Archive - July, 2016

Summer Sabbath



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.

A Truth to Remember ©

On this 4th of July I pause to invite us to reflect on a truth to remember. Consider the lessons of time some 70+ years in the past.  In June of 1942 the islands of Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands were invaded and occupied by soldiers from the Empire of Japan. It was the only part of the United States that was occupied by the enemy in World War II. In some of the harshest fighting of the war, U.S. Naval forces fought a desperate battle in high seas and then in May of 1943 Marines retook the Island of Attu; followed later by the conquest of Kiska.

As Naval and Marine forces regrouped following the successful campaign, reinforcements were rushed to the Aleutian Islands. Among the reinforcements was a young Ensign freshly graduated from Officers’ Candidate School in Plattsburgh, New York. Just 8 or 9 weeks earlier the college women (then inappropriately called “girls”) at Plattsburg State Teachers College (now the University of New York at Plattsburg, part of the SUNY system) held a dance for the sailors who had finally reached the point where they were allowed some leave. One of those young women did what her mother had warned her not to do. She fell in love with a sailor. A day or so before the Ensign shipped out, at their last date together, he proposed.

At his heart ever a romantic, the young sailor with brand new shiny ensign bars said, “Consider yourself proposed to.” She replied, “No, let’s wait and make sure you come back.” To this day, now 91, the college coed insists she did not offer the reply in a lack of love but rather wanted to help him face the danger before him and not feel encumbered or tied down. Her response was a response of love in a time of crisis and conflict.

[As a matter of historical record the war swept south and the young Ensign emerged from the conflict as a Lieutenant Junior Grade and skipper of the U. S. Navy Subchaser PC 819. He came home and married his waiting sweetheart.]

One month ago that young sailor died at age 95, just eleven days before they were to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. When asked about sailing off to the Aleutians and possible life-risking combat, my father would dismiss the sacrifice as he had numerous times before with the casual comment, “We all did what we had to.” Common courage was the order of the day all across America. Sacrifice and courage sound old fashioned in the false sophistication our hurried age. On this 4th of July, I argue that they are a true to remember and a lifestyle to emulate.

Beside the obviously pride I feel as a son of the then young Ensign Frank, I raise that story for a far deeper reason. I quite recognize, as hopefully so do you, that stories such as this can be repeated all across America on this July 4th.  Furthermore I recognize that such stories where people stepped forward in sacrifice and quiet courage can be told in other lands and other nations as well.  I share the story to raise a far higher, greater, nobler truth that in our relative abundance is easy, oh so easy, to forget.  We are here both as citizens and as Christians because of the sacrifice, courage and witness of others.  We both celebrate on the 4th of July and worship freely the day before because down through the two millennia of the Christian faith and the 240 years of the United States of America people have served and sacrificed.  We too must borrow Isaac Newton’s great phrase, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”[1]

I share this personal reflection on the 4th of July in no way to offer some misguided glorification of war.  Those who have valiantly served in combat know full well that its horrors are not to be wished on anyone.  Rather I pause to remember on this special anniversary because this is a time to remember an important truth.  Great living comes in courage, sacrifice, and witness.  It is right amidst the celebration to pause, remember this cardinal truth and give thanks!


Faith Sharing Exercises ©

At our recent Annual Conference meeting in Waco, we engaged a series of faith sharing exercises. They are simple tools or exercises that can be used in a Sunday School Class, a United Methodist Women’s group (UMW) or a United Methodist Men’s meeting (UMM).  They are designed so that Youth groups can learn to share their faith.  Taken together they can help us learn or relearn a central part of our faith sharing in the name of Christ.  A good number of people asked about where they could get a copy of these exercises so I am sharing them in this blog.  Allow me to encourage you to employ them and pass them on to others.

Exercise #1: Share with another person your answer to the following question:  How did Christ become real to you?  Reflection: All of us have a meaningful, powerful story to tell.  Sharing this story is a basic way of living Acts 1:8.

Exercise #2: On a sheet of paper, write out briefly three things that are central to your Christian faith.  Cross out two and share with a neighbor the remaining crucial aspect of the Christian faith in your life.  (If time permits, go back and taking turns share the other two.)  Reflection: All of us have a working theology [theology means to talk about God] with the ability to share how God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is active in our lives.

Exercise #3: On a sheet of paper, write out briefly three favorite Bible verses in your life.  Cross out two and share with a neighbor the remaining verse.  (If time permits, go back and taking turns share the other two.)  Reflection: All of us have a working body of Scripture that we can share with other.  In the sharing, elements of exercise #2 are engaged as well.

Exercise #4: We say ‘Jesus saves’, turn and share with your neighbor and answer the question, just “what does Jesus save me from?” Reflection: This engages us in a heartfelt religious witness in the most natural of ways.  It invites others into similar self-reflection and engages us in theologizing together.

Exercise #5: Share with others your answer to the question: What are some of the barriers that keep you from sharing your faith?  Reflection: This exercise helps us confront our fears (which are often irrational) and learn to engaging in living the biblical command from Jesus to witness and share our faith.

These are the five exercises we used at Conference. As you engage in them there are a number of others which you will think of.  For instance, another exercise might involve sharing your favorite movie scene which had spiritual, moral, or theological point that impacted you.  As you share, you will find that others will open up with similar sharing.  It is great opening way of safely discussing faith issues.  Practice of these and other exercises will give you confidence to share in appropriate and graceful ways will be a great blessing to others.