January 31, 2008

hey teenager

(So, in case you didn’t know, Tuesday was my 32nd birthday.)

On Tuesday I was coming out of church on my way to run an errand. My car was parked near the playground of our next door neighbor (an elementary school). As I was walking to the car, a little girl on the playground was running around and laughing. She looked up and saw me walking toward her as I approached my car and yelled with a smile and a wave, “Hey Teenager!”

God is so good.

January 25, 2008

troubled by talk

As a preacher, I know that words are powerful. They can shape a conversation and perception to the point they can end up actually defining reality.

I think this is why I am so troubled by the “news” coverage regarding the economy. Facts are reported amidst editorial comment, not separating opinion/analysis from actual happenings. It is certainly more sensational to rant about a recession than report a simple slowdown in growth. As Dave Ramsey pointed out on Larry King Live, a recession has a specific definition. A recession is a decline in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more successive quarters. In other words, we don’t experience a recession until we experience economic decline for over 6 months in a row.

We haven’t even had a month of decline – in fact, as Ramsey pointed out, we haven’t experienced a loss yet, just a slow down in growth!

There are certainly major problems facing our country and our economy. It is just frustrating to see reporting that seems to be intentionally scaring people simply because it makes for better television.

If there is a silver lining in all of this, it is Christian financial ministries getting national airtime. Folks like Dave Ramsey, leaders of Crown Ministries and others are able to speak about effective Christian financial management to a country lost in get rich quick schemes and raw materialism. Biblical principles on Christian finance are extremely effective (after all, they are given by God!) for the promotion of healthy family finance.

Here is some good advice from John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement. 1) Earn all you can (by a cheerful, hard worker); 2) Save all you can (not in the bank, but rather: be frugal, avoiding excess expenses); 3) Give all you can (for the work of Christ with the least, the last, and the lost).

If you want to read Wesley’s sermon #50 on finances in its entirety, it can be found at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/50/

January 7, 2008

and a happy new year

Well another Christmas season has come and gone. I am so excited to be part of our church. This year, we really set a goal for Christmas of providing maximum invitation and ridiculous hospitality. We supplied the congregation with a special Christmas card every week of advent and our children made 4000 ornaments that were distributed by members of the church to their friends and neighbors. When it was all said and done, we had almost 3000 more people worshiping with us Christmas week in 2007 than we did in 2006! We were right at 8500 people in worship for the week! Praise God for the great people of University and their spirit of invitation and hospitality.

This new year is certain to be an exciting one. For the last 3 ½ years, this church has been working on a building project. It began as a moderate addition – a double gym for recreation and a center for youth ministry. God grew that vision and raised up people willing to make great financial sacrifices and soon we will open our north campus. This expansion will add almost 33% more space to our existing campus!

Personally, I have some excitement this year too, as I prepare for possible ordination in June. Today I am headed out to Kerrville for my final Covenant Connection retreat. I have been attending these every other month for the last three years. At this final meeting, the elders will vote on whether or not to recommend me to the Board of Ordained Ministry as a candidate for full membership in the Order of Elders.

I have a friend, Harriet, who is visiting with our church from Rwanda. She asked me what my prayer is for the new year. Even with all the changes and excitement this year brings, my prayer remains the same as it has been since I first arrived at University. I am praying that God will bring a ten-fold increase to the work of ministry at the church. I don’t really know what all I mean by that, except to look for the number of baptisms and professions of faith to increase. My heart yearns for God’s spirit to find willing and obedient people at University – ready for the movement of His Holy Spirit as He brings renewal and new life!

Every year has been the best year of my life – so far. Some years are easier than others, some are filled with trial. Still, God remains ever faithful and because he does, I love my life and lot more as each year passes. I am confident in God’s faithfulness and so I am confident that 2008 will be a great year!

obedience isn't easy, but it is everything

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

This June, I hope to be ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. I say “hope” because I still have a few interviews left to complete before a final recommendation is made to the Bishop by the Board of Ordained Ministry. It has been a long journey for me. As the end is now in sight, I find myself reflecting more over the long process I have journeyed through to reach this destination.

It was in 1998 that I first began to feel a call to ministry. I took the first steps in the process that year with the pastor of my church in Austin, Sue White. Over the next few years, I began to complete the early requirements in the process – two years of church leadership, a discernment process with a district lay leader, another discernment process with an Elder, the filing of countless reports and documents. In 2001, I began a three year 96 hour Master of Divinity program. After graduating, I began work here at University and entered into a time of “probationary membership” in the order of Elders. I completed a battery of psychological and intelligence tests. I was probed and prodded to determine spiritual, emotional, and physical fitness. Every other month I spend two days being reviewed and analyzed by a committee of Elders. I have submitted hundreds of pages of theological and doctrinal responses for examination.

This year marks ten years of working toward this goal. One third of my life – my entire adult life – has been moving steadily in this direction. I have been filled at times with frustration, anger, hope, joy, and everything in between.

Ten years after perceiving God’s call to ordained ministry – here I am. Here I am on the verge of completing one great chapter in my life. As this chapter comes to an end, I can’t help wondering – what new beginning does God have for me next?

Through this long process, I have learned the need for continued obedience. Even when the way seemed closed, when the path was unclear, when I felt like giving up, God desired my obedience. Even in the worst moments of the journey, I knew that I could not withdraw or shrink from my responsibilities. Jesus Christ saved me. My life is no longer my own.

As I think about my own life, I can’t help but reflect on our church’s journey. For the last four or five years, we have been unified together by a common goal. We have been united in moving toward faithfully executing God’s plan for our congregation. Some among us have spent years and thousands of hours working to bring the church’s vision to fruition with the completion of the new North Campus. Some among us have made deep financial sacrifices in obedience to God’s call. So much of our hopes have been bundled together in this project. So much of our talk, time, and hope is now culminating as the new facility prepares to open. It has been a time of learning, sacrifice, frustration, joy, and everything in between.

I remember the first few meetings of the Building Committee. I’m not sure that any of us really knew what lay ahead. We certainly never suspected that God would do so much – back then our plans were much smaller than his plans.

As this chapter of life comes to a close for the people of University United Methodist Church, I can’t help but wonder – what new beginning does God have for us next?

One thing I know with certainty: Now is the time for us to begin anew. This new year, this new chapter lived together, marks a holy moment for the people of God. Now is the time for us to release anything that divides us. Now is the time for the whole people of God to look beyond their own interest and opinions. Instead, let us look toward the God who is pointing us in new directions and speaking new life into our church life.

It is an exciting moment for us all. We have the opportunity to begin anew. Won’t you prayerfully consider the glorious future God is calling us toward? Won’t you choose to be obedient to his will? Won’t you live out your promise you made to God when you joined this church to support University United Methodist Church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?

Christ is counting on University to change our community, our city, and our world. Christ is counting on you to embrace the new life and new beginning we receive when we become his body. The time is now – Come: Let us journey together!