Taking a spiritual inventory
Bishop Hayes listens at the first-ever Council of Bishops meeting in Africa. (United Methodist Reporter photo by Art Russell)
"This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
Every reader needs to know about the part of me being poured into this last article for 2006. The editor has already informed me that, after this writing, I can shut down my trusty laptop computer until next year. That truly saddens me, because I so much enjoy visiting you in your homes and churches by way of this article.
This bimonthly practice has become somewhat of a sacred ritual for me, simply because each commentary is an expression of who I am and what I am experiencing as your bishop.
You have been privy to my deepest emotions witnesses to my heart in the passing of my mother this summer, in my strong desire for our Conference and our churches to continue the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ; at times, I have even taken up space to expose my utter foolishness.
No matter what the topic of this column, I always seek to leave you with a message of hope and strength for the journey ahead.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to all those people I encounter who share positive comments about these articles. I cannot adequately express how delighted I am that so many of you find this space informative and uplifting. Some of you have told me you use what I write as devotional material, and others use it in circle meetings and other places. I pledge to continue sharing with you what God places on my heart, hoping that the words lift your spirits and feed your soul.
So, having said all of that, just how do I bring this year to a close?
How about an inventory? Not the kind of inventory where you simply count things, but a spiritual inventory, recalling recent places and times when my life intersected God's path.
This past year has been filled with such moments, and my life has been richly blessed. Let me share a few of them.
What I've seen and heard
One place where I saw God's powerful presence was in Mozambique, Africa, when the Council of Bishops recently met there. In spite of tremendous setbacks caused by war, colonialism, and poverty, the Methodist church in that country is flourishing.
On a Sunday morning, the bishops visited many of the local churches. I joined worship in a small church outside the capital city, Maputo. My experience was incredible!
In a moderate-size building, beneath a tin-and-straw roof, the spirit of God swept through that place like a mighty flame and ignited every person inside!
The congregation spoke Portuguese; our group spoke English. Yet there was no communication problem. The scene from the book of Acts about that Pentecost day in Jerusalem became vividly alive in that modern-day church. We sang, we danced, and we praised God for nearly two hours; when the bus came to pick us up, no one wanted to leave.
Truly, God was in that place.
I also am convinced God has been present in all the Oklahoma churches I've visited this year. As I look back on those rich experiences, I extend deep appreciation to all the congregations that allowed me to go into their sacred spaces and feel God's presence during worship and on other occasions.
They include: Broken Arrow, Sallisaw, McAlester-Grand Avenue, Stillwater-First, OKC-St. Luke's, Lawton-Centenary, Eakly, Hydro, Woodward-First, Weatherford-First, Elk City, Ada-First, OKC-Hope Community Fellowship, Ardmore-First, OKC-Village, Madill, Muskogee-First, Elgin, Duncan-First, Putnam City, Tulsa-Wesley, Tulsa-Harvard Avenue, Tulsa-Trinity, Norman-McFarlin, Sapulpa, Tulsa-Boston Avenue, Bartlesville-First, Enid-Christ, OKC-Clark, Boise City, Kenton, Guymon-First, Buffalo, Duncan-Stephens, Kingfisher, Fort Gibson, OU Wesley Foundation, Langston Wesley Foundation, Muskogee-Trinity, Bixby, Oktaha, Owasso, Claremore, Seminole, Tulsa-Christ, Piedmont, Wynnewood, Tecumseh, Tulsa-Centenary, Lawton-St. Paul's, Ardmore-Redemption, Wakita/Manchester, Lawton-First, and Edmond-Acts II.
We press on!
Those wonderful experiences are memories I will cherish for many years to come. But, as the Apostle Paul says, I now must leave those behind and press forward to those ahead of me. I do so in great expectation and anticipation that I will meet God and you in the encounters that await us.
The excitement and joy I receive from each visit, each handshake, each hug, and every slap on the back is worth more than you'll ever know.
May God bless you throughout this Advent and holiday season, and may we proclaim loudly and boldly what we have seen and heard as we press on to what God has in store for us.