God Never Leaves Us Alone

30 09 2010

by Margie Miller
Coffeyville, Kansas, USA

Last November my husband, Bob, and I received our flu shots from the local hospital, where we planned to become chaplains. Within a week, his left arm swelled. We assumed it was a reaction to the injection.

A couple of weeks went by, and the swelling persisted. Finally we decided he needed to see the doctor. She felt it was an infection and began treating it with antibiotics.

After three weeks of antibiotics—each prescription stronger then the last—there was no response. So she decided my husband should have an ultrasound, an X-ray, and a CT scan.

Those tests showed a dramatically enlarged lymph node in his armpit. She then arranged for a biopsy, but the surgeon was hesitant. He would need to cut deep into the armpit to reach the enlarged lymph node. Bob was diabetic, and the doctor said the incision would be slow to heal.

Bob felt it must not be too serious if the doctor did not encourage him to have the biopsy. So the doctor recommended a nurse practitioner who was trained in lymph edema massage. Bob underwent treatment for a month, but it did not respond.

Next we went to a dermatologist in a larger community. That doctor gave him the name of a physician who would do an ultrasound and a needle biopsy. The radiologist immediately recognized it as a form of cancer but could not tell us what type until the biopsy came back. In the meantime, we saw an oncologist who ordered a PET scan and radiation treatments.

We had planned a celebration for his 80th birthday. I invited all our friends to surprise him with birthday cards, and he received 140.

Following the PET scan and three radiation treatments, he fell in the night and was unable to get up. The next day—the same day of the PET scan results—the doctor ordered hospice care.

He lasted eight days and died the day before his birthday.

It was an extremely aggressive form of squamous cell carcinoma of the lung. During those eight days, all three of our children came home to be with him. During that week, we cooked no meals. Instead, our friends brought in food, and they came to visit.

Following Bob’s death, almost every day, friends called to check on us. After the children went home, several friends asked me to dinner. I was inundated with 149 cards and letters.

Two weeks later, 130 persons packed into our small sanctuary to help us celebrate his life. The outpouring of love has not abated.

How do we feel God’s love? We feel it as we are made aware of God’s loving presence right next to us in the best of our times and the worst of our times.

And we feel it through the love of friends. God never leaves us alone.

World Service Corps Expands Volunteers’ Horizons

28 09 2010

by Patty Wilson
Herald Team

World Service Corps recently sent 18 volunteers into cultures they never had experienced to offer ministry and service.

They returned with a strong appreciation for the beauty, people, and experiences.

After training in May, the volunteers headed from Independence, Missouri, to South Korea, Philippines, South America, Pacific Islands, Zambia, Canada, Mid-Atlantic USA Mission Center, and Prairie Bluffs USA Mission Center. They were to live in these places throughout their service—two months for most. Volunteers then returned home to share about ministry affected by those they met and served with. The experience made a dramatic impact.

“Africa is the most beautiful place I have ever been, and I love all the people who are here!” said Colleen Brian, who served in Zambia. The experience also impressed Andrew Nilsen, who went to South America.

“My WSC placement was an amazing opportunity to experience the loving, international presence of Community of Christ by living and working with incredible individuals in their native culture and language,” Nilsen said. “It was equal parts eye-opening, challenging, and inspiring!”

And Brandon Stanley used the opportunity to learn more about the people of South America.
“I didn´t go to convert,” he said. “I went to listen to the stories of the people so I could be an advocate for their needs and wants.”

The Teams

South Korea:
Kristy Sherburn (Michigan) and Memmory Myers (Michigan)

Philippines (in partnership with Outreach International):
Cory Upson (Missouri) and Paige Webberly (Washington)

Philippines (10 months):
Haley Webb (Texas) and Rene Romig (Ohio)

South America:
Brandon Stanley (Illinois) and Andrew Nilsen (Oregon)

Pacific Islands:
Emily Allen (Illinois) and Emily Rose (Alabama)

Mid-Atlantic USA Mission Center:
Liz Swick (Missouri) and Alicia Mitchell (New South Wales)

Zambia in partnership with HeathEd Connect:
Colleen Brian (Pennsylvania) and Lauren Ballinger (Pennsylvania)

India (6 months) in partnership with local school:
Kathleen Cadman (Utah)

Jake Davis (Missouri)

Prairie Bluffs USA Mission Center:
Aute Tefana and Soraya Depierre (Tahiti)

For More Information Visit www.CofChrist.org/WorldService/ or contact WorldService@CofChrist.org or 1-800-825-2806, ext. 2241, to learn more about this program and opportunities to volunteer or host.

Human Wholeness or Exhausting Goodness?

25 09 2010

by Scott Murphy
Council of Twelve Apostles

In her captivating book, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor shares her journey of ordination in the Episcopal Church, becoming pastor of a rural congregation in Georgia, and eventually leaving that position.

As Taylor reflected, she came to recognize a contributing cause in her leaving was that she exhausted the congregation, as well as herself.

That happened because of the busyness and expectations to somehow live up to what it meant to be faithful individually and as a congregation. From her sensed failure came the discovery that her “human wholeness might be more valuable to God than her exhausting goodness.”

Taylor’s insight continues to challenge me about my ministry and what I see in many of our congregations. Community of Christ congregations exist because of the dedication and passion in those who give of themselves week after week for congregational life. They commit many hours to leading, teaching, preaching, planning worship, managing finances, organizing events, and on and on.

I deeply appreciate all that members do for our congregations. Yet, I can’t help wondering, as I hear people talk, how many of us serve out of “exhausting goodness” while neglecting to seek “human wholeness.”

In our good efforts to be active congregations, have we become so inwardly focused that we slowly are starving ourselves of authentic relationships with God and others? Let me suggest that when we intentionally focus on deepening our connection with God and others, our lives become more open to the care and worth of human life.

In this deeper connection we begin to discover the human wholeness that God seeks to bring forth in our lives and all of creation. I believe Doctrine and Covenants 164:9c–d continues to point us toward the way God is calling us to live as disciples and congregations:

This covenant entails sacramental living that respects and reveals God’s presence and reconciling activity in creation. It requires whole-life stewardship dedicated to expanding the church’s restoring ministries, especially those devoted to asserting the worth of persons, protecting the sacredness of creation, and relieving physical and spiritual suffering. If you truly would be Community of Christ, then embody and live the concerns and passion of Christ.

In a time when “time” has become so precious, do we need to rethink how we spend our time in “being” congregations? Is there a yearning in your life and congregation to engage in ministries that seek the welfare and wholeness of human life?

Maybe Taylor is right. Maybe our “human wholeness” is more valuable to God than our “exhausting goodness.” What do you think?

Peace in the Storm

23 09 2010

by Barbara L. Carter
apostolic assistant

When I was growing up, my home had an open-door policy.

We always knew our friends were welcome, and whatever we had, they were welcome to. We shared food, beds, security, safety, clothing, counsel, and spiritual rest. Some people were there a few hours; some a few nights.

I remember phone calls in the evenings from people stranded on the Oregon coast. They needed help: gas, food, tire repairs, and the sacrament of administration. Dad would go meet and help them. Many times they would come back to the house to eat or stay for the night. We always seemed to have enough, and rarely did anyone complain or grumble.

When I was young, this didn’t seem odd. It was just what was done. It wasn’t idealism or altruism. I never felt like I suffered (well, one time I didn’t get to go fishing with Dad). It just was the way it was.

Now, I look back and see an amazing example of what it means to have openness and hospitality as a way of life. My home, my parents’ home, offered safety and acceptance. It was a sanctuary that offered sanctuary.

The amazing view of that retrospective is seeing the ways the people who entered our lives blessed our family. Relationships made and strengthened over the years continue to bless us.

So many people search for places where they can be safe, where food and acceptance are plentiful and the presence of God is tangible. Many yearn for places where their spirits can rest and begin to heal. They seek the peace of Jesus Christ.

May we respond to the call to create such places in our homes and in places where Community of Christ gathers.

Laugh! It’s Good for the Spirit

21 09 2010

by Barbara Howard
Independence, MO USA

For several years my husband, Dick, and I, were co-ministers at retreats for priesthood, leaders, women, and youth.

“The Lighter Side of Church History,” a session in which people shared humorous tales from their lives in the church, became a regular event. During one session, an older woman said, “Recently my grandson attended church with me, and during the sermon looked at me several times. I was so happy to be with him and so grateful for our congregation welcoming him, that I was smiling. Finally, he said, ‘Grandma, don’t you know you are in church? You’re s’posed to have a mad or sad face in church, not a glad face.’”

We laughed, but this story shows an important truth. Despite our goal to be “communities of joy, hope, love, and peace,” we often take ourselves far too seriously. Larry Dossey, a doctor noted for his books on prayer, believes “humor catalyzes spiritual growth.” Humor allows us to see “the naked truth” about ourselves. It “dissolves the walls of our ego” and “melts the barriers between ourselves and others,” destroying anything that keeps us from God.

These are lofty-sounding outcomes for such things as silly skits at a campfire. At retreats, where a few people may be at odds over interpretations of scripture or church policy, healthy humor can dissolve barriers and create bonds. After laughing at stories of shared human foibles, a new spirit of community emerges.

Humor can enrich our worship. Some years ago, after a sermon by Danny Belrose at a Congregational Leaders Workshop, a young woman said, “I was surprised that in the middle of laughing I felt so close to God. I wish more of our preachers were like Danny.”

Geoff Spencer deepened my understanding of the scripture, “Be ye perfect,” when he explained that properly translated it is, “Be ye mature.” Perfection is impossible. Maturity may be a struggle, but it’s at least possible. Folks who laugh at their own flaws seem more mature than those who pretend not to have flaws.

We can impede a genuine relationship with God when we get in the way. Our own false self, the ego that puts us at the center of the universe, keeps God from the place where God belongs. Humor, especially self-deprecation, can help us laugh at our foibles instead of replaying them or recreating scenarios where we act perfectly. Vulnerability opens us to God.

We face many serious issues as a community. To allow any issue to separate us from each other, and thus from God, is tragic.

Meister Eckhart, a medieval theologian, reminds us of God’s joyful nature when he says that even as all the saints in heaven and on Earth rejoice at our acts of goodness, “the joy of them all together amounts to as little as a bean when compared to the joy of God over good deeds. For truly, God laughs and plays.”

Humor is a divine gift that allows us to continue our journey together in healing, healthy ways.

Recommended Spiritual Practice

Gather a small group of friends or family to share funny or embarrassing stories from their lives. Begin with a prayer of gratitude for the gift of laughter. Following the sharing, close with a prayer of thanks for the joy of being together in God’s presence.

Worship Resources Build Community

18 09 2010

by Jeanne Davis
Worship Ministries

Worship Resources Year ASharing worship ideas as a denomination is one way we become a closer community. When we witness through meaningful worship, we affirm God’s Spirit among us and engage in the blessings of community.

Worship Resources helps us do this. It gives practical help to worship leaders and committees, empowering congregations.

It draws its weekly themes from the Revised Common Lectionary, a widely used cycle of biblical readings. The lectionary suggests three texts: one from the Old Testament or Hebrew scripture, one from the New Testament, and one from a Gospel for each Sunday. In addition, we add a scripture from the Book of Mormon and another from Doctrine and Covenants.

We include sermon helps written by the World Church Leadership Team and translate them into Spanish, French, and Tagalog. Hundreds of Community of Christ congregations and millions of our Christian friends around the world worship with the same scriptural texts on the same day.

The worship services are guides, with choices that can be adapted to various congregational needs.

To echo the Isaiah 6 model of meeting the Divine, each Sunday’s suggestions include elements from the four parts of worship: praise (Isaiah 6:3), confession (Isaiah 6:5), proclamation (Isaiah 6:6–8), and commitment (Isaiah 6:8).

In addition to the year’s worship services, online special services are available. Worship plans for Advent, Easter, Good Friday, sacraments, funerals,and many more are available to download and use.

Order Worship Resources from Herald House (www.HeraldHouse.org, 1-800-767-8181) and see it online at www.CofChrist.org/worship10-11/.

The Prayer Board

16 09 2010

by Elaine A. Canaday
Springfield, Oregon, USA

When our kids were younger, on any given day, it was common to have an extra youth or two at our house.

By the time our boys were in their mid teens and early 20s, I had learned a thing or two about ministering to youth and how to address their needs, especially when they come from diverse backgrounds.

It started a few years ago on Halloween, with 20 girls and guys hanging out, coming by for snacks, watching TV, and talking. On that night, several shared about significant pressures and problems. As I listened, I wondered how I could help them in a tangible way and show my support and encouragement.

I have always prayed for our sons. As their struggles increased, so did my prayers. I began praying for their friends as I learned of their needs. On a whim, I wrote a couple of their names on a dry-erase board in our hall under the caption, “Lord, today I will pray for….” This helped me to be mindful of those teens each time I passed the board.

Little did I realize how powerful this tool would become. One night a boy who visited our house saw his name on the board. Emotion overwhelmed him. He hugged me and asked, “You would pray for me?” I answered, “Yeah, I love and care about you.”

From then on our sons began adding names to the board—a classmate with cancer, a friend’s brother, and so on. Now when a youth visits our home, the kids automatically add their name to the board.

The board serves many purposes. It strengthens the awareness of God in the kids who come into our home, even if they don’t have a practicing faith. It creates a sense of community between the people on the list and those who placed their names there. And it helps me to understand the needs of their generation.

Our prayer board is a tangible way of showing how God and prayer can touch lives in a powerful way. I challenge you today to begin praying for our youth, reaching out to them, and letting them know you care.

As Community of Christ members we are called to share the good news about God. We need to come up with creative ways of making this happen. You may be surprised about where your journey takes you.

“We See You, Jake”

14 09 2010

by Richard Jenkins
Milton, Florida USA

     The boy we’ll call Jake showed up yesterday at church with Jeannie’s family. I saw him coming, so I yelled and waved. He kept his head down, hands in pockets. Unresponsive.
     I went to the back door because our congregation, Holley-Navarre in Florida, was having a spaghetti lunch fund-raiser for Wilderness Camp. Sunday school was starting, and at age 16, Jake was in the junior and senior high group. I waved again from the kitchen window. Again, no response. But he saw me.
     His Sunday school class discussed senior high camp, which started Sunday afternoon. None of our seniors were going. Some had summer jobs, and a couple of them were starting junior college classes. But all the kids talked about fun times at camp and personal encounters with the Holy Spirit (the day’s class topic).
     Class ended a bit early so the kids could help with the spaghetti. They had to move the food to our new youth building. It’s large enough to hold the entire congregation for meals.
     Jake and I carried the salad bowls and bread. I asked if he ever had been to a camp. Nope.
     I told him we were glad to see him and thanked him for his help. He asked how he could get a camp experience. We talked about the camp, and other kids quickly joined in. Some men and women in the congregation also listened as we set up the serving line.
     Jake said he sure would like to go to something like that. At lunch Jake sat across from me. We talked about trying our wings, the purpose of being born, and how to make good decisions. He quietly told me that his life-situation had gotten worse in recent months. He and his mom were evicted. They moved in with Jeannie’s family. Jeannie told him that to stay he must attend church and its events. Jake’s older brother remains in prison, and his 18-year-old sister moved in with her boyfriend.
     Jake has no home support from mom. She works two jobs, and dad contributes no child support. Jake needs some shoes, clothes, etc.
     After he downed four plates of spaghetti and salad, I suggested he go to senior high camp, which started that afternoon. He said he wanted to go, but he had few clothes, no “camp stuff,” and no money.
     I called the camp director, Della Goodson, and she said to bring him. Instantly, a check for the $295 camp fee was pressed into his hands, with $20 for spending money.
     He almost fainted.campers around a campfire
     The other kids surrounded him and began to tell him about the Bluff Springs Campgrounds. Jim Speer, a deacon with the Holley-Navarre Congregation, said he would drive Jake to the campgrounds.
    Later, Jake approached me outside, when I was away from the crowd. Tears filled his eyes.
     “Why would you people do something like this for me?” he asked.
     I asked if he had seen the movie, Avatar, and he said yes.
     “Do you remember the part where the heroine and hero were about to be married and both said, ‘I see you’”? Jake did remember that scene.
     I advised him that “I see you,” and others here “see you.”
     He said he believed that. 
     I told him I was impressed that he would go to a place where he knows nobody, knows nothing about the camp or why it even exists.
     I told him that I saw a young man showing courage, trust, faith, and even leadership skills.
     “I see you, Jake.”
He pulled an old, rusty pocketknife from his pocket and asked: “Would you like to have this? It is all I have. I use it to sharpen sticks and stuff and to protect myself.”
     I took the knife, examined it, and said: “Do you think you will need to protect yourself at senior high camp?”
     He asked, “Are they all like you guys?”
     I said, “No, but most of them are.”
     He said, “Well that is close enough.”
     So I told him, “Tell you what, I will keep it for you, clean off the rust, oil the mechanism—and sharpen it since it is about as sharp as a tablespoon.
     “You will need it for Wilderness Camp in a few weeks, anyway.”
     Jake said, “I don’t have the money for Wilderness Camp.”
     I told him that because he had helped with the spaghetti fund-raiser, his fees for Wilderness Camp were covered.
     He turned away, then turned back, tears falling. And he hugged me.
     He was disarmed, ready to open the door of his heart to the One who stands outside and knocks.
     We drove home, where I had two new sleeping bags—a new duffel bag, too. We put in two towels, soap, toothpaste, two flashlights, a small blanket, and other items he would need. I dropped a note in the bag that simply said, “I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”
     We see you, Jake.
     Jim came by, and they were off to camp.
     I called this morning, and Della has Jake in the right cabin with the right counselor. He bonded with new buddies and his counselor, and he’s having the time of his life! 
     Now, Jake will begin to see with new eyes, hear with new ears. He will have an encounter with the Creator this week, who sees all of us.
     “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”

Colloquy Keynotes Emphasize “Children Cry, We Respond!”

11 09 2010

Greg Mortenson and Pakistand school childrenby Brad Martell
Peace and Justice Ministries

The 2010 Peace Colloquy will focus on how each of us is called to engage in peace and justice for children.

In places throughout the world, children suffer the atrocities of war, poverty, malnutrition, and slavery. They lack access to clean water and air, shelter, education, and medical care. They suffer from bullies, abuse, and neglect. They experience depression, low-self esteem, and feeling unloved. Jesus said to his disciples:

Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.—Luke 18:16 NRSV

Come October 29–31 to the Temple in Independence, Missouri, to explore how all are called to make the world a safer, healing, and loving place for children. Register online at www.CofChrist.org/peacecolloquy/ by October 1 and save, or call 1-800-825-2806, ext. 1442. E-mail confreg@CofChrist.org.

Peace Award Keynote Greg Mortenson, Community of Christ International Peace Award recipient, will receive his honor at the colloquy’s opening, Friday, October 29, at 7:30 p.m. The ceremony and his address, “Three Cups of Tea,” will be free to the public. The event will be webcast live at www.CofChrist.org.

Mortenson will share his experience of building schools, promoting education, and working toward peace. He is the cofounder and executive director of the Central Asia Institute. It seeks to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As of 2010, Mortenson has established 131 schools in rural and often-volatile areas. More than 58,000 children, including 48,000 girls, received education where few opportunities existed before. In 2009, Mortenson received Pakistan’s highest civil award, Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan) for his dedicated and humanitarian efforts.

He also is founder of Pennies for Peace, a program to inspire USA children to help children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He co-wrote the New York Times bestseller and TIME magazine’s Asia Book of the Year, Three Cups of Tea. He also wrote the bestseller, Stones into Schools.

Learn more about the 2010 Peace Colloquy

God Un-Answers & Invites

9 09 2010

by Andrew Shields
World Church Secretary

Being a divinely led prophetic people involves—as a necessity—reevaluating at times some existing understandings and customs to allow added insight and interpretation under the Spirit’s guidance. —Doctrine and Covenants 164,  first introductory statement

God does big things in the world.

God created everything. God formed a covenant people from those in Egypt’s  underclass willing to let a story shape them. God transformed everything by joining the world, fully human and fully Divine, in Jesus Christ. God formed our faith community by powerfully impressing a call into the heart of a young man searching for answers and into the hearts of those who followed him.

God does big things in the world—but not predictably. God touches the untouchable, breathes divinity into the world in a dank stable, and chooses surprising (and surprised) people to be servants.

A prophetic people must listen carefully for God’s movement in our world. We must be attentive to scripture and tradition. We must be alert for God to do the unexpected in unpredictable places.

1. Have you ever had a question in your own life un-answered by God?

Read complete article . . .