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.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Framed Thanksgiving

by Dr. James R. Brooks, Lead Minister

What is in a frame?  

I invite you to survey the frames in your home and or workplace.  What do you place in picture frames?  

In my church office, you would find framed items from my ministry.  Such as diplomas, ordination certificate, from churches I've served, including the bulletin from my first sermon.  Some awards I've been blessed to receive are framed.  One wall is given to a print of Matthias Grünewald's depiction
Jamesof the crucifixion.  A wonderful piece created by my son joins a collection of family pictures. 

You will not find framed regret.  Is this so of your framed items.  Bittersweet are the images of loved ones lost.  
I could not find a frame that held regret, or shame, or guilt, or sadness.

I believe God prefers it that way.  To frame regret or guilt or the others could be to frustrate the work of forgiveness and reconciliation.  Besides, what interior decorator would approve of us framing the links of Jacob Marley's chain (from A Christmas Carol).

How bright God's smile at the items you have framed.  Items of hope and love and joy and peace.  From the frame, these items witness to us of God's glory and grace.

Framing these items reminds us of God's blessings.  The framing provides the opportunity to share the witness with others.  I image there is at least one frame ready to help you tell others about your experience of Jesus.  Telling a grandchild of the joy when you had their parent as a baby?  Sharing with a co-worker how blessed you were the day you married your spouse?  What story would you tell?

What is in a frame?  Our Thanksgivings made real before our eyes.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Power of Your Voice

by Dr. James R. Brooks

What is the power of your voice?

More than you may know, thus be thoughtful in your speech.

We may ask, what difference do the words of a stranger make upon the lives of others?  or our own?

It is a 40 minute drive from my house to the wedding reception for the amazing couple.  Earlier in the afternoon, my son and I were at the wedding.  I had the honor to participate in the martial ceremony.  This couple and their families are dear to us. 

My arrival late is a distress to me.  Distressed am I to dare disappoint any to whom I have given my word of arrival.  Distressed due to the drama of the events of my leaving the launching point of my journey.  All driven to a point when I arrive at the gate to the parking lot where $20 is demanded of me to rest my car in a space.

Honestly, I was thankful that I had four $5 to hand over.  I would not have to search for an ATM.  I had enough to pay the bill.  Honestly, I was thankful and willing to hand it over as I stuck it out my hand to the attendant.

Was it the wedding gift she noticed on the passenger seat?  She asked if I arrived for the wedding.  Did she see the distress on my face?  Her hand reached out for the requisite monetary deposit.  

I nodded “yes” and verbalized the same.  I was there for a wedding.  With a smile of one bending the rules, she waved me in and withdrew her hand.  My car came to rest in a space with the four $5s still in my hand.

With a pause, I gave thanks to God for this blessing that brought joy into my world.  A world that had been beaten with chaos and controversy.  

A joyful moment that I spent with my saviour, Jesus Christ.

I thank my friend Amy for the reminder.  Blessings have been on my mind this week.  

More than once this week have I felt such blessings upon my life.  Especially in the face of the thorns of a chaotic and broken world.  These other stories are seemingly too tender to tell today.

What difference does your voice make in the life of a stranger?  My story may sound trite.  I assure you that it is nothing of the kind.  The power of the moment I shared transformed me.  It saved me from chagrin and collapse.

Your voice has power.  You can chose to witness to the love of Jesus Christ.  You can choose to change the life of another with your word and your deed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

At Table

by Dr. James R. Brooks

Last year, more people died taking selfies than died from shark attack.  

Let that sink in a moment.  More people died taking a picture of themselves than died from an attack by Jaws!

Why is that?  Well, Jaws is a movie so not real.  And shark attacks are more likely to make headlines than a cell phone user falling off a cliff.  

Honestly, we know much of the problem . . . people taking selfies are so self absorbed that they are no longer aware of their surroundings.  They lose connection with their context.

Here is how Jesus said it … those who try to save their live will lose it.  Those who give their life in Jesus’ name will save it.  (I paraphrased but you can look it up in Matthew 16:25)

“in Jesus’ name” is a key.  Key because it is about connection.  It is about remembering our context, our surroundings, our savior.

Recently, I had dinner with a high school classmate who was traveling through our town.  Actually, Clay and I have know each other before high school.  He reminded me of when we built a limestone alter at church camp.  We laughed that nobody gave us instructions, just assumed we knew what we were doing.  It was still standing when I was last there some dozen or more years later.  

I hope you have had meal experiences like the one Clay and I shared.  Maybe in your small group?  Maybe at one of our fellowship dinners?  Maybe at communion on Sunday morning?

A meal time experience that is overflowing with personal connections and divine inspiration.

Clay and I cheered each other on with regard to our faith and life journey and how God has taken care of us and those we love.  

Connections . . . those who prefer selfies miss out.  

In your next prayer, I hope you will name some of the connections that are the most important to your faith journey.  Then, I hope you will name the potential connections that you could make when you give up your life for Jesus’ sake.  

For most of us, to “give up our life of Jesus’ sake” is to think of others first, serve others, humble ourselves, etc.  

I am very excited about the faith filled connections you have.  Those connections will foreshadow the saving grace that Jesus offers you every day!

If you want a connection like this, or more connections like this, or a small group that offers connections, let me know.  It would be my honor to hook you up.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

“Listening to God”

What would be on the list of ways you listen to God?  Would you list “prayer” as first on the list?  Maybe “going to worship” is in your top 5? 

Here is my partial list (in not particular order) . . .

~ Prayer:  private and public conversation with God
~ Worship:  offering praise and thanksgiving as we gather around the Lord’s Table
~ Dreams:  in the Bible, God spoke to several of our ancestors through dreams
~ Spiritual Retreat:  intentional time apart from my regular life so as to be with God
~ Faithful Conversations:  talking with people about faith stuff
~ Preaching:  preparation and delivery provide me opportunities to experience God
~ Reading:  from the Bible to secular material provide me opportunities to listen for God
~ Nature: from exercise to relaxation outside to encounter God in God’s creation

I am so blessed to have a multitude of opportunities to listen to God.  I am thankful for the many ways our congregation encourages me to be about these activities.  Currently, the ACTS Class is giving me another opportunity to return to the Bible to hear the Spirit of God at work.

Seasons are changing.  Students and teachers are returning to school.  The weather is changing.  I am seeing leaves on my lawn.  

What a perfect time to try a new spiritual activity!  What if you added a new way of listening to God to your list?  What if you gave some daily attention to a particular way of talking with God?  At the end of 2015, imagine what you will have heard, dreamed, hoped!

So often, for us to hear is less about removing the obstacle and more about opening our ears.

See you Sunday!