Author Archives: Brook Fonceca

About Brook Fonceca

I’m a coffee snob, theology nerd, missio Dei tag-along, husband of Autumn, father of five, associate pastor, and acoustic guitar hack. The articles on this blog are some of my thoughts on God, church, theology, spirituality, and at times, coffee. The posts usually arrive in the form of newsletter devotionals.

In All Things

Recently I have been watching prior seasons of the reality show Survivor. One scenario that is in the back of everyone’s mind, both contestant and viewer, is the blindside. A blindside is where contestants work together to get a player voted off the island, except the targeted player is usually clueless of what’s coming. From the recipient’s perspective, blindsides are never good, unless God is orchestrating the blindside. Let me briefly share my “God blindside” that happened this morning.

My day probably couldn’t have started any more off than it did, outside of some major tragedy. When I came into the office, a faithful friend and co-worker, sensed I wasn’t doing well, so he asked if I was ok. All I could verbalize was that I wasn’t ok. He gave me a gentle encouragement to trust that God is at work in whatever is going on.

I sat with that encouragement as I started work for the day. An email from a friend regarding this Sunday’s worship gathering at VLC was also a source of encouragement. Her proposed theme comes from 2 Peter 1:2-8. Soon after that, God reminded me of Romans 8:28.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

Sunset through distant trees as tall grass waves in foreground

What I referred to as a “God blindside” is nothing more than being surprised by God’s proactive lovingkindness on my behalf. God’s benevolence intersected my path and drew me into the present moment, where God’s presence fully dwells and the only place where God’s love can be fully recognized and experienced.

As I reflected on the passage above, the phrase that stood out to me was “in all things.” I realized that up until this point, I was asking “why” questions regarding my situation. This passage helped me to see that I needed to be asking “how” and “what” questions. For instance, “How can I participate with God not only for my benefit, but for the benefit and benevolence of those who are walking with me in these painful times.” (You can read “for my benefit” as submitting myself to God’s presence to learn and grow with openness, graciousness, and love.) Another question is, “What can I do to become and remain mindful of God’s active presence in all things, moment by moment?” These are the questions that came to me as I reflected on God at work in all things.

If you are questioning, struggling, or needing an encouragement of God’s love for you and yours, please know that God is at work in all things, and that we can trust that God has our best at heart.

May the promise of God’s active presence and lovingkindness lead you to the experience and trust of God’s goodness and love.

Grace and peace,
Brook

A God with Dirty Knees

In preparation for and ever since our worship gathering last Sunday at Valley Life Church, I have not been able to stop thinking about the first line of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This passage has never really meant much to me besides a sappy, “Christianese” sentiment, but this week it came alive to me.

'Shepherd and Sheep' by Anton Mauve

‘Shepherd and Sheep’ by Anton Mauve

To start out with, this is a Psalm of David, who was raised to be a shepherd. Those in his family that cared for him were shepherds. To him a shepherd was one that cares for others, human and animal, with a sense of deep commitment and personal investment. A shepherd uses more that his staff. He uses his hands, knees, back, and head (his smarts) to make sure that the ones under his charge we well cared for and protected.

In the ancient world, a shepherd was looked down upon as an unfortunate profession. It was a necessary role, but not a sought after career path. In fact, shepherds were not able to worship God where everyone else gathered, because they were deemed unclean. It is interesting, though, that the major spiritual leaders in the Bible were shepherds. It is likewise noteworthy that God is revealed to God’s people as a shepherd, their shepherd.

What this speaks to me is that if the Lord is our shepherd, then our God has dirty knees. God is not put out with the fact that we need help, real help, the kind of help that gets messy. The Lord is not only willing, but already knee deep in it with us. What more could you ask for? The God of the universe caring and dwelling with us, wherever we find ourselves, and with the strength and love to help and save us.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. (John 10:11)  He fulfilled in the flesh the promise received in Psalm 23, and continues to do so until the end of the age. “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” (Revelation 21:3-4, CEB)

So, when I remember that the Lord is my shepherd, it’s no longer a sentimental trope. It is an affirmation of the life surrendering and life giving love of God through Jesus Christ. I am confident that my God has dirty knees and that my God loves me. I am confident of the same for you.

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Twenty-third Psalm and a Box of Chocolates

an uphill trail obstructed with roots and rocksI trust you’ve had a good week and are enjoying the ever changing spring weather! (Well, that’ what it’s been like here in the Silicon Valley.) It kind of reminds me of that famous quote from the movie Forrest Gump. “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” One day it might be hot, and the next quite cool. One day it might rain, and an other will be clear and breezy. All of this also reminds me of a very familiar chapter in the Bible, Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley, (Or, the dark valley of death)
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever.
Psalm 23, NLT

Within this poem, David declares that throughout all life’s circumstances the Lord will be with him, meeting every need according to God’s will. There is so much to learn and wisdom to be  gained by sitting with this passage and letting the Holy Spirit show us what is best for the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. May we always remember that God is good, the Spirit’s words to us are true, and the Lord is forever faithful and always with us.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Walking Through Friday with Hope for Sunday

I am writing this on Good Friday and have been reflecting on the trajectory of Holy Week. Resurrection Sunday is the culmination of Holy Week. We can’t get to Sunday without walking through Friday. Resurrection is not possible without first dying.

The alley of shadows at dusk...

Jesus’ death and resurrection provide for us more than I can adequately give account for here, the primary of which is the forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Christ. Following Jesus as he walked through this last week of his earthly life reveals another aspect of his death and resurrection that is worth our attention.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3, God’s Word Translation

At some point in our lives, we will walk through the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, hoping and praying for Easter Sunday to come, so that we can get the relief from our sufferings that we so earnestly long for. What we often forget is that on mid-day of Friday, as Jesus died, so we must die too. For us it is an internal dying, letting go of anything and everything that would keep us from living in the fullness of life that God has planned for us. This life is full union with God in Christ. As a friend shared with me recently, we must continue to let go until we find that place of “It is enough, just God and I.”

This union was the hope and goal of all the saints in the great cloud of witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)  It is also a life long process, with episodes that greatly resemble the Holy Week that Jesus exampled for us. The beauty of this process is that it concludes with resurrection and new life.

I write this as I am walking through my own Good Friday experience. I have people I trust who have been telling me to “trust the process,” and “You will make it through, just keep your eyes on Jesus.” They have been a lifeline to me. I pray that wherever you find yourself this Holy Week, that you would be encouraged just as I have been by this passage and the good words of loving friends.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Smile

Lillian smiling while riding a bikeThe smile of a child and the laughter of children as they play make the world go around day after day.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”
Matthew 21:16, NIV

Originally posted at vsco.co/brookfonceca

Joining the Procession of Peace

I think the Triumphal Entry is one of my favorite events in the gospel narrative. There is so much going on, so many layers, and so much drama. But, as I was reading it this week, I saw a simple principle nestled in among all the layers. Praise is a pathway to peace.

sunrise through the treesWhen they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Mark 11:7-10, NIV

Regardless of the political environment and expectation surrounding this event, the people acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah, their deliverer, and the one through whom they would experience God’s peace. This caused them to erupt into spontaneous praise.

Praise reveals what our hearts hold true. That sense of fulfillment, even completeness, that fills us as we praise might be the most appropriate definition of God’s shalom (peace). Shalom is wholeness and contentment in God’s presence and providence.

The crowd in this story quickly let their expectation of a warring Messiah rob them of the peace they had tasted when they worshiped Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Even when God betrays our expectations, let’s remember Paul’s encouragement.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28, NIV

Grace and peace,
Brook

A Prayer for a Wedding Dinner

I had the privilege of offering a prayer at my friends’ wedding last night. As I was saying a few words of introduction prior to the prayer, I quipped to the wedding couple, Michael and Stacey, that it’s difficult for me to do anything without making a theological statement. Below is the prayer I offered.

plates of food

Deliciousness! Courtesty of Chef Cesar Alvarado.

Lift up your heads. Unfold your hands. And, look around at the wonderful people you are sharing this moment with, especially Michael and Stacey.

God, we thank you for this beautiful day and this beautiful new family, Mike and Stacey Reed.

We also thank you for this meal that is set before us, and the honor to share in it with Mike and Stacey, since it is their first meal together as husband and wife. 

God, you established the sharing of a meal as more than just replenishing our bodies with the necessary nutrition for the next few hours.

And we thank you that when we sit down to eat together, we are not only sharing food with one another, but a bit or ourselves as well.

This is why eating together is enjoyable and something to be cherished. 

God, you gave us Jesus as an example for our lives, even how to share a meal.

We see that during his life time, Jesus showed us the importance of sharing a meal together. At the wedding feast in Cana, he allowed himself to be revealed as more than just a tradesman, but as your son, bearing your glory as he provided better wine, which was only moments before, water in stone vessels. That must have been a great party!

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he chose to eat with those whom he cared for, whether they be a high ranking religious leader or a street level outcast, that in his day would have been called “unclean.” By eating with them, he declared their dignity as your sons and daughters by cherishing them as individuals and enjoying the moments they shared together.

Lastly, when Jesus was preparing himself to go to the cross, he shared a last meal with his disciples. This last supper revealed your love for us with the bread being a symbol of Christ’s broken body and the wine as his shed blood, both for our healing and restoration and a reminder of your enduing covenant to be integrally involved with us in every aspect of our lives. For you, God, are most often found where you are least expected, even down to the simple and routine moments of life. 

God, we know that when we sit down together to share a meal, we can trust that a few things can happen. We can learn a bit about one another as we allow ourselves to be known. We can experience a sense of the divine when we honor the dignity of the ones we’re with as your children. Lastly, we can be nourished in body, soul, and spirit as we take the time to allow this meal to be all that you intended it to be for us.

Now, as our stomachs are grumbling in anticipation for this wonderful meal prepared by Chef Cesar Alvarado, we again give you thanks for Mike and Stacey, their marriage, and this honor to enjoy with them their first meal as a husband and wife.

We pray this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Valentine’s Day, Everyday

rose petal heartHappy Valentine’s Day! Here is a little free-verse for you.

Whatever the origins of this holiday are
and no matter what culture and society
have done to monetize it,
this holiday celebrates
the love we have for one another,
which can quite rightly include
God’s love for us,
and ours for God.

May we be known as a people
who love God best
by loving others well,
and that everyday for us
would be Valentine’s Day.

Grace and peace,
Brook

People of New Beginnings

Sunrise in Upstate New YorkAnd I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
(Revelation 21:3-5, NIV)

That sentence, “I am making everything new!” has been playing in my mind all day. When I looked it up, I realized that this is the end of our story. This is what we have to look forward to as we walk with God. I also realize that the end of this story is the beginning of another one, forever as the people of God!

Even though the above passage comes in the final chapters of the Bible, it is also a reality for us here and now! Jesus came to us as our Emmanuel, “God with us,” and gave us the indwelling Holy Spirit at Pentecost, who continues to fill God’s people to this day. And as Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21, NIV)  New beginnings are as close as a prayer away.

My thoughts about new beginnings began with baptism and resurrection, which I will most likely address next week. For now, I pray that we, as God’s people, experience new beginnings as we live in close relationship to God and the people God has placed in close proximity to us.

Grace and peace,
Brook

People of Good News

two chairsThe theme for our worship gathering at Valley Life Church this Sunday is First in Mission. As I was thinking about it, I was reminded that as Christians we are to be people of good news. This doesn’t mean that we need to be “shiny, happy people holding hands,” but rather people of hope. This was Jesus’ message when he read the following passage from the scroll in the synagogue.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
(Luke 4:18-19, CEB)

This passage is a message of hope for people who need good news. We receive good news from people who have received good news. We can’t give what we don’t have. So, how do we get the good news? This was Jesus’ first message he preached.

“The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near. Change the way you think and act, and believe the Good News.”
(Mark 1:15, GW)

We receive the good news when we change the way we think and act and realize that God is here, now, working with and for us for our good and God’s glory. It’s this change of perspective that allows God to bring freedom and healing in our lives, which establishes hope in us. It is this hope that we get to, in turn, share as the good news. Jesus’ message of hope from Luke 4 is also the scope of his ministry, which is now our ministry as the body of Christ.

If you have hope, share hope. If you need hope, reach out. I have learned that those who know and love us also have hope to share with us.

Grace and peace,
Brook