Wow! A huge congratulations goes out to all the faithful saints and servants for our Connectional Mission Giving (commonly called “Apportionments”) in 2014. David Stinson, CTC Treasurer, notes that “2014’s payout rate of 95.95% is actually the second highest percent since 2006 and third highest in the last fourteen years. A job well done!” I agree! He goes on to add, “In addition to the excellent CMG giving, our Conference churches also gave $177, 302 to Special Day Offerings, a 20% increase over the year before.” Under Dr. Randy Wild’s and Dr. John McKellar’s leadership, the CTC Council of Finance and Administration is able to report that we have paid our General Church and Jurisdictional Conference Connectional Mission Giving in full for 2014! Wow! Well done, thou good and faithful servants! To the churches of the Central Texas Conference who faithfully paid in full I offer a heartfelt word of thanks! We continue into the new year as we have the past year with a focused intense effort at “energizing and equipping local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I have written before about the key role that HCI (the Healthy Church Initiative) and SCI (the Small Church Initiative) are playing in this great ministry. This fall I received a fascinating report from Rev. Carol Woods, the West District Superintendent, about the highly positive impact that HCI and SCI are having in her District. I pass it on with a heart “Well done!” to emphasize its importance. "In the Fall of 2010, 19 churches in the West District began participating in HCI or SCI. Five of those churches went on to do the HCI consultation in the Spring of 2012, and are just now completing the two year process of following up on their prescriptions. All five of these churches have experienced worship attendance increases from 12% to 66% with a 28% average increase. These increases greatly increased the viability of three of the churches, which had been rapidly declining prior to doing HCI. In contrast, three healthy 126+ churches in the West District that did very little or no HCI chose not do a HCI consultation. They decreased in worship attendance in a similar period of time. Their worship attendance decreased 7%, 9%, and 21% respectively for an average decrease of 12.3%." (Rev. Carol Woods, West District CTC) Monday afternoon (January 26th) I hit the road again. Rev. Gary Lindley, Executive Director for Evangelism and Church Growth, and I are visiting seminaries in the east. By way of background, we routinely have connections with Perkins School of Theology and Brite Divinity School. With the SCJ College of Bishops, we have quadrennial meetings at St. Paul’s School of Theology in Kansas City. As we look ahead to a wave of retirements, we are trying to consciously extend our reach. Two years ago (along with Kyland Dobbins and Joseph Nader who accompanied me on different parts of the trip) I visited Boston University School of Theology, Harvard Divinity School, Duke Divinity School, Gammon School of Theology, Chandler School of Theology, and Asbury Theological Seminary. Just this past December I had an outstanding visit with officials at Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor in Waco. On this trip, we hope to visit with those who are a part of special ministry training programs in new church development and campus ministry at Asbury. We will spend time at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. It is our hope to open a relationship with folks at United in a way that might lead to a mutually fruitful future. We’ll be back home Thursday and Friday. Sunday I am back on the road with a South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) College of Bishops meeting at Perkins School of Theology, S.M.U. Meanwhile I am having a blast teaching on Calvin vs Wesley using Professor Don Thorsen’s book. The class is a joy and the subject matter is fascinating. We’ve been meeting at Lou’s Place on the campus of Texas Wesleyan University. Next week’s focus is on chapter 3: “Humanity: More Freedom Than Predestination.” As the Super Bowl comes upon us (with the tribulation of Deflategate – if you don’t understand ask a sports fan), Dr. Art Torpy, a participant in the Calvin vs Wesley class passed on the following: “Is the Super Bowl divinely rigged? One in four Americans say yes, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Religion News Service. Twenty-six percent of Americans and 27 percent of self-described sports fans believe God plays a role in determining which team will win a sporting event. Even more -- 53 percent of Americans and 56 percent of sports fans -- say God rewards faithful athletes with good health and success.” Dr. Torpy couldn’t help but facetiously add, “Calvin lives on!” To which I answer, LOL! [Hmmm…. I can’t help but wonder; does God have something against my beloved Chicago Cubs?] I truly believe that God is building a new great church in our midst even as the old world of Christendom is passing from the scene. In the chaos of our modern world, it is important to remember a great biblical truth. “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).