Friday, May 12, 2017

Power of Good News

by Dr. James R. Brooks
Lead Minister of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Edwardsville, IL

Celebration is most powerful!

Top of the Olympic podium, 
presentation of a Congressional Medal of Honor,
confirming an academic degree, 
awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, 
receiving a “Be My Valentine” in elementary school.

Many years ago, Dr. Manual Tamayo was in my office.  I cherish him as a member of my church and as a retired clergy … a colleague in the truest sense.

He made a remark I will not forget.  Dr. Tamayo told me that he understood what I was doing at First Christian Church in Edwardsville.  He told me I was using celebration to empower ministry.  Manny said it better than I.  Maybe it was because he was a fan of The Ohio State Buckeyes (who are able to celebrate more often than they deserve says a Purdue grad being me.) but I do believe my friend understood the power of celebration.  I wish I had more time to reflect with him.  

It is by design that the most important books of the New Testament are the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The recording of Jesus’ Earthly ministry is remembered as good news… celebration!

“The Power of Positive Thinking: A Practical Guide to Mastering the Problems of Everyday Living” by Norman Vincent Peale is a fascinating book also naming the power of celebration.

I grew up hearing the phrase … “you catch more flies with honey than ….”  
Celebration is profoundly transformative.

Celebration is not Naval Gazing.  Celebration can be other than affirming the past.  Celebration can be transformative of the future.  Celebration can be VisionCasting.

How we celebrate an achievement is an interpretation of the past.  How we speak of the achievement is a value statement of what was right and what was wrong.  We interpret the past when we celebrate.

Celebrations empower the future.  Who is not motivated to be celebrated?  From the base motivation of pride (which seeks its own celebration) to the altruistic wish to serve neighbor … Celebration can motivate.  Our choice of what to celebrate describes our future.

Celebrations inspire others.  In the conduct of our ministry / vocation, we are observed by others who wish to be as successful as they perceive us.  Celebrating our good works can leads others to greater heights.  As children imitate parents, servants imitate leaders … ordained, commissioned, lay … we can inspired others!

Celebration builds self-esteem.  Faith communities with self-esteem serve their neighbor with greater vigor than otherwise.  When a faith community founds its self-esteem in the glory of God, the subsequent service to neighbor is to be celebrated!

A contrary voice might be found among the “tall poppy” ground.  There is a group loving to lop off the tops of tall poppy.  Meaning they are compelled to drag down those who dare to achieve more than average … more than least common denominator.

Some communities / context demand a prophetic voice.  Thanks be to God for the voice of celebration to transform other communities.  My colleagues who are patterned after Jeremiah and Isaiah are a true gift to us all.

Some communities hear a shepherd’s voice of celebration.  Celebrating the green pastures provided by God.  Celebrating the opportunity to meet our neighbor’s need.  Celebrating the service of a sister Christian.  Celebrating our thankful response to God’s love.
Celebration is more than an opiate for the masses.  Celebration can be the highway mark of traction.   Communion is celebration in action … worship!


The fruit of celebration at First Christian Church in Edwardsville, Illinois since 2001…

  • 35 youth plus 7 adults going to church camp in Florida
  • 45 youth and children participating in Sunday evening activites
  • 2x the worship services with varying worship styles
  • purchase of adjacent land to accommodate future growth
  • organizational practices that embrace diversity
  • sponsoring multiple candidates for ordination
  • hosting a dozen non-profit community groups each week in our building
  • doubling number of adults studying the Bible
  • older adult ministry with 30 plus participating
  • and so much more!


Sunday, April 30, 2017

7 Points to the Power of Other People’s Giving

The power of other people’s giving has changed the lives of each person on this planet.  For good or ill, we have all been transformed by the giving of others.

Deshaun Watson, recently drafted #12 by the Houston Texans after a stellar career at Clemson, is a recent beneficiary of other people’s giving.  People like Warrick Dunn, drafted #12 in 1997 demonstrated the power of other people's giving.  Here is the story … http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=13794897

It was Watson’s coach, Dabo Swinney, who gave a beautiful reflection … asked the impact on Deshaun, Swinney said … community … Deshaun was able to “experience the power of other people’s giving.”

I invite you to take a moment and list 10 people who have given to make your life better.  I hope your list includes:  parents, siblings, extended family, classmates, teachers / professors, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, preachers, elders, neighbors… and more.

Life has a way of forcing us to be vulnerable.  Life is not fair.  Life pushes the issue of our needing others to make it through.  

At the same time, life has a way of tempting us to go it alone.  Sometimes it is the people on my list who hurt us.  That pain tempts us to go it alone to protect ourself. 

I offer some suggestions to remedy the situation.
  1. Thank you …. Writing thank you notes is a curative for the soul.  I could ramble on but rather invite you to experience the power of being thankful.

2.   Be the Power … Give to others!  Pick who you wish to experience ‘the power of other people’s giving.’   Be that power for them.  The deepest smile is enjoyed by those who are ‘the power of other people’s giving.’

3.  As Yourself … Jesus expects his followers to love their neighbor as themself.  If you have / had a need, what would you do to help you?  Do that to help your neighbor!  Not complicated, just different.  Engage a new benchmark.

4.  God First … I invite you to chase God.  My experience is as we chase God we discover God has already found us.  God is loving us before and beyond our knowing.  I invite you to respond to the inspiration of God’s love.

5.  Unconditional Love … Matthew 22:35-40 Jesus expects us to love our neighbor as ourself.  We can pick our neighborhood but not our neighbor.  If we cannot choose our “neighbor” and we are expected to love them as we love ourself, is not this a start to unconditional love?  See #4 … God loves us unconditionally first.

6.  Radical Hospitality … Following the Great Commandment by exercising the Power of Other People’s Giving is a path to radical hospitality.  To be known for our love is to be a host regardless the guest.  Even if you never invite someone to church, if you practice this behavior with each visitor (person whose name you do not know) you will be transformed by God’s love.

7.  Reflective Authenticity … One way I hear this is “I don’t give a sh_t!”  To my soul those words sound like a cry for help?  attention?  absolution?  So close are two sides of a coin.  What if we were true to ourself?  In the presence of others, what if we did not put on airs rather behaved as we feel is true to our self?  Reflect upon who God made you to be and then be that person.  Words like integrity, honesty, and authenticity come to mind.  As do words such as forgiven, loved, accepted, embraced.  


The power of other people’s giving can transform.  Christian community is gathered for this purpose.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lenten Journey ... Ash Wednesday

March 1, 2017                         Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit.”
Psalm 51:17

“O, Thou that doth all things devise
And fashon fer the best,
He’p us who sees with mortul eyes
To overlook the rest.

They’s times, of course, we grope in doubt,
And in afflictions sore;
So knock the louder, Lord, without
And we’ll unlock the door.

Make us to feel, when times looks bad
And tears in pitty melts,
Thou wast the only he’p we had
When they was nothin’ else.”1

Knowing when and how to be vulnerable is an invaluable skill.  

Our social media images are so carefully crafted.   Projections of something we wish to be rather than who we actually are.  It is in prayer with our Lord that we can show our broken spirit.
When we sacrifice the teflon image of our homemade public projection, we invite God to work with the brokenness that too often haunts us.  
Then we are blessed, as our friend Mr. Riley writes, to feel God is the “he’p” we have.  

Prayer:  Dear Lord, On Ash Wednesday, we mark ourselves with the dust of this world out of desire to reveal to our humble hope for God’s love and mercy.  May your Holy Spirit gently renew and restore all that is broken within us so that we can sing your praises anew.
~ Dr. James R. Brooks, 
Lead Minister

1  “A Hymb of Faith”, by James Whitcomb Riley, Neghborly Poems

The Bowen-Merrill Co, Indianapolis, IN, 1891.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What is Christian Worship? A Reflection . . .

by Dr. James R. Brooks January 18, 2016

Our college students have returned to school.  Do you remember the experience of those students coming home for the holidays?  Maybe you were a military personnel on leave visiting your parents?  Maybe you were out of town relatives visiting the old homestead.  

For many, that experience includes a growing pile of dirty laundry.  Laundry brought home already dirty and expecting to be washed.  

For many, that experience includes a shrinking pantry.  Young people and their appetites!    Especially for the treats parents will buy that they may not purchase for themselves.  

For many, that experience includes chaos.  Empty nest routines tossed asunder.  Boundless energy and late nights.  

For many, that experience of exhaustion is redeemed by the profound love, deep stress-free slumber, and renewal of relationships.

Sound familiar?  

Christian Worship is similar.

We are invited to bring all our dirty laundry to the table of the Lord and leave it.  We are expected to leave our laundry to be washed by our Lord as he washed his disciples feet that precious night.

We are invited to bring our appetite and to eat all the food God provides.  It is a feast!  In worship our soul is sustained by experiencing God’s Spirit.

We are invited to bring our chaos.  We bring our hangries and hopes, dreams and dreads, celebrations and concerns.  In worship, we can meet Jesus who calmed the waves that rocked the boat.  Jesus who made wine for the wedding at Cana.

Worshipping Jesus is to bring our praise and thanksgiving as we seek his presence in our lives.  Worship can be an experience of bring redeemed by profound love, deep stress-free praise, and renewal of relationship.


No need to RSVP … walk-ins welcome to the open table of the Lord.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Home and Hearth

These words are part of the vocabulary of Christmas.  “Home” is that place of welcome, grace and mercy.  “Hearth” is that place of permanence, steady, constant.  

However, “Christmas” is about all things change.  
Christmas is full of change, transformation, restoration.

Christmas is about a specific change.

The shepherds were driven from the field by dramatic visions cast by angels.  These shepherds returned to their fields proclaiming faith in God in a new and surprising way.  What a dramatic change for very earthy shepherds.

The wise men followed a star, chatted with a political leader, and knelt at a crib.  If only we could read their reflection.  As does the star, their journey appears to have started one way and concluded another.

As you prepare for Christ’s birth, what change has accrued?  More reflective upon your relation with you needy neighbor?  More aware of your own need?  More excited about God’s work in your life, relationships, worship?

Change does not equal quilt or shame.  Let us be clear on this account.  We need change in our relationship with Jesus Christ.   Best to focus upon the positive outcome of that relationship.  To focus on the negative is to drown all hope.

Jesus was born among us because Jesus had hope.  God will make perfect our relationship with God and others.  Because of the change caused by God, we can celebrate the change we seek in our own lives.  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dr. Brooks

Friday, December 02, 2016

Why Christmas Cards?  Baker’s Dozen Reasons!

  1. Perfect activity while listening to Christmas music if you have not listened to enough at the mall

2.  Perfect way to witness to your faith by purchasing the Madonna and child stamps, and keep your friendly postal worker employed by purchasing the Madonna and child stamps.

3.  Perfect way to brag about your kid(s) in a pre-social media sort of way.  Christmas is about tradition, yes?

4.  Perfect reason to review the year’s worth of digital pictures to create a Christmas letter.  Talk about counting blessings!  Never had so many when I had to pay somebody to develop film!

5.  Perfect reason to practice signing your name, since we no longer write checks or pen a letter.

6.  Perfect time to remember those who would be receiving a card but have gone on to Heaven.   Sad, but what joyous memories we have of these most beautiful people!

7.  Perfect time to re-learn how to make your printer place addresses on odd sized envelopes because who is going to actually hand write all those addresses?

8.  Perfect time to show off your crafty side with hand-made cards.  Sorry to disppoint.  I will not be showing off this year.

9.  Perfect time to cull your list of people who don’t make the “Christmas Card List” which is way easier than dealing with my friend list on facebook.

10.  Perfect way to discover who really thinks you are worth a stamp … uh or the time and the cost of cards, envelopes, letter, etc. 

11.  Perfect way to keep yourself in the WILL of long lost relatives with big bucks!

12.  Perfect way to prove that trees are a renewable resource, and so is glitter!


13.  Perfect way to spread Christmas cheer to make Santa’s sleigh fly, because we all want gifts! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Baggage Sermon Series Summary

  (Luke 10:1-24)
by Dr. James R. Brooks, Lead Minister
[reflection on our 3 week sermon series that concluded last Sunday]
We all have too much baggage!  We want a fix more fine than simply set it aside and leave it all behind.  Jesus’ hopes and dreams for you are that you travel light and live free!
Jesus sends out the 70 followers with instructions to leave behind the baggage we might want.  Rather, they are to take the very best of their relationship with Jesus … sharing the peace and experiencing “the kingdom of God coming near to you” with those they share life.
They return with stories of joy!  Jesus then reminds them to rejoice more that they are remembered in heaven than that they have accomplished much on earth.
The more we pack our bag with the best of our relationship with Jesus, the more joy we find on our journey in this world.
The more wisely we chose with whom to unpack our baggage, especially our painful broken luggage, the easier to experience the Kingdom of God come near us.
The more we trust in Jesus’ teaching and care, the less “other” baggage we will need on our journey.

Our birth and death are frames for our life on earth.  What beautiful pictures of journey will be held by these frames?  Even more, cherish the pictures that image the Kingdom of God come near to you today.