Why I Follow Jesus

29 02 2012

BY RICK MAUPIN, Council of Twelve Apostles

Apostle Rick Maupin gives a Temple School certificate to Rhoda Spence, at 91 the oldest member of the church in Jamaica.

Over the years my understandings of who Jesus is and why he came to Earth have changed. So my reasons for following him also have changed. Initially my reasons were well grounded in an understanding of a Jesus who came to save me, which I found comforting and reassuring. However, as I have continued my journey, I realize that following Jesus is not always so comfortable.

During my childhood and early adulthood, I actively participated in another faith tradition. I remember at a young age sitting in a Sunday-school class and hearing about Jesus, from Lou, our teacher. She told us that if we chose to follow Jesus, he would be there for us, and he would save us.

I wanted to follow this Jesus who had come to save me. I remember making a public profession in that church to follow Jesus and to be baptized. That profession of faith and promise to follow was prompted by more than Lou’s descriptions and the stories she shared. I was being prodded by a stirring in my heart and mind that was hard to define.

Years later, having been invited to join this faith community, I found myself again trying to define stirrings in my heart and mind. I was being invited to follow Jesus, but this Jesus seemed more challenging than the one described in Lou’s class.

I was again hearing about a Jesus of love, acceptance, and salvation, but this Jesus was also about challenging the world to realize the kingdom of God, Zion. This Jesus preached a radical message that confronted and exposed the world’s injustices.

I began to realize those stirrings in my heart and mind were not just about joining a church. They were about joining a movement that believed in following a radical Jesus into the world. Was that the kind of Jesus I wanted to follow?

Over the last few years I have had the privilege of following Jesus into many nations. In those places I have heard the call to share that radical message, which challenges injustices, heals pain, and comforts those who suffer.

I have followed Jesus into places where I saw people living in a refugee camp after war displaced them. I have followed Jesus into a cobbled-together house where a widow and her five children lived under great oppression, surrounded by abject poverty. I have followed Jesus into many communities filled with marginalized and dispossessed people.

In all those places I have heard the call of that radical message, denouncing the world’s injustices and oppression. What makes this message most radical is the hope it promotes. It is a message of hope even amid suffering.

That is why I continue to follow Jesus—because his radical message is all about hope.





The Quiet Beauty of Nature

27 02 2012

BY MARGARET SWARTZENDRUBER, Spiritual Formation Team

It is mid-August, and I am away from home. When my daughter travels out of state, I stay at her home to care for Maggie Rose.

Maggie is a Maine coon cat. She turned 14 this month. I come here because Maggie has a tube in her stomach and needs to be fed every 12 hours. My daughter is a veterinarian and travels across Michigan and out of state.

I look out the double glass doors at Lake Huron. Large freighters pass in the distance, carrying iron ore. Various wildlife—geese, goslings, swans, cygnets, and sea gulls—all move near shore. The goslings follow the mother goose, looking for food. The cygnets run to and fro. Sea gulls squawk at one another. On the lawn various birds visit the bird feeders. On the grass squirrels and rabbits eat corn.

The environment is quiet, and the wildlife warms my heart. God’s creation is beautiful.

The birds follow a “pecking order.” The larger birds stay by the feeder and crowd out the smaller birds. Now and then there is a confrontation. A smaller bird moves away, then comes back. The rabbits and squirrels seem satisfied to nibble corn scattered on the grass.

As I walk in the cool morning I see colorful wildflowers mixed with grass and shrubs. In the distance, a doe and fawn cross into a wooded area.

Something stirs within me. In this quiet space, I know God has created each of us for a purpose and is calling us forth.

Find a quiet place. Rest your hand gently on your heart. Breathe softly and be aware of your body. Close your eyes and imagine a soft light within your heart, warming your hand. Let your imagination follow this glow as it moves deeper and deeper into the recesses of your heart.

What does this light help you see, feel, and know? Ponder how the Holy Spirit calls you forth and pray for guidance.





Called to Serve Youth in the Netherlands

24 02 2012

BY ANITA KLOOSTERMAN-WÜSTENHOFF, Zwanenburg, The Netherlands

Youth in the Netherlands are benefiting because a minister sensed a call.

A few months ago, our mission center youth minister, Johannes Egbert Gjaltema, asked if I would be interested in becoming a youth leader for the Netherlands.

Although I knew I would need to learn a great deal, I didn’t hesitate. I sensed a call and felt I would be up to the responsibilities.

Also, I am not bashful in asking for help. I know youth work can be difficult. However, with help from God and several experienced people, I think it will be a nice challenge.

I have a daughter who is 14. It’s important that she knows about our church and what it stands for. I talk to her about everything—bullying in school, discrimination, sex, homework, money, and other things. However, I don’t talk all the time; I listen because that’s important, too.

Johannes Egbert and I created a youth magazine so they could learn more about the church and become more involved. At Easter, we distributed the first copies.

Johannes and I also were responsible for teaching older youth at our Easter Reunion (we call this Paaskamp). We assigned them to interview the adults. In the last class, spent with the adults, the students read their results.
As we shared, the Spirit blessed us.





Colloquy Mentors, Educates, and Inspires

22 02 2012

BY LORI MARTELL, Independence, Missouri, USA

Terry tempest Williams showed how much the award meant to her.

Imagine the mentors you assume you will never meet face to face, but who have touched your life profoundly. Who is it for you—a speaker, author, musician, or artist? I will never forget the 2011 Peace Colloquy, “Creating Hope, Healing Earth,” held October 21–23 at the Temple in Independence, Missouri.

There I met one of my most special mentors: author and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams.

My spirit soared throughout the whole Colloquy. On Friday night, it was my honor to introduce Terry just before she received the 18th Community of Christ International Peace Award. Were you there? Did you watch live from home?

If not, stop reading right now and watch the award and keynote address at www.CofChrist.org/peacecolloquy.

On Saturday, the Rev. Fletcher Harper’s keynote address captivated me. (You also can listen to this address on the Peace Colloquy website.) He outlined a few worldviews on the environment, including scientific, environmentalist, skeptical, economic, and religious voices. Then he delved into detailed scripture study of Hebrew and New Testament creation-related passages.

The keynote speech by Rev. Fletcher Harper roused people with an address that affirmed the Sacredness of Creation.

Rev. Fletcher showed how easy it is to misrepresent a scripture when a person doesn’t understand its cultural-historical context. Exploring the levels of meaning in context and even in the original language of various passages affirmed:

  • All of creation is holy.
  • God is at home in creation.
  • Biblical salvation is not just for a few “good” or “lucky” individuals, but for all of creation, all of us.

Too many great workshops to describe in one article filled the rest of Saturday. The breadth of knowledge and passionate commitment to the environment represented by the presenters was inspirational. Whether seeking cleaner food sources, helping save a special place threatened by development, helping a congregation become “greener,” or speaking about global climate change, people of faith increasingly are taking a stand on behalf of the Earth. The workshops quickened and strengthened this momentum.

Saturday night was playtime. Minnesota folk artist Peter Mayer put on a show that had the Temple spire resonating with more rhythm and melody than one person should be able to coax from an acoustic guitar. His eco-spiritual message was the perfect accompaniment to the weekend. By the end he had us all on our feet with a “This Little Light of Mine” grand finale sing-a-long. Everyone left with a smile. If you want to learn more about Peter, visit www
.petermayer.net
.

Sunday morning, President Steve Veazey and Peace Colloquy Co-director Brad Martell closed the Colloquy with a message that had me laughing, crying, and nodding in affirmation. Yes, Brad is my spouse, so I am hopelessly biased. But, I think this was one of the best messages I have ever heard.

Steve and Brad spoke casually, as if having a friendly conversation, but the depth of their statements was anything but superficial. Watch it now at www.CofChrist.org/peacecolloquy!





What Matters Most in Raiwaqa, Fiji

20 02 2012

BY SUSAN SKOOR, Council of Twelve Apostles

The church and Apostle Susan Skoor are helping Samuel through difficult times as he extends ministry.

Samuel (pronounced “Sam-well”) is an elder of great faith amid difficulties in Raiwaqa (pronounced “Rye-wonguh”), Fiji.

Nearly a year after falling six feet onto concrete in his workplace, Samuel is beginning to walk again. His employer paid him a partial salary for a few months, and then released him, withholding additional funds. Appeals through a union failed.

Because his employer had provided his house, Samuel had to move out. Documents needed for continued financial support were mishandled, and errors deliberately were printed on them to block further help. His employer refused to give him a reference, which could have aided in finding another job. Further appeals resulted in intimidation and fear tactics.

During the health and employment crisis, a grandchild was born, and his parents named him Emmanuel, “God with Us.” Emmanuel was born one month early, and his development is slow. Now at 5 months, he functions like a 2-month-old. The family celebrates each small step toward growth and maturity.

Meanwhile, Samuel’s congregation of Raiwaqa suffered several setbacks. Neighbors, prejudiced against Community of Christ, permanently blocked plans to build on church-owned property.

The members and seekers who were gathering in Samuel’s small rental home erected a tent one Sunday in his backyard for their meeting. A neighbor reported them for holding worship services without a license, and officials ordered Samuel to stop. The members and seekers drifted away. He now is seeking a formal license to meet.

As part of a small group that recently visited Samuel and his family, I felt blessed by his welcome and hospitality. Although still experiencing great pain, he expressed hope and optimism.

If he is unable to get a job, he will raise chickens and ducks. His wife is looking for work to help support the family.

He’s eager to get the license and plans to contact all those who were attending services a year ago to invite them back.

Toward the end of our visit, I asked Samuel how we could best help him.

“I would like to get a tarpaulin to put up and take down each Sunday so we can meet in my backyard,” he said. “I want to establish the church in this area, and my house is too small.”

The tarpaulin costs about $45. More chairs also would help. His request was not for himself, but entirely for the benefit and growth of a congregation in Raiwaqa to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For Samuel, that is what matters most.





Pastors and Leaders Field Guide

18 02 2012

BY DAVID D. SCHAAL, The First Presidency
and RON HARMON, Council of Twelve Apostles

The mission of Jesus Christ is not just an idea. It is not a program. The mission of Jesus Christ arises from our relationships with God and one another. It is holistic. It is experienced when individuals and congregations share the gospel in ways that bless people’s whole lives—the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual.

The Pastors and Leaders Field Guide is a new tool to help pastors and congregational leaders live shared practices of Christian discipleship that create a congregational culture shaped by the mission of Jesus Christ. The field guide also is designed to help pastors and leaders carry out the basic elements of organization and administration required for a well-functioning congregation.

The field guide is available at www.CofChrist.org/leaders. Arrangements are being made with mission center presidents to provide print copies for congregational leaders who do not have Internet access.

Each article in the field guide focuses on a specific topic. It includes foundational concepts, important questions to consider, and specific suggestions and practices to begin. Each is written by a minister who has experience starting these ministries in congregational life. Articles can be copied and used with leadership teams, priesthood, and groups of disciples who are considering ministries that relate to the topics.

The church is grateful for the dedicated service of our pastors and congregational leaders. We hope this field guide will be a practical resource for people who are grounding their leadership in a relationship with Christ and looking for practical ways to give that leadership expression through the life of the congregation.

Field Guide Topics:

New Pastors
Responding to the Call
•        Pastoring Basics
•        The Congregation Embodies Christ’s Mission
•        What Mission Means

Exploring Mission

•        Sharing Leadership and Ministry
•        Discovering Our Context for Mission
•        Becoming Sacred Community: A Foundation for Mission
•        Discerning God’s Call for Mission
•        Orienting Mission around the Gifts of All Ages

Orienting Congregational Life toward Mission

•        Building a Pastor’s Leadership Team
•        Caring for the Most Vulnerable
•        Cultivating Individual and Group Spiritual Practices
•        Disciple Formation (Christian Education) for Mission
•        Ecumenical and Interfaith Ministries
•        Finding Balance and Renewal
•        Invitation, Witness, and Hospitality
•        Modeling and Leading Generosity
•        Pastoral Care Ministry
•        Priesthood Ministry: Developing Mutual Expectations
•        Sacraments in a Mission-focused Congregation
•        Scripture in a Mission-focused Congregation
•        Ministry Together with Young Adults
•        Worship Planning

Establishing Organizational Effectiveness

•        Communication Is Essential to Effective Ministry
•        Congregation Audits
•        Leading Congregational Conferences (Business Meetings)
•        Legal and Risk Issues
•        Protecting Our Children
•        Missional Budget
•        Planning and Calendar
•        Priesthood Call: Discerning and Processing
•        Questions and Where to Find Answers
•        Resources: Descriptions and Locations

 





Finding His Place, Inviting Others

16 02 2012

BY KRIS JUDD, president of seventy

Kahealani Faaturari, a vibrant Community of Christ member in Papeete, Tahiti, is passionate about inviting others to find the treasure he has discovered.

Kahe was introduced to the church 12 years ago, when he was 8. His father found the church and introduced Kahe to it. But Kahe’s mother encouraged him to continue to attend another church. At age 10 Kahe entered the Catholic church, where he joined in retreats, was a choir leader, and led songs for worship.

Even at a young age, Kahe knew he wanted to work for a church, but he did not yet know it would be Community of Christ. At age 17, he began searching for a church aligned better with his beliefs and that could answer questions he had.

Because of his father’s membership in the Tiona Congregation, Kahe became friends with Mareva Arnaud, French Polynesia Mission Center president, and her husband, Muna. Following a young-adult retreat, Kahe told Muna he wanted to be baptized in Community of Christ.

“I observed these people…how they lived in community, how they shared their joy, happiness, and love with one another,” Kahe said. During a worship service, he accepted Christ into his heart and encountered a spirit and feeling different than he ever had known.

At age 18 Kahe was baptized and confirmed as a member of the church, and his early decision to serve God was confirmed again.

“I knew that if God touched me, God can touch another person,” Kahe said. Since then he has invited others to enter fellowship with Community of Christ.

He now works as a youth minister for the mission center while teaching hula classes at his own school. He has invited his students to share in worship with him, and his teaching focuses on the spiritual, as well as physical, nature of dance.

Some days he cancels classes because of his work with the church. Kahe says his priorities reflect the joy he has found. “Community of Christ is a gift to me.”

Now he wants to share this treasure with others who also are searching for a place to belong.





“You Are Not Doing Your Job”

14 02 2012

BY ALISHA BAUMAN,
Carmel, Indiana, USA

A few months back a non-church friend confronted me about a serious issue.

“Why haven’t you invited me to church? You are a minister. You are not doing your job.”

I quickly invited him to church, feeling that is what he wanted to hear, and I apologized for not doing it before. I now realize those were not the right words. I thought about what I would be inviting him into. Then I thought about everything I knew about him and his personal journey. I really did not want to invite him to church.

What he really craved was an invitation to Christ.

There is more to the invitation than we like to admit.

To invite people to Christ, we open ourselves to becoming relationally vulnerable. It is saying we will stand by them, walk with them, hold them to conviction, and promise to never give up.

We are called to follow Christ. We are examples to others. If we do not know our own relationship with Christ, then we will end up leading others in circles to nowhere.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. —Hebrews 3:13–14 NRSV

Many are out there—some poor, some rich—and they cry out for something more.

We each hold a light like our relationship with Christ. Imagine sitting in a dark room, and you are the only one with a light. As you get up to leave, others in the room beg you not to go. All you can assume is that they just want to take advantage of you. They may not understand what the light is you hold. They just know it makes the dark not so dark.

Are you willing to share the invitation and walk with them to a real relationship with Christ?





Youth Ministries “Haunting, Daunting, and Promising”

10 02 2012

BY MIKE HOFFMAN, Youth Ministries

I am called to be a youth minister. While I now serve as a mission center president, I still sense this call.

Last summer I served as the pastor to junior- and senior-high camps and taught at SPECTACULAR. While I sometimes feel I am aging, so many more times I get joy from the responses of young people to the mission of Jesus Christ.

In Community of Christ, youth ministry started in the 1840s. Leaders felt the need “to correct the follies of youth, to guard against temptations to which they are exposed, and to aid in charitable enterprises” (Church History, Volume 2, page 642).

Youth Ministries Day grew out of Scout Sunday. It’s set aside to think about the relationships between young people and the church, to honor their contributions, and to recognize those who serve in youth-ministry leadership.

It’s a good day to consider the bigger picture of youth ministry in your congregation and mission center: the “haunting questions,” the “daunting challenges,” and the “promising possibilities.” These are sections of OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook, edited by Kenda Creasy Dean. She’s an associate professor of youth, church, and culture and director of the Tennent School of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Many themes from this book echo my experience. Some “haunting questions”: Does youth ministry matter? Do our practices reflect Christ? Do we accomplish what we imagine?

“Daunting challenges” include responding to the expanding ages of adolescence while realizing young people are exposed to more adult themes and responsibilities at a younger age. There’s also the changing context of our ministry: the sense of place (in an Internet world), the faster pace of life that has become normative, the challenge to live generously.

Despite these questions and challenges, the book and my experience also relate “promising possibilities.” They include how more of our youth ministry zeroes in on theology. It focuses on practices of discipleship and the emphasis on relating youth ministry to the mission of Christ—following Jesus Christ into the world.

In this book, I found an ally in how I feel and want to face the future in youth ministry.

For many, including me, youth ministry has seen major shifts over the last two decades. There is a restlessness—a realization of these shifts and an uncertainty of how to move forward.

Today, youth ministry includes a wide range of efforts and purposes. It’s organized and communicated through technology not even imagined a generation ago. It’s intergenerational, relational, and most recently missional.

In Community of Christ, the development of a clear and compelling identity has blessed youth ministry. The enduring principles, mission initiatives, and basic beliefs provide a solid foundation for our identity and mission in the world. It’s a mission many youth find captivating.

As adults involved in youth ministry, we focus on helping younger people develop for service: inviting people to Christ, abolishing poverty and ending suffering, and pursuing peace on Earth. The Disciple Formation Guide (www
.CofChrist.org/dfg
) provides a great way to wrap my mind around essential questions in responding to those in our youth ministry.

Youth ministry’s challenge is to make it tangible. This is dependent on local ministry—specifically the congregation and community. We are called not so much to gather in youth “groups” but to send youth as developing disciples who minister to a world in need.

As we plan for Youth Ministries Sunday, our challenge is to be faithful to the past, and to discern and pursue how the mission of Jesus Christ will impact our ministries and the lives of young people now and into the future.





Seeing and Living “the Vision”

8 02 2012

BY GWENDOLYN HAWKS-BLUE, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Do you see the vision?” “So what?”

President Steve Veazey asked these questions when he spoke at the Temple to more than 70 people at the 2010 African-American Ministries Retreat. The questions resonated with me. What does it mean to fully embrace the vision of God’s peaceable kingdom here on Earth?

What Is “the Vision”?    

  • Love prevails and God is worshiped, revered, and obeyed.
  • Peace and goodwill toward others according to the principles Jesus showed.
  • Each person empowered to live at his or her highest level.
  • Acceptance of the gifts and talents that each brings to the kingdom-building process.
  • Spirit of God manifested by all.
  • Interaction with each other and creation in compassionate and just ways.

William T. Blue

Each phrase captures some piece of the reality I believe God intends for creation. My perception of “the vision” has grown through experiences with the Holy Spirit, interactions with others, Spirit-filled sermons, prayerful deliberations as the chair of a diversity task force, membership on the Standing High Council, and participation on the International Leaders Council.

Embracing the stories of the Holy Spirit working with people who are different by culture, ethnicity, socio-economics, gender, or sexual identity inspires and lifts me to a broader understanding of “the vision.”

“So What?”

The 2010 African-American Retreat focused on some African-American giants in the church: George Graves, Aaron Johnson, Amy Robbins, Pauline Frisby, William T. Blue, and Lynn Stubblefield. We also included Josiah Henson, a former slave and ancestor to several current church members.

These individuals have shared distinctive testimonies and gifts, bravely living their commitment to “the vision.” They are giants because they took bold steps beyond personal fears or society’s expectations to become kingdom builders.

They responded to their calling although society did not fully accept them, their ethnic group ostracized them for belonging to a “white man’s church,” and they suffered indignities from the very faith community they embraced. They saw “the vision” beyond the status quo of their day and worked to make it a reality.

Others who embrace “the vision” inspire us. Prosper Carl, a white leader in East St. Louis, Illinois, made it possible for black youth to attend church amid fear and resistance from other white members.

Helen Carty

In Alabama, Helen Carty risked losing a job she desperately needed when she supported “the vision.” She approved a black couple for an insurance policy they were eligible for but would have been denied because of discrimination. After her action, the company changed its practices.

“So what?” is the challenge and call to action for all of us. We must be loving and compassionate, recognize the Worth of All Persons. We must be good stewards and work for justice and peace daily. It is not enough that we “see the vision.”

We must help make it a reality.

Can “the Vision” Be Distorted?

Experiences throughout my life have told me we can and sometimes do distort or narrow “the vision.” We become myopic and see “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV).

Amy Robbins

As an African-American youth in the church, the segregation laws of that time restricted me. My parents had meals at our home for fellowship with white church members. They never brought their children, and they did not invite us to their homes. So my interaction with white church youth was limited to summers, when my parents worked as cooks at church reunions in Alabama.

Segregation laws made working at reunion the only way we could attend. I and the white children lost opportunities to see the inclusivity of God’s vision within our church.

When we accept what is most comfortable based on our cultural views, biases, or practices, our vision is narrow. At times we limit ourselves to the status quo even when it conflicts with Christ’s message of the worth of all persons. When we do this, we lose many who could play an integral part in our church’s effort to establish Zion, God’s kingdom here on Earth.

George Graves

Seeing “the Vision” as Community

The blessing of being a prophetic people is that we continue to grow and receive clearer understandings of “the vision.” Women in the priesthood and people of color as apostles are evidence of a broader “vision.”

Through our current “vision,” we see that others outside Community of Christ have authority. This change of perspective does not in any way divest us of our role in kingdom building. Rather, our understanding of “the vision” is more inclusive.

Tony and Charmaine Chvala-Smith, church theologians, describe how we have proclaimed who we are as a church. We have transitioned from being prophet-centered, to church-centered, to Christ-centered.

I am humbled, challenged, and emboldened each time I read the first two sentences of Doctrine and Covenants Section 163:

“Community of Christ,” your name, given as a divine blessing, is your identity and calling. If you will discern and embrace its full meaning, you will not only discover your future, you will become a blessing to the whole creation.

Being Christ-centered as a community of faith gives us a clearer “vision.”

Pauline Frisby

The We Share document, enduring principles, and five mission initiatives describe “the vision” in daily actions. They provide practical ways to live our discipleship.

The International Leaders Council exemplifies a more-inclusive “vision” by church leadership. For the first time, a body brings together International Headquarters staff with international and national church leaders from multiple ethnicities. Together we speak and listen to each other, striving to discern God’s will.

Together, we struggle with tough issues facing the church. Despite misgivings or long-held traditional beliefs, our deliberations are genuine efforts to allow love to prevail. We work to be open and vulnerable, sharing hopes, fears, and experiences, recognizing we are at varying places of understandings.