Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Graduations


Cue “Pomp & Circumstance”, usher in the graduates!  It is time to celebrate those among us who are graduating.  As we dream of their bright futures, I have one question:
When did it begin, the journey toward graduation?
Freshman year?  1st grade?  Pre-school?  When you read your child that first book?
Most of us would agree that the most successful students benefited from parents who launch their child on this journey at an early age and walked with them each step of the way.  
At FCCE, we are called to pass on the faith from generation to generation and to grow deep the faith of each person.  We are called to nurture the relationship with Jesus Christ to as many as possible and as meaningfully as possible.
Most of us would agree that this very calling leads us to think similarly about the faith journey as we do about the educational journey.  The most successful Christians benefit from parents (a faith community) who launch their child on this journey at an early age and walk with them each step of the way.
Special in our relationship with Jesus, starting today is just right regardless your age.  The book we hope is read to you and or by you is the Bible first of all.  FCCE wants to be the faith community that walks with you each step of the way.
Parents, I hope that as you cherish each memory … first step, first day of school, first solo drive in the car, etc … that your memories are joyous and include the love of Jesus Christ.  Children (all of us in some way), I hope that you are thankful for those who have been “parent” or “community” and especially for Jesus who loves you deeply.  

Move the tassel over and toss those hats in the air!
by Dr. James R. Brooks

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Keep Your Eye on the Ball: HOPE

Keep Your Eye on the Ball:  HOPE

I want you to dominate the game of life so I say you must focus on the correct point.
Ever play baseball?  If so, you know this saying … Keep your eye on the ball.  It is exceedingly hard to hit or to catch unless you keep your eye on the ball.  

How is your 401k?  Playing the penny stocks?  Mutual funds?  Each friend has a new strategy, yes?  Focus seems to be a key, yes?  Focus on the correct points is integral to success.

I have coached sports teams and entrepreneurs.  All require special focus to succeed.

When I was a young boy, my Dad and I were playing catch in the front yard.  The conclusion of one exchange was the hard dirty baseball landing square on my eye.  I have no scar.  I do have a greater appreciate for focus.  Dad threw the ball well.  Had I focus, my glove would have protected my eye.

The Bible is an amazing source of opportunity for you and I to dominate the game of life.

If we read it with proper focus.  The story of the Garden of Eden is a prime example.

Too often, we read the garden story with a terrible focus on self.  We obsess about the apple and Adam and Eve.  We worry about our relationship with the serpent.  ETC.  

I believe we were meant to focus upon the choices made by God.

Take a moment to re-read that story with a focus on what God is doing.  Please ignore what our human brother and sister do.  Genesis 2:4-3:24

[PAUSE]

Yes it is difficult to ignore Adam and Eve.  They make so many terrible choices.  I can name at least 5 opportunities to do the right thing and they do the wrong thing.  From talking to the serpent to hiding from God, they perpetuate the mistake.

What of God’s choices?  In the face of Adam and Eve’s terrible decision making, what does God do?

God loves them.  God searches for them until God finds them.  God forgives them.  God provides for them.  God makes them clothes.

At every turn, God is doing everything to make right the relationship between God and God’s people.  

I want you to dominate the game of life so I say you must focus on the correct point.

God is the correct point of focus for you.  Regardless your right or wrong choices, God is the correct focal point.  Regardless your benefit / suffering from other’s choices, God is the correct focal point.  Regardless the unfair nature of life, God is the correct focal point.

God made you, named you good, and sent God’s only Son to die so that you can live forever.


Focus … it is key to your success.


Friday, April 15, 2016

How to Pray for Hopes and Dreams

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
 the conviction of things not seen." ~ Hebrews 11:1
Do you pray?

Do you pray about your hopes and dreams?  

How does that prayer sound?

Let us name something up front.  Not everyone has hopes and dreams.  Too long is the list of dead ends preventing some from having them.  That is a different, necessary, discussion.

I have amazing hopes and outstanding dreams!  I want my son to grow up to be strong and wise and to love God.  I want the church I serve to be vibrant in its worship of God and service to neighbor.  I want to live in Christian community that cherishes the ancient, thrives in the present and celebrates a radically open table of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I would like to be remembered well.

Does any of that resonate to you?  In the midst of the list are my extended family, my friends, classmates, and so many more.  I want to name that to have hopes and dreams is to have the opportunity to be thankful.

Do you pray?  If so, do you pray about your hopes and dreams?  How does that prayer sound?

“I WANT BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH………”

Typically, that is how mine sounds.  You?

Matthew 6:9-13 or Luke 11:1-4

Jesus taught us to prayer for our daily bread.  It is in the Lord’s Prayer.  “Give us . . .”  Jesus taught us to pray for God to intercede in our lives … “protect us from evil”  Jesus taught us more than this.

I’ve been blessed with some miraculous mentors.  Their lives are a witness to me.  Here are things I have learned from observing my mentors . . .

Hopes and Dreams become a reality when our lives are in harmony with God’s hopes and dreams more so than when we ask God to bless our hopes and dreams.

A second thing I learned from my mentors . . .

God’s hopes and dreams for me and mine are more beautiful than my own hopes and dreams.  God dreams larger than we do.

How does it sound to pray for our lives to be in harmony with God’s hopes and dreams for us?


Simple!  “God, may your dreams for me be my dreams and may they become reality.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Who would you invite to your last meal?

I simply love my faith tradition!  Especially the emphasis on communion!  However, you know what happens to those things we hold so dear.  We ritualize them.  Practicality takes over.  How fast can we get how many to celebrate the most important thing?  Hours can be spent devising the travel patterns of deacons with trays of communion elements.  Industrial engineers would marvel at the equipment provided for the preparation of communion trays.  
If you are re-using communion juice to the point of scraping mold from the top, you may have gone over board.

Stuart Duffin re rsa - The Last Supper (unveiled 4 March 2012)
What was that last supper like?  We are approaching Maundy Thursday.  The night that Jesus shared his last dinner with his disciples.  Before we explore that night, let me ask . . .
If you were to share your last meal with your best friends and family, how would you do it?  What would be important?
White bread and Welches grape juice?  That your priority?  Or would you work with whatever your friends and family brought to the table because they are the priority?
Reading the Gospels, the good news of Jesus Christ, trying to see that night through Jesus’ eyes … the mechanics of the meal pale in the face of that which is truly important.
This meal is only important because Jesus had shared 3 years worth of meals with these men and women.  Sharing a meal was part of their shared history.  What would be important at your last meal?  Share history?
I encourage you to read back through the gospels.  How many times does Jesus share a meal with people?  Or teach about how a meal should be shared?  Jesus used meal time as a teaching tool because it is part of all our shared history.  
Meal time was an opportunity to share the values of the kingdom of God.
Ever watch a prison meal?  The off arm hooked around the tray to protect the food from aggressors.  The barter system of trading food items.  No grace.  No mercy.  No love.
A meal in the kingdom of God is noteworthy!  Often Jesus invites the outcast to the table. (Zacchaeus: Luke 19:1-10)  Jesus encourages us to be humble at the meal time rather than attempt to take the seat of honor. (Luke 14)  So many lessons at the meal time.  
Our Lord wishes this of our meal time . . .
~ that it be open to all
~ that it be shared so as to point everyone to God
~ that it be shared so as to provide opportunity for reconciliation
~ that we remember Jesus and his life, death and resurrection until he returns
As I read the Bible, I see no limits on these four points.  These four corners of the table are to be lived to the extremes.  
Jesus shared his last meal with a man who betrayed him into torture and death. 
Jesus shared his last meal with a man who denied him 3 times.
Jesus shared his last meal with a gathering of people who mostly abandoned him on the cross.
Jesus shared his last meal with the future leaders of the Christian community.
Jesus shared his last meal with those who gave their lives because they believed in Jesus.

Would your last meal be as noble as Jesus?  Jesus invites you to his meal.  Do you invite Jesus to your meal?

Monday, January 11, 2016

More Fun than PowerBall!

Have you purchased your ticket?  For only $2.00 you could be the winner of $1,300,000,000.00!!  Imagine it!  
We each have a “bucket list” and “lottery list”, yes?  What is your “lottery list?”  I know mine.  After I pay off debt, I like to day dream about those I could help.  Family, congregations, schools, etc.  Sort of a pass it along experience.  
A common question for lottery winners (all of us yes) is if you will quit your job?
Will you?
Before you give the knee-jerk response of . . . ponder the question with me . . .
If we quit our job after winning the lottery, we are making a statement.  We are stating that what we do for a living is less worthy than $1.3 billion.  I sense you might find that statement to be true.
What you are doing for a living, you are giving your life.  
Cut to the chase, you are priceless.  Many have given their lives so that you could have the life you enjoy.  Your parents, we hope, have sacrificed for you.  Multiple adults have attempted to make your life better such as teachers and preachers.  Jesus died so that you could have life eternal.  Cut to the chase, you are priceless.  
Priceless is more than $1.3 billion.  Don’t have a pot to piss in (pardon the vernacular) you are priceless.  Make every wrong choice, you are priceless.  Make every right choice, enjoy a story book life, you are priceless.  Still reading this blog, you are priceless.  
Okay - maybe you would still be fine quitting your job after you win the lottery.  I get it.  Sometimes what we do is provide for us and ours.  It is always a blessing when we can provide for us and ours.  Those for whom you provide are truly thankful for the sacrifice you make on their behalf.  It is all good.
Let me ask another way . . . what if you could do something that you would not quit even if offered $1.3 billion?  What would that be?
You know where this is going … it is a new year.  Why not do that thing which you find worth more than $1.3 billion?  You are priceless which means your service to others is priceless.  Nobody can afford to pay you for your service, done in love, to another human being.  If you do that service in the name of Jesus, you just multiplied that value.  You are amazing!

Please let me know what that thing is which you find more rewarding than the lottery.  It would be a blessing to me to hear from you!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Skipping Away From the Nativity

The strains of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” were still echoing in my mind’s ear as I stood alone in the sanctuary.  The building was empty.  I was returning to the darkened room of pews to retrieve my preaching Bible.  Pausing to ponder in the space so recently filled with God’s children, it was all so much.

So much worship . . . We conclude Christmas Eve worship with a circle of light, people holding candles shining into the darkness.  Though we regularly spill into the narthex, tonight we had two circles reaching into the narthex and beyond.  Watching the folding chairs being set up was inspiring.

So much worship . . . The leadership of our music ministries was excellent.  A reflection upon a year of powerful ministry by each of our music ministries.  Our worship leaders lead us to the nativity as we hoped.

So much ministry this year . . . The calendar year began with our congregation purchasing adjacent property.  Thankfully we paved that new parking area and connected it to our own for we used it well tonight.  The calendar year concluded with our congregation adding a full time Associate Minister to our staff.  More than a sign of strength, it was a step of faith in the vision God has for our ministry.  The middle moments of the calendar year were equally dynamic and too numerous to share in detail here.

All these reflections and more were flooding my soul as my gaze traveled to the “Dove” window in our sanctuary.  It is a beautiful window of color and grace.  Perfectly positioned above our baptistry, portraying the descending dove as we baptize the faithful.  When the sky is dark and the sanctuary as well, the exterior flood light shines upon this window.  The blues and golds that surround the dove remain dark.  The dove becomes a brilliant white … light in the darkness.

Light in the darkness that provides perspective.  My soul was overflowing with joy.  The light gave perspective to my joy.  God is the source of our joy.  When we worship with our brothers and sisters of faith, we can find ourselves overflowing with joy.  

For me, it results in rambling attempts to articulate.  I want to tell of the times I have witnessed God doing miracles in the midst of messes.  I want to tell of the lives transformed by Jesus’ church.  I want to tell the stories of our ancestors and our youth.  Thankfully I serve a diverse church with more gifts than only story telling.  They get mission done and it changes people.

A new year is just around the corner.  I am so excited about 2016 and the ministry we will share.  Even more, I stood in the empty sanctuary daydreaming of what God will do to push us, surprise us, and save us between now and next Christmas.  

Foreshadowing … this week I received a box from Ohio with contents inspired by one of our ministries.  The sender wanted to contribute.  I cannot wait to tell this story to those who serve in that ministry and thank God for helping them touch the lives of others, and with the sender touch the lives of many more.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Mrs. Lee’s Rose Garden: Book Review

by Dr. James R. Brooks

In Mrs. Lee’s Rose Garden (2015, Cider Mill Press Book Publishers), Carlo Devito provides a glimpse at the grandeur, guffaw, and grizzle of the Civil War.  Surprisingly, Devito does not appear to be aware of the power in the story he shares for fails to seize upon it.  Rather, Devito seems obsessed with Arlington which is in line with most of the characters he illumines.  Maybe that is more true to the human experience of the war.

As I read this book whose pages turn quickly, I anticipated critique of the vengeful ways we vent our grief in the guise of justice.  The taking of Arlington from its rightful owners is more in this vein than in that of the Lincoln intent to reconcile the warring sides.  I hoped for a more complex discussion of justice brought down upon the sesscionists, especially their leadership, exemplified at Arlington.  Even more, my patriotic and optimistic self desired a treatment of our ability to transform a symbol of the war’s brokenness into a solemn and sacred place of peace.  A simple comparison to Gettysburg would have added depth to this book.  Alas, I was left wanting.

To my surprise, it was quite enjoyable to read this tale as if I were standing in the rose garden.  For those who have enjoyed a guided tour of our national parks, this book is as if you had more time to ask questions of a seasoned and learned docent.  The history buff will be delighted with the backstory details so often missing from history texts.  This is the strength of the book and the reason it was a joy to read to the end.


I do recommend this book.  Thankful am I for having read it will make my next visit to Arlington more meaningful.  Thankful for my Mother, who gave me the book with whom I share a love for history, especially the Civil War.