Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Reflecting on 15 Years of Shared Ministry

by Dr. Brooks

On June 12th, 2016, I celebrated 15 years of ministry with you.  I am reminded of this by my son who was born 3 days after my first sermon at FCCE.  I am inspired by the ministry we share together.

In 2001, our budget was $110,000.00 & now it is $330,000.00.  In 2001, we had a staff of 3 & today we have a staff of 10.  In 2001, insurance cost us $4,500.00 & now it costs over $12,000.00.  We have invested over $500,000.00 in our facility and land to provide for present and future generations.  We have given our staff at least a cost of living increase every year, including those years of the latest recession.  We have tithed to needs beyond our threshold.  

We birthed the contemporary worship service.  As a congregation we took the risk to raise money over and above the budget to fund the new worship service, to remodel our fellowship hall, and to change our Sunday morning schedule.  This leap of faith lead to passing the faith to another generation, just as we prayed.

Our traditional worshipping community has continued to be a rich liturgical experience.  This worship opportunity continues to serve a valued portion of the congregation from before my arrival to today and into the future.  We are blessed by this worship style!

Together, we have hosted 5 student ministers, sponsored 3 people for ordination, sponsored 2 people for commissioned ministry and have created our first full-time Associate Minister position on staff.  We did this regardless of orientation, race or gender for the table of the Lord is that radically open.  These are important ministries of developing leaders for the church universal. 

In 2001, our ministry to minors could be counted on one hand.  This year we chartered a bus to take 31 youth & sponsors  to camp.  We are about to birth a JYF for youth 5th grade and younger to compliment our existing dynamic weekly youth ministry.

We created the E-Event!  For 3 years, we hosted a 1 day gathering focused on evangelism.  We gathered over 100 people from 25 congregations, from multiple denominations, to strengthen efforts to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We have shared our blessing of facility.  Over 15 outside groups use our facility each year.  We have hosted gatherings focused on closing the gaps in our community’s social safety network.  This in the midst of our own ministries who make increasingly higher demands upon our facility.

We have consistently celebrated 10% of our worshipping community joining our church each year.  This made us vibrant as we mourn the loss of cherished members.  The new members have diversified who we are making us more like the local community we serve.

In the midst of our shared ministry, I am raising my son, Joseph.  I obtained my doctoral degree.  I have served on a multitude of regional & general church ministries representing our congregation.  I have served as the chaplain for the Edwardsville Police Department since 2005.


More than all this, we have worshipped Jesus Christ and we have shared the faith with our brothers & sisters near and far.  We have seen lives & relationships transformed.  For this, I am most thankful to serve with you.  May God bless us in the years to come!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Lightning Bug Blessings

by Dr. James R. Brooks

As I took the dog for his last walk before bedtime, we approached the lower field on my parent’s property.   A piece of land in the country neighborhood where I roamed with friends as a children.  The field was a fire with lightning bugs.  Acres of blinking lights from the fluorescent insects.
As the dog and I stood in the dark, I was in awe of God’s creation both in the memory of my youth and in the blinking lights of the present.  A moonless night caused by cloud cover.  The damp of spring rains reign in the air.
Lightning bugs are a symbol of God’s blessings.
Yes, you can catch a blessing if you try.  Yes, you can ruin a blessing by squashing it barehanded or plowing through it with a windshield.  Yes, you can allow it to light the night of your life.
Seemingly a million blinking insects fill the field beyond the scope of my peripheral vision.  
It is awesome to see these little lights that both fill the night and yet barely glow.
Individually they are so easily a smear on the glass.  Collectively they are undeniable.
I allow myself to wallow in the light of this mystery of evolution.  That such chemical braggadocio should evolve in such a slight creation.  Definitely a bug of the moment, celebrating God with no fear of the future or the winged predator aiming upon the light.
Were that field my life, would not I count as many blessings as I did lightning bugs tonight?
Beyond my scope, within my grasp, motivating my morning with the awe of this evening?
May the lightning bug be a symbol of the cross?  So fragile incarnate yet so fluorescent divine?

Be kind to the lightning bug you collect.  It is your blessing.

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!