Tonight marked one of my favorite nights of the year.  I piled into an auditorium in Athens, Georgia with a few thousand other people to witness a milestone for several people called into ministry.  Tonight, being the first night of annual conference, was the night of the ordination and commissioning service for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

I love this service.  Last year was my year - Bishop Davis and other fellow bishops laid hands on me and instructed me to take authority as an Elder in the church.  My lay leader asked me tonight how well I remember last year and I told her that when I'm old and my mind is gone (I really hope not) there are a few events that I will remember and that is definitely one of them.

Tonight, I watched two of my very good friends, Stephen Walters and Geoff Grubbs come to the kneelers and the same authority was conveyed to them by the grace of God.  I'm excited for both of them, as well as the other friends and colleagues that took up this call to ministry and God's authority tonight.. 

As meaningful as witnessing this was, it wasn't the most meaningful part of the night for me.  Bishop Wandabula from the East Africa Conference delivered the sermon and despite his broken english, the message was clear and went straight to my heart.

The text that our bishop, Bishop Watson read and Bishop Wandabula preached was from Jeremiah 1.  This is the text that has challenged me and inspired me for the last two years and it's the call story from the Bible that I most associate with my own call to ministry.

You've either read my posts about Mt. Bethel, or if you know me, you've heard me talk about it at length.  This church is at what I would consider an important juncture in it's history (but what moment in the life of the church isn't of the utmost importance?).  As we stand at the crossroads, I see two distinct possibilities for this church:  one involves greatness - reaching the lost and caring for the least and seeing God's church prosper - the other involves defeat - continued complacency and eventually the agony of death.  While I would love to see the former and not the latter and while I would love to be the next Mike Slaughter or Kevass Harding, I know that the best I can do is to do what God tells me to do and say what God tells me to say (Jeremiah 1:7).

I find hope and comfort in the way that God called Jeremiah.  Never did God call Jeremiah, or anyone else for that matter, to do what he asked alone.  Simply put, God asks to use us as tools for transforming the world, one life at a time - the actual transformation and change is God's responsibility.  When I forget this, the pressure of ministry is crushing and the desire to see success is overwhelming. 

I was reminded of this tonight in the ordination service and also earlier by another good friend.  Stephen's brother, David Walters was asking me about Mt. Bethel.  I told him that I wasn't sure how things are going, but that I know I'm hearing from God and that I'm being faithful to what I'm hearing.  Without hesitation, he reminded me that my faithfulness was all that mattered (thanks David).

So I will continue to be true to my calling.  I truly believe that, like Jeremiah, God has appointed me "over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jer. 1:10).  I don't know yet what needs to be uprooted, torn down, destroyed, or overthrown.  I don't know yet what will be built or planted, but I'm anxious to see.  I continue to be hopeful and to pray that others will hear God's leading and pursue his plans for Mt. Bethel and for the world.

It is clergy and laypeople that are faithful and obedient that are changing East Africa right now.  It is the obedient that will change the world through God's power.  It is the faithful that will see the Kingdom come and not just recite some words about it when they pray the Lord's Prayer.

Some things have already been broken down and uprooted at Mt. Bethel.  New things have been planted and plans are being drawn up to build new things.  I don't know how people will respond when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, so I don't know how things will turn out, but I know where I stand and why I do what I do.

How are you answering the call?  Have you answered it at all?  God has a great plan for us, but the eventual outcome is most definitely up to YOU!


Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Fire

Exodus 13:21-22(niv) - “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire left its place in front of the people.”

God had spoken through Moses and through seven plagues, Pharoah relented, and the Israelites left Egypt by way of the Red Sea. They had been living in Egypt for generations – since the time of Joseph – long enough for the new king to not know about Joseph and his contributions (Exodus 1:8). As they were given their freedom from slavery, they went into the wilderness. This was a place they hadn’t been before. It was a totally new experience for them and probably very scary. In Exodus 14, we’re told that the Israelites, already in the wilderness, began to ask Moses why he had brought them to the desert to die!

Last night, something new started at Mt. Bethel.  We have formed a Core Leadership Team, comprised of 13 men and women - some in official leadership positions, others not, some "experienced" and some young, some long-time members, others not yet members.  It's beautiful to see them all gathered together and talking about the future of their church.  As I listened to wisdom and desire from each teammate, I felt as if I was reliving Pentecost - the Spirit was moving and was at work!

In the next few months, this new thing that has begun will gradually unfold in the congregation and the community.  The whole church will work to discern its priorities and God's vision for the future.  The next several months, and perhaps years, will be for us like it was for the Israelites entering the wilderness.  In some regards, I really hope it is (though I could do without people asking me why I've taken them out to the desert to die!).  We will find ourselves venturing out into uncharted territory.  It will be scary at times, and it will certainly be stressful for everyone.  BUT it will be exciting!  We will go places we never could have imagined as we go down paths we didn't know existed.  God will be with us and we will have one task that surpasses all others: to follow that pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.

I think it's interesting that even though the journey was scary, stressful, and hard, God chose to lead people in this form.  Think about it: what do you need when you travel in the desert?  The coolness of shade in the day and warmth and light at night.  This means that even if the Israelites resisted, and they certainly did, they were dependent on following God for their own survival.  Hmmmmm....  Anybody else making any connections here?

I'm thrilled about the promise that's waiting at the end of the journey.  The hope, the spiritual prosperity, and the satisfaction that wait are great motivation for me.  If something is going to happen at Mt. Bethel, it began last night.  Stay tuned as it all unfolds.