October 22, 2009

despues de

Now that I am home, I have had the chance to reflect quite a bit on our missionary expedition in Central America. Here are some thoughts I’ve had.

1) The people we worked alongside of in Costa Rica are amazing. They have literally sold out for the sake of the Gospel and it shows. From their countenance to the fruit of their labor, it is clear that God honors their radical obedience. This was true from Bishop Palomo to the Zirkels to the interns.

2) More than ever, I am convinced that there is a Movement of God’s Spirit restoring and renewing the Methodist Church. This Movement is inspired and fueled by the Will of the One. The fundamental dissatisfaction with the state of the world is found in all corners of the globe. People of all ages – but particularly young people are sensing that something is profoundly wrong with the world.

3) I believe that the message of Christ and his Revolution is universal. There is no language barrier or cultural limitation on the strength of the Gospel. My cute stories and personal anecdotes cannot change lives, but the Word of God does. It is a sword that is piercing the heart of people everywhere. It breaks the chains of oppression. Where the Scriptures are shared, lives change. My preaching has to be strong, researched, and the best God has for me to give – each time – every time.

4) The call to join in Kingdom building work is supposed to be challenging and life changing. Small alterations in our life patterns is not what Christ demands. He wants it all. If you want part of him, you must take it all. People know intuitively that the Gospel is a call to die – not just clean up a little. I must sell out to press the cause of Christ. My preaching is to be a fearless call to holiness that makes everyone uncomfortable. Necessarily, this will include me as again and again I am reminded of my own sin and love of comfort.

5) University may well be the epicenter of God’s renewal of the Methodist Church. I don’t say this lightly, I know it seems self-serving. Yet, revival begins somewhere – this I know. Why not here? Why not here? If we are a committed congregation of obedient people practicing radical sacrifice and ceaseless prayer, will God not delight in answering our prayer for regeneration? University is my home. The strength and gifts that God has placed in our sweet church are beyond the norm. Where much has been given, much is due. If we truly believe that God is willing to begin a Worldwide Methodist Movement from within our walls, then perhaps he will.

6) Finally, I am certain that there is no such thing as going deeper in our discipleship without growing wider in our witness. There is a subtle Christian lie that is quite popular. It states that we can concentrate on growing deeper while neglecting our evangelistic calling. The disciples were sent before they knew it all, before even the words of the New Testament were recorded and collected. Going deeper in our discipleship and faith is impossible unless we are reaching out with our witness and invitation. To this end, we can never stop going, never stop sending, never stop growing.

October 14, 2009

Segundo Domingo

We awoke bright and early Sunday morning with a full agenda. First, we traveled out to the sight where Ray, Lydia, and the Methodist Church is building a children’s home.

This is a project being supported by University. In response to overcrowded orphanages, Ray & Lydia are spearheading the construction of a campus where children will have their lives forever changed. Several years ago, the church was able to purchase seven acres just outside of San Jose. It is a stunning piece of property that is bordered by a river that cuts through the area. The first of several homes is now under construction. When completed, the campus will have a number of homes – each housing 10-12 orphaned children. Each home will have a permanent set of “house parents.” In addition, a large building will be constructed to serve as a rainy-day play place for the community. It is a huge undertaking that will take years to complete. When finished, children without hope and without a family will find opportunity beyond imagination.

On our scouting trip, Mark and I had visited the sight and taken in the vision. Together, we decided that we would use every opportunity we had to help support the construction. Thus, Sunday morning we filmed on the sight and are preparing a video to show everywhere we go this coming year. Mark and I get invitations all year long to lead worship and preach. Part of our “yes” this year will include the opportunity to show the video and take a love offering to support the children’s home in Costa Rica.

We finished filming and drove on to Puerta Viejo which is a couple of hours outside San Jose. We attended the Methodist Church there and thoroughly enjoyed worship. We met on an open air slab covered by a tin roof. Just across from us a permanent church building is being built. It will include a sanctuary, office for the pastor, free clinic, and an apartment for a missionary nurse from the states who will run the clinic.

As it happened, it was “Missionary Sunday” at the church. Pastor Fernando preaching one of the best sermons on outreach I have ever heard. I was seriously impressed and hope that someday I can invite him to University to share the message. More impressive than his sermon though, was the work of his church. Though they are meeting under a tin roof with an incomplete church building, this little congregation had already planted two others. Representatives from both churches planted in the last two years were there to report on their progress. As if that weren’t enough, Pastor Fernando then told the congregation that they would now start making plans to support a church plant in neighboring Nicaragua.

I was humbled by the entire experience. I was in the midst of a people who out of their poverty were planting churches and reaching beyond themselves while work on their own church slowly progressed.

After church, we had lunch in town and then took off for a little fun. The whole team zip-lined from tree top to tree top. It was an exhilarating experience that we all greatly enjoyed. The final zip line took us across a big river. Wow.

That night, we closed out our time together with some sharing and final worship. We sat around a little circle and shared, 1) what we learned about someone else on the team; 2) what we learned about ourselves; and 3) what we learned about worship that would enrich our community life back home at University.

All told, it was an incredible time of learning for us all. We slept well that night and in the morning the team headed for home.

October 12, 2009


Saturday morning we rose early in the morning and after a quick breakfast set out for a dormant volcano. It was our first time leaving the city of San Jose. We didn’t have to go far outside the city to become surrounded by some of God’s most stunning handiwork. We climbed into the mountains until we topped the clouds. Looking down into the valleys shrouded by the low hanging clouds quieted us all.

We arrived on the top of the volcano excited to see what we could. I think we all paused a bit when Javier (our driver) backed into a parking space and explained why. Everyone is expected to back in to their spot . . . just in case. Yes, just in case the volcano begins to erupt. We were all so cold by that point that we reasoned that if it did go off, at least we would warm up a bit!

It was an incredible walk out to the crater. The clouds moved in all around us. You could barely see ten feet in any direction. Occasional clear patches would drift by and we would catch a glimpse of a barren lava field. We arrived at the rim of the crater and almost on cue the clouds gave way and we peered deep inside the mountain into a crystal blue pool. It was tranquil and stunning. Of course, the pool was a lie – hiding the fiery chaos underneath.

We retuned from the mountaintop into the city to see Costa Rica flags flying everywhere. The national team was playing Mexico in San Jose that night.

We led worship for a final time that night. The collective youth groups of San Jose had been invited for a worship celebration. We were led musically by two different local youth praise teams and our own team. Songs were sung in English, Spanish, and sometimes both at once. We danced before the Lord until sweat poured from us all.

My sermon that night was, “Stand Up.” Through Ray who interpreted for me that night, I exhorted the young people to stand up for Christ. I commissioned them to take the authority God had given them to build his Church and bring about a great spiritual awakening in their country. I concluded by inviting all the pastors to come down and pray with kids who were ready to lead. Again, hundreds came for prayer and renewal.

After the service, we joined with a team recently arrived from Alabama to watch both the soccer match – and the Alabama football game. Our team was wiped out and didn’t make it through the whole match, instead retiring to the seminary for the night.

October 9, 2009


Added to our schedule during the week, we began Friday with a service for the 600 plus kids in the elementary school. Mark and the team sang and led them in worship. The little ones worshiped as kids do – without restraint or worrying about “being cool.”

As those of you who know me, I like kids a lot. I really like them when they toddle and again when they enter adolescence. I mean, it’s not as if I dislike them in between those time, I just don’t have a lot of experience relating or speaking to elementary age kiddos. So, I was a little at a loss as to what I would do.

The Lord really saved me with a distant memory of the one other time I was in front of small children. I stood before them and without words turned them into my orchestra. I used a drumstick (thanks, Callen!) to lead them in clapping on cue. The kids were really funny. At the end, I just spoke a few words about allowing God to be the conductor of our lives. In the end, it worked out alright – though I can’t claim to have thought it up on my own. As a good preacher who is in over his head is want to do, I totally stole the idea from someone else!

Toward the end of our time with the little guys, it started to rain – and I mean it started to rain in absolute earnest. It was as if the Lord poured out all the water in the sea right over us. In our metal building the sound was a roar! This delayed the entrance of the high school students somewhat – and when they did enter they were pretty wet!

Nevertheless, it was our final time with these students we had come to love and we wanted to celebrate! Once again we had the whole high school together. Friday I spoke about, “Spreading the Revolution.” I explained that discipleship and following Jesus demands a response the grows the Kingdom. We are each called to witness to the power of God in our lives in our schools, home towns, nations, and around the world.

I concluded the message with a call to action. Each of the kids was given a post-it note to place on one of two giant maps of the world with a commitment to carry the Movement to that place. By the end of the response time, the maps were beautifully adorned with multicolored post-it notes indicating which student would be responsible for each corner of our globe. In addition, kids were invited to respond by signing up to be a student leader, responsible for leading the Movement at the school and/or respond to a call to pastoral ministry. Ray and I prayed with the kids called to ministry. It was powerful to see these gifted young men and women make a promise to serve the Church.

We finished up with some pictures and lots of hugs. We had a little time off that afternoon, then we went to Ray & Lydia’s home for dinner. It was amazing. If you are looking for the best meal available in Costa Rica, you will have to secure an invitation to the Zirkel’s home.

After dinner, we had a time of worship with the Zirkel’s and some of the missionary interns who had been with us throughout our time in country. Mark led as we sang and I shared some scripture. It was a holy and powerful time as several people sought a baptism of the Spirit and we all prayed over them. Our time concluded as we all spread out around the Zirkel home (inside and out) and blanketed the place in prayer.

We returned to the seminary for bed and to get ready for Saturday.

September 29, 2009


Exhaustion set in on Thursday. We were carted off to the school once again where we would see first the Jr. High, then the Sr. High. This time, it was a little later in the morning. I spoke Thursday about, “Enduring in the Revolution.” I shared God’s desire for his revolutionaries to remain steadfast and vigilant. The Movement requires people who are not set back by set back. There is little room for casual Christians who expect things to get easier when joining ranks with Jesus. So, I invited the kids to be baptized with the Holy Spirit that day. Once again, we spread ourselves out down front and invited any who were in need of the Spirit to come down. In addition, I told the kids to just wave one of us up if they needed prayer, but couldn’t/wouldn’t come down.

It was important to me on Wednesday that the kids come down front. There is something important about physically moving toward God. (I know, God is in the bleachers and pews too, that isn’t my point.) Given the skepticism we found in those first days at the school, I truly felt that it was the kids’ move to make. Thursday was different. I wanted those who were still struggling to know that God finds them right where they are – if only they are willing to be found. So, over the course of the morning, we prayed with hundreds of more kids who were seeking blessing, healing, anointing, wisdom, freedom, and life. We prayed down front and we prayed in the stands. We prayed with individuals, pairs, and groups.

At one point, I looked up to see around 40 kids in a tight circle. RT had begun praying with three kids which multiplied again and again. By the end, RT was spinning in a circle laying hands on the kids praying blessing down upon them. As he said, “Amen,” the kids broke into tears and shouts of joy all at once. A mighty cry went up before the Lord from that corner of the room – let me assure you.

After services were over, I met with a young man who would become a real friend. Jose came and with tears expressed his joy at what he had found during the course of the week. He told me he wasn’t sure about this on Monday, but thought it was a good presentation. He said by Wednesday he had been found by the Lord and cried, Abba Pappa. Jose said he thought we were angels from heaven for sure.

I thought about that a lot. The word angel and messenger are the same in Hebrew. The angels were messengers who brought word from God to his people in their time of need. They played a role in the revelation of the person of God. Though I am certain we came from Texas and not heaven (though it is easy to confuse the two), I think Jose was right in the end. This week in Costa Rica, God used our little team to be messengers of His Word for His children.

That night was friend and family night for the kids of the school. We had a large group there that night for worship. I preached one of my favorite sermons, “Outrageous Ridiculousness” with the translating help of my friend Luis Palomo. Once again, Luis did a great job following me around as I preached, sang, and danced! I pointed out that God is in the habit of doing outrageous things – most notably in the person of Jesus Christ.

Alison broke out in “Oh How He Loves” and I invited all who would be saved by God’s outrageous and ridiculous grace to come forward for prayer as our team came forward. Once again, hundreds poured out of the stands to give their life to Christ. We were amazed by the number of young children who came to follow in the footsteps of their older siblings.

As Thursday drew to a close, we were full of God’s Spirit, but completely poured out. It was with a thankful heart that we laid down that night.

September 27, 2009


Wednesday had the earliest wake up calls for the week. The early breakfast time was exacerbated by my sleeplessness during the night. When I finally lay down the night before, I was troubled by cramps in my legs and an overall restlessness. I was painfully aware of how important Wednesday would be and was frustrated by my inability to rest. I knew from the start it was a feeble attempt to weaken me. Though my body did pay the price for the attack from Satan, my heart was in line with the Master and his strength was made perfect in my weakness.

We arrived at the school for an 8:00 a.m. start with the Jr. High kids. That morning I preached about: “How to join the Revolution.” I shared with them my experience in a Rwandan orphanage and the child who simply wanted to leave that place. I recounted him saying, “Go, Papa, Go.” I shared with the kids Paul’s assertion that by the Spirit of Christ within us we are the adopted children of the Most High God – and by that same Spirit we cry “Papa, Father.” In what I believe is the finest sermon I have ever been privileged to deliver, I shared the fundamental truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I concluded by inviting the kids to come forward if they want to accept Christ as their Savior and commit to following him as their Lord.

Before the service began, I had asked the team to prepare themselves to pray with the kids. I instructed them to simply come forward and spread out along the floor down front. After my invitation, the team came down and Mark began to sing. He (Mark) would later recount for us, “I was just praying that even one kid would come down. You know how people always say, even if it was just for that one.”

There was quite a pause after the sermon ended and the music began. I looked up to the kids sitting in the bleachers only once or twice. There was more than one child weeping already, but no one moved. Exhausted and poured out, I sat down on the floor. I knew they would come – I had seen their sweet faces while I shared Christ with them. I knew they were living in a spiritual orphanage and were desperate to cry Abba, Father.

Two girls finally rose together and made their way to Alison. They were the first to receive salvation that day, but not the last. They came as individuals and they came in groups. They surrounded every person standing down front waiting for them. Life began that morning for hundreds of young people as their hurt and sin poured out and grace proved triumphant. A group of ten kids would come and surround one of us and we would ask “how can we pray for you?” and a confused look would spread across their faces. Then we would ask, “who wants to receive salvation and make Jesus their Lord?” and ten hands would go up into the air. We would ask their name and one by one lead them in prayer. They confessed their sins and claimed the love of Christ as their very own.

It was the same with the older kids later that morning. I read Acts sometimes and wonder at the power of God’s Spirit to add thousands to his flock when Peter preaches the Gospel. In San Jose, I got a glimpse into what is otherwise words on a page as hundreds entered eternal life that morning.

As if that wasn’t enough for one day, we went back to the seminary where we led worship for the pastors during their chapel time. I spoke there about the enduring nature of God’s promise. Bishop Palomo rose after I spoke to bless the Communion meal. I had the benefit of Ray Zirkel translating the Bishop’s words. Once again, I found myself awed by the depth of this man’s understanding of the things of God. At one point, he prayed that God would bless our taking of the holy meal, “not because of our merits” and he paused, then said, “mostly because we don’t have any.” So simple, yet such an important truth.

Since I was the preacher, I was sitting in the front row and therefore one of the first to receive communion. I wasn’t sure of their practice, but given the events of the morning, I went to the front of the room and simply knelt on the floor. I intended to just stay in my crumpled position, but I hadn’t been their long when the Lord called me to my feet to pray for the other pastors positioned around me. I rose and prayed as instructed. Somehow, the Spirit moved through me as I prayed clearly and specifically for each pastor. For one I prayed direction in their new endeavor. For another I prayed for healing in his family. Again and again I prayed for the pastors kneeling and standing around me. I came to a young pastor standing with his arms raised. I put one hand over his heart and began to pray as the Lord led. After a few moments the Bishop was standing behind the man and motioned for me to bless him with a touch to his forehead.

In that moment, I breathed a prayer of peace over him and laid my hand on his head. He fell back into the Bishop’s waiting arms. The Bishop gently laid him on the ground and gave me a long look. Finally, he slowly nodded his head without breaking that penetrating stare. Not knowing what else to do, I sat down next to the pastor sprawled out on the floor. I covered his heart with my hand and rested. Sometime later he would slowly stir and rise up – the picture of a man who has laid in green pastures (Psalm 23) – and give me a warm smile and gentle hug.

While I was there on the floor, the Bishop called for those who needed to give testimony. Many shared, but one pastor in particular stood out for me. He said that he had recently planted two churches each of which was far from his home church. Through his tears, he said that he had been weary, but this week with the other pastors had strengthened him. Planted two churches each far from his home church. Oh, God, who am I and what am I doing?

That night we had a meaningful team meeting followed by a precious time of worship and prayer. As a group, we lifted up the names of the kids we had prayed with that day. Hearing each name was like a drop of rain in the desert.

We finished the night with a mean game of charades. It really was a riot, though Alison took the cake as both the best at the game and the most competitive. FYI: If you ever play with her, you definitely want her on your team!!!

September 23, 2009


As the week went on, our nights got later and the mornings got progressively earlier. Tuesday was the beginning of a three day run of non-stop worship events. After breakfast, we loaded up and headed over to the school.

My topic for the day was, “Arming for the Revolution.” At one point, I looked up and saw Bishop Palomo seated high on the steps near the rafters. I thought, “What am I doing? Am I really in Central America preaching to a group of Latin kids to join a revolution? This is either going to be very good or I’m going to be in a small cell well south of the border.”

Our reception Tuesday was definitely warmer. A couple of things helped. First, the kids knew what was going on – Monday had been a mystery and now they had had a chance to process some. Second, I had the band fling themselves out amongst the students during the message. They were spread around the room with the task of praying over their area while I preached. Third, we had two services – one for the lower grades and one for the upper. The smaller numbers made things slightly more manageable. Nevertheless, we still weren’t sure which way they were going to break.

I spoke to the kids about preparation for God’s revolution – one not of flesh and blood, but for eternity itself. I encouraged them to take up the belt of Truth that is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. I reminded them that without a belt your pants are likely to fall off – a most embarrassing situation (though I was careful not to use the Spanish false-cognitive embarrassado – which means pregnant). God sends the Truth so that we are neither ashamed or embarrassed on the final day, rather we can stand in the confidence of our salvation.

Two services and some hang out time with the kids later we were back at our home resting and preparing for our evening service. I was surprised by God’s provision when my interpreter for the week walked into the house. It was Luis Palomo – the Bishop’s son and my classmate from Asbury Seminary! He was down visiting his father and working on a new ministry venture to financially boost the long term goals of the Costa Rican Methodist Church. Luis is a gifted preacher in his own right and I gave him permission to preach whatever sermon he wanted – regardless of what I was talking about! He assured me that he would say and do whatever I said and did. His words, “You jump, I jump.” That night, I put him to the test.

Tuesday night worship was held for the churches of San Jose. The Bishop had invited his people to come in for this special event – and come they did. I spoke that night about, “Living up to your name.” I started by telling them about my first experience with a certain Costa Rican cookie named, “Yippy.” I shared that in English, “Yippy!” is an expression of surprising joy. This is exactly what a Yippy is too. A wonderfully flavorful bar of joyous goodness. As I repeatedly shouted, “Yippy!” in my best falsetto voice, Luis followed right along. This phase became a word I heard throughout the rest of the trip. Young and old alike would speak the one word of English we shared – “Yippy!” It never failed to bring a smile to my face and theirs.

I exhorted the church to live into their name, Christian – to be the kind of church that causes others in their community to be surprised by joy. I shared the urgency of the work of the church to redeem their communities, their cities, their nations, and ultimately their world.

At the end of the sermon I took a cue from the Holy Spirit and deviated from our program. Though the Bishop was scheduled to have some words following my sermon (how to strike fear into the heart of a Methodist preacher: Tell him the Bishop will be addressing the group when you have finished). I begged the Bishop’s pardon and shared that I was feeling led to invite the people to pray over the room. I explained that we were engaged in a great spiritual work in this very space with 550 young people. I told them that in the morning I would be offering an invitation to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. I asked them to get up and pray over the seats and floor where the kids would be seated. I told them, I know you don’t know the name of the kid who will be sitting where you are, but God does. Pray for them.

After about 5 minutes of this prayer time, Bishop Palomo rose to take the mic. I thought that perhaps prayer time was over and it was time to go on with the program. Instead, he began to encourage the people. He declared freedom in the name of Jesus. He called down the blessing of God’s Holy Spirit. I’m not sure how else to say this to you, dear reader. He was invited and He came.

The prayers of the saints grew increasingly louder as intercession began in earnest. Bishop Palomo continued to speak blessings and words of power over the people and the place. Soon people were weeping and kneeling as they moved onto the spiritual battlefield and began to push back the darkness.

After some time – I don’t know if it was 10 minutes or an hour – the Bishop began calling for our team to come and kneel. As we did so, they people of the church prayed mighty blessings over us. The Bishop called for us to rise as he blessed and anointed us. With arms raised, I stood before this man of God as he spoke Spanish words of blessing over me – words whispered in my ear by my friend, Luis. At the end of the blessing, the Bishop blew into my face. I have never experienced this before and it was powerful. The wind of the Spirit, the ruah (breath) of God filled me. At once, both peace and power filled my limbs.

I won’t share the other members of our team’s experience as he blessed them – that is their story to tell. Needless to say, we were each equally blessed and humbled by the experience.
We left that night and went home to unwind. We talked very little about our experience during our team meeting that night. I think it was just too close and raw for words.

So, after a brief talk, we decided to play Catch Phrase (yep, there is an app for that!). By the end our sides were hurting from laughing so hard. Oh, did I mentioned we played where you had to give your clues in either an accent or sing them in an operatic voice? I highly recommend this form of play. It adds a whole new level of fun.

September 21, 2009


Monday we were introduced to three people who would be a major part of our week. At breakfast we met Javier. Javi drove us everywhere all week long. More than being a driver, he was a good friend and watched over us at all times. We enjoyed getting to know him over many meals and shared the physical humor of two people who are separated by language, but united in service. By the end of the week, he was a friend for life. When we arrived at the school for sound check, we met Winston and Raul. Winston was the head sound engineer and Raul was his assistant. These guys had brought in a truckload of electronic equipment. Ray Zirkel (our missionary host) said, “Well it really shows a strong commitment to the kids.” To which I replied, “Yeah, but they are going to think U2 is here!” Seriously, it was BIG and LOUD!

Our sound techs really knew their business. On Sunday during a sound check with the band, the sound board started billowing smoke. Never a good sign. They just opened it up, did some work and everything was back in business. Really it was like that all week. They hustled and worked like madmen for us and for the kids to have a great experience.

While the team did a sound check and began to get going, Vicki and I began to prayer walk the room. The kids were on these enormous concrete bleachers running the length of a large covered gym – where all our events save one took place. VP (Vicki) and I walked slowly over every row, praying for God’s hand to be on each young person in the room. It’s been a while since VP and I prayed the sanctuary together. It was a good reminder of those early days in University Praise before things really took off.

About 30 minutes before the service started, our team gathered together in an upper loft of the space for prayer. We try to do this before every service, but sometimes the technology works against us and the time gets shortened a bit. It was important time in prayer together as we settled into God’s sovereignty for what was about to happen.

Soon the kids came streaming into the building – all 550 high school kids (7-11 grade) and it was time to begin. My topic for the week was: Revolution: The Movement. On Monday, I spoke on, “What is the Revolution?” I started out by talking about the goodness of God’s creation – the plan and purpose with which all things were created. I discussed the intricacy of creation and the care with which God ordered all things. From examples in nature to the creation of the students of collegio metodista, God has a plan. Those plans have been frustrated for some time, though. Human sin has distorted God’s purposes. This will not be the case forever. Rather, God has a particular purpose for his earth and it shall come to pass – of this, you can be certain. God has begun a worldwide revolution to right what has gone wrong and bring perfection back into creation. I ended by challenging the kids to open their hearts to the notion that God has a bigger plan and purpose for their lives than to just exist. I suggested that just perhaps he has as many plans for their lives as he does for the birds of the air and flowers in the fields.

The kids laughed a lot and I think enjoyed themselves, but it was hard to know for sure. They were certainly restless throughout and talking amongst themselves. Honestly, I sensed a great deal of skepticism in the room about the whole service!

After it was over, we went up with the kids to lunch. They eat in the outdoor corridors, so we just hung out and each talked to a few students. I was encouraged by a number of the students who remarked, “I liked your presentation,” or “good speech in there.”

That night our team had our evening meeting to discuss the events of the day and find out what needs they had for Tuesday. We then moved into a time of worship which quickly became a night of intercession. Alison let rip with “Revelation Song” and we began to pray for hearts to be moved. As things were winding down, I found myself standing at the back door looking out into the city. Mark came over and put his arm around me. He quietly asked what I was thinking. I whispered, “The kids. They are like a restless herd. I can feel that they are going to break and run. There is going to be a stampede, I just can’t tell yet which way they will go. Either to the Lord or off a cliff.” Those were perilous moments.

September 19, 2009


After completing our two Sunday morning services, Mark and I were taken to the airport by Mark’s dad, Steve – thanks again! We moved through security and jumped on a plane headed first for Houston, then San Jose. We weren’t sure what our arrival would hold for us, so we ate in San Antonio . . . and Houston . . . and on the plane!

Flying South I was going over my notes for the week and making lists on airline napkins. I’m sure it was confidence inspiring to the people at the school who asked for some details on my sermons and I whipped out a doodled on Continental Airlines cocktail napkin.

When we had come for our scouting trip in May, Mark and I were totally lost. We exited into the San Jose night not knowing who was picking us up or even where we were staying. Ultimately our driver found us, but it was a tense few minutes. This time, we came through immigration without incident. We are now seasoned pros. We connected with our driver from our last trip, Luis and headed to the seminary to meet our team.

We arrived at the Methodist University/Seminary after dark. The team was inside waiting. We stayed in a great little place. It had a kitchen, living room, 4 bedrooms with bunks, and 2 bathrooms. As Mark and I looked around, the team started giving us instruction on staying in our home for the next week. 1) Don’t try to sleep in bedroom number 4 – the skylight in there lets in light starting around 4:30 a.m. 2) The electric water heater for the shower is on the showerhead itself. Be sure not to touch the exposed wires. The heat works better if the overhead light is off. 3) You can not flush toilet paper in San Jose. There is a trash can next to each toilet.

It was really quite charming, until they got to number 3 – or perhaps I should have numbered these differently . . .

After settling in and catching up, our team began to sing and pray a bit together. It was a good centering time for all of us as we sought to settle our nerves and prepare for the early morning that faced us.

September 16, 2009

Antes de

Ray & Lydia Zirkel are graduates of Asbury Seminary. Their family has a deep and rich history in the Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. They are one of many missionaries supported in part by the people of University. Fifteen years ago, they made their home in Costa Rica. From the very beginning they dreamed of making the Methodist School a place not only of the highest academic standards, but a place of spiritual transformation. Because of the quality of education received by the students, they go on to become the leaders of their nation – doctors, lawyers, civic leaders, etc.

About three years ago, Ray invited me to come down and speak at the Methodist School – to lead a “Spiritual Emphasis Week.” At the time, I was just beginning my work in Rwanda and was not able to take on additional international travel. Twice more Ray would ask me to come down, but it wasn’t until at this year’s Global Impact Celebration that things came together. Ray suggested that I come down this Fall and bring Mark and our worship team. The Spirit really stirred within me and I knew the time was right.

Mark and I ended up taking a quick scouting trip down in May – Ray thought it was really important for us to see the school and put our feet on the soil before bringing the whole team down. He was absolutely right. That 36 hour visit was pivotal for planning purposes.

As the summer wore on, everyone’s excitement grew – along with my own anxiety. I rarely get nervous anymore about speaking, but there is still something about international preaching that gives me butterflies. I was also acutely aware of how big the stakes were in what we were doing. Ray & Lydia had been praying for a decade and half for revival at the school. In truth, I really look up to this couple who have sacrificed so deeply for the sake of Christ’s mission. I didn’t want to let them down.

Mark and I sent the team down one day ahead of us. We wanted to give them a little extra time to adjust before leading worship on Monday. Sunday morning was hard for Mark and I as we mentally began to make the leap to the mission field while leading worship at home base! In my sermon, I mentioned that I was quite nervous, but going none the less. On their way out, a number of folks wished me well and told me not to worry – things would be great.

The last conversation I had was with a good friend who pulled me aside before I left. He said, “I just want to tell you something before you go – I know you said you are nervous.” I waited for him to say, “Don’t worry, it will be great.” He said, “As you were talking about the trip and being nervous, I really felt the Spirit of the Lord saying – ‘Eternity hangs in the balance.’”

Well. Oh. Alright then.

Those were true and right words. I carried them with me down South – even sharing them with the team. I held them as we waged spiritual war throughout the week. His words were true, eternity was in the balance.

September 14, 2009

Costa Rica Account: Stay Tuned

I didn't have a chance to Blog while I was in Costa Rica. The truth is, the internet was sketchy at best, but even more importantly, I couldn't do it. I was being so wrung out each day for the sake of those God had placed before us, I didn't have anything left at the end of the day. If I had tried to explain or document it at the time, I would have ended each day in a weeping wet ball on the floor.

I have taken some time since to process much of what we saw - I doubt I will ever fully comprehend all the movement God wrought, but I have outlined the week and will now start writing it up. My goal is to post every other day or so until I am complete.

I want to thank all of you who followed along with the trip through the facebook video updates. In particular, I want to thank the sweet prayer warriors of University and beyond who stood under my arms and held me up as the battle raged for the hearts and minds of the students at the collegio metodista in San Jose. All glory for the week belongs to God, but I believe He is extremely pleased by your unyeilding support of His work through your worship team.

Our little team understood that we were nothing more than the tip of the spear. Your support and prayer provided the direction, strength, and power of the thrust made into enemy occupied territory. God's Kingdom went on the offensive and I could not be more thankful for your intercessory work. There is more light in the world today because of you.

July 27, 2009

Tales of the Movement

People of the Movement, take a minute and record what you have seen God doing in your churches and communities in the comments section of this post.

We are working on a better forum for sharing what God is doing through you, but for now this will have to do. As I bounce around Facebook and Twitter, I see that there is a real stirring. Finding ways to see what is going on will really help push the Movement along.

Looking forward to seeing what you share.

We are a movement,


July 25, 2009

Here Somewhere

It’s all here somewhere

It’s all in here somewhere. Throughout the day, I occasionally feel a comment coming, but seem to lose it before I can get in front of the computer.

Last week we saw an incredible advance of the Kingdom. The Movement is stirring. The long awaited fruit of obedience is blooming. The Lord is frustrating the plans of those who stand against him. I certainly have had a plan or two wonderfully frustrated!

I spent the whole week in Kerrville with 250 Sr. High students. I was in a room of oil soaked teenager and couldn’t help but drop a match. Dozens made first time commitments to Christ, hundreds re-committed to following their Lord, and almost 70 stood to give their life to ministry. They placed pins in a map to show where they were committing to personally carry the Gospel witness.

The integrity of their commitment is already manifest as I have received numerous requests for names of missionary sending agencies and cries for funds to send the kids on their way. I think maybe we will need to add a component to the WWMM’s (Worldwide Methodist Movement) organization. A wing that does nothing but raise money and book travel for kids to go to the nations.

I am coiling myself in holy anticipation of the next steps. Much is clear, much remains in motion and somewhat blurry.

More to come.

July 8, 2009

Comment Here

I would like to invite all of you who participated in the reading of Scripture to record your comments here. I think it will be an encouragement to each other and helpful to me as I work to discern God's plan and appeal for wisdom to follow hard after Christ. This is open to all who participated, by reading, hearing, praying - both for those near and far.

July 8, 248 pm

Last night I was headed home for a quick shower. I walked out of the green room where I have been staying, turned around and grabbed my Bible. I smiled at Mark and said, “I need my shield.”

As I pulled into my garage and went to get out, I reached over and grabbed my Bible, again saying, “I need my shield.” Alone in my garage, God responded to my off-hand comment.

He said, “It is not a shield, it is a sword.”

I have been playing defense. The constant and blistering attack of the enemy had worn me out. I had a small window of ease this Spring, but as I got focused on preaching and attending to the ministry of the Word, the attack came again. Honestly, I have spent much time trying to build a bigger spiritual wall to hide behind.

No more. I have drawn my sword which is the very Word of God. Arise! men of God. Arise! women of faith. Lay claim to the nations. Draw your sword and pierce the heart of all men. Lay claim to the nations.

The Kingdom of God lies in wait before us. On behalf of our Lord, Jesus Christ to whom all glory is due, lay claim to the nations.

July 7, 2009

July 7, 1:58 pm

Mid-morning, I rose to read. I finished the last chapters of 1 Chronicles. It is a powerful accounting of the faithfulness of David, King of Israel and man after God’s own heart. In those chapters, David makes a great offering for the work of the Lord. Not only does he place the resources of the nation into the building of the Temple, he empties his personal treasury – everything this rags-to-riches man has accumulated after a lifetime of unparallel success in military operations. At Solomon’s inauguration, 1000 bulls, 1000 rams, and a 1000 lambs are offered with other sacrifices “in abundance.” I was on my feet preaching with passion and power (to a room empty of all but two!).

A bit later, I had to go meet with some folks for about an hour. When I came back, there was a need for me to read again. I took over just in time to finish 2 Chronicles and start Ezra. In one chapter, I read the quick death of the nation and the pillaging of God’s Temple. After all that – all the laborious work of counting the people in Numbers to ensure a right distribution of land in Joshua. After all the birthing pains during the era of the Judges. After all the splendor and wealth of a nation being poured out for the Lord. After all that God had done and in spite of all their promises to the contrary, man just couldn’t stem the evil in his heart. He wouldn’t stop rejecting the God who established him.

So, God swept them away. As surely as he built them, he swept them away in disgrace.

I got choked up, but knew Ezra would send the people back to Jerusalem because of God’s great mercy. I started the first chapter of Ezra but could go no further. Between sobs I read the pitiful inventory of what returned with Ezra to Jerusalem. The rebuilt Temple was consecrated with 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and 12 goats.

Having been soaking in the Word from “the beginning,” I was living Ezra 3.12-13. “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sounds of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.”

Thy will be done . . .

This is not about our reading here, but at the same time, it is. It was written by my friend, Denise - recording her experience last week at a Jr. High Camp that Rusty, Mark, and I were leading. She is a gifted author - you should probably seek out her blog. (Posted here with her permission!)

"I make known the end from the beginning,from ancient times, what is still to come.I say: My purpose will stand,and I will do all that I please." --Isaiah 46:10

Last week, I drove to Kerrville, TX in order to attend evening worship at the Mt. Wesley Retreat Center. Two hundred jr. high kids were attending Mt. Wesley for a week of fun, games, and the opportunity to explore their relationship with Jesus Christ.

I spent much of the 300 mile trip in communion with God. I worshiped the Holy One. I prayed for my loved ones. I prayed for what was going to take place that evening. People, near and dear to my heart, were in charge of leading the campers in the week's activities, teaching moments, and times of worship. My daughter and her friend had been invited to sing with the worship band that evening. All of this, I lifted up to the Father.

You might think after all that praying that I was done for the day.

But that was not so.

The leadership team and the worship band gathered before the kids arrived. They prayed with an urgency and a humility that only comes from those who are completely submitted to the will of the Father. Prayers for God's will, power, healing, strength, for the courage to answer God's call, and protection from the evil one, were spoken with fervency. It was obvious to me that the Lord intended to do a mighty work in the lives of those young campers. It was just as obvious that satan had much to lose and would do everything in his power to disrupt the evening's plans.

Later, as the kids poured into the worship center, I sat on a bench watching and waiting. I knew God intended me to be more than a spectator. It didn't take long before I recognized my assignment.

There were double doors leading into the room. Large and heavy, each time someone entered or exited the place they closed with a bang. On the surface, it may have seemed like no more than a minor distraction. But on a deeper level, it represented a subtle interruption of the worst kind...

{Bang}...and a split second later, a young mind loses their ability to focus and wonders again why they are there

{Bang}...and there is a disconnect between the heart beginning to be warmed and the praise words being sung

{Bang}...and the whisper of God's call that accompanies the pastor's message is lost

Without question, I walked to the doors in order to ease them closed each time someone passed through them. I felt conspicuous. Anyone coming in or out had to go around me. Even so, my discomfort was secondary to obeying God.

God had physically posted me at the door to do more than close it gently. He expected me to pray, with authority, over all that was happening inside, as well as that which was taking place outside.

I had my Bible with me and opened it to the Scripture lesson for the evening: Acts 1:1-11. For the remainder of the evening, my Bible remained opened to those pages.

These were the words I lifted high above my head in worship. These were the words I clung to when I boldly faced the doors and claimed, in Jesus' name, that the enemy had no authority, and had to leave the premises. These were the words I wept over when I could no longer stand up and found myself stretched out full length on the floor, weeping and shaking.

A part of me wanted to get up...I was in the way, someone was going to step on me, what if I was distracting someone? Another part of me was powerless to move. Twice, someone came and prayed over me. Overwhelmed, in God's presence, I could do nothing but remain on my face before Him.

Prompted by the Spirit, I began to pray. The prayer was simple but incredible...the same four words spoken over and over again. Thy Will Be Done. Each time I spoke them they took on new meaning.

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a plea that God move as He promised

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a surrender of my own selfish ways

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a declaration of faith in God Almighty

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a blanket of protection for those leading the way

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a stamp of authority against the darkness seeking to disrupt the holy awakening taking place in the hearts and minds of 200 precious souls

Thy Will Be Done... and I was in complete agreement with Him

Eventually, I was able to stand up again and resume my post. A young man (college age?) came up to me towards the end of the evening. He said that God wanted me to know that even though I was a small person I was a spiritual warrior. What I had done that evening, by guarding the doors, had made a difference.

His words blessed me but, not so much because I needed to hear them. I am at a place in my journey where I know that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to do. I felt God's approval and pleasure without a word being said.

No, the blessing came from the look on his face as he delivered the message to me. His expression was that of confusion and wonder.

Out of obedience to the Father's will,
he returned to a room he had already left and
spoke words he never intended to say
to a woman he had never seen before.

Out of obedience to the Father's will...

May Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus' name, Amen.

to access past reflections go to: biggodlittled.blogspot.com

July 6, 2009

July 6, 5:48 pm

As I listen to the Word of God proclaimed, I am haunted by this verse: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” No, we are not to Acts yet (Acts 6.2), but it is running through my mind.

The word of God is so powerful. I feel like I am being soaked in it – saturated. I can feel the authority of the Spirit rising inside of me as I am renewed. You cannot believe how hard it is for me to observe this simple instruction. As a pastor, I get more thanks for waiting tables than sitting, meditating on the Word of God. Frankly, I feel like I’ve accomplished more when I go through a day of marking things off my checklist.

Yet, as I am confined here in this place, as the Scriptures are pouring out over me, I am overcome with the sure and certain knowledge that faithfulness requires greater attention to the word and will of God. I must be engaged in a great work – refuse to become mired.

Waiting on the table is an important ministry – it is absolutely vital! But it’s not my ministry. If I wait on the table, who is attending the ministry of the word? Worse, I am robbing another of their opportunity to exercise their gifts for building the Kingdom of God.

Those early leaders of the church chose seven men who were full of the Spirit and wisdom to attend to the needs of the community. Because of it, “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.” I am painfully aware of my ability to shrink ministry to the size I can manage on my own strength.

To be faithful to God, I must learn to say no to men. Or better yet, turn responsibility for carrying out the ministry of the table to others. My job then, is to “give my attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” It comes down to this, do I believe that prayer is more powerful than taking another meeting? Do I believe that giving study and attention to the word has a greater Kingdom impact than answering emails? If you check the words of my lips, then the answer to these questions is, YES! But if you looked on my calendar, or followed me around for a week, I’m not sure my life would agree.

July 6, 12:49 p.m.

It is hard to explain the power that is available here. The men and I are experiencing the palpable presence of God among us. The cloud of presence is growing thicker. Those who have come plan to come back again. It seems to work best when there are a number of men here who can cycle through the reader position a few times.

As I read earlier from Exodus, I was so powerfully struck by the encounter between Moses and Yahweh. Honestly I didn’t know if I could finish reading. Consider: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” Ex 33.11 And, “Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people of the face of the earth?’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’ Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’” Ex 33.15-18.

Is the presence of God in my life the defining characteristic of who I am? Are we a people distinguished from all other people on the face of the earth because of our relationship with Jesus Christ?

July 6, 8:38 am

I am so encouraged. So far, each time a few men leave, a few more drift in. One man told me that God woke him and sent him up. What else can you do if God tells you something?, he said.

It seems to me that this is an important work of the Lord that is going on here. There is so much power in the Word of God. John wrote that the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. In a very real way, as we proclaim the Scriptures, Christ is made manifest here in our sanctuary. What a joy to be co-located with the very presence of our God.

A few women have come in to pray and support us as well. I know there are a great many more who are lifting us in prayer. I know that the women of the church so desire our men to carry an ever increasing burden for living sacrificially, praying continually, and rooting ourselves in the Word. Thank you, Lord for the women who too often stand in the gap alone for the church, their families, and their communities. May we be men who lead with grace and love in all that we do.

July 6, 6:51 a.m.

A while back, the Lord gave me a vision for spending 30 days in prayer. I invited a hundred men to join me. We began our 30 days this morning at 6 a.m. We are beginning by reading the Bible from cover to cover in our North Sanctuary. I expect that we will finish sometime mid-morning on Thursday. Right now I am encouraged as a steady stream of men have come in to participate.

I really struggled with how to organize this reading, but ultimately received this instruction from the Lord to give the men, “Just tell them to come when I wake them in the night. To come when I move them at work. The worst thing that will happen is that you will end up reading a lot of my Word, Ryan.”

January 10, 2009

Intervention Questions

I know I have been too long in updating this blog - as a result there may be no readers left to see this post. At any rate, I will be blogging over the next month, but on a different site. We are currently engaged in a sermon series called: "Intervention." During the service, we get text messages from the congregation that we are answering during worship. However, we can't get to all of them, so we finish up on line. Pastor Leslie and I will be responding there throughout the month. Hopefully, this renewed discipline will translate to my personal blog and I will resume here in February.

The Intervention blog is found at blog.uchurch.tv for those who are interested.