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Closing message at Presbyterian older adult conference: ‘Draw close to God’

Ray Jones encourages attendees to awaken to their purpose

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Ray Jones sings in worship at the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries conference. Photo by Paul Seebeck

ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. – In the closing message at the 2018 Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network (POAMN) conference, titled “Savoring the Journey,” the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones encouraged attendees to awaken to their purpose by drawing close to God.

Jones, acting director of Theology, Formation & Evangelism for Presbyterian Mission, attended the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania, earlier this year.

“I wish I had the time to tell you how transformative it was, how it helped to me to wake up to my purpose again,” he said.

Jones said he learned so much from church leaders from around the globe as Christians from Scandinavia, Europe, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania were all together. During a plenary message on transforming discipleship, he realized how alive the gospel is for church leaders.

“It was all about how discipleship is not just head knowledge but a way of life in Jesus that leads to justice and sharing the hope we have. And we cannot follow Jesus unless we are close.”

Jones preached from Luke 5:1–11, in which Jesus appeared to his disciples who had fished all night and caught nothing, telling them to put nets out again. Because they were learning to follow and trust, they did as he commanded — and their nets were completely full.

“It was a glimpse,” Jones said, “into the full life that Jesus came to bring.”

Astonished, Peter fell to his knees. This was power unlike anything he’d ever seen. Jones said that power, which does not control or destroy but comes “from fierce love,” points to “the very essence of the meaning of life.”

“Fishing was their life’s work. They knew what was best, yet they’d caught nothing. Doesn’t that sound familiar?” Jones said to appreciative laughter.

“All the church stuff we do doesn’t matter if we don’t trust and draw close to the one who started it all.”

After this haul, Jesus tells the disciples that from now on, “you will be fishing for people.” Right after that, in Luke, the first person they encounter is a man suffering from leprosy — a disease that in Jesus’ day cut a person off from any community of support.

Lepers had to live outside the walls of the village. If a person approached them, they’d have to yell out “leprosy, leprosy” so that no one would draw close to them.

“This person was in complete isolation,” Jones said, “yet Jesus drew near to him and touched him. What is untouchable is now restored, with full access to the community.”

Jones admitted that he wished he’d figured out earlier in life the significance of drawing close, but he believes it takes much of our lives to come to this place of knowing and discovering our true purpose.

At an early conference workshop, titled “Engaging the Broken Heart of Jesus,” Jones asked, “What is the biggest threat facing the church today?”

Conference-goers shouted out words such as “apathy,” “inertia” and “fear.”

Jones paused, admitting that the question he asked didn’t come from him — it was asked by an Anglican priest from Kenya at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Tanzania.

“What we just heard from you was similar to answers from around the world,” he said.

“But we also heard words like, ‘militant Islam,’ which came from a leader in a Muslim-majority African nation — and ‘slave trade,’ which came from a woman in Kenya working with female refugees.

“The bishop nodded his head. And then he said, ‘I believe all of these things are true. But the enemy of the church is Christianity devoid of Christ’s spirit. Its followers love the church, but they do not love their God.’ ”

Hearing this, Jones felt connected again to his life purpose and mission — to encourage others to draw close to God through Jesus who “showed us what it is to be human and who is to be God.”

“As we leave Zephyr Point, may we take this with us,” he concluded. “Knowing our lives are much more than senior discounts and retirement. Knowing that we have learned the secret of life, drawing close to God — and drawing close to others. This is possible because God always draws close to us — accepting us as we are. Daring us to trust and draw close Christ’s spirit — and then being aware and sharing this kind of hope with others.”

The 2018 POAMN conference concluded Friday, June 8, at Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center.

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