Why I Follow Jesus. . .

31 05 2013

By Rachelle Smalldon, Young Adult Ministries

Rachelle Smalldon finds that having Jesus Christ as her role model  makes her want to be a better person.

Rachelle Smalldon finds that having Jesus Christ as her role model
makes her want to be a better person.

In a Leadership Theory course I took in graduate school, we studied the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and were asked to discover and analyze our own personality types. I discovered I am an INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging), which means I often am categorized as an idealist.

My supervisor at work during those graduate years (who most definitely was not an idealist) said to me one day in a fairly snide tone, “You seem to have a very idealist, utopian view of life. I’ll be interested to see where that gets you in life.”

I used to resent that comment (and sometimes still do). His words cut me deeply and obviously stuck with me. But I think they have helped me grow, remember who I am, and know where that can take me in life.

I think he was right. I am an idealist. The more I learn about what that means, the more I am OK with it, even proud of it. I do believe in the potential for beauty, greatness, and a world of peacefulness in some capacity.

As we set our sights and beliefs on the vision we have for our church and our individual discipleship, maybe we all have a bit of “idealist” in us. Maybe having vision, striving for a beautiful and peaceful world, and believing the end goal is possible aren’t such bad things.

For as long as I can remember, I have known about Jesus. I have known he was the Son of God and brought to the world to share the gospel and teach us how to live in peace and with authentic love. I have always believed the teachings of Jesus to be good ones. I often remember the profound but simple “Golden Rule” when making behavioral decisions. These lessons have made a difference in my life and, I feel, have helped me be a better person.

As I have become more involved in this church, experiencing and sharing more about our faith and growing in my own relationship with God, I have learned much more about who Jesus was. The more I learn about Jesus, the more I like.

I find I can relate to Jesus because his life and teachings are practices I can attempt in my own life. I may not be able to perform miracles, but I can practice kindness and peace, extending God’s love to those I meet.

Knowing how Jesus lived gives me something to strive for. I continue to follow him because, for me, Jesus is the ultimate example of humanity. Jesus is the example of how I want to live my life and the footsteps I want to follow in.

Jesus was the kind of person I want to be. He was loving, compassionate, and radical. He promoted peace and love in all he did. Jesus makes me want to be better and do better.

Jesus is my ideal.

Getting “Messy” in the British Isles

29 05 2013
“Messy Church” invites creativity.

“Messy Church” invites creativity.

When I was a boy, if there was any mud around, I’d find some of it later on my shoes, face, and clothes. Food would find itself on my face or clothes. Pauline, my wife, would say nothing has changed.

That may be why I love it when my congregation in Nuneaton, England, holds “Messy Church.”

What is Messy Church? It began in the Church of England in 2004. Now several denominations and some Community of Christ congregations use it. The Clay Cross Congregation led the way, and now the Nuneaton, Leicester, and Penllergaer congregations use it, too.

Messy Church is a scripture-based sharing time for all ages. It involves crafts, worship, and the sharing of food. It’s adapted to meet the needs of different groups. Some use it once a month as the main focus of worship. Others have a midweek Messy Church. In the last year, one of our worship times at reunion was Messy Church.

Angie Vickers, one of three organizers in Nuneaton, says they begin with Messy Church materials and then adapt to fit the congregation’s needs and strengths. There’s time for making, doing, and chatting. A 20- to 30-minute worship is followed by a meal that often is “bring and share.” Angie says, “It’s a once-a-month time of creativity, worship, and eating together.”

We’ve found that people who usually don’t attend church, will come to Messy Church. New children come, and often they bring their parents.

Don’t forget that Messy Church is messy. It’s not formal. It’s rarely quiet. Things seldom go the way we expect. That’s the way the Spirit is.

…and When You Come, Drink from the Well

26 05 2013

By Darrell L. Belrose,
Airdrie, Alberta, Canada

People at the Prince Albert Congregation’s retreat were able to drink in the Spirit’s presence.

People at the Prince Albert Congregation’s retreat were able to drink in the Spirit’s presence.

Come to the Well” seemed like any other retreat the church or a congregation may use in invitation. But this one was different, very different.

This retreat transformed my life inwardly and led to an outward transformation of self. It didn’t happen suddenly. Rather, it occurred gently and slowly over several months.

Success has been intermittent, bumpy, and challenging. But the call to “come to the well” and drink deeply has echoed in my soul since this event.

In recent months we have been invited to slow down, be still, and know God wishes to bless us as we develop skills to experience the Holy personally.

Our retreat mornings were group devotions, individual reflections, meditation, and then time spent in the Kirtland Temple for personal prayer, reflection, journaling, and more. Our afternoons were classes on being still and leadership development. Then we formed groups of four or five to develop personal accountability and relationships to the degree that we could become transparent with one another. Our evening closed with worship.

How can four structured days make a difference? How did this relate to our Enduring Principles and Mission Initiatives? Can this type of event really change lives?

One example is expressed in the Prince Albert Congregation in the Canada West Mission Centre. At this writing, members twice have experienced a similar “retreating” for spiritual growth and discernment. Now they’re preparing for a third.

Are you envisioning a large group? I have been blessed to be among the seven to 10 members who gathered to experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit through meditation, classes, table ministry, and socializing! We have become family. We don’t remain in a cocooned environment but seek God’s will in ministering outward as needs become known.

This is what the peaceable kingdom of God is all about. As people come to “their well” for nourishment, guidance, and dwelling in the Word, they sense opportunity to be vulnerable to the Spirit, to be refreshed, and to hunger to be on mission with transformed peaceful hearts.

I give thanks for my encounter with newness. “Holy Spirit, mold me, melt me, use me” in personal, congregational, and community settings!

Going to the Grove…

24 05 2013

By Kathy Shockley, Independence, Missouri, USA

Temple Sacred Grove Glass photos 20130327 Dave Wheaton 0138The archway we pass through as we begin up the Worshiper’s Path is a beautiful woodland scene carved in glass. The detail—lady slippers growing on the forest floor, a nest of baby birds tucked into the fork of a tree, a delicate dragonfly flitting through the upper branches—is remarkable.

Visitors find that reflecting on the vastness of creation and the elegance of its design is inspiring and humbling. The words of “How Great Thou Art” seem appropriate for the beauty, diversity, and harmony of God’s creation shown in this remarkable work of art by Kathy Barnard.

Yet as wonderful and soul-filling as it is to reflect on God’s creation, we find another dimension here. The existence of this artwork is a testament to our God-given creative abilities. We have been created in the image of God. Endowed by God with the imagination and talents to be creators, too!

Consider the creative power demonstrated in this artwork. Science transformed sand into glass. The artist’s eye and hand duplicated a moment in the woods. Tools enabled the artist to carve that moment into the glass. All we have—from our tools to our toys—is built on the contributions of creativity and artistry.

As a writer I have written with pens, pencils, typewriters, and word processors. While I could not have created any of those tools myself, I greatly appreciate those who have. I acknowledge my indebtedness for being able to express myself through their efforts.

As a personal meditation, choose an object to reflect on. Consider its origins. Consider what it means to you and how it enhances your life or the lives of others. Consider how you benefit from the gifts of others. Give yourself over to awe and gratitude for being a participant in God’s ongoing creation.

Each of us, every day in our own way, uses God-given talents and participates in creation. May we let the Spirit guide us in an expanded appreciation of our interdependence, never losing sight of the goal of bringing forth the kingdom of God on Earth.

Let us claim with a new vigor Doctrine and Covenants 119:8b:

All are called according to the gifts of God unto them; and to the intent that all may labor together…with God for the accomplishment of the work intrusted to all.

Forgiveness and Respect: The Key Is Understanding

22 05 2013

By Carol Lei Breckenridge-Herrick, Joliet, Illinois, USA

Carol lei head` & shoulders I

Carol Lei Breckenridge-Herrick

Have you ever felt anger or resentment for a hurt inflicted by another person? Someone cut you off in traffic? A family member disrespected you? A terrible injustice caused even deeper hurt?

Knowing that you should forgive, have you wrestled mightily with how? If it is so difficult to forgive for one specific offense, how can we possibly live up to Jesus’ direction to forgive “seventy-seven times”?

The answer may lie in realizing that forgiveness is not a single act for a single offense. Rather, it’s an attitude that can permeate one’s entire being.

The key to such an attitude is understanding that we as individuals are at one with all others. We are equals, our gifts bestowed by God. Viewed in that light, it becomes clear that no person is superior—or inferior—to another.

Forgiveness also is tied closely to respect. By respecting others who may be different, who may “rub us the wrong way,” or may have a lifestyle or culture far removed from our own, we acknowledge we do not have all the right answers.

As Community of Christ, we believe God has, in the words of the old hymn, “more light and truth” to shower upon us. We acknowledge Joseph Smith III’s statement, “We do not consider…the Bible infallible…. We hold that everything that passes through human hands is fallible.”

Community of Christ is committed to building communities of peace. This does not mean conflict or controversy will not occur, or that we should suppress it when it emerges. It does mean we will strive to listen to each other for understanding. It means that we will create safe places for discussion, in which each person’s viewpoint is heard. It means we will be open to learning more about scripture, rather than closing our minds against new concepts.

Above all, it means we will keep our minds open to the possibility God may have something new to teach us.

If we truly embrace our unity with all humankind, an attitude of perpetual forgiveness and respect will follow. This, I believe, is what Jesus meant when he replied to Peter that we must forgive “seventy-seven times.”

Forgiveness becomes a habitual attitude of respect and unity with others that, with practice, transforms and nurtures our spiritual selves. God will help us develop such an attitude if we genuinely seek it. After all, God is the author of forgiveness, as is made clear in Colossians 3:13 NIV: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Refuge of Hope, Path to Peace

20 05 2013

By Steve Kellogg, Africa and Haiti Mission Field

Few things come easily for the Ivory Coast Congregation, but world mission tithes are providing hope for a new building.

Few things come easily for the Ivory Coast Congregation, but world mission tithes are providing hope for a new building.

Oufffffffffffff! Very hard the mission,” wrote Baka Blé, Ivory Coast Liberia Mission Center financial officer, as he described unloading sheet metal for the new roof of the Soubré Congregation in Ivory Coast.

Not only was unloading the material difficult, Baka wrote, but “we had some difficulties in sending the sheet metal to the site.

The big truck that we rented was sinking into a hole, and we (fought) hard from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. to release it. …This is to tell you it is not easy in the field.”

True, but it is a labor of love for a future of hope in Soubré. Community of Christ continues to expand in Ivory Coast. As it does, its needs for worship and ministry space keep growing. World mission tithes are providing funding for Soubré’s new church building, which will accommodate 200 people.

Developing Disciples to Serve and Abolish Poverty, End Suffering are critical needs in this country of 22 million people. One-third are Muslim, one-third Christian, one-tenth indigenous religions, and the rest are other religions.

Since 2000 the country has been divided by a series of civil conflicts over control of the government. More than 9,000 United Nations peacekeepers have been there since 2004 in an effort to ensure peaceful stability.

Compounding the internal problems, civil conflicts in neighboring countries also affect Ivory Coast. Besides the half-million citizens displaced from their homes by civil violence, Ivory Coast now is home to about 25,000 Liberian refugees.

The Soubré Congregation is a refuge of hope. With people drawn from diverse faith traditions and personal experiences of acceptance and rejection, it welcomes all in the name of Jesus Christ and invites them to become disciples. The light of their collective hope illuminates the way to a future of peace.

Hardship, Hot Dogs, and Hospitality

18 05 2013

by Doug and Connie Altman, Bountiful USA Mission Center

Grilled hot dogs, opportunities for fun, and sincere invitations are bolstering the Pleasant Valley Congregation.

Grilled hot dogs, opportunities for fun, and sincere invitations are bolstering the Pleasant Valley Congregation.

In the foothills of Appalachia rests a little valley in southern Ohio. The recession got a head start here a few years back when a steel mill closed. Shortly afterward, Walmart moved in, and most other businesses moved out.

High unemployment is causing hardship, and many families find it difficult to put food on the table.
The Pleasant Valley Congregation began a pantry program that has grown considerably. It has supplied food for as many as 200 families a month.

Some members were concerned that providing food wasn’t enough. They wanted to make personal contact with the families and invite them to Christ.

Because the congregation was buying food through a government program, we could not hand out tracts or talk about the church to those who used the pantry.

So, some members began a Sharing in the Round ministry that coincided with the pantry program.

When people came to pick up their food, we set up a grill in a nearby shelter house and cooked hot dogs. We invited them to come over, sit with us, and share a meal. We took turns cooking, passing out food, and visiting.

The table fellowship has been wonderful. We have had the opportunity to invite one mother-to-be to have her baby blessed, and we shared information about Habitat for Humanity. Our hope is to share the love of Jesus Christ with others.

We also are blessed to provide information about social programs and ministries of healing and blessing. This blesses us, as well.

Our efforts to Invite People to Christ may or may not result in baptisms. However, building relationships, friendships, offerings of love, and acceptance are all part of what Jesus modeled. These are ministries that will build God’s kingdom on Earth.

People Meeting People!

15 05 2013

by Marketer Ash, Glenwood, Illinois, USA

Marketer Ash

Marketer Ash

Jesus taught that it is God’s desire that all receive the opportunity to be a part of God’s kingdom. Yet most people go places and attend events because they’ve nurtured a relationship or friendship with a person, not just because they’re invited. It takes more than an invitation.

At the Brainerd Congregation in Chicago, Illinois, we constantly hear from visitors and friends that we are hospitable and make people feel welcome, whether in a worship service, potluck, or movie night. Our brand is “hospitality.” However, it is difficult to get people to the house of God if we don’t cultivate that same hospitality and kindness outside the church.

Have you ever wondered why some people constantly receive invitations to church but somehow never come? For us to Invite People to Christ, we must nurture a friendship or relationship where they are—the workplace, school, neighborhood, gym, family, etc.

People are looking for more than a place of worship. They are looking for a community, a place to belong where they feel accepted and celebrated.

That starts with one, an individual. Especially in today’s society, where people face life and social challenges such as safety, unemployment, foreclosures, medical and fiscal disparities, and more. It’s sometimes hard to trust any group, religion, government, social body, financial entity, or charity.

However, God wants us to Invite People to Christ. We can do so effectively only by building relationships and friendships based on our ability to show the fruit of the Spirit wherever we are.

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
—Galatians 5:23 NRSV

Remember, let’s not be wheel spinners, always inviting people and never seeing results. The world is looking for Christians who align their behaviors and values with God’s word and the life of Christ. Therefore, invite people to Christ with your life.

Contemplative Prayer

10 05 2013

by David R. Brock, presiding evangelist

Prayer, without the “contemplative” descriptor, is about sound and speech: asking and telling; thanking and pleading; shouting, whining, whispering.

It is what we said on our knees beside our beds before we climbed in at night. It is what we dreaded to hear on Wednesday-night services when Brother Clark went on and on…and still on, droning words upon words that eventually sounded like all adults sound in Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” TV specials. It is what we heard from parents and pastors when our sister was sick, when the neighbor lady we loved committed suicide, when the soldier came home to his church family from Vietnam.

Now I lay me down to sleep…
For health and strength and daily bread…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be…
Let the words of my mouth…be acceptable…

In subsequent years, prayer was the sound of many people praying at once as we crowded into a house turned into church sanctuary on a Sunday morning in Kinshasa, Zaire. A soft murmur at first, then louder and louder. At times punctuated with a shouted demand, or an “alleluia”, or a “God help us” in Lingala or Luba. Then a slow quieting until one single voice remained to say “amen.”

It was the long, slow prayer of the old wise one on an atoll of Polynesia who stopped when he was done. Prayer was 30 minutes of standing in San Pedro Sula to sing one hymn or chorus, which blended into the next. First, a praise band and clapping and singing, followed seamlessly with a quiet, heartfelt psalm/song of petition and preparation to
receive what God would choose to give.

Prayer has mostly been about sound and speech in my life; about words, even if those words were more silent and more interior than the beat of the human heart. Prayer is still all that, but the contemplative part has been there all along; a very different dimension of prayer, and far in the background, but present all along.

I suppose it begins about the same time as the child’s first cry. Contemplation has its genesis in those first human efforts to observe through blurred and clouded vision; to touch and taste this present moment, and this place, and time called life.
But, I may not have been able to articulate that prayer could be a contemplative process until my high school years, when Jerry Waite took a small group of youth to a secluded spot on our church campgrounds near Cascade, Idaho, and talked quietly about the importance of sitting on a rock and looking at the mountains, or the stream, or the pine cone at our feet…in silence. And he talked about the value of being alone for a while; how God would be there…if we could get quiet, and listen, and wait. Then he sent us off to do just that…to be alone.

From then on, on rare occasions, I would go off and sit on a rock. Sometimes it was just sweat, flies, mind-noise, a hard uncomfortable stone, and an interminable 20 minutes of wasted, frustrating nothing! But, there were also those few times of connection, presence, vastness of creation, expanse of interior worlds, timelessness, the “Naked Now” (Richard Rohr).

I’ve learned and forgotten, remembered and begun again. A little ragtag in approach and practice, but the contemplative of my infancy is still alive in me. The stopping and beginning again does seem to have an upward and outward spiral shape in its trajectory; not just walking in circles in a blinding snowstorm! There were a few practices and discoveries along the way:

  • The value of a few moments of silence before beginning. The simple practice of brief silence before a class or worship matters more than I could have imagined.
  • The value of repetition: Taizé chants sung again and again; the reading of the same passage of scripture repeatedly in lectio divina; “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” or “be still and know that I am God,” said slowly, attentively (or not), out loud or in silence for 15 or 20 minutes. A sacred word or phrase repeated when my mind wanders from the present moment. The Lord’s Prayer, repeated in silence on morning walks or jogs.
  • The challenge and benefit of paying attention: to the in and out and in and out of natural breathing; to every sound within my hearing until it no longer feels like interruption; to all parts of my body in a slow attentive movement of my mind through my motionless body from head to toe; to the inner voices until they fade, come back, and are let go once more.
  • The difficulty of deep listening and the texture of silence. Sometimes the silence that is the still point comes as unanticipated gift; sometimes as a result of discipline and practice. It is the space where everything can change. The thin place; the place we want to stay or want to get back to…or run from…quickly!
  • The wisdom in waiting. Sometimes with intent, expectation, and conscious purpose; sometimes, just waiting for nothing and no-thing, and being quite content and fulfilled.

As Thomas Merton says in Contemplative Prayer, it “is not so much a way to find God as a way of resting in [God] who we have found, who loves us, who is near to us, who comes to us to draw [God] to [Godself].” It “begins not so much with ‘considerations’ as with a ‘return to the heart,’ finding one’s deepest center, awakening the profound depths of our being…”

A Holy Community

7 05 2013

By Carla Long, Eurasia Mission Field

Carla Long

Carla Long

Ich bin ein Berliner!
” These words, spoken in 1963 by US President John F. Kennedy in Berlin, Germany, have been rumored to be the source of a lot of laughter. At the time, Kennedy was supporting West Berlin after the erection of the Berlin Wall, and these words, “I am a citizen of Berlin,” or “I am a Berliner,” were meant to boost confidence and morale.

With Kennedy’s Boston accent, however, some people claim it came out more like, “I am a jelly doughnut!” (A Berliner is also a delicious type of pastry filled with jelly.)

When I heard this story, I laughed with everyone else, but to be truthful, it filled me with terror. I easily could imagine myself standing in front of a group of our German church members and calling myself a jelly doughnut…or worse!

So, I found myself walking into my first event as a guest minister in Germany—Pentecost Conference in Sensenstein, giving myself a pep talk, “Carla, you are not a jelly doughnut, you are not a jelly doughnut.”

The weekend started as many church weekends do, with friends and family greeting each other with hugs, kisses, and warm words of welcome. I was introduced and immediately felt part of the group. I practiced a few German words in my greeting, “Guten tag, it is wunderbar to meet you!

Sooner than I wanted, it was time to teach two classes. This could be my (gulp!) jelly doughnut moment. We spent time writing poetry about ourselves and telling each other what we appreciate about each other. We practiced not taking each other for granted, and we blessed each other with words and actions. Care and love filled the class. I felt my jelly doughnut fears melting away.

It reminded me that we are a community. We may be a community with hurts, pain, fears, and doubts, but we are a community of people who care for each other. We are a community of people who forgive and love each other.

We are a community of people who would smile (maybe giggle kindly) at someone who accidentally calls herself a jelly doughnut and then gently help her to say it correctly. That is who we are. That is who we are called to be—jelly doughnuts and all.