There is an urban legend about John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Church movement and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. The story goes that after his conversion to Christ, he started to attend a local church in his area. After a number of Sundays passed, he approached an usher with some frustration. “When do we get to do the stuff?” he asked. Puzzled, the usher inquired as to what he was talking about. “You know,” replied Wimber somewhat exasperated, “…the stuff – miraculously healing people, talking in tongues, slaying demonic spirits – the stuff!” According to the unconfirmed legend, Wimber continued, “I gave up sex and drugs for Christianity. I can’t wait to get to doing the things the Bible talks about.”
I find myself chuckling by just recalling the infamous story. This is
not what I heard about. The branch of Christianity that brought me back into
the faith (really into it for the first time) was full of quiet and
contemplation. It had/has a gentle civility to it. I came into the faith
through nice, reasoned intellect sprinkled with some “proper” emotion and
action. More and more I find myself wondering about these varied branches. I
know that both branches have something to offer the larger tree of faith.
I was in a Wesley study with a number of younger, well-educated clergy (Seminary
M. Div. and more). We were digging deep into Mr. Wesley’s works and started to
run into Wesley and the “supernatural.” It was here that we collectively had to
pause and admit our ignorance. Someone in the group pointed out that our vows
of profession and church membership include the words, “Do you renounce the
spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and
repent of your sin?” (The United Methodist Hymnal, Baptismal Covenant I,
More recently, I was in a conversation with two seminary faculty members (one with a Ph. D. from Harvard, the other with a Ph. D. from SMU) who had been in Cuba and engaged in spiritual warfare with members of the Methodist Church in Cuba. The warfare included being “slain in the Spirit.” As a faculty member from another seminary as well as a young progressive clergy member of the Central Texas Conference both asked me (in separate conversations), “What do you make of all this?”
Any reading of John Wesley that is more than casual cannot easily dismiss spiritual warfare. Take for instance Wesley’s sermon #42 entitled “Satan’s Devices.”Albert Outler, in his introduction to the sermon, comments, “He [John Wesley] had his clue, of course, in the conviction that the world in general was ruled by Satan and his minions. … Thus, ‘Satan’s Devices’ is Wesley’s elaboration of this suggestion on the point of sanctification in particular; it is also a warning to his people against Satan’s insinuations in general.” (The Works of John Wesley, Volume 2, Sermons II, 34-70, edited by Albert C. Outler, p. 138) Quoting 2 Corinthians 2:11, Wesley jumps right in. “We are not ignorant of his devices. The god of this world (i.e. Satan) labours to destroy the children of God, or at least to torment whom he cannot destroy, to perplex and hinder them in running the race which is set before them.” (The Works of John Wesley, Volume 2, Sermons II, 34-70, edited by Albert C. Outler, p. 139)
I could go on, but the reader will get the general tone and direction. In
a tangibly practical application, the confusion, chaos and conflagration taking
place at the southern border of the United States is place where spiritual
warfare is engaged moment by moment, hour by hour and day by day. The best of
us are tempted to jettison our Christian values in favor of political
expedience. The way forward is shrouded in the smoke and dust of a debilitating
conflict which, if not caused Satan (it looks to be caused by sinful humans!)
is at least being used by Satan. I must confess that even as I write that last
statement, I am uncomfortable with its implications. Yet I have chosen not to delete it because
there is truth contained in it.
Satan’s devices would have me see people as the enemy, and this is true
no matter what one’s political convictions are. Jesus reminds me, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least
of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew
More recently, Rev. Carolyn Moore has reminded us of what Wesley said. “John Wesley, founder of our Methodist movement, wrestled as much as anyone with the mixing of supernatural ministry with the daily working out of sanctification through the means of grace.” (Carolyn Moore, “Pure Grace: Wesley’s Take on Supernatural Ministry,” July 12, 2019) She goes on to note that Wesley wrote in his Journal on Sunday, Nov.25, 1759 “The danger was to regard extraordinary circumstances too much, such as outcries, convulsions, visions, trances; as if these were essential to the inward work, so that it could not go on without them. Perhaps the danger is, to regard them too little; to condemn them altogether; to imagine they had nothing of God in them and were a hindrance to his work.”
As I gaze over the landscape of conflict raging like a wildfire across the globe in the second decade of the 21st century, I think there is biblical and theological insight here worth pondering and praying over. More pointedly, as I wrestle with the machinations of my own heart and life, I too battle anguish, hatred, greed and indifference. Spiritual warfare is not just an abstract thing for theological study and reasoned discernment. It is a reality of our days and times, but on both a public and private level. I know there is a lesson for my living that begs application in my common days. It is easy to be defeated in spiritual warfare by the devices of Satan, especially when you want to deny the very existence of spiritual warfare.
While I am on renewal leave, I have invited Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director of the Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth to share a guest blog. This report was originally published June 19, 2019. Bishop Mike Lowry
Annual Conference 2019, I gave a report for the Center for Evangelism, Mission
and Church Growth. This is a synopsis: A key part of the report was
some of the things we are learning, especially after 17 months of increased
worship attendance in the CTC. We are one of the few United Methodist
Conferences in the country that can speak of any kind of growth in this season
Our greatest strength is our existing and new clergy, church leaders, church families, church buildings and campuses around the CTC area. Every church and every pastor is working hard focusing on the mission that makes us who we are — “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Investing time, staff and money in this area makes the most sense in this season if we want to reach the four million people in the CTC area. We have clearly refocused to supporting and resourcing our existing local churches.
New Faith Communities
initiative to create 100 New Faith Communities (NFC) in three years is working,
often including a grant from the Smith Center for Evangelism, Mission &
Church Growth. Of these NFC’s, 42 have received a grant and have an
average worship attendance increase of 5 percent; this includes several NFC’s
that did not work, though most have; in every size, style and location of
church. It’s been amazing to see churches that have been in slow decline
for years experience a turnaround in energy, excitement, growth and even more,
reaching people we were not already reaching. Our overall worship attendance
increase for the CTC is directly connected to the churches that have begun
worship has increased exponentially from church to church; again, every size,
style, and location. One of the things we are seeing is congregations not only
making worship available online by social media (YouTube, etc.), but also
adding elements that make it a legitimate faith community of its own; attenders
offering prayer requests, giving, and even connecting with other attenders, including
an online faith community pastor. This model is one that every church can
do and it is reaching people we are not already reaching.
continue to be an amazing part of our church culture. The smallest church
to the largest serve the community and even the world. Our 5-star mission
awards, covenant mission relationships, foodbanks, backpacks, partnerships with
local schools, etc., all reflect this. If a Methodist church is in a community,
the community knows because it serves that area. This responsibility to serve
is integrated in our United MethodisteEthos. Our Early Response Teams who
serve in disaster areas and Volunteer In Mission Teams have grown exponentially
as we continue to send volunteers to Hurricane Harvey recovery areas and local
flood areas. The number of volunteers has increased substantially.
Methodist’s love to help those who are hurting, though we are still struggling
to connect our mission work and evangelism as partners in growing
we did the Exodus Project a few years ago, one of the things that we
immediately understood was that our summer youth mission trips were very successful,
Reaching areas around the county and changing the lives of the youth and
volunteers who are a part of this. This year, we have 1,214 in CTCYM
missions at this writing – adding another 212 in July. We also have many
churches who do summer mission trips for youth on their own or in partnership
with other churches or organizations. We do this well.
New Ways to Reach New People
things that reach new people, new worship services, new missions, new small
groups, new partnerships, new people reach new people, new disciples make more
new disciples. Tweaking old things may help a little, but creating new things
Church and its leadership can keep focused on the mission to make disciples, to
grow, to transform the community the church is in, and not get distracted, keep
budget, staff, volunteers, and the church family inspired, resourced, trained,
and focused on the church’s God-given purpose, then a turn around and an
extended season of growth and effectiveness is possible.
Remember, grants are still available for beginning a New Faith Community at ctc-reg.brtapp.com/NewFaithCommunitiesGrantApplication, but with this we continue to learn that lead time, hard work, and preparation are key to succeeding at the NFC effort. Without the work, they are typically going to underperform or fail. Check out resources on our NFC page at ctcumc.org/nfc, also there are helpful ideas at mikeramsdell.com.
A weekend experience for your church we call GROW includes three workshops throughout the year is also available to help churches make disciples. We are working with seven churches currently and are seeing positive momentum. If you want to know more, contact Meg Witmer-Faile at firstname.lastname@example.org. GROW is designed to nurture a culture of growth and is focused around the senior pastor and leadership of the church. More information is available at ctcumc.org/grow on the Smith Centers page. This is not a consulting process. It is an inspirational and educational process for church leadership that paves the way for senior leadership to lead a church into a season of growth.
Today, I joined my fellow active bishops of Texas, as well as several retired bishops living in the state in calling on our state and federal officials to set aside party politics and deliver a solution for the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding along our southern border. We are all called, as Christians and Americans, to reach out in love to our sisters and brothers in need.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church of Rome tells us to “Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home.” (Romans 12:13 CEB) As a Christ follower, we are called to welcome the stranger in these tough times. It is my hope and prayer that those who have been duly elected to serve will soon lay aside partisan bickering and come together with a solution that reflects our deeply held Christian and American values.
As I contemplate how we should be responding to the immigrants and asylum seekers along our southern border, I am reminded of President Lincoln’s timeless quote from his second inaugural address. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” No matter where we are on the political spectrum, may we all reach out and serve those in need.
We greet you in the name of our Lord. Together, we have watched with anguish the unfolding immigration crisis taking place along our southern border. Across our state, United Methodist churches are reaching out with compassion and aid to those who are suffering. We also count border patrol officers and those who work with agencies serving asylum seekers as members of our churches, and we know they are doing their best to respond to an overwhelming situation.
Those seeking to enter the United States are children of God –- people for whom Christ died. We call upon government officials, regardless of political party, to seek solutions that reflect caring and compassion. Surely, in the midst of this unfolding humanitarian crisis, it is time to lay aside partisan politics and seek solutions of love, justice and mercy, which best reflect our fundamental values as Christians and Americans. As we search for a common response, may we rise above fear and divisiveness, remembering the guidance of Holy Scripture: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7).
As Bishops of The United Methodist Church in Texas, we call on the people of The United Methodist Church of Texas as well as all people of goodwill to pray for and work toward:
Ending cruel policies that separate families;
Ensuring compassionate care for the health and welfare of children;
Providing safe and humane care for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence in their native countries;
A common solution that respects, cares for and offers tangible assistance to those who are hurting and homeless; and
Working with officials in other countries to address root causes of violence and poverty, which threaten the health and safety of their citizens and force our sisters and brothers to flee their countries of origin.
We ask all who follow Christ as Lord to remember that our Savior was himself a homeless refugee fleeing violence. Jesus taught us, “When you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
May the Peace of Christ be with you and with the children and families who are suffering,
The United Methodist Bishops of Texas
W. Earl Bledsoe, Northwest Texas & New Mexico Episcopal Areas
As a part of my summer reading, I have enjoyed 8 Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches. With our focus on the WIG – the Wildly Important Goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – the words leaped off the page: “Rapidly growing churches are singularly, relentlessly, and unapologetically evangelical. They see everything through the lens of inviting people to follow Jesus. . . . good churches are stretched so thin doing one hundred good ministries that it is easy to see evangelism as just another ministry.” (Matt Miofsky & Jason Byassee, Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches, pp. 42, 43)
Jason goes on to comment about his own pastor and the reasons he is a
Methodist by saying, “I love Methodism –
we’re a revivalist branch of the Catholic tradition that’s passionate about
social justice.” (Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches, p. 47) Later,
in the fourth chapter entitled “Virtue #4 /Rapidly Growing Church Exist to
Reach the Next Person”, they note: “Rapidly
growing churches approach evangelism differently. It isn’t a side activity
deployed as a means of counteracting natural decline. Instead, it is
relentlessly pursued as a value every day in every aspect of the ministry.”
Rather pointedly they add: “Methodism was
born as a revivalist sect. the question
is – if we’re not reviving anybody, what do we exist for? The answer is we
won’t for long. And we shouldn’t.” (Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches,
Those are strong words. They are also profoundly true whether we like it or not. Our WIG is a reflection of the gospel, anchored as has been often stated in the commission of the resurrected Christ found in the closing paragraph of Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20). Obedience to this commission by the risen Lord drives ministry and mission, outreach and service, love and justice! 8 Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches is worth your reading.
Another WIG Milestone to
And now for some great news about the Central Texas Conference in the
midst of a time of tumult across the church. We have recorded eworship
attendance growth for 17 months in a row!!
Jeff Roper reports a few of the highlights:
Overall worship attendance grew 2% while churches which have received New Faith Community grants grew 5%.
North and West Districts have already hit their worship attendance goal for 2019!
We now have 136 churches growing, or almost 50% of our churches. That will be a big milestone when we have more churches growing than declining.
At the halfway mark for the year, Professions of Faith are at 58% of our goal!!
The Central District is leading the way with 46% increase in Professions.
is truly outstanding and a real reason to celebrate. As previously shared, it
also represents an increase in mission activity for the hungry, hurting and
homeless as well as growth in intentional faith development. (Remember Clifton
Howard’s “An intentional consequence of the WIG!”)
What else is on the reading list?
about summer reading, some of my other reading projects are:
I returned to work the first of July after a week off in Northern
Virginia with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren. While the
grandchildren (6 and 3-years-old respectively) left me exhausted, it was a good
kind of exhaustion. For a week, I put aside concerns of the church and my
ministry as a bishop to focus on family. It wasn’t a day of sabbath rest; it
was a week of a different form of sabbath.
If you stop trampling the Sabbath, stop doing whatever you want on my holy day, and consider the Sabbath a delight, sacred to the Lord, honored, and honor it instead of doing things your way, seeking what you want and doing business as usual, 14 then you will take delight in the Lord. I will let you ride on the heights of the earth; I will sustain you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Then, after sharing a story of an enforced rest in her life
because of an accident, Ruth Barton comments, “If we do not allow for a rhythm
of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia,
our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.” (Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, p.
131; quote taken from “Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath)
I have long been a believer in vacation time (which Europeans call
“Holidays”; originating from the phrase “Holy Days”). One of the gifts my
parents gave me was the gift of family vacations. In our case, they were mostly
spent camping on our way to or from my grandparents’ home in upstate New York. It didn’t take a ton of money (we camped!),
it took time. Looking back over raising our own children (and now interacting
with our grandchildren) I realize that time is a treasured gift.
I have long argued that we live at a pace of life that is
unsustainable. (And yes, confessionally, I am as guilty – if not more so – than
anyone!) I believe time away is a form of Sabbath. It is something honored by
God that has a blessing not just for ourselves but for those around us,
especially our families.
We know the Ten Commandments. Pause with me on the cusp of our
July 4th celebrations and recollect on the forgotten commandment…
“Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it – not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
I submit that the application of this commandment is for more than
one day a week. Holidays are Holy Days in America, too. We do not worship our country
(remember the First Commandment), but we are deeply thankful for the blessings
our nation has spread upon us all. Time off to celebrate and give thanks is
important. So too is time off for joy shared.
We tend to think of Sabbath as quiet time or solitude or even just
laziness. But what if we begin to understand Sabbath as time for laughter and
abandoned joy? What if we think of Sabbath as time spent splashing in pool with
our children and/or grandchildren? What if we think of Sabbath as a time of “re-creation!?” What if we understand that vacations or
holidays are needed, extended Sabbath time?
Last Saturday, June 29, we went with our daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum extension (the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia). It was exciting, awe inspiring and fascinating. We had a blast! The time off was refreshing and renewing. As we come up on the July 4th celebration, I am reinvigorated and thankful for the pioneers who have gone before us.
Even more so, I am thankful for a creating God who blesses us with
an understanding of Sabbath time!
This Blog is part three of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of the entire address, please visit our AC19 video archive webpage at ctcumc.org/AC19-videos. To view or download the slides used in the address, go to ctcumc.org/AC19-slides. – Bishop Mike Lowry
Worship, properly understood, is central to discipleship. Worship is at once both an “input” to discipleship formation and an “output” (or outcome) of discipleship. This is why the “metric” of average worship attendance is so critical to the WIG (the Wildly Important Goal) of making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The central role of worship as discipleship formation represents a significant change over the lifetime of my ministry (45 years ago; I was ordained a Deacon in 1974). Back in the day of Christendom (whose sunset was in the 1980s), worship attendance was an almost taken-for-granted element of American culture. In fact, talk among clergy about putting “butts in the seats” was spoken of dismissively. In a Christendom culture, worship attendance was seen as being about cultural acceptability. In a post-Christendom era (which we have been in for at least the last 30 years!), worship is just the opposite. Regular attendance in worship is a sacrifice. It is a witness and declaration of allegiance and identity. Worship is a fundamental act of discipleship!
I cannot help but remember the 7th grader at University UMC in San Antonio (where I was a pastor) who gave up a starring role on her soccer team voluntarily because she refused to practice on Sunday morning. The witness of Gold Medal Olympian Eric Liddell, as chronicled in the movie Chariots of Fire, offers profound insight into faithfulness. In our own Fort Worth neighborhood, on the way to worship on Sunday mornings, we are greeted by a virtual peloton of bikers speeding by headed in the opposite direction.
understand the Christian faith, let there be no mistake. Worship is central
to discipleship. Let the Word of the Lord speak into our lives and times. “All
who call on the Lord’s name will be saved”. [Joel 2:32] So
how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have
faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a
preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How
beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news. [Isaiah 53:7].”
of faith are a metric that complete the narrative of life transformation. Every number represents a person for who
Christ died. When I first started out as
a United Methodist pastor, I had DS who used to say, that new persons joining,
especially those who joined on a profession of faith, were like the
reinforcements coming over the hill in an old western. I know that this image is politically
incorrect, but it is suggestive. A
profession of faith is so much more. It
really does represent a life submitted to Jesus Christ as both Lord and
Savior. It is an embrace of grace that
gives people back their future as children of God.
Stay focused on the mission, the WIG, of “making disciples of Jesus Christ.” From the depth of my being I wish to convey my profoundest appreciation for your faithfulness. As the storm rages, the Lord is with us! Let the old song be our prayer.
thank God for you and for the privilege of being your Bishop and sharing with
you in ministry. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a
good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
This Blog is part two of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of the entire address, please visit our AC19 video archive webpage at ctcumc.org/AC19-videos. To view or download the slides used in the address, go to ctcumc.org/AC19-slides. – Bishop Mike Lowry
As the storm rages, I bid you always and everywhere to remember
that with Christ in the lead, we are approaching the Cape of Good Hope. Thus,
it is of first order in importance, that we must keep Christ at the center of
our life, ministry and relationships.
the Storm rages: KEEP CHRIST AT THE CENTER
Alan Hirsch has it right. “The desperate, prayer-soaked human clinging to Jesus, the reliance on His Spirit, and the distillation of the gospel message into the simple, uncluttered message of ‘Jesus as Lord and Savior’ catalyzed the missional potencies in the heart of the people of God.”
the Storm rages: LIVE IN HUMILITY
I know this is shocking, but you and I might both be wrong! Do you recall at Senator John McCain’s memorial service one of the speakers highlighted his humility even while he passionately held strong convictions? The comment that sticks with me is one that goes something like “On the high road of humility, you won’t encounter an abundance of traffic.” Even more to the point is that we need to live Paul’s word to the embattle Philippian church.
“Therefore, if there is any
encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any
my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and
agreeing with each other. Don’t
do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better
than yourselves. Instead
of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better
for others. Adopt
the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:”
the Storm rages: LET PRAISE RING OUT
In the passionate intensity of our
time, it is a matter of critical spiritual importance to let praise of God in
Christ through the presence of power of the Holy Spirit have the first word
over our lives. St. Augustine, arguably
the greatest Christian thinker and theological outside of the Scriptures
themselves, would often start his prayers in Confessions with the words
“Great is the Lord and greatly are you to be praised.” Praise reminds us not
only of who we are, but of whose we are!
It centers us in allegiance to the Lord. It is easy to begin with a
complaint or gripe. It is also un-Christian. To guard myself against doing so,
I have taken to reading a Psalm every morning as a part of my devotional time.
Remember, “theology [talk about God] without doxology [praise of God] leads to
ideology.” Wherever you are on the theological spectrum, all of us need more
theology and less ideology! Which leads naturally to a deeper life of prayer
and spiritual openness to the Lord’s love and guidance.
the Storm rages: TRUST THE LORD
sounds obvious and easy, but it is not. Whether or not it is clear to you, the
Lord is work. Live out of Proverbs
chapter 3, verses 5-6: “Trust
in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on
your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways
The great Roman Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin understood this essence well. He wrote poem entitled “Patient Trust” whose first stanza reads as follows:
Trust and obedience biblically and
theologically are linked. Remember the old hymn, “trust and obey, trust and
obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
the Storm rages: FOCUS ON MAKING DISCIPLES OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE
TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD
I have said this over and over and I am
going to keep saying this over and over because it is so true! If you are an
ardent progressive, what do you need most as the church moves into a new more
inclusive future? You need vibrant vital congregations that are committed heart
and soul to “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the
world.” If you are a passionate traditionalist, what do you need most as the
church moves into a new more orthodox future? You need vibrant vital
congregations that are committed heart and soul to “making disciples of Jesus
Christ for the transformation of the world.” So, wherever we are on the
spectrum of the debate which threatens to swamp the ship of the church today, what
we all need are more vibrant vital congregations that are committed
heart and soul to “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of
This is, of course, precisely the Great
Commission of the crucified and risen Lord to his followers as found at the close
of St. Matthew’s gospel. This is our wildly important goal, our WIG!
Friends, let’s keep the main thing the
main thing. We have great reason to give thanks and celebrate. Stories,
narratives, of transformation abound. In the WIG awards we are encountering
during this Annual Conference, we find but a small sampling of these inspiring
stories. Truly, the Lord is moving in our midst! For over a full year we have
been showing growth in average worship attendance. The Central Texas Conference
is one of two or three conferences in the United States where this is
happening. You are to be congratulated!!! Don’t miss the importance of
This Blog is part one of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of the entire address, please visit our AC19 video archive webpage at ctcumc.org/AC19-videos. To view or download the slides used in the address, go to ctcumc.org/AC19-slides. – Bishop Mike Lowry
For years it was simply known as the Cape of Storms; a dire place of shipwreck that none could safely pass. This was based on the slight misconception that the Cape was the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans; the place where the two currents collide, and the water turns back upon itself in fury. But then finally, in 1488 a.d., the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias sailed beyond the Cape. Instead of the Cape of storms its was renamed the Cape of Good Hope.
like this serves as an analogy for a Christian understanding of death and
resurrection. Long had the world known
that death was the end. There was no more. And then, there was one three-day
period of time when Jesus met death on Good Friday and conquered it “once for
all” on Easter morning.
we are once again in a storm. The most obvious waves which toss us about are
collectively focused on issues of human sexuality and LGBTQ+ questions of
marriage and ordination. These are seen as issues of inclusivity by some and
biblical fidelity by others. Many if not even most on both sides and all along
the spectrum, insist that they alone are holding fast to both inclusion and
The theological waves that pound us are even higher than a debate over LGBTQ questions. The white foam of orthodoxy’s boundaries crash over the planking of the church challenging the core tenants of our faith. As C. S. Lewis put it to a group of Anglican Church youth leaders and young pastors in 1945, at the close of World War II: “I insist that wherever you draw the lines, boundary lines must exist, beyond which your doctrines will cease to be Anglican or to be Christian; and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specifically as Christians or as priests but honest men [and women].”
the waves pound the ship of the church (for a ship on the high seas has been an
image of the church since its inception) even stronger winds tear at our sails
and superstructure. As numerous scholars have pointed out, we have gone from
the Christian faith (or faith alone for that matter whether Jewish, Christian,
Moslem, Hindu or Buddhist or even some other variety) as the default cultural
option to an agnostic secularism as the leading preference of many. Amid the
rampant individuality of our age and time, many more have adopted a privatized
version of faith loosely labeled “spiritual but not religious.” [It is worth noting that none of the world’s
major religions endorse such a position!]
As the pounding waves and
lashing winds slam into us, pubic virtue is under assault from virtually every
direction. A sense of social appropriateness and ethical congruence floats like
flotsam in our public life. [It is worth remembering that the Ten Commandments
are not the ten suggestions.]
Much of social civility is lost in the swirling seas of modern life. To borrow a phrase from the cartoon strip Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he (or she) is us.” And yet, more significantly, we are not the enemy at all. We are both together and individually beloved children of God.
It is here, in a Gospel
truth, that we pause, remember and recommit ourselves to the Lordship, the
reign and rule of Christ. As the storm rages, we who call ourselves Christian
hold to a different narrative. Listen again to the Word of God and a story we
all know well but forget easily.
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:23-27)
It is with this backdrop,
the church as a storm-tossed ship sailing on the high seas, that I speak to you
as your bishop. We sail with the Cape of Good Hope in our sight and not the
Cape of Storms. We have been here before. Our Captain is Jesus Christ.
“God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Parts two and three of this blog series will appear Friday June 21
and Tuesday June 25.
With the Christian faith and moral virtue up for grabs in
both our church and the wider secular culture of our time, we need to lean
forward and let the Lord speak to us once again through the Holy
John Wesley wrote in the preface to his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, “The Scripture therefore of the Old and New Testament, is a most solid and precious system of Divine truth. Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess. It is the fountain of heavenly wisdom, which they who are able to taste, prefer to all writings of men, however wise, or learned, or holy.” Famously John Wesley went on to write: “I want to know one thing – the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book]. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book; for this end, to find the way to heaven.” (taken from John Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons: An Annotated Summary)
I recall vividly in my own conversion experience reading Soren Kierkegaard’s For Self-Examinationin which Kierkegaard argued that we should read the scriptures like we would read a love letter. As we move through these trouble times, I find myself going back again and again to Holy Scripture. I remember Cindy Brown, a friend and member at University United Methodist Church, commenting once that many people read about the Bible when they need to be actually reading the Bible itself! She is profoundly accurate. Yet it is a good thing that we do both. This is where the work of Dean Watson is so helpful! He puts the two together. He offers a scholarship that takes us way past a mindless literalism and at the same avoids the tank-traps of relativism.
Eugene Peterson, another great biblical scholar of our age once wrote: “Reading scripture constitutes an act of crisis. Day after day, week after week, it brings us into a world that is totally at odds with the type of world that newspaper and television serve up to us on a platter as our daily ration of data for conversation and concern. It is a world where God is active everywhere and always where God is fiery first cause and not occasional afterthought, where God cannot be procrastinated, where everything is relative to God and God is not relative to anything. Reading scripture involves a dizzying reorientation of our culture-condition and job-oriented assumptions.”
than ever we need to step into the life and teaching of Holy Scripture. I hope
you can join me in learning from Dr. David Watson. He will be teaching us on
Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. I look forward to our learning together!
1 Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Serve the Lord with celebration! Come before him with shouts of joy! 3 Know that the Lord is God—he made us; we belong to him.[a] We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise! Thank him! Bless his name! 5 Because the Lord is good, his loyal love lasts forever; his faithfulness lasts generation after generation. Psalm 100
Bishop Janice Huie
This year we will be especially blessed to have one of the great preachers and leaders of the United Methodist Church bring the message at our opening service of worship, Bishop Janice Huie. And, then on Tuesday evening we will celebrate our service of Commissioning and Ordination. Every year, to my mind, the high point of our Annual Conference gatherings is the Service of Ordination.
In worship, we become more than we are. In worship, we declare our allegiance to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In worship, we commit and recommit to the Lord’s leadership of our lives. In worship, we place ourselves before the Lord God.
In one of Bishop William Willimon’s best books, The Service of God: How Worship and Ethics are Related, Bishop Willimon comments, “We do not worship God in order to become better people. Christians worship God simply because we are God’s beloved ones. Christian worship is an intrinsic activity. But as we worship, something happens to us. The love we return in worship is, in turn, lovingly forming us for the better.”
Wesleyans have long held the unshakable conviction that worship of God, in the fullness of the Holy Trinity, is the first and most basic aspect of Christian discipleship. In his famous sermon on the “The Means of Grace” John Wesley said, “Chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures (which implies reading, hearing and meditating thereon) and receiving the Lord’s Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of him; and these we believe to be ordained of God as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men [and women].” (The Works of John Wesley,Volume 1, Sermons I, No. 16, “The Means of Grace”, Edited by Albert C. Outler, p. 381)
J. D. Walt has appropriately noted that “theology without doxology leads to ideology.” Worship begins in doxology — in praise of God, for in praise we acknowledge who is Lord of our lives.
Worship, properly understood, is central to discipleship. Worship is at once both an “input” to discipleship formation and an “output” (or outcome) of discipleship. This is why the “metric” of average worship attendance is so critical to the WIG (the Wildly Important Goal) of making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The central role of worship as discipleship formation represents a significant change over the lifetime of my ministry (almost 45 years, I was ordained a Deacon in 1974). Back in the day of Christendom (whose sunset was in the 1980s), worship attendance was an almost taken-for-granted element of American culture. In fact, talk among clergy about putting “butts in the seats” was spoken of dismissively. In a Christendom culture, worship attendance was seen as being about cultural acceptability. In a post-Christendom era, worship is just the opposite. Attendance in worship is a sacrifice. It is a witness and declaration of allegiance and identity. It is a fundamental act of discipleship!
I can not help but remember the 7th grader at University UMC in San Antonio (where I was a pastor) who gave up a starring role on her soccer team voluntarily because she refused to practice on Sunday morning. The witness of Gold Medal Olympian Eric Liddell, as chronicled in the movie Chariots of Fire, offers profound insight into faithfulness. In our own Fort Worth neighborhood, on the way to worship on Sunday mornings, we are greeted by a virtual peloton of bikers speeding by headed in the opposite direction.
However, we understand the Christian faith, let there be no mistake. Worship is central to discipleship. Let the Word of the Lord speak into our lives and times. “All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved”. [Joel 2:32] So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news. [Isaiah 53:7].”(Romans 10:13-15)
I look forward to sharing together in worship. In the proclamation of the Word of the Lord by Bishop Huie, our sharing in prayer and music, we will together encounter the presence of the Holy Spirit!