"Every time I think of you—and I think of you often!—I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives." (I Corinthians 1:4, 6; The Message)
by bishop robert hayes jr.
If you open the New Testament to Paul’s writings, you will find in each one a joyous note of thanksgiving at the beginning and sometimes also at the conclusion. I marvel at the way he expresses his gladness (and often his concerns) with the work that is being done in those first-century churches. Even though he often is scripting under extreme hardship and persecution, he manages to always sound a note of hope, love, and joy, reminding his readers of the wonder and salvation he has found in Jesus Christ.
• His first letter to the church at Thessalonica is believed to be the oldest of all New Testament literature. Paul says, "We always give thanks to God for all of you."
• In his second epistle to Timothy he says, "I am grateful to God when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day."
• And, in the scripture quoted for this column, taken from 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, "I thank God for your lives … for the evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives."
I am so inspired by the way Paul shares his gratitude with all the followers of Jesus that I want to do the same in this column.
Although my retirement Aug. 31 is more than four months away, I know the days will quickly come and go, so I want to begin now expressing my great joy and sincere thanksgiving to all of you who have blessed the lives of Dee and me these last 12 years. I could spend every day writing of my appreciation and still not finish by the time I must leave you.
That’s how overwhelming this experience has been. I dare not wait until the final days to start.
Western Union once reported that, in any given year, several million dollars are spent simply adding "thank you" to telegrams.
Another company’s commercials focus on life moments that are "priceless."
Consider these words my million-dollar epistle of gratitude to you.
Indeed, what has happened to me among the people called United Methodists these last 12 years is beyond words. I cannot adequately describe the 10,000 experiences Dee and I have shared with you.
You have changed both our lives so much that it seems impossible for us to ever return to "normal" living because recollections of Oklahoma will forever shape our memories.
There was that night of July 16, 2004, in Corpus Christi, Texas, when my name and assignment to Oklahoma was announced near midnight. There were cheers, even some tears, and after the hugs and kisses, the reality sank in of packing boxes and moving north, across the Red River.
I knew few Oklahomans prior to my assignment here. Dee and I really were strangers, and yet you welcomed us as your own.
Thus I maintain that "I wasn’t born in Oklahoma but I got here as fast as I could!"
I’ve tried to give my service to you without reservation. From the very beginning I have felt that my calling and responsibility were to embody "the ministry of presence."
Put simply, I wanted to be present in your churches — preaching and observing your anniversaries; turning dirt beside you at your ground breakings and adding my prayers to yours in building dedications; attending workshops and meetings; taking part at weddings, baptisms, and, yes, the funerals of loved ones where both life and resurrection are celebrated.
There isn’t a church too small or too large that I haven’t been willing to visit. Especially in those sacred places, I have found not only God there to greet me but also so many of you, people strong in the faith of our ancestors, loyally carrying on the Kingdom business of shaping the next generation of followers.
And foremost in my memory of all those visits: my encounters with children.
Yes, the children! A smile comes to my face each time I open my desk drawer and sift the drawings and caricatures that kids have created for me when I’ve visited their churches.
I believe the children stand out in my mind because, each time I greet those wonderful creations of God, I stoop or kneel to meet their eye level — and in stooping or kneeling I literally am brought to the holy place where our servant God is.
In addition to the children, the youths of our churches and young adults in our Wesley Foundations always will hold special claim on my heart.
At their many summer camps and retreats that I’ve had the privilege to attend, I’ve seen firsthand the good hearts and capable hands of their generation for leading our Church forward.
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