Friday, November 14, 2014
Is it possible that we are the most free when we select to give up our freedom?
As a teenager at church camp, one year our theme was “Free to be me!” In the years since, I have grown from that theme. Also, I have seen that concept wreck many lives. “Free to be me” can become “Me first.” That was not the intent of the church camp curriculum. “Me first” is the intent of too many of our neighbors and self. Rather than love our neighbor as our self, do we at times love our neighbor after we love our self?
Recently, my son invited my Dad to attend the local middle school Veteran’s Day Breakfast. My Dad served in the Navy in the mid-1960s. According to my Dad, the speaker noted that once a person has answered the call to serve their country, they give up certain freedoms. Any veteran of our armed services can attest to this reality. Either drafted or volunteer, once in the military a person is subject to the chain of command. This initial sacrifice of personal freedom leads to a service that provides our nation’s freedom.
Beyond the chain of command, is the reality of fighting for the person next to you in line. An often reinforced ethic in the military and in sport is our commitment to perform because of the person next to us. We give up some of our freedom because we do not wish to abandon our teammate.
As a fraternity pledge in college, I learned this lesson. As pledging grew more adverse, deeper was our commitment to the men in our pledge class. Easily, I recall a moment when I stepped out of line in protest only to return to the chaos so as to be with my pledge brothers. I experienced being free because I made the choice to endure the suffering with my brothers.
The parents among us know very well the power of sacrifice. These parents willingly give up their own freedom so that their children can know freedom. From sleepless nights to endless duty as taxi driver, parents give away their own freedom so their children may know joy. A wise parent once told me, “if we are saving money while parenting, we are denying our children.” Can you guess her sacrifice?
When Jesus was born, God gave up some measure of freedom that is beyond our imagining so as to be with us. When Jesus was crucified, God gave up a measure of freedom that is beyond our imagining so as to be with us. When Jesus was raised from the dead, God demonstrated a power beyond imagining.
We are blessed to be loved by God who is so powerful and so willing to give to be with us.
What are you willing to give to be with God . . . to be with your neighbor, friend, family?
Friday, October 03, 2014
“Once Upon a Time” or so many of the best stories begin. Stories are a vehicle for material too heavy for us to carry. Want to share an experience to “beyond” for formulas or graphs, use story. In the magnificent moments of life … birth, weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. … we share stories. How else do we tell the miracles of God in our life other than story?
In September 2014, I shared a sermon series titled “STORY”. You can find videos of those sermons at http://fccedwardsville.org/#/get-connected. I shared about Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Paul. The stories of their lives are inspiring for our faith today. During those sermons, I encouraged you to ponder what words would flow from your pen as you author your story each day. Writing our story with God creates a real page turner.
What character are you in the story you and God pen? Is there a biblical figure that you find most familiar and thus might emulate? Are you the protagonist, supporting character, leading lady? Are you the soft spoken scientist who solves the puzzle or the loud mouth action hero who conquers or the hard working midwife who reconciles the family or the ranch hand who saves the family farm? What role is yours in the story?
What of the souls that roam in your story? Who are these characters and what place do they inhabit in your story? These questions quickly spin to ask us what hospitality do we show them? What shelter does my story afford those who dwell in my story? In this way, we have an opportunity to discover the purpose of our life, the reasoning for our giftedness, the meaning of our strength. Why did God write a story that includes you?
God so loved the world that God sent God’s only Son. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love the Lord your God. Such are the desires of our God.
Certainly God sent God’s Son to redeem us. Truly God sent God’s Spirit to sustain us. Therefore, God sent us to . . . Why did God send you into this world? You have life because God desires to write a wonderful story with you. Will you chose to fill the pages with aimless doodles or soulful sketches? Write a story whose main characters are God and your neighbor. Then shall you see the miracle that is you.
Tuesday, September 09, 2014
My Lord, Jesus Christ, was abused to death. Jesus only showed anger when abuse was done to other children of God or to God’s house. He was very clear on those accounts and so should we be.
Ray Rice, former running back for the Baltimore Ravens, abused his then fiancé. He used his fist to make her unconscious. It was caught on videotape for us all to see.
I look to my reading of the Bible, to the reasoning of my course work in psychology and sociology, to my experience of the family and church that raised me, to the words of my mentors and role models, to the voice of God in my life … domestic violence is wrong.
There is no place for violence in the household. Regardless the gender of the victim or the perpetrator, violence is wrong. The type of violence never provides an excuse. Physical, verbal, emotional violence is wrong. The age of those involved never provide rationale for violence. Domestic violence is wrong.
It is possible to use eloquence and euphemism to discuss domestic violence. Still domestic violence is wrong. Though none of us are perfect, none of us earn domestic violence.
How can we respond as Christian brothers and sisters who seek to hold our heads high before our God and our neighbor?
- God calls us to love our neighbor as ourself. If we witness domestic violence, we cannot both turn a blind eye and love our neighbor. Both victim and perpetrator need help.
2. We are not alone. To confront domestic violence, reach out. From ministers to police officers, from church Elders to Educators, there is a network of people prepared to deal with domestic violence.
3. Numbers count: If in doubt, call 911. Local resources include … Oasis Center (618) 465-1978; Glen Ed Pantry (618) 656-7506; Lydia’s House (314) 771-4411; First Christian Church (618) 656-7498
God calls Christians to be known by their love. Love is never an excuse to ignore domestic violence. Love is a power to set each one safe.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
|Sunrise in Seabrook, TX|
Curiously, sacred spaces are geographically specific though anything but bound.
Where are the sacred spaces on your journey? The sanctuary where I was baptized and spent many a childhood morning in worship. The woods of church camp where I spent summers as camper, counselor and director. The walk from my dorm to the church I attended in college. The Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne, Australia where I began my seminary studies. The pulpits I have been honored to fill during my ministry, from White Oak to Edwardsville.
I have more sacred spaces than I expected. I’ll not bore you with the comprehensive list.
What are the important features of your sacred spaces?
Experience of faith community in that place at that time? The spot of a great awakening in your soul, heart, mind? Geographic context which cradled the creative creature that is you? A glimpse of God incarnate in your midst? Holy meets holly bush?
Sacred spaces are those places where we are more likely to experience the holy and profound.
Fascinating how often in the Bible that God calls us to attend to sacred spaces. Asking us to build a simple altar of stone or an elaborate temple or a nomadic tent scene - God invites us to participate in creating sacred spaces.
Equally fascinating how rarely we are able to manufacture sacred space. Ever try to force the moment? Attempt to compel God to show up or your own soul to listen? Maybe it is that not every location fits your journey? Maybe God wants to meet you in the places where you can be most present with God?
There are amazing private sacred spaces! Aren’t most communal? Even the hermit like places include the large community in prayer and hope. We chose the communal places for our special sacred moments - weddings, funerals, baptisms, baby dedications, etc.
The picture is of one of a sacred space found during my sabbatical in July 2014. Seabrook, a suburb of Houston, TX. Sipping hot tea in the humidity and watching the sunrise over the gulf before beginning my trek north to Illinois. Having just spent the week in silent retreat and a day in conversation with my good friend, Michael Dunn, I was blessed to pause. I thought of those fishermen who dropped their nets to follow Jesus. I thought of those I knew who made it possible for me to have sabbatical. Mostly, I felt the warmth of the sun and listened to God.
May you find many sacred spaces on your journey and share them well with our fellow travelers.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
What makes you “bad”? What makes you “unclean”?
Have you read Matthew 15:1-20? It was part of the reading for this past Sunday but my sermon focused on Matthew 15:21-28 and the Canaanite Woman. You can find that sermon here … http://youtu.be/IHF4IvQStCg
I want to say something about the beginning of chapter 15 that there was simply not time to say in the sermon.
Maybe it is helpful to ask, what makes other people “bad” or “unclean”? Our neighbor, stranger, etc.
My son and I spent some time in New York City this summer. We stayed in a hotel at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and rode the subway all over Manhattan. I vividly recall a moment when I was looking at those in the subway car with us. There were couples fighting, spoiled children, people who looked homeless, individuals I kept an eye on for safety, etc. Is that guy a pimp for the woman with bruises next to him? Why is that guy sitting when that woman is standing? I was beginning to feel unclean just being in the same subway car as these people. It was disturbing.
Then I smiled.
I wanted to share my smile with every person in that subway car for one very important reason.
I had just heard a small voice say to me that God loved each person on that subway car.
Even me, the judgmental, middle-class, educated, divorced Dad lucky enough to be on a trip with his son, was loved by God.
Then I noticed the woman with bruises and how tender the guy was in making certain she was seated first, helping her up when they departed … rather the gentleman. No clue about the bruises.
And I wondered, if I had time - would not all these folks have redeeming qualities?
Of course - they are creations of God and that makes them intrinsically redeemable.
I felt unclean and bad for being in the same space with these people who were different than me. What MADE me unclean and bad was my judgement of them, God’s children. What made me even more unclean was that my judgement of others became an obstacle of accepting my own status as redeemable. My judgement stood between me and the gift of grace.
Jesus says it so much better … what defiles is what comes from the heart. What God makes cannot defile you.
Set yourself free …. judge not.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I love to laugh! It just plain feels great to laugh! When I find a book that both inspires my faith and compels my soul to laugh, I want to recommend it.
Jonathan Acuff was a keynote speaker at the church camp I attended with our youth group this past June. I found him to be an engaging speaker, so I bought one of his books “Stuff Christians Like”. This book is an easy read, when you can read through the laughter.
Acuff was raised in a different part of the Christian tradition than I. Not everything he discusses is exactly in my experience of church. However, his insightful and critical humor is full of hope and joy. At the conclusion, I celebrated his love of the church and found my own love of the church to be increased.
Friday, May 30, 2014
Jeff Shaara's book, A Blaze of Glory, is a retelling of the Battle of Shiloh. This battle in Tennessee involved over 100,000 soldiers and amassed over 24,000 casualties over two days of hard fighting. A devastation wrought that had not been seen by our country previously.
Shaara is a compelling author who does well in portraying a battle with lines that were miles long. I found the dialogue that he created in this historical fiction to be wanting at times, especially early in the book. The real strength of the book is how Shaara provides at least three perspectives: of generals overseeing vast armies on a chaotic battle field, of the man with the musket who could barely see the enemy charging let alone the map of advance or retreat, of the historians who have interpreted the impact of this battle upon the war.
I recommend this book very much. Thankful to my mother who loaned it to me.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
1) When we get to Heaven (what ever that is for you), I am confident that you and I will be offended by who God has allowed entrance.
Those missing in “Heaven” will be those who chose not to enter. When face to face with God, who would opt out? God so loves us as to respect even that choice. God makes a way for absolutely all of God’s creation to live forever.
We cannot fathom the reach of God’s love. God created us. God named us good. The Bible is vastly about God trying to be in relationship with us. Jesus’ resurrection is a climax of God’s endless attempts. Given God’s effort and power, God does not deny our entrance. God’s grace extends beyond our comfortable boundaries.
2) When we get to Heaven (what ever that is for you), I am confident that you and I will be shocked at how offensive we are to God.
Through our soul we most fully know God. Our five senses, amazing brain, creative imagination all limit God. We personify and objectify God.
We are created in the image of God. The difference between the “image” and God is vast. God gave up nearly all of what it is to be God to be able to walk among us as Jesus. That is merely a glimpse of the difference between us and God. You’d be offended if a relationship demanded you be nearly nothing of you?
Singing God’s praise for eternity sounds boring, until you see God face to face.
3) Being offended / offensive is a human experience that does not plague God.
Being offended assumes the other has power to offend. Jesus becomes offended when we mistreat each other or God’s house. Jesus does not become offended when we mistreat Jesus.
Assuming the power to offend assumes the power to appease. We cannot appease God of our own effort. God always chooses to love us.
Jesus’ resurrection is less about God’s power over death, that was easy for God who created life. Jesus’ resurrection is more about the commitment to a relationship with us. Jesus’ resurrection is a sign that “being offended” does not plague God thus we are all chosen.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
This morning while walking my dog, a single goose soared over head toward the rising sun. It honked its call as it flew. Effortless seemed its flight.
Maybe the goose called to its brothers and sisters. Seeking to join the “V” formation of migration. Seeking a mate in this Spring time. Seeking the familiar and safe community of a flock on the water.
Maybe the goose was God’s spirit, calling out the Good News to God’s children. God’s Spirit wild and free. God’s Spirit soaring over the face of the Earth. God’s Spirit flying in the wake of the Son’s beams.
I know my soul’s first inkling upon the sight and sound of that bird. Twas a gift from God. Such is faith.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Lent and the Good Creation
I pray that your Lenten journey has been renewing. We are blessed to have this focused time to examine our lives, to set aside that which may be an obstacle to our faith and to take up a discipline / exercise that may grow our faith. This year’s season of Lent has been a true joy for me.
I have particularly enjoyed the thread of “freedom” that has been so visible in the scripture readings for worship. Especially the scripture about Nicodemus and the one about the woman at the well. Both are so full of hope and transformation. Following the thread of freedom in each text leads us to a place in the tapestry where true freedom is of God and not of humanity or creation.
Christians now and over time have reacted to this notion as if it were a continuum. One extreme is to say that if true freedom is of God, then the things of this world (especially material possessions) are bad for us. The other extreme is to affirm true freedom in God makes us free to have no worries about the things of this world. I suggest that these two extremes are both false, primarily because they are self-centered in that they are focused on us and upon our relationship with the things of this world.
In the beginning, God judged creation to be good. You and I, our neighbors and all the things of this world are inherently good. Everything you know or have seen or will discover is great. I am confident to write this for God has already said as much in the book of Genesis. In addition, all the things of this world have the potential to point to God, to be in relationship with God, to serve the neighbor in response to God’s love.
Rather than the extremes of hate or love of all the things of this world, if we first love God and base all upon that relationship, then we will find much joy in the things of this world. We will learn to use the things of this world to point to God, to discover God, to praise God, and to serve our neighbor. The more primary our relationship to God, the more free we are.
I realize that this writing does not deal with the problem of evil and that problem may have crossed your mind as you read my article. If there is interest, I will put pen to paper on that topic. Till such time, let me encourage you that rather than be distracted by the problem of evil, be assured by the judgement of God that all God created is good.
May your approach to Easter be an experience of freedom. Freedom from the obstacles to your relationship with God and with neighbor. Freedom from guilt and despair, from sadness and doubt, from anger and malaise so that you can experience the “good” that God sees in you and all the things of this world.
Sunday, March 02, 2014
|by Titan, c. 1560|
by Dr. James R. Brooks
March 2, 2014
A reflection on Matthew 17:1-9
With weather hampering worship again this winter, I want to offer this reflection on the scripture passage that would have provided a theme to our worship today. The transfiguration passage is both profound and perplexing. Typically read in worship on the last Sunday of Epiphany, this text is a profound revealing of Jesus as our Messiah and the Son of God. The inclusion of Old Testament heroes, Moses and Elijah, bring a perplexing flavor to the scene.
Perplexity: Moses and Elijah were heroic leaders hundreds of years prior to the time of Jesus. The tradition does hold that neither have earthly graves because God took them up to heaven prior to their death. There are a multitude of explanations and interpretations for the presence of Moses and Elijah in this scene. I will offer one that brings a sense of the profound out of the chaos. Moses and Elijah, according to tradition, live on because God helped them avoid death on earth. Jesus lives on having traveled through death. Jesus’ resurrection after dying on the cross becomes an even greater demonstration of God’s love and power. God so loved the world as to send His only Son. God demonstrates ultimate power by resurrecting His only Son after a death upon the cross. For us, God’s children, this witness becomes a life changing reality. God loves us so much as to save us through His Son, Jesus, and God has the power to fulfill God’s promises to save us.
Profound: Why does Jesus tell the disciples to tell no one about the event on the hill until after his resurrection? How often has transformation been derailed by telling of it before it is complete or has taken root as a lifestyle? Sometimes we need to tell others of our attempt at transformation to seek their participation in keeping us accountable. We are less likely to skip a trip to the gym if we know others will ask if we went.
Sometimes, we are distracted by telling of our early experience of change. The distraction steals from us the opportunity to experience an even more meaningful change. This is especially tempting in spiritual transformation. Stereotypes carry a kernel of truth. Recall the stereotype of the apprentice who babbles non-stop and the master who speaks few words.
It may have been that Jesus knew the disciples would not understand the meaning of the transfiguration without having experienced the even greater resurrection. We read the story from our side of the resurrection and even we struggle with the passage. The three that climbed the mountain with Jesus were yet to see the resurrection. Those disciples had experienced the power of Jesus to teach and to heal in ways that were amazing. Experience of the ultimate power of God to resurrect had yet to be seen. Why have the disciples prattle on about the transfiguration before they truly understood the event.
There is a hint at this interpretation early in the story. After Moses and Elijah appear, Peter offers to erect dwellings so all three (Moses, Elijah and Jesus) could have shelter. This implies that the three will be staying for sometime. As the Bible remembers the scene, God then interrupts to say “This is my Son . . .” as if to say . . . “Peter, you are missing it. Moses and Elijah are among my loved children but this one, Jesus, is my Son - LISTEN TO HIM!”
Transformation that is to be trusted and lasting comes from God. Maybe you pray for brokenness to be healed. Maybe you pray for your healthy faith to grow. Regardless of the change, how often do we jump to conclusions and explanations prior to listening to God’s leading.
Spiritual discipline is, in part, a practiced submission to God’s will in our lives. Set aside and let loose of our need to control or determine. Allow the small still voice of God to speak into our souls as we experience healing, change, growth.
This Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and next Sunday we begin the journey of Lent. It is a journey of preparation to receive Jesus on Easter. Much of that journey is to recognize the brokenness / distractions within that keep us deaf to God’s voice. Today God says, “listen to my Son Jesus.” May this be a theme to your journey to Easter.
Helping Children Engage the Text: After reading this story with your family, invite your children to share what it would be like to have been there. Would they be scared? What question would they ask Jesus about the event? If Jesus asked them to wait till Easter to tell people about God’s love, who would they tell first? When Jesus is transfigured and shiny, would it smell like fresh sheets or new roses?
NOTE: This is a text where it might be more meaningful to help children have an experience of engaging the text, pondering the text, using their imagination rather than leading them to a singular lesson. This story is about an event beyond our experience and beyond our words. It is a meeting of the divine and humanity - special and profound and beyond our five sense.
Helping Individual Reflection: In a quiet place, read this story alone. Read slowly and allow yourself to enjoy each sentence on its own. Allow yourself to recall the heroic efforts of Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. Allow yourself to remember the prophetic work of Elijah to keep God’s people in relationship with God. Give yourself the grace filled time to ponder the sacred work of Jesus to give you eternal life where you are invited to the table with God. When you are done with the story, allow yourself to pray your thanks to God and some quiet to listen to God loving you.
Monday, February 10, 2014
by Dr. James R. Brooks
Some of the best books are gifts. I thank my friends, Amy and Cathleen, for this treasure. Guardians of Being with words by Eckhart Tolle and art by Patrick McDonnell is far too quick a read for the deep joy it brings. McDonnell is the creator of the comic strip "Mutts" and Tolle is renown for writing “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth.” Turning the pages of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation between the text and the art. At a slim 120 pages, approximately, it is a book that ends too quickly. In addition to inspiring me to spend more time with my dog, this book provided a compelling argument for me to spend more time being me. By far, my favorite aspect of the book was the quiet nudge to enjoy a profound experience of God. I recommend this book as a great gift, especially for the pet lover.
Tuesday, February 04, 2014
The eternal identity found in our soul is not erased by the bruising received when we risk relationship.
If your BFF has that title because they pump sunshine all day, do you wonder why you have that title?
Who pushes you to be all you can be / were built to be? What do they do?
Our service to neighbor is one way we build the callouses that are strong souls.
A more risky, vulnerable path is that of BFF. Who is served well by the BFF that only pumps sunshine? How risky to be the BFF that provides accountability? Critique?
Many in our lives know our buttons and how to speak a word that brings us to our knees.
Who in our life loves us enough to speak a word that inspires us to kneel in the true light of the Son?
The church I serve with just launched 5 small groups. I’m praying that in those small groups, such relationships will evolve.
peace brothers and sister!
Monday, January 27, 2014
This past Sunday my congregation celebrated Laity Sunday. It was a celebration of a reality so profound, yet too often underwhelming relative to its meaning.
Search a definition for the term “laity” and you will discover something to the effect, “people of religion who are not clergy.” Is the implication that clergy are professional religion people and laity are amateur religion people? This would make Laity Sunday even more meaningful to me.
A product of the reformation, and I might even look old enough to have lead that movement, laity Sunday is special. We affirm that God calls all, clergy and laity both, to meaningful ministry. The priesthood of all believers encompasses only those in the title, “all”. Believers are merely those who have opened their eyes and ears to the Good News that embraces them.
I am thankful that the church at large has set me aside, affirmed my unique call by God to ordained ministry and made possible that I might give my life to the service of God’s church. Equally, I am thankful that I serve with children of God who are gifted with amazing callings to ministry that we share. From Sunday school teachers, to Elders, those who set up for worship and those who make fellowship meals happen … all make stronger the relationship between God and God’s people. The church fight in Acts 2 is an early reminder of the weakening of that relationship which results when God’s gifted folks are not in action.
This past Sunday my congregation celebrated Laity Sunday and it was profound. A retired college professor who was raised and baptized in our church returned to share the message about her transformative experience in the Holy Land. A mother preparing to be baptized in our church was inspired by the message. What a profound experience of God’s Spirit!
Laity Sunday is another expression of an open table. The communion we celebrate, as Jesus instituted, which is open to all. So is the ministry of Jesus’ church.
And they shall know us by our love. And we shall know a tree by its fruit. And thus we witness to the love of God by our expressions of this call to all to be loved and to love as God loves us.
A year until our next Laity Sunday … just a few days from our next Sunday to celebrate our common call our the common table of Christ. See you Sunday!
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
A Chinese proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step. Equally true is that a journey of a life
time is best traveled in good company.
I pray that your faith journey is a lifelong adventure and that you will share it with friends of faith, especially those you love the most.
The journey of the magi to see Jesus is a wonderful model for our own spiritual journey in the new year. The magi left the comfort of home and traveled to new places in their quest to find Jesus. The magi sought advice from others. They listened to a dream that warned them to make a course correction. They walked in the light of the star rather than lurking in the shadows. A model for us, the magi invested their time, travel and treasure in the journey. Best yet, the magi paid homage, humbled themselves, before Jesus. The journey of the magi is a wonderful model for our own journey.
We do not know the number of magi who visited the newborn king, Jesus, we do know they came as a group. I want to encourage you to travel with others this year. Let me offer two suggestions.
One opportunity is to attend the Small Group event on Sunday, January 19th at Sugo's in Edwardsville (1/19/2014). At this event, we will be introduced to small group leaders, hear the vision and dreams of small group life, and have a chance to name the group(s) leader(s) with whom we wish to journey. Attending the event is not a commitment to join a group, but it is a great way to meet others from church in a casual, fun atmosphere.
A second opportunity is to share Bible study with those you love most - your spouse, significant other, neighbor. A good article by Karen Holford that addresses issues and presents ideas related to practice of Bible study with another is posted on our website. The article is called "Spiritual Intimacy". The article first appeared in the January 2014 issue of Ministry,® International Journal for Pastors, www.MinistryMagazine.org. We are using it with permission.
Holford writes, "One of the greatest hindrances to our spiritual intimacy is fear. And one of the greatest keys to our spiritual intimacy is love, because 'perfect love casts out fear.'" (1 John 4:18 NIV) Maybe this is the love you will celebrate on Valentine's Day in a few weeks. Maybe this is the love of a parent and child, or neighbors. It is a love that helps us discover more about ourselves and God.
A journey of a lifetime is best traveled in good company. I count First Christian Church as great company for me and my son. See you Sunday!
~ Dr. Brooks