Why I Follow Jesus

31 01 2012

Council of Twelve Apostles

Stassi Cramm's son, Spencer, as a toddler, taught a lesson about the heart.

I first followed Jesus because my parents followed Jesus. Because Community of Christ was the tradition of my family, I often found myself in settings where followers of Jesus gathered. In these settings, I felt safe and accepted.

People loved me and helped me to develop my gifts. People also challenged me to listen to God’s voice when I made decisions. As my discipleship grew, I found that I followed Jesus because I felt more whole, complete, and at peace when I was in a community of followers of Jesus.

When Stephen and I married, we agreed to live as followers of Jesus through participation in Community of Christ. After we had children, we often read to them stories about Jesus’ ministry and sang with them songs that shared Jesus’ message.

One night, our son, Spencer, woke up with a bad dream. I went to his room to comfort him and offered to turn on his Jesus lullaby music. He shouted, “No Jesus music!”

I looked at him with surprise when he blurted, “Hurt me. Jesus in heart hurt me.” I smiled at his literalism about the song focusing on having Jesus in your heart. I tried to explain that Jesus would not physically be in his heart.

Recognizing the importance of this moment, I shared my age-appropriate testimony about why I follow Jesus. I explained how having Jesus in your heart is about allowing Jesus’ message to shape and guide our attitudes, behaviors, and decisions.

As I continued to grow in my discipleship, my reason for following Jesus moved beyond simply seeking wholeness for me and my family by being part of a Christ-centered community. I wanted to be a part of creating wholeness for others and the Earth by pursuing Christ’s vision of shalom.

The more I learned about God’s vision for the world as expressed through the message and incarnation of Christ, the more passionate I felt about doing God’s will and creating God’s kingdom on Earth like it is in heaven. I now follow Jesus to respond faithfully to God’s invitation to promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace by sharing Christ’s peace.

In recent years as I’ve remembered Spencer’s observation that night long ago, I have come to understand he was more correct than I had first realized. The truth: It does hurt to have Jesus in my heart! It hurts because I see the injustices, the oppression, the destruction, the lack of shalom that plagues our world, and I know Jesus weeps.

As a follower of Jesus, I find hope in Community of Christ. It rests in the possibility that we will Experience Congregations in Mission, Invite People to Christ, and Develop Disciples to Serve. We can help the world Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and Pursue Peace on Earth.

“Onward to Zion faithful and strong…Zion the beautiful beckons us on.”…That is why I follow Jesus!

Victor’s Dream

29 01 2012

Orlando, Florida, USA

It was an early Sunday morning, and the Odessa, Ukraine, public beach on the Black Sea was coming to life as our recently planted congregation gathered for a baptismal service.

People around us quieted as we sang, prayed, and prepared for the baptisms of four new disciples of Jesus. Each person being baptized wore and shared a white robe coat. During the baptisms, I noticed that Victor, a 7-year-old, stood as close as possible. He listened to the prayers, and watched intently as each person was immersed.

Following the four baptisms, Victor asked Pastor Volodya Glushkovetskyi if he could try on the white coat to see if it would fit next year. I remember his smile as Pastor Volodya helped him slip into the wet white coat.

We returned to the church, where that afternoon we joined with the congregation in the service of confirmation. Most young children chose to play quietly in another room. But Victor again watched intently as each recently baptized person sat in a chair in the center of the room for confirmation.

After the final confirmation, I saw Victor again whisper in Pastor Volodya’s ear. Then Victor walked directly to the confirmation chair and sat down, smiling broadly.

His countenance spoke loudly of his hopes and dreams for the not-distant future when he could be confirmed as a Community of Christ member.

I have thought about that day many times over the last several months. Each time I am reminded of Victor’s wish to become a disciple of Jesus and a member of Community of Christ.

I have wondered what would happen in the church if each of us would share the same expectation and hope for becoming disciples. What would change in our congregations if every disciple shared Victor’s hope-filled dreams for becoming more connected to God?

Would we become bolder in sharing our testimony and inviting people to join us in sharing the peace of Jesus Christ?

Each time I am reminded of Victor, I think about the scripture of Jesus speaking to his disciples about the importance of children and our understanding of God’s kingdom.

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.—Matthew 18:3–4

Victor may not fully understand all that becoming a disciple means or will require. However, his enthusiastic wish to begin that journey is a testimony of God’s nurturing love that his family and congregation are sharing with him.

“Honored to Be Invited”

27 01 2012

Overland Park, Kansas, USA

Being baptized and growing up as a Baptist and being baptized again and becoming a Methodist, I believed I had found my home. I was always active in church while pursuing higher education and building my practice as an art therapist.

After six years as a widow, I fell in love with a man—and his church. We married 10 years ago, and on July 10 I felt honored to be invited into Community of Christ membership.

During my 10 years of attendance before joining, I met wonderful, loving, God-filled people. I discovered a family of believers who are progressive and avoid the stifling dynamics associated with fear and guilt. Learning, growing, and a shared feeling of belonging drive them.

I have read many books and attended many classes, and they make me eager to learn more about the history of the church. Through my teachings, I hope to share my love for the church and God with others.

Walking the Disciple’s Path

23 01 2012

Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Loyal Frederick hoisted the final roll of wire fence onto his truck while he and his wife, Joan, talked with a priesthood member. The man had just said: “We’ve really enjoyed having you two attend church recently. Have you ever thought about being baptized and joining the church?”

Their answer was immediate. “Yes. We really enjoy the fellowship here. But we were baptized some years ago. Would we have to be rebaptized? ”

Loyal, a long-distance truck driver, had moved often to follow his work, and they seldom had gone to any church. Now retired, they often attended the Inland Congregation in Interlochen, Michigan, with their son’s family.

Loyal and Joan began classes to learn more about Community of Christ, followed by a joy-filled confirmation service, with their earlier baptisms being accepted as the day they gave themselves to the Lord.

“The priesthood member who invited us to join became very ill and hospitalized,” Joan said, “but he talked with the pastor to be sure we were going to be confirmed. He was thinking about us and not himself. And I knew then it was time for me to commit myself to Jesus again.

“Before I had only connected with Jesus in prayer when I was at my wit’s end. But now I realized I was receiving from him and not giving back. I’m striving now to get closer to God and be a better Christian.”

Joan and Loyal serve in any way they can, and they faithfully attend church events. They are walking the path of disciples for Christ.

“We met some good people there who made us feel like part of the family,” Loyal said. “We are grateful that they accepted us into their fellowship.”

New Members

21 01 2012

Among the first people to join the church by confirmation based on the new membership policy were these three young adults from Tegucigalpa in Honduras. All three—Noel Padilla (left) Anival Cruz Gomes (center), and Edith dePadilla—had been active in the church for many years but had resisted being rebaptized. They were confirmed members of Community of Christ on January 23, 2011.

“I Wanted to Be a Part of Something…Beautiful”

19 01 2012

Athabasca, Alberta, Canada

On July 16, 2011, I was confirmed a member of Community of Christ upon my baptism, which I received in October 1991.

After years in my original church, I discovered I no longer could submit to religious dogma that appeared to alienate groups and individuals. I longed for my church to accept people regarding their unique situations, circumstances, and experiences. I longed for a practice in respecting and accepting diversity.

About two years ago I began occasionally attending Community of Christ services with my friend, Barb. We shared many discussions regarding religion and spirituality. I was very interested in her approach to life and church. Last summer my stepdaughter and I attended church camp with Barb. There was plenty of music and fun, and I had the chance to immerse myself in literature, discussion, and reflection.

I decided to become a member simply because I wanted to be a part of something I see as beautiful and the way that Christ would have it.

I remember my sincere desire to become a disciple of Jesus when I was baptized almost 20 years ago. It is with the same sincerity that I researched, prayed about, and decided to become a member of Community of Christ. I am grateful for the sacred moment of baptism that would guide my decisions and experiences, including the ones that created the path that led me to Community of Christ.

My grandfather was an integral part of that baptism. He helped me to learn of its importance and then performed the ordinance. I am grateful to carry the experience and validity of my previous baptism into my confirmation with Community of Christ.

My confirmation was beautiful, peaceful, and empowering as Barb performed the ordinance with a male priesthood holder alongside her. The chance to include both genders reflects the balance and equality I like to see represented in church responsibilities.

Although my grandpa is no longer with me, I believe my involvement in Community of Christ would please him.

Since my confirmation I have experienced repeat confirmations from the Spirit that it was an excellent decision for me. I’m grateful for faith and hope that have confirmed to me that Community of Christ is a supportive place where I can align my values and share my testimony of Jesus Christ in word and deed.

Holy Spirit Seen in Actions, Love, Generosity

16 01 2012

Berryville, Arkansas, USA

About 6½ years ago I walked into the Berryville Congregation. I went because it was the church of the woman I was to marry. At that time, I never imagined I would join Community of Christ.

The church I’d been attending was Sabbatarian, which viewed any group that did not keep Saturday as non-Christian. The consequence was that I believed Community of Christ members did not have the Holy Spirit. Over the years, my experience changed that view.

Though my views differed from those of the members, they still accepted me and valued my opinion. I saw the love and generosity that flowed effortlessly from the church as a whole and from individual members.

I was not convinced of the presence of the Holy Spirit by strong words or articulate argument, but through the words enacted through their lives. However, joining Community of Christ still was not an option until recently.

I was baptized in the faith I grew up in by my grandfather. I still have full confidence in this baptism, and I considered a new baptism an annulment of the first. I had no intention of ever being rebaptized and did not even consider joining Community of Christ until after the policy changed to accept previously baptized disciples through confirmation. Even after this new policy, it took me eight months to decide.

The exclusivity of my family’s faith has caused many heated discussions about this matter. In the end, I decided God was leading me toward confirmation into Community of Christ. I still am unsure of where God is leading me, but I know Community of Christ will be an integral part of my life.