Why I Follow Jesus

31 12 2011

BY LINDA BOOTH, Council of Twelve Apostles

I follow the Living Jesus Christ because…

Growing up in Independence, Missouri, I was shown by my parents and grandparents unconditional love that came from their deep commitment to God and the church. They sacrificially gave their lives in service to others. When the church doors were open, our family was there.

I tried to pattern my life after their example. I taught a Stone Church children’s school class when I was 16. I was active in Zion’s League and stake activities.

When I entered university I discovered new ideas from philosophers and writers who discounted God’s existence and denied Jesus lived. I declared to my family that there was no God, and if Jesus lived, he was simply a man—certainly not divine. My family was distraught. Nothing they said persuaded me to believe differently. They fervently prayed my disbelief would change to faithful acceptance of God and Jesus Christ.

At university I met my husband, Doug, who was raised an atheist. He became my best friend. We married and had three sons. Life was good. We were happy. I never thought about Jesus. Instead, Doug and I would comment on the fairy-tale nature of Christian thought.

My parents and grandparents continued to pray the Spirit would renew my belief in Jesus.

After nearly 10 years of disbelief, Doug and I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit in a monastery in Kansas City, Kansas. It was unexpected and transforming. For the first time, Jesus was real! He wasn’t just a story. He was flesh and blood, and he was calling us to follow him.

I immersed myself in the Bible, reading about Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection. In the gospels I began to glimpse Jesus’ passionate ministry. One evening over the dinner table, Doug and I decided to check out the closest RLDS congregation. We hired a babysitter for our three sons and attended a Sunday service in Olathe, Kansas.

Following the preaching service, several people gathered around us, asking about our lives. We began to attend with our sons and were loved into the fellowship. Our discipleship was developed and empowered.

I often wonder what would have happened to our family if the Olathe Congregation had not enveloped us. Without its love and acceptance, would God’s calling for me have been expressed in Community of Christ?

Nearly 14 years ago I was called and ordained to serve as an apostle. In my leadership and ministry I feel compelled to proclaim Jesus every day. Jesus is the focus of my life. My daily encounter with Jesus continues to transform me from the inside out.

The Jesus I follow is not the domesticated man I learned about in Sunday school when I was a child. Instead Jesus is the radical-loving incarnation of God, showing me how much God loves ALL people.

I follow Jesus not for myself but for the many children, youth, and adults who yearn to know of God’s love and call to them. I follow Jesus to share with them the transforming story of Jesus and his call to them. Follow me!

“Measures of Productivity”

29 12 2011

BY DAVID BROCK, presiding evangelist

How do we measure the most productive years of life?

The apex for most athletes is their late 20s or early 30s. The genius of scientific research and creative invention is often in the first half of life. The best wage-earning years for many are in their 50s or 60s.

Jerry Wiley, a retired teacher from Independence, Missouri, helps a youngster at a Jesus and Me session.

Our economic, political, sporting, and social organizations gain a competitive edge by training, hiring, and employing the right people at the right time to receive maximum output. That’s how we survive and achieve. That’s how we win.

There’s a lot to be said for such a system. Productivity is a priority. But we may need new measures when we speak of it in terms of the gospel and sacramental living.

I hear the elderly express guilt that they can’t do anymore. “I can’t give as much money as I used to.” “I can’t make as many home visits this year as I did last year.” “My hands are weak; my knees are feeble.” And I hear the bright person who suffers from schizophrenia lament how he burdens his family and provides little or no value to the world.

Without romanticizing harsh realities of disease and disorder, or the vulnerabilities of childhood and of aging, I uphold (No, I dare declare that God in Christ upholds) the possibility that the most “productive” are often the folk who are disabled, challenged, immature, or old.

Can we recalibrate our “productivity” scale to measure the value of the Down syndrome teen who arrives on a church campground and draws out the spirit of community in ways no other camper can? Can we place a productivity value on the actions of aged, cloistered Carthusian monks who’ve prayed for peace and healing of humanity decade upon decade? Can we calculate the productivity of the helpless and vulnerable newborn whose birth reunites an estranged family?

Recently, I visited some seniors at an assisted-living facility. I saw anew the impress of God as conveyed by Jan van Ruysbroek, a 14th-century mystic: “I no longer need the productivity of hands and feet you once could give. I want lives that ‘are more beautifully adorned and more nobly possessed when…interior exercises are added to those of the active life.’ I want you to give the world the productivity of becoming free from distracting absorption, from ‘restlessness of heart.’”

A sacramental life is a productive life; the most productive life. If we truly believe the good news we’ve got some redefining to do.

Ending Indifference, Building Peace

26 12 2011
BY GREG CLARK, Integrated Communications

Gwendolyn Hawks-Blue was representing the church Diversity Team, but her words reflected the sentiments of all 55 people at the Peacemakers Summit.

Gwendolyn Hawks-Blue joined others in seeking pathways of peace at the Peacemakers Summit.

“One of our greatest hopes is to end indifference.”

That simple statement crystallized the passions of people from at least four nations and a dozen organizations. When they met in late September at the Temple in Independence, Missouri, they’d already shrugged off apathy. All served as leaders of nonprofits, church affiliates, and the church.

Together, they discussed the church’s mission of justice and peace. They talked in large and small groups, made contacts, identified intern possibilities, and heard an ambitious plan to extend each group’s reach.

Steve Veazey, president of the church, set the tone and tied the meeting’s importance to mission initiatives.

“Fulfillment of the mission initiatives will require partnerships, networking, and the weaving of relationships that magnifies impacts. Today we affirm that all the missions that drive your organizations and teams are important to the church’s mission.”

One group, PeacePathways, took the lead. It showed how together individuals and groups can work more effectively, reach more people, do more good. The key is the group’s developing website, http://www.peace-pathways.org.

“Our main focus is using the website to connect members and friends to various activities at the corporate level, mission center level, and congregational level,” said John Pinkerton, a PeacePathways board member.

He added, however, that people shouldn’t view the website as a cyberspace bulletin board.

It focuses on four types of peace: interpersonal, personal, world, and environmental. The site lets users post news, make connections, glean ideas, and broaden relationships.

Praise and suggestions came quickly after a brief demonstration and small-group discussion.

World Church Secretary Andrew Shields suggested using social websites to draw people to PeacePathways. Jane Gardner, director of Integrated Formation Ministries, said her group suggested developing a smart-phone app that would send regular updates.

Diane Barnett of the Children’s Peace Pavilion in Fremont, California, gushed over the promise that “a real person at the end of the button” would contact users of the website.

And Craig Martens from the Earth Stewardship Team expressed another benefit: “So many people in so many of our congregations don’t have any idea of the vastness (of groups, activities, and needs) out there. We’re not just talking about being a church of peace and justice. There are a lot of ways for us to interact.”

Finally, Presiding Evangelist Dave Brock tied it together, acknowledging commitment and commission. “We all come here as a sense of call. We all want to walk pathways of peace.”

An Unlikely Santa Claus

23 12 2011

BY JANE WATKINS, Florida USA Mission Center financial officer

Sometimes generosity is all about “connections.” Larry Yoder, financial officer for the Palm Bay Congregation, knows all about this.

Larry, who calls himself “The Bug Man” while offering a big smile, is a professional exterminator and a good friend to his customers. As he works, he offers many stories about sharing grace and generosity.
Larry (The Bug Man) Yoder helped a friend during the Labor Day Reunion fishing tournament at Deerhaven Campgrounds in Florida

One particular client lived in an estate on the main drive into the Professional Golf Association grounds. Because the client lived alone in a mansion, he was eager to walk the property with Larry while he worked. They became good friends, a Community of Christ exterminator and an elderly Jewish retiree.

As the holidays approached, Larry asked his friend what his plans were for Hanukkah. The fellow said his only family was an institutionalized sister, so he intended to stay home and celebrate quietly. Larry invited him to his home for Christmas dinner, but the man declined.

Larry then made an interesting suggestion. He told this friend about another client, an orphanage that barely was staying solvent. Larry suggested the director of the orphanage would enjoy meeting his friend and spreading a little holiday cheer.

Larry admits this conversation quickly left his mind. So it astonished him when he visited the orphanage to provide service and discovered his wealthy friend had visited the home. The director told him the man toured the place and then made the rounds, asking the children what they wanted for Christmas.

He then invited the children and the orphanage workers to his home for a Christmas party.

He greeted them as a fully costumed Jewish Santa Claus with all those special gifts! The children had a grand time decorating his home and sharing the spirit of Christmas with their own Santa.

When Larry returned to this man’s estate a few weeks later, he mentioned his gratitude for the generosity toward the children. His friend replied:

“Larry, it has been a long time since I’ve felt the kind of love I received from those children. I’ve lived a long time, and I must tell you, this was the most meaningful day of my life. I also want you to know the orphanage is now financially covered for the next 100 years.”

A few weeks later, Larry’s friend died.

What a gift they all received that holiday season because of a simple, yet-powerful connection. What connections can you make to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering? How can you be a vessel for grace and generosity as you go about your daily tasks?

It’s All about Invitation

19 12 2011

Apostle Linda Booth, director of Communications, visited with K. Scott Murphy in October, a few weeks after the Council of Twelve Apostles selected him as its president. Viewers may see the full interview at www.CofChrist.org/broadcast/2011archive.asp. Here are excerpts:

Linda: I am sitting this afternoon with Apostle Scott Murphy, who on September 12 was unanimously elected to serve as president of the Council of Twelve, which joins and links him to a role he already had been assigned, director of Field Ministries. I know your family members are big supporters. Can you tell me about your wife, Sandra, and your family?

Scott: We’ve been married this coming June for 30 years. It’s been a wonderful journey. We’re blessed to have two children. Michael is going to be turning 21 at the end of the month, and Ryan will be turning 25. In addition we are blessed with a 3-year-old grandson, Braden.

Linda: Were you raised in the church, Scott?

Scott: I was. I’m guessing I would be fifth generation.

Linda: Scott, in your presence I’ve had this sense of a deep spiritual connection you have with the Holy Spirit. Can you think back to the first time you recognized the Spirit’s presence?

Scott: It was one of those defining moments for me. It was at a junior-high camp where I grew up in Vancouver, Washington. The Southwest Washington District and the Northern Oregon District did joint youth camps at Lewis River Campgrounds. Apostle Dale Luffman was the camp director, before he had gone under appointment with the church.

As the youth and staff were sharing, I remember this experience of feeling this overwhelming presence of love and peace. I began to recognize that was the impress of God. For me, that became the defining moment of when I began to live out my faith because of my own encounter with God versus living on the faith of my parents.

Linda: Scott, all of us have spiritual practices that help connect us with God. What practices most help you discern God’s direction and God’s presence?

Scott: Probably the most prominent for me is the aspect of being in nature. I love being in the outdoors. I frequently look for those opportunities to be out there, to be present, and just to breathe.

The other one that is just as powerful for me is music. Being a musician, I’m naturally drawn to music. Just the aspect of rhythm and the notes does something about settling my soul and my mind.

One other practice that is growing on me is silence and quietness. I would have to admit it’s not a practice I’ve done well in the past. But I have really tried to intentionally begin to build silence into my daily routine. That normally happens when I’m driving. There’s something about the sensory experience of driving that relaxes my mind. I try not to analyze things but just to let the silence and the peacefulness kind of fill me.

Linda: I’m sure you can recognize moments when God has helped prepare you to serve in leadership with the Council of Twelve.

Scott: There was a point in my life when I made a conscious choice of what I was going to do and where I was going to go, and that was to become a music teacher. I saw myself being a music teacher for the rest of my career.

But as I look back, things have happened…I can only describe as being the guidance of the Spirit. I went back to work on my first master’s degree. I made a choice to do that in counseling because of my interest in working with youth.

And then the doors opened for me to go into another graduate program to work in leadership in school administration. That led me to become a principal. Never had I envisioned myself doing that. After that experience the impress of coming to work for the church emerged. After a 2½-year struggle with that, I accepted that call and invitation to work as a stake president and eventually a mission center president.

Then invitation came to serve as the director of Human Resource Ministries and then ultimately my call to serve the Council of Twelve. Again, those were never steps I had mapped in my mind. It was God’s leadership that took me into places I never would have gone on my own.

Linda: It’s an exciting time in the church with Christ’s mission being articulated in the five mission initiatives: to Invite People to Christ; to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; to Pursue Peace on Earth; to Develop Disciples to Serve; and to Experience Congregations in Mission. How has the articulation of those mission initiatives impacted you as an individual as well as a leader?

Scott: I could not be more pleased and excited about who we are being called to be and what we’re being called to as a church. For me it becomes this wonderful expression that I think has been a yearning in people’s lives to recapture who we are and what we’re about.

I believe there is no excuse for us (not) to say who we are and what we are about because it’s just been so clearly articulated. I’m excited.

Linda: And so, Scott, what vision do you see? What can happen if we really live Christ’s mission?

Scott: One of my greatest privileges is traveling in the field and being with the people. Every time I see the impress of the Spirit moving us deeper into mission.

I see that in places like Ellensburg, Washington, where I see this congregation filled with people who have come out of the brokenness of their lives and have found a new expression of hope in this message Community of Christ has.

I remember after a potluck I was standing in the kitchen with one of the members. And he just simply says to me, “I just love this church.” And he went on to explain how the church has opened its doors and become a place of hospitality for those working through addictions. As their Alcoholic Anonymous groups meet there, this place has found this spirit, and this man has found a new hope. I wish I could express how much joy I saw in his face.

At times, Linda, I’ve wondered if we’ve made mission more complicated than it needs to be because what it all boils down to is it’s about the invitation. I have found people waiting and yearning for an invitation to be a part of something that will bring meaning into their lives.

That is a message I clearly want to continue to lift up. The vision of the mission initiatives can never be without our willingness to invite.

Linda: Absolutely and amen! It says in Section 164:9, “by the grace of God you are poised to fulfill God’s ultimate vision for the church.” May each of us catch that vision, and may each of us fulfill the vision Christ has for us. Amen.

The Cause is Sure

17 12 2011

by KATHY ROSS, Venetia, Pennsylvania, USA

This afternoon as I was leaving a meeting at Universal Electric Corporation, my sister-in-law mentioned there were extra hams from the gifts given to employees. She asked if I would like to share some with folks from church.

I first went to our congregation in Charleroi. I gave two hams to a grateful member and asked him to give one to another family.

I walked down the street and gave another ham to a new member who is struggling with finances and health issues.

“That is really nice!” she said. “I would like to work for a boss who gives hams to their workers for Christmas! Thank you very much!”

I then drove to the home of some new friends in Donora. The kids came out, and I gave them the ham. They giggled and said, “Thanks!” Then they ran up the steps to give it to their mom.

They ran back to hug me. I knew they were struggling financially, and I asked them to give me a couple of ideas for Christmas presents.

The older youth said, “We don’t need any presents, Miss Kathy. Thank you! We can be in the bell choir tomorrow if you want us.”

I left and drove a couple of blocks to a lady who has attended our church about two years. Her daughter is in jail, and she lost her grandchildren to Children & Youth Services because of her daughter’s drug situation. I gave her a hug and the ham.

“Thank you so much!” she said. “Is there anything I can do to help at church? Do you need help at the next Peacemakers Club?”

As I headed home I thought about how we were doing the Lord’s work. Everyone at church has been helping others in need. It’s a good feeling.

But is this the church’s mission? Will the church grow and benefit from these acts? Are our mission and vision clear? As I came to a stop sign, all of these thoughts were running through my mind.

I looked to my right, and there was the old Donora church building, which was sold in the early 1960s. As I looked at it, the Holy Spirit rested on me, and I thought of the message I had put on our sign a week earlier: Hope ties us to the future as memory ties us to the past.

The people who worshiped there didn’t know what lay ahead. But with faith and trust in God, they outgrew that building and sold it to help buy the church in Charleroi.

We, too, have faith and trust in God. We do not know what rests ahead, but our hope ties us to the future.

The Spirit of the One you follow is the spirit of love and peace. That Spirit seeks to abide in the hearts of those who would embrace its call and live its message. The path will not always be easy, the choices will not always be clear, but the cause is sure and the Spirit will bear witness to the truth, and those who live the truth will know the hope and the joy of discipleship in the community of Christ.

—Doctrine and Covenants 161:7

By God’s Love

14 12 2011

Arkansaw, Wisconsin, USA

I was Grandma’s grandbaby only three years, but you wouldn’t have known it for the way she spoke to me or the way I looked at her. When my mom and stepdad married, I was hers, and she was mine.

She had lived many years, but it was no less surprising when she passed last winter.

I’ve never been to a Catholic funeral and, having been raised in a comparatively laid-back church, the formality was foreign. I walked and sat among family, though I didn’t know most of them, and most didn’t know me.

While the priest spoke of Grandma warmly, he also spoke of her commitment to and love for the church.

For the first time, I felt a gap between Grandma and me. I pondered whether my own faith would meet Grandma’s approval.

It was a frozen day, and before we began to walk up the frozen hill to the frozen cemetery, we all pushed and pulled ourselves into winter clothing.

We beat our feet on especially hard earth, marching separately and methodically until we reached the top, where someone had carved Grandma’s final resting place from the icy ground.

In our winter clothes, hoods up so only our noses poked out, I could not tell who was who. A crowd of coats, scarves, and mittens huddled around her casket, shoulder to shoulder. Misty clouds of grieving breaths danced about her casket in spurts and wisps.

Our differences faded. On that hill we were simply loved ones, Grandma’s children, God’s children. The sun shone on us, and our tears were warm against our cheeks.

We stood as Christians, facing the cold sting of death, united against it and the cruel lines of isolation. God gave us that cold day so we could come together in love and stand as God’s.

Snowplow Ministry Clears Path for Generosity

12 12 2011

by KARIN PETER, president of seventy

Last winter my sister visited us in Missouri from the Pacific Coast. One night we had a big snowfall. She awoke the next morning to the sound of our neighbor and his teenage son plowing our driveway and shoveling our sidewalk.

It surprised her that after finishing they began clearing the sidewalks and driveways of houses near us. Then they did those across the street and down the road.

My sister and I had been talking about generosity and giving, mainly because she had been asked to share A Disciple’s Generous Response in her congregation after returning home. That morning, as she watched our neighbors shovel and plow, she noted their generosity.

“Your neighbors,” she said, “could have cleared their own driveway and yours and then gone home to a warm house, having taken care of their own needs and those of their immediate neighbors. Instead they shared their gifts with those across the street and those who live on roads they themselves seldom use.”

She likened this to sharing equally through Local and World Mission Tithes.

“When we give locally we take care of the needs in our own congregation and in our local community. When we contribute to World Mission Tithes we provide for ministry in neighborhoods, villages, and cities much farther away, down roads we may never travel.”

As I plan my financial giving I will remember the “snowplow lesson” and generously share my resources in both Local and World Mission Tithes.

The Firm Foundation

10 12 2011

This story is condensed and reprinted with permission from Crumb Donors, a newsletter in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. Several names have been omitted because of matters of sensitivity.

I have never had a dad. There have always been plenty of males around who took up with my mom from time to time, but none of them stuck around long.

When I was in first grade, we moved into a house of our own. But around the fifth of each of month the rent man came, and my mom would pay the rent any way she had to. I’m shamefully saying my mom seldom paid with money.

When I was 9, I got tired of this guy collecting rent that way. So when he showed up one October day, I missed the bus and came home instead. I made a choice to make sure this man never collected “the rent” from my mom again.

The consequences of this choice meant I had to spend the next three years in group and foster homes. It may be wrong, but I never regretted that choice. But it made me believe I would never be anything more than a street thug. So when I returned home I began living out that belief.

A kid named Sean invited me to church one day at an old bank building. He told me we probably would play basketball most of our time there. I went, and then I started to go a lot. I wasn’t very good at basketball, but one older kid named Jared was.

He began to coach me in basketball. I got baptized and confirmed, and I spent more and more of my time at the center, playing basketball and doing church.

One day, Jared told me I should try out for my school basketball team. I told him I was afraid to ’cause if I didn’t make it, I would feel so angry that I probably would end up in juvenile.

But Jared kept working with me, and I made the team. I started hanging out at gyms and at church all the time. Being a thug became less and less of my future. Before long my entire family, including my mom, began coming to church. She got baptized and confirmed, too. The church helped my mom get her high school diploma and helped provide transportation so she could work.

She began to pay our rent with money. She went to rehab and got clean. In the meantime, I got confidence and also began to play football.

My mom met a man…I mean a real man. They got married. I finally got me a dad. This makes me cry even as I write this.

We moved away from Chattanooga after my sophomore year, but I still played high school basketball and football. I still kept in touch with my church family.

Today, Jared is the pastor at the church I grew up in. I am now a junior in a Christian college on a dual-sports scholarship in Virginia. I haven’t been a street thug since the day I made the basketball team at Tyner Middle School in Chattanooga. I never missed a day of school after that.

I still go to church, and I still have Jesus as my firm foundation.

To the Brink and Back

8 12 2011

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

I met Robbie Cooper 71/2 years ago when he moved into Alpha Trailer Park. He was a fierce-looking man who was not much more than a skeleton. He hated the world.

It took a long time to get any communication between us. He didn’t trust anybody. His own words to me: “I am a raving junkie.” He looked like one, the worst I’ve ever seen. But in time I got to know Robbie well. I’d like to share some of his story.

Robbie was born a twin with a hernia of the bowel. He was the first baby in Victoria to have open-heart surgery because of complications from the hernia surgery. A wonderful mother raised him, but his father was violent and didn’t get along with Robbie.

He began using drugs and spent years in and out of jail. He told me he never wanted to go back to jail, and he never has. The turning point came when he called and said he’d had enough of living like that. He had nearly died, which forced that decision. I watched him detoxify cold turkey.

You would think that the worst would have been over. But in 2006 Robbie got bullous disease and suffered more than a year. Then in 2008 he contracted shingles. I took him to the hospital twice. He was in agony. He couldn’t sleep, was extremely fatigued, and nearly had a breakdown. The medical staff offered pain relief, but he refused.

As Robbie says, “An addict is always an addict.” He did not want to deal with the temptation. He now no longer has full use of an arm and can be moody when the pain gets to him.

A growing respect for each other turned into friendship and, on my part, complete trust. If I need a bit of wisdom or advice, I call him. When I feel flat, he picks me up. And when he needs me, I’m there.

As time went on I noticed Robbie had a quick mind and was good at thinking of ways to raise money for Hope Community Care, which serves the disadvantaged.

Robbie has become one of my biggest supporters. He comes to church to support me for my services. He’s there on walkathons and Christmas barbecues. I couldn’t begin to tell you all of the things he’s done for me and Hope.

Robbie comes into Hope regularly to give advice and tease me. He has taken some younger park members under his wing and is like a surrogate father.

Robbie never married. Though he always wanted children, he had never picked up a child until the day he held Miss Lily (our little angel). You could not know how much it meant to him or how her innocence and trust ministered to him.

After all those wasted years he has found life. With the help of God, he had the guts to turn himself into the man he is today. There will never be another Robbie.