The Bishop’s Blog

The following is from the Central Texas Conference Bishop’s Blog.   I believe it shows the heart of the man God has called to lead the CTC Conference.  Please add him to your prayer list and pray for him daily.

His blog is found at:   http://www.bishopmikelowry.com/

COME HOLY SPIRIT — Report from Taize 4

June 14, 2013

Today [May 25] we left for Cluny right after worship. The great Cluny Abbey fills me with awe. It once was the “major ecclesia” – the largest church in Christendom. Cluny Abbey started over 1,000 satellite abbeys. Its influence spread far and wide. In the French Revolution, it was dismantled stone by stone down to the very foundation in most places by an angry mob. A beacon of care and compassion, faith and hope, had become a citadel of despotism and greed.

And yet, it is only a short distance from Taize, a new beacon of hope and faith, reconciliation and love. This is not a mere accident of history and happenstance of geography. I believe God through the Holy Spirit is speaking to me (and to us) in the resurrection life of Christ. Rising north of the ruins of the great Cluny Abbey is the light of Christ in the simplicity of Taize.

I came to Taize in some angst, if not despair, over the state of the United Methodist Church. Eight days before leaving, I had participated in a meeting of officers of the Council of Bishops, General Secretaries, Board and Agency Presidents, and leadership from the Connectional Table. It was a gathering highlighted by a false politeness and sabotaged by wanton political maneuvering – the church at its worst. The week that followed was filled with a funeral, two days of hard work in making appointments (appointments made without good options and in facing of difficult choices), then three more days of hard digging through administrative work. I commented to a fellow bishop that the UM church was going down (meaning the image of a boxer being knocked to the ground).

Here at Taize for the second time, the Spirit clearly spoke to me. The shadow of Cluny is being erased by the light of Taize. “A light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Even as vast segments of the UMC and the larger Christian witness in America dissolve in a voracious black hole of enlightenment’s legacy, God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is making something new. The soaring songs in candlelight service of resurrection called me forward in commitment to Christ.

As if compelled, for I believe I was, I found myself standing and walking forward to kneel with others before the icon of Jesus at the Table with His followers. In the time of renewal, prayer, and commitment, the words of the songs washed over me as some 2,000+ faithful (mostly young people) sing our faith.

Afterward, a surprise meeting with Christoph Benn, a doctor with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He drove up from Geneva because the brothers of Taize told him there was a UM bishop up here and he wanted to share appreciation and offer encouragement for the Imagine No Malaria campaign. Amazing how the Spirit intervenes …. God is at work.

When Plans are Unwillingly Changed

My wife and I planned to be on my way to visit my daughter in San Francisco today.  Instead, I am writing this blog from my home office.  The reason for this change has to do with the airline cancelling our flight.  We were told of this cancellation 9 hours before the time of our departure.  Needless to say, this was quite a shock.

My first emotion was numb disbelief which began turning a a very tense anger.  I called the agency we had booked the flight with and we called the airline.  In each case it was very difficult to not be aggressively angry.  Of course, when I made the call, the first encounter was with an automated system.  It is very easy to yell at a system.  It is not productive or have any effect but it does release a little steam.  When I got a hold of a person (with the travel agency the person could barely speak English) I made it a point to be assertive but not rude.  My problem was not the fault of the person on the other end and they should not have to put up with my raw emotions.  The person on the other end of the line is someone our Lord loves as well.

After all was said and done, I discovered that there was nothing that could be done.  Our plans were unwillingly changed.

This is life.  Things do not always go according to plan.  We will be disappointed, frustrated, hurt, angered, and made to feel helpless.  We might think we are in control, but we are not.  We can only manage the situations of life that come our way and sometimes that includes a complete change of our plans.  This is when our spiritual maturity gets tested by fire.  It is when things like this happen that the depth of our inner resources of peace, patience, love, grace and faith matters most.

This morning my wife and I are reorganizing our plans.  We will make positive use of this change.  In this way we move our disappointment from depression to duty and delight.  In this way we embrace the promises of our Lord that He will work this out for good.  We accept Jesus offer to cast our cares, our anxieties, our frustrations and hurts on Him.  We take time to remember what our Lord faced and have our faith strengthened by His faithfulness.

This seems to be the best way to respond when plans are unwillingly changed.

The Labyrinth is Coming Along

Last week I began to work on the prayer labyrinth at our church.  It is a work of love.  It is a holy work that blesses me with each brick that I place.  It is a time in which my mind is filled by songs of faIMAG0241ith, prayers, and hopes for how this ancient spiritual formation tool might help the members of our family of faith draw nearer to good.

Today I finished phase one.  The labyrinth itself is now ready to be walked.  Phase two will involve putting a cross in the center (I have already made the cross and hopefully will put in in on Friday), adding benches in the center and at the entrance, installing a lectern at the side in which to put Bible readings, and finally a shelf which will contain a couple of crucifiers (a cross to carry as one walks the labyrinth) and some stones (for carrying a burden to offer to God) to be used by those who walk the labyrinth.  

Phase three will be mounting the stained glass (plastic) panels on the fence and putting up some signs for information, guidance, and hopefully a name for the garden (I have a name in mind but I will need to check with the trustees and administrative council before I make it official).  I am also hoping to put some desert plants (cactus, etc,,) and a small “well” (a decorated cooler with bottled water inside) for those who need a drink while they walk.

I will be offering classes on using the labyrinth on Sunday nights and on selected mornings.  This is a spiritual tool I have used and been blessed by.   I am confident that other churches will come and walk our labyrinth as well.  God is so good!Prayer Labyrinth 

Where do We go from Here?

labyrinth1

The figure at the right is called a labyrinth.  I plan to make one in the in fence in area at the back of the church. The labyrinth has been used by Christians for centuries as a tool to help them in prayer walking and in meditation. At the spiritual retreat I went to a few months back there was a labyrinth that Juanell and I walked and prayed on together. It was an uplifting experience.

The thing about a labyrinth is that you are always progressing toward a goal but sometimes the path seems to lead away from the center.  If you trace the labyrinth at the right you will discover this for yourself.

This last Sunday we had several meetings.  The trustees met and discussed the things we need to do to take care of the facilities we now use.  We talked about the old building.  We talked about parking lots.  We talked about air conditioners, fans, exit signs, insurance, utilities, and making at least one bathroom ADA compliant for any challenged folks who might come to our meeting place.  We also talked about speakers, the gas leak, and the work day we had just completed.  The discussion had a lot of passion, truth, compassion, differing opinions but all with hearts wanting to do what is best for our church and ministry.  We are fortunate to have such good trustees.

We do have a problem.  We have a lot of things needing to be done and a limited amount of resources.  Our trustees understand this and will do the best they can to prioritize and organize to make the most of what we have.  It is going to be a lot of hard work.  The meeting went longer than the hour set aside.  Still, it was a needed and good meeting.

Next we had a finance committee meeting.  Again good people met and had serious discussions.  I talked too much, but I felt as pastor in need to say what I said.  It too was a good meeting.  Responsible and thoughtful steps were taken to help this committee have a better handle on our finances and set some priorities as well.

After this meeting we had a VBS planning meeting.  We want to reach children AND their families.  VBS can be a good tool to help us in this cause.  This year we want to do a VBS that involves the majority of the members of our church.  Hopefully everyone will be willing to give some time to this project.  Prayerfully everyone will be willing to be stretched a bit in their comfort zones.  But again, this is a concern of finances.  Those planning VBS also know our resources are limited.  The is agreement on the part of everyone that we should not spend what we do not have!

Finances, faith, and the future are like a labyrinth.  The journey to where we want to be can at times be confusing.  However, if one sticks to the path and continues to move forward the goal will be obtained—UNLESS, unless we do not know what the goal is or if we do not think the goal is worth the effort or time.

There are those who claim to know exactly what God’s will is for everything the church does (I am speaking of the church in general not our church).  I do not make such claims.  I do know that God gives visions and missions like the ones God gave to Nehemiah and to Paul.  I do pray for direction in the things I try to bring to the attention of our church.  I believe if what I bring up is good then it will be affirmed by the majority of the people who have the responsibility for the oversight of that area.  I have no problem being told no, nor do I believe those who say no (or yes) are any less in the will of our Lord than I.   I do, however, believe it is wrong to just try and maintain where we are.  The church is a living organism.  If it is not growing, moving, thriving, it is dying.  The book of Revelation has something to say about churches on that subject.   If we will not be used of the Lord, then the Lord will use someone else.  Where there is no vision the people perish.

So, the question for us is, “Where do we go from here?”  What is the goal(s)?  Are we making sure we are on the journey together?

I am going to make a labyrinth.  I hope you will walk it and pray we me.

The Desire to Worship

NIV Psalm 95:6  Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;

I use the book “Divine Hours” by Phyllis Tickle as a prayer guide in my daily prayers.  I deeply enjoy the discipline of keeping the offices of prayer.  It has been a very rewarding (and at times) challenging practice.  The office allow God to speak to me in ways I might have missed otherwise.

One of yesterdays readings caused me a bit of uneasiness.   It had to do with God’s desire for authentic worship and God’s disdain for “playing” at worship.  It also reminded me of a quote I used to keep on my desk:

“Most middle-class Americans tend to:
worship their work;
work at their play; and
play at their worship.
That which we worship, we serve,
and that which we serve we will give our all–heart, soul, mind and body.”

-Gordon Dahl

The last thing I want to do is to “play” at my worship.  However, staying true to doing liturgy (the work of the people) is not easy when the culture looks at worship simply as an option in their lives.  Worship becomes something we attend.  It becomes something we chose to do.  It is something which should meet our “needs” or we will not attend (since we “pay” i.e., give money we should get what we want).

In our culture going to church or worshiping is something we do when we have the time or the inclination or it does not conflict with our schedule.  We pick the church or churches we attend based not on seeking true worship but on the style, comfort, familiarity, or the church’s potential to be used to meet other selfish needs.  The the rise of the market-driven “church” that is more focused on niche marketing and be specialty shop that a vessel for the worship of God and the presence of Jesus on this earth.

Isaiah 29:13  The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.  These words are echoed by Jesus:  Matthew 15:7-9  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

The above verses were used by some to blast the traditions of worship handed down by the church.  However, it is not the tradition that is being condemned but the attitude of the heart.

Is this where we are at?

John 4:23-24  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The word for truth also carries with it the meaning of genuine, real.  It is my prayer and growing desire that in God’s bringing about perfection in me that I willingly and eagerly seek to be above all a true worshiper who lives not by the desire of my selfish nature but through the altruistic nature of the Spirit of God that draws me to gather with others who:  Psalm 95:6   Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 40 The Journey comes to a close!

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When the Journey began

NIV 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed

The Journey that began with ashes and a desire to be penitent and repentant comes to its end this year in a service of darkness and a day that ends the week in which the powers and principalities though they had won.  

For forty days and six Lord’s days we have journeyed seeking awareness.  As for me I found awareness of my fallen nature, awareness of my failures and needs, and awareness of God’s presence in the everyday challenges of life.  I have asked others to join me in seeking God.  I hope they have had the times of intimacy the Lord  has blessed me with.  My desire to worship and serve you have grown and I pray will continue to grow and grow and grow.

On Sunday the church year changes.  Easter, the spring of the church (or fall depending upon which hemisphere one lives in), brings our focus on the resurrection.  It calls to us with the blessed hope made certain by Jesus conquering victory over the grave.  It is a time of appearances, surprises, and again, teachings which Jesus has given to us to guide us toward perfection.  Not perfection in the sense this world views perfection, but perfection in desire to holiness and a willingness to live the new life our faith in God who is with us and God’s resurrection offers.

Easter leads us toward Pentecost.  So another journey will begin.  This is purpose.  We were created to walk with God.  It is God’s will for us to join the Divine presence that journeys beyond time and space.  God became one of us so that we might be one with God.   May this motivate us toward a deepening of what we have found in Lent!

NIV Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 39

NIV Ephesians 1:18-21 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,  which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

The above may be a long sentence, but it is also an awesome prayer.  Today is Good Friday.  The good is what is accomplished.  The good is in the sacrifice.

Tonight we will celebrate Tenebrae.  It is the service of darkness.  It is hearing the last seven sayings of Jesus on the cross.  It is also a heart enlightening experience for me.   God first reached me with the reality of death.  Next was the conviction of my own moral failure.  What a joy to find out Jesus could and would and did overcome death for me and took the ultimate consequences of my separation from God on himself.  In his sacrifice I was offered a gift if I would be accept it.

I am not one who believes everything is already predetermined.  I believe we are created by the very breath of God and thus we are beings which will transcend this current reality of time and space.  I believe we do have choice and that God perfect will shall still be what God has determined it to be in a mystery that combines free will and divine providence and foreknowledge.

In Lent this mystery is experienced in a symbolic way in the 40 day journey.  The journey of the 2013 Lent season will end, but the journey itself will continue.  On Good Friday we come to the experiential center of the human experience.  It is the eternal bridge where God is waiting to meet us.  Through the bridge of the cross we move from the captivity of death to the certainty of the promised resurrection.  Jesus is risen!  Christ indeed has risen!

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 38

NIV Acts 2:28  You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.

The above verse is from the Psalter.  It is the ending verse of chapter 16.  The in reality it is the ending thought of a group of four verses:

NIV  Psalm 16:8-11  I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,  because you will not abandon me to the grave (Sheol) ,  nor will you let your Holy (faithful) One  see decay.  You have made (or will make) known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

I needed this verse when I set down to write this entry.  In reality, if God was at my right hand tonight God would have notice that my hand most likely was shaking.  And while even as I type these words the above verses are pulling me away from the pity party I was trying to attend.   It is hard, but it is important when doubts and emotions rise to be careful to not let circumstances or the slow unrelenting heaviness of life pull one away from the presence who is always there.

In the verse from Acts list above, Peter is preaching his Pentecost sermon.  God has shown up.  The Spirit of God has descended in power and the small stones are about to become the giant rock.  The church is born.  God will now be more than with us, God will be in us.  This is the gift that Jesus claimed for us in his death and resurrection.

Tonight, in confirmation class, I asked each of the young people present how they knew God was with them.  Three were very confident and positive.  Three did not know.  I appreciated their honesty.  Did I try to get them saved? (slight laughter at myself)  I don’t get anyone saved.  Only one human being has (notice the present tense) the power to “save” and that human being is also the Creator of everything, the author of life, and God incarnate.  All I can do is follow the example of Peter and tell them what Jesus did and why.  All I can do is talk about how amazing a relationship with God is.  All I can do is explain to them the power God has granted them as free (but accountable) sentient beings.  All I can do is tell them what Jesus has done (does and is doing) for me.

We are getting near the end of the Lenten journey for this year.  The real time journey I have been on apart from these posts has been a pretty wild emotional and spiritual ride.  Through it all I have been aware that: You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.  Amen!!!!!

Tonight the church will gather as did the disciples on the night before the crucifixion.  The sacrament of communion will be shared.  The body of Christ and the blood of Christ blessed and consumed.  In the exercise of this duty (that is reality a delight) the joy of sanctify grace will again fill those of us who come.  How could we not but find reason for joy!

The Journey to Awareness Lent Day 37

NIV Acts 5:29   Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!

I can see a day coming when those who try to live by and proclaim the Word of God will viewed as being totally out of touch with the world and popular opinion.  I can see a day coming when laws will be passed that will seek to limit the influence of the church.  I can see a day coming when those who preach will be arrest for hate crimes if they call certain behavior sinful.  This day is coming.  We need to get ready.

For hundreds of years before the first advent of Jesus those who were faithful and dependent on the teaching of Scripture often were in the minority even among the chosen people of God.  There is a whole theological construct called “the remnant” that speaks to this issue.

God will always have a witness.  We pray we can give this witness living in times of peace.  However, the faithful of God will give this witness no matter what.  We need to remember that the word martyr comes from the ancient Greek word for witness.

NIV Acts 5:32   “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

On this journey of life, to seek to live closer to Jesus, to seek first the Kingdom does allow us to be witnesses (both in eye and in heart) of wonderful acts and revelations of God.  We do have the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We have the presence of Jesus encourage us.  We have the church and the spiritual gifts given to us to build one another up.

May this season of Lent prepare us for whatever the future days may bring.  May our journey make us aware of how our witness is so desperately need now.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 35

NIV Acts 4:1-2 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.

There is one lesson in Lent we had better learn.  It is a lesson we often ignore or avoid simply by not being faithful to our Lord’s instructions.  It is the lesson of animosity.  The world is hostile toward the Gospel because it disturbs the world delusions and deceptions.

John articulates it quite well in John 3:19, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

Way to many people who claim the title “Christian” are afraid of the dark.  They are afraid to openly display or declare the light will draw attention to them.  They might be embarrassed.  They might be labelled as a “holy roller” or “religions freak”.  Standing for our Lord might cost them.  It might cost then social status.  It might cost them a job, a position, or a raise.  They might have to give up something they like or desire.  They might have to give more of their time.

Jesus disturbed people.  Light can hurt when you have been embracing the darkness.

If you have given up something for Lent, or have made a commitment to do something during Lent you probably have found  this effort difficult.  There are always those things we face as humans that test our commitment to our Lord.  Even our own natural nature is disturbed by our desire to grow and live by faith.  If we expect this and prepare for this then we are not as likely to seek to avoid it and thus fearful of it.

May we walk with our Lord in the Light of His Word.