Friday, March 4, 2016

Week 1 of Brazil

Welcome to Campinas, Brazil! The last week has been a roller coaster of excitement and anticipation.    With the mixture of people that are on my team to the cultural differences of the people we meet, there is so much to be thankful for and it is amazing to think there is another week here.

We have been primarily working with the Presbyterian Church in Brazil(known as the IPI). From day one until today we have traveled around the region of Campinas visiting pastors and their churches in which they planted or revitalized. To hear from their perspective in their cultures has been so rewarding and I have learned so much.

Here in Brazil, during the first week, I have seen some major influences on the ministries here that are discerning their place as a church leader in their communities.    One of the biggest and most powerful aspects of the growing and revitalizing churches is their desire to be more spiritual in their lives and in doing so become better leaders so that they can be better prepaired in the context. Spirituality is a tough subject for me because it has always been the one thing that I can "skip" on my schedule if I'm overloaded. Since I have been in ministry almost 4 years ago, my connectedness with God has been in a low spot. I often feel like I have left behind what I have been called to do on a regular basis. (Kind of like the person who likes hunting so much that they become a Game Warden only to barely ever hunt because they are working during the hunting season.) So, spirituality is number one. Numero 2 is mentorship. While I have a pretty awesome pastor, I see many other people who go through discernment and pastoral roles with no one to check in with. Another thing about this is that our systems are not designed to rely on the mentor-mentee model. We may have it some where in the by-laws but it is not fully used.

With this in mind, I want to say a few things about the churches we visited. We have seen house churches that turned into large worshiping communities, old churches revitalized to discern God's will for the 21st century, church growth in poverty, church growth in the upper-middle class neighborhoods. These churches, whether we always agree with them theologically or otherwise, have given so much trust that God will use them to the point where they have gone in directions that they could not imagine.

What is Christ doing in this land? Well it looks a little bit hip, a lot a bit practical and ton more focused on relationships than I could ever imagine. In the Brazilian culture, relational ministries are the only ones that sustain.    We have a lot to learn from this particularly in the fields of evangelism, education and worship.

I'll hopefully have time soon to post some pictures of our adventures and when we return home, there are rumors of a video project in the works.

To TJ and my family, I miss you and am thinking about you.
To St. Paul's Community Church family, holy canoli do we have some things to consider! lol
To Ella and Willow, daddy loves you and misses you two.

Blessings from summer,
Ryan

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Articles, Magazines, Sermons, Conferences



I love reading articles, blogs, reflections and anything where people are expressing their feelings and offering some insight or opinion on a certain subject.  Literally, I read dozens of articles with catchy titles in hope that I might actually uncover something earth-shattering that will either change my circumstance, spirituality or ministry.  We all read to feel inspired or to hear another's story but at what point does all the words and crafting of prose actually lead to change or initiation?

A lot of the things we read are usually just affirmations on what we believe or have heard.  We rarely want to read anything that opposes our views and then we just build up our walls (preconceived notions) even higher. In all the written pieces I have read, I have barely changed my mind on a subject or actually done something as a result of reading said material.  Also, when we go to church or even attend a conference, we may feel awfully inspired by the words and presentations but still our behavior remains unchanged.

One website that I frequent is Fresh Expressions. Why? Because they write articles about what people are actually doing and was has or has not worked for them.  This is what gets my blood running and inspires me to be a better leader in the Church. "Actions speak louder than words." "Put your money where your mouth is." "Practice what you preach.": These are all statements that we use in Church circles because we want to see work being done in the world to further the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Now I am certain that this article, like the many before and after it, will lead to little change in the world but through all the saturation of opinion and story telling I want you to turn inspiration into action. Easier said than done; I understand, but what will it take for us to make that step which leads to change?

In church, we ask a lot about what we can do to be a healthier community of believers or how we can reach out to those in need.  We need to stop answering that question by placing boundaries on God's will and have the faith to take risks. Get out of your comfort zone, try something new, make new connections with others, stop saying "we have tried that before", quit giving excuses and trust that by following God's lead we will be a better and more productive community of disciples.

I get asked many questions about church planting since I am involved in the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Frequently the purpose behind the question is "what is the secret to getting started?".  My answer is usually the same "When the Holy Spirit moves through you in your discernment, follow its lead."  Take risks, be bold in God's calling for you life, gather around people that have discerned a similar vision and trust that God will provide.

The next time you read an article and feel inspired to do something. Do it.  Your routine of life will be broken up for a small period of time but the consequences of your actions can be ground breaking.  Peter and the disciples took many risks when they preached the Gospel in a hostile environment but they were sustained in their ministry.  Sure they had a few bumps in the road but they followed the Holy Spirit as they went about growing the Church in the earliest days.

God has instilled in our hearts the ability and will to change, we just have to follow that lead.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr.: 50 Years Later

For millennials and those younger, Dr. King is a symbol of courage and he worked towards bringing words into action.  He is an example of what we can achieve when we come together for common cause and stand up for what is right. But we often forget MLK Jr.'s words and that he was a brilliant pastor and theologian.  He also knew that equal rights was not just an understanding of circumstance but a relationship. So on this day, I want to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day by pointing out where we have failed to change in the last 50 years and where we can continue his legacy through our building of relationships.

Since the Civil Rights Movement in the 50's and 60's we have certainly come a long way in bringing equality to our society in regards to racial discrimination. But we have also failed over and over again.  Gentrification of urban areas, police brutality and discrimination, educational systems that lack funding, segregated churches and organizations; I can go on and on with clear examples of how race relations have not progressed in the past decades. Our federal government has done little to curb this trajectory of race relations and society as a whole has lacked the initiation to stop the division of our culture. So how do we fix that? Let's refer to Jesus.

Now I could quote the golden rule or even talk about Jesus' comments on equality but I want to focus on the fact that Jesus had a profound impact on architecture.  This, of course, is in reference to social architecture.  In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus warns the crowds gathered to not build their houses on sand but instead on stone. We have to ask ourselves if our foundations in society are built on sand or are they built on stone?

Our foundations of society are the relationships of its people. How we interact and treat one another is the basis for which everything is standing on. If our first reaction to a stranger is a judgment because of their skin color then that relationship has been initiated by stereotypes and ignorance. However, if we begin our interaction with one another in an equal love for one another then the relationship will grow on equality, love and acceptance.

So if we want to stand up to the intolerance of racism in America then we need to begin by building relationships with people that are different from us.  I wish I learned this lesson a decade ago when I entered my undergraduate university. It is my hope that you can start doing this today because we can see the light in the darkness.  Racism has no place in this world, we are smarter than that. We need to learn to accept one another and celebrate that we are different but we are all equal in the eyes of God. Put down your ideas of hatred and fear and be the change in this world that will bring to life the dream that MLK Jr. had.

Over the past 10 years I have grown tremendously in my understanding of life.  This has included the rejection of culturally ingrained racism and the acceptance of people that are different than me.  I have learned to do this because of my faith.  And because of my faith I have decided to be a part of society that doesn't let the cultural-norm impose on me ideas that are blatantly wrong but stand up for what is right. Through this moral decision I have made relationships with people that are different than me (racial, cultural, religious) and have built my own foundation of love and acceptance.  If we all do the same thing then our society will have the same foundation.  We need to build relationships, ask forgiveness and make Dr. King proud.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Epiphany

January 6th is the yearly celebration of the visit of the magi to the young and innocent Jesus Christ. This is the day after the last day of Christmas and is a celebration of the light that has come to the world through Jesus. The gifts that were brought to Mary, Joseph and Jesus were the means by which they escaped as refugees to Egypt in their attempt to escape the oppression of King Herod.
Over the years some theologians have questioned the biblical support for Epiphany.  This is a part of a greater movement that questions many holidays and celebrations that have become staples of Church tradition. Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions celebrate most of the same holidays and Epiphany is celebrated universally as well.
But why the opposition to tradition?  The holidays of the Church have been founded on the idea that we are to gather and celebrate as in the words of the Psalms and similar to the events at the Temple in Jerusalem (minus the sacrifices of animals). Although, finding biblical basis for many of the modern traditions can be stretching at times.  Holy Week and Christmas celebrations are a combination of the Synoptic narratives, Pentecost is celebrated but we are far cry from what Peter and the Apostles were like that day in their gathering space and the tradition of Lent and Ash Wednesday are merely of post-biblical origins.
So why would we celebrate biblically loose holidays? If we ask this question then we would be questioning 2,000 years of discipleship and discernment. The theology behind these types of questions has to ask more questions that just “Is it in the Bible?”.  Most of Christian theology is not fully expressed in scripture including many unfortunate stances on fear, racism and exclusivity that have found their way into modern thought.

Please leave Church holidays alone. Epiphany is a celebration of light. Unfounded criticism only brings more darkness into the world. I often question many aspects of the Church in our post-Christendom and post-modern world but they are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and not invented for an agenda. Peace be with you and Happy Epiphany!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent: Day 1

 I am starting a journey in picture and word.  Everyday during Lent 2015 I will be taking a picture that is a visual depiction of a word.  Each word that is used comes from a list provided by Rethink Church, a United Methodist program.  You can follow my journey here on this page and by following me (toprocklife) on Instagram.


Day 1 (2/18/15):

I am dust.  Out of the dry and dirty earth I was formed into being.  Yet I was made in God's own image.  Images hold power because they often show what words cannot explain but words, especially those of the Bible, give us a foundation for understanding.



Lenten Journey

So what cool thing are you doing this year?  Doing the 'give up sweets or chocolate' thing or are you a person that is willing to give up Facebook? If not, are you still searching for that thing that will make Lent a great spiritual journey?  Are you wondering what the future of your church will look like? If yes, then what you need to do is listen.  Listen to your family, listen to your church family, listen to your community.

In the Church world, we call listening to your community as "community exegesis".  Imagine a world where people were in tune with what is happening around them.  Imagine a world that people took on the causes of their neighborhood.  Imagine a world where people worked together and fought to reduce the blights that bring down wholeness within our schools, churches and homes.  Community exegesis is the avenue for us to find out what we have been doing wrong or what we have ignored and it also points out what God is already up to on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

During Lent this year, you should give up your idea of what your community is and start from scratch.  Preconceived notions of stereotypes and generalizations are what builds barriers and that needs to stop. Listen for these things happening around you, listen for what needs done, listen to your community and find out where you, your family and your church fits in to the puzzle.

Prayer walks, knocking on a neighbor's door, sitting in a coffee shop (while not playing on your phone) or attending an event at the library are all great ways for us to step outside our normal life and see what is happening around us.  During Lent we can be witnesses to things that need fixed in our community and we can witness what is doing well within our towns.

So in this Lenten season, listen.


For a great Lenten devotional, the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary has a great resource.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Southeast Asia Mission Trip - Preview


(credit: tripadvisor.co.uk)

In two short weeks I will be on a plane with my destination being half-way around the world. As an introduction into the world of cross-cultural missions, I am joining a group of individuals traveling from the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to warmer climates to witness in the work of the Spirit.  We call this a mission trip but we are not going to evangelize to the non-Christian, build orphanages or give them anything material but we are going to learn, teach and encourage believers of Christ.

Our two weeks will be spent visiting Christians throughout the southern regions of the country.  Visiting this country will be a great task for me as I only have a few word vocabulary and know the bare minimum of the culture.  I do, however, look forward to the food because I am an adventurous eater.

In our time together, I hope to grow in relationship with those I am traveling with but I also would like to build lasting relationships with the people we meet in country.  This is why we go on these trips; we are there to strengthen the Church and grow in our witness.

Please pray for us as we travel and pray that we become better disciples through this experience.  I will keep this blog updated as often as I can when overseas and I will give a grand report when we return.

Blessings and peace,
Ryan