Whom Do I Want to Be Like?

30 10 2010

BY RICHARD JAMES, Council of Twelve Apostles

I remember little about my baptism, but I know it was on my eighth birthday.

I vividly remember the birthday present I received from my sister and brother-in-law: a soccer ball. It was a great present. But I also remember feeling I wanted to be like Jesus and do the things he did. It was this desire at 8 years old to be a disciple of Jesus Christ that has shaped my life and enabled me to make responsible choices.

My father was a coal miner and worked alternating shifts of days, afternoons, and nights. Some days I did not see him. It was hard physical labor. He would come home straight from the coal pit, and then we would visit church members and friends.

Many people came to know Community of Christ because of his testimony and commitment. For me he is an outstanding example of humble, grace-filled servant ministry.

As a child I used to wear the knee pads my father wore underground in the coal mine. I would go into our coal shed and pretend I was my dad, working and digging out the coal. I wanted to be like him.

I remember when I was 10 or 11 going on a school visit to a safari park. Our family did not have much money, and I can see my mother now emptying her wallet into my hands, giving me everything she had so I could go on this school visit. 

It was not much—just a few coins with little value. But because she loved me, she willingly sacrificed her last few coins. She loved and cared for me so much that she gave everything. Her nature was to be generous with everything. Though we had little, she always gave, and we always had enough. I wanted to be like her.

I ask myself now, whom do I want to be like? I want to be like Jesus. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? I want to imitate him, to be humble and full of grace, and to be generous by nature. Giving and receiving is what it means to be a disciple. Would I empty my wallet because I love and care so much for the mission of Jesus Christ?

My parents taught me well!





The Power of Involvement

28 10 2010

BY CARL MESLE, Independence, Missouri, USA

 When confronted by the 2007 World Conference with the question of rebaptism in the context of the church’s worldwide mission, the Presidency chose to share it with the membership. The effort sought to involve as many people as possible in prayerfully seeking God’s will.

This has resulted in discussion worldwide by large numbers of members. Such is the sign of a healthy church and its democratic nature.

Smaller congregations sometimes wonder at the ability of mega-churches to attract and hold large numbers. Research generally reveals they do so, not only with fine pulpit ministry, but by involving large numbers in a multitude of activities. These include ministry to age groups, worship, prayer, study, research, leadership, witnessing, community service, building care, food service, and many more.

The experience of a couple who attended a church for the first time shows how this approach works. Leaders immediately asked if they would care for a bulletin board. Surprised, they agreed and became involved. Gradually, they moved into roles of pastoral leadership.

When congregations focus on enriching the ministries to their own people by adding greater depth and wider horizons, they tend to involve more members and, often, friends.

The greater the depth of a person’s doctrinal knowledge and inspiration, the greater the opportunity to witness in areas of influence. People often find involvement through efforts to serve the community with such programs as Scouting, Jesus and Me (JAM), Young Peacemakers clubs, recreation, camping and retreats, public relations, counseling, and outreach to the needy.

The successful pastor then is one who not only provides good ministry but who involves as many members and friends as possible.

We then would assume the practice of maximum involvement also would be an important factor in the leadership of our mission centers and World Church, particularly where the spirit of volunteering is strong.





CofChrist.org

26 10 2010

Children’s Sabbath: Lifting up the Next Generation
www.CofChrist.org/worship/YearC_0910/101710.asp

Our focus on justice for children continues this month as we observe the Children’s Sabbath. On October 17 we will celebrate through worship, prayer, and action, increasing our awareness of the need to nurture and protect children and to seek justice on their behalf.

Plan to observe Children’s Sabbath with the worship service posted online. Find more resources, tips, and ideas in the Children’s Sabbath Manual published by the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information or to download the manual, see www.ChildrensDefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/2010-childrens-sabbaths-manual.html.

Peace Colloquy Webcast
www.CofChrist.org/peacecolloquy

Join us October 29 at 7:30 p.m. CDT at www.CofChrist.org for a live webcast as Greg Mortenson receives Community of Christ’s International Peace Award. Mortenson is co-founder of the Central Asia Institute and author of two best-selling books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools

Since 1993, Mortensen has worked for community-based education in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He helped found 131 schools that have educated more than 58,000 children, 48,000 of them girls.

In early November, look for audio and video archives from the 2010 Peace Colloquy at www.CofChrist.org/peacecolloquy.

Nominate a peacemaker for 2011 consideration by November 1, 2010, using the form at www.CofChrist.org/PeaceAward/nominate.asp.

New Text Needed for Beloved Tune
www.CofChrist.org/hymnal/contest.asp

Do you have a way with words? The Hymnal Project needs you! 

Elisha Hoffman’s “Send Me Forth, O Blessed Master” (Hymns of the Saints 424) evokes a rousing call to commitment and service and is fun to sing! We are looking for a fresh English-language text for Hoffman’s tune—a text that focuses on a strong sense of commission.

Check the website for guidelines and send text by November 10.

Your Generosity has Worldwide Impact
www.CofChrist.org/WorldMinistries/update

Check here to see the impact of your giving. You’ll find monthly updates of World Ministries Mission Tithes and see how we share with others by living our mission through our generosity.

Secure Online Giving
www.CofChrist.org/give

It’s available any time through the church’s website. While some giving methods may be new, the principle of giving is timeless. A disciple shares generously so others may experience God’s generosity.





“The Spirit is here. Pay attention.”

23 10 2010

BY ERICA BLEVINS NYE, Young Adult Ministries

I sat in my living room, reading and working on my laptop. I work from my home, supporting Young Adult Ministries for the worldwide church. This particular afternoon, a fire burned in the fireplace. It had burned steadily for hours, and I ran out of wood.

I needed to go outside to bring in more. The prospect didn’t excite me. It had rained in Detroit for days, leaving the wood soaked and heavy.

I carried in the damp logs and tossed a couple into the fireplace. It would take a while for them to dry out, but I figured they eventually would catch fire. I settled back to work. The small fire quietly flickered.

I had continued jotting e-mails for about two minutes when suddenly I heard: Whoosh!

I looked up and saw a wet log burst into huge flames. What caused such a sudden burst of fire, the largest flames I saw all afternoon?

I had a sense. “The Spirit is here.” It was a strange reminder, a sign.

“The Spirit is here now, strongly. The work you are doing is blessed. Pay attention.”

I looked down at the work I had been doing. It sure didn’t seem exciting: preparing for meetings, reading. I felt encouraged, though, for the reminder of the value of my ministry. It sometimes feels like I’m not doing much of importance or urgency. At home alone, I rely on my own motivation.

I can’t connect regularly with my colleagues for an inspiration fix. This all-at-once awareness of the Spirit brought renewed energy! I continued my tasks, feeling blessed and reassured.

As I worked for a few more minutes, an e-mail popped up on my laptop. It was from President Steve Veazey. “I have an idea,” he wrote. “A possibility.” He suggested we host an event for young adults to discuss the “future chapters of the church” with church leaders. We would explore where Community of Christ is headed and to what we are called.

In his address to the church April 5, 2009, President Veazey announced he and other church leaders would connect with young adults around the globe. They would listen to their needs and sense of calling. These gatherings are called Vision Project.

By January 2011, members of the First Presidency will have met more than 30 groups of young adults. Participants have expressed respect for Community of Christ’s culture and Enduring Principles. They are eager to guide their congregations beyond their walls and into the world, but they often struggle to find places to lead.

They envision worship that draws on the church’s gifts to speak to the changing needs of new generations. Church leadership has heard them. It is working with young adults to consider how the church will respond. Vision Project began with a simple idea, and it has grown to empower the restless energy of a generation.

“The Spirit is here.

“Pay attention.”





Spiritual Friendship

21 10 2010

BY CAROLYN BROCK, Spiritual Formation and Wholeness Ministries

In the mid-1970s my friend, Sally, and I met once a week as “prayer partners.” We talked about life, shared concerns, then held hands and prayed for each other.

I still see Sal now and then, but we live far apart and don’t talk often. However, we are—and always will be—connected at the heart-and-soul level because of the gift of spiritual friendship we offered each other.

Many of us have a wide circle of acquaintances but perhaps only a few deeply trusted intimate friends. Our daughter, Emily, and her friend, Kelsey, love and trust each other in this soul-friend way. They connect deeply, laugh giddily, share about joys and struggles, and simply delight in each other’s company.

Spiritual friendships are unique because they include “soul talk.” The often “not talked about” dimensions of the spiritual life are central conversation topics for those who spontaneously or intentionally move into spiritual friendship.

Spiritual friendship was a quality of Jesus’ intimate group of followers and a practice he taught and modeled with his disciples. As disciples on a journey of formation “into Christ,” spiritual friendship needs to become a primary quality of our congregations, a primary practice for our life together.

Spiritual friendship, spiritual companioning, and spiritual direction are becoming more familiar terms in the church. Spiritual friendship grows from mutual sharing as peers. Spiritual companioning implies a more-intentional relationship to explore our spiritual life with a person of spiritual wisdom and integrity.

In Community of Christ, evangelists carry a particular call and ministry as spiritual companions. To be certified in spiritual direction, a person engages in study, training, and spiritual practice, usually over a two- to three-year period.

Spiritual friendships are based on trust, confidentiality, compassionate listening, and openness to God’s presence. In any spiritual friendship we can expect to be seen, heard, and supported in our journey with God. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the true guide of both people.

Spiritual Practice

Prayerfully identify and give thanks for the spiritual friends in your life. Pray and listen over several days. Do you discern a further invitation to spiritual friendship, companioning, or direction in your life as a disciple?

For More Information

•     The church’s Spiritual Formation Team continues to provide clarification and support for the practice of spiritual friendship. To connect with team members trained as spiritual directors, contact Carolyn Brock at cbrock@CofChrist.org .

•     For more information on spiritual direction and a directory of spiritual directors, see Spiritual Directors International at www.sdiworld.org .

•    Evangelists are exploring and deepening their understanding of spiritual companioning in congregations of the church. For help in finding an evangelist spiritual companion, contact congregational or mission center leaders or Presiding Evangelist David Brock at dbrock@CofChrist.org





Speeding Up Ministry

19 10 2010

Seventy Rob Borkowski washed the feet of Rachel during a worship service at a reunion at Camp Manitou in Cassopolis, Michigan.

BY JOHN S. WIGHT,
senior president of seventy

   The ministry of the seventy has been part of the church almost from its beginning. It has roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. The books of Exodus and Numbers both refer to “seventy of the elders of Israel,” who Moses was to choose.  “I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself” (Numbers 11:17 NRSV).

The New Testament also refers to the seventy. “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go” (Luke 10:1 NRSV).

The first reference of how the church should organize the seventy came in a revelation in February 1835.

And it is according to the vision, showing the order of the Seventy, that they should have Seven Presidents to preside over them, chosen out of the number of the Seventy, and seventh president of these presidents is to preside over the six; and these Seven Presidents are to choose other Seventy besides the first Seventy, to whom they belong, and are to preside over them; and also other Seventy until seven times seventy, if the labor in the vineyard of necessity requires it.—Doctrine and Covenants 104:43a–b

This revelation did not specify there must be seven quorums, but the implication seemed clear. If there were to be seven presidents, there logically should be seven quorums. This understanding gained credence in a revelation presented 27 years after the church’s Reorganization.

The presidents of Seventy are instructed to select from the several quorums of elders such as are qualified and in a condition to take upon them the office of Seventy, that they may be ordained unto the filling of the first quorum of Seventy.—Doctrine and Covenants 120:10a

For nearly the next century, leaders assigned seventies to quorums in numeric order, filling the first quorum first, then the second, and so on. There were seven presidents of seventy, but leaders organized only three quorums with seventies assigned to them.

Eventually, it became clear that organizing quorums based on the seventies’ geographic location would be more efficient. This would allow better education, fellowship, and functional opportunities. So by the early 1980s seventies were assigned to each of the seven quorums based on location. For the first time, all seven quorums had seventies.

In following years leaders sought to align quorum boundaries closely with apostolic fields because “the Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve” (Doctrine and Covenants 104:13a).

However, this nearly was impossible. There then were 11 apostolic fields and only seven quorums. Leaders informally discussed expanding the number of quorums. But the guidance in Doctrine and Covenants specifically called for seven presidents and, by logical extension, seven quorums.

Then in 2007, President Stephen M. Veazey presented a new revelation.

Procedures regarding the calling and assignments of the Presidents of Seventy and members of the Quorums of Seventy shall be developed to facilitate the maximum level of collaboration with the Council of Twelve.—Doctrine and Covenants 163:5c

In response, the Council of Twelve Apostles and the Council of Presidents of Seventy formed a joint committee. The committee met prayerfully several times over many months to consider changes to bolster collaboration between the councils. David Schaal represented the First Presidency on the committee.

“The idea of increasing the number of quorums has been in the church for several years,” Schaal said. “As the special committee gave thought to expansion, it realized such a decision could come about only if the prophet felt led by the Holy Spirit in that direction. So in the spirit of our heritage, the committee asked the president to give this careful consideration.”

Presenting what became Section 164 opened the way to expand the number of quorums and presidents from seven to 10.

For this purpose, the number of quorums of seventy and presidents of seventy may be adjusted at times to respond to evangelistic strategies in apostolic fields. The First Presidency, in concert with the Council of Twelve and the Council of Presidents of Seventy, will provide procedures for determining the number, makeup, and roles of quorums of seventy and presidents of seventy.—Doctrine and Covenants 164:8b

Approval of Section 164 by the World Conference allowed the proposed expansion to become a reality. Thus, seventies were organized into 10 quorums, each aligned with one of the 10 apostolic fields.

This also meant the number of presidents needed to increase to 10. Seven new presidents were set apart at the 2010 World Conference to complete the new Council of Presidents of Seventy.

Those serving as presidents of seventy are Luis Dias, Kris Judd, Ruben Landeros, Robin Linkhart, Amson Mallick, Larry McGuire, Keith McMillan, Karin Peter, Mbenga Urbain, and John Wight. Each quorum also has a secretary and one or more quorum education officers. There are 324 seventies from 24 countries.

This new structure provides the means to fulfill the following recent direction to the church about missionary outreach efforts:

To accelerate the work of sharing the gospel, the Twelve and the Seventy should be closely associated in implementing wholistic evangelistic ministries. The seventy are to be the forerunners of Christ’s peace, preparing the way for apostolic witness to be more readily received…The Twelve, the Presidents of Seventy, and the Quorums of Seventy should spend sufficient time together to ensure a mutual understanding of evangelistic priorities and approaches.—Doctrine and Covenants 163:5b–c

As the senior president of seventy, I am excited about the future. Having the quorums aligned with mission fields allows greater coordination of effort. A new spirit of teamwork is emerging among the seventies because we now are better able to mobilize and coordinate our ministries.

President Schaal expresses similar enthusiasm.

“One characteristic of inspired counsel is that counsel always outruns our capacity to understand it,” he said. “While it is apparent that increasing the number of quorums to align with the number of fields makes strategic sense, we are eager to discover what other blessings may come from this.”





Sacrifice Isn’t Giving Up; It’s Giving to God

16 10 2010
open hands

To be generous we must willingly sacrifice, live with an open heart and open hands, and stretch beyond what we thought we could offer.

BY TACY HOLLIDAY,
Germantown, Maryland, USA

 In our modern culture where the goal is to have it all, do it all, and be it all, the notion of sacrifice usually conjures thoughts of distaste.

We live in a time when political agendas, technological breakthroughs, advertising, and pop psychology tantalize us with a promise of self-fulfillment, yet our societies suffer from disease, stress, and violence.

When we view acquisition as an antidote for all ills, it is easy to forget about sacrifice as a profound practice for renewing relationships with God, self, and others. The word sacrifice comes from a verb meaning “to make sacred.” Through a regular practice of sacrifice, we make room for the sacred to enter our lives and the world.

As a practice, sacrifice means intentionally leaving from the safety of sustaining our own needs as an affirmation of trust in God’s provisions. In this meaning we connect with generosity. Being generous gently loosens our grip on the money, things, and people we hold captive with our expectations, clamoring for security, and need to control.

In the Old Testament, sacrifice was thought of as the specific act of making an offering to God. People made sacrificial offerings to honor God, gain favor, and atone for wrongdoings.

The story of Cain and Abel, in Genesis, and Noah and the ark show the importance of making sacrifices in the context of faithful living. God received Abel’s offering with fondness, but not Cain’s. It is not clear why God favored Abel’s offering, but it might have been because of Cain’s attitude problems.

Noah’s seemingly foolish act of building an ark on dry land kept his family and the animals in his care alive when the flood came. After the flood, Noah made a sacrifice to God and received a blessing, signaled by a rainbow.

In the New Testament, the message of Jesus builds on an expanded view of sacrifice. In the parable of the prodigal son, the youngest son asks to receive his inheritance early so he can seek his fortune. The father abandons his own wishes on behalf of his son and fulfills the son’s request.

When the prodigal son returns, having squandered his inheritance, he hopes only to become a servant in his father’s house. However, his father’s generosity pours out with joy and celebration. The father gives him a rich robe, a valuable ring, and a celebratory feast. The father’s generosity is lavish and sacrificial, and it does not stop with the prodigal son.

The father reminds the older son, who does not think the display of generosity is fair: “All that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31 NRSV). He gives willingly, generously, lovingly. The father not only gives what he has, he gives who he is to his sons.

According to Paul, we are to “be imitators of God…and live in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2 NRSV). Friends, family, and strangers give us many opportunities to witness and practice sacrificial generosity. For example, another staff member at church youth camp worked 18 hours on the Friday before camp to finish enough work so she would be able to serve at camp.

That’s inspiring.

My godparents, Dot and Dan, taught me about sacrificial generosity as a lifestyle. They opened their home and hearts to several families and children who needed a place to receive generous care. Dot’s Southern roots expressed themselves as a welcoming hospitality that put people at ease and made sure there was plenty of food on the table. Dan, too, was committed to justice and concerned about the real needs of people. For example, they took in a mother with children who fled Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge assassinated the father.

Dot taught me to cook for church reunions, taught me in Sunday school class, and took an interest in my life. Dan talked with me about history and tradition, helped me learn about financial investing, and became like a second father. He encouraged me to develop my gifts and talents and to serve the Lord.

Dot and Dan were good to my parents, too, offering advice, encouragement, and occasionally free babysitting.

Dot and Dan just breathe generosity, goodness, and humility in offering what they can. I always felt I was accepted and that I had a permanent place in their hearts and at their table.

To be generous we must willingly sacrifice, live with an open heart and open hands, and stretch beyond what we thought we could offer.

The scripture story of the widow’s mite shows this. Many people gave more than the widow, but these people had money to spare. Although the usefulness and value of such philanthropy should not be negated, the widow’s gift of her last two coins represents her trust and faith in the Lord.

As the gap between rich and poor widens, the need for those who have ample resources to share with those who lack is critical to the welfare of the world and the capacity to build Zion.

However, it is not so much the amount of money, time, or talent that matters as that we willingly place everything into God’s hand. This does not mean most of us are called to give away most or all of our belongings, but that we must allow God to direct our stewardship and have the courage to follow where God leads.

Find a few ways this week where you can act generously in a manner that stretches you. This might be contributing to World Ministries Mission Tithes, giving to a food bank, supporting a charity, visiting with people in a retirement home, or taking toys to a children’s hospital.

Give twice as much as you usually do and find ways to cut other spending to cover the cost. Give a neighbor a ride to the store. Help a child raise funds for camp. Invite friends to reunion or another event that would benefit them. Spend quality time with a loved one when not distracted by “to do” lists or other busyness.

Learn to push the edges of your comfort zones, such as befriending someone who is marginalized or different from your other friends. Another way to live generously is to act with respect and compassion toward others rather than with anger or spite. Let your pride, fear of humiliation, or need for retaliation serve as your burnt offering. Look for common ground, or higher ground.

Jesus embodied the sacrifice and generosity that enabled him to say, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NRSV). God continually is willing to pour God’s life into what God loves. God, through Christ, is not only willing to go through death, but is willing to go through life—with all of us.

When we pour ourselves into Christ and our fellow humans, we allow the capacity for sacrifice—in whatever ways God calls—to bring us and each other to the cross, into the tomb, and out again.

What is important is not simply denying ourselves something or even giving things to people and to God. It’s being vulnerable to the Spirit and giving wholly to God and—through God’s guidance—to others.

When sacrifice and generosity work together, we give in faith what we have and who we are for the sake of whose we are—God’s.