Why I Follow Jesus…

28 02 2013

BY DAN GREGORY, West Des Moines, Iowa, USA

I follow Jesus because in him I have been and am being changed.

Because of the love of Christ found in the witness of prayerful discernment, reflection in scripture, and the embrace of nurturing community, I am being transformed daily. Though I was rooted firmly in a heritage of faith from a young age, it wasn’t until I was 17 that I discovered the joy and possibility that comes from a transformative relationship with Christ.

As a sophomore in high school, I began to realize my strong public faith was a mask for empty inner turmoil. Leading our youth group, I often would speak about the beauty of God’s love and the merits of discipleship. But the harsh truth was that I sensed no such love and yearned desperately for a connection to God that just wouldn’t come.

Over the course of a year, my fleeting thoughts of disappointment turned into silent screams and pleadings to a God who would not seem to answer. Bitterness began to come over me as I saw my own hypocrisy and frailty.
Others were growing; I felt forgotten. I felt no one would understand, so I kept my agony bottled up, hidden so the world wouldn’t hear my cries.

By the last week of my junior year, I had lost all faith in Christ, had relegated God to a mere fantasy, and had prepared myself to leave the church community I had loved so dearly but no longer could align with.

Once more, in the darkest moment of my life, I asked God for direction—a plea I was sure would go unanswered yet again. The next morning, as I numbly sat through worship, I found myself resolved to leave my faith and my Jesus behind.

Fortunately, Jesus didn’t abandon me.

The change came in a moment: I felt an incredible peace and release ripple over me, a wash of warmth beyond all description. It freed me from the pain of doubt I had carried so long. And buried deeply within me, yet clearly articulated within my head, came the words that changed my life forever: “Daniel, I love you.”

Simple. Clear. Profound. It wasn’t some theological exposé about why I had struggled or an outline of why I should logically claim Christ as my center once more. In that moment of liberation, I knew I had never been alone. I was seen, known, and loved by my Creator. My transformation had begun.

In Christ’s affirmation of love, I have stretched to love others as he would love them. I have found resonance with the message of hope, healing, and freedom that comes through the cross. I have been changed by the grace of patient community. I know I can voice my fears and shortcomings within the embrace of the church.

But ultimately, I follow Jesus because he reached out to me and offered me a new path, one where I would be changed in the warmth of divine love.





Recommit to Generosity

26 02 2013

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we accept responsibility for sharing generously with others. Our sharing is in response to the gift of God’s love for every person.

Ways we express gratitude to God are by staying committed to sharing generously, saving wisely, and spending responsibly according to our true capacity. One great tool to ensure you meet your goals in Canada and the USA is to sign up, or update your form for PAT (pre-authorized monthly checking account transfers). Your gifts to local and worldwide ministries can be set up through the form linked at www.CofChrist.org/give/#pat.

In November, contributors around the world gave an estimated $975,000 in world mission tithes. That brings us to $4.9 million toward the $14.85 million budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. Please consider the needs for ministry around the world as you plan your 2013 response to God’s generous grace, and thank you for your continued generosity.

Your sustainable giving helps:
Invite People to Christ: Make a Difference Camp in Ohio encourages inner-city children and youth to develop relationships with each other, nature, and God. Several have been baptized and confirmed, and more have started a journey that could lead them to the sacraments.

Abolish Poverty, End Suffering: “Love Is a Verb” class at an Eastern Great Lakes USA Mission Center camp gave junior-high youth a chance to do projects benefiting an interfaith ministry that helps preschoolers and many more in the community.

Pursue Peace on Earth: The Atlanta-based Peacemobile uses puppets to talk to children about resolving conflict and inventing peaceful ways to deal with life’s upsets.

Develop Disciples to Serve: Lesson plans at www.CofChrist.org/wc2013/preparation.asp will complement your prayerful study of Christ’s Mission Is Our Mission as we all prepare for World Conference, ongoing study, and spiritual formation.

Experience Congregations in Mission: The Makiki Congregation in Honolulu, Hawaii, responded to the call to build compassionate relationships and create sacred spaces to make life better for the burdened by allowing a group to use its property to offer day care for elderly people.





Pray, Fast, Give

22 02 2013

BY JENN KILLPACK, Integrated Communications

Though our team and many others have been preparing for over a year, it’s hard to believe that in fewer than three months people from all over the world will be here at International Headquarters. World Conference is one of my favorite gatherings of the church!

As part of our preparation this month, the entire church is invited to participate Sunday, February 24, in a Day of Preparation. What is that, anyway?

The Day of Preparation includes three important elements: prayer, fasting, and giving.

Pray
Something praying handsis powerful and sacred in knowing our prayers unite with those of our brothers and sisters around the world. When I close my eyes, I can imagine our prayers knitting together, one at a time, and eventually encircling the globe with our desire for peace.

As we prepare for Conference, each of us is called to pray daily for our leaders, our delegates, and for the entire World Conference. Include these things in your personal prayers and as part of your congregation or group’s worship experience.

Fast
The Bible holds numerous references to fasts, and many refer to refraining from food and drink. But one that especially caught my attention is in Isaiah 58. There are striking similarities between this passage and our focus scripture in Luke 18. Phrases like “loose the bonds of injustice” and “let the oppressed go free” jumped off the page.
This scripture seems to challenge us to think beyond abstaining from cookies, smartphones, or other things that keep us from fully obeying God’s command to care for the poor and oppressed. However you decide to observe this day of fasting, I encourage you to think about what keeps you from fully living Christ’s mission.

Give
Registration fees will cover only a portion of costs (about US$554,000) related to World Conference. Your contribution to the World Conference special offering will help provide sisters and brothers from around the world access to the events of this important week by keeping registration fees affordable.

To help your congregation, a specific Disciple’s Generous Response resource for the Day of Preparation is at www.CofChrist.org/wc2013.

To contribute, use the World Conference special-offering envelope (USA and Canada contributors) or contribute online at www.CofChrist.org/give.





Better than a Fairy Tale

20 02 2013

BY DEBBIE YOUNT, Bevier, Missouri, USA

Prince Charming

It sounds suitable for a fairy-tale ending. But really, the story isn’t over. And it’s no fairy tale. Rather, it’s a tale of a mission to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

The story began in December 2008 and grew to involve much of Bevier, Missouri. But when a community outreach appeared in danger, the Bevier Congregation of Community of Christ stepped forward.

Because it did, the storyline took a dramatic turn in late August 2012. That’s when Prince Charming and Cinderella’s Boutique, which provides free clothing and more for the needy, held a ribbon cutting. The event heralded the opening of a new facility at the Bevier Congregation.

It also marked a celebration highlighting the Blessings of Community. That’s because the Bevier Congregation was just one of several players in the project, which also drew support from elected officials, other churches, builders, and clients.

In 2008 the boutique started as an outreach by several churches. Besides Community of Christ, others were Sacred Heart Catholic, First Baptist, and United Congregational Church.

Unfortunately, the group’s building was sold. The Community of Christ congregation then decided it had room to build a 30-by-85-foot structure with heat, air conditioning, and restrooms. It was a great example of two Mission Initiatives: Experience Congregations in Mission and Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

People from other denominations volunteered labor for the project, which the Community of Christ congregation financed.

Now members from the different churches take turns working in the boutique, which is expanding with a sack-lunch program for kids on Saturdays. Each congregation furnishes a food item, and kids come to the boutique to pick up lunch.





Popular Video Sermon Series Enters Third Year

18 02 2013

BY JAYLENE O’KEEFE, Integrated Communications

Keep ’em coming!”

This has been the most common reaction to the popular “Witness the Word: Sermons on Demand” video series as it nears completion of its second year. “Witness the Word” brings mission-centered sermons from sought-after preachers and new voices to congregations near and far.

“Witness the Word” debuted in 2011 as a quarterly series, offering three sermons per release on DVD and the church’s website. It gave congregations 12 annual sermon options, featuring people like President Steve Veazey, Apostle Linda Booth, and former Presiding Evangelist Danny Belrose.

In mid-2012, we added three moments for A Disciple’s Generous Response (DGR) to each quarter’s release, highlighting presenters such as Presiding Bishop Steve Jones, Apostle Stassi Cramm, and Financial Officer Carla Long.

In the coming year, expect sermons and DGR moments from leaders representing the church’s international diversity. They’ll include Jennifer de Guzman, Southeast Asia Mission Center assistant to the president; Catherine Mambwe, president and financial officer of the South Central Africa Mission Centre; and Ruben Landeros, president of the Mexico-Texas (Mexico/USA) Mission Center.

We’ve also invited preachers you suggested in our online survey. Look for Jimmy Munson, mission coordinator for the Mid-South USA Mission Center; Apostle Susan Oxley; and more from President Veazey.

Sermons on the web extend our reach far beyond Sunday mornings and church walls, with impact in far-flung places and lives. A viewer from Dublin, Ireland, contacted us on Facebook with thanks for the inclusive message of “No Matter What!” a sermon by Jane Gardner, president of the Quorum of High Priests.

And inspired by Carla Long’s “The Parable of the Toilet Paper,” the Wiarton Congregation of Ontario, Canada, collected and donated 626 rolls of toilet paper to a food bank. It also committed to contributing needed items monthly.

While originally envisioned as congregational sermon options, “Witness the Word” sermons also have been used in Sunday school classes and shared with seekers and shut-ins. Small congregations and those with few priesthood have found them especially helpful.

Have you used “Witness the Word” in your congregation? Try it! Free DVDs are mailed to pastors in Australia, the British Isles, Canada, and the USA. Also, the videos are available for download at www.CofChrist.org/worship/sermons.asp. Look for new releases in March, June, September, and December annually.





The Crippled and Lame now Walk

16 02 2013

In Kathmandu, Nepal, hospital treatment funded by money given to the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering saved Subash Bhusal’s leg.

The traditional mission of the church continues; the crippled and lame now can walk (Acts 3:1–10).

This is a small example of how contributions every Communion service have a dramatic effect all over the Asia Field and elsewhere around the world. Other recent examples include those suffering from flooding in Mindano, Philippines, and a night watchman having a hip replacement in Andra Pradesh, India.

What is Subash Bhusal doing today? He is one of the most loyal members of the Kathmandu Congregation, working with other young people in the mission of Christ.

He stands tall and walks with hardly a limp.





Sin and Salvation

14 02 2013

Theological Foundations

The Enduring Principle, Responsible Choices, acknowledges that God created humans with the freedom and “ability to make choices” (agency) and that “human choices contribute to good or evil in our lives and in the world” (Sharing in Community of Christ: Exploring Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs, 3rd Ed., www.CofChrist.org/discernment/weshare/weshare.pdf).

Our Basic Beliefs State:
God created us to be agents of love and goodness. Yet we misuse our agency individually and collectively. We take the gifts of creation and of self and turn them against God’s purposes with tragic results. Sin is the universal condition of separation and alienation from God and one another. We are in need of divine grace that alone reconciles us with God and one another.
—Sharing in Community of Christ: Exploring Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs, 3rd Ed

Sin is a universal condition of human life. “Sinful” describes all of us and our need for God’s grace, forgiveness, and redemption through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23, Helaman 4:53–56).

Basically, sin is unwillingness to live in right and loving relationships with God, others, and creation. We become self-centered, greedy, and rebellious. We decline God’s passionate invitation to live in just and peaceful relationships. Consequently, we live lives of insecurity, fear, and carnal indulgence while dying spiritually to life as God intends it. This rampant condition disrupts our lives, others’ lives, and pushes creation toward chaos and destruction rather than wholeness and peace.

According to the New Testament, Jesus’ understanding of sin went beyond wrong outward actions and included inner desires, intents, and motives. He interpreted the Law in such a way as to deepen its meaning and redemptive application using the exhortation: “You have heard it said in the past…But I say to you.”

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” —Matthew 5:21–30 NRSV

Also, to Jesus, not acting in compassion, love, mercy, and justice toward others was just as sinful as engaging in wrong actions (Matthew 23:23–24, Matthew 25:31 ff.).

While sin is understood as a universal condition, scripture sometimes uses “vice lists” to demonstrate how sin reveals itself in human life (Romans 1:28–32, 2:1–16; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; Galatians 5:19–21; 1 Timothy 1:8–10).

Such lists are neither meant to be complete nor to provide a ranking of sins from worst to not as bad. They should not be used to limit our understanding of sin to “checklists.” Vice lists illustrate the pervasive nature of sin, the hypocrisy of self-righteously judging others, and the need for all to repent and receive forgiveness and new life through Jesus Christ.

The human propensity for quickly judging and condemning others while overlooking the condition of our own lives was challenged by Jesus: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1–5; Luke 6:37–38, 41–42; Mark 4:24).

Doctrine and Covenants 164:6 presents counsel that has clear implications for our understanding of sin. Section 164:6 is built on the ethical foundations of the greatest commandments and the gospel vision of freedom in Christ led by the Holy Spirit. It stresses that moral behavior and relationships should clearly, consistently, and totally respect the principles of “Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness” (Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a).

Section 164:6 describes sinful behaviors as attitudes, actions, and relationships that are “selfish, irresponsible, promiscuous, degrading, or abusive” (164:6b). This is equally true for all types of relationships. From the perspective of Section 164:6, there should not be different standards in sexual ethics.

Salvation
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Romans 1:16 NRSV).

Our Restoration scriptures affirm:
And this is the gospel, the glad tidings which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us, that he came into the world, even Jesus to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved, whom the Father had put into his power… —Doctrine and Covenants 76:4g–h

The New Testament affirms that “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him—these things God has revealed to us by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NRSV). Also, “Beloved we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 NRSV).

Our Basic Beliefs State:
The gospel is the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ; forgiveness of sin, and healing from separation, brokenness, and the power of violence and death. This healing is for individuals, human societies, and all of creation. This new life is the loving gift of God’s grace that becomes ours through faith and repentance. Baptism is how we initially express our commitment to lifelong discipleship. As we yield our lives to Christ in baptism we enter Christian community (the body of Christ) and have the promise of salvation. We experience salvation through Jesus Christ, but affirm that God’s grace has no bounds, and God’s love is greater than we can know.
—Sharing in Community of Christ: Exploring Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs, 3rd Ed.

Community of Christ teaching about salvation is not confined to individual salvation alone. We believe the qualities of salvation begin to be experienced in this life as we are reconciled with God and others through faith response to the gospel. The “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22 NRSV) evidences this unfolding direction in our lives.

We also believe that salvation has social, relational, or communal dimensions. That is, the whole creation is ultimately the focus and beneficiary of God’s redemptive action:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. —Romans 8:18–24 NRSV

Recent counsel to the church offers an invitation to the fullness of salvation that includes peace in this life and in the eternal realms of God’s universe:

Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation.
—Doctrine and Covenants 163:2a

The scriptural vision of the renewal of the whole creation calls us to hopeful action in response to the suffering and groaning of creation. We are called to “whole-life stewardship dedicated to expanding the church’s restoring ministries, especially those devoted to asserting the worth of persons, protecting the sacredness of creation, and relieving physical and spiritual suffering” (Doctrine and Covenants 164:9c), because “in their welfare resides your welfare” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a).

Final judgment, according to Matthew 25:31–45 (NRSV), will rest to a great extent on how we cared for the “least of these” during our life on Earth. How we treat the least, the lacking, and the labeled reveals the true quality of our love of God and neighbor.