Why I Follow Jesus

30 09 2011

by BUNDA C. CHIBWE, Council of Twelve Apostles

Bunda Chibwe (l.) visits with Mary and Robert Adie in the garden of their Nairobi, Kenya, home. Mary is pastor of the Nairobi Congregation, and Robert is the Kenya Mission Center president.

I was born into a Christian family influenced greatly by my grandmother. I remember seeing her on her knees every evening, holding her black holy rosary and praying to an odd, invisible, and unknown guest. For her, that person was real, the source of unbreakable faith.

When I got into mischief, grandmother would cite Romans 9:1 and invite me back to “good” Christian behavior. She insisted that I tell the truth and never swear. What an unrealistic expectation for a mischievous teenager! I did not care about Romans 9:1, but it kept me out of trouble. Grandmother instilled in me an appetite and curiosity for the book that shaped her life.

As I matured, my questions about grandmother’s God and Jesus increased. I found some answers through my personal search, faith, and friends. I can’t answer other questions, but I live in faith that I will grow in knowledge of Christ.

As I look at my faith journey, I see two key incidents that contributed to my decision to follow Jesus.

The first occurred in my early adult life. Uncle Balika Kasakula Bunda, Grandfather Aaron Munkutu Ngwashi, and Henri Muntandwe Kisala were arrested in Chibambo in August 1975. People who wanted to seize leadership in their church (Community of Brothers of Shaba) orchestrated the arrests. It shocked me that people used Jesus and scripture to justify hostility, hatred, and pain. In protest to such blasphemy, my desire to follow Jesus was born.

The second incident involved a missionary doctor who deserted the Chibambo hospital when the leadership changed from white to African. He confessed he could not accept supervision from a black leader. Such arrogance, attitude, and abuse of God’s children motivated me to follow Jesus.

Another influence came from South Africa history and its apartheid regime. If my grandmother’s God and Jesus were most powerful, omniscient, eternal, loving, and caring, why did the oppressed, lonely, and poor experience them as powerless, insensitive, and distant? I wanted to restore the real image of Jesus in my village. I felt called to join Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, Golgotha, and the cross. I left my teaching profession and followed.

I entered a Methodist seminary. I discovered God was working in Africa. I began to understand the need to live Jesus’ mission by addressing sin caused by capitalism, colonialism, racism, and sexism. Every day, I discover Jesus’ call with a renewed appeal. To me, Jesus is a loving, caring, compassionate friend who suffers with me and invites me to make the world a better place.

I follow Jesus because he helps me define myself. He encourages me to speak about my heritage. He helps me understand what I stand for. He sees Africa as a beautiful place, full of dreams to be fulfilled.

Following Jesus calls me to stand for those who cannot stand. It calls me to leave my comfort zone and face misunderstanding, rejection, betrayal, and possibly…a cross.

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Experience God’s Presence through Worship

29 09 2011

Activities such as games and crafts can complement worship experiences.

BY JEANNE DAVIS, Worship Ministries

Sitting on the porch at the Northern Rockies reunion, I am witnessing the formation of disciples. People are sharing their testimonies of God’s Spirit working in their congregations. A group of young people is learning a game, sharing joyfully.

Both of these groups are worshiping, developing relationships, and experiencing God’s presence through Spirit-led worship. The mission initiative of Experience Congregations in Mission is happening right now.

The congregation is the community gathered for the week at Camp Paradise in Wheatland, Wyoming. We share in spiritual practices that form us as Jesus’ disciples. In our worship we deepen our relationship with the Divine and each other.

Worship is the action of people of God.

More than 50 people from many places have helped create a resource for planning such vibrant worships. Worship Resources for 2011–’12 follows Lectionary Year B and provides ideas for worships. It includes some new hymns and a short exegesis, or explanation, for each focus scripture. It also offers central ideas and questions for the speaker to consider.

The front section gives information about the lectionary and several more suggested resources for customizing the worship plans of congregations.

Whether your congregation is a group of 10 or 300, it can adapt the resource to help plan a scripturally based worship that will further your discipleship formation. May blessings pour over your congregations as you experience God’s presence through worship.





Believing in Life after Death

28 09 2011

BY TIM ALLEN ASHBURN, Rocky Mountain USA Mission Center

The bumper sticker, “I believe in life before death,” no doubt was a response to the Christian belief of life after death. I usually pay little heed to bumper-sticker theology, but this one caught my attention.

I thought, “That’s right!” My mind immediately went to the phrase in our basic beliefs statement (www.CofChrist.org/ourfaith/faithbeliefs.asp) regarding that topic. In the section titled “End Time” it reads:

We press forward together in service to God, knowing that our labor is not in vain. The future of the creation belongs to the Prince of Peace…

I always have rested in the idea that the future belongs to God, but we as disciples “press forward together in service.” The bumper sticker reaffirmed what God calls us to be and do in the now and—Oh!—isn’t that what Jesus lived as well? Throughout the gospels Jesus lived in the now, the present. He sought to bring life-giving transformation.

When Jesus walked and lived among people, was he real with the people? Did he speak with honesty, integrity, and love? The answer is yes. He spoke truth in the present moment, truth that healed and empowered broken people, even his own disciples.

Over Memorial Day weekend I attended a young-adult retreat. The setting was beautiful. Snow-capped mountains, pine forests, and a rushing river surrounded us. In such an environment, transformation came through a simple, but not easy, task: living authentically in the now, the present.

We immediately were challenged to take a risk and be real. This is the kind of real many people long for in community, but it is difficult to find. The difficulty comes from our tendency to wear masks that reflect “all is well,” when in reality we fear only we know brokenness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Human brokenness is universal.

Perhaps the most-challenging exercise was to complete the phrase: “If you really knew me, you would know I….” Tears fell, burdens were shared. In that moment we lived out and expressed Christ’s compassion in community. The mutually broken community sat silently in awe of that moment—a moment lived and shared in true community. We experienced life before death.

We don’t like discomfort. But unless we are real with one another and share our common brokenness, we will not live in the present, but in some illusion of what is not real. To live life before death means our community must ground itself in the life of Jesus, and we must be present and real.

To be communities of Christ means sharing our mutual brokenness and nurturing each other on the journey of life. The bumper sticker read: “I believe in life before death.” May we live authentically in community as Christ lived.





Watching Seeds Grow

26 09 2011

by BOB NEFF, Kanagawa-ken, Japan and SUSAN NEFF HEATH, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

The Charles D. Neff Memorial Bridge

If there’s a back of beyond, the Charles D. Neff Memorial Bridge is as close as you can get.

Spanning the pristine Idunao River in the northern Philippines’ remote and rugged Ifugao province, the 102-meter suspension bridge provides access to a high school and shopping from three hamlets that until about 20 years ago were essentially cut off from what we know as civilization.

We got there by enduring a rocky, jarring trip in SUVs for about an hour from the nearest paved road and then walking on rough trails about another mile to the bridge-head. There, we were met by the informally clad “captain” of the invisible hamlets on the other side of the bridge and his counselor.

“We thank your father very much for giving us this bridge,” said the captain. Without it, he said, getting to the nearest town used to take an hour on foot. Now it can be done in half that time. The bridge cost about $25,000, raised mostly by our father, plus lots of volunteer labor.
“The bridge has changed our lives,” said the captain.

We were in this unmapped spot thanks to Outreach International, a community-development foundation organized in 1973 by our father, former president of the Council of Twelve Apostles, and two colleagues, Roy Schaefer and Bill Higdon.

Shortly before that, as Asia-Pacific apostle, our father had arranged for the evacuation of 20 mostly church families in 1972 from a strife-torn area of nearby Isabela province to a safer district. Securing a loan of $25,000 from the church Oblation Fund he helped the families buy 40 acres of farmland, build bamboo houses, and get settled. After 12 years they had paid off their loans at 1-percent interest per year.

Today the village that embraced them, Simimbaan, is simple but thriving. An elegant Community of Christ church, where we attended a Sunday service, stands out. Serenaded by three choral groups, we heard a pre-Easter sermon by 85-year-old Evangelist T.K. Cabida, one of the church’s earliest Filipino members and a man we had heard a lot about from our father.

Helping to preside was Jennifer de Guzman, assistant to the president of the Southeast Asia Mission Center, whose late grandfather, Alfredo de Guzman, was a mentor of the evacuees and an early leader of the Philippine church. Jennifer, a 36-year-old elder, looks like the future of the church in the Philippines, which has 13 congregations and about 500 regularly attending members.

Meeting Cabida and de Guzman was extremely moving, Bob Neff said, because “I’ve known those names for decades. Cabida even used to write to me when I was living here alone as a senior in high school. Jennifer is a natural leader and very impressive.”

After Sunday’s service we enjoyed a potluck lunch outdoors with many members sharing memories of our father, including how he had fallen off a water buffalo.

Then we rode about 15 minutes to the nearby Damsite Congregation, where we heard moving testimonies about our father’s work from farming families.

During the rest of our visit we were escorted by a merry team of Outreach International employees, led by Val Gando, accountant for Outreach Philippines. The team took us to villages where the foundation is doing community-development work.

Perhaps the most impressive was Rangayan. With about 1,500 residents it is the poorest of the 18 villages of Mallig town in Isabela. It sits six miles by gravel road from the municipal center.

Here, people treated us like celebrities. A women’s group organized and advised by Rosemarie Conel, Outreach Philippines’ human-development facilitator, provided an elaborate presentation. Bereft of effective local political leadership, the village women had developed an extensive program of community improvement. It includes running water, toilets, and a pharmacy.

Outreach International President Matthew Naylor passionately told the village residents he felt like he’d just seen a movie. He couldn’t have put it better. Outreach International had helped these people create and present a vision.

We left the country touched by why it and its people had meant so much to our father and how helping this area had given his life deeper meaning.





Be Careful how You Walk!

23 09 2011

BY STEVEN E. GRAFFEO, Human Resource Ministries director

In Ephesians 4, Paul speaks about walking. I urge you, therefore, as a prisoner of the Lord, to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called. In 5:2 Paul exhorts the Ephesians to walk in love. And finally in 5:15, he warns to look carefully how we walk and finishes with the admonition to walk in wisdom.

Walking is a normal, daily activity for many of us. We walk at home. We walk around the office. We walk at school. We walk with strangers, while shopping, and with friends in the neighborhood.

For some, being mobile and physically able to walk is a key part of living a full and meaningful life. If an accident or physical reason takes the ability from us, we look to other means to regain mobility. Being able to walk and move is like breathing; we do it because it is who we are, and for many it is as necessary as eating and breathing.

Paul’s words, walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, walk in love, look carefully…how you walk, and that our walk is to be done in wisdom, shed light on how we are to live. Walking creates movement in life. It sometimes brings interaction with others. It demonstrates purpose. It indicates our intentions.

Paul’s imagery of “walking” creates meaning when we think of the Christian disciple as being on a journey, and it is a daily, active, all-inclusive call to respond to gospel living. The question is always, “Can I walk the talk?”

A wonderful insight of the gospels is how the writers told the story of Jesus as he walked—who he met, how he treated them, what he said to or about them, how he touched them physically and spiritually. It is the story of how walking creates the opportunity to experience life as a sacramental journey.

Feet covered with the dust of the road, feet tired from the walk, feet that took him into the homes of fishermen, tax collectors, Pharisees, and friends brought opportunities for the gospel writers to express the giving and receiving ministry of Jesus. They lifted up servanthood, humility, acceptance, forgiveness, and hospitality as sacramental moments when love was expressed in his daily walk of life.

It takes insight, sensitivity, and discipline to walk the path of Jesus in our 21st-century world.

One of my best teachers is our 4-year-old son, McLane. When a siren can be heard in the distance, his mother has taught him to stop immediately what he is doing, close his eyes, fold his hands, and pray for the caregivers and those who may be injured.

I have seen him many times in my rearview mirror, praying for those in need as he hears a siren in the distance. What a great example he is for me in so many ways.

I have come to realize that walking the path of Jesus is to allow daily intrusions in my life to become the basis of my response to God’s call to live with compassion and inclusive love. It is there that I find meaning, purpose, joy, and peace in my life.





A Journey of Trust

21 09 2011

Canadian National Conference

by SUSAN SKOOR, Council of Twelve Apostles

Soon after I became the apostle for Canada, I began receiving requests for a Canadian National Conference:

“We have wanted to confer across Canada for a long time about peace and justice issues, like slavery, the Darfur situation, and the war in the Middle East. This is an opportunity to do that.”

“Canadian law allows same-sex couples to marry, but the priesthood of our church cannot officiate at such a ceremony. Can we consider that issue at a national conference?”

“As Canadians we need to advocate with one voice for nuclear disarmament. We need a Canadian National Conference to discuss it. And what about adding some environmental issues?”

Months earlier, inspired counsel delivered to the church by Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey prompted interest in national conferences. World Conference delegates affirmed the document as revelation in April 2010, and it became Doctrine and Covenants 164. The following verses are part of that document:

   7 a. A worldwide prophetic church must develop cultural awareness and sensitivity to distinguish between issues that should be addressed by the World Conference and those that are best resolved nationally or in other ways.
b. Fundamental principles of ethical behavior and relationships should be addressed by the World Conference. The Conference should not decide specific policies for all nations when those decisions likely will cause serious harm in some of them.
c. However, timely resolution of pressing issues in various nations is necessary for the restoring work of the gospel to move forward with all of its potential. Therefore, let the proper World Church officers act in their callings—as already provided in church law—to create and interpret church policies to meet the needs of the church in different nations in harmony with the principles contained in this counsel.
d. Where possible and appropriate, convene national or field conferences to provide opportunities for broader dialogue, understanding, and consent. In those gatherings, let the spirit of love, justice, and truth prevail.

This revelation provides direction to the church in broad strokes. The task of implementing such direction rests with church leaders. Moving toward a Canadian National Conference involved close dialogue among the First Presidency, the Council of Twelve Apostles, and the staffs of the two Canadian mission centers. Which issues are appropriate for dialogue and consideration? Which are not?

Doctrine and Covenants 164 directs national conferences to deal with issues that can create harm in the global church if discussed at World Conference. National conferences also deal with issues uniquely appropriate to one nation or culture, rather than issues that cross national boundaries. Those two criteria eliminate many topics first proposed for a Canadian National Conference.

Nuclear disarmament, environmental concerns, and human trafficking are topics of great concern, but they are not unique to Canada, nor are they so controversial they will create harm if people discuss them in the World Conference. Thus the decision was to focus on issues of moral behavior and relationships, as expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 164. Because Canada is a nation where same-sex couples can marry legally, the Canadian National Conference will center on two key issues:

  • What is the level of support among the Canada church membership for Community of Christ priesthood members to perform same-sex marriages in Canada?
  • What is the level of support for ordaining people who are in same-sex marriages and who receive a call by God to serve in the priesthood according to our standard procedures?

Both questions are controversial in Canada. The level of support is not known, and a great diversity of opinion exists. To aid discussion, key evangelists and high priests received training as facilitators of dialogue in the early spring of 2011. Each has been assigned to lead the discussion in a cluster of congregations.

In the coming year, congregations, clusters, and small groups will have an opportunity to hear one another with love and compassion as differences of opinion emerge. At each session, the level of support will be tested and included in a report to the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles. The result will be entirely open-ended.

The leadership quorums affirm that the responsibility of setting policy rests with the First Presidency in consultation with the Council of Twelve, whose members are responsible for applying it in their fields. In light of that truth, the Canadian National Conference will not make a final decision, but will join in a decision-making process that involves members and World Church leaders.

It will be an opportunity to hear diverse views and survey the membership in attendance to discover the level of support on the topics. Those results will be summarized with surveys from the dialogue sessions as part of the report for the First Presidency and Council of Twelve. These World Church leadership quorums will affirm, change, or create policies for Canada based on the recommendations and the level of support.

The Canadian National Conference is scheduled June 16, 2012. It will occur in multiple places, linked by the Internet through conferencing technology. At this writing, mission center officers are creating a team of consultants to wrestle with the technology and logistics of handling a virtual conference across the vast Canadian geography. Conference sites and details will be published when the team completes its work. All Canadian church members will be invited, so all voices can be heard.

This is an important opportunity for Canadian church members to practice listening to one another and to be sensitive to the leadings of God’s Holy Spirit. This is an opportunity to consider important issues about moral behavior, relationships, and the nature of the sacraments of marriage and ordination.

From the Canadian National Conference will come more than recommendations concerning those in same-sex marriages. We also will gain a greater appreciation for one another, a hands-on opportunity to experience unity in diversity, and the chance to build foundations for living out the reign of God in new ways as the future unfolds.

It will be a journey of trust, with the result undetermined. May God’s Spirit of understanding bless the journey and empower the voices on all sides to be heard with clarity and compassion.





Sacraments as Spiritual Discipline

19 09 2011

BY TACY HOLLIDAY, Germantown, Maryland, USA and EDITH GALLAHER, Yorktown, Virginia, USA

We are a sacramental people. We readily understand there are many sacramental moments, but the church’s sacraments allow us to experience God in specific moments and distinct ways.

We practice eight sacraments. Our scriptures highlight the importance:

Look especially to the sacraments to enrich the spiritual life of the body. Seek for greater understanding of my purposes in these sacred rites and prepare to receive a renewed confirmation of the presence of my Spirit in your experiences of worship. —Doctrine and Covenants 158:11c

Actions we can take to receive this greater understanding are to prayerfully and intentionally prepare for the experience, engage it with openness and anticipation, and savor the experience afterward, so it continues to work in us:

When it comes to the sacraments and the corresponding covenant of each one, we are challenged to hold the sacramental experience in our hearts. The associated discipline calls us to remember the covenant of the sacrament and to lead our lives accordingly. —Marvin Rice, Graceland, Seminary master’s thesis

The call and challenge are to know the sacraments not simply as important rituals and uplifting symbols, but as pervasive and transforming influences. Sacraments help us to see the kingdom of God with new eyes. In that vision, we move in mission to proclaim the good news to whom we are sent.

The sacraments give us opportunity to deepen our relationship with God and community members as we join in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We are encouraged to engage fully in the sacraments as opportunities are available. As we sense the Spirit calling us to encounters with God through the richness of the sacraments, we are invited to seek these experiences and be spiritually formed in our discipleship.

SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

Before engaging in a sacrament, read scriptures related to it and pray for openness to the Spirit. Enter the sacrament with anticipation and intention. After the sacrament, consider how its meaning can be lived more fully in your life. Thank God for the love and presence embodied in the experience.