By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”—Acts 11:11-17
When Simon Peter chose to listen to the Holy Spirit and go to Joppa, he didn’t know what he would encounter when he got there. Much to his surprise, what he found reassured him that not only was the Holy Spirit with him but God had even gone ahead of him to prepare the way.
As we take our next faithful steps, let’s choose to follow where God is leading. Even though so much has changed in the world, our goal, our purpose, hasn’t changed. We may have to approach the work of making disciples differently than we have before, but we know now that we can do that. We can choose to make disciples and transform our communities wherever we are. We can, and we will.
I have a friend who is one of those people who is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone asks him how he is doing, he will reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!”
My friend is a natural motivator. When he was asked about how he could actually stay positive all the time, he replied, “Each morning, I wake up and say to myself, ‘You have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood, or you can choose to be in a bad mood.’ I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim, or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaints, or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive. Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the stuff, every situation is a choice. You choose how to react. You choose how people affect your mood.
“The bottom line is that it is your choice how you live your life.”
One day this positive, effervescent guy was involved in a serious accident that required 18 hours of surgery, time in intensive care and the placement of rods in his back. The next time I saw him, he was still the positive friend I’d always known. He told me that even in the midst of the pain and trauma he experienced, he still remembered he had choices. He could choose to live or to die. When the paramedics were wheeling him to the operating room, he told them he wanted to be treated as someone who was going to live, not someone who was dead.
Every day, we have the choice to live fully.
Simon Peter did not give up, step aside and move out of God’s way. Instead, he chose to get on board. He followed God’s leading, even into something new and previously unknown. Peter made a choice to trust God and commit to the work of spreading the Good News. Peter remembered what the Lord had said and realized that God was doing a new work, but it was not a work God had not already promised to do. God aligned Peter’s memory with God’s word for the purpose of making more disciples and transforming the world.
During the 2021 South Carolina Annual Conference session, lay and clergy delegates approved the adoption of four unique priorities as our next faithful steps into God’s preferred future. We have prayed, pivoted and persisted in taking the next faithful step. We desire for our focus to align with God’s purpose for us. The Four Priorities represent our choice to live fully.
These Four Priorities are 1) developing leaders, 2) engaging our communities, 3) connecting with and growing disciples and 4) measuring and evaluating current realities and missional possibilities. The Four Priorities are our plan to seek the mission of the church to make disciples and transform our communities.
Just as God gave the Gentiles the gift of the Holy Spirit, so too, God has given us the gift of God’s power and presence, equipping us for the ministry to which we are called.
The Four Priorities equip us for our next faithful steps in ministry as God’s people called United Methodist here in South Carolina. They give us clear areas of focus as we seek ways to make disciples and transform our communities.
In times of change, such as this year of pandemic that we have experienced, what if we were to offer new questions rather than searching for a new “right” answer. Changing the conversation can move us toward a different way of thinking about our future possibilities.
I believe that the people of South Carolina will rise to this challenge.
And remember, just as God was with Peter, we have faith that God will be with us as we take our next faithful steps into the future.