By Paul Black
PEORIA – Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton recalled how his then 7-year-old son taught him something about not losing heart.
Keaton said during his bishop had a cross-cultural appointment for him but that he didn’t want to go.
“Much to my chagrin, the introduction to the committee went well,” Keaton recalled. “On the trip home, his son broke the silence with a few sniffles as if he was ready to cry.”
When asking his son what was wrong, the young boy said, “I’m losing my heart.” And then tears broke loose like the waters of Niagara Falls. “He wept outwardly and inwardly,” Keaton continued. “Fifteen to 20 minutes later, Jon said, ‘Mom and Dad, I’m getting my heart back again.’”
“My mind said if my little boy can deal with a major shift in his life in 15 to 20 minutes, surely I can do it given this so-called God knowledge at my disposal. To do so, I had to walk by faith not by sight.”
Utilizing the text from II Corinthians 4:1-6, Keaton used the opening worship and his episcopal address to note Paul’s encouragement to “not lose heart.”
“Recipients of God’s mercy and ministry ought not lose heart,” Keaton said. It’s a great antidote for people of faith who grow weary of fights, differences and struggles in the church.”
Keaton noted the Corinthian church was growing, but that trouble was robbing them of their courage, vision and hope. “Instead of a beam-like focus on their mission, rival groups are dividing the church,” Keaton noted. “The struggle for unity of the church is not new. It has a 2,000-year history.”
Spotlighting several IGRC churches that are experiencing growth, Keaton asked, “do we have the audacity of hope in the face of statistics not many like to hear?”
Answering critics who might be saying the Bishop is looking at the challenges of today’s church “with rose-colored glasses,” Keaton listed the questions of criticism: “Are hard questions of decline being avoided? Haven’t we flunked the course on church growth in the past 50 years? Haven’t no professions of faith become the new normal in too many of our local churches,” Keaton asked. “Doesn’t the 2015 conference legislation listing discontinuation of 10 churches concern the Bishop?”
“(The response is) yes, it does but I’m not called to give up, put up, shut up, lay up or pin up statistics on non-growth in the face of the never-changing Great Commission,” Keaton said. “Ministry with our Lord is for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish Jesus Christ unto death do us part not losing heart over trials and tribulations in the body of Christ.
Keaton noted people are recipients of God’s mercy. “We embrace the belief that God never gets so disgusted with humankind’s sin and sinfulness that God turns off the spigot of divine goodness, turns off the spigot of amazing grace, turns off the claim of the psalmist, ‘goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,’” he said.
And one final motivation for not losing heart is because God did not give up on you. “Out of his life experience, Paul spoke these words,” Keaton said. “God transformed his life. He was brash, arrogant and angry. He was the epitome of a hater and a terrorist. God did not give up on Paul; Paul did not give up on God.