Bishop Beard's New Year's Message 2017
Happy New Year!
Most of you are now aware that it does not take a lot to get me excited. In fact, I live on the edge of easy excitability. All it takes to get my motor running are two probable twins of promise -- potential and possibility. Those two typically send me into elation mode. So now that I have confessed my impending slant toward being positive you will not be surprised that I am overly optimistic about the New Year.
The year 2017 holds the possibility of becoming one of the greatest years in the history of the IGRC. I believe we are poised for a great REVIVAL. Yes, I said "REVIVAL!"
The problem with using words that have been around the theological block is that they often have connotations that carry a multitude of baggage that may not be intended or descriptive of the user's objective.
Here is what I mean by revival. A Revival is an awakening and a return to the primary call and commission of Christ by those professing to be committed Disciples. It is a return and a recovery of our first love (Revelation 2:4-5).
A revival becomes necessary when we realize that we are in a state of relapse. The prodigal son had an "ah-ha" moment and the Bible says in Luke 15:17, "He came to his senses." It was his realization that his prior blessings had disappeared, because of his own negligence and that he was now in need of recovery and restoration. The situation was so far beyond the prodigal son's ability to repair and restore that he knew he had to count on the goodness and mercy that his father displayed. His father, he reasoned, provided sufficiently even for the hired hands. This boy was so bent and broken that his capacity to seek full recovery was limited.
The good news is that God, our loving parent, is waiting patiently for each of us to reach the point where revival becomes a possibility. For me, the turning point in the story of the prodigal child occurs in Luke 15: 20a. Most translations read, "And he started out." Revival cannot begin until we actually "start out." You can never get where you need to go until you get started!
A "New Year" is often greeted with a desire to make a variety of resolutions. Some folks resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, stop drinking, go to church, be nicer, or to "become a better person." All of those are worthy pledges and noteworthy intentions. Resolve, however well-intended, never meets revival until there is a turn-a-round (revival) in behavior.
"And he started out" means that the wheels towards restoration actually moved in harmony with the planned resolution. God seeing both desire and discipline was able to now become a full partner in the act of recovery. God simply being God was able to be extravagant and radical in pouring out forgiveness and love.
The year 2017 has great potential for a revival of epic magnitude within the IGRC. I believe we are on the brink of a major move of God. This new move will be triggered as individuals and congregations put Jesus back into first place. As Jesus is elevated to his rightful place and we experience personal and corporate rebirth, renewal and recovery will happen.
One of the great things about a God-sized revival is that it has an effect on communities, States, and Nations. The words God spoke to me shortly after I was assigned to the IGRC were, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people" (Proverbs 14:34 NIV).
I believe God is waiting for us, like the prodigal, to come to our senses and express our repentance and our need to be restored. My hope is that we will not wait until we are ankle deep in the pig pen before we come to our senses.
Our communities and our nation are filled with folks that are crying out for relief and hope. We cannot give what we do not have. It is only when we trust Jesus to forgive, cleanse, and renew us that revival becomes more than an unbridled resolution. Once we have experienced personal and corporate resuscitation we can share the life giving wind of God's Spirit with those around us. As the flight attendants remind us, "put your own oxygen mask on before trying to assist others."
Let me remind you of my constant prayer, "Lord, send the gentle wind of your Holy Spirit to blow upon the embers of my heart and fan me into flames for Jesus?" Will 2017 be the year?
Bishop Frank J. Beard
Week of Prayer Jan. 22-28I am asking that the Illinois Great Rivers Conference set aside the week of Jan. 22-28, 2017, as a Week of Prayer for the Way Forward Commission and its work.
The week selected is part of a church-wide call to prayer in 2017 and 2018 as the Commission moves forward its work. I have covenanted with my fellow bishops to pray 15 minutes each day for the Commission. The second phase is involving each individual annual conference in prayer for a week.
Birmingham Area Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett told a gathering in Jacksonville, Fla. That the prayer emphasis was two-fold. "We are praying that God help us to more effectively fulfill the mission of the church. And we are praying to be one in Christ," she said.
The selection of the week of Jan. 22 was strategic in that events inside and outside the church have called for people to be united. The week will be the first week in which a new president will be leading the country following a very contentious campaign. And the week overlaps the Week of Prayer and Christian Unity, a worldwide ecumenical focusing on unity within the Christian faith.