A Great Work of Justice ©

One of great ministries taking place in the Central Texas Conference is Methodist Justice Ministry (MJM) under the leadership of Rev. Brooks Harrington.  MJM is an outgrowth of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.  Their website (http://methodistjusticeministry.org/) offers the essentials:

“The Methodist Justice Ministry was founded in 2006, first to protect indigent women and children from domestic violence, neglect and abuse; and second, to help them to new lives free of violence, abuse, fear and self-loathing.

The MJM is thoroughly faith driven. Its legal director, Brooks Harrington, is an ordained United Methodist minister as well as a licensed attorney. Our scriptural motto is: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Proverbs 31: 8-9)

Since the MJM began, we have represented in court the interests of hundreds of women and children from low income households. We have not only obtained but also enforced court orders for protection, for custody, for denial or restriction of visitation by the abusers, and for child support and medical support. And we have counseled with more than 1,000 individuals desperate for help.”

Recently an illustrative story of MJM’s ministry highlighted this great work of justice. A young woman, 30 years old, named “Bella” (not her real name) with children aged 14, 11, 8 and 7 came to MJM for help getting out of an abusive marriage. Bella could neither read nor write. Her abusive husband had left her for a younger woman and threatened her if she disputed custody of the 4 children.

Traumatized and depressed, she found love and support from the staff at MJM. They agreed to not only “take the case” but also to provide support and a future of hope. MJM won the case helping her to retain custody, but there is more to the story. They are arranging and paying for adult education classes so that Bella can learn to read and write. They set up two licensed professional counselors plus a case manager to work with her in putting life back together. They are helping her develop skills to earn a living for her family.

This is a great work of justice. In sharing the story Rev. Harrington adds: “I would like to tell you that Bella’s story is unusual. But it isn’t. We have handled dozens of cases like Bella’s over the ten plus years the MJM has been in ministry.  Even so, people like Bella are deep in the shadows. They are too scared and alone to ask for help, or to know whom to ask, or to believe that help exists or that they deserve help. We’d very much like to see and help more Bella’s. We’re praying for that. Lord, send us more Bella’s.”

Vital congregations are engaged in ministry with the “Bellas” of this world.  They are reaching out in ministry with the poor – offering the love of God in help and hope.  Their ongoing ministry includes something in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 calls every week from people seeking help.  The caseload is growing.  It takes special technical expertise to work in MJM.  This is ministry with the poor, one of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church.

There are many other examples of ministry with the poor spread across the churches of the Central Texas Conference.  My challenge for every congregation and Christian is to get involved.  In the words of the Apostle James, “faith without action has no value at all” (James 2:20).  Pray to be led as individuals and as a congregation, and the Lord will guide you into a great ministry of justice!

Beware of Nostalgia ©

Two pieces of reading and variety of reflective conversations with a wide and extremely diverse collection of people have caught my attention recently.  As he commonly does, Gil Rendle offers insightful reflections on the challenge a nostalgic longing presents to the church.  Almost simultaneously, I have been reading Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in an Age of Individualism.  Dr. Levin forcefully notes that much of our current political malaise (and dearth of leadership) stems from being “blinded by nostalgia” through looking back on mythic ideal age in America (the late 1950s –early 1960s for liberals and the early 1980s “Regan era” for conservative) and trying to somehow recreate that age (which can’t be done!).

What has captured my immediate attention is how both point to the danger of being so enamored by the past that we have trouble addressing the present.  In one of my early workshops under the great Methodist leadership guru Lyle Schaller, I remember him saying, “The most important vote an Administrative Board [or Council] takes every year is to decide what year is next year.”  Schaller went on to explain that if you think next year is 1957 you will vote, act and commit your resources differently than if you think next year is 2017.

In a Texas Methodist Foundation, August 15th blog entitled “Nostalgia and Three Changed Questions“, Dr. Rendle shares how he has added the critically important word “now” to his “Holy Conversations’” questions.  [“Who are we now?  What does God call us to do now?  Who is our neighbor now?”] He goes on to comment:

“I have come to believe that one of our key challenges in the church is nostalgia.  An antidote to nostalgia is to keep reminding ourselves when we are (i.e., now).  I am an early baby-boomer and grew up in the church when it was strong, growing consistently and at the center of the culture.

“When nostalgia kicks in, I am tempted to conjure that image of the church and assume that with a bit more hard work, we could be like that again.  (By the way, I’m also tempted to think of myself as having more hair and energy as well as less weight and complaints.)  The problem with nostalgia is that it leads me to think that’s how the church is (or I am) supposed to be and that somehow the world is supposed to be like it was before, as well!”

I am captured by the idea that the first task of leadership is to draw an honest picture of the current reality, which in this case is a picture of the church no longer in the center of a changed culture.  Nostalgia doesn’t help, and in most cases reminds us of what we cannot have anymore.  Instead, we need to ask what we are going to do with what we do have.

We in the church and in the larger American society need to beware of nostalgia. The temptation to try to “turn back the clock” to an imagined better time is powerful for all of us! Various scripture examples abound. There is Mordechai’s proclaim to Esther, “But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family” (Esther 4:14).  The prophet Isaiah shares a word of the Lord.  “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?  I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:19-20).  Perhaps greatest of all, there is the Lord himself proclaiming, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15).

God doesn’t need to get with our program.  We must enlist or re-enlist with the mighty workings of God.  In a serious of recent presentations, I have intentionally made a point of emphasizing what the Lord is doing now(!) in, through and around us by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.   God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing!  We are called to ministry for such a time as this!  The Kingdom of God is at hand!

In the South Central Jurisdictional Conference Episcopal Address, I reached for this great truth.  I said, “Please, I bid you, step with me carefully into the new future God is even now leading us to.  This is not the stuff of Pollyanna dreams nor still an ostrich-like head-in-the-sands denial of reality.  It is the stuff of our faith.  Here we find our footing in these turbulent times on the solid rock of Christ as Lord and Savior (Matthew 7:24-25).  ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord’ (Jeremiah 29:11-14a).”

Beware of nostalgia!  It can call us away and lead us astray however well intended.  The Lord God is birthing a new church out of the old and in some places in the old!

Flood Relief for Our Neighbors ©

The pictures and news reports are graphic.  The flooding is historic in size and scope.  The impact has been described as “catastrophic” by The Central Texas Conference’s Coordinator of Disaster Response Rev. Laraine Waughtal.

Already the response by Central Texas Conference (CTC) churches has been tremendous!  Rev. Waughtal and a team of trained Early Responders have already delivered a 6×12 trailer full of supplies with more than 200 buckets of cleaning supplies plus many school kits and health kits. Well done you saints of the Lord!

LA flooding responseWhen I asked her what more was needed, Rev. Waughtal responded with a trinity of needs – Money, buckets and trained Early Response Teams.  The detailed instruction in the lead story of our conference website bears repeating by way of emphasis.

  1. Please cover everyone with prayer.  From emergency personnel, to churches, the people who have been directly affected, families who are still trying to reach loved ones and all those helping with the continued rescues and the start of recovery, etc.
  2. Please make more cleaning buckets!  Louisiana needs anything and everything you can make at this time. Flood buckets generally cost about $65 and contain basic supplies such as detergent, sponges and soap that allow flood survivors to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up. You can click here to see a list of supplies and how to build “flood” buckets. Once they have been built, please take your cleaning buckets to First United Methodist Hillsboro (315 E. Elm St. Hillsboro, TX) as this is where we store our CTC Disaster response supplies. The CTC Disaster Response team will make another run to Louisiana as soon as the cleaning buckets are ready and take them to the appropriate location.
  3. Please do not go to Louisiana at this time. This is at the request of the Louisiana Conference as well as state officials. They need to be able to focus on what is happening right now and keep visitors, even those with the best of intentions, to a minimum at this time. [Trained early responders can be of big assistance and should coordinate going through Rev. Waughtal.]
  4. If you feel led to give financially, please give to the UMCOR advance # 901670.

It wasn’t long ago (this past June) when we were reaching out (with support for our neighbors in Louisiana!) to those suffering in the Central Texas Conference due to flooding. Once again we hear all call from the Lord to Christian service and generosity which echoes the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke10:25-37). The admonition of Christ lingers in our hearts and minds … “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37).

 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, One Week Later from Louisiana Annual Conference on Vimeo.

On the Road Again ©

This week finds me on the road again for the greater United Methodist Church.  Last week I preached at Winters UMC for their 125th  Anniversary.  This last Sunday (August 14th) I had the joy of teaching the Warm Hearts Sunday School class at the Arborlawn UMC (where my wife is a member).  Both occasions were a joy for me (and I hope a blessings for Winters UMC and the Warm Hearts folks at Arborlawn). But early Monday morning, August 15th, finds me waiting in line for a flight to Jacksonville, Florida.

Monday to about 11 a.m. on Tuesday, I will be with a team of folks meeting at the site of a great Extended Cabinet Summit sponsored by the Council of Bishops (COB).  On behalf of the COB, I am chairing the preparation efforts for this event.  Together, District Superintendents, Lay Leaders, Conference Finance, Church Development, and Missions Directors along with Assistant to the Bishop folks, will be meeting in Jacksonville the first week in November to focus on a primary task – building vital congregations.  This will be more than just a cheerleading time.  It will be a time to help the United Methodist Church focus on our central task of building vital congregations who “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  There will be four other such “Summits” around the world to focus the global United Methodist Church on building vital congregations — 2 in Africa, 1 in Asia, 1 Europe (which might split into to a Northern Europe gathering and a Southern Europe gathering … that decision hasn’t been made yet).

From Jacksonville I’ll fly on to Chicago.  Unfortunately I won’t be able to spend time watching my beloved (AND MAJOR LEAGUE LEADING!!!!) Chicago Cubs.  Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday I will be chairing the United Methodist Church’s Path 1 Advisory Team.  Path 1 is the name of the great denominational effort to grow the number of new faith communities all across the United States and the world.  It is attached to Discipleship Ministries.  Significantly, this ministry is called Path 1 because the transformation and renewal of new churches and communities of faith is the vital first step in renewing the denomination as a whole.  A part of this great effort reaches into the life of existing congregations helping them grow in vitality of mission and ministry.

Thursday, I go down the street about 4 blocks (from the Path 1 meeting) and join the School for Congregational Development.  This great time of learning and sharing has been going on for about 12 years.  The focus is on both the transformation/renewal of existing congregations and the development of new faith communities.  Together with Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the Wisconsin Episcopal Area, we will be teaching a course entitled Developing a Conference Strategy for New Faith Communities.  I have immense respect for Bishop Jung.  He is one of the most creative innovators I know.  It should be a great time of learning!

Friday morning I will fly on to Dayton, Ohio where the Board of Trustees for United Theological Seminary will be meeting.  I have just been elected to serve on that Board and am excited about the opportunity to help shape a historically great seminary that comes out of the Evangelical United Brethren side of the formation of the United Methodist Church.  [A quick historical divergence.  Do you know why the Wright brothers came from Dayton, Ohio?  Their Dad was Bishop Wright, a leader of the Evangelical United Brethren (essentially German speaking Wesleyans) who was bishop of that area back when Orville and Wilbur were just getting going with their bicycle shop and heavier-than-air flying experiments.  The invention of the “airplane” has Methodist roots!!  A really cool replica of the original Orville and Wilbur Wright airplane hangs in the Seminary library!]

The Dean of United Theological Seminary is Dr. David Watson.  Dr. Watson did his Ph.D. in New Testament at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.  His parents are members of Arborlawn UMC.  All of which is by way of saying we are part of larger worldwide connection to which we properly give thanks and carefully nurture as stewards of God’s good work!  I am honored to serve on the Board at United.

My plane lands at 8:44 p.m. at DFW Saturday night.  Hopefully I’ll be home by 10.  I’ll need some rest.  I’m teaching the Warm Hearts Sunday Class next Sunday.

Insights from Henri Nouwen ©

One of the insightful and delightful people I have had the privilege of getting to know in recent years in Scott Gilpin.  Scott serves as Executive Director of Fund Development for Discipleship Ministries. Together we have worked on Fund Development for Path 1 (New Faith Communities/Church Development in the United States). This work helps fund the High Impact Residency Program which trains potential new congregation developers. The Central Texas Conference has participated and benefited through the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth and residency ministry at both Whites Chapel UMC and First UMC, Mansfield.

Recently Scott shared some quotes he put together from his reading of Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Fundraising.  With his permission (and my great thank you to him!), I pass them on for our collective wisdom development.  Enjoy and be blessed!  — Bishop Mike Lowry

Top Five Reasons to read Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Fundraising

  1. You will be Encouraged
  • “Fundraising is a very rich and beautiful activity. It is a confident, joyful and hope-filled expression of ministry. In ministering to each other, each from the riches that he or she possesses, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom.”
  • “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”
  • “We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you – your energy, your prayers and your money – in this work to which God has called us.”
  1. You will be Challenged
  • “We will never be able to ask for money if we do not know how we ourselves relate to money. What is the place of money in our lives?”
  • “Are we willing to be converted from our fear of asking, our anxiety about being rejected or feeling humiliated, our depression when someone says, ‘No I’m not going to get involved in your project’?”
  • “The Spirit of love says: ‘Don’t be afraid to let go of your need to control your own life. Let me fulfill the true desire of your heart.’”
  1. You will be Converted
  • “Fundraising is also always a call conversion. And this comes to both those who seek funds and those who have funds. Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration.”
  • “We must claim the confidence to go to a wealthy person knowing that he or she is just as poor and in need of love as we are.”
  • “Every time we approach people for money, we must be sure that we are inviting them into this vision of fruitfulness and into a vision that is fruitful.” 
  1. You will be Inspired
  • “Once we are prayerfully committed to placing our whole trust in God, and have become clear that we are concerned only for the Kingdom; once we have learned to love the rich for who they are rather than what they have; and once we believe that we have something of great value to give them, then we will have no trouble at all in asking someone for a large sum of money.”
  • “I ask for money standing up, not bowing down because I believe in what I am about. I believe I have something important to offer.”
  • “We do not need to worry about the money. Rather, we need to worry about whether, through the invitation we offer them (the donor) and the relationship we develop with them, they will come closer to God.”
  1. You will become more Prayerful.
  • “From beginning to end, fundraising as ministry is grounded in prayer and undertaken in gratitude.”
  • “Prayer is the radical starting point of fundraising. To pray is to desire to know more fully the truth that sets us free.”
  • “When we approach fundraising in a spirit of gratitude, our confidence in our mission does not depend on how the person we are with responds to our request! We are free to remain secure in God’s love with our hearts set joyfully on the kingdom.”

Henri Nouwen’s Conclusion:

“When we give ourselves to planting and nurturing love here on earth, our efforts will reach beyond our own chronological existence.”

Sharing on the Future of American Methodism ©

In November of 2014 a young faculty member from Candler School of Theology, addressed the Council of Bishops on Christian Conferencing and the recovery of the Wesleyan Class Meeting.  It was a fascinating deep address that unpacked his excellent new book, The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group ExperienceDr. Kevin Watson is Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler.  With his permission, I am sharing his recent blog posting as a guest blog.  I commend it to the reader for thoughtful reflection.  Dr. Watson will be the Conference Teacher at the Center Texas Conference in June, 2017.  – Bishop Mike Lowry 

The Future of American Methodism: 5 Predictions
Posted: 01 Aug 2016 06:43 AM PDT

Methodism in America is in the midst of change. It is not yet clear how exactly American Methodism is changing or whether change will lead to a bright future for my own denomination in particular (The United Methodist Church). But it does seem clear that it is changing.

During the three years I taught at Seattle Pacific University, I experienced life in a major U.S. city that is profoundly post-Christian. Moving from Seattle to the Atlanta metro area was a kind of culture shock, because cultural Christianity appears to be alive and well in many parts of the southeast. My sense is that within one generation the landscape of the U.S. as a whole will look much more like Seattle than Atlanta.

And so I’ve found my mind wandering again and again to this question: What is the future of Methodism in America? Before I enter fully into these thoughts, let me assure you that I am aware of what a speculative enterprise this is. I offer these thoughts as ultimately nothing more than one person’s thoughts about the kind of Methodism that will be most likely to thrive in twenty years or so.

  1. American Methodism will experience a paradigm shift as the desire to pursue cultural respectability becomes obsolete. American Methodism will slowly recognize its loss of cultural respect, eventually acknowledging it and then grieving it. Ultimately, American Methodism will emerge on the other side with a much clearer sense of its own identity, mission, and purpose and will learn to live authentically from these, even though much of what American Methodism stands for will be alien and perhaps even offensive to the broader culture(s) it is situated within. Moreover, given broader cultural changes, American Methodism will recognize that it must form people into a new worldview, and not merely a few ideas and practices that serve as self-help strategies adorning mostly unchanged lives.
  2. American Methodism will recognize that the Holy Spirit has already given the people called Methodists a theology that is ideally suited for a post-Christian context. Methodists will preach the Wesleyan understanding of grace in its fullness with renewed conviction and boldness. Methodists will insist that God’s grace is for everyone, no exceptions. And Methodists will maintain that God’s grace saves us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who cancels (forgives) all of our sins. And Methodists will also boldly proclaim the audacious optimism of God’s sanctifying (life-changing) grace, which can enable us to love God and neighbor to the complete exclusion of sin. American Methodists will be known for their passionate belief in entire sanctification and God’s ability to changes lives radically.
  3. American Methodism will recognize that the Holy Spirit has already given the people called Methodists a practice that is ideally suited for such a time as this. In a post-Christian context, a thriving faith community must not only proclaim the gospel, with the accents just mentioned, it must visibly demonstrate its proclamation by embodying what God makes possible. American Methodism will embrace social holiness (communal formation, especially through transformation-driven small groups) as a part of its fundamental and foundational essential practices. Participation in weekly small groups like the class meeting and the band meeting will be seen as more important than attending a weekly worship service. It will be impossible to be a member of American Methodism in the future and not regularly attend corporate worship and a small group focused on God’s work in your life.
  4. As American Methodism passionately preaches entire sanctification and makes an uncompromising commitment to social holiness, it will find God’s deepest blessings through being in ministry with all of God’s children, especially those who seem beyond hope from a worldly perspective. American Methodists will not send money and resources to help those who cannot help themselves, but will be in relational ministry with them as a natural expression of their practical theology. As one example, American Methodism will recognize that recovery ministry is not something that a church lets an auxiliary group anonymously do in their building, but is something that is a core ministry of the church. American Methodists will not see this as a ministry for “those people,” but will seek complete freedom from addiction to the ways of sin and death together, by the grace of God. And many will experience the fullness of God’s amazing grace.
  5. The boundaries of American Methodism will be blurred by close connection and cooperation with global Methodism. Methodist missionaries will both come to and from America. American Methodism at every level will be changed through relationships with brothers and sisters from across the globe, especially Africa, Asia, and South America. American Methodists will place significantly greater weight on the Methodist aspect of their identity than the American. Methodists across the globe will be united by a common mission to spread scriptural holiness across the globe.

There are so many possibilities for the future of American Methodism. It is impossible to predict with certainly what will be. I do know that when I think about this possible future, I get extremely excited. Come, Holy Spirit!

Kevin M. Watson is Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. You can keep up with this blog on twitter @kevinwatson or on facebook at Vital Piety.

Deep Discipleship ©

While we wrestle with deep divisions about much in The United Methodist Church these days, we are in strong agreement that our collective mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Such a great grand mission erupts from the Great Commission of Christ given in the closing paragraph of St. Matthew’s sweeping Gospel (Good News!).  “Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

As I have shared in Episcopal Addresses both to the Central Texas Conference and to the South Central Jurisdiction, “Jesus doesn’t want fans.  He wants committed disciplined followers.”  The dilemma for us is that over the last ½ century plus we have been a low demand church with a high commitment theology.  The two don’t mix well.  Now we find ourselves struggling to move from cultural attachment to the church to deep discipleship to Jesus.

In my recent readings, I’ve been working through Deep Church Rising  by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry.  In chapter 8, “Deep Transformation: Recovering Catechesis” (which is worth the price of the book alone) the authors note, “living as a Christian in modernity and post-modernity is quite different from living as a Christian before the Reformation.  The sacred canopy of a Christian culture is now virtually gone and the social structures that made Christian belief and lifestyle plausible are no longer in place.  It is harder to believe than it used to be – not because there are better arguments against Christianity than there used to be but simply because the plausibility structures are not in place.  If we want to be conformed to the image of Christ, if we are serious about spiritual formation and discipleship and the plausibility of Christianity in the modern West, then going to a church meeting for a couple of hours a week and having a five-minute ‘quiet time ‘ each day is hardly going to do the trick”  (Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, Deep Church Rising, p.132).

A part of what fascinates me about Walker & Parry’s detailed insistence on the recovery of catechesis (religious instruction for baptism, confirmation, and life-long discipleship) is the way it dove tails with so many other writings on discipleship.  The importance of deep discipleship training is strongly emphasized in Kenda Creasy Dean’s marvelous book Almost Christian.  It is echoed in the writing of people like Mike Slaughter.  And the list could continue to include many solid authors and Christian leaders across the theological spectrum.  Taken together they point us in the direction of a serious recovery of adult discipleship and training.  This is no small task but rather one that necessitates great commitment and a move away from a simple 6-week curriculum approach.  Walker and Parry note that “According to the Apostolic Tradition, catechesis was a journey that lasted for three years.”  They added:  “catechesis functioned as a kind of decompression chamber that took those seeking entry into the church on a transformative journey, climaxing in baptism and full entry into the Christian Community” (Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, Deep Church Rising, pp. 133-134).

Such deep discipleship formation training (catechesis) is a far cry from an invitation to come down and commit or recommit your life to Christ at the close of the worship service and possibly take a one to four hour class on Methodism and the church.  [As an aside, one can make a case for coming forward and making a public commitment/ recommitment to Christ and His Church which includes a follow-on commitment to join an extensive class in Christian formation and discipleship after such a public commitment.]

I am reminded of two quotes that Dr. Dean carefully places in the forefront of her book:

“An almost Christian … [chiefly] is one that … is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart.”  — George Whitefield, “The Almost Christian” (1739)

“The Church is full of almost Christians who have not gone all the way with Christ.”  — John Wesley, “The Almost Christian” (1741)

Reflecting on all this and the concomitant need for small groups (ala the Class Meeting) in deep discipleship formation, the Holy Spirit guides me to one of the towering challenges facing the church of today.  Put bluntly, no matter where one is on the spectrum of church dividing issues (holding fast to current Disciplinary language with regard to LGBTQI questions all the way to being in favor of completely opening the Discipline up with regard to ordination & same gender marriage; or for that matter any other divisive issues – abortion, war, racism, theology, Bible, the role/power of the laity, etc. etc.) deep discipleship is desperately needed.  Casual Christians cannot meet the cry of our divided, terror driven world.  Almost Christians will not answer the Great Commission of Christ to go to “all the nations.” (The Greek word translated in Matthew 28:19 is the root for our word “ethnicities” or ethnic.)  Fans for Christ will not suffice to heed the challenge of advancing the Kingdom of God in love, justice and mercy.  We need committed disciplined followers.

The Lord calls for deep discipleship from ourselves and others.  A new and deeper form of discipleship formation or catechesis is a requirement.  Together we need to recreate the deep discipleship training which the early Christian movement so instinctively embraced.

Summer Sabbath

from abqhomeblog.com

from abqhomeblog.com

A good friend recently sent me a beautiful picture of a full moon appearing over the New Mexico Mountains.  Attached was a comment about taking time to “recharge.”  Most of us are familiar with the commandment to “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”  We must confess that we often honor it in the breach.  And yet … in our contentious, chaotic, fast paced world we need more not less time for Sabbath rest.

All of this brings me back to my conviction of the importance of taking a couple of weeks vacation as a “summer Sabbath.” We need time away.  Time physically away from the office and time away from electronic connections (email, cell phone, etc.) is important for both our emotional and spiritual health. There is benefit in gaining distance on our daily struggles, issues and concerns.

In my own casual reflections (and combined with some modest research), I don’t recall much use of the term “burnout” when I initially entered ministry. Today’s language of being “worn out” or “burned out” is common. I confess to being at best a semi-reformed workaholic but in my defense I have always been good about taking time for vacation. A couple of weeks away are life giving. They connect with the concept of a weekly Sabbath to “honor the Lord.”

It strikes me as significant that the British (Europeans as a whole) don’t use the term vacation.  What we label a vacation, they call “being on holiday.”  Following the linguistic connection, the word holiday is a derivation of the term “holy days”. These are days which are set aside to be deliberately holy.  [An aside: I know that under God’s providential care all days are “holy.” However, when something is an everyday part of the background “noise” of life, it loses its impact for reforming the way we actually live as Christians.]  We need time – significant time – where we pause, reflect on life, reconnect with family and loved ones, and recommit ourselves to a life lived for the Lord.  In short, we need days which are set aside to be holy.

A few years ago I had the Chair of a Pastor-Parish Relations Committee call his DS and request a conference with his DS and me.  He didn’t want to see his pastor moved. In fact his concern was just the opposite.  He reported that his pastor was outstanding.  His concern was that his pastor hadn’t taken a real vacation in 5 or 6 years. The District Superintendent concurred with PPR Chair’s shared concern.  Both raised the specter of “burnout.”  Both had talked with the pastor about his need to schedule some time off (vacation or “holidays”) to no avail.  In review of the matter, I came to the conclusion that both were right. One of our most effective senior pastors was showing signs of burnout.  To make a long story short, we held a meeting with the Board Chair of the Church, the PPR Chair, the DS, myself and the pastor.  He offered a series of excuses for not taking a vacation or “summer Sabbath”.  The pastors’ rationale did not stand up to scrutiny.  Finally, with the full support of the group, I instructed the pastor to take a two week vacation and send me a post card of where he went (even if he spent the vacation reading books in the backyard!

A couple of months later I ran into the pastor in a meeting.  He commented, “you’re a hero with my wife.” We both laughed and commented that she was really ready for him to take a vacation.

Now step back with me for a moment and reflect on our world and our individual context.

  • Violence and terror stalks the globe
  • Presidential elections have led to a cultural mood of anger and discourtesy
  • Economic uncertainty heightens uncertainty and angst
  • Church conflict over a variety of hot-button issues (same gender weddings, response to cultural violence, war and peace, abortion, etc.)
  • Personal struggles; and the list could go on

In each instance one of the things we need most is holy time to step back, catch our breath and center ourselves again on the Lord’s grace and guidance.  About 15 years ago I read a book by Bill Hybels entitled Too Busy Not to Pray.  We are too busy not to take time for holy days or a summer Sabbath.  If you haven’t do so already, regardless of whether you are lay or clergy, I encourage you to step back. Don’t find the time, make the time(!) for a summer Sabbath!

Breathe Deep, Jesus is Still Lord! ©

2016-South-Central-Jurisdiction-Conference-logoI returned home from the recently concluded South Central Jurisdictional Conference last night (Sunday, July 17). During the conference, we elected three fine new bishops – Bishops Ruben Saenz, Jr., Jimmy Nunn, and Bob Farr. I am blessed and honored to be reassigned to the Central Texas Conference of the Fort Worth Episcopal Area for a third quadrennium. Along with the whole of the UMC, we also received news of the election of Karen Oliveto as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction.

Bishop Oliveto has been described as “an openly lesbian clergyperson” who “has been legally married to Robin Ridenour for more than two years.” Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, noted in his statement on her election that “this election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.”

People from across the United Methodist Church have responded to her election with a wide spectrum of reactions. For some, this is cause for great rejoicing. For others, it is a signal that the United Methodist Church is breaking apart in its refusal to honor The Discipline (church doctrine and law) of the United Methodist Church. 

Wherever you find yourself in the vast spectrum from celebration to despair, I urge you to breathe deep.  Jesus is still Lord! 

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. (Ephesians 1:22)  Colossians 1:18 tells us that “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything.” Christ still reigns and rules. Gabriel is neither heralding the establishment of the Kingdom of God from the rooftop of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco (the church where Bishop Oliveto was Sr. Pastor prior to her election) nor playing Taps over the disintegration of the denomination. 

It is important to not overreact. Good honorable faithful Christians will disagree on how we are to respond. Catch your breath, pause, pray. The Holy Scriptures commend us to “be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone” (Titus 3:2).

The Bishops of the Church remain committed to the process of the Commission on Human Sexuality as established by General Conference. The validity of Bishop’s Oliveto’s election will be appropriately addressed via the normal judicial process in the United Methodist Church. Bishops do not have the authority nor power to rule on the validity of Bishop Oliveto’s election.  That authority is reserved for the Jurisdictional (U.S.) and Central (outside U.S.) Conferences and subject to review by the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council has indicated that it may hear the petition of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference seeking a declaratory judgment on the validity of Bishop Oliveto’s election at its October meeting. The current doctrine and Discipline of the United Methodist Church remains the same.

I will be flying out early tomorrow morning (July 19) to a previously scheduled meeting of the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops. A primary item on the agenda of the Executive Committee is the establishment of the Commission on Human Sexuality. As a group we are mindful of the issues at stake and working together to seek God’s will and purpose.

Bishop OlivetoOn a personal note, Jolynn and I had the privilege of getting to know Bishop Oliveto at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church, Oxford, England in 2013. I found her to be a thoughtful, gracious Christ-follower committed to being faithful as best she understands the Christian faith. Later back in the United States, I had the opportunity for a follow-up conversation with her on a subject near and dear to my heart and life witness – evangelism. Once again, I experienced her to be gracious, thoughtful and committed to Christ.  While Bishop Oliveto and I sharply disagree on matters of human sexuality, we are colleagues in Christ. I ask all of us to resist attempts to demonize others.

There is hurt, pain, and grief that runs the gamut on these vexing and contentious issues. Respect each other, especially those you honestly and sincerely disagree with. Let the counsel of Philippians 4 guide you: “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:6-9).

Breathe deep. Jesus is still Lord! I commend to the reader Bishop Bruce Ough’s response on behalf of the Council of Bishops. I fully intend to allow the process to take place and abide by whatever decision is reached. Until then, I continue to keep Bishop Oliveto, the Western and South Central Jurisdictions and all United Methodists firmly in my prayers. My own stance in upholding the current language in The Discipline has not changed. The Lord God is with us all!

Follow the Prince of Peace ©

To read the official statement from the United Methodist Council of Bishops on the recent deadly shootings, please click here.

This morning, Jolynn and I awoke to news of last night’s deadly shootings in Dallas as we prepared for the final leg of our trip home from our two-week vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Intentionally, I had taken leave from email and text during our trip and had deliberately not followed national and international news. As we watched the morning news, I was slowly able to piece together the full narrative of the police shootings of African-American males in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and St. Paul, Minnesota, which formed the backdrop of yesterday’s tragedy in Dallas. Once again, the toxic mix of racism, injustice and violence reached out to cause great harm and heartache.

With the help of Vance Morton, director of Communications for the Central Texas Conference, I shared deep convictions from my heart via our conference website.dalla prayer vigil Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings had asked that a moment of silence be observed at noon, Friday, July 8. I called on all members of the Central Texas Conference to honor Mayor Rawlings’ request and stop and pray for the victims of last night’s horrific acts of violence in Dallas. I want us to pray for the police, their families, the people of Dallas. I want us to pray for everyone.

As critically important as prayer is, we must not stop there. We who claim the label Christian are grace-filled followers of Jesus Christ. As such, we must continue to reject the forces of hatred, racism, fear, violence and anger in favor of the fruits of the Spirit – i.e. love, patience, kindness and peace as described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians [Galatians 5:22-23].

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is for us to remember that we are followers of the Prince of Peace. Anger and violence must be laid aside.

Black lives matter to God. Police lives matter to God. All lives matter to the God who gave us his only Son so that we might all have everlasting life. Let us all, everyone, live by the Spirit and follow the Spirit [Gal 5:25] and keep firm in our hearts and minds the commandment of Jesus given to us in John 15 “…love each other as I have loved you.”

I am repeatedly struck in my own devotional life by the charge, the divine orders, for Christians to be a different people. In the words of the mothers and fathers of the faith, we are to be in but not of the world. It is ever significant that Jesus, our Lord and Master, gave us the following gift.  “Peace I leave with you, even as he faced his own unjust death. “My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

Our world today is fear soaked and pain racked. Let us be the kind of people who respond not with anger but with grace and peace. We are followers of The Prince of Peace.

While on vacation, I read during my devotional time a brief section of The Bible I rarely read – Titus 3:1-8.  In part it reads:

“Remind them [i.e. Christians] to submit to rulers and authorities. They should be obedient and ready to do every good thing. They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully about anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone. We were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, and slaves to our desires and various pleasures too. We were spending our lives in evil behavior and jealousy. We were disgusting, and we hated other people. But “when God our savior’s kindness and love appeared, he saved us because of his mercy, not because of righteous things we had done. He did it through the washing of new birth and the renewing by the Holy Spirit, which God poured out upon us generously through Jesus Christ our savior. So, since we have been made righteous by his grace, we can inherit the hope for eternal life.” This saying is reliable. And I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God might give careful attention to doing good. These things are good and useful for everyone.” (Titus 3:1-8)

May this word of life become our standard for living. Let us be followers of the Prince of Peace.

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