which were once churches. The first church we visited was the site of 5000 deaths. The second saw between 10-25,000. Inside both churches are bone shelves where thousands of bodies are stored. All you want to do is look away. It is difficult to allow your eyes to run over each skull and see the fractures that were caused by violent and angry men. In the second church we were shown the still blood stained walls where infants were killed by beating them against the wall. All you want to do is look away.

All you want to do is look away. But if we do, if we look away, did it happen? If we look away, can it happen again?

I think this project the Longhorns are doing is very important. Maybe it will help the world not look away so often.

he sang into the grave

A few days ago, we were honored to spend an afternoon with Archbishop Kolini. He is the head of the Rwandan Anglican Church (along with some Episcopal Churches in America who left U.S. control following their ordination of a homosexual bishop). Archbishop (or “Arch” as we affectionately call him!) is an extraordinary man. I have written and spoken of him before.

Arch drove us out to Bugesera to check in on a couple of really wonderful projects. Bugesera is now about a 25 minute drive from Kigali. The first time I went to Bugesera (2006) it was a 2 ½ hour drive. The government has really been investing in building good roads to connect the country, I tell you. They even have a new bridge that goes over the “Nile” that separates the Kigali and Bugesera provinces. (It’s not really the Nile, though it may be a tributary of the Nile. Like most central African countries, Rwanda claims to be the source of the Nile. Even the Arch calls it the Nile, saying: “It takes a lot of Rwandan soil to feed the Egyptians.”) I was really happy to see the new bridge because the old one may have been more dangerous than going to see the gorillas! As we were crossing the bridge, Arch said to me, “Ryan, during the genocide many of our people hid there in the swamps for several months. Eight of our children were born there.”

One of the real success stories in Bugesera is the Mother’s Union. It was formed by a woman in the diocese who lost her husband in the genocide. Like many women, she needed a way to find a way forward with life. This included a need for income, opportunity for children, emotional support, spiritual nurturing, and forgiveness in her heart.

The first Mother’s Union was formed there in Bugesera as women came together to meet and pray. They got a small grant and expanded their fellowship to include making soap. The business took off and they then opened a commissary. They expanded that by carrying trays amongst the people after weddings and church. They got a grant to buy a car to carry their soap to further areas. This time, we arrived to see their massive hall they are building. Really, it is quite something to see. They have build it to hold almost 1000 people. They will host weddings and big groups. The hall is having the floor installed now and with a little more money and work, it will be done. Bugesera is the site of a new international airport (which will be built when the government finds a way to fund it!). Because of the new road and new airport, these women are well situated.

Perhaps the greatest success has been in the area of reconciliation. Women are working, living, and praying side by side with one another. This includes women who lost their husband in the genocide and those women whose husbands are in prison for participating in the genocide. It has taken time, but God has worked among them. They are now focused on replicating the groups in Bugesera and around the country. They have over 750 groups now operating!

As we were walking past the church in the diocese compound next to the new women's hall, Arch turned and addressed me. During the genocide, the interhamwe came here because the pastor had been reported to be a "cockroach." They demanded that our pastor call his people to the church so that they could be killed. The pastor refused so they decided to drown him in the Nile. When they got to the riverside, the pastor asked for a moment to pray. His captors stopped and listened as the pastor prayed his prayers and concluded by asking for God to forgive his murderers. With that, they led the pastor into the water as he sang hymns to God. He sang into his grave.

June 18, 2008

ill

Sorry for the delay in posting. To be honest, I was very sick yesterday. I spent the whole day cocooned under my blankets. I didn't want to post until I felt better so that my folks wouldn't worry quite so much!

I managed to get out of bed today some and get out just a bit. I am back on solid food - and so far, so good! I have a couple other posts that I am working on, but am going to have to wait as I am pretty beat and headed back to bed. Tomorrow we are headed out to a school and I am really excited to see it. I was at the sight where Nathan has built his school last year and it was just an overgrown field. Now over 70 students are learning in brand new facilities!

Also, pray for our friend Harriet. She had to go to the hospital today. She is just getting out tonight. She is going to be fine, but I know she will appreciate all of your prayers.

June 16, 2008

devastated

I woke up this morning at 1:30 a.m. I was really surprised because I had been sleeping really well – almost too well! Once up, I tossed and turned for about an hour and a half. My mind was heavy Van, Debbie, Mary, Walt, and Melendy. They were en route to us. I was just really troubled.

I thought it must just be my spirit being disturbed by the places we visited today. I fell into one of those very fitful sleeps around 3:00, I think. At 3:30 a.m. the phone rang. I sat up in bed and I was covered in sweat. It was my friend, Van calling from New York. Because of delays they had missed their connections to make it to us in Rwanda. (I said, “Well, that explains it” over the phone confusing Van, I think, but meaning why I was bathed in sweat and having trouble sleeping).

The best the airlines could do was get them here on Thursday night. We are scheduled to leave on Saturday. It just didn’t make any sense for them to travel Monday – Thursday, then be here a day and half and travel for two more days heading home. So, I sent them back to San Antonio. We will have to try for them again later in the year. I still need to talk this over with Shannon and Emily when they get up in the morning, but I am pretty sure I made the right call.

Needless to say, I am devastated. I just feel like crying. All the people coming are such good friends of mine. We have all been looking forward to this time together so much. Plus, the Williams were going to be recording a number of our projects here so that we could really tell the story of God’s work through the church to all of you at home.

Will you all please join me in prayer? Pray for those who are traveling with heavy hearts back to San Antonio tonight. Pray for us here in Rwanda. Pray that the Lord will work ultimate good from the mess the Enemy creates.

It’s now 4 a.m., all is not well, but the Lord promises that joy cometh in the morning, so I am off to bed again.

Church of the Blessed Mango Trees

Sunday morning I was invited to preach at the Mango Tree Church. It was named that by my friend, Nathan who is the pastor of the church. It is actually a church plant of Nathan’s other church in Gikundo. As the head man, it was Nathan’s responsibility to start the new parish.

When I first visited there, Nathan showed me three mango trees that grew near one another and cast shade onto the ground. There was a small patch of bare dirt where, “The choir stood.” Before my sermon began, I told the congregation that I could tell they were doing a good job because last year, only a small patch of dirt showed through the grass where people were standing and dancing. Now, the whole hillside is stripped of grass because of the great number of people worship God there.

Nathan explained who I was and that I was the man he had visited in the U.S. He told them about all of you, my church and how you gave a collection for the people of the Mango Tree Church. They were so very excited. Later Nathan told me that his people were all very surprised because when he had told them about our church, they assumed that I must be an old bald man to have such a fine congregation!On your behalf, I received their thanks which included a song, a dance, and a great shout to the Lord! They were very encouraged – the mango trees have served them well, but it is time to put up a proper roof!

They will use the funds you gave them to build what is essentially a pavilion. They will put in a concrete floor under it. This will serve them until money can be raised to put up proper walls.

Nathan said, “our weekly collection is about 1,590 frw (which is $3 U.S.), so you can imagine how long it would have taken us to build the church if it wasn’t for your people.”

And what a church he is building. The congregation I addressed was about 100 people strong and 70 of them were children! We heard from three different choirs. The first were the pros. They had come over from the mother church. The next was a group of brand new Christians – they had just been baptized. The third choir was a newly formed youth choir – also of new Christians.

I only made one mistake (I think!) and that is I forgot my camera. I was so focused on the preaching I just didn’t think about it. It really is unfortunate, because I would have liked to have shown you pictures of the people you have partnered with in planting a new church! Perhaps some of you will just have to come over here for worship and see for yourselves!

June 15, 2008

never say never to a praying man

So, Shannon and I are sitting on the airplane in Dallas. If you are playing along, you will remember that this is the flight that was massively delayed. We weren’t really sure that we would have enough time to get on the plane and make it up to Chicago to make our European connection.

We are watching the clock turn as the people are loaded aboard. The pilot makes the announcement that always makes me laugh. He says, “If you all will help us get underway by quickly storing all your bags and stepping out of the aisle, that would be great. We are in a bit of a hurry to get going.” He says this to a group of people who have been waiting over 2 hours to get on the plane! It seems like I hear that on every plane these days. We are running late, so if you could just rush aboard . . .

Everyone was finally loaded up, but the door still wasn’t closing. Shannon pulled the steward over and asked how much longer we might be here. He looked around in a conspiratorial way and said that he shouldn’t be telling us, but . . .

There is a mechanical problem with the plane that will probably take at least an hour to sort out and get clearance to depart. When we told him that we were tight on time and would miss our connection to Rwanda, he consulted with the captain for us. We were advised to get off the plane and head back to San Antonio and try again on Monday (The next time our itinerary would be available into Kigali). Shan and I were not sure what to do, so we prayed. Just as we were trying to figure out what to do, the plane door slammed shut and the pilot announced the problem was solved and we were taking off. Moreover, flight conditions were very favorable and we would make excellent time in the air!

Well, let me tell you, we prayed ourselves (and our bags!) right on into Rwanda. I really do think that the Lord is on our side and is listening to the saints plead on our behalf! Keep it up sweet church.

Happy Father's Day

Before blogging any further, I need to pause to say, “Happy Father’s Day.” For some reason, my email isn’t functioning and I have never learned how to make an international call. So, this public forum will have to do!

Happy Father’s Day Mike! I love you very much and it was good to be with you last week at my ordination. Pastor Nathan sends you his best! See you soon.

Jet lagged, but here

Well, we made it out of Dallas and from there it was close all the way into Rwanda. But, we made it by the grace of God and the effectiveness of your prayers. Even more remarkable – all our bags made it with us!

So, we got into the hotel last night, had a nice dinner with some friends and got off to bed. I woke up a little late this morning (oh, my, gosh), but made it to the Mango Tree Church in time with my brother, Pastor Nathan. We enjoyed our worship under those Mango trees.

They raised up quite a shout of thanksgiving to God and to you my sweet church when they discovered you had contributed all the money they needed to put up a roof for their church! They sang and danced all the while rejoicing for God's provision delivered through you.

I will write more soon, but we are on our way back out. I did at least want you to know that we have arrived, are safe, and are truly blessed.

Church, you are in my prayers as you get ready for Sunday worship!

June 13, 2008

Pray, pray

Ok, blog fans. We need your prayers already! Weather and heavy traffic in Chicago have delayed our flight from Dallas to Chi-town. It is going to be close to make it to our Brussels flight. We need two very important things. 1) That we make our Chicago-Brussels connection. 2) That our bags make it with us! (I will be embarrassed to have to preach to Nathans church in what I am wearing for my 35+ hours of travel!)

So, pray, pray. From DFW, signing out!

June 12, 2008

Rwanda 2008

Tomorrow morning I will once again get on a plane to make the incredible (and incredibly long!) journey to central Africa. Specifically, I will leave San Antonio on Friday morning and arrive in Kigali late Saturday night. My flight plans will take me from S.A. to Dallas to Chicago to Brussels to Kigali International Airport. I know when we arrive a number of our dear friends will be there at the airport waiting to greet us and whisk us off to our hotel.

Shannon and our friend Emily will be going a few days early so that we can sit down and speak at length with our friends and touch base on how things are going for them. I cannot stress how eager we are to share in all the good work these saints are doing for Christ.

On Tuesday the rest of our team will arrive. Van, Debbie, Mary, Melendy, and Walt will join Shan, Em, and I (along with Amy and Tiffany who are already in Rwanda where they are in the middle of their 6 week internship in the Kigali diocese).

It is my intent to post a blog or two each day we are there, but remember it is an 8 hour time difference. Also, no one (read: “mom”) should panic if for some reason there are no posts. It is still a developing nation and you are never guaranteed the instant internet access I have become accustomed to!

I encourage you all to pray for us each day as we seek the Lord’s face and favor.

June 1, 2008

live better

It seems like every time I am away somewhere, I find myself thinking about what it would be like to live there.

So, here I am on Oahu thinking about buying a little restaurant, living in a shack, marrying a hula-girl (you should have seen them dancing at the luau!!!), laying about in the sun, and soaking up the islands for the next 40 years. This fantasy typically starts with me growing a church, but quickly changes to a non-ministry vocation. After all, it is my fantasy and dreaming about doing more of the same isn’t much of an escape. In my imagination, I am able to be perfectly content sitting on a porch all day whiling away the hours. And I have no doubt that I would be content – for about 3 months, maybe less.

The attractive part of all this certainly has something to do with the location. Oahu is gorgeous, Rwanda is breathtaking, Salida is a gas, but even these places where I have dreamed of living would lose their allure if I lived there the way I live at home. In the end, it isn’t the location or the vocation – it is the approach to life that makes the grass appear greener.

If I am honest, the very happiest I have been in my entire life was a summer spent preaching camp after camp. I got up every morning to share devotional thoughts with the campers. I worked out, ran until I dropped, laid in the sun, swam for an hour, took a nap, and finally worked on my sermon a little before dinner. Each night I would preach for an hour or so. By the end of summer, I was fit, tan, in the Word, and had played a part in making an eternal difference in the lives of the young people who journeyed with us.

I also know that the last four years have brought me more satisfaction and joy than any other period in my life. God made me to preach and lead a church – this much I have discovered and that discovery has brought me a kind of contentment that trumps happiness.

In the end, I don’t want to live somewhere else – even if it is paradise. But I do want to live better at home. I want to live better. I want to slow myself down, to find contentment in conversation, to find the time to just lie in the sun for an hour. I’m really not sure if even these simple goals are actually achievable. It seems that there is always so much to do and so many people expecting so much. Ultimately though, I know I am responsible for living on the ragged edge of brownout and I am equally responsible for finding a way to live better.

I will tell you one thing, I am supremely grateful for my friends Sam and Shan who gave me a gift of this time away with them and to take a deep breath and inhale some much needed rest and the perspective that comes with it.

May 31, 2008

mindnumbing rest

So, yesterday we went snorkling off of the Ko'lina Cat. I got some underwater pics, but will have to wait for them to be developed. We swam, sat in the sun, and generally made a day out of being beach bums. Last night we went to a laua. It was pretty interesting. The best way I can explain is to say that if I planned a laua based on what I thought was supposed to happen at a laua, it is what I would have done. Nevertheless, it was a gas. Dinner and a show on the beach at sunset -- what is there to complain about? I guess I don't have a lot to say, but then a picture is worth more anyway. So, enjoy these.





May 29, 2008

Redonkulous


Aloha all you hawlies. Life is good in paradise. (Is that redundant?) I got in Tuesday night, we had dinner on Wikiki Beach and by the time I hit the sack my jet lag had been conquered. Sam and I got up the next morning and toured Pearl Harbor. The afternoon was spent baking by one of four spectacular lagoons by our place. Today, we are headed up to North Shore. We were scheduled to swim with the dolphins today, but something came up and they canceled us, so we are working to reschedule that one.
So far, I am doing everything I can to not think about work. Unfortunately, my subconscious doesn't let go quite so easily. I dreamt last night about the demise of the Methodist Church and our coming fight to save her. Fortunately, there isn’t much stress that the rising sun over the pacific ocean can’t immediately stifle!

May 26, 2008

Vacating

Tomorrow I leave on vacation. Which, of course, means that today I am running to and fro trying to prepare to be gone. Does it seem strange to anyone else that going on vacation is so stressful? You have to get all your clothes cleaned, pack your bags, spend the day figuring out exactly what you have forgotten to pack, cleaning the house for the house/Maddie-sitter, and on and on. The payoff though is certainly worth the flurry of activity.

I am headed out to Hawaii – going to Oahu to be exact. Some of my really good friends invited me to come out and spend a week with their family who is vacationing this month out there. I have never been to the islands before, so this is very exciting for me. I am ready to truly shut down and simply relax. I am picturing myself as a small puddle on a perfect beach absorbing ridiculous amounts of sun. One of the things I have learned to be very good at these last four years is vacationing. I will turn my phone off, refuse to check email, and trust that I am not indispensable to the life of the church. I learned this from one of my early mentors, Rev. Frank Wolfe. Pastor Frank was my boss when I was doing youth ministry in Pflugerville. He taught me that our work is always life and death. There would always be something going on at the church that demanded our attention – whether we were there or not. When you are literally in a life-and-death business, there is no such thing as a good time to be gone. Yet, renewal is absolutely critical for longevity in ministry. The cost of sacrificing personal health for the immediate fires that ignite could well be burning yourself out long before your time.

This trip is a little gift to myself for having endured a decade of work in the Methodist Ordination process. I’ll come back to Texas just in time to pack a different bag and head down to Corpus Christi for Annual Conference where I am set to be ordained.

I will try to do some posts while I am gone – I know my folks will appreciate some pictures, but I can’t promise anything. Aloha, yall!

May 17, 2008

stray thought

Luke 11.11: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?”

Ask for your heart’s desire. Don’t be a fool for trying to avoid being made to look foolish.

May 14, 2008

oh, so i AM hearing you

There are times that I go through when I really miss the unmistakable sound of my Lord’s voice. I am left to my own intellect – my experiences, my understanding of scripture, and my reason. These things are very useful to be sure, but after a while, you just need to be sure you are moving in the right direction. Lately, I have been in that very quiet place. Though I remain there still, I recently had some encouragement that let me know that I do seem to be hearing something.

I was out to dinner on Saturday night after service with some young folks from Austin. They came down to go to the youth service and say hi to some of us around the U that they know from being a part of the Conference Youth Program. One of the guys who was there just graduated from UT and will be working at a church in Austin this next year. I am really a fan of this guy. He is bright, articulate, and an excellent model for the youth of his church and our conference. I actually tried to bribe him into coming to work for us this summer! Truly, I feel like this kid is worth investing in for the sake of the church. He clearly has a dynamic call and is one of the best and brightest of his generation. How the Methodist Church would gain from 50 like him swelling the clergy ranks.

He was telling me how this summer he will be going to central America to live for a couple of months working with what are in effect street kids. He is just getting ready to start fundraising for the trip. Now I know what a youth intern gets paid. It doesn’t matter that this kid has an ENGINEERING degree from THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS and could command large sums in the private sector. So, here is a kid, giving up a good income to work for a church and preparing to stick his hand out to others so that he can go work with street kids in a developing nation.

His lodging was going to run $800 for the eight weeks he was there. My first thought was were is my checkbook – its in my bag in the trunk. As he was talking (he never asked), I thought, I will write him a check for the whole thing. Then that other voice spoke that said, maybe just $25-30. I just listened and prayed all through the rest of dinner. When we went out, I called him over to the trunk where I was madly scribbling a check. While he said, “oh, Ryan you don’t need to do that,” I finished writing. I handed him a folded check for the amount that I thought God inspired: $500. He stuck the check in his pocket without looking at it, hugged me, and drove off.

So, a week later, I am paying bills. Ahem. I decided that perhaps “God” was not the inspiration for the amount I had chosen. I found myself wondering when/if I would with certainty hear from my Lord. Seriously, I prayed a lot about this, figuring that I must have not been led at all.

An envelope appeared in my mailbox this week. It was addressed in block print to my name at the church. The return address had been block printed with the church’s address. Uh, oh. It was an anonymous letter. I get these from time to time and inevitably they grieve my spirit to no end. Broken people can say the most hurtful things under the “protection” of anonymity. It is my habit to just discard them. I’d rather take my beating like a man – face to face with my accuser. My heart holds such fear that my hands tremble a little bit as I open the letter.

The letter reads: Pastor Ryan: Just a quick note of thanks for all the things you do for us at University. We feel so fortunate and blessed to have you as our worship leader. We attribute our current level of stewardship to your (sometimes not so gentle) prodding. We have benefited in many ways from becoming more involved at church. Our faith in Christ and relationship with him continues to grow. Above and beyond the tithes and gifts we make to the church, enclosed is a gift for you. If you still have outstanding school loans, we want you to apply this toward them. If your loans are paid off, please pass this on to a colleague who may use this toward his or her debt. Our gratitude and prayers are with you.

With the letter was an anonymous money order. Want to guess how much it is for? $500.

To my secret benefactor: thank you. The money is helpful, of course, and I hope that I can multiply it and bless another the way that you have blessed me. But even more than for the money, thank you for hearing from God and obeying. Your action is a sure and certain sign to me that God is hearing my cries and he is responding. Your faithfulness gave me witness of my own. What greater joy can pass between believers in the body of Christ than mutually encouraging one another to good works and greater faith?

May 9, 2008

Meet the U's new Discipleship Pastor - Rev. Will Rice

Over the last four years, I have been introduced to a number of the clergy in the Southwest Texas Conference. One of those is Rev. Will Rice. Will and I come from very different backgrounds. I am a southern boy who was raised in a Christian household. He is a yankee (but he has overcome this affliction nicely) who had no Christian upbringing. While my calling has been a lifelong process, Will received his almost simultaneously with his salvation. I matriculated through Asbury, he through Perkins and Austin Presbyterian.

I think it was Will’s incredible intelligence that drew me into conversation with him. Like Wesley, I find Will to be one of Methodism’s great practical theologians. His insight and understanding of Scripture and matters of faith is profound. Even more impressive, Will knows that understanding without application is a boat without a sail.

I think one other thing needs to be said. I am a student of preaching. I am a preacher and I love the discipline. Nothing excites me more than a well delivered sermon. For me, listening to a sermon is kind of like a painter walking through a gallery. I can appreciate the finer arts of preaching, the subtleties, the nuances, and the overall delivery.

I have had the opportunity to hear Will preach and lead liturgy. I think he is probably one of the finest orators I have ever heard. I know that discipleship is his true passion and primary giftedness, but folks, this guy can flat out preach.

It still makes me smile to think about the start of our friendship. As many of you know, over the last 3 years, I have had to go to Mt. Wesley for “Covenant Connection,” an overnight retreat for those seeking ordination. These are meetings at which the potential ordinands are scrutinized for evidence of ability to be in ministry. To say the least, it is a high stress environment! We had gone several times when the leaders announced that we would have “dinner on our own” in Kerrville (as opposed to the Mt. Wesley cafeteria). Somehow, Will and I both interpreted that to mean that we could go have dinner on our own. We knew there was a big group going to Chili’s, but we decided a little one-on-one conversation was just what our souls needed – so we went to Mamacita’s (ok, maybe we knew some enchiladas were also needed by our souls).

That was the true start of our friendship and the highlight of my entire 3 year process. We sat that night and shared things of importance. I learned about his wife, his upbringing, and his call to ministry. He learned about my passions, my work, and my dreams. In just a few hours, I knew I had made a lifelong friend.

When we got back to Mt. Wesley, we were in some hot water. Apparently “dinner on your own” was code for everyone is having dinner together at Chili’s. Honestly, it was a truly innocent misunderstanding on our part. Over the next several years, every time dinner plans were announced, it was stressed that everyone should be there. Truthfully, I don’t know if it was the dinner or just being in trouble together (from there on out we were the bad boys!), but Will and my friendship was cemented forever. There really is something powerful about suffering together. I can honestly say that it was Will’s friendship that most enabled me to grind through the process.

Though it probably shouldn’t, it still astounds me that God works in such marvelous ways. I couldn’t believe it when the Bishop announced that Will would be appointed to University as our new Discipleship Pastor. I knew that Will was a conference leader in discipleship and had been tutored in theology by our own Charles Anderson, but I never thought I would really have the chance to work side by side with him! God is good – all the time!

I think I may have buried my headline here – I had intended to only write a quick paragraph to tell you about where you can get to know Will in his own words.

Will was my inspiration for beginning a blog and he is much more faithful to the discipline than me. His former blog was tied to his church in Corpus Christi, but he has started a new one just for you! You can read Will at: www.willubeadisciple.blogspot.com. He has posted there his writings about the ordination process as he has experienced it. I know his writing will bless you, just has it has me!

May 8, 2008

blog stalkers

So, I recently got an earful from self-identified blog stalkers who chastised me for my sloth. They went so far as to claim that I was “cheating” by posting articles I wrote for the Encourager magazine.

I will admit: I have been very unfaithful to the old blog. I hesitate to promise to do better because I like being a man of my word! The truth is, I often think about writing something to post, but the words have just been few and far between. I find that I am not doing a lot of deep thinking about anything worthy of sharing! It seems that the rigors of my administrative responsibilities are sucking much of my creative life right out of me. Add to that some family things that weigh heavily on my heart and my sweet stalkers are out of luck.

So, to the faithful – please accept my apologies. Over the next few days, I will be posting some of the few thoughts and insights I have managed to have in the last month or so. As I offer them, I appreciate your comments and commentary!

May 1, 2008

Claiming Pentecost

The following was originally written for the May edition of our Monthly uzine, The Encourager. The complete publication can be found online at www.uchurch.tv:

Two thousand years ago the disciples witnessed a miracle. The Lord Jesus had risen from the grave – triumphing over hell and death. He repeatedly appeared before them commissioning them for work in His Kingdom. Again and again, Jesus demonstrated the veracity of his resurrection and offered them words of instruction and the promise of power to come.

The disciples waited, wondering about the promised presence of God’s Holy Spirit. They met together discussing the significance of these events. Remaining together, no doubt huddled in prayer, they waited. All of scripture and wisdom had been made known to them through the ministry and resurrection of Christ. They had all the information they needed to carry out God’s master plan for His Creation. God has long declared that he had chosen his people as His inheritance – His portion. Of all creation, God had chosen humankind to be his treasured possession. Now the time had come for the treasure to shine. Yet, they still waited. Knowledge and information simply wasn’t enough to translate into fruitful activity.

On the Day of Pentecost all of that changed. Added to the disciple’s knowledge and experience was the long promised gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of God fell on humankind, Peter stood and quoted the prophet Joel saying, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2.17-21)

For some people Christmas is their favorite of the Christian holy days. For others, it is Easter. Not me. My favorite day in the Christian calendar is Pentecost. It marks the true birth of the church – the birth of community and missional purpose in the world. Pentecost signals the end of preparation and waiting. Like a starters pistol ringing around the word, the giving of the Spirit signaled the final leg of God’s redemptive race.

As a people, we have been given everything we need to succeed. God has revealed himself to us in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Through His teaching and ministry a pattern for holy and perfect living has been set before us. Through His death we received atonement for our sins and freedom from the body of death that so easily ensnares us. Through His resurrection the magnitude and scope of God’s activity in human events became known. And through the outpouring of his Holy Spirit, strength and power have been given that His people might be agents of redemption and reconciliation in the world.

This year, Pentecost falls on May 11 – Mother’s Day. It is appropriate that on that day we all celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit who gave birth to a church. He who formed a family for God that goes beyond bonds of blood and unites us all in spirit and truth.

I pray that this Pentecost finds us ready to receive anew the gift of God’s Spirit. God grant that we would be a people who look for the signs of God’s ongoing work of ministry in the world. Moreover, grant that we be a people who are agents of God’s ongoing work of ministry in the world. As the Spirit empowers us, may we look more like Jesus and work in ways that enable the world to look more to Jesus. May the Spirit of God unify us into one body, singular in our purpose and mission. May the Spirit of God embolden us to offer Christ to all. May the Spirit of God empower us to transform and renew the face of the earth through our ministries of mission and service.

Church, I beseech you: Let us live like a people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Let us be a people who proclaim with signs and wonders the goodness of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Let us be a people who work like those who are made in the image of Christ to exhort the world to call upon the name of the Lord and find salvation therein.

April 14, 2008

facebook

Well, only a decade behind the times, I joined facebook this last week. It is an interesting cyber-place. I have found some old friends there that I thought were lost to the pages of time. We are truly living in a unique age. In any generation before, it would be impossible to find lost friends - people from high school, college, and days gone by. No longer. I have been enjoying a lot of good memories that go with each name that pops up on my homepage.The only problem I can see is the massive amount of time that could be consumed by trying to keep up with a lifetime of friends all at once. Oh, who am I kidding. I can't even keep up with the 3 friends I have now.

April 7, 2008

morning wisdom

“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.”
-- Proverbs 12.15-16

Oh, that I would not be a fool today.

April 3, 2008

trash

This morning I pulled out of the garage and turned up the street. I noticed a woman in an SUV pulling big bags of trash out of the back and trying to cram them into my neighbor’s trash can. In that split second, I waived cautiously and she smiled guiltily.

I was only a second or two down the road when the whole scene registered. Too late I realized that she was doing something she probably wasn’t supposed to and my little wave probably encouraged her! So, with righteous indignation churning through my veins, I pulled around the block and circled around to my own house again – knowing what I would see.

She had now precariously perched two HUGE bags of trash on top of my trash can. I rolled down the window. “Uh. Oh. Good. I was trying to catch you. I needed to put my trash somewhere. You don’t mind, right,” says she.

“Only insofar as it is about to rain and now my trash can is going to fill with water – then give off that distinct wet trash odor for the next few weeks,” says me.

“Oh, well. I ran out of room in my can and the trash man told me to just do this. He is just around the corner, so it should get too wet,” says she.

Not for nothing, but I am quite good at timing my trash output to coincide with collection. In my neighborhood, they only come once a week and you must get it all in the city assigned can. Mine was perfectly full. Then she came along and overflowed me. What would the neighbors think? “Boy, that Ryan doesn’t know how to manage his trash output. Shameful. Let’s shun him from the next Neighbor’s night out.”

I would have loved to ask this trash bandit why, if what she was doing was at the behest of the trash man, didn’t she do it in her next-door neighbor’s can? Why drive all the way to another block at 8 am with all that refuse stacked in her car? And, if the trash man was standing right there giving instruction, couldn’t she have just thrown it in the truck right then?

Jesus probably would have opened his trunk and offered to take it to the dump for her.

April 1, 2008

Paradigms

The following was originally published in the April edition of our uzine, "The Encourager." The complete edition can be found on our website at http://news.uchurch.tv/Encourager/April%202008%20for%20web.pdf

Some nights I lie down for bed and try to figure out whether or not I was faithful that day. I review the events of my day in my mind’s eye. I let the images roll one after another. Sometimes I smile, sometimes I cringe, and sometimes I just fall asleep! Most days have flashes of pride, frustration, and weakness – though they typically pass before they cause me to really regret the day.

If I am very honest, it is not the days with small outbursts of sin that I really regret. I tend to lament the days that pass where I neither look more like Jesus nor does the world look more toward Jesus. It happens more frequently than I care to admit. I think back across the course of my day and realize that I was little more than very busy. I ran from sunup to sundown. There was a blur of meetings, quick conversations in the hallways, and perhaps some small project or writing assignment at my desk.

At the end of the day, I am a tired guy who looks no more like Jesus than when I woke up. I can’t imagine that Jesus was ever “hurried.”

Even as I force myself to undergo critical self examination, so also should the church. We should be examining our corporate life together. At the end of every day, month, year, we should ask whether as a body we look more like Jesus and if the world looks more toward Jesus because of our activity. I have no doubt the church will have been a busy place – a hive of activity. The critical question is whether we are living up to our missional calling from Jesus Christ.

Vision is the best remedy to busy days that bear little eternal fruit. A vision is a picture of the future as God desires it to be. A vision allows us to fix our eyes on Christ and journey down a path that develops our personal holiness and advances his Kingdom. All of our activity and action can be measured by a vision.

The process of visioning is not so different from self examination at the end of a day. To catch a glimpse of God’s vision for our church, we need only project our mind’s eye into the future and let the scenes of our life together roll. Rather than reflecting on what has happened in the past, we allow God to show us what the coming day could be and should be.

At University, we seek to measure our activity – not by the sheer number of programs and activities, but whether at the end of each day we look more like Jesus and the world looks more toward Jesus. To put it simply, we are called to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

We are created that we might take people who are alienated from God and introduce them to Jesus (Meeting). Then we are to share the teachings of Christ with these new disciples (Message). Once they have the news of Jesus, we can help these true disciples claim their calling and be deployed in ministry for Christ (Mission). At the end of this disciple-making journey we should discover a trained discipler who can engage others in this life changing adventure.
Church, I call on us all to be ruthlessly honest about ourselves and our ministries. Let us reflect on the days we have had even as we vision for the days to come. Let us labor everyday at the ministries of meeting, message, and mission. At the end of our day – when our Lord returns, I pray we will find that we will all look like him and the whole world will be looking toward him.

naming

One of our new church members and his wife sent me a series of text messages suggesting possible names for the new Contemporary Worship Sanctuary in the North Campus. I was cracking up for two days as they continued to come in over the airwaves. How about you? Any fun ideas? Enjoy.

The house that U built
unasium
utopia
uknow-that-place
Sin-n-skate
skate-n-sing
praise-o-rama
Him-nasium
Hymn-nasium
Come-n-see-Him
The Skateuary
JC Arena
urena
Temple Beth-Ball
The King's Court and Fool's Flooy House
Let's Go Praisy
Praisy for Loving you

March 29, 2008

sweet

Last night was “Faith Night” at the San Antonio Spurs game. That is – the World Champion San Antonio Spurs! I had met the guy who set the whole deal up when I was the pastor for the Faith Night done at the Rampage Game. Anyway, he is a great guy and really has a heart for sharing the faith with others through their organization.

Mark was scheduled to play outside the AT&T Center before the game – and he did, though he had to end early because of rain. In fact, I just missed hearing him even though Jesse and I went there early just to hear him! So, we hooked up with Mark and the guy playing with him and then ran into our friends, the Dippos from church. They invited us up to their company’s box! It was so awesome. They were so sweet and made us feel like princes. At halftime I had some great food followed by a giant caramel apple covered in M&M’s!

We watched the game from about the fifth row – center court. It is incredible to see the athleticism of those guys from eye level. The interaction between players, coaches, and referees is fascinating. At one point Mark looked at me and asked, did you ever believe we would experience things like this in ministry?

After the game, a musician named Phil Wickham performed some songs and Bruce Bowen gave a witness. Former Baylor football coach Grant Teaff also spoke. It was a really encouraging night.

My favorite part of the whole night though was getting to just hang out with my friend and mentor, Jesse. We have been working so hard on church projects that we haven’t had much chance to just relax and talk. I rely on him so much for spiritual direction and counsel that it was good to connect again on life and love rather than the bricks and mortar that has consumed us the last several months.

March 24, 2008

the day after

The day after Holy Week concludes is a major day of rest for us clergy types. I am having a nice relaxing day that included a trip to the gym, some video games, a massage, and a much needed adjustment (no, not to my attitude thank you very much). After weeks of endless moving and preparation for an extraordinary number of worship services (my contemporary team did 9 in 8 days) we are all fairly beat. In addition to the physical strain, we all paid the emotional and spiritual toll for living in the mist of Christ’s passion, the vigil as we awaited his resurrection, and the party that was Easter! It is a gorgeous day in San Antonio – again. We seem to have an abundance of gorgeous days here. I can’t believe I am blogging about the weather. I really must be tired. I think I will just quit while I am

March 19, 2008

open

The dam has broken and the waters of revival are flowing. Though the building is riddled with orange dots and blue tape marking needed finish-out from the contractor, we are off and running in our new space. We were featured on Great Day SA (a local morning show), Mark and his band were the studio musicians on the same show and thousands of people have made their way into worship. We had our highest attended Spring Break Sunday in memory last week. We are running headlong into Easter this weekend with contemporary services planned for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Morning. I have to admit, if we are able to pull off what we are planning for our Good Friday service, I believe it will be the most profound service of worship I have ever been a part of. I think people will really begin to see the level of creative worship that can be done in our new sanctuary.

Sorry for the slow pace of posts, I will try to be more attentive!

March 5, 2008

goodness

The following was originally written for publication in the March edition of our uzine, The Encourager:

“We were having dinner at the Anglican Guest House with the staff of the Rhungari diocese. As we were visiting, we began to talk about how various nationalities are being received in Rwanda. Some folks are certainly more welcome than others. At the moment Americans are well received. As we were sharing, one of the men of Rwanda remarked, “How do I know you are good, unless you are good to me?” How indeed. As the church we claim goodness as though it were a divine inheritance, but even Jesus asked, “why do you call me good, no one is good apart from the Father.” It seems to me that my friend is right. How do I know you are good unless you are good to me?” Or put another way, “How do I know you are from the Father unless you share what the Father has given you with me.” In the end, that is the church’s call. How will people in San Antonio know that University is good unless we are good to them?”

Being and doing the good work of the Father is, and always has been, the work of his people. In Jesus Christ, the goodness of God is most clearly known. He who had no sin, became sin for all that we might be saved from hell and given abundant life. God’s goodness grants us eternal life and sustains us in times of trial and turmoil. Through his grace, we endure and thrive.

We have been blessed by the model of sacrificial love given through Jesus’ work on the cross. This blessing is meant to be shared with others. Jesus was equally committed to sharing the path of salvation that leads to personal holiness and the way of righteousness which leads to social holiness. By his teaching and example, the church comes to know its two-fold responsibility to the world around us.

The Church often confuses our calling by narrowing the focus of our calling to promoting either personal holiness (Evangelism) or social holiness (Missions). Instead, we are called to participate in the goodness of God in both word and deed. It is important for all of our missional work to be decidedly evangelistic. After all, Jesus was clear about his uniqueness in all creation to offer salvation to humankind. At the same time, we are told that the Word became Flesh. God’s goodness became incarnate in his Son. Thus, it is equally important that our evangelism be decidedly missional.

My call to you, church, is to wholeheartedly take up your responsibility for Outreach. This work belongs to the whole people of God, not just a committed core of people within the church body. Our obedience to Christ compels us to participate in the ongoing work of God on earth. Everyone is uniquely gifted by God and will express their work in outreach differently. Some will build homes in San Antonio while others will provide medical care to the people of South America. God certainly invites us to discern our role in his Kingdom building work – but he expects that we will be doing Kingdom building work.

Church, the work of reaching out belongs to us all. You are called and expected to support the work of evangelism and missions through your sacrificial financial support. You need to be supporting University’s operating budget to ensure that all works of Christ body are executed with the utmost excellence. Moreover, you are expected to put your hands and feet into direct action. I know that our incredible Outreach Ministry Team stands ready to help you find a place to serve the goodness of Jesus Christ in points locally and around the world. Let’s get to work, the world is waiting and watching to see if we indeed are good.