"The food that keeps us going is that we do the will of the One who sent us, finishing the work He started." (John 4:34)
By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
A few days from now, the gavel will sound, and the 168th session of the Oklahoma Annual Conference will begin! Our theme, "The Plan: A Bridge to the Future," is an obvious reference to our Strategic Plan. We continue pursuing its goals: to invest in leadership, grow fruitful congregations, and promote ministry partnerships among our 528 congregations.
I look forward to the stories that will reveal where we’ve recently been on our journey, as well as to the time we will spend determining future routes. We will share in times of worship—celebrating the lives of faithful Christian servants no longer with us, honoring those transitioning from active to retired ministry status, and laying hands on those to be commissioned and ordained. An added bonus this year will be the election of delegates to the 2012 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
In short, the annual conference bridges the fruitful harvest and the planting of new seeds that we pray will flourish.
As these days of glancing back and looking forward quickly approach, I cannot escape these questions:
Have we made a difference?
Have we honored God with our work, our stewardship, and our aspirations?
Have we done the best we can to make disciples of Jesus Christ?
Have we reached out to the least, the last, the lost, and the disenfranchised?
Have we enhanced our spiritual lives in the process?
There are three unmistakable signs when the work we are called to do makes a difference. I describe them here as we prepare for our annual assessment. I consider them "The Marks of a Living Conference."
The first mark is the understanding that we must be a Believing Conference! We always must strive to be a fellowship of people of all ages who believe in Jesus Christ and who are committed to making personal, active responses to his call on our lives. There can be NO substitute for a personal faith that springs from a one-on-one encounter with the Risen Lord.
The work to which God calls us can and does make a difference. We must believe love conquers hate and, through us, goodwill overcomes evil!
As a Believing Conference, we must be a fellowship—representing every race and color of God’s creation—bound by a common faith, actively seeking to know Christ, and believing God has a plan for our lives here and now as well as beyond.
So that we will understand, God gave us the very best God had—Jesus Christ—and the only requirement placed upon us was that we must believe! (John 3:16)
The second mark of a living conference is rooted in my conviction that we must be a Worshipping Conference! Scripture proclaims this great truth for us: "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth." For me, worship will be the centerpiece of our gathering those few days. It represents the holiest time of our fellowship. We welcome into our midst the Spirit of the Lord God of Hosts—a spirit that enables us to look beyond divisions, that empowers us to move outside comfort zones, that reminds us we are changed when we truly open ourselves to the Power that awaits us.
Only in worship was the presence of the Holy Spirit made known to those early disciples. That same power is ours today if we will seek it in our worship.
Finally, a living conference is a Witnessing Conference! The Gospel clearly places upon us the obligation to spread the Good News so others may hear and come to believe.
By our witness and service, we show the relevance of our faith. People all over the world know of the Oklahoma Conference because we understand that we must live our faith by reaching out to people wherever they are, in whatever condition.
Because there is no limit to the love of God, there can be no limit to the scope of our witness.
Our annual conference offerings will aid three mission projects worthy of our witness through stewardship. I invite your church to participate.
If we are a Believing, Worshipping, and Witnessing Conference, then we are alive for God, gloriously alive. Then the answer is supplied to my questions. Oklahoma United Methodists, have we made a difference?