Why I Follow Jesus

30 09 2013

By Ron Harmon, Council of Twelve Apostles

Ron Harmon

Ron Harmon

I follow Jesus because I was invited. It is really that simple.

As a young boy I heard the good news of the kingdom proclaimed in my small congregation on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. I experienced the Holy Spirit’s invitation in many ways beginning with the intentional and effective guidance of my parents. They did much more than convey the good news; they lived the good news!

It was made real in their marriage, how they treated me as a child, how they spent their time, and how they spent their money.

I also heard the invitation in meaningful relationships with all ages that developed in my congregation. For me it was much more than attending church; it was a family where the interactions I had on a weekly basis affirmed my worth as a person. During difficult times I always knew there was a place, a home, where I could go and feel accepted and loved.

Something significant was occurring that went deeper than the services and Christian-education classes. I was experiencing the love of God in tangible ways that brought to life the gospel I heard preached and taught.

As my opportunities to experience more of the world expanded I began to hear the invitation in a different way. I heard the invitation as the deep yearnings of God to alleviate the unnecessary suffering occurring all around me.

New relationships brought me into direct contact with poverty, hunger, loneliness, addiction, and exclusion. In the stories of those I encountered I sensed the call to extend the invitation as it had been extended to me and to partner with Christ in bringing new life and healing.

Today I follow Jesus because I continue to hear the invitation, “Come and follow me.” The disruptive promptings of the Holy Spirit have helped me see situations and relationships as they really are and as they could be.

While much of Christianity is preoccupied with proper indoctrination as the tool of invitation I believe the concept is much simpler and more powerful. I believe the invitation occurs every time we are willing to risk a new relationship with a store clerk, waiter, neighbor, and co-worker. I believe the invitation occurs as we surprise people with our desire to be fully present with them and are open to receiving and giving Christ’s peace as our relationships develop over time.

Every time I risk a new relationship I am reminded that I first experienced the Living Christ through caring people who were willing to risk a relationship with me. It is now so much a part of who I am that I can’t imagine a life void of the hope I have in Christ. I can do no other than share the good news of what God is doing in Christ to bring hope and healing to our world.

This is why I follow Jesus.

Drop a Stone in the Water…

28 09 2013

By Vern Foster, Loveland, Ohio, USA

Call it the ripple effect.

I recently found myself alone in the “victims room” of a municipal courthouse in a small town. While not a victim, I was asked to wait there during a court proceeding in case a question came up that pertained to me.

The room held periodicals only a few years from being labeled as collectibles. There also was one book. I noticed it was a Daily Bread from 1997. I thumbed through it, noting articles by people I knew, and came to a blank page. There, someone had written:

Dear God, please forgive me for wanting something to happen to the guy for hitting me at a red light and then lying about it. Forgive him, too. Help us all. It is hard to forgive. —October 15, 2005

Several scenarios came to mind. I probably will never know the actual account, so I speculated. Perhaps an embittered woman, falsely accused and confined to the same room, had found a Daily Bread left years before by a well-meaning person. Perhaps while reading it she came to understand the need for forgiveness in her own life.
I like the idea of small acts of kindness living on and—as ripple effects—blessing others.

Such acts also occur in the Loveland Congregation. It became aware of the Alan Shawn Feinstein $1 million proportional grant challenge to feed the hungry not long after its inception in 1998. Feinstein’s annual gift has generated more than $1.3 billion in aid to pantries and others.

At the time, Loveland members were volunteering at two agencies that helped low-income individuals: Inter Parish Ministries (IPM) and the Loveland InterFaith Effort (LIFE).

Working with Joyce Carter, who headed the Community of Christ Feinstein Challenge, Loveland members helped both groups become established in the Feinstein program. Now both receive their largest annual support from Feinstein efforts.

The visual impact of Loveland Middle School students forming a four-block human conveyor line from their school to LIFE’s headquarters, passing all the Feinstein food they had collected one can at a time, has solidified the program in the minds of the community.

LIFE provides food to more than 160 families per month and annually receives $15,000 or more in Feinstein funding. IPM serves 500 or more families per month with Feinstein providing $70,000 per year.

Today the Loveland Congregation has minimal participation with LIFE and none with IPM. Yet the seed planted more than 10 years ago is helping feed thousands.

Faithful service sometimes brings blessings we can see. Other times, what we do is a small part of a bigger picture.
Our call is not to greatness; it’s to service through the Mission Initiatives. Let God take the service we’re able to provide and turn it into greatness in God’s own time.

How Much More Can I Receive?

25 09 2013

By Tammy Lindle, Priesthood and Formation Ministries

Tammy Lindle

Tammy Lindle

Lately I’ve been pondering what “true capacity” means. I hear about true capacity from the aspect of giving—giving financially, and giving of resources, time, and talents. Thankfully, I can add my testimony to the understanding that increased financial generosity brings additional and unexpected blessing back to me.

These are not only financial blessings. They also connect me with friendships and opportunities to serve in new ways. These blessings bring purpose and meaning. The sad truth is if I didn’t expand my capacity to give, then I wouldn’t have received these blessings.

I’m only beginning to see where these blessings lead. However, “giving” is not the aspect of “true capacity” I am pondering.

My questions have to do with trying to understand how much I already have received, and wondering how much more I can receive. What is my true capacity to receive God’s blessing in my life? How much abundance am I capable of taking in? How will having more change me?

I ask these questions because I observed something interesting with a friend. She said she felt trapped in a bad marriage for many years. She described how she rarely received positive attention or any “giving” from her spouse. She said the relationship consistently drained her. It seemed her spouse had an unending capacity to “take.”

After her marriage ended, she became part of a new relationship…a much different relationship. She described how overwhelming it is at times to receive love, attention, caring, and concern from her new friend. One time early in the relationship, she found herself depressed for several days following a “perfect, wonderful weekend.” This seemed odd. How could she be depressed when things were going so right?

She said, “It’s so overwhelming to finally understand that this is how life could be, how life should be.” She grieved the loss of so many years of not knowing she could receive so much. She is growing in her understanding that she is worthy to deserve this.

As her relationship progresses and other blessings come her way, my friend’s capacity to give is growing. One might think that after living so long with a deficit in her life, she would be like a sponge, selfishly absorbing all of her new blessings. This is not the case. Her attention and ability to be present and productive at work and with her family and friends has increased greatly.

She is growing in her relationship with God. She is expressing her discipleship in new and expanding ways. As she receives more, she gives more. Her blessings are spilling over. It seems her giving is an obligation…not that anyone demands it of her, but because she is compelled. It is as if she can’t not give to those around her. Her giving blesses me. It inspires me.

As I consider my own blessings, and express my gratitude, I wonder about my true capacity to receive and to give. I wonder how my receiving eventually will become a blessing to God’s creation around me.

How can the Spirit fill vessels that are unwilling to expand their capacity to receive and give according to a full measure of God’s grace and truth? —Doctrine and Covenants 163:6c

Praying the Worshiper’s Path

23 09 2013
Worshipers path

Worshipers path

By Kathy Shockley, Independence, Missouri, USA

The first hint of the cross along the Worshiper’s Path is the shadow it casts across the wide corridor. It is a dramatic reminder that Christians live in the shadow of the cross. Continuing up the path, a rough-hewn wooden cross in a miniature landscape of rocks and boulders comes into view.

Here stands the primary symbol of the Christian faith, found in churches and homes throughout the world. Here is where Jesus of Nazareth—teacher, prophet, miracle-worker, and Messiah—was put to death. But he overcame death. The cross is empty, as is the tomb where he was laid, because he is risen.

It is the resurrection and the many testimonies of encounters with the Living Lord that have transformed an instrument of suffering and death into a symbol of hope and eternal life.

To meditate on the cross is to open ourselves to ever-wider meanings and questions regarding the life, sacrifice, resurrection, and continuing presence of Jesus Christ. Today as I stand before the cross my mind is drawn to the sacrifice, to the time when the cross was not empty. The realization strikes me that it had been less than 24 hours since Jesus had eaten the Passover meal with his disciples, less than 24 hours since he had shared with them a simple ritual.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” —Luke 22:19–20 NRSV

Little did they know that in a few hours these symbols would become graphic reality. I come away with a renewed sense that when I come to the Communion table I come to the foot of the cross. There, set on the table before me, are the vivid symbols of the sacrifice of my Lord, who gave his life for me. The Communion is not just the Lord’s Supper; it is the Lord’s sacrifice.

We recently have been challenged to:

Explore all the ways the Lord’s Supper can spiritually form the church community into a true and living expression of the life, sacrifice, resurrection, and continuing presence of Christ. —Doctrine and Covenants 164:4c

Perhaps one of those ways is meditation on the Communion prayers in conjunction with the cross as part of our sacrament service. Consider how our experience of this sacrament would change if we were affirming our willingness to take on the name of Jesus Christ and to keep his commandments, if we are doing so at the foot of the cross.

In reality the invitation to the Lord’s table has always included the cross. Not just Jesus’, but our own. As he told his disciples:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
—Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23 NRSV

May we be blessed as we live, learn, and grow together in the shadow of the cross.

God Uses Those Who Respond

20 09 2013

By Ed Towers, Independence, Missouri, USA

Ed Towers

Ed Towers

Over the years, the Lord has worked with and through me many times to meet the needs of individuals. But I learned in one instance that if a priesthood member doesn’t respond, the Lord would find someone who would!

This wake-up call happened during a time I felt overwhelmed. At that point, my church responsibilities included being the San Diego District president. My work responsibilities entailed working with a Pentagon-assigned US representative to three North Atlantic Treaty Organization forums with meetings throughout Europe.

During this time, I flew from San Diego to Washington, DC, one or two times a month (in addition to European travel). It became extremely easy to “put aside” my priesthood responsibilities and just deal with the professional and non-personal relationships of work and church.

That changed one Friday, when I was boarding in Washington for my flight home. I had an aisle seat, and a boy and girl in their early teens were next to me. I didn’t want to listen to children chattering for the next four hours.

One of the last passengers to board was a very loud woman, who was joking to just about everyone who looked her way. She sat four or five rows behind me on the other side of the aisle. I sighed in gratitude that she wasn’t next to me!

About then, I noticed that directly ahead of me was a vacant row. I moved. Then, just as the aircraft door closed, the loud woman hurried to the seat I had just left!

She immediately started talking with the children. They seemed hesitant, but it didn’t slow her down, and she continued to chat in her loud voice.

As we got closer to San Diego, I noticed her tone becoming quieter, softer. I found myself straining to hear what they were saying. It appeared the children were leaving a broken home in Washington. Their mother and father were divorcing, and neither wanted the children. The kids were being sent to live in San Diego with a relative they didn’t even know.

They felt frightened and feared the relative wouldn’t want them, either. The loud woman calmed their crying and gave them encouragement. Then, just before the airplane landed, she had the kids lean toward her. She hugged them and petitioned God with the most compassionate and loving prayer any priesthood member could have offered!

As we landed, my eyes filled with tears while the children’s eyes were being dried. Smiles of hope and encouragement graced their faces.

At that moment, God made it clear to me that if I did not accept the responsibility put before me, then God would use whoever would respond.

It was clear that my ministry was not dependent on authority, experience, training, qualifications, or privilege. It was simply my response to Christ’s request to “feed my sheep.”

I had learned a personal lesson while being privileged to witness the Lord’s compassion at work in meeting the needs of children!

Your Giving Provides Canada Flood Relief

18 09 2013

By Kendra Friend, Integrated Communications

our contributions to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering are providing flood relief in Calgary and other small communities in southern Alberta, Canada. More than 100,000 people were displaced from their homes following severe rains that began June 20. Three church families lost their homes.
An Abolish Poverty, End Suffering grant of US$6,000 was distributed through three agencies where church volunteers are helping those in the most need. Canada West Mission Centre also is providing direct aid.
Said Jim Poirier, bishop of Canada and member of the Presiding Bishopric: “Canadians have always responded generously when called upon to support Christ’s mission around the globe. When faced with an emergency of our own, it is so gratifying to receive this support through the Abolish Poverty, End Suffering initiative of Community of Christ. Thank you.”

Thank you for giving to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and all of the Mission Initiatives through offering envelopes and at www.CofChrist.org/give. Because of your ongoing generosity, Community of Christ is able to respond as a worldwide church to this crisis.

A Sacramental Community

16 09 2013

By John G. VanderWalker II, Hayden, Idaho, USA

Community of Christ is a sacramental community. This means more than being a church with sacraments. We have been challenged to be the incarnation of Christ’s peace in our communities (Doctrine and Covenants 163:3a), making pathways for others to experience and enter peace through ministries that enflesh the gospel.
The sacraments we practice inform us as we try to understand our relationship with the world and God.

Baptism is an important step in the life of discipleship. It may not be the first sacramental step, but it is the most significant personal decision in the life of a disciple. When a seeker says yes to God’s act of redemption in Jesus and decides to step into God’s saving covenant, the next step is baptism of water.

At baptism we enter into community, the community of Trinity. Our act of submission is a door to communion with the Divine. It is a physical way of saying we want to be close to God, we want to know and do the will of God, we want to engage in the work of God’s redemption in the world. We enter the work of salvation not only as recipients, but as participants.

Because of baptism we not only claim God’s salvation, but God’s work in our lives.

Confirmation of membership is another step in the life of a disciple. In this sacrament we enter into another community. This community is made of people who have opened the door to God in their lives and are bound together through the blessings of the Holy Spirit in the mystery that is God. It says we are aware of God’s redeeming activity with us individually (baptism) and communally (confirmation). It also says we are willing participants, working to understand God’s will and make it known in the world.

By making God’s will known through action, the church becomes a sacrament in the everyday lives of members and people the church impacts.

When reaching out to the broken and suffering, the church becomes the healing hands of Christ (Abolish Poverty, End Suffering). When the body spends time in worship, prayer, and discernment it becomes a prophetic voice (Experience Congregations in Mission and Develop Disciples to Serve). When that prophetic voice takes root, and action takes place, peace comes to our communities (Pursue Peace on Earth). When the incarnate peace of Christ is expressed in mission, others will want to join in the redeeming work of Christ (Invite People to Christ).

Community of Christ is a sacramental church, but that means more than having eight sacraments. We are the evidence of God’s graciousness expressed in Christ. We are Community of Christ.