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!

Monday, August 03, 2015

Why I go to church

PurposePoints: Musings on Ministry and more
by Dr. James R. Brooks, Lead Minister

I go to church to be changed.  I go to church because I have discovered that the most important source of positive change in my life is Jesus.  I go to church to worship God, love Jesus and seek the Holy Spirit.

That I get to do / be church with folks like those at FCCE, is a bonus!
Why do you go to church?  What do you want from your church experience?  So many of you give so much time to church, why?  for what?
There are many seasons in our lives.  In some seasons, we need church to provide a safe place for us to find spiritual renewal.  Maybe we need a place to bring our doubts and questions.  Sometimes we need a sacred space to bring our righteous anger.   In some seasons, we need a place to express our spiritual questing.  Other times, we desire a place to serve so as to exercise our soul.

Why do you go to church?  How can FCCE walk with you?

For many, summer is a time of rest before we dive into the school year.  If this speaks to you, I pray that you are resting and recreating well.  I pray that God's Spirit will renew you and those you love.

I have been thinking about the pending school year.  What fun we are going to have!  The ministry we will engage, the people we will serve, the stuff we will do together.

Even more, you and I will chase Jesus or be chased by Jesus, depending the day.  Like a cosmic game of tag.  When God tags you, it changes you.  When you reach to tag God, you open yourself to be changed.  Like children at play, our souls will be renewed.  

See you on that faithful play ground we call church.  I can't wait to hear what you picked as your ministry(ies) for the school year!  Need an idea?  Check out the FCCE Serve brochure (published quarterly) or ask one of our ministers.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

For a Friend

A friend of mine left me

before the number of her years

before I could say good bye.

A choice she made

wise beyond her years

in response to pain beyond her tears.

Regret we are left

no remedies to assuage

no response to my call.

What if, why now, how about

too late the queries

too late the salve.

Grace abounds for her

suffering replaced by rambunctious joy

sorrow by the plentiful feast.

May her smile shine upon me,

and her love surround me,

and her forgiveness touch me.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Solution

by Dr. James R. Brooks

[before dismissing this missive as naiveté, please reflect upon the source of your success.]

My son is blessed that his bus stop has been very diverse.  My son knew Joey, Ethan, Taylor.  He seemed not to know asian, african-american, caucasian or the other ethnicities represented at our bus stop where he was one among many rather than one of the many.

Recently, friends and I had a spirited conversation regarding the welfare state.  We did not say “the welfare state” but we did spend much energy attempting to solve the issue of those who live on the “dole” from generation to generation.  The solutions were creative and humble and thoughtful.  The love for our neighbor was inspiring, and none of us agreed with every solution.  I am blessed to have friends willing to discuss in such depth with me.

As I listened, I felt compelled to offer a solution.  

The state / government can only, at best, prevent the riots.  Whether through force of arms or opiate of a check, prevent some from entering the homes of others to obtain what they need.  I reserve for another time the opportunity to explore the many facets of that statement.  Onward to a solution…

Given the limits of the state / government, a solution to the welfare state is “relationships.”  Stay with me during a couple of leaps …

When we discuss “a solution to the welfare state” we typically talk in macro terms which too often leads to a polemic.  The conversation includes frequent use of “they” or “we” or “them” or “us”.  It is painting a picture with a whisk broom.  

When we discuss the relationships of our life, we use proper names.  Each name has a story.  With the name comes a series of connections.  So and So is related to So and So or was a roommate with or a classmate to, etc etc.

If Jane Doe or Juan Valdez had a flat tire, would you stop and help the “macro person” or the “relationship person”?   Would you help the caucasian, hispanic or african-american?  Would you be more likely to help Jane or Juan because you know their name before you know their ethnicity?

You may not agree with the lifestyle of Jane or Juan.  You may think that Juan or Jane takes advantage of the system.  You may never want Juan or Jane to come to dinner or be your friend.  But if you have a relationship with Jane or Juan, you are more likely to help them. 

If you know the story behind Jane or Juan, you might help.  If you know the family of Juan or Jane, you might help.  If you see Jane or Juan in church, you are more likely to help.

As long as our national discussion lives at the macro level, you and I will never solve the welfare state.  We will merely pray that the country of our flag will prevent the riots.

Jesus said … to the least of these so you did to me.  We remember these words when we offer water to the thirsty.  What of these words when we ignore the thirsty, hungry, homeless, disadvantaged … generationally on welfare?

Abraham Maslow wrote of a hierarchy of needs.  Maslow postulated that it is impossible to fashion meaningful love relationships if the basics of life are in question.

“meaningful love relationships” are talked about often in the Bible.  From Abraham’s relationship with God to Jesus and the woman at the well to Paul and the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13.  

You have the power to solve the welfare state in your neighborhood and community.  You need not wait for the “macro solution” to take effect.  You can change the world on your block today!  

As a bonus, you will have new friends, you will feel more safe about raising your children in your community, you will trust that your spouse will be welcome, you will discover a brave new world.

Jesus performed an experiment.  It is recalled in the book of Luke chapter 10.  Jesus sent out his followers in pairs, to share the Good News and to build relationships.  Those in the experiment returned with tales of amazing happenings. 

You can enjoy those happenings.  You can tell those tales.  Replace the stereotype with a name.  Ask the stereotype to know your name.  You need not be in full agreement to be friends / neighbors / acquaintances.  You need only to know a name and there begins a solution. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Faith on Holiday? on Vacation?

We are heading into a season of holidays and vacations.  From Mother’s Day to Memorial Day, from Father’s Day to Fourth of July, we are heading into a season of relationship.  I pray that you and your family / friends will celebrate these days in a way that brings you rest and renewal.

More that, I pray that these days will be an opportunity for you to grow your faith.

How do you honor your relationship with Jesus in this coming season?

On Mother’s Day, as you honor your Mom, what if we remember when Mary responded to the announcement that she would give birth to God’s child.  God called and she said, “Here I am”.  Where are you with God’s call?

On Memorial Day, as we honor those who gave the most to protect the freedom our country affords, what if we remember those who gave the most to pass along the faith we share?  The martyrs of the faith gave their life as a witness to their relationship with Jesus.  What if we teach this to those we love?

On Father’s Day, as we honor those who have been Dad to us, what if we honor our heavenly Father?  What if we recall the one who created us all and all we know?  What if we remember the One who sustains and redeems us, who is the author of all true justice and mercy?  What if you allowed yourself to be embraced by our heavenly Father’s love?

On the Fourth of July, as we honor the founders of our country and their claims of freedom and justice for all, what if we remembered the claims of our ancestors of faith?  What if we honored our relationship with Jesus by celebrating an open communion table?  What if we allowed God to set us free of the bondage we too often carry each day?

What if Jesus went on vacation with you?  You know the Jesus who made wine at the wedding in Cana.  You know the Jesus who called Zacchaeus from the tree to share a meal.  What if Jesus joined you on the beach or the mountain or the stay-cation?  

At a well, Jesus gave a woman life giving water.  In the wilderness, Jesus gave a crowd more than enough to eat.  On the water, Jesus stilled a storm that scared the disciples.  

When we invite Jesus to join us on vacation or holiday, we are renewed in ways beyond imagining!  If you want the address of our nearest sister church to your trip, contact the office.  If you want prayer and worship resource material to take with you on your vacation / holiday, contact the church office.  If you want prayer / worship content for your stay-cation and or every day, contact the church office.

Blessings on your in your travels may they be safe and may the journey provide more memories than the destination.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Shine the Light

by Dr. Brooks

Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I want to thank everyone who made our Easter celebration such a meaningful morning of worship and praise.  I am so thankful for the ways that God walked with us as we journeyed through Lent and Holy Week.  Even more am I thankful and humbled by God’s love for us as we know it through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Many thanks to you who provided worship leadership, flowers, music, and other service to our worshipping communities.  What a glorious morning of baptisms and communion shared well.  The sounds of our praise from our chancel choir and band and soloist and congregation were uplifting.  

Jesus calls us to let our light shine so that other may give glory to God.  Every word we share, every song we sing, each time we set the table of the Lord, each bulletin we hand out, and so much more is an opportunity for us to let our light shine.   Our brothers and sisters of faith, our guests are encouraged when you share the light of your love for Jesus.

Living in the light is healthy for us.  In the light we benefit from the vitamin D from the sun.  In the light we find reconciliation for the brokenness experienced in the dark.  In the light we see more clearly how God loves those with whom we share ministry.  

As we journey from Easter into the summer months, let us be resolved to shine our light.  The bushel basket of brokenness need not dim the brightness of our community.  Though our formal, corporate confession in worship ceased with Lent, let us each continue to be humble in our prayers in the hope that we will be pleasing to God and a hope for others.

Be alert and aware for among us are many lights to illumine the way forward.  Thanks be to God for gracing us with mercy and justice.  Thanks be to God for the love we know best through Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Maundy Thursday: Loving You

For me to love you, it has to be about more than political correctness or being morally right.  I am too weak and whinny, too selfish and shallow to love you.   I need something more.

Growing up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I cherish communion.   I am shaped by worship that weekly revolves around the Lord’s Table.  A table of such radical love as to be open to everyone who is curious about Jesus regardless.   The reconciliation and renewal of the bread and wine are of grace, mercy and justice enough as to be for all God’s creation.

Maundy Thursday is a high holy day of sorts in my tradition.  A celebration of that time when Jesus shared the meal with his followers.  Reading the words of institution from the sacred texts.

This year, we read from the gospel of John 13:1-17, 34b-35.   
And there I read the “more” I need to love you.

Jesus washes the feet of the disciples … master serves the servant in a way the servant can never serve self.  Jesus foreshadows the making clean only the Risen Savior can provide.  Jesus then tells the followers to love each other as Jesus loves them.

I love you because Jesus told me to love you.  That would be enough for the faithful.  Yet there is more in this glimpse of heaven.

Jesus shows us love that is more than hopes and dreams.  By washing the feet of his followers, Jesus demonstrates an active love.  It is the thought that counts yet we are called never to settle for so little for our brothers and sisters.  We are called to demonstrate such a love for each other that the world will know who we follow.

The “more” I needed to love you is the thankful life of response.  When I love you, I am responding with thanksgiving to the table of the Lord set for us before our enemies.  When I love you, I am responding with thanksgiving to Jesus’ washing our feet.  

Living my life in response to Jesus saves me from my shallow and selfish, weak and whinny way.  Though no promise this will be easy, loving you makes me a better person, with a more joyful experience of life.  

Am I ready for the Risen Lord on Easter if I love you?  If I live in thankful response to Jesus found at the Lord’s Supper and at the washing of feet?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Points to Ponder
Minister’s Musing on Ministry & Misc.
by Dr. Brooks

What is the winning strategy in your business?  

I once read a management book based on the practices of Genghis Khan.  I was fascinated!  His brutality was matched by his organizational skill.  The accomplishments of Khan are historic.  However, I would struggle to call them a winning strategy.

The 4-way test of Rotary International (of which I am a member) is a good critique of those who practice a style as ruthless as Khan.  The 4-way test asks … Is it the Truth?  Is it Fair to all concerned?  Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships?  Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?  This reads more as a winning strategy.

Recently, I was confronted with a thorny business problem.   I wondered what the Christ-like way would be to handle the issue?  Admittedly, my emotional response to the problem had not encouraged me to think first of the Lord in my life.  My emotional reaction to the Christ-like solution was very affirming.

In addition to managing my emotions by attempting to channel Jesus’ call upon my life, the more I considered the end game of the problem, the more I found a Christ-like response to be a winning strategy.  It is tempting to avoid a Christ-like strategy because we think it too soft or too weak.  If we are honest, this temptation is born from greed, selfishness, or other brokenness.  

Keeping Jesus as the priority in my life helps me keep the puzzles of daily life in proper perspective.  My engagement is more creative and confident.  My fear of failure is lessened because I am working to please Jesus who loves me unconditionally.  As well my goal of “winning” in the problem is redefined.

Though naive in places, a Christian classic “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon is worth a read.  It is a feel good book.  Inspiring for the faithful.

Winning strategies in business (and life generally) thrive with discipline and consistency.  Might I recommend the life-giving strategy of taking Jesus to work with you every day?  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Relationships: Best Gift Ever

Relationships include gift giving, from remembering others on holidays to the time and presence we offer one another.  What is the best gift you have received?  given?

My Grandma and I shared the same birthday.  One year, when I was a child and we celebrated at her house, she took me to town.  She and my Grandpa lived on a small farm.  Our trip to town was to obtain groceries for dinner.  Well that was the reason when we left the house.

Once in the car, my Grandma explained that we would be purchasing my birthday gift, and I would be able to select the gift.  However, I had to act surprised when it came time to open gifts.  Receiving a toy gun was not why this is among the best gifts ever. 

I remember the anticipation as we drove to town to select the gift.  In the store, I struggled to wield well the power of selection, something I wanted but I did not want to ask for something too expensive or extreme.  As we opened gifts, feeling worry that I would not be convincing in my feigned surprise.   I recall the sense of sharing something special and unique with my Grandma.  I remember my Grandma’s smile and bright eyes.

The criterion for best gift ever was something beyond the material.  My Grandma, like all my amazing grandparents, excelled at making me feel special.  This included the memory of something shared, something uniqued.  Love made real.

Tomorrow we start Lent.  For Christians, it is a period of preparation for Easter.  Some of the faithful will give up something, make a sacrifice, to discipline the soul.  Others will take up a new spiritual practice.  

What if each day of Lent, you remembered the “best gift” you have received from a person important to you?  I pray Easter arrives before you have named one person per day.  If Easter has yet to come or if you name a person lacking that “best gift” moment … create the moment.  Give them the moment or make the plan to do so.  

Love made real …. daily … till Easter … when God makes it real for you in an eternal way.

Imagine … how will the remainder of 2015 transpire if now you name 40 important individuals and the “best gift” moment over 40 days?  

God’s smile and bright eyes upon you be forever.

Sunday, February 08, 2015


How do you offer thanksgiving?

Polite manners beseech us to say “please” and “thank you.”  Refined is our nature when we pen a note to say “thank you” for this kindness or that remembrance.  These social niceties are, well, nice.

What of when the thanksgiving is rooted in a more profound place, phenomenon, or person?

How you offer thanksgiving when so motivated?

In the gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verse 31 we see such a thanksgiving.  The text reads (NRSV)  “1He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”  Jesus heals Peter’s mother-n-law who then serves Jesus and the others.

Did Peter’s mother-n-law serve them because she was told to do so by the one who healed her?  The text does not imply such an explanation.  

Did Peter’s mother-n-law serve them because she was set free of the fever / sick bed and chose to return to her gifted participation in the community as hostess?  Very likely and the thought of my sermon on February 8, 2015.

Did Peter’s mother-n-law serve them because she was offering her thanksgiving?  A complimentary thought to the one just previously offered.  Having been healed by the touch of God’s son, Jesus, the natural response is to offer thanksgiving.  This woman offered thanksgiving by serving them.  

How do you offer thanksgiving?

Were you to be set free of obstacles, restored to community, healed of illness, etc . . .
How do you offer thanksgiving?  It is your choice . . .

If you wonder what God would prefer you do offer as thanksgiving, let me share a quote from Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I invite you to ponder Buechner’s words and the cause of your thanksgiving.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Recommended Read: The Reason

My ideas of love were only shadows compared to this painfully bright, shining, true love that fell all around me.”  This is one of a multitude of inspiring lines from Lacey Sturm’s book, The Reason: how I discovered a life worth living.  A book that I passionately recommend you read.

I first encountered Lacey’s voice in her role as the lead singer of the Christian band, Flyleaf.   Though I never saw her perform live with the band (I was able to see the band start their first tour without her), I have enjoyed their music and her voice for years.  Their music videos are amazing.

Picking up her first book, I wondered if she would write as well as she sang, could she author a book as well as she penned a lyric.  Within a few pages, her talent was obvious.  Her writing style is very balanced and mature in her dealing with subject matter that is quite profound.  This book read as if she were talking to me over a cup of coffee or glass of wine.

You should read this book for its message and model.  I do not agree with every theological statement Lacey makes.  I share deeply her love for God and God’s people.  I am inspired by Lacey’s ability to be vulnerable about her life and passionate about God’s love.   As she shared how God has worked in her life, I readily recalled moments when I feel close to God and craved more.  

You will be blessed if you read this book. 

(quote from page 112)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Chef's Keys to a Savory Life

You are a spice.  Without you, the world is bland.

As a high schooler, I made a two layer cake to surprise my family.  The layers were fantastic.  They looked perfect.  As I mixed the icing, it was very gritty.  Knowing something was amiss, I called my Mamaw for advice.  Turns out, I used regular sugar when I should have used powdered sugar.  My Mamaw, trying to help her a grandson do his best without negating his effort thus far, suggested I add powdered sugar and maybe it would smooth out.  

The icing did not smooth out but it did become even more sweet.  Bless my family for each trying a piece of that cake before we tossed it into the trash.  

When the wrong ingredients are in the play, the result is rarely pleasing to the palate.  

From these two thoughts, I reflect the importance of your presence / participation in the right place at the right time so that your world is not bland.  You were meant for more than bland relationships.

How do we know the right place and right time to make relationships profound?

Trial and Error is a time tested method of learning most anything.  Trial and error is an effective teacher said the man with two fingers, both burnt.  There are more effective path ways to learning place and time.

Try the rule of three … know your God, know your neighbor, know yourself.

At home, if you know God’s desire for your family (neighbor) and you know your family and you know yourself … then how beautiful a parent / spouse / child will you be do you imagine?  God created you and your family (neighbor).  God said that what God created is good.  God made eternal life possible for you and your family (neighbor).  God wants you to experience life as flavor that dances on your tongue and satisfies your deepest midnight cravings.

Knowing the three (God, neighbor, self) is most possible for those who participate in a church community (especially worship), read the Bible on their own and in study groups, engage in mission ministries to serve the needy, pray daily to God, and give sacrificially of their time, talent, and treasure.  This is not rocket science but a lifestyle proven rewarding by countless of our ancestors of faith.

Knowing is 49% of success.  Knowing your God, your neighbor, yourself is all of 49% of a successful, meaningful life.  Jesus said it best what was necessary for the other 51%.

Take up your cross and follow Jesus … that is 51% of a successful, meaningful life.  Spice adds flavor to the dish only when present … mixed, boiled, simmered, marinated, baked into the dish.  At some point, we need to be present to others.  We need to be incarnate to our community.  

Those who savor the spiritual essence of their faith community, worship, service, study, etc… they find life to be more colorful, flavorful, meaningful, amazing, awe-inspiring.  God created you to be spice.  God created you to be an amazing flavor in the right dish at the right time.  God trusts you to show up, be present, when called.

Is your world bland?  Is your world too sweet like the cake I baked?

The remedy is first to know God, neighbor, self.  Then be present and participating.


  1. What relationship did you previously enjoy that has become stale?  Are you thinking of an individual, team, group, etc?   What is the name(s) that come to mind?

2.  Assuming you want more than that blandness, be mindful of that relationship over the rest of this week.  Roast that relationship over the burner of knowing (God, neighbor, self) as you would peppers or garlic before adding to the sauce.

3.  By mid-week, pray about the presentation and consumption of the relationship.  Ask God how you can serve up yourself into the relationship so that it arrives at the table as a master piece akin to God’s desire.

4.  By week’s end, do something.  A word, touch, hug, hold door open, mail a card, invite to church, shared smile, etc.  This thing you do is you being the spice God intended you to be to make this dish (relationship) gourmet.

[For inspiring this reflection, my thanks to Libby the best front of the house manager and my friend; and to “Its a Wonderful Life” the movie.]