Why I Follow Jesus. . .

30 04 2013

By Erica Blevins Nye, Troy, Michigan, USA

Erica Blevins Nye (upper-right corner) finds energy through sharing the message of Jesus Christ with young adults.

Erica Blevins Nye (upper-right corner) finds energy through
sharing the message of Jesus Christ with young adults.

I’m naturally an introvert. Sharing in community is difficult for me.

At times I’m envious of extroverted people. Interaction with others typically energizes them, making compassionate ministries and inviting people to Christ feel more natural. They assume people want to hear what they have to say and share their perspectives liberally.

We introverts often find ourselves drained by extended interaction with others—even people we care about. I have to rally myself to make new friends. Sometimes it’s even a challenge for me to chat with people before or after church.

I like to imagine Jesus as an introvert. Perhaps he was; we don’t know. The gospels describe him as frequently thronged by crowds that were pleading for healing and teaching. In these settings he did more than pass out blessings and truth. He offered servant ministry just by extending himself to interact with others. I can relate to that.

Whether he was introverted or not, one reason I follow Jesus is because he proclaims hope for the coming kingdom of God. And the kingdom comes when we reach beyond ourselves to embrace others.

Jesus extended himself in expanding concentric circles of community, dismissing boundaries as he went. It started with breaking his personal boundary, maybe one that would prefer privacy and the simplicity of solitude. He built an intimate community of 12 disciples and friends. Just keeping up with them was probably an effort.

Then he extended himself to the Jewish community. Then crowds of diverse followers. Then the circle of skeptical outsiders who hovered at a distance. Then even to those hostile toward him.

Jesus demonstrated an important element of the kingdom of God. He redefined “brother and sister” and “neighbor.”

Though I often am tempted to retreat into quiet seclusion, Jesus’ example of sharing freely in community inspires me. I much prefer sharing in a few close, intimate relationships—like sisters, best friends, or a spouse. I could even do 12, on a good day.

But Jesus challenges me and all of his followers to widen our circles. We can bravely extend ourselves to all people as “brother and sister” to see the kingdom together.

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Kids Share, We Share

28 04 2013

By Bob Kyser, Independence, Missouri, USA

We Share picture book and resources

We Share picture book and resources

 

An awesome thing happened recently in my congregation, Good Shepherd of Kansas City, Missouri! After hearing about a new book for all ages entitled We Share, we decided to give a copy to every family with children.

Members were invited to contribute toward the cost and sign their names inside the front cover. On the Sunday when we observed Children’s Sabbath and 8-year-old Emma Stabno was baptized, we handed out 20 books. The kids were excited, the congregation was excited, and I was excited. Emma, who distributed the books, had studied We Share while preparing for confirmation.

More excitement came when our newly formed “shepherding groups” took 15 more books to the homes of children who were not present. What a blessing of caring and invitation!

The next idea to come from this book is to consider forming We Share groups for kids. Can you picture kids meeting twice a month for study, crafts, stories, and spiritual formation? Newly released lessons based on We Share for ages 3–5 and 6–11 will provide the resources. There seems to be no end to the sharing.





Praying the Worshiper’s Path

26 04 2013

By Kathy Shockley, Independence, Missouri, USA

Since first walking the Worshiper’s Path at the Women’s Conference in 1993, I have found it a special place of meditation and prayer. In the 20 years since, I have returned again and again to experience its thought-provoking and prayer-invoking images.

On either side of the glass archway that forms the entrance to the Worshiper’s Path stands a great urn. This is where I begin, where I prepare for my journey up the path. The urns invite me to empty myself of the cares, responsibilities, to-do’s, ego—anything that will interfere with coming into the divine presence at this time in this place.

So in my imagination I pour all those things into the urns. They hold them until I am ready to take them again at the end of my walk. And many times, after completing my walk, I find I no longer want or need some things I left there.

This act of emptying is an intentional way of making room for God. It helps create the transition from secular time to sacred time. More importantly, it helps us move to a stillness, a receptiveness that can more fully encounter the Divine.

In my reading of the Gospels, I see Jesus’ time in the wilderness as a time of his great emptying. It also was the time of his great filling, when he took on the full nature of his divinity and his humanity. Just so, each time we empty ourselves and let God fill us, we become a little more Christ-like.

As a personal spiritual practice try an emptying exercise when beginning your prayer time. Select a cup, bowl, or other vessel. Holding your vessel, breathe slowly and deeply at least three times. With each exhalation, empty yourself into your cup. With each inhalation, breathe in God’s light and love for you. Having completed this as your preparatory exercise, move on to your prayer or study time.

Joyce Rupp writes in The Cup of Our Life:

The spiritual path is a constant cycle of emptying and filling, of dying and rising, of accepting and letting go. The full cup is repeatedly emptied so it can be filled again and again.

My prayer is that we may more fully embrace the rhythms of the spiritual life.

 





What Does This Mean? A Translator’s Perspective

24 04 2013

By Steve Graffeo,
Human Resource Ministries

The Spirit helps translators spread the words of President Steve Veazey and others across multiple languages.

The Spirit helps translators spread the words of President Steve Veazey and others across multiple languages.

How the Spirit moves is anticipated but remains unpredictable in the development of disciples. The good news, when received and understood, changes life, life’s purpose, and the reason for being. The Spirit reaches into the heart and the emotions and touches the mind and intellect of those who hear, see, and understand.

But when we don’t understand the meaning of the sounds, what will help our understanding? On the Day of Pentecost, we read the amazing story of the disciples being filled with the Spirit and speaking to the crowd gathered in Jerusalem. People heard in their own tongues, as they were gathered from “every nation under heaven.”

The Spirit translated the thoughts of the apostles into meaningful words, understandable to all who heard. Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12 NRSV). Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized, and about 3,000 were added to their number that day. The 11 apostles were translators of the message. The Spirit gave them utterance, and their spoken words became the avenue by which people understood.

In a highly diversified community sent to the world, the translator of sounds and meanings is a key in the ministry of outreaching love, peacemaking, and mission. Every tongue and nation, every ethnic group and culture, needs to hear the gospel of grace and peace in its own tongue as understood in its own culture. And when filled with that same Spirit expressed at Pentecost, people ask, “What does this mean?” Lives change, and paths of love and peace open.

Translators act as facilitators of understanding from one who speaks in a language foreign to listeners. The translator is to be as neutral as possible in transmitting the thoughts, meanings, and emotions of the speaker. The translator is a human bridge of understanding who conveys the spirit of the speaker’s message.

However, from experience, I am aware the translator still may be touched in unpredictable ways.

Often, we cannot control the Spirit that moves within us and through us.

When the speaker’s message and Spirit touch the translator, remaining unmoved is difficult. Often, emotion boils over in the speaker’s words, and the translator is caught in that very emotion. When this happens, those who are seeking meaning and understanding are not privy to what is being said until the translator conveys the meaning.

The translator who allows the spirit of truth to speak as conveyed in intellect and emotion serves as the means of the Spirit to touch the lives of speaker and listener, asking the question of Pentecost, “What does this mean?”

The translator has become the conduit by which the spirit of love and friendship is expressed. Speaker, listeners, and translator become one. They are connected by the Spirit of God.

As you listen to an unfamiliar language and people around you, understanding what is being said, begin to laugh or cry, you hunger to be part of the emotion of the moment. You wait with anticipation for the translation so you, too, can feel what those beside you are feeling. What has been said is apparent at this point only in the visual, not yet the verbal.

As the translator is able to convey the message, the movement of the Spirit is confirmed when the verbal supports the visual. Having to wait for good news is hard. You eagerly—sometimes anxiously—await the understandings and feelings of those around you.

Translators are deliverers of the good news and facilitate the movement of the Spirit. They give themselves to the task of bringing understanding and meaning between peoples. They, too, become participants and recipients of the movement of the Spirit. This is always what happens at intersections where people meet people in interpersonal relationships.

What a wonderful place to be, when the Spirit causes us to ask, “What does this mean?”





Campers “Pause” to Help Others, Know God

22 04 2013

By Janet Muse, Leeton, Missouri, USA

Youth from the Central Missouri USA Mission Center helped Joplin on its journey back to health after a devastating tornado.

Youth from the Central Missouri USA Mission Center helped Joplin on its journey back to health after a devastating tornado.

High school youth from the Central Missouri USA Mission Center took time to “Pause” in last summer’s camping experience to help those in need through Rebuild Joplin.

The youth set aside their classes and craft time to travel 12 miles into Joplin each day. In doing so, they honored the camp theme, “Pause,” and recognized that it takes only a committed second to begin a relationship with God. This second then grows into minutes, hours, days, and finally a life of following and talking with God.

Joplin, devastated by a 2011 tornado, needed groups to survey each home and learn about needs. The youth graciously accepted the challenge of walking the neighborhoods and knocking on each door.

They heard devastating stories of the loss of loved ones and homes, as well as miraculous stories of houses untouched and blessings of life. Through it all, they took time to pause with God.

Next, they helped clean and paint a church with a congregation that was 90 percent elderly women and their grandchildren. The youth tackled the challenge of sprucing things up with God’s love. They dusted and polished the wood interior, picked up trash outside, and painted doors, stairs, entryways, and a ramp.

Finally, an older couple graciously accepted help from the youths on a day well above 100 degrees. The couple’s daughter had been working at Mercy Hospital when the tornado hit. They shared stories while the youth scraped and painted their home and garage. The couple told how being at Mercy allowed their daughter to touch and bless many lives on that tragic day.

In taking the time to “Pause,” the youth moved forward in the Mission Initiatives of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and Develop Disciples to Serve. Their unselfish efforts blessed many.





Growing a Living Church

20 04 2013

By Laura Phillips, International Headquarters intern

I didn’t want to just sit in church. I believe we’re called to action, to be in the community doing stuff, and I have a hard time believing that we as a people are meant to go into a church building and just sit and worship. You need to be out helping and doing that on a day-to-day basis.

Kirtland, Ohio community garden

Kirtland, Ohio community garden

Kevin Williams’ belief led him to start the Kirtland, Ohio, community garden with Andy and Blake Smith. They wanted the opportunity for families to teach children about fresh produce and to provide food to people in need.

They envisioned a world where the abundance of God’s food is fairly and justly distributed, all are fed, and there is peace on Earth. They needed volunteers and financial support to start. So they applied for a World Hunger grant (funded by contributions to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering), and found more support in other local churches.

With that backing, the Kirtland community garden was all green thumbs up! The garden holds some plots where people can grow food for themselves, and others are set aside for a pantry.

But who maintains the garden?

That is where volunteers like Bill Bauman come in. Because of last summer’s heat and lack of rain, the garden needed daily watering. Every day, you could see a sweaty Bill caring for the plants.

“I help at the garden because this is a brilliant idea,” he said. “There are people in great need of vegetables. I’ve seen neighbors starting to get to know each other and support coming in from the community.”

The garden strives to minister to a community that needs it. The leaders want to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering by feeding people. They have big hopes. They’d like to get more beds to increase their harvest. They’d also like to teach people how to grow and use fresh produce.

“The community really gets involved when it comes time to get the garden ready,” Williams said. “The missionaries from the Kirtland historic site help set up the beds, and I don’t think it would have happened without them.”

He summed up the mission: “At the end of a hard day of work, I just love the quiet. I love seeing my work come up in the spring and knowing the impact it will have in the fall. …That’s not sitting in church. That’s living it. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”





All Are Transformed!

18 04 2013

By David Lloyd, Integrated Formation Ministries

Baptism is an outward sign of inner transformation.

Baptism is an outward sign of inner transformation.

Most of us know the joy felt when someone chooses to unite with our church family. It’s a blessed experience that calls us to consider the waters’ renewal and the Spirit’s fire within us.

I’ve watched as people decided publicly to proclaim that choice through baptism and confirmation, each event as unique as the people themselves. I’ve also clarified my perspectives as I’ve witnessed those who recently have declared their discipleship in these ordinances.

The act of baptism is strange in my North American culture; our rituals of washing usually are private. Yet, there we are together, standing on smooth river rocks, sandy ocean beaches, swimming pool decks, or in sanctuaries near a font. We re-create this ancient tradition, sometimes failing to recognize that all of us are experiencing baptism. “New life” enters though this “new creation.”

Community of Christ changes. Our willful separation washes away as we become one in Christ. We each transform!

I’ve come to understand that sacraments are outward acts of what already is happening within. A baby is blessed by God long before the ordinance, but the community experiences the “aha!” moment as we celebrate this good news. We usually recognize a person’s call to priesthood before ordination, but we “get it” as we bow in prayer together.

Likewise, we move past the thought of baptism and confirmation as the spiritual “starting point” of discipleship. Instead, the two sacraments proclaim where the journey now intersects with the community. Baptism becomes the invitation to “pack together” as new obstacles and vistas open to us.

Confirmation is another ancient and emerging concept in our faith movement. Just what do we believe we are “confirming”? Maybe confirmation is less what we’re doing, and more what the community is witnessing. Maybe we’re saying, “Yes, we see it!” The body confirms a witness of the Holy Spirit’s presence within the disciple. What an exciting celebration for all involved!

I recently witnessed the baptism and confirmation of two wonderful young-adult women who over several years became a part of my own family. I don’t know the moment they became family, but I found great joy when I recognized it. I’m equally unsure when they discovered the Holy Spirit’s presence (though it was long before they came into my church) or became part of our church family.

Both recognized God and their inclusion within the community before asking for baptism and confirmation. We never pushed them to join but are humbled they chose to explore their faith adventures with us.

This intersecting blessing between God, individuals, and the community has always been present in the church. Past assurances crisscross with future possibilities in the present sacrament. Finite and infinite connect. All are transformed!