Our pastors and lay delegates just completed three days of Annual Conference. This is a time where we get together with pastors and laity from all over Central Texas — from Cisco to Waxahachie, Alliance to Round Rock, Winters to Ennis — some 350 churches, over 400 pastors, almost 1,000 people in all. Each year we meet to pray, worship, plan, approve and vote the direction the Church will take the next year as we celebrate what has been done. It took me 30 minutes to get there each day. When the first Conferences were held 200 years ago, many of the pastors were circuit riders, often serving dozens of church communities, traveling for miles on horseback throughout the year. When they came together to Conference, it might take weeks to get there, each anticipating connecting with God and others who had made the same sacrifices that year. To get an idea of their sacrifices, the average age of death for circuit riders was 34; disease, exposure, hunger and occasionally violence on the open road might take their lives. In this season, the Methodist Church grew faster than any other church in the world, reaching more people, entering more of America’s new communities than any other church. The Methodist Church was birthed by the sacrifice of men and women who were willing to give their all for the sake of Jesus Christ.
The courage to do this was not very complicated. It was a firm conviction that Jesus was who he said he was, and to follow him was the highest privilege there could be. One circuit rider said it this way, “Grace in this life and glory in the next.” Today many Christians have a very different idea about their faith. Some people have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus is not one they are supposed to follow but that God sent the savior to follow them around, blessing their lives, cleaning up their messes and not bothering them with the details. They are much more interested in God blessing the lives they are living than living a life that God can bless.
I just came back from a volunteer training for our Vacation Bible Camp that begins on Monday. Around 400 people gathered to get ready for an amazing week — staff, leaders, teachers and many young people are committing one of the first weeks of summer vacation to God and to the children. It is an impressive and inspirational moment for me to get to talk to them a few minutes and see the tangible enthusiasm that is so evident. We will have around 1,400 on the campus this week making this event one of the largest of its kind in the nation. What may seem normal to us is supernormal to most churches. The theme for this VBC is “No Fear,” taken from the words in Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) It is a simple season where people follow Jesus by serving children and where children get a chance to receive a simple message, “No Fear,” as they are challenged to follow our Lord too.
Our lives may not call for riding a horse in a remote area of the west dealing with the elements and disease of that time, but it might call for us to sacrifice for kids, for our neighbor, for our family and for our community — not expecting Jesus to follow us but following Jesus as we work to serve one another and our world.
Please join me in praying for 2013 Vacation Bible Camp that begins on Monday — 1,400 adults and children, leaders and campers, centering around the words in the Bible, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)