Archive - February, 2011

A Time of Loss

An old professor of mine once said that most of us are in grief and loss most of the time.  This is especially so for us this day.  Saturday evening, First United Methodist Church of Grapevine, the Central Texas Conference and the greater ministry of the church universal lost a great leader.  Dr. Ken Diehm joined the church triumphant.  Sunday morning Rev. Randy Wild, Mid-Cities District Superintendent and I shared with First UMC Grapevine in all 5 worship services.  The following is our statement:

Episcopal/DS Statement to First UMC Grapevine
February 20, 2011
Bishop Mike Lowry and Rev. Randy Wild

 Dear Friends in Christ,

            As your bishop along with your District Superintendent Rev. Randy Wild, we are here with you today in worship to share in the deep sense of pain and anguish at the sudden tragic illness and loss (having been taken off life support) of your beloved Senior Pastor Rev. Ken Diehm.  He was and is and always will be a great man of God.  Simple words cannot adequately convey our loss or yours.  When the Scripture speaks of “sighs too deep for words,” it only hints at the shock and grief we are together experiencing. 
     It is here, at the juncture of loss and faith, that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to all of us.  Let there be no denial of the hurt present this day, but in our pain let us live as the people in a manner in which your Sr. Pastor, Rev. Ken Diehm so ably lived and taught.  Especially in times like this, the gospel word of faith, hope and love must be lifted up in the face of life’s cruel storms. 
     I invite us now to come into a special time of prayer before the Lord; prayer for Ken, for Kenda and the whole Diehm family, for you as a church and for all who with us this day are in pain and loss.  You may be in prayer at your seat or if you prefer the altar rail is open for a season of prayer. If you wish me or one of your pastors to pray with you at the altar rail, we will stand available.  You simply need to give us a small sign. 
     I recall the counsel of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians in a situation also wrought with pain and struggle. “The Lord is near. 6 … In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b, 6b-7).
     May we be in prayer either at your seats or at the altar rail.

 The service to celebrate the life of Dr. Ken Diehm will be held this Saturday, February 26, at 2:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Grapevine (http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org/).

Imagine No Malaria

Currently the Central Texas Conference is engaged in a major emphasis called Imagine No Malaria.  It is a passion for me and (I believe) for us as Christ followers.  Such a great ministry springs from the larger connectional church of which we are a part.  [The United Methodist Church through the leadership of the Council of Bishops has adopted four focus areas for ministry emphasis.  They are: 1) Leadership Development, 2) New Places for New People (New church development and transformation of existing congregations), 3) Ministry with the Poor and 4) Eradication of Killer Diseases (in particular Malaria and HIV/AIDS).]

Jolynn and I have made a personal commitment to give to Imagine No Malaria (in fact our Christmas gift to the CTC Cabinet was given to Imagine No Malaria in honor of the Extended Cabinet).  All across the Conference, gatherings are being held to brainstorm on how we might engage in the fight against this killer disease.  Recently one of our pastors shared his commitment.  Through his District Superintendent I learned about his sharing.  I contacted him and asked if I in turn could share it with the reader.  He indicated I could if I thought it would help in the fight against malaria. 

Mary and I have been praying about the Imagine No Malaria campaign and the challenge. I know the goal is $28 a month for three years to be able to raise a total of $1,000. We would like to let you know that we have three grandsons whom we love very much who will probably never face the possibility of contracting malaria. My son and his wife, their parents, will never have to worry about losing these boys because they don’t have access to the proper drugs. So, in honor of Zach, Nate and Evan Strayhorn we will be pledging the equivalent of 3 nets a month ($30) for the next three years in support of Imagine No Malaria.

 I’m both proud of and excited by what the United Methodist Church and our partners in Nothing But Nets have already accomplished toward eradicating this killer disease. Deaths due to malaria have gone down by 10%. We have a long way to go, but I truly believe that this is a time when we can make a huge impact on lives and families while making a great witness to the world in the name of Jesus. Please use me in any way you see fit.

 Grace and Peace,
 Billy D Strayhorn

 Join the battle!  I too truly believe we can make a “huge impact on lives and families while making a great witness to the world in the name of Jesus.”

Musings

As I packed to leave for the Cabinet Inventory retreat I found myself musing about the church.  One of the most enlightening and stimulating things I have done in ministry was to visit every church in the Central Texas Conference when I became Bishop.  In those visits I engaged the laity in a quick SWOT analysis.  What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats?  I got many inspiring answers; some troubling; others puzzling.  One of the things that both surprised and puzzled me is that so few churches mention Bible study as one of their strengths.  In recently reading the REVEAL: Follow Me study, it reported that “Everywhere we turned the data revealed the same truth: spending time in the Bible is hands down the highest impact personal spiritual practice. More specifically, ‘I reflect on the meaning of Scripture in my life’ is the spiritual practice that is most predictive of growth for all three spiritual movements. There’s great significance in the word reflection. Reflecting on Scripture implies a contemplative process, one of thoughtful and careful deliberation”  (p. 114).

Wesley would call this searching the scriptures.  It was a hallmark of the early Methodists and a basic part of their spiritual practices.  I find myself wondering why more churches didn’t talk about their Bible studies.  Did they take it for granted?  As a pastor I was always trying to teach.  Do we see teaching and searching the scriptures as a priority?

A friend working with me on the denomination’s Transformation Table recently commented that every church has essentially three choices:  1)  Be transforming, 2) Multiply, or 3) Pass the mantle.  I connectthat statement with a comment Rev. Danny Niedecken passed on from his reading of The Cause within You by Matthew Barnett with George Barna.  The statement (on page 11) is this: “I didn’t see Bethel Temple as a dying church; I saw it as a church in the early stages of being restored to greatness.” 

I know a lot of pastors that want to go to a growth situation.  We need pastors and lay leaders who see their church as being in an early stage of “restored to greatness.”

Inventory Retreat

 Next week the Cabinet goes on its annual Inventory Retreat.  It is a yearly trek for virtually all bishops and cabinets.  We gather away from our various offices (in our case at Stillwater).  We always begin with a time of worship and prayer, a time of centering and quieting ourselves so that we might be open to the Spirit’s speaking. 

 One by one we review churches where the pastor is retiring.  This gives us a sense of the “clean openings” (i.e., places that will be open and need an appointment for next June where there will be no pastor needing to move to another appointment).  We examine those graduating from seminary or course of study school who are seeking an appointment.  We look at the various places and situations where either the church or pastor has indicated that a move might be best.  Constantly we will be asking ourselves “what is the mission field appointment here?”  We have a banner we hang in the room to remind us that our “clients” are (1) God, (2) the mission field, (3) the church, and (4) the clergy — in that order.

 I find the whole process exhausting.  No matter how hard we try (and we try very, very hard!) we encounter deep dilemmas and hard choices.  What appears simple from the outside is incredibly complex in the Cabinet room with the detailed information and data that are not usually available to others.  Painfully, I can recall as a pastor criticizing an appointment made to my District Superintendent.  I asked him how in the world they could make appointment “x” to a certain church.  He listened to me with patience, raised an eyebrow and commented, “We had 8 people turn  us down before we asked ‘x’ to go there.  We know it is not the best appointment.  It is the best we can do at this time given all the variables.”

 As I prepare to go, I find my prayer life dominated by a request for the Spirit’s presence and guidance.  The prayer of Aelred of Reivaulx has been guiding my devotional life — “To know Him [Christ] more clearly; to love Him more dearly; to follow Him more nearly.”  In fact, I have made it my prayer for the year (by that I mean I am determined to pray this simple prayer every day of the year).

 We will not be making all appointments for the year.  While we may make a few, the emphasis for the retreat is gain a big picture of the appointment task before us.  In addition to the above assumptions, we are driven by convictions that long-term pastorates are best.  Frequent moves that merely “promote a pastor” or “reward a church” fail to truly advance the kingdom of God.  The churches’ mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Our mission as a Cabinet is to “energize and equip local churches” for the larger mission of making disciples.  We hope to be Spirit-guided and prayer-empowered.  I ask the reader to keep us in prayer for the days of the Inventory Retreat (February 15 – 17).

Project 44

    Recently Jolynn and I had reason to interact with Project 44. Project 44 is named for the 44th book of the Bible – the book of the Acts of the Apostles. It is an incredibly wonderful ministry that receives cars in donation, fixes them up, and through the church gives them to families critically in need of transportation.

            I sat down for coffee with Ben Fields (who along with his wife Margaret) is the leader of this ministry. Ben started his own spiritual pilgrimage in the United Methodist Church. As he steadily moved to a deeper level of discipleship in risk-taking mission and service, Ben related (as he put it) discovering the Holy Spirit.

            Raised in the UMC, a committed lay leader in the church, he said, “I hadn’t heard about the Holy Spirit in the United Methodist Church.” Visiting with him, I was struck that this was not a shallow theological statement representing an off-beat point of view but a mature reflection of deeper discipleship. It made me stop and think about how often I had preached or taught on the movement of the Spirit in our midst. I am challenged by Ben’s insight. God as Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. It is past time to lift up the third person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

            After writing this blog, I asked Ben for his thoughts before it was posted.  He commented: “The Methodist Church has NEVER lost sight of the Cross, what we have lost is our flame. Shall we endeavor to reclaim our heritage?”  Wise reflection; it is time to lift high the flame along with the cross.