Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reflections on 49

5 weeks old, 1967
It was a Friday, the day of my birth.  What a way to start a weekend for my parents.  

I have some reflections as I prepare to celebrate my 49th birthday.  

In general, I have not treated people as special as I have felt treated throughout my life.  If I were to ponder why I would name a degree of being shy, stretched, and selfish.  I am thankful and blessed to be treated as I have been by my family and friends and the faith communities I have served.  Even more, I am blessed by how much I am loved by God. 

I laugh more than I cry, and I love to see other people laugh.  Maybe because I know when what I did is now a joke, I’ve been forgiven.  Maybe because you all look so much better when you laugh.  Regardless, I count this as a blessing and I contribute it to my family, my church and God.  
first birthday, 1968

It turns out the “ugly duckling” story is true.  Pretty much felt like one of those not so handsome ducks in language arts throughout public school.  Though not a grammar guru, I have found a love for language.  Can you guess I thank my family, church and God for this?  Now for the image in the mirror. . . .

Hope is real.  I’ve always been encouraged to reach out and to grow.  Sometimes I fell.  In both my success and my failure, I experienced the reality of hope.  It is so much more than optimism.  Guess who gave me that gift.

me and Dutchess, Aug 1969
As I near the mid-point of my life, I am thankful for so very much.  Even more, I am inspired by what lies ahead.  It is going to be amazing!  That you and I are invited to participate in the future is one of our most cherished opportunities given by God.  I am especially excited about sharing the future with my son as I watch him become a man.


I’ll turn 50 on a Friday.  I’m guessing that will be a fun weekend.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

SummerTime Sabbath

by Dr. James R. Brooks, Lead Minister

Summertime!  Summertime!  What renews your soul?  Is it a hobby, a sporting event, a sandy beach?
I want to thank the congregation for the vacation time that my son and I have enjoyed.  I write this as he and I prepare to head east to visit Norfolk Naval Station, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Mt. Vernon, Fredericksburg battlefield, and more.  Most of all is this time of recreation with my son when more commonly he and I are sharing the daily routines of school, church, etc.
God has given us many ways to celebrate the sabbath.  Sabbath is a time set aside for renewal.  Farmers will leave a field fallow for a season to renew it.  We organized our church to give church leaders periodic seasons of rest.  The most important key to sabbath is renewing the most important relationships we share … our relationship with God and those we love. 
Sundays are our most corporate celebration of sabbath, as we celebrate the reconciling love of Jesus in communion.  Daily, we have an opportunity to pause for renewing time with God.  Vacations are one more opportunity “be” outside our work-a-day world and “be” with God in new ways.
If you wish to attend church while traveling for work or business, contact the church office.  We can help you find the closest Disciple congregation to your destination.

I look forward to tracking some sand back with with me.

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.”