Why I Follow Jesus

31 10 2011

By RON HARMON, Council of Twelve Apostles

Apostle Ron Harmon sees Jesus calling ordinary people to give extraordinary ministry.

In his 2005 World Conference sermon, President Steve Veazey shared, “Through Christ something not fully explainable but utterly transforming has occurred. It can best be described as the movement of God to bring reconciliation and wholeness to all dimensions of life.”

Those words describe well my experience with Jesus.

I recently completed a master of arts in religion. But I confess I still am without adequate words to describe what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ. As a child I remember sitting on our living room floor during prayer service.

People I knew on a first-name basis shared their testimony of Jesus in ways I did not hear when we met at our church building. I wanted to follow this Jesus who brought such meaning and purpose into people’s lives.

Over the years I have come to experience Jesus in powerful and disturbing ways among those who suffer most in our world. It is as though Jesus grabs me in these situations and says, “Do you see what could happen here?” It is in these situations of desperation that I have come to understand that loneliness, disease, hunger, oppression, and hopelessness will not have the last word.

This is the mystery of the “not fully explainable but utterly transforming” nature of the living Christ. God is always moving, often in ways beyond my limited capacity to understand, to bring healing and wholeness. It is in this space between our current reality and God’s emerging future that Jesus is most powerfully revealed to me.

In many ways I still am like that little boy on the living room floor. I feel I catch only glimpses of the depth and meaning of Jesus’ ministry and message. I follow Jesus because he simply calls ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things for the sake of the world.

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The Red Towel

29 10 2011

By GEORGE FARNELL, Mobile, Alabama, USA

Ben and Angie, a homeless couple, received ministry through a soup kitchen and cold-weather shelter in Crestview, Florida.

Ann Sprague, a member of the Crestview Congregation, was involved with the shelter and had donated a stack of towels for those in need.

Someone told Ben if he could get to Dallas, he might find a job, so they set out for Texas. After arriving in McKinney (just north of Dallas) they decided to attend the local Community of Christ congregation.

Rod and Kathy Tillman, members of the McKinney Congregation, invited the couple to stay with them until they could become settled.

Some days later, Angie did some laundry and was walking down a hall when Rod spotted a red towel. He asked about it, and Angie told him she had received it while staying at the Crestview shelter.

Rod then asked Angie and Ben to come with him. He took them into a room filled with golf-related items. He showed them a collection of various colored towels.

From 1999 to 2009 Rod and Kathy had sponsored an annual golf retreat in memory of their son, Chad, who had died in a climbing accident. Each year every participant received a towel on which was printed the retreat logo, their son’s name, and the year of the retreat.

The red (though faded) towel Angie had was from the 2004 retreat. Rod and Kathy could not believe their eyes! They all wondered how it found its way to Ben and Angie and then the Tillman home.

All agreed: This was not a mystery. It was just another of those small miracles that happens when people are brought together through the Spirit of Christ.





The Three F’s of Discipleship

27 10 2011

by MARKETER ASH, Glenwood, Illinois, USA

“Our fourth mission initiative is Develop Disciples to Serve. We will help all ages—from the youngest to the oldest—continuously grow as disciples of Jesus Christ…
—President Stephen M. Veazey
April 10, 2011, address

As I reflect on the mission initiatives, it is clear that to realize the other initiatives we must Develop Disciples to Serve!
In July my family, three generations of women, went on a trip to move my daughter into a new apartment. We left at 2:00 a.m., aiming to arrive at her school by 10:00 a.m. Because of the hour, my daughter generously volunteered to drive.

Typically, because we “seasoned’ women are quite comfortable with driving, we would have said no. However, because we don’t see well at night, we agreed. This would be the first time for her to drive on the highway at night in an oversized SUV. Imagine our feelings, fear, and concern. We just knew we would not sleep.
Well, we didn’t sleep.
But it wasn’t because of her lack of ability. Instead, our focus became helping her by sharing tips on road safety. We bonded, laughed, and talked. My daughter joined the ranks of driver for family trips.
As we rode, the Holy Spirit revealed we had prepared her for this day by applying the three F’s of discipleship: faith, focus, and follow-through.

  • Faith: We trusted God; now we are teachers.
  • Focus: We taught her responsibility and took her to driver’s education.
  • Follow-through: We coached her along the way. All she needed was an opportunity to drive.

If we hadn’t done the work, she would not have had the confidence or been prepared to drive when opportunity arose.
The same applies to Developing Disciples to Serve. We must be fiercely intentional about teaching our young and old.

The gift of salvation is free, but disciples must be developed and allowed to drive.

That is why in Matthew 28:19–20 (NIV) Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

We are commanded to go and make disciples. A critical element is life application. If people don’t have life application, it won’t benefit God, them, or community.

There is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV). It clearly was my daughter’s time to drive. Good disciples understand they are both teachers and learners.

I am having the invaluable experience of attending Ministerial Education and Discipleship Studies, two sessions left. Hooray! Take advantage of the learning resources the church offers. And remember, the three F’s require:

  • Faith: action
  • Focus: commitment
  • Follow-through: ministries that reflect mission initiatives

 

By the way, did I mention my daughter has been driving four years? We are such mother hens!





Reverse Mentoring

24 10 2011

by ERICA BLEVINS NYE, Young Adult Ministries

I stood behind the pulpit at a campground tabernacle. My aim: express the significance of genuine relationships to our Community of Christ mission.

“Older members,” I encouraged, “don’t hesitate to reach out to young adults. Though they may appear disinterested or hard to relate to, I assure you, they have similar fears of approaching open relationships with you. We’re simply people, too. Vulnerably investing in relationship is scary for everyone. But this is our call to community.”

Then I turned toward the handful of young adults in the back row.

“And young adults, you have the same call. Be sensitive to older members when they reach out to you. Be gentle and receive them openly, as you would have them treat you.”

I looked up and discovered one young adult was looking back at me. One. The others were gazing into the glow of their cell phones. I felt myself sink into self-doubt. How could young adults risk relationships with others if they weren’t willing to climb out of cyberspace when I was preaching to them? It felt like I had hit a big wall.

I’ve met many folks from older generations who are peering at the same wall. They hesitate to befriend young adults and accept them into congregational leadership. It’s a steep, dangerous, and tiring climb that risks change and rejection.

After my not-so-compelling sermon, I approached the text-messaging young adults. “Did it make any sense? Was I way off?” I asked. “I felt insecure when you weren’t looking at me.”

“Oh yes, I was right with you! You’re right on.” They were listening. But all the while they were linked into the Internet! This generation relates to people in a new way. I have something to learn about maintaining relationships electronically. And I suppose they have something to learn about engaging with people in person.

Talking was the first step.

Overcoming the generational divide is intimidating, but there is hope. Intergenerational relationships can be doors into mission, rather than walls. Reverse mentoring explores this possibility.

It develops relationships between younger and older people, recognizing all will learn. Older adults commit to approach young adults, vulnerably ask questions, listen earnestly, and learn.

In return, older generations offer young adults spiritual maturity and ministry experience. They can help young adults recognize their potential for new ministry.

Young adults are a gateway to the mission field. Approaching relationships and mission as partners with them is the only way for us to fully share the peace of Jesus Christ.





Satisfying a Thirst

22 10 2011

by ANDREW M. SHIELDS, World Church secretary

Living water is a gift from Christ.

As a new father, I learn many things by watching my baby.

He is not very good at drinking from a glass. He tends to get more water on himself than in himself. Still, he has reached a point where he wants to drink from the cup on his own.

I smile as I watch him seriously grip the cup, look into it, and gnaw on the rim. He can see the water, he has his mouth up to the cup, but he’s not getting anything.

Most annoying!

I help him, touching the bottom of the cup and tilting it so the water flows to him. It’s not just holding the cup, not just putting your mouth up to the edge, you’ve got to tilt it; water flows down, that’s just how water is.

This experience reminds me of my prayer life. It is not enough just to make the time for prayer, or to tell God everything you’re thinking. So much of prayer is listening. Most of prayer is listening. Being in the presence of the Divine is more important than the form, or the words. The point is to stop, to clear distractions, to be as fully present as possible, and to allow myself to listen for the presence of God.

It’s about attitude. In English, the same word can mean your perspective, and the tilt of an aircraft in flight (or a cup in a child’s mouth.) Prayer is not just about what I’m doing. It is more about me making myself available to God, acknowledging that God is above me, and preparing myself for the divine presence to pour into me.

Yes, sometimes prayer feels like chewing on the edge of the cup and still being thirsty. But Jesus promised us, “the water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13 NRSV). That is the gift of the peace of Jesus Christ, a right relationship with God—always looking up to God instead of down at our own ideas and desires. Always in relationship with God, the source of life.

When we look up to God, truly listening, I think we will receive more life than we can absorb.





Revelation

20 10 2011

artwork by Jack Martin

by CAROL NORRIS VINCENT, Independence, Missouri, USA

It was early morning. I had finished my tea and read the newspaper. I stepped outdoors to enjoy the fresh-washed earth, the sun streaming through the trees, and the brilliant hibiscus blossoms beckoning bees and butterflies.

Suddenly noise from one of those pesky machines that trim, mow, or blow assailed my ears. I looked up in aggravation and noticed a worker. To say I noticed him is really incorrect—I just realized he was carrying the source of the noise. I saw him heading toward my neighbor’s side yard, power trimmer in hand.

As I watched, disgustedly—hating the noisy intrusion—I gasped in fear. He was heading toward Alice’s rosebushes!

“Oh, no! I must stop him! He can’t trim those. They’re not ready yet!” As I tried to decide whether to traipse over in my housecoat and slippers to stop him, I saw him bend, cradle a rose in his hand, and smell the lovely peach-colored blossom.

My first thought was, “Ah, how sweet.” My second was one of horror!

For that moment revealed so much about me! I always have prided myself on being without prejudice. I have never used a rude word to describe a person of another race. I cringe at ethnic jokes.

Yet now I was realizing I had the worst kind of prejudice. I did not notice workers who are my fellow humans. I did not see them. They were mere workers—without face, without soul, without humanity. They were an entity on the other end of a pruner, mower, or blower.

At that moment, I remembered scriptures admonish us to love everyone as we love ourselves.

I turned and went inside. I bowed my head in shame, asking forgiveness and vowing to look—really look—at all other humans as residents of God’s Earth with me. Only when I love and serve them can I begin to think there might be hope as we Pursue Peace on Earth.





“Won’t You Join Me for a Dance?”

18 10 2011

by VAN WILSON, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

For the last year, I have lived in New Orleans, Louisiana. To capture the spirit of the century-old oaks and soul-shaking rhythms of this city, you’ve got to tilt your head and put your bare feet on the ground.

From Hurricane Katrina to centuries of stifling poverty and violence, dark waves of suffering and sorrow have washed over this city too many times to count. I find it miraculous that humans can transform such sorrow into gold.

Here people take the turbulent, sorrowful waves and turn them into tapping toes on a Saturday-night dance floor. They perform alchemy as the tight beat of a snare drum mixes with the whine of a trumpet and trombone. If you put your ear to the floor and listen close, the sound of all those shuffling feet will whisper a secret: This music can never be made alone.

Shortly after I moved into my apartment, I befriended my neighbors, Maida and Mark. They represent a far-too-common and increasing demographic in our country: dual-disability, no-income households.

Maida is increasingly immobile and has type-2 diabetes. She is an innocent, jovial, and thankful woman despite her circumstances. From my living room, I can hear her high squeal of a laugh when she stands on her porch.

Mark suffers from a rare neurological condition that severely affects his motor skills, and he must follow a strict medication regimen. He has a steel handshake and a fierce desire to maintain his quality of life.

Over the last year they have challenged my notion of family, causing me to reflect on relationships within my immediate family. I help any time Maida calls—bringing groceries into the house, changing lightbulbs, and even setting up electronics—sharply honed skills that previously required a mother’s guilt to employ. Maida entices me with home-cooked pralines and gumbo. I have the better end of the deal.

I find it reassuring that every significant experience in my life has pointed me to a fact humans have known since the beginning of time: Our relationships with one another matter.

Sometimes I fear humanity never will overcome its contrived and arbitrary boundaries and labels. But then Maida looks me in the eyes, kisses me on the cheek, and tells me, “I really don’t know what we would do without you.”

At such times I hear the whispers of humanity’s feet shuffling to the eternal beat. This music can never be made alone. So I beg of you, won’t you join me for a dance?