Why I Follow Jesus

30 04 2012

BY BARBARA L. CARTER, Apostle Designate

If Jesus Came to My House

When I was young, my mother bought our family a book titled If Jesus Came to My House by Joan Gale Thomas. It is about a young child who tells what it would be like if Jesus came to visit. The child shows Jesus around his home and shares the best of what he values most with him.

In the end, when Jesus leaves, the child says he knows it is not possible for Jesus actually to come to his house, but he can continue to be with Jesus in all the ways he had imagined by treating others the way he would treat Jesus. After having this book read to me, or reading it myself, I remember thinking I wanted to do that…I wanted to treat others like I would treat my friend, Jesus.

Jesus was a part of my life from the beginning. My parents and extended family made sure I knew of him. I learned the Bible stories of Jesus: his birth, the miracles, the compassion, the teachings, the forgiveness, and the Resurrection. The stories of Jesus were more familiar to me than nursery rhymes or Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat. Being introduced to If Jesus Came to My House was one of the first times I remember thinking about “doing” or “being” because of my knowledge of him.

I follow Jesus because I choose to do so. It is a decision I have made many times. With each choice, a contribution to a beautiful and strong foundation—formed from my experience, study, inspiration, and faith—was made.

Another time of choosing happened when my relationship with Jesus became one of teacher and student. I had learned the scripture from 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NRSV):

that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

This scripture compelled me to understand how each of us can be reconciled to God. How can we, all of humanity, be reconciled with our Creator and with each other? I continue to learn from Jesus.

There are times throughout the year when I am given an opportunity to choose to follow Jesus all over again. When I participate in Communion I recommit my life to discipleship. When I covenant with another person or group of persons to be prayerful, and when I celebrate the religious holidays, especially Easter, I am choosing to follow Jesus.

At Easter, I am reminded that God, through Jesus, is all about resurrection! Resurrection in the daily lives of everyday people! God has not left us to struggle on our own without hope. God sent his son, Jesus, to be the friend who teaches us to give our best to others, who calls us and shows us the way to be reconciled, and who through his own life testifies of hope.

I choose to follow Jesus today, for this time and in this place.

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Justice for God’s Children

27 04 2012

BY BOB WATKINS, Lakeland, Florida, USA

One week before Christmas, an act of violence stunned my town of Lakeland, Florida. A 25-year-old policeman, Arni Crispin, was shot in the head while on a routine stop to investigate the activities of three young men in a park.

One minute he was doing his job; the next minute he was brain dead. The entire town mourned. We shared the heartbreak of seeing a young man cut down when on the brink of all those things we dream about: falling in love, getting married, buying a first home, paying off a car, holding the first child. And there are mundane things: mowing the lawn, washing the car, repairing the house, going to student-teacher conferences, and buying groceries. Those special and mundane things that make up life will never belong to Crispin.

As we stayed glued to the television during the days Crispin was on life support, the sad eyes and serious expression of Kyle Williams stared back. He was arrested and charged with murder. If convicted, Williams’ life will be effectively over at age 19. No wedding, no career, no family Thanksgivings and Christmases. Just the promise of a death sentence or life in prison.

It’s easy to feel sympathy for the family members of Arni Crispin. Yet my heart also goes out to the family of Kyle Williams. They, too, have lost their son. Two families. Two heartaches.

Over and over my mind goes to our calling as Community of Christ members and congregations to seek and promote justice. How can we, a small church with small congregations, make a difference in our communities? How can we interject ourselves into the Kyle Williamses of our communities and perhaps change the course of lives? Are we able? Are we willing? How much would it take for us to make a difference?

Then I remembered 40 Developmental Assets! This is a program I had learned about before moving to Florida. I would encourage anyone who has children, grandchildren, neighbor children, or young friends to pursue this.
Search Institute has identified the building blocks of healthy development—assets—that help children grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. These 40 Assets are listed under various categories and four age groupings (3–5, 5–8, 8–12, and 12–18).

The list is amazingly simple. Yet research has proven that the more of these “assets” each child has, the higher the chances for success as an adult. For example, one asset is a child who has caring adults in life who are not parents. What an opportunity for us to make a difference with the kids at church and in our neighborhood!

Attending church services one or more times a week is an asset. Taking music or other creative lessons is another asset.

How many assets were present in Kyle Williams’ life?

Can you and your congregation invest in the 40 Developmental Assets program? Can you find ways to enrich the life of a young person? Can you be the factor that keeps a young person on track rather than seeing that life end at 19?

For more information on the 40 Developmental Assets program, visit
www.search-institute.org/developmental-assets.





Connecting Kids, Adults through Prayer

25 04 2012

BY VICKIE REYNOLDS, Comstock Park, Michigan, USA

Intergenerational activities lead to improved relationships.

In 2005, I sat in a workshop at a youth-specialties conference titled, “Mentoring Children and Youth.” I signed up because another person and I had attempted—and failed—to establish a mentoring program in our congregation.

The value of mentoring seemed obvious, and we had worked hard to kick it off. Several adults attended our two informational meetings. But nobody signed up. Typical responses were, “I’m not sure I’m the best role model,” “I’m not familiar enough with scripture,” “I’m not comfortable praying with a child,” and “I’m not comfortable being with a teenager.”

So in 2005 about 60 youth leaders and I eagerly waited for the instructor to bless us with his wisdom.

He asked: “How many of you have worked at starting a mentoring program in your congregation?” About three-quarters of the hands went up. He continued: “How many of those programs succeeded?” Not one hand rose. The room erupted into uncomfortable, but relieved, laughter.

The speaker then shared ideas of creating mentoring relationships without…well, mentoring! Among his ideas were ways to decentralize children’s, youth, and adult ministries. Instead he focused on intergenerational activities and fellowship.

The easily used ideas focused on creating intergenerational bonds. The one he felt strongest about was the Prayer Sponsor program. I came home excited and worked to begin it the following spring.

We’re still going. It has created intergenerational bonds similar to what I felt as a child in my home church. Children at Union Avenue Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, know they are a part of a larger family. Adults in our congregation know their names and interests, and they love the kids.

A prayer sponsor differs from a prayer partner. To be a prayer partner means you regularly meet and pray. To be a prayer sponsor means you regularly pray for the child as though the child were your own.

We ask for two other commitments. We ask sponsors to say “hi” to the child every Sunday to start building a relationship. And we ask that they attend the annual Prayer Sponsor Tea. In this event, sponsors meet with their prayer kids at church, sit together for the refreshments, and join in intergenerational activities.

We always have a “photo booth” where a photographer takes photos of each sponsor-child pair. Both get a print to hang on the refrigerator for the next year.

We also ask parents to remind each child throughout the year that the sponsor is praying for the child. Parents are to remind children they may phone their sponsors whenever they have problems or worries.

What has happened since we started prayer sponsoring? Mentoring has happened. Kids pay more attention when their sponsor shares testimony, preaches, or is in the hospital. Sponsors pay more attention when “their kid” is in the Christmas play, a school play, or is sick.

Because prayer sponsors typically keep the same prayer child year after year, meaningful relationships form. One younger child, facing minor surgery, reminded his mom they needed to phone the prayer sponsor. One kid picked up a love of photography from his sponsor, and they did a few photo projects for the congregation. The sponsor eventually gave the boy his old camera.

One child (since moved) lost his mom at a young age. His sponsor honored his birthday every year by cooking the favorite meal the boy’s mom used to prepare on his birthday. His older sister’s sponsor took her Christmas shopping every year. And one little girl, whose family left our church when an older sister wanted to go elsewhere with school friends, encouraged her family to return. The reason: the annual contact of her sponsor, who continued to pray for her and send birthday and Christmas cards.

I would encourage every congregation to be intentional about being intergenerational. Pairing each child with a sponsor has changed the spirit of our fellowship and created a generation of teenagers who know this church is theirs.





Beating back My Inner Snark

23 04 2012

BY SHEYNE BENEDICT, Eugene, Oregon, USA

Sheyne Benedict

I have two confessions. My first: I have an inner Snark. Yep, you read that right. That’s Snark with a capital “S.” My Snark is a running, internal commentator. My Snark communicates primarily through sarcasm, internal eye rolling, and a lot of cynicism.

I work for the Judicial Department with people identified as drug addicted. So my Snark sounds something like this:
A client will say, “I swear Ms. Benedict, I’ll walk right over to see my parole officer as soon as I’m out of your office.”
And my inner Snark says, “Sure you will, Johnny, probably right after you score a baggie on the street.”

“No, really, I promise Ms. Benedict. This time I’m gonna stay clean.”

“Oh, uh huh. Just like the last three times.”

Now in all fairness, the words always stay in my head. But my clients are not stupid. They can see skepticism on my face. Even worse, once those thoughts are in my head they gain traction. Each time someone has a setback or new charges, the snarky commentary becomes stronger. It is being “proven right.” But does being “right” about people help me uphold and restore the worth of those people?

My inner Snark started changing in 2010 during Southern Oregon’s Caravan Youth Venture for Christ. On the trip, the kids performed a skit about the Worth of All Persons. It examined how the labels of addict, homeless, questioning, or marginalized diminish the worth of people. And it focused on how God has placed the ultimate labels of valuable and worthy on each of us.

The kids worked with this skit more than six months. Each time they performed it my inner Snark had to do a little more self-examination.

I began asking myself, “If I tell the kids God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth—equal worth—then what do I say to the woman who has lost her children to the state because of meth addiction?

“If I proclaim the Worth of All Persons on Sunday, how do I treat the convicted burglar with track marks on his arms on Monday?”

Now, as a state employee I do not talk about my faith community or my relationship with God in my workplace. But over time I found myself in court with my clients, saying silent little prayers.

“Hey, God, pay attention to this one.”

“Keep this one on your radar.”

I wish I could tell you an amazing story about how praying for a specific client made some profound difference, but I think God is subtler than that. But those prayers made a difference in my life.

My inner Snark is not dead. But the prayers are becoming louder than my Snark. And the mantra “Worth of All Persons” is becoming a Snark mute button. I push it more and more often.

I am not proud of my Snark, but my second confession is even harder for me to acknowledge.

If God creates in all people inestimable worth, then that means for me, too. Wow! This worthiness business extends even to me. Which is crazy, because I know I’m not worthy.

An excerpt of a poem, “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson, speaks eloquently on individual worth:

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God… We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Our faith community’s enduring principle of Worth of All Persons has the following explanation: “God wants all people to experience wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.”

If I am not working toward such wholeness in my own life, how can I help others achieve it? If I do not uphold my own worth, how do I uphold the worth of others? If I do not put effort into the wholeness and health of my own body, mind, spirit, and relationships, how can I help others do so?

I have not found easy answers to these questions. But I know I have made progress. More importantly, I am willing to be a work in progress.

My challenge to you comes in two parts. First, ask yourself: “Because I am worthy, how will I treat myself today?”

Second, ask yourself: Because they are worthy, how will I treat others today?”





“For in Their Welfare…”

20 04 2012

BY SEAN LANGDON, Tacoma, Washington, USA and CAROL WOOLERY, Sumner, Washington, USA

"Freezing Nights" shelter ministry

One dictionary defines sanctuary as “a place of refuge and protection.” The sanctuary at the Puyallup Congregation in Washington has turned into such a place on Monday evenings, serving homeless adult men and women.

“Freezing Nights” is an ecumenical shelter ministry for homeless people. Since 2004, it has provided a place for those without shelter to sleep and receive food during winter months. A different church takes on each night of the week.

Together, they open their doors every night from November to March and provide three meals to those who otherwise might go hungry.

Every Monday evening, the Puyallup Congregation hosts 20–30 males and females. The “guests” sleep in the sanctuary, while three to four church members stay overnight with them. Many more members and friends donate food, prepare meals, visit, and play games with the guests.

Because of its participation, Puyallup has experienced many blessings. The congregation is becoming more visible in the community. Members are becoming known for actions that reflect the ministry of Jesus.
Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a states:

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will….For in their welfare resides your welfare.

Members and friends of the Puyallup Congregation, including some who hadn’t been active for a while, are providing sanctuary so their neighbors don’t have to sleep in the cold. They are attempting to fulfill what it means to be a community of Christ.





Invite People to Christ

18 04 2012

President and Prophet Stephen M. Veazey recently discussed Luke 4:18–19 and the five mission initiatives with Apostle Linda Booth. The Herald will run excerpts from their conversation in a six-part series. To see videos of their interview, visit www.CofChrist.org/mission/Veazey-Booth-interview.asp.

Linda: We continue our conversation now with our friend and leader, Steve Veazey, about the mission initiatives. In particular now we’re going to be talking about Inviting People to Christ. So, Steve, I’ve heard some congregations are…having many baptisms and/or confirmations. They use this term, “the victory is in the invitation,” and that is said by the youngest to the oldest. What does that statement mean to you, and what would the value of that statement lived out in the life of people be?

Stephen M. Veazey

Steve: The “victory is in the invitation.” I think that’s great. If we could just get that into our minds and our hearts, our words and our actions, we would find transformation in our congregations.

I think one way to understand it is theologically, and that is the gospel is invitation. It’s God’s invitation through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is inviting us to experience a new kind of life in a new kind of community and…the scriptures say the invitation of God comes through Christ and those who are followers of Christ.

So the gospel is all about invitation. Angels announcing to shepherds that Jesus has been born and inviting them to go, see, and be in his very presence. Jesus, when he is starting his public ministry, walking by the lakeside and inviting fishermen to come and follow him. And then those first disciples being so excited about what they’ve discovered in Jesus Christ that they rush to friends and relatives and invite them.

Jesus through his parables is inviting people to come into a new relationship with God. We think about the women who were at the tomb, the empty tomb, rushing back and telling the apostles what they had seen and inviting them to come and see the empty tomb, also. On the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly inviting thousands of people to come and be baptized in the name of Christ so they can experience the joys and blessings of the gospel, too.

The gospel is all about invitation, and so we carry the spirit of invitation in everything we do. Whether it’s worship, Christian-education classes, or community service, we’re always inviting. Inviting means to be welcoming, to be hospitable. The kind of preparation we would make for guests coming to our home is the kind of experience we should offer at every church activity.

People should know they’re expected, they’re welcomed, we’ve anticipated their needs, and they are always invited to enter into relationship with Christ and the church or to continue to grow in their relationship with Christ and the church.

So bottom line, it means we’re always looking for opportunities to simply say “Come with me and experience what God has in store for you in Jesus Christ.”

Linda: So we really worship a missionary God.

Steve: And we think about the parables that Jesus told in the New Testament. It often had to do with invitation. The parable of the great banquet—go into the city, go into the countryside, and invite people who don’t even expect to be invited to come to the banquet. The parable of the prodigal—the father who doesn’t just wait at the door for the returning child; he’s anxiously watching for him. And when he catches a glimpse of him he goes and meets him and invites him home. That’s the spirit of the invitation we’re talking about.

Linda: And it really is a matter of loving people so much that you want for them that intimate relationship with God.

Steve: And they know it. They experience it, and they know it. And that does more than anything to draw them into the fellowship of the congregation and for them to begin to experience the blessings of the gospel.

Linda: One of my favorite scriptures—and it’s just one line—that I really try to live by is in Luke 19:10, “the Son of man came to seek out and to save the lost.” I oftentimes think if each one of us would be having those sensitive spiritual eyes looking for those people who are lost spiritually, who are disconnected from the source of God’s grace, what a difference that would make!

Steve: What a difference it would make! And I think it’s important for us to understand that inviting is not just inviting and pressing people to come to church. Do we have an inviting personality as we’re interacting with people on a daily basis? Are we acknowledging them as a person of worth? Are we hospitable in our relationships?
Then we can invite people to all kinds of activities because they will be responding to the love of God that is inviting them through us, through our words, through our actions.

Linda: That’s one characteristic of a group of people that is invitational. They’re not just dependent on relationships within the body, but they actually have relationships in the community. Sometimes I hear people say, “Well all my friends are members of Community of Christ. I don’t know anybody that’s not in church.” What would your response be to someone who would make those statements?

Steve: They need to get out more. They need to get out and interact with people. Some days when I’m here in the office in the Temple, I intentionally leave. I may walk down to the local convenience store or go to other places to just interact with people, to be with them. I try to be kind. I try to say “good morning” or “good afternoon.” I try to make eye contact, even if they’re downcast and not looking at me.

All of that is what we mean by being invitational. It’s opening the door through our actions for someone to respond, even in conversation if they choose to do so.

Linda: And so with Invite People to Christ it seems like it’s seamless with the other four mission initiatives. It’s almost like the gateway; it’s critical for the other four mission initiatives.

Steve: When we understand it in its broadest terms, it’s about the spirit in which we engage in all the mission initiatives—the invitational, hospitable, warm, welcoming spirit.

It’s also about intentionally being engaged in evangelistic ministries, which some congregations have put aside to focus on other ministries they’re more comfortable with or more passionate about. When we focus on the mission initiative, Invite People to Christ, then we carry that spirit of evangelism into every aspect of what we’re doing. We also make sure the invitation is there and is being heard in all of our ministries.

So, yes, they’re all interrelated. They’re all connected. And we need to focus on all of them. In fact, they tend to lead into each other. For example, I know of people who have been attracted to the church because of our emphasis on justice and peacemaking. As a result of being enthused about that aspect of our ministry, they came to understand more about the church and decided to express their discipleship in the fellowship and ministry of Community of Christ by being baptized and confirmed or confirmed members of the church.

Linda: I met a woman several weeks ago—her name is Lynn—and she actually came to the church through invitation because of joining with the church in reaching out to the homeless. She was with people who had such care, love, and compassion for the homeless that she wanted to be a part of it, as well. Through that action, then she naturally was invited to the congregation, and she and her husband recently have been baptized.

Steve: When we are involved in the mission of Jesus, others will be attracted to becoming involved in that mission, too. They will be moved upon by the Spirit to become more committed as new or revived disciples of Jesus Christ.

Linda: So if someone looked at the envelope or went to www.GiveYour10.org, which is a website where the mission initiatives are articulated, and they wanted to give to Invite People to Christ, what would be the impact internationally?

Steve: The impact would be great. There’d be a huge difference. We’re hopeful people really respond. We have more opportunities for sharing the gospel and planting the church in new areas than we have resources to respond to those opportunities.

In some ways that’s always the case. The vision of the church is always greater than its current resources, and we live in that tension. But particularly now we know of areas in the United States, in other nations, that are ready. People are asking for the witness and the presence of Community of Christ, and we want to go there, and we will go there, hopefully. But when we go there, we need to be able to sustain and grow the work of the church.

So when people contribute to Invite People to Christ, the focus is on those mission initiatives that increase the number of church disciples throughout the world, plant the church in new areas, establish congregations to reach new groups, and open the work of the church in new nations. And all of that will increase and accelerate as the church responds to that mission initiative.

Linda: Thank you, Steve, for talking about Invite People to Christ. We encourage each one of you to become fully engaged in that mission initiative and be generous in your Mission Tithes so the mission of Jesus Christ can go to many places throughout the world, and many lives will be transformed.





Laugh, Share, and Pray

16 04 2012

BY ROCHELLE MEURANT,
Kellyville, New South Wales, Australia

Condensed from The Scroll, of the West Pennant Hills Congregation in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Rochelle Meurant

I have been involved in the youth program in Sydney for years. I have learned a lot about myself, but more importantly, a lot about the fantastic people within our youth group.

The enthusiasm and passion of the youth in Community of Christ amazes me. Recently, I shared with youth from Victoria at Kallara Youth Camp. One evening, I talked with one about volunteering within his home congregation.
He said he sees so many wonderful people doing so many wonderful things. But although he’d like to contribute, he feels inadequate and unworthy. He said a few times he offered to help, but others rejected his offers, or someone more experienced took over before he could finish.

He said the expectation to be perfect is so high that it was easier not to volunteer for fear of failing.

I see this as a pattern with many youth. It is difficult to be 14, 15, or 16 and offer yourself to more-skilled adults. It is even more difficult to have your project taken away or redone, your testimony criticized, your worship replanned.

In Community of Christ, some youth listen to heavy-metal music, paint their fingernails black, wear heavy eye makeup, or pierce their eyebrows. They stay up all night, sleep all day, and leave assignments until the last minute. Some read gossip magazines, eat chocolate biscuits for breakfast, or spend all day Sunday playing soccer.

Does this make them less worthy to serve?

These same youth have skills in leadership, listening, public speaking, and organizing. They know how to shake things up and are willing to give an old project a new spin.

They can make you laugh and will hold you when you cry. Some e-mail you funny stories of their week, give flowers to brighten someone’s day, and help random people on the street.

These youth are standing up for community and causes they believe to be right. They are being counted, raising funds, raising awareness, and encouraging others. They are involved in anti-bullying campaigns, peer mentoring, and more.

They buy free-range eggs and fair-trade chocolate. They save water, energy, and rainforests. They fight cancer, participate in Relay for Life, and volunteer at preschools and hospitals.

These amazing people have so much to offer, so much to give. Maybe they’re not perfect. Maybe they speak a little too fast. Maybe their program runs a little long. But so what?

Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone… —John 8:7 NRSV

They participate with enthusiasm and passion. I encourage you to help these young people build community by letting them make mistakes. By listening to them and using some of their ideas. By laughing with them, sharing with them, and praying for them.