Some Videos from Asia

Here are just some of the videos that Peichi and I made in Asia.  We made them mostly for our youth group in Texas.  I hope you enjoy watching even close to as much as we did making them.  Several places, crowds gathered as we made the videos and asked me afterward if I was someone famous.  Of course, I am.

The Gratitutde Project

The Gratitude Project

Day 22

My monthly project is progressing, although slower than I expected.  I think I need to babysit it more in order for it to happen.

I have taken to writing thank you cards once a week to a few people.  I think it is funny that people almost always contact me back and thank me for sending them a “thank you.”  I have flirted with the idea of sending out a thank you card for thanking them for thanking me.  OK, I would never do that.  When they call I think “Hey, you can thank me for sending you a ‘thank you.’  That erases the thank you.”

In reality, I am happy that they are calling.  My mind just jumps around to funny semi-sarcastic thoughts all the time.  I don’t do it because I am cynical or mean.  My mind is always just entertaining itself in the background.

I have realized through this that thankfulness begets thankfulness.  People read the card and their response is to say “thank you” for me thanking them.  Mother Theresa once said “We don’t have to reach the whole world.  If half the world was loving the other half, then everyone would be being loved.”  I like that.  If I can be the most thankful person I possibly can, then the people around me will be more thankful.  If they are thankful, then the people around them are affected, and on down the line.  Like a pebble in a pond, the ripples could reach the whole pool.

I want to reach the whole pond, but I really need to pay more attention to me being more thankful.  After all, I am doing this because I get frustrated at how much we (me and most people around me) pay attention to the failures around them.  Psychology calls it the Fundamental Accountability Error.  Every schoolboy knows how it works.  When a fly ball goes into right field and the fielder has to dive to catch it.  He gets up and says “I am an awesome fielder.”  If he misses the catch, it is “The sun was in my eyes.”

That kind of thinking is what causes us to have an entitlement mentality.  This error makes us focus on others failures and what we deserve.  It is the opposite of thankfulness.  It is sin.  Although I fall prey to this law of psychological tendency just as much as anyone else, I am trying to burn it out of me.  That is part of my prayer.  Please pray for me in this regard.  –Ryan

Thoughts from my Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday.  Typically, people enjoy their birthdays, I think.  In recent years I have been increasingly becoming quite the birthday party-pooper.  I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is that makes me feel so un-festive on October 1st.  There could be a bunch of reasons, and perhaps many of them work together to make me a little bit gloomy and highly introspective.  I feel a combination of wanting to huddle up in a ball behind the washer and dryer like some sickly cat, and wanting people to gather around me and make me feel loved.  I endure it with a relatively normal look on my face.  I do enjoy the love that people show me, for sure though.

One of the things I’ve dealt with over the last couple years is the knowledge that I’m not getting any younger.  When I was younger I dreamed that I would accomplish all manner of amazing things.  These weren’t just selfish ambitions, but godly Kingdom goals too.  But now the older I get, I see people around me who are my role models, and I realize that by my age, they had already accomplished much more than I.  Some of them are now even younger than I am.  It is starting to feel like that moment in a football game where you realize that there just isn’t enough time to score the three touchdowns you need in order to win, even if you keep the other side from doing anything.  You start to have those thoughts of forced turnovers and onside kicks, but you also really wonder if it is all possible.  Yeah, I know that I’m being overly dramatic, but I already told you that I’m in that sort of mood.  It is my birthday.  Indulge me a little.

When I got home from Barnes and Noble, Peichi was waiting for me with some dinner and a mixed drink that she had made, and cupcakes she had just baked to top it all off.  She is very good to me sometimes.  I felt loved.

As I was eating, she pulled out a milk carton.  I’m lactose intolerant, which means that I can only drink lactose-free milk that just happens to cost twice as much as regular milk.  She showed me the expiration date, a day in late August, a whole month ago.  I’m bad with those kinds of things.  I’ll be in the grocery store and see something on sale, and thinking that my frugal spouse will be proud of me, I’ll buy two.  The problem starts when I forget to actually eat or drink said product.  I’ll put it in the fridge.  It will slowly move to the back as I reach for other things and just put them in front.  Two months later, she’ll pull out an expired milk carton, half full of milk, half full of a green ecosystem complete with Greenpeace activists demanding it be declared a protected environment.

I smiled nonchalantly and continued to eat.  The date stared back at me, boring a hole in my forehead.  As I ate, I realize that sometimes I feel a bit like that milk carton.  I look back on my year and realize that some of who I am has just sat on the shelf.  Some of my gifts have just not been used.

Just like that milk, I have an expiration date.  We all do.  It isn’t known, but it is definitely stamped on our foreheads in some ink we can’t see, but it is indelible.  We are also filled up with gifts, dreams, passions, and all manner of good stuff.   When we can’t use these in the way God intended, they just sit there and slosh around inside of us.  I think that is why Proverbs 13:12 says “hope deferred makes the heart grow sick, but longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  I was meant for those hopes, gifts, and passions to be used for God and His kingdom.

I don’t believe that I’m sitting on the shelf, but as I sat on my birthday I realized that I have so much more to give.  God put things in me that I want to be used for Him this year.  I can’t put the blame for this on anyone but myself.  The possibilities are endless, and ultimately any blame for my shelf-ishness (see I just made a ridiculous pun) is my own.  But I know I don’t want things in me to sit on the shelf for another year turning green.  I never know when time for me, just like it did for that milk, may have passed. -Ryan

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Finding Meaning in Leviticus

I spy a great sacrifice Many of you know that I just recently finished going through the Bible cover-to-cover in 90 days.  It was a challenge in many ways, but in another sense it was exciting and refreshing.  I don’t think that reading so much scripture so fast is necessarily the best way to study always.  I often counsel students to whom I minister to read it slowly, in bite-sized chunks, and think about it.   I did learn different things than when I’d read the Bible through in a much longer period of time, though. Continue reading

What I Want to Want

light

I started out the day re-reading a section of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  I tried to allow his section on Christian meditation to sink in as I ate lunch, and then headed out.  It was a perfect day today, one of those Texas days that you just can’t waste.  There were no sweeping Spring hailstorms, or silent freezes of winter, and the summer furnace had not been stoked yet.  Outside, there was nothing but miles of blue sky and all of creation going through its April busywork.  I went to the park.

As I turned off the car in the parking lot, I grabbed my Bible.  I was looking for a passage in Philippians, but ended up reading 1 Thessalonians 5:5.  “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” I let that seep in, and I began to walk, meditating on being a son of light and day. Continue reading

Pledging Allegiance

This may seem like a stretch at first, but I think it bears consideration:

Do you remember when you were a kid and you stood up every day to say the Pledge of Allegiance in class?

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Those words are indelibly imprinted in my mind.  It is like an old TV or computer screen that was stuck on one thing for an extended period, and had that image burned into it for all time.  When I was younger, I felt like I couldn’t pass a flag without getting teary-eyed and patriotic.  Really!  I know it sounds hokey, and if you aren’t an American, you are probably rolling your eyes.  Maybe even if you are an American, you might be too.  There is nothing wrong with having a deep love for your country.

All of those feelings were concurrent with the whole “my daddy can beat up your daddy” phase.  That is natural.  Back in childhood we all had a natural sense that there were certain things in life that were unquestionable.  Your mom was a better cook than every other mom.  Your dad was the strongest man in the world, and everything they said about the world was written in stone as by the very hand of God.  Even when they said you had done something wrong, and you were angry, still you knew inside that they were right.

At some point in childhood this all goes away, slowly at first.  Then you wake up one day when you are about 13, and suddenly you realize that the opposite is true.  It sort of comes on you like a flood in the night, and you wake up in the morning, and you know everything about everything.  Anything else is to be questioned with the most stringent of examinations.  It isn’t until later when you realize that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Now, as I read my Bible I am daily confronted with a nagging question.  What should I do about those things that I am reading that challenge the way I’ve decided the way things are and should be?  What do I do about the words and commands in the Bible that say something I don’t want to be true?  Do I tear them out, pretend they are not there, or in the fashion of the day, explain them away as saying something else entirely?

I don’t have to enumerate these issues.  Anyone who has truly read the Bible has found them.  Issues of sexuality, the proper roles of men and women, giving money to the Church, speaking only words of kindness and blessing, all of these and more assault me daily.  In a post-Christian world this is increasingly going to be a battle line.  We have lost an innocence that repeats, “God says it, so I must believe it.”

One of the many questions to ask is how accurate is this paradigm of adolescence to the spiritual landscape?  In many ways I think we are in our spiritual teens as a society.  I think that we have in large part decided what we want to be true.  We want issues of sexual morality to be however we’ve determined them.  The Bible has to be wrong, in our eyes, if it says something other than what we’ve already determined is right.

The answer to this that many Christians in a post-Christian world are going to have to learn is not to simply return with “God says it, so you must believe it.”  That won’t affect people any more than convincing a teenager that you are right simply because you are their parent.  Notice the use of the word “you” in that quotation.  We must continue and hold fast to the fact that we MUST believe it simply because God says it.  That is where our allegiance lies.  Our reality must not be conditional or subjective.  But our dialogue must point to Christ, not to behavior.

Christ will continue to affect lives, no matter what title we give to an era.  But we Christians have failed in many ways to point our lives and rhetoric to Christ.  Instead we have pointed both towards our code of behavior.  This is not my idea of how things are.  It is fact.  Most un-Christians statistically view Christianity mostly as a code of behavior, and their criticisms of our faith almost unanimously stem from that.  Our behavior is important, as it points others toward Christ (as is the main point of Ephesians 5), not as an ends to itself.

What the post-Christian era knows that we don’t is that it makes no sense to say “God says, so I must believe it, and therefore do it,” if they have no allegiance to God.  We would do well to stop saying “you should live this way,” and start saying living lives that make people ask us “How can I have a life like yours?”

What God is Doing

I have been reading through the gospels in the last few days.  I am ending Luke tomorrow.

What stikes me lately is God’s call on us through Christ to not strive to be number 1.  That is a big relief on one hand, because I am usually not numero uno of anything.  I am not “the steller at______ guy.”  I am the “middle of the pack guy.”  On the other hand, it is disturbing.  I have this great ambition to do great things.  I want to be number one.  I want to be the guy that everyone looks up to.  I want to be the one whom people put on the pedastal and say “be like him.”  But over and over again in the gospels Jesus is telling us not to try to be that.  I don’t think that this ambition is always evil.  Most of my ambitions are God kind of stuff.  I know that Jesus doesn’t decry excellence.  When you get right down to it, Jesus is not telling us we can’t be number one, or even that it isn’t good to try to be the best.  It is how we use that status that counts.  But at the same time, he knows that it seldom plays itself out that way.  Number one usually becomes an idol.  We love to make idols.  That has got to be part of why Jesus said the whole rich man/camel through the needle comment. We are rich.  I am rich.  God is working this out in me.