Again, for the first time
"Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born (again) when he is old?' Jesus said to him, "Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born anew.' The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit."
-John 3:4, 7-8
By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
I'm not a big fan of television commercials. When I do have the luxury of sitting down and watching a good show or sporting event, I'm known in my household as "the fastest remote controller west of Poteau."
When most commercials are on, I'm scrolling up and down the channels with the device, doing my best to see everything else.
Yet, there is one commercial that halts my channel surfing. It's a cereal ad; people claim they haven't tasted corn flakes since they were children. In this age of cinnamon-toasted, marshmallow-filled, raisin-packed, chocolate-donut-shaped cereals, it may seem that plain corn flakes don't stand a chance.
But when the person on-camera bites into the crunchy corn flakes, the announcer says: "Come back to corn flakes and taste them again for the first time."
I like that line: "Again, for the first time."
That's a rather unusual way of re-introducing yourself to something or someone with whom you're already familiar. It may sound a bit confusing, but it goes to the heart of this article.
With our yearly gathering "commonly known as annual conference" just ending, and a new conference year only a few days old, I feel as if I've been given a new assignment to a place I know so very well.
As I sat in historic Boston Avenue United Methodist Church a few weeks ago, listening to all the reports from all the ministries affecting the lives of people in Oklahoma and around the world, I saw firsthand the scope of the Conference and the Church.
In the plethora of information presented on the floor of our assembly, I witnessed for myself the power of the Holy Spirit at work in people willing to give themselves totally to the cause of Christ.
I looked out on a vast number of delegates, laity and pastors, and each day and night I saw people filling the pews from all walks of life, committed to one God, one Savior, and one cause: the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ!
Watching all this unfold, day after day, gave me a newfound confidence and a renewed resolve to continue the work God has sent me here to do. Our annual conference inspired me again to move forward with the work of transforming Oklahoma and the world.
Ultimately, in a very real sense, being at the conference changed me.
It made me resolve to roll up my sleeves, get out of my comfort zone, and go back again "almost like that first time" and surrender myself to a movement of the Spirit that has every possibility of changing countless thousands of lives! Being reborn.
That's why the story of Nicodemus is so timely, even crucial, for the days ahead. It is a story of renewal, a story of rebirth.
It represents the way I feel about the Oklahoma Conference and about my ministry here with you.
God has given me a vision of what our Conference can be, and God has shown me that we can accomplish everything we set out to do if we commit ourselves totally and completely to His will.
Yes, we can grow our churches!
Yes, we can continue to make a positive difference in the lives of people, especially those who are the least, the lost, and the marginalized!
Yes, we can revive and restore and "indeed" we can make disciples of Jesus Christ if we set that as our goal and ask God to be our guide!
Do not marvel when I tell you the Oklahoma Conference can be the best conference in the entire United Methodist Church. Don't doubt me when I say we can meet challenges and overcome problems that face us.
I know we can do it, because "so it is with every one who is (re)born of the Spirit."
Yes, we can!
Therefore, with so much to do and so little time to do it all, I feel a formal introduction is in order: My name is Bob Hayes Jr. I am your new bishop! And in this, my second year, I am coming back to Oklahoma for the very first time!