Archive - October, 2012

Holy Ground

The scene was dramatically different from a year and a half ago.  In April of 2011 I stood in front of the smoking ruins of Cedar Springs United Methodist Church with Ginger Bassford (DS) and Tom Beaty (Pastor).  That Easter, just a few days away, three white crosses appeared in front of the church.  Written on the crosses by a member of the church were the following words: 1) Jesus Christ will return; 2) So will we; 3) Happy Easter!  The words reflected the faith and determination of this small open country church (or as one member put it — downtown Brad, Texas).

This past Sunday, October 28th, not only was the new sanctuary packed but so was overflow seating in the fellowship hall/kitchen.  Carol Woods (West District Superintendent) and I were blessed to join with Pastor Tom Beaty and the wonderful members and friends of Cedar Springs UMC (including former Pastor Wayne Hunter) in consecrating a brand new facility. Tom Beaty tells me this highlights 114 years of continuous service in the name of Jesus Christ.

Far more significant than bricks and mortar is the Spirit (as in Holy Spirit) that pervades a ministry that has been through tough times and now is moving forward in faith.  There is a new sense of outreach.  Pastor Beaty tells me that they will be having a confirmation class this year. The church is growing.

The metrics are important and positive, but it the narrative of faith, commitment and determination that speaks far louder.  People remembered “Granny” Hamilton, one of the heroic founders who (as as they put it) was a “shouting Methodist.”  Some twenty people were present who could trace a family connection back to “Granny” Hamilton.  More than one person told me about lying on a blanket the brush arbor near the church as they shared in a revival.  On this “holy ground” they were “rooted in the faith” (to use the Apostle Paul’s term from Colossians 1).  The whole story is not written.  The Lord still has a claim on this church as a branch of the greater, universal church of Jesus Christ.  Challenges abound and Cedar Springs UMC (by their own admission) is not Eden – but it is a vital congregation that rebuilt on holy ground.

An Arch of Holiness

Few secular books have stayed with me at the depth of Robert Quinn’s Deep Change. I first read it over 11 years ago and still find myself going back to it for insight.

Quinn’s central thesis is simple. We face the choice between deep change or slow death. The heart of deep change lies not in getting others to change but rather in having the courage to change ourselves. He writes: “Empowered leaders are the only ones who can induce real change. They can forcefully communicate at a level beyond telling. By having the courage to change themselves, they model the behavior they are asking of others. Clearly understood by almost everyone, this message, based on integrity, is incredibly powerful. It builds trust and credibility and helps others confront the risk of empowering self” (Robert Quinn, Deep Change, pp. 48-49).

Deep change is anchored in having the courage to change yourself. Now draw an arch to the original Methodist notion of holiness.

The original Methodists, as with the original Christians, lived with an essence of both personal and social holiness which was profound, life-challenging and life-changing. When I entered ministry much of personal holiness was yoked with issues of alcohol consumption, smoking and sex. Calling for holiness in these areas is needed but that is hardly the sum or for that matter even the beginning of a personal holiness that is inextricably linked with social holiness. The Galatians fruits of the Spirit – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires” (Galatians 5:22-24) – formed the arch of deep change to a personal holiness that grew into a social holiness.

In my own life this has led me into the questing journey to reclaim true personal holiness linked to social holiness through spiritual formation. A host of different spiritual guides have gently but firmly led me back into the connection with quiet time with God in prayer, listening, contemplation and scripture reading. It takes effort and surrender to move out of the tyranny of the urgent. The answer comes, so my guides have informed me, in quiet. My spiritual director commented recently, “A new form of burnt offering is our burned-out life.” Connecting that insight to the great biblical teaching that what God wants is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, he notes that God wants our quiet.

This is powerful stuff for me as I reach into the mystery of personal holiness that involves deep change. One such arch of holiness runs from the insight of Quinn – change yourself – to the lives of the early Christians and early Methodists – living with a deep compelling spirit-filled personal integrity that naturally spilled over into social holiness (grace upon grace) – to recapturing quiet time with God in my life – leading me outward in deeper fruit bearing Christian living with both personal and social holiness.

There is much to think, reflect, and pray about here.

Rebuilding the Pipeline

This past week I have visited six seminaries – Chandler, Gammon (ITC), Duke, Asbury, Boston University, and Harvard.  A seventh, Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. was to be included but could not be fitted into the schedule.  Perkins, Brite, and Austin Presbyterian (each in or adjacent to the Central Texas Conference) have been or will be visited.  Hopefully, additional schools will be added as we move forward. (Those above were chosen often because we have students currently studying at them.) Kyland Dobbins and Joseph Nader (both young clergy in Central Texas) joined me at various parts in the journey.

The intent of the trip is simple.  We hope to rebuild the pipeline from youth groups & youth ministry through college & university campus ministry to the seminary and back to the local church.  Think of it as a circular pipe line that benefits all involved at its various stations.  Leadership development for next decade makes this a critical task.  Preliminary analysis of clergy age trends for United Methodism in Texas indicated that we should have a surplus of elders through (roughly) 2016 and a slowly widening shortage of seminary trained elders moving towards 2020.

Visiting with our young seminarians was both exciting and hopeful for me.  We need more young ministerial candidates but it was delightful and encouraging to share with those I met.  A bouquet of great thanks goes to all the seminaries involved.  We were graciously received at each.  They are deeply interested in being engaged with the Conference and our local churches.

A common theme was the deep missional engagement in love, justice and mercy.  This is clearly where our heart, passion and commitment are for the students and the seminaries.  The Wesleyan imperatives of personal and social holiness are alive and well.  Evangelistic outreach is something we ascent to but both groups (students and seminaries) wrestle with how to engage in evangelism.  We acknowledge the need for evangelism but are generally (there are some notable exceptions) deficit in the application.  I find myself ever reminded of the great missionary Bishop Lesslie Newbigin’s epigram, “Words without deeds are empty, but deeds without words are dumb.”

There are abundant challenges for all of us but also a new future of hope and possibility beckons us forward.  I am coming home after 10 plane flights in 14 days (part spent on personal family time) believing that it was a journey well met.  We are rebuilding a crucial pipeline for a new generation of church leaders.  For this I give thanks to God both to and for the students we visited and the seminaries that partner with us in a great work of leadership development.

Minor Disappointment and Great Celebration

This weekend Jolynn & I have experienced the joy of visiting our daughter and son-in-law in the Washington, D.C. area. Saturday I watched the University of Georgia vs. South Carolina football game. It was a disappointment – major for my son-in-law a “bulldog” born, bred and two degrees — a minor disappointment for me, cheering as a supporter more of my son-in-law than the team. (South Carolina won in a blowout.) Sometimes life is like that. We cheer for friends and loved ones but aren’t really invested on a personal or deeply emotional level.

In other situations we are deeply invested. Today, we worshiped with Sarah & Steven at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia. (They are members of Mt. Olivet UMC.) The service was a true joy and celebration. There was excellent music, a great sermon, fine fellowship, etc. But, the great celebration was the celebration of World Wide Communion Sunday.
As Christians we have a deep investment in the world wide nature of the church. The church does not belong to us as individuals or as a congregation or as a nation. There is a breadth and reach that is literally world-spanning and figuratively awesome. Locked into local issues, I find that I need to be reminded of this truth.

The Associate Pastor of Mt. Olivet, Rev. Chenda Lee, was living reminder. She is from Liberia (in fact her father is the UM Bishop of Liberia). As we took communion I was blessed to share again in the holy meal with Christians around the world. I hope and pray that you were as well.

A Great Bible for Children

As I travel about the Central Texas Conference (St. Philips, Frost/Italy this past month, Chatfield last Sunday and St. Andrews, Arlington coming up in October – I’ll be visiting seminaries next week), I have the joy of coming into contact with young children and some exciting Sunday classes.  A common experience is the presentation of a Bible by a church to its third grade children.  I made such presentations every year as a pastor and still have the one I was given as a third grader.

Recently I got a copy of a new children’s Bible using the CEB (Common English Bible) translation.  It is called Deep Blue Kids Bible.   I recommend it highly!  It is an exciting way to help grade-school aged kids (targeted for ages 8 to 12) engage in learning the Holy Scriptures.  Not only is it a superb and superbly readable translation, it is designed in an interactive way for kids.  There are notes, trivia, and devotionals.  The readers (young and/or old) join with three “life-like” kids in investigating the Scriptures and discovering what biblical application can mean in their lives.

Currently Cokesbury has Deep Blue Kids Bible on sale.  I enthusiastically recommend it for our children and grandchildren!