On June 10-13, Bishop Swanson presided over the 2007 Holston Annual Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C. The following column was published in the last-day edition of The Call's onsite newspaper.
IS TIME TO LEAVE LAKE JUNALUSKA and head back home. I am writing this
article on May 28, 2007, with a view toward the future. I have no idea
what will transpire at this year's Annual Conference but I do believe
God has a vision, a desire as to what he would have us do. I believe it was expressed in those days after the initial Advent of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:42-47 tells us:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This was a movement of people energized by a spirit-filled joy that burst forth into devotion, worship, and service. People who encountered these believers were moved to respect and then join them. I hold fast to a belief that God continues to desire this of Jesus' disciples even though we are divided by 2,000 years, a different culture, and more challenging circumstances.
In his book, “Put On Your Oxygen Mask First,” Bill Easum tells this story: A woman sat across from me, next to her husband, whom we were interviewing for a church planting position. Her comments that day sent chills up my spine. “Whatever my husband decides will be fine with me as long as he doesn't wind up like my father, who was a pastor for 40 years. The last half of his ministry turned him into a bitter, spent man. Somewhere along the way the demands of self-centered congregations robbed him of his dreams and he lost sight of his call. I want my husband to do whatever will allow him to retire with the same zeal and love for his call he has now.”
Easum goes on to say: The key to authentic and effective Christian leadership and living is not found in what we do as much as who we've been called to be and what we are on the inside.
I am convinced, like Easum, that God desires us to be the people he has prepared us to be. The Holy Spirit has anointed us to see this Christian thing as something about the mission and not about us. The early church was not caught up in the things that capture us. They were willing to be taught. They enjoyed communion. They lived to pray. They were impressed with God's work among them. They shared a single purpose, rejoiced together, gave praise to God, were supported by the community, and served as magnets to non-believers.
I pray we will return home determined to serve God as this early church did. I hope we have been conferencing in such a way that we'll be focused on the mission as we return home. I hope that, after Annual Conference, people in your communities will see a glow on your face. I believe we can start that movementright here and right now. I believe it, because this is what God desires!