Thursday, September 13, 2007

Three Pointing Back

I realized a very liberating piece of truth today. That truth is that I am usually right and people around me are usually wrong. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to discover this fact of life. Now whenever someone questions me or disagrees with me I can laugh inside with full knowledge that this person is obviously mistaken. I am actually embarrassed that it took me so long to find the freedom in this new knowledge but now that I possess this information I vow to live it out each day.
Allow me to illustrate this liberation through an everyday example. When I am in a hurry and weaving through traffic, it never fails that the drivers around me are the ones too slow or too unskilled to understand that I have places to be and that I need to quickly maneuver around their wasted pile of metal. With my new information about my own superiority over all people, it helps me to ease up a little and to offer grace for these people do not live up where I exist. I now actually pity others for not possessing the same superior qualities that I have been given.
One other area that this indisputable truth shows its ugly head is when I deal with other people in leadership roles. Apparently I am the only one who knows the right way to lead and the right things to say. I don’t know why it is so hard for others to realize that I am quite easy to work with because I am not wrong. All they have to do is stay out of my way and everyone will be successful and happy. If others would just recognize my unquestionable wisdom, then they would humbly accept my input when I point out the flaws in their lives.
It is my ease of finding flaws in others and my ability to demonstrate my superior skills in a world that never measures up that led me to the discovery of this irrefutable truth about my knowledge. There really is no other explanation for my eminent wisdom, and ability to judge. No other explanation unless you agree with my friend who says, “We find fault in other people usually because those are the same faults we struggle with”.
I’m not sure I want to agree with that statement because it sounds a bit like Jesus’ principle of, “Do not judge or you will be judged by the same measure”. It is as if Jesus said what my friend says. I am judged by the same measure because it is often the same sin in my own life. If this is true and if I am not all knowing, that would mean that when others around me are “bad drivers”, then maybe I should recognize the bad driver is looking in my mirror. When I easily see the flaws in another person, I need to ask myself why that flaw looks so familiar and easy to recognize.
Perhaps this is the truly liberating truth. The truth that says God alone is judge and all of my thoughts fail in comparison. All of the judgments thrown at me from other people also fall short in comparison to the thoughts that my God has towards me. To be truly liberated I must remember that all the “idiots” around me and all the shortcomings of others can only accurately be assessed through the eyes of a perfect God. And when I find myself taking on the role of judge and point my finger, I need only to look down and see that I have three pointing back.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

My letter

For those who know us or who have been involved in our church, the following is my resignation letter written for the congregation. For some reason this letter did not make it to the entire church body so I include here for your viewing pleasure. If you know of anyone who would benefit from reading this please forward it to them.

To our Dear friends at Mission Hills,

It is with a heavy heart and a sense of anxiety that I write this letter. After prayer and grueling deliberation, my family and I feel strongly that God is leading us to step out in faith and leave my position here at Mission Hills effective the end of September. I can honestly tell you that this is the most difficult decision that I have made in my professional career and one of the most difficult decisions I have made in my life. In this letter, I will attempt to communicate my heart and to give you a sense of what the future holds.
There is an ancient blessing that is recorded by the Jewish Sages that says, “May you be covered in the dust of the sages [teachers, Rabbis] and may you thirst mightily for their words”. One understanding of this blessing is that when you walk so closely with your Rabbi, the dust from his feet will fall on you and cover you. Dust. It has been my desire during my time at Mission Hills that I walk so closely with Christ that His dust covers me. Dust that shows up as evidence as a person who wants to follow Christ fully and who wants to be an example of God’s character to this earth.
During my seven years here I have been blessed to see a group of students and leaders that work to understand how to follow Jesus and how to join in God’s work of redeeming this earth. The youth at this church are the source of great joy for our family. The highlight of each week is spending time with this entertaining, creative, mostly intelligent, always energetic, and sincere-hearted group of students. They cause me to laugh, to cry, to rejoice, to weep, and to remember that there are bigger things to live for in this world. I look at our group of JH through College-aged students and I honestly believe that this group is among the best gatherings of students around. Even in the midst of some shortcomings in their own faith I can see the dust of Jesus covering them.
As a family, we had two of our boys dedicated at this church and have seen each of them develop a faith in Jesus and a love for God through the excellent leadership in Children’s ministries. We have walked with others in this church family through countless hours of small groups, birthday parties, summer BBQ’s, anniversary celebrations, dinner parties, and the list goes on and on. My wife and I have had the opportunity of using our giftedness in teaching in ministries other than youth. We have taught in woman’s Bible studies, Men’s events, Couple’s events, Sunday Morning fellowships, and main service settings. All in all, I count my years here a success and I have no regrets relating to the ministry in which I was able to participate and in the relationships we were able to build. I look at my time here at Mission Hills and I can say in the words of Psalms 13:6, “God has dealt bountiful with me”.
Now we feel led to walk away from the place we love and the people who have become family and head into the unknown. We feel like Abraham who was asked to leave everything and head into a land he did not know while trusting that God has better things ahead. In our case the land we feel called to happens to be the same as it was for Abraham 4000 years ago. Our plan at this point is to take the upcoming academic year to study the Bible and its world at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. This will give us an opportunity to do the type of research I love in the land where this very history was made. It is difficult to consider giving up our entire income to take my wife and three young boys halfway around the world but the dust of Jesus makes this possible.
As we leave I know many will ask what will happen to the youth at Mission Hills. I want to reassure you that Mission Hills still cares about each student in the program and the same God that brought me here seven years ago will bring another in my place. I leave you with the assurance that the team of leaders here at Mission Hills is filled with amazing people who love the youth and who also seek to be covered in the dust of Jesus. They are the ones who make the youth ministry at MHC a success and they will continue to be the reason for that success in the future. One thing I believe is that this is not about me, it is about my Rabbi named Jesus and I want all eyes focused on His words and life. With that said, I am not so naïve as to believe that human relationships bear no importance and believe me when I say that my family already grieves over the prospect of saying goodbye to all of you. Many tears have been and will be shed as we part ways even with a hope of crossing paths again in the future. Through these tears we still have hope because we believe that the God of the Universe cares and that all things are in His control.
So as I close allow me to communicate my deepest “thanks” for all of the years of encouragement, of help in times of need, in pushing and challenging me to be a better teacher, pastor, and friend. Thank you for loving my kids and for volunteering as teachers and mentors in their lives. Thank you for accepting us as family and for inviting us to holiday dinners, for providing babysitting, for helping me remodel rooms in my house, for fixing things when I was out of town, for preparing food when we were in the hospital or on bed-rest, for lending us your tools, your cars, and your hearts. Thank you for serving alongside me in the weekly challenge of leading youth to better lives here in Orange County, in feeding the poor in inner city LA, in Mexico, and in loving the oppressed in Bosnia, Africa, and South America. Thank you for allowing me to grow and develop professionally and personally in more ways that I could have ever imagined. To the hundreds of former and current staff, elders, and lay people who call Mission Hills home, we say “goodbye” with heavy hearts but heads held high for the work we were able to do here.
As we leave Mission Hills, we leave a piece of us with you and should God ever allow us to cross paths again I will count it an honor.

May you be covered with the dust of your Rabbi.

Ryan, Sara, Isaac, Ian, & Benjamin

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Future is Now

So here is a quick update on my life. I have been working as a pastor at a church for the past 7 years and like most churches we have seen our share of struggles. My family was determined to see passed the struggles and focus on the task at hand. Early this year we determined that we have done all we can do and that it is time to move on.
So like any normal person would do, I quit my job and decided to move to Israel. My last day of work is the 30 of September and a week later I will pack up my three boys and very supportive and brave wife and head to Israel to study for a year.
Deciding to leave a place after so many years reveals a lot about people. In most people, we see the importance of relationships that have been built, in others we see shallowness and indifference that come as a surprise. Either way, leaving is good to do from time to time and I highly reccommend it to anyone.

It has been a while since I have posted so I am sure that my two readers stopped checking this so if you happen to see this, let the other reader know that I am back.