Honoring Our Ashes

17 03 2014

By Carolyn Brock, Redmond, Oregon, USA

This is an excerpt from one of the entries appearing each day in the Daily Bread blog. Visit http://CofChristDailyBread.wordpress.com to subscribe for free.

When I was 5 years old our house burned to the ground. We arrived home from church and found it engulfed in a fireball. I can still remember the heat on my face, the orange flames shooting high, the look on my mother’s face, the grief in my heart. We had been told to take our new Christmas dolls from the car, back into the house, before leaving for church earlier that day.

For a while it felt like we were homeless refugees who had lost everything and didn’t know where we were going. But family, church friends, and the community took us in and began to provide supplies to rebuild our lives. I had loved living in that place on the edge of a pine forest in southern Oregon. But I found that I could live in a new place, create new memories, explore new landscapes, and keep growing.

The memory of all that happened is still clear and precious. I am who I am, in part, because of having lived in that place. Every place where I have lived, put down roots, loved the land, and connected with people is the stuff that continues to form me. Though they become “ashes” to me in a physical sense, they are the substance of my deep bone marrow, my story.

As a church, we are who we are because of all the places we have “lived” physically, theologically, and spiritually. We may think the old places were abandoned as ashes, but they are still within us, bound in our memories, woven into our stories. They continue to tell us who we are and where we are going. Let us remember and revere the ashes of past places, and carry them with us into the new.

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How Great is Our God

12 03 2014

Ron2by Ron Wood
Warner Robins, Georgia, USA

As a chaplain for a trauma center, I am flooded with families that are thrust into nightmares. Persons who were whole just hours earlier come in by helicopter, clinging to life. From a baby who will not live though its first night to a child whose brain has been damaged in an auto accident, the doors I walk through are full of Goliaths. As a minister, I am called to represent the God of love, who is much bigger than these traumas.

Through these experiences I have a short time to run for the door in intimidation or to proclaim a God who transcends darkness and provides comfort.

When church members look at issues that appear insurmountable, will they see a God who is much bigger than all circumstances of the world combined? Will they flee from these issues, or will they trust that God is much bigger than any problem they may confront?

How great is our God!





Why We Tell the Sacred Story

7 03 2014
Pastor Ted Tinsman and his daughter, Eryn, look at their testimonies in Witnesses of Hope, Faith, Love and Healing.

Pastor Ted Tinsman and his daughter, Eryn, look at their testimonies in Witnesses of Hope, Faith, Love and Healing.

By Ted L. Tinsman,
Springfield, Missouri, USA

Do not fail to listen attentively to the telling of the sacred story, for the story of scripture and of faith empowers and illuminates. —Doctrine and Covenants 161:5

Among signs that we follow Jesus Christ is our readiness to share the sacred story, which takes on extraordinary personal meaning when applied to ordinary lives. Sharing our testimonies of God’s grace encourages others to join the fellowship of Christ.

Some people may not recognize simple experiences as being testimonies, may be uncomfortable with public sharing, or may need a clear opportunity. Such an opportunity came in the spring of 2012 for the Chapel for Peace Congregation in Springfield, Missouri.

A member, Wayne Groner, is a nonfiction author and personal historian who helps others write memoirs and life stories. He suggested we gather testimonies from congregation members and publish them to encourage witnessing and to be a blessing to participants and readers.

All profits and royalties would go to Chapel for Peace.

Our first step was to get approval from the church’s Legal Services Team. Then we invited members of all ages to submit testimonies. We didn’t restrict length or topic. Wayne edited testimonies for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity. Participants approved them before publication.

We received 51 testimonies, and all were published.

The shortest is four sentences by a single mother who thanked God for the gift of her 1-year-old daughter. “Sometimes I stray, but my faith brings me back,” she wrote. She had never testified in public.

The longest is 14 pages by a grandfather who told of his lifelong journey of learning and growing with the Holy Spirit. “I must continue to listen with greater purpose and meaning,” he wrote.

Another testimony showed the pain we experience when we feel separated from God. It is by a university student who traveled with classmates and professors to Kenya to provide HIV/AIDS counseling at a refugee camp.

Government officials there prevented the team from working. “I have trusted God with a lot of things and [God] has always come through,” she wrote, “but this time has been different. I don’t hear [God]. I can’t see [God] in anything that’s going on. It hurts a lot.”

The book, Witnesses of Hope, Faith, Love and Healing, is available at Amazon.com. In the forward, I included:

Testimonies…are God-centered, with power to carry us and remind us that God is as alive and active in our lives today as in times of old, if we look for him and pay attention.

I commend these stories to you for the same purpose God commended his sacred work to Abraham: “I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing” [Genesis 12:2 NRSV].





Sometimes We Struggle with…Parenting

26 02 2014

By Erica Blevins Nye, Oakland Township, Michigan, USA
(Excerpts from the Young Adult Blog at http://youngadultministries.wordpress.com)

Motherhood has given Erica Blevins Nye a new perspective  on a person’s relationship to the welfare of others.

Motherhood has given Erica Blevins Nye a new perspective on a person’s relationship to the welfare of others.

One year ago I worked for International Headquarters as our Young Adult Ministries specialist. On any given day you could find me at my desk, busily connecting with Community of Christ young adults to lend ministry and support. You could find me at an airport, traveling to meet with young-adult ministers around the globe and to hear their vision for the future of the church.

And the staff meetings! I loved the meetings (if you can believe it) because at our best we would discuss how we could influence the mission of this church I love.

Now, one year later, on any given day you can find me reciting my alphabet. Or frantically scrubbing crayon off my furniture. Or cutting peanut butter sandwiches into bite-sized squares. Or hurrying to a potty chair.

In the last year I have transitioned from full-time minister to full-time mommy.

This journey has been a joy! It also has brought its share of grief. While it is rewarding to spend my days caring for one of God’s precious children, it has required a good deal of “letting go.”

Letting go of career and ministry expectations. Letting go of my personal plans, priorities, and timelines. Letting go of some ego. Letting go of part of my identity.

This life shift isn’t uncommon, especially for young-adult women, but it still hasn’t been easy. I have been learning to re-center my life off my own hopes and onto those of someone else. It’s scary, and it feels a little out of control.

It is dangerous to invest so much of oneself into someone else. To love and invest so deeply in another lays a person open to receive authentic joy. But it also leaves one exposed to the potential of searing heartbreak.
I have discovered my own welfare is deeply, inextricably linked to the welfare of my child. I now understand the power of this concept in a way I hadn’t before.

Though this new journey has been a challenge, I am learning and growing. I’m gaining fresh perspective on the nature of a God who is Creator and Caretaker. And I’m gaining insight into what it means to be a disciple in a faith community called to live in service to others.





Receiving Peace from a Turtle

24 01 2014

Re-blogged from: Proclaim Peace http://proclaimpeace.blogspot.com/2013/09/aloha.html) and the Young Adult Blog (www.CofChrist.org/ya)

By Seth Bryant, US Navy chaplain

image by Jack Martin

image by Jack Martin

Jenn and I went to Oahu, Hawaii, sans kids, for an overdue 10th anniversary and second honeymoon.
We had an amazing experience. As someone who loves to snorkel, I felt like Oahu was heaven. While Jenn sunbathed on the beach, I spent almost all my time in the water. The diversity of fish, and their vibrant colors amazed me.

While floating in the blue waters of a bay at North Shore, something large came into view. Snorkeling can be relaxing, exciting, and at times, terrifying—like when a wave threatens to throw you onto rocks, or when a big unknown mass comes swimming your way. In the back of my mind, the “Jaws” music is always queued up for when something large materializes (usually another snorkeler). As I made out the shape, my fear melted away. I realized it was a massive sea turtle.

I expected the turtle to swim away, but it didn’t seem bothered by me. Instead, the turtle seemed like it was inviting me to follow. Precious seconds turned into minutes as the turtle slowly led me on a tour of the coral, plants, and fish.

At one point, with the turtle floating directly below me, a large wave crashed over us. I fought against it. The turtle seemed startled by my ungraceful movements. It looked me in the eyes, as if to say, “Don’t fight the waves.”

As I later told Jenn, “It was like the turtle was speaking to me. Like he had something to tell me.” Jenn asked, “Well, what did he tell you?” I paused, and then it was quite clear. “He told me, ‘Aloha. Be at peace.’”

Commonly used to say hello or good-bye, aloha means so much more: peace, mercy, compassion, love. Visiting the islands taught me that it’s a way of life, a way of being—like the idea of shalom.

The turtle was both my guide and messenger in a holy place. I felt like I better understood the experience in Isaiah 6, even if just a little. After about 10 minutes, another snorkeler swam up, scaring away the turtle. So I swam back to Jenn, without words to adequately describe the experience or convey how it transformed me.





The Offering Envelope: The Church Responds

22 01 2014

By Jim Poirier, Presiding Bishopric

Jim Poirier, Presiding Bishopric

Jim Poirier, Presiding Bishopric

I remember that when I was a young child, on Sunday mornings my parents would retrieve an envelope from a special box and place some money inside. The box resided next to my mother’s jewelry box. On the envelope were a number and a date. My father said the number was our family number, so there was no need to fill in our name.

We would take this envelope to church and give it to God at the weekly worship service. My father would fold the envelope in half to conceal the amount inside. He said that was between us and God.

My sister and I would have the honor, on alternate Sundays, of placing the envelope in a basket passed through the congregation during the “collection.” (See Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 16:1–4).

The envelope contained only two boxes to check: one for the church and one for missions around the world. The baskets were filled to capacity. Ushers then placed them at the altar. There, a minister offered them to God in a prayer of blessing.

I remember feeling part of a community that shared and prayed together. That was many years ago in a different denomination. However, the same spirit of community envelops me today at the part of the service Community of Christ calls A Disciple’s Generous Response, or DGR.

Community of Christ also provides envelopes to members wishing to support the mission of Christ to everyone from very young children to adults. Children receive a special envelope featuring Jack and Jenn, the stars from the Jack and Jenn video series (www.CofChrist.org/jackandjenn). The envelopes are a bit different than the ones I remember from my childhood. There is still a number on the envelope that identifies the member. And there is a date. The similarities end there.

Our envelope has a title, “Mission Tithes.” This means that whatever we give called tithes is given to “mission.” The word tithes provides a connection to Old Testament times when followers of Yahweh (God) brought their first fruits—the first and best of their labors—to the altar and offered them to God.

Community of Christ follows that same tradition of giving first to God. The word mission aligns our giving with the mission of Christ in Luke, chapter 4. We refer to these as the Mission Initiatives. These initiatives are printed on the reverse side of the envelope. We are reminded there, as Christ reminded his disciples, that Christ’s mission is our mission, as well.

As has been our custom for many years, the envelope’s left side has two sections, one for local ministries and one for mission center ministries. This provides you with the opportunity to support ministries at the congregation and mission center levels.

The right side of the envelope supports worldwide ministries, or the mission of Christ around the world. These range from ministries in your community to communities in parts of the world where the church has a presence and is funded by a budget approved by the World Church Finance Board (a body of elected representatives from around the world).

This board approves the budget of the worldwide church in a form that aligns funding with Mission Initiatives. There is a space entitled “use where needed most” where you give leaders permission to place your offering among the five initiatives where there is the most need.

Recent words of counsel again remind the church about the urgent need to support both local and worldwide ministries:

“Continue to align your priorities with local and worldwide church efforts to move the initiatives forward” and to “free the full capacity of Christ’s mission through generosity that imitates God’s generosity.”

Without the generous response of members and friends to both local and worldwide ministries, mission cannot go forward.

As I placed the envelope in the basket so many years ago, I was participating in a community that supported the worldwide ministries of Christ. Today Community of Christ does the same by upholding the mission of Christ through this community and around the world. It is all done by the simple act of placing our first fruits in an envelope that reminds us of this mission week after week.

The call to respond is urgent. Look to the needs of your own congregations, but look also beyond your walls to the far-flung places where the church must go. Each disciple needs a spiritual home. You are called to build that home and care for it, but also to share equally in the outreaching ministries of the church. In that way the gospel may be sent to other souls also yearning for a spiritual resting place. —Doctrine and Covenants 162:7d





Praying the Worshiper’s Path

20 01 2014

By Kathy Shockley, Independence, Missouri, USA

tree on Worshiper's Path

tree on Worshiper’s Path

Just past the cross along the path, the worshiper comes to a tree. It is artfully stylized, fashioned from rods and wire, accented with colorful metallic leaves. The shape of its branches suggests they are blowing in the wind, bringing to mind Christ’s teaching to Nicodemus about the blowing wind as symbolic of the Spirit’s movement.

Throughout history trees have played roles in the secular and sacred worlds. They feed and shelter us. They have been objects of worship and sources of myth. Trees populate the entire Bible, from their creation in chapter one of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, whose tree of life has leaves for the healing of nations.

This common part of creation has much to teach us. Paul reminds us:

By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of [God’s] divine being. —Romans 1:20, The Message

An example of the transforming possibilities of taking a long, thoughtful look at a piece of creation is found in the story of Brother Lawrence. In the 17th century a young footman was regarding the winter-bare branches of a tree. He thought about how in a short time the leaves would be renewed, and then the flowers and fruit would appear. In that moment the Spirit “blew” into his life, and he received a powerful sense of the providence and power of God. With that sense came an all-consuming love for God.

He joined a monastery shortly after this experience, taking the name Brother Lawrence and spending the next 40-plus years striving always to practice the presence of God and act solely out of love for God. More than 300 years later, his story continues to inspire and challenge us, all from taking time to contemplate a tree.

The tree on the Worshiper’s Path with the Spirit blowing through its branches invites us to meditate on trees for ourselves. It invites us to grow increasingly aware of the Spirit blowing through our lives.
As a personal meditation, choose a tree to observe. As the wind moves through its branches, imagine the tree as a reflection of the Holy Spirit moving through you.

Connect with the tree, feeling its bark. If you wish, wrap your arms around the trunk and try to feel its life force with your own.

What aspects of God does the tree reveal to you? What other elements of creation speak to you? How can creation’s voices call you into a more continual awareness of God’s presence?

All of creation speaks of the God who created it. May our hearts and minds be opened a little more each day through the testimony of the objects of God’s creation.