Why I Follow Jesus

30 03 2012

by A. BOLTON, Council of Twelve Apostles

Why do I follow Jesus?

The people who have loved me the most are Christians. That’s it. One sentence.

Here is my story.

I did not live a sheltered life growing up. Dad was traumatized psychologically from his experiences of being a soldier in World War II for seven long years. He saw unspeakable things. He drank. He spent time in a mental hospital. We lost our small farm and had debts.

Things were hard on my mother, and I was the eldest of four sons. Dad, with the help of a doctor and God, did stop drinking when I was about 14. Things got much better, and I started to do well in school.

When I went to agricultural college I was out of place. Eighty percent of the men in my year had gone to private schools. I had not. I was not a son of wealthy farmers. I did not go hunting with the hounds. I did not drink. So I did not really belong.

But there was a welcoming and safe place for me in the Christian fellowship group at the college. There were Christians from all kinds of social backgrounds. They were kind and let me in. This was my first experience of Protestant Christianity.

I first met members of Community of Christ in Germany through John, who I met by chance on a boat crossing the North Sea. I was working in Germany on a tree-and-shrub nursery for a year after graduating with a degree in horticulture. I had just been home for Christmas.

John’s friends in the church were the most loving group of people I ever had met. Although I was British, they still warmly welcomed me. It was in the home of Marlis and Erich Kirsch that I first stayed. With four daughters and one son all excited about the church, they were all so loving.

When I moved to Wales to begin studying for a PhD in genetics, I found the same kind of fellowship among church members in South Wales.

I was loved into the church. I have never seen Jesus, but I have seen the presence of Jesus in the faces and companionship of those who follow him. There came the point when I, too, chose to follow who they followed. Baptism was the best decision I have ever made.

I also follow Jesus because the mission of Jesus is Zion, the end of poverty and class, the abolition of war, the forgiveness of sins, and an ever-fresh new beginning. The answer to my family’s problems while growing up is Zion.

There also came a moment near the beginning of my journey when I experienced the reality of the Holy Spirit for the first time through the baptism of someone else, Kim Griffiths. I was so surprised and moved about the reality of that experience that I could not stop crying. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.

Why do I follow Jesus? The ones who have loved me the most have been followers of Jesus. Zion is the mission of Jesus. I encountered the reality of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus.

Awash in Gratitude

28 03 2012

BY BARBARA HOWARD, Independence, Missouri, USA

Gratitude is the open door to abundance” was the message on my Yogi tea bag. That small piece of paper holds an honored place at the bottom of my computer, reminding me of the power of living every moment with a grateful heart.

Whatever the circumstances of one’s life, something—sometimes seemingly insignificant—can awaken a grateful response.

When our granddaughter, Grace, was a toddler, she insisted on saying the blessing at meals. Each time, she’d fold her hands, look out at those who were seated and ask, “So, what are we ‘sankful’ for today?”

We discovered this was the way her church school class began each Sunday. A quiet time first, followed by a thankful prayer time. The children learned that everything in their lives was, in some way, a gift. The litany of thanks at our table made each of us keenly aware that what we ate came to us from the hands of those we’ll probably never know. In this we were reminded there are those to whom God calls us whose needs are far greater than our own.

Gratitude is a spiritual practice that can begin each day. Waking up to life, to the newness of beginning again, one can lie still, wordless, and simply feel grateful. Breathing a prayer of gratitude for life itself and a new beginning is a way of acknowledging the divine presence. Silence and stillness refresh the spirit.

A busy schedule with family needs can be distracting or offer a rhythm of thanksgiving. Moving into the bustling activity with a sense that each person is a gift, each task an opportunity, brings a new perspective to what otherwise can be a stress-filled time. One’s own sense of calm assurance of a loving Creator brings a dimension of order to what otherwise might be chaos.

While this might seem impossible to busy parents with economic burdens and busy schedules, one “career woman-mother-wife-daughter-of-aging parents” described her daily routine of gratitude as “the key to peace in the midst of chaotic uncertainty.”

New opportunities arise every day to see how “walking in gratitude” awakens us to the richness of being alive. In the sound of birdsong, the fragrance of cooking food, the laughter of children, we are made grateful for the endless flow of simple gifts in our lives. We give thanks to the generous God who calls us to live with open, gracious, compassionate hearts.

Formed into Christ: One Day at a Time

26 03 2012

It’s the women of Ikot Oku Mfong, Nigeria, in the dark of early morning, silently making their way along well-worn paths to the church for daily prayers.

It’s the mother and father inviting their young sons into an evening ritual of remembering the day and praying over the good and “not so good” moments.

It’s the young adult listening to her MP3 download of the daily lectio divina broadcast from www.pray-as-you-go.org.

It’s my friend, Barbara, waking every morning with faces of loved ones in her mind, praying over each one with murmured words of gratitude and blessing.

It is Jesus, a great while before daybreak, rising and making his way through deserted streets to a wilderness place. He is alone, seeking solitude and a place to pray. This was the sustaining pattern necessary to his wholeness and ministry.

As water carves the streambed into the depths of a canyon…as wind bends the tree and permanently alters its growth…as the glass blower employs fire and breath to fashion an object of beauty…as the potter shapes the lump of clay into a useful container…as the baker kneads and bakes dough into fragrant, edible loaf…so the soul is shaped as it yields itself to the transforming forces of the Eternally Forming One.

Without a daily habit of putting ourselves at God’s disposal, we shape our own lives, form our own agendas, often unaware of how our human projections and self-interests affect our perceptions.

We must learn to be able to think and behave like Jesus, who is the archetypal human. This becomes the journey of great love and great suffering…If we remain autonomous, independent, self-sufficient we cannot know God, nor can we love God.

—Fr. Richard Rohr, January 3, 2012,
Daily Meditation: Resolve to Livea Life of Great Love

Put on the mind of Christ. Take up the patterns of Christ. Center your life on the passions of Christ. Submit your culturally formed ego identity to the true self God yearns to release in you. The dream of shalom was the central passion of Jesus, and it must become so for us. The mission is not simply to proclaim. The mission is to be transformed; to be melted, remade, and redirected.

The purpose of daily spiritual practice is to open spaces in our inner territories where our sense of self is refashioned and reoriented around the compassionate consciousness of Christ. Like Jesus we are drawn into the silent womb of divine Presence to receive Spirit’s impulses for justice, healing, and grace. Then, in the spirit and likeness of Christ, we go out as God’s shalom.

What will happen to the church if more and more of us take up a daily spiritual practice; if we are bound by common disciplines that take us deeper into the Spirit’s yearnings for us and the creation? What a wonderful possibility for us to pursue as Community of Christ!

Building Memories with the Spirit

23 03 2012

BY INI N. EDET, Nigeria Mission Centre president

Memories from Easter 2011 are nearly a year old, but blessings from the annual retreat in Nigeria continue to impact lives.

Now as we prepare for the 2012 Easter retreat at the Ikot Obioko Congregation, those memories remain strong.

Last year’s event carried the theme, “That Rejected but Unavoidable Jesus.” The event offered spiritual revival. It proved a turning point to many because of captivating messages and prayers that healed and brought souls to Christ.

The event began with an evening of testimonies about God’s glory in the lives of many. The next morning people offered prayers to every level of the church. Many also prayed for healing.

The retreat also enabled people and groups to discuss their effectiveness. This created pathways for developmental sustainability of the mission center.

That night, fund-raising for the re-opening of a branch at Umuahia brought the equivalent of US$1,000.

The retreat’s highlight came with worship the next morning. It featured baptism, confirmation, ordination, and Communion. In the message, people were told to go and tell the rejected and marginalized that Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Retreat participants sought to lead not only spiritually, but in very real circumstances. At the end of the event, they sent an SOS to the government, condemning kidnappings in the region as barbaric and inhumane.

Now we’re ready for Easter 2012. What blessings will it bring?

Hunger Challenge

21 03 2012

BY VICKIE REYNOLDS, Comstock, Michigan, USA

Though healthy and growing, 16 members of the Friday Knights youth group of west Michigan know about hunger.

They spent 30 hours without food in mid-May to raise funds for Outreach International and grow in personal awareness through experiencing hunger with the many in our world who face hunger as a daily reality.

We encouraged the youth to use their hunger pangs as signals to pray for impoverished people everywhere and as reminders to seek God’s face and voice.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of this event was not in the actual 30 hours of hunger, but in the weeks leading up to it. The youth collected pledges from friends and family.

We know that sending funds to help someone they don’t know, somewhere in the world, is a bit abstract. There’s no personal feedback. But nobody in this group was lazy. They raised $1,500.25! They also worked—on empty stomachs—by going door-to-door and collecting more than 100 pounds of food for a pantry.

The youth ate the final meal before their hunger challenge at lunch on a Friday at school. They then met at the Union Avenue Congregation in Grand Rapids at 6:00 p.m. to turn in pledge money. They enjoyed games, did activities that fostered awareness of world hunger and poverty, and prayed.

They went home at 9:00 p.m. At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, they went to two project locations. Half worked with a pantry and helped set up a carnival. The other half did a party and visitation at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

“At the end of our visit, we made sure to shake hands with all the veterans and thank them for serving our country,” said Alissah, one of the youth. “The last man…held onto my hand. His eyes were filled with watery gratitude. He gave my hand a firm squeeze, and I was happy I could make his day better.”

At 11:30 a.m., the two groups gathered at a recreation center for swimming, rock climbing, and other events. The energy pumped up when they arrived, but it ebbed after a few hours. At 3:30 p.m. the youth then boarded four vehicles that took them to different parts of the church neighborhood for the door-to-door food drive.

Teams returned to the congregation a bit after 5:00 p.m. Families of the congregation then served a “break fast” meal at 6:00 p.m.

Our weekend closed with praise, worship, and testimonies at 6:30 p.m. Everybody then left with a new understanding of the issues and how they can help others. As Nichole, one of the youth, said:

“Knowing the money we earn and the food we collect is all helping someone that needs it makes a weekend of hunger worthwhile!”

The Little Missionary

19 03 2012

BY CAROL GIBSON, Cary, North Carolina, USA

A 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the church in eastern North Carolina was held October 1–2, 2011, at the Cary Congregation. People came from as far away as Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, but Harmony walked over from next door!

The event featured a pig-pickin’ that served 175 people. But the surprise guest was 9-year-old Harmony, who hadn’t even been invited, though she earlier had attended Vacation Bible School.

She came in, announced her dad finally had let her come by herself, and said she could stay as long as she wanted. Mixing right in, she befriended Matteo, a foster child. She played games with the other children and enjoyed the day.

In the evening, folks talked about their experiences from the church’s 50 years in North Carolina. She seemed surprised to see pictures from so long ago. We enjoyed many wonderful testimonies, stories of ministry, and fellowship.

The next morning, Harmony asked if she could speak at the preaching service. I suggested she could give what she had written about God to Seventy Karin Peter, who was speaking that day. Karin immediately told Harmony she could share it just before the sermon. Karin then used Harmony to illustrate the “cloud of witnesses” of those who will help us “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1–2 NRSV).

During Saturday’s events, Harmony had asked if she could join the church. I said we would need to talk to her dad. On Sunday morning after church she said I had to talk to him right then. He and his family had come a few times since Vacation Bible School, and she made sure he came that morning, too. Since then, Harmony has completed four Sundays of classes to prepare for her baptism.

Children are amazing in their zeal to follow Christ and participate in church. Harmony also attends our music program on Wednesday evenings.

Looking back to the summer, I had invited some children to Vacation Bible School.

They suggested I knock on Harmony’s door. I did, and her dad said she and her sister could come. Harmony then went to two other houses and invited two girls who came; then, another boy from the same cul-de-sac knocked on the back door of the church on Monday night during Bible School, and asked if he and his brother could come. Now they also participate on Wednesday nights.

I call Harmony my missionary! Sometimes children are our best ambassadors for Christ.

It Begins with an Invitation

17 03 2012

Fort Myers, Florida, USA

On Wednesday night, the priesthood of the Fort Myers Congregation in Florida gathered for study and prayer.

Sitting in the circle were Chris, Stan, Lisa, Jennifer, Bob, and Jim. These are people in their early 30s who have been baptized within the last four years.

Let me share some of their stories.

Several years ago we met Hilda in a work setting, and she became a friend. Hilda is a Catholic who attends her church regularly. One weekend she was visiting in our home, and we invited her to church with us.

On the way home, she said, “I learned something I never knew today. I learned that God lives inside of me. I always knew there was more to this God thing, and today I experienced it.”

Hilda is still a Catholic, but she tells others about Community of Christ. Enter Chris and Stan. Hilda met these two men in their late 20s in her consulting work. She told them they needed to visit this church she had found.

They came, and they stayed. On Wednesday night both were sitting in our priesthood circle. Meanwhile, Hilda continues to share the love and acceptance she felt in our congregation.

Through the witness of God at work in Stan and Chris, our congregation now has Hobbie, Bette, Pete, and Fernanda.
We also have longtime members Roy and Gloria, who are part of our outreach team. On a trip to a store, they started visiting with a couple and offered to buy them a cup of coffee. Before the afternoon ended, they had taken Don and Colleen to the church and walked them through our building. This year Don and Colleen were confirmed as Community of Christ members.

It takes a vibrant witness and an invitation to bring souls to Christ.

Jim and Krystal and their daughters, Hope and Faith, came to us through a carnival in our church parking lot. They are a young family, struggling to make ends meet but with a great desire to succeed. Jim is gifted with his hands and can fix anything. Krystal just got her first teaching job after attending college at night.

Jim was in our circle of priesthood Wednesday night as a recently ordained deacon.

Inviting people to Christ is an intentional action. How many people do we each meet daily, and how often do we find an excuse to withhold our testimony of what God is in our lives?

In our congregation we are experiencing the fruits of a few vibrant witnesses who have dared by offering the invitation.
We started by preparing our congregation, introducing the Seekers Tool Kit (www.HeraldHouse.org/custom/web/list.asp?c=19819). From this we changed several things to make our facility welcoming. Then we focused on our members. We asked ourselves, “What do we have to change to make people feel welcomed when they come through our doors?”

We focused on being a welcoming congregation. Visitors do not sit alone. We talk about Jesus Christ from the pulpit. We use the scriptures. We encourage our speakers to not speak in code. For example, we refer to the Doctrine and Covenants, not the D&C.

We know the mission initiatives, and we Invite People to Christ. We have heard the call and are sharing our witness of Jesus Christ.