Why I Follow Jesus…

29 03 2013

BY MIKAL FARLEY, Zionsville, Indiana, USA

firedepartmentI was born and raised in Community of Christ, and my grandparents have been my spiritual mentors as long as I can remember. They have exemplified Christ in their lives.

At age 8 I knew I wanted to be baptized. I wanted Jesus to be part of my life. Seven days after my eighth birthday I accepted Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I was awestruck at the idea that this man, Jesus, was willing to die on the cross so my sins could be forgiven.

My mom and dad had divorced when I was 2 or 3 years old, and yet my grandparents on my dad’s side of the family continued to love my mom, my brother, and me unconditionally. Even as I grew older and my mom and then-stepdad were going through trials and later a divorce, my grandparents were there for us.

They demonstrated and explained the importance of loving Jesus and living as a disciple of Christ. By mom’s second divorce, I had grown a little more independent. But I still put my trust in Jesus. I developed a relationship with Jesus, and any time I needed comfort, he was there.

As I entered high school, I began to see Jesus as my best friend. I knew I wanted to make Jesus my priority in life. I decided to join a fire department as an Explorer to give back to my community and to share my testimony. I found great joy in helping people at their lowest.

I often was asked “Why are you helping me, why do you do what you do?” My time with the fire department, responding to fire and emergency medical calls, was a blessing.

John 16:15 NRSV reminds us of Jesus’ words:

You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

I don’t follow Jesus for the sensationalism or the mountaintop experiences. I follow Jesus to tell others the good news. I’m not proclaiming to do so all the time or without hesitation, but I feel the urge and the nudge to go. Jesus calls all of us to step outside our comfort zones. He calls our names and asks, “Will you come with me?”

Philippians 4:13 NRSV reads “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I follow Jesus because he deserves it. Jesus is the Son of God. He showed us how to live our lives. He showed us how to love. Jesus sacrificed his life for ours. Jesus continues to forgive us though we continue to live in sin. Jesus gives me strength to overcome the obstacles in life.

I follow Jesus because I want to know him and love him during the joyous moments of life and amid its struggles.





Garden of People

27 03 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABY LU MOUNTENAY, Integrated Formation Ministries

A plant’s roots follow the perimeter of its pot. When plants start to lose vigor, a quick investigation reveals the problem. Lift the plant, exposing its roots. If you see circles of roots going round and round, it doesn’t take guesswork to know the plant is root-bound.

The roots have turned in on themselves and are choked by the confines of the pot. They’ve absorbed all the energy and nutrition the spent soil has to offer. Their inward journey is complete in this space, and it’s time to guide the roots in a new direction. So we provide a larger pot or even let the plant go free in our garden.

To repot the plant, we put fresh soil in the new, larger pot. We manipulate the roots to change their direction outward toward the fresh, expanded soil. We may even cut off the bottom inch of rooted soil for a healthy “letting go” of offending roots. If you “talk” to your plants you might say, “It’s for your own good, dear,” or “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

We water the plant and say a prayer to make it (and us) feel better. We might change its location to a sunnier window. We stand back and watch it thrive, spreading joy and foliage, happy to live in the home of a good gardener, like yourself. You also might put a doily under the plant—that helps a lot!

Seriously…we, like plants, sometimes get too comfortable on our paths. We are root-bound on our inward journey.

Once we get to a still and centered place, we can gather strength and do some letting go, starting an outward journey on Christ’s mission. A new direction opens, and we create room to grow. We stimulate our roots with learning and spiritual practices, finding a new place at the expanding table of grace.

Re-rooted in our foundation, soaking up the light of the Holy Spirit, and refreshed with Christ’s living water, we flourish and develop into disciples to serve the community, God’s garden of people.





“I Am at Peace at Last”

25 03 2013

BY PAT NORTON, Auckland, New Zealand

My journey started shortly after my birth, when my father left. My mother and I went to live with my grandparents—my mother’s parents.

My Gran and Granpa brought me up, and I came to love them dearly. Although they are now dead, they still influence my life.

They had 10 children—six girls and four boys. The addition of one small girl was no problem. For years I was confused as to why I called five ladies Aunty and one Mummy. But it really wasn’t a worry because I had my Gran, and she filled all my needs.

But I taxed her stamina. As the aunts married and left home, I was sent to them for various periods to give Gran a rest. With three boys also married, there was a great reservoir of places to go.

Unfortunately, they had as many churches as homes. Over the years I went to Sunday school in every denomination to be had.

The one thing they all had in common for me was that I did not belong. I always felt like an outsider. I came to crave acceptance. I felt as one with them only when I told them it was my birthday and received special treatment.

Thereafter, I always had a birthday, no matter the time of year!

I grew up, did nursing training, married, and had two children. My marriage was wonderful, and we had 52 years of fun and love before he died.

I still felt the need to find acceptance within a church and a way to God. I wanted to be baptized!

Community of Christ was the last stop in my odyssey. I had been to this church before because Ron Oxley, my brother, and his wife, Janie were both priests.

What kept me there? I felt I had come home at last. I was where I wanted to be. I was no longer an outsider; I was welcomed as part of the congregation. Now to be baptized. I wanted that more than anything. So I went ahead. What joy!

I felt liberated from a lifetime of not belonging. Here I was in my late 70s, and I finally had found my way to sit at the feet of Jesus, knowing he and God would listen and forgive.

Going to church has become such a joy!

I was asked to accept the call to become a deacon and thought I would not be “good” enough or “wise” enough. Now being 80, I worried I was too old. How foolish to not know that God was guiding me. I feel invigorated and blessed in this service.

Thank you God, for all my blessings. I am at peace at last.





The Blessings of Diversity

22 03 2013

BY BARBARA HOWARD, Independence, Missouri, USA

In 1946 I attended General Conference, now, appropriately called World Conference. Few non-Caucasians were at the week-long event. French Polynesia was represented, and delegates came from the British Isles, Germany, Norway, and Netherlands. The Auditorium Chamber held park benches because the building’s interior was not complete.

Next month, when the 2013 World Conference meets, more than 50 countries will be represented. The assembly will be a rainbow of diversity. We are blessed to be part of such a rich community of people and nations.

Our cultural and ethnic differences are visible to us, but we also are diverse in theological perspectives, social customs, and beliefs. How wonderful that we are so different!

At World Conference we will sing selections that will be included in the new multilingual hymnal, Community of Christ Sings (available in October). As usual, translators will help Conference participants communicate in an array of languages. In the future, perhaps we will gather in a country where those who speak English will be in the minority.

God keeps nudging us toward unity, toward loving each other in our differences. Sometimes, however, we are willing to accept a person who is from a different nation and speaks a different language more easily than we can accept a person who shares a different point of view on a legislative issue.

Naomi Shihab Nye has written about two young people—a Muslim and a Jew. In a poem, “Trenches and Moats and Mounds of Dirt,” she describes an encounter between them:

“Let’s change places,” the teenager said.

“For a week, I’ll be you, and you be me.”

Knowing if they did, they would never fight again.

Listen to them.

It may be an impossible ideal to become another person. But to listen to others without immediately closing them off because of their ideas, to deeply listen to them, is the meaning of love. Each person comes from a different background, even in the same family. One only has to have a family reunion to realize how varied the memory of the same event can be.

When we struggle with issues, the greatest gift we can give others is to listen in love, to hear their feelings, to try to understand the reasons for their feelings. When we are able to open our hearts to others, we become an authentic community of compassion and love.

God demonstrated divine love in Christ Jesus, who was God in human form. The life of Jesus affirms the power of incarnational love. “For God is in Christ reconciling the world” is the foundation for our faith. May we look to Christ as the model for our discipleship as we approach World Conference.





Learning from Our Feathered Friends

20 03 2013

 BY NANCY EVANS, Kennesaw, Georgia, USA

Four sets of birds (eastern bluebirds, titmice, chickadees, and house finches) are nesting near our garden. As I was planting peppers, a baby titmouse decided to leave the nest.

Out he fluttered…onto the ground right in front of me. I stood perfectly still so as not to frighten him or his frantic parents. I could not believe what happened next.

Within seconds, a pair of fussing cardinals flew to a nearby fence, and then a pair of robins settled near the birdbath. Before I could wonder what was happening, the bluebirds and chickadees assembled nearby. All five pairs of birds were trying to distract me from that baby!

Was I imagining this…a community of different parenting birds all coming to the rescue of a baby chick? By the time I turned back to the baby, he had managed to fly to the nearest tree limb.

I can’t help but compare this experience to my family, neighbors, and church. When one of us is down, the entire community gathers to protect, encourage, and lift. I give thanks for the expression of Blessings of Community and Unity in Diversity as brought through God’s creatures. It was a delightful example of how we can Pursue Peace on Earth.





Abolish Poverty, End Suffering

18 03 2013

BY BARBARA WALDEN,Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation
and LACHLAN MACKAY,Historic sites coordinator

Charles Neff with children

Charles Neff with children

Community of Christ is called to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering. Many of us find this Mission Initiative especially compelling.

Our attempts to live in gathered community and conflicts with neighbors meant we often were moving from place to place in our earliest years. As a result, struggles to overcome poverty and illness fill our past. History tells us as a people what it is like to go hungry, to be homeless, to be ill, and to struggle to survive during times of crisis.

Our history of hardships blesses us with a heightened sense of compassion and empathy for others.

Living in Poverty
Historians have not had to struggle to document the poverty of our early members. Truman Coe, a Presbyterian minister who lived in 1830s Kirtland, Ohio, said of our community:

Many of them live in extreme indigence…A grotesque assemblage of hovels and shanties and small houses have been thrown up wherever they could find a footing, but very few of all these cabins would be accounted fit for human habitation.

Others described our members as “living on air, water, and a little hominy” during the Kirtland years. In September 1832, the bishop of the church in Kirtland was instructed by revelation to travel round about and among all the churches, searching after the poor, to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.

One solution to feeding the poor was “fast meetings.” Author Mark Stake says members abstained from meals and brought butter, bread, and other food. They took the excess items to the bishop’s storehouse, and the food was distributed to the poor. Historians believe the “fast meetings” surfaced about the same time as the “feasts for the poor” held in Kirtland. A pattern developed that combined meetings at which members received patriarchal [evangelical] blessings from Joseph Smith Sr. and a dinner for the poor of the community.

In 1834, Ira Ames described such a meeting:

I received my patriarchal blessing under the hands of Joseph Smith Sr. at a feast and blessing meeting, which I made at my house for the widows and orphans… It was a very pleasant time, a glorious meeting.

Early church members drew connections between serving the needs of the less fortunate in their communities and receiving spiritual blessings from their Creator.

Like the early church members in Kirtland, former Apostle Charles Neff knew poverty. While growing up in Stillwell, Kansas, his family suffered during the Great Depression.

The job of Charles’ father was limited to part time. As a result, the family supplemented its income with a “big truck garden.” The entire family contributed to growing and selling the produce.

Neff learned at an early age the connection between human dignity and a self-sustainable life. He said:

I can remember that during the days when the government program gave away surplus food, my father was too proud to stand in line, so he sent me… Our being spared physical hunger meant accepting charity. I learned then, and have been reminded many times since as I traveled the poor countries of the world, that being hungry means humiliation.

Ending Suffering
Neff drew upon his childhood experiences in Kansas to connect with impoverished people while on church assignment in the Philippines, India, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Korea.

In the 1970s he helped found Outreach International in response to the pain and poverty he saw in the Philippines. Under Neff’s leadership and with the support of the church, Outreach International emphasized the need to lift up the poor by alleviating poverty, encouraging self-government, and improving health and education.

As a people whose past includes significant periods of poverty and suffering, we have a special obligation to follow Christ’s example and dedicate ourselves and our resources to eliminate both.

From 1830s Kirtland to the Philippines of the 1970s to the world of today, Christ’s mission is our mission.





Finding Joy in Mission

15 03 2013
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Karelle Bada (left) and her team worked with joy at the event.

 

BY BAKA BLE, Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I would like to share an experience that recently touched my congregation, Abobo North, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. It was based on the Mission Initiative to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

After a terrible war, misery, poverty, and suffering have increased to the point that some of our members no longer can afford even a meal a day.

Early this year, God inspired me to do a program on the five Mission Initiatives. Then we organized four special worships, one per quarter. At those gatherings, we share a meal with the poor members of the church and invite neighbors who are in the same situation.

During our worship May 26, 2012, Jesus put joy in the hearts of people who gathered. Christ said, “Feed them.”

As pastor of the congregation and financial officer of the Ivory Coast Liberia Mission Center, I was pleased to address a Mission Initiative.