Why I Follow Jesus. . .

31 08 2013

By Emma Gray, Washington, DC, USA

 When I moved to Washington, DC, it took me a while to get used to all the walking. I desperately missed the convenience of a car. I would joke about forgetting how to drive whenever I was back in my home state of Iowa.

It was frustrating when I had to make the short walk up Massachusetts Avenue, loaded with groceries. It was inconvenient to have to get up even earlier on a Sunday morning so I could walk 35 minutes to church when the car ride would have taken 10. Somehow, I felt like Washington was taking away all of my freedom.

But my bitterness slowly faded, and I grew to love those walks. I loved noticing the subtle changes in the color of the trees lining my way to church. I still laugh at the thought of the old man outside the Catholic church who told me he liked my boots and then proceeded to tell me what seemed like his life story.

I loved adventures into the city just for a day of exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved driving, but I’d begun to value the time spent observing and interacting with things around me rather than watching them zip past in my peripheral vision.

Those 35-minute walks to and from the church became especially valuable. Sometimes I’d even graciously turn down someone’s offer to drive me back so I could walk instead. That time alone each week was perfect for thinking and simply being with God.

The best way I can describe my walk with Jesus is that he is decidedly quiet. Frustrating, yes, but I know why. Naturally, his silence makes me consider what it is that needs to be said. What I need to say.

I’m fairly shy, but slowly I begin to open up, revealing deeper and deeper thoughts. Before long, I’m bubbling with questions, thoughts, and ideas. All the while, he stays quiet, allowing my mind to work through these things as I express them. Sometimes all I need is that listening ear and comforting presence.

He walks with me, but he also makes me stop and look around. Occasionally, I am overcome by the simple beauty of the moment I’m in, whether it’s watching the waves crash at the beach, having a conversation with a stranger, or listening to junior high campers praying for each other.
In these moments of awareness, I know he is there.

I choose to follow Jesus because he is always introducing me to experiences and people who challenge and add to my understanding of our world. I love that choosing to follow Jesus is not an event, but a process. My walk with Jesus never ends and might not always be easy, but that’s what makes it beautiful.

There’s always something to appreciate about the journey.





Jesus and the Book of Proverbs

28 08 2013

By Lt. Seth L. Bryant, chaplain, US Navy

Lt. Seth L. Bryant

Lt. Seth L. Bryant

Each culture has its proverbs or sayings that it holds up as true, wise, and faithful guides. The Bible, of course, is filled with proverbs, not limited to the actual Book of Proverbs. But the Book of Proverbs is special, because its authors were unabashed in stripping down wisdom to the basics.

I believe the Book of Proverbs is the easiest and hardest book in the Bible to read. Easy because its sayings come in such small portions; hard because they go right to the heart.

Whenever I read the Book of Proverbs, I am struck by how rooted Jesus’ teachings and practices are. He must have read or heard it repeatedly. Either way, he certainly internalized it.

At times Jesus quoted directly from Proverbs, such as the dinner at a Pharisee’s house when he reminded them of Proverbs 25:6–7, telling his listeners to take the lowest place of honor, and then wait to be invited to the head of the table (Luke 14:7–11).

In an example from the Sermon on the Mount, one can find a reliance on Proverbs in the idea behind “seek and you shall find” (Proverbs 8:17; Matthew 7:7–8). It’s almost like he wasn’t saying anything new at all, but finding new ways to share very old ideas.

Thus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew could say:

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority… —Matthew 7:28–29 NRSV

This authority came from many things, not the least being that he was Christ. But possibly as important as his divinity, Jesus had the audacity to live out the ideals he found in the Book of Proverbs. Jesus did what many others were not willing or able to do, putting his life in line with his words.

Consider how wisdom in the Book of Proverbs rubs against society and our own human natures:

Generosity equals prosperity (Proverbs 11:25); it’s better to be poor and upright than rich and foolish (Proverbs 19:1); we should speak up for the voiceless, defending “the rights of all the destitute” (Proverbs 31:8–9 NRSV).

Jesus taught, lived, and died for these ideals. He embodied the wisdom of caring more for the well-being of others than for yourself, an idea many decry as foolish.

The wisdom of the Book of Proverbs provided a moral outline that Christ enfleshed. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to find out what mattered to him and to make it the central concern of our lives.

The world desperately needs people who take the wisdom of the past and make it their own, conforming their lives to the concerns of Jesus and charting paths that heal and reconcile the brokenness around us through Christ.





Unity in Diversity

26 08 2013

By Emma Gray, Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, USA

Reprinted from the Young Adult Blog at http://www.youngadultministries.wordpress.com.

SOUTH_AFRICA_flag

South Africa flag

Since they first came to be, I have loved the Enduring Principles.

As I was sitting in the Auditorium at World Conference in 2010, I watched these concepts flash across the screen and felt deep love for Community of Christ and these principles we have chosen to uphold. For once, I knew I had a real reason for belonging to this church beyond the simple fact that it is the church I was born into. The whole experience nearly brought me to tears.

Now, years later, I have been blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa. I have traded my home in Iowa to live in Durban for a little over four months while studying at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

During one of our first days here, we were guided on a tour of Durban by a man named Sthembiso, a history major who was extremely knowledgeable about the distant past and the more recent strides that South Africa has made.

As we were driving, I was distracted, looking at my new surroundings. However, my attention snapped back to Sthembiso when I heard him begin to talk about Unity in Diversity. He used this phrase to describe how South Africans had come together in just a few years following apartheid and had especially impressed the world during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Of course, things here aren’t perfect; they aren’t anywhere. But as I’ve continued to learn and grow in this country, I’ve found that South Africans feel those words in a way I have never experienced and can’t accurately describe.

Unity in Diversity has been sewn directly into the fabric that continues to be strengthened in this beautiful nation of numerous ethnic groups and 11 officially recognized languages.

This idea is depicted in the Y shape of the colorful South African flag that represents, according to the government, “the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity.”

I have continuously been inspired by the people I have met and the passionate ideas they have shared. It is clear that, although not everyone’s visions are the same, there is a strong common desire for this country—their country—to be all that it can be.

These experiences have helped me begin to understand the concept of Unity in Diversity in a way that I never would have before. Unity in Diversity no longer means it is merely necessary or beneficial to come together despite our differences. For me, it directly affirms this vast diversity of opinions, backgrounds, visions, and dreams as an essential and invaluable part of our community.

These differences enrich our daily interactions as part of our collective and individual journeys with God. After all, “We value our connections and share a strong sense of trust in and belonging with one another—even if we never have met.”

Community with Christ and of Christ is simply not possible without celebrating the world’s expansive, beautiful, and lovingly created diversity. May we continue on the road ahead as a community that not only is united with one another, but is extending hands of invitation from all sides.

Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another. —Archbishop Desmond Tutu





“I’ll Be Right Beside You”

23 08 2013

By Phyllis Gregg, Raymore, Missouri, USA

For several years, I have accompanied a Community of Christ young-adult choir in Independence, Missouri. One of the many things I enjoy about this choir is that many singers bring their young children to rehearsals, accommodating busy schedules.

Center Place Singers

Center Place Singers

During a recent practice I noticed one little boy standing beside the piano. Soon he was sitting on the bench next to me. I could tell he wanted to play one of the keys. Because I was in the middle of playing, I couldn’t do anything but smile at him.

Soon, the director cut the group off at a dramatic pause in the music. Right then the boy reached out and loudly hit a key. The choir director glanced at me and quickly realized what had happened.

As we chuckled, the boy looked up at me and said, “Did I get you in trouble?” I smiled and replied, “It’s OK, you can play with me anytime.” As I was driving home that night, memories flooded me about how I learned to play for church as a child.

My first piano teacher was a church member and attended the same congregation as my family.

Understanding that playing for church was something I wanted to do and that hymns could be challenging, she always worked in a hymn as part of my weekly practice.

Finally, she told me she thought it was time I could play a hymn for church. I must have looked terrified because she quickly added that she would play with me. As we rehearsed, she explained she would take the lead and play the hymn through first on the organ. Then when the congregation started singing, I would join in on the piano.

I prepared the best I could. On Sunday morning, she started to play the hymn, and I came in with the congregation. To my chagrin, I played a lot of wrong notes, partly because my hands were shaking so much. I kept going, however, and eventually it was over.

I suspect many noticed the wrong notes, but they never let on. After the service, I think everyone in the congregation told me what a great job I had done and that they couldn’t wait until I played again.

It encouraged me to keep going, and my teacher asked me to play many times with her over the next year. I made many mistakes, but at the time I was convinced no one heard them. One day, my teacher said she thought it was time for me to take the lead.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll be sitting right beside you. If you need help, I’ll be sure and play along.” So for the first time, I accompanied a hymn by myself. It wasn’t perfect, but I got through it. Over time, as my teacher encouraged me to keep trying, I got better. She was always right next to me.

She gave me the encouragement and support I needed to take those first steps and eventually bring me to the point that I not only played for hymns, but for an entire service. Today, I often wonder where my music ministry would be if it had not been for my first piano teacher and the encouraging words of the members of my congregation.

I think that’s really what Develop Disciples to Serve is about. It’s about providing the proper training and opportunities to take the lead in ministry. It’s about standing beside each other and giving support and encouragement—especially when we play a lot of wrong notes.

And in those moments when we doubt ourselves, it’s about hearing, “It’s OK, you can serve with me any time.”





Room at the Table for All

21 08 2013

—Murray Barentine
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

On Saturday night of the USA National Conference, I awoke about 3:30 a.m. Thoughts were running through my mind concerning all I had heard Friday and Saturday and what was about to happen Sunday morning, when we would be called to make decisions.

One image came to mind. I could see a family gathering at my parents’ home years ago. I could see our small kitchen table, which usually served as a place to set things or a space where two or three people could eat.

That day, however, there were many more than two or three. I saw the table carried into the living room, and the sides popped up to create a bigger eating area. Then I saw leaves being added to provide even more room for us all to sit at the same table.

Then I heard these words: “There is room for everyone at the table!” Since the conference, those words have resonated within my heart. The image that keeps coming to mind is a Communion table with leaves added so everyone is accommodated.

Some have expressed a feeling that they no longer have a place at the table because of the conference recommendations. My experience was about more than just the Communion table. It was about the larger table of community, where everyone is welcome, and everyone is of equal worth.

There was an impress of the Spirit on me and the conference as a whole. From the opening worship, to the listening sessions, to the decision making, to the closing worship, the divine Presence was in abundance. We experienced what it means to be a prophetic people as we sought the mind and will of the Divine.

Now, weeks later, I find the words still resonating within my mind as the Divine invites all to “come to the table, for there is room for everyone.”





Seeing Christ through My Daughter

19 08 2013

By Michelle McAuley Booth, Integrated Formation Ministries

Jessica

Jessica

I wish I had owned the courage, strength, and faith of my daughter, Jessica, when I was a teenager. I’ve always had a strong faith, but I didn’t have the courage to share the gospel as she can. She has a way of loving people and drawing them in with what I call her butterfly spirit.

A few months ago, while Jessica sat with friends at lunch, she said she was going to the Central USA Mission Center youth rally. A friend asked what it was like. As Jessica described it, another girl Jessica barely knew overhead. Intrigued, she asked if Jessica would take her.

Youth rally is usually Wednesday through Saturday. Jessica’s new friend went the first night to see what it was like. She immediately made friends with several of our youth. On the way home that night, she asked if Jessica would take her the rest of the week!

The youth rally had an essay contest to win scholarships for camps. Jessica’s friend won first place. She now was going to attend high school camp with all her new friends!

A few weeks later this new friend found out someone she knew wanted to attend Camp Moja, a camp for people with intellectual disabilities. This person’s family couldn’t afford to send him. She gave her camp scholarship to this young man so he could attend Camp Moja. Then after hearing Jessica’s testimony of being a counselor at Camp Moja, this girl decided she wanted to be a counselor, too.

Jessica shared her testimony at our congregational retreat, marveling about all that had happened through taking someone to youth rally. She shared how in awe she was of her new friend winning the essay contest and then giving her camp scholarship away so someone else could have the camp experience.

Emotionally overwhelmed, Jessica told me that following the service someone pulled her aside to say that our congregation was going to send this girl to camp, which also led to her going to SPECTACULAR!

The night before the kids left for SPECTACULAR, Jessica had a birthday party for this friend. Twenty-four kids came. Four were from school. The rest were from Community of Christ.

I visited with one of the kids that night. Later she sent me a friend request on Facebook. She wrote, thanking me for a fun night and adding that she wants to start going to church with us, too!

The love of Jesus Christ is ours to share, and in sharing that love, it spreads like wildfire!





Becoming a Blessing

16 08 2013

By Ken Robinson,
Perth, Australia

Ken Robinson

Ken Robinson

Despite the overwhelming evidence of trouble on many fronts and the potential for major conflict and wars, I sense the world is moving ever closer to valuing what is so precious to us.

On our way home from World Conference, we stopped in a large Asian city. I became intensely aware of the enormous trust and shared responsibility required for complex, modern civilization to function effectively. We all know this, but we take it for granted.

As we tried to find our way from aircraft to hotel we were told several times to simply follow an individual or wait at a designated spot. Few spoke much English. A stranger led a small group of us on a path that crisscrossed the paths of numerous other small groups, all on similar, but different, missions.

Our bags disappeared from view and returned several times. We were almost totally at the mercy of strangers, yet there was no need to fear. While in the city we saw the kickoff of a summer activities program for children. We understood little of what was said, but in the activities, leadership, and the obvious care and support by parents and youth leaders we saw things that were very familiar.

We applauded and laughed with them, sharing smiles of great pleasure. We experienced the joy of our common quest rather than the fear of our differences. All these people were complete strangers! Or were they?

Our complex, crowded, modern, digitally connected, and very diverse societies soon end up sharing many of the same ideas, systems, and equipment because they are the best tools available to make things work.

Digital communications enable us all to rapidly share ideas from everywhere. Across the globe we are becoming more and more alike in the midst of our differences.

What is our Community of Christ calling in such an age? Prophetic insight calls us to focus on our name, given as a divine blessing. If we embrace its full meaning we will become a blessing (Doctrine and Covenants 163:1).

What we have to offer the world is at once simple and yet a mystery. Our modern world actually lives the life of trust and responsibility, but there remains in most minds great suspicion and distrust. While we rapidly are becoming alike, most continue to believe we are very different.

Our task is simple. We are to be a trusting, responsible community and witness to others of the beauty of community. We are to love all people. Where love reigns, fear cannot dwell. We are to tell of God’s presence and God’s love.

We are to witness that God has a blessing for everyone. What people may need most, more than information, is a blessing—to feel God’s presence in a personal way. What a great calling—to be a blessing and to bring God’s blessing.