An ecumenical conference in downtown Tyler on Saturday featured rich biblical teaching on how God brings about change in those who seek to follow Jesus Christ and on fostering and building relationships among various denominations.
Trey Yarbrough, one of the organizers, attributed the turnout of attendees from such a wide area to interest in hearing Richard Foster, an internationally known Christian writer and speaker, and a hunger for different churches to come together united in Christ.
First Baptist Church, Christ Episcopal Church and Marvin United Methodist Church jointly hosted the conference at Marvin Methodist. It was open to the entire community although space limited the number of registrations accepted.
“We wanted to have it downtown because we feel the downtown is an important bridge to every part of the community,” Yarbrough said.
The idea for the Renovation Conference was that renovation involves talking about change from the inside out and what it means to follow Jesus Christ as a genuine disciple, Yarbrough said.
Renovation means followers of Jesus Christ developing a relationship with him and coming together to become more like him, breaking down barriers between denominations, ethnic and racial groups, according to information on the Renovation website.
“We hope this ecumenical effort will foster and build relationships among and between the various churches and among and between Christian people from wherever they come from,” Yarbrough said.
Foster spoke on “The Transforming Power of Grace.” Afterward, representatives of four churches engaged in a panel discussion of lively dialogue. Later, Foster spoke about prayer ministry. There were several other conference sessions, with speakers often citing scripture and writings of great theologians.
Smith’s presentation was titled “Renovation of the Heart: Becoming Like Jesus in the City.”
Between the speaker sessions were worship, singing and lunch.
In response to the Renovation Conference, conferees were invited to participate in “The Great Day of Service” 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 23 to minister to the community in love. People of all ages and all skill levels can serve Christ that day, a spokeswoman said, through whichever project they pick, such as cleaning, painting bookcases, working at East Texas Food Bank and baking.
Mary Steadman, one of the conference attendees, said, “I think it’s a wonderful conference; I’m enjoying it immensely.”
Another attendee Randy Cook said, “It’s great to see all the churches interacting from downtown and to learn and to grow and be more Christ-like. It’s a great opportunity.”
In the first session, Foster asked the crowd, “Do you know where you are going? Do you understand the goal of the Christian life, which is the formation, the conformation, the transformation of the human personality into the likeness of Jesus Christ?”
He told listeners, “You, me, we are predestined to be like Jesus and
God is intent upon that goal in our lives.”
Foster noted that Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote about God’s intent to bring people into conformity to the way of Christ. Foster urged remembering the words of Peter in the Bible encouraging Christians to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The grace of God is an active, working thing for the transformation of the human personality, Foster reiterated “We pray by grace; we get up in the morning by grace. It is all this amazing grace.”
The intentional means of grace covers the classical disciplines of the spiritual life that Christians have used for centuries in which they are enabled to bring the human body and place it before God as a living sacrifice, Foster said.
People must learn there is a means for growing in grace — simple disciplines of life to place who we are before God, he said.
In written material handed to conferees, he cited as examples meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, confession, guidance and celebration.
Christians are learning, Foster said, “to bring our body, our mind, our spirit … all that we are … and place it before God.”
Learning to do that is a progression in the spiritual life, Foster said. He suggested to begin small but urged conferees to be sure to begin. Joggers don’t start in a marathon and “you don’t do that in spiritual life,” he said.
“We do fall down,” Foster said, comparing learning to grow in grace to a young child learning to walk who falls down and gets up over and over until he takes the first step,
“That’s the intentional means of grace,” Foster said. “It does not depend on the instrument but upon the grace of God.”
Jesus asks in the Bible “to give you a life that begins now and continues on through all eternity,” Foster told the crowd. “You have an eternal destiny in God’s great universe. We learn under the care and love of God to grow in grace.”
To work on that, he said, people need to become an apprentice of Jesus, someone who is learning to think like him and do the things that he would do if he were in today’s culture. If people achieve a consistent pattern of practices, over time the inner life will begin to change and then that inner life in turn naturally leads to an outer conformity and practice that would be what a follower of Christ would do, Smith said.
“We have to find ways to help people become apprentices of Jesus, disciples of his, who are arranging our lives around him, his practices and his ideas,” Smith said.
That approach leads to making Christians “very peculiar people … odd in the culture we live in,” Smith said.
“If you become someone who is living with Jesus and doing the things that he said to do, you will naturally be an activist for the kingdom of God,” he said. “You will do crazy things like actually tell the truth, learn to bless people who curse you and love them and pray for them and not use judgments as a form of condemnation.”
The number of Christians has risen substantially since A.D. 40 when there were 1,000 and the reason for the incredible increase was the winsome lives of Christians, a people who actually loved one another and cared for one another, Smith said.
Christians ought to be mal-adjusted to the greed, fear and bigotry of the world, Smith said.
“It takes courage to go against the grain and become a nonconformist; it takes courage to wake up and stay awake instead of engaging in complacent slumber,” Smith said.
“When we (Christians) are at our best, we are maladjusted to the things that this world is adjusted to. We stand up and say that is not right … we go about doing things differently.”
Christians become social activists, Smith said. “The heart of it is Christ in us and we see Christ in the people in the world and we love them as a result of that. When we are at our best, that’s what we do and we do it because it’s the way our Lord lived.”
The apostle Paul advised Christians to be kind to one another, Smith pointed out. He suggested conferees to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one to another as Christ has forgiven them and to welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed them.
As Christians enter into that life, Smith said, “we serve, we forgive, we encourage … that’s how we make an impact on a city. It’s the acts of small service and those make an impact over time.”
Through this inside out change and living in the kingdom as an apprentice, Smith said, “we make a difference and the world notices and rejoices.”
Smith told the crowd, “You have a unique mission that only you can fill. It’s not the same for everyone. Put yourself at the disposal of God and say here I am. He will transform that into something that blesses others and you will make your city rejoice.”