BY BISHOP JIMMY NUNN
It has been a year since I crossed the Red River and came to Oklahoma from northwest Texas. I quickly found that the greatest strength of the Church in Oklahoma is its people.
It has been a joy to work with highly competent leaders, visit vibrant churches, and experience creative ministries that serve people beyond the local churches. I continue to witness how we care for each other and reach out to others in mission and service.
In every encounter with the United Methodists of Oklahoma, I have been blessed.
Recently I opened and read the letter of the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi. As I read, I was filled with deep gratitude for you who carry forward the work for Christ in Oklahoma. I echo what Paul wrote: "I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy" (Philippians 1:4).
I could not function in this role without offering my prayer that is filled with gratitude for you.
Because of the faith and hope in Christ that I see shining out through your life, I am strengthened in mine. That truly blesses my efforts to serve in such a time as this.
Like you, I wrestle with U.S. society’s shift away from cultural norms that were friendlier to the church, even centered in religious community life.
The rift between church and secular culture increases. Our apprehension grows as that gap widens. We are alarmed as our churches experience chronic declines in regular attendance. That comes as no surprise — but with our anxiety also comes a deadly, hidden virus (to borrow a computer term).
Fear acts like a virus secreted in an email attachment.
It’s a genuine emotion that evokes valid responses. But it provides a horrible context within which to live out a calling.
In her TED Talk, Karen Thompson Walker observes that fear is a subconscious form of storytelling. The stories have characters, and the characters are us. The stories have suspense and ask, "What will happen next?"
Fear increases when suspense builds. In growing distress, we wonder, "What will happen to us?"
Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from a prison cell.
He surely had something to fear.
Yet as he lived that experience he encouraged his audience to "adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus ... who emptied himself by taking the form of a servant ... and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death" (Philippians 2:5, 7, 8).
Rather than live in fear of what might be, I choose to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The ministry of a Christian is not my ministry; it is a gift given by God to each of us for others. The ministry of a Christian is not a program, but a practice of serving others as the hands and feet of Jesus.
We serve — and serve without expectations of reward or status.
In the words of the Apostle Paul: "It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12,14).
Live not in the fear of what might happen; rather, live in the faith and hope that Jesus gives.