Tag Archives: faith

God Is Here

“Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” – Jesus
(Matthew 28:20, CEB)

above the cloudsRecently I began listening to some teachings on mediation and mindfulness. One concept that I have found particularly helpful is that the goal of having a clear, bright, and restful mind always at reach. An illustration of this is knowing that above the clouds is a clear blue sky. It is always there, whether we see it or not. There are times in our lives that seem cloudy, even stormy. It’s hard to know that things will get better, or that the potential for things getting better is already present, but it is.
(I write these words with trembling faith!)

This morning I had breakfast with a friend, and he asked me if God was saying anything to me. My answer was “No. Not really. But, I am aware of God’s presence.” I mentioned to him that I am in a season of learning, and God is with me in the learning. Just like when your child is learning how to do something on her own. We often just stand back and observe. Our helping isn’t always helpful, but we are there all the same.

This reminded me of how Jesus concluded the Great Commission. “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” The disciples were definitely on the cusp of a learning season. God’s presence would be with them through the Holy Spirit. It just wouldn’t be the same as the previous three years of walking with Jesus.

Jesus’ words to his disciples are equally available for us today, since we enjoy the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. You may not be experiencing a learning season like I am. Your days might not be cloudy. That’s ok. Whether they are or not, the beautiful thing is that God is here.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Faith and Faithfulness

Today I read the Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13. This is the story where the farmer scatters his seeds, and it falls on four different kinds of soils. Each soil produces differently depending on its condition. Much has been made about the condition of the soils and even what kind of soil best represents the condition of your heart. As I was thinking about it this morning, I realized that this parable is also about the farmer. He faithfully scattered his seeds and put his faith in God that they would grow. He knows that he can’t fully control how they will grow where they land, but he also know that they won’t grow if he doesn’t scatter them.

Jesus explained later in this chapter that this parable is about the message of God’s kingdom. We cannot control how that message is received, but what we can do is be a faithful expression of that message. When we love others it opens the door for them to receive not only our love, but God’s love, too. At that point we put our faith in God that God can and will do the rest. Faith coupled with faithfulness is how the God’s kingdom moves forward.

I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24, CEB)

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Easter Story

sunrise with rainbow effectEven though it’s evening on Resurrection Sunday, I still want to wish you all a Happy Easter. Below is a collection of scripture passages that tell the Easter story.*  I compiled it to be read at the Community Easter Celebration my church held outdoors this morning. I thought I would share it with you here. This blog post is dedicated to Giovanni Serrato and Stacey Hamilton for their willingness to read it before the gathering this morning with next to no advance notice.
Enjoy! He is risen!

Grace and peace,
Brook

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning.
Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
(John 1:1-5, 14)

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love:it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
(1 John 4:9-10)

Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8)

That evening a man named Joseph came. He was a rich man from Arimathea who had become a disciple of Jesus. He came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission to take it. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had carved out of the rock. After he rolled a large stone at the door of the tomb, he went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting in front of the tomb
(Matthew 27:57-61)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.
(Mark 16:1-7)

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “ Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “ Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
(John 20:19-22)

After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom.
(Acts 1:3)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
(Matthew 28:16-20)

All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible.

* I am completely aware that this collection of scripture passages deals very little with Jesus’ earthly life and is thus not fully narrative. For the sake of time and poetic/literary license, I moved quickly from the pre-incarnate logos to death on a cross with only a quick glance toward Jesus’ earthly life. Thank you for understanding, and I hope you enjoyed the reading.

Trusting Jesus

This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday or what is also known as Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. I remarked to a friend that this is one of my favorite Sundays of the year for two reasons, the narrative drama and how Jesus calls us to follow him beyond our expectations of him. Jesus clearly disappointed the people in Jerusalem. They were expecting him to lead a revolt against Rome as their new king. His actions clearly stated that his kingdom does not work that way, and that he was going to go about it differently. This reminds me of a song lyric that says, “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.” There are times when we walk happily along with Jesus, and times when we are clinging to him for every step.

weather_playingPalm Sunday is the beginning of the reversal that leads to Good Friday, which makes Easter possible. Like we discovered in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from death, some things need to die in order for them to be resurrected and restored. The same goes for our expectations. What I know about Jesus is that he seeks to lead us into alignment with him that we can then fully follow him wherever he may go. This doesn’t mean that we check our expectations in at the door, so to speak. Since our expectations are established through past experiences, they may not always serve us well as we make ourselves present to God in the now which leads into the future. With each new experience our expectations can continue to be reshaped, updated, or let go of completely in order to be restored, or we can find ourselves disappointed with God, because God didn’t meet our expectations. The choice is ours. Just as the nature of the kingdom of God is counterintuitive, so it is that we may experience a few surprises along the way as we follow Jesus. It is not to disappoint us but to teach us that the way of Jesus just may be different than we expect.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Matthew 21:1-11
Mark 11:1-11
Luke 19:28-44
John 12:12-19

Embracing Joy

This week has been very busy. I cannot say that I’ve been continually joyful. I have, though, been reflecting on joy a lot this week and realized that joy is not automatic, nor is it something we muster up from inside us. Joy is an outward expression, and we express it when the opportunity meets us, that is if our hearts are open to recognize and embrace it.

joy shining throughTake the story of the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20. They receive the message from a band of angels that Messiah has been born in Bethlehem. They hurry off to investigate and discover that it is true. It’s at that point that they are full of joy and proclaim Jesus’ birth to anyone who will listen to them.

The shepherds did not have to respond the way they did. They could have taken one look at Jesus lying in the manger and said that there is no way the promised king from David’s family would come into the world like that. But, in that moment they chose to believe that hope of Messiah would be fulfilled through the life of that baby.

Joy is the recognition, embrace, and reveling in the moment when faith, hope, and love converge and intersect our lives. It may not seem that grandiose, but even in the simple things we can receive a gift of love, the stirring of faith, and the realization of hope, which can only be expressed outwardly with joy.

May our hearts be open to the opportunities to find joy, especially in this most joyous of times, Christmas!

Grace and peace,
Brook

Embracing Trust

There is a song I’ve been singing in my head a lot lately. It’s called Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United. If you’re like me, my mind will loop a portion of a song rather than the whole thing. With this song it was the bridge.

rock cairn with ocean backdropOceans (Where Feet May Fail)

(Bridge)
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

The first line, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,” has shaken and stirred my soul. It’s easy to trust when expectations are clear and the boundaries are visible. I’ve learned, though, that Jesus calls us beyond what is expected and into uncharted territory. The situations or issues will change, but it usually takes place in the realm of relationships. This is also an inside job. Jesus is stretching us to expand the borders of our heart. It’s never easy, but loving our neighbor as ourself rarely is.

Just as Jesus called Peter out of the boat to walk on the waves with him, we can trust the Lord to meet us in the place of uncertainty. Even if we feel ourselves sinking, we will find that his hand is holding us up, and that hand is usually the person to whom we have extended trust.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Embracing God Along the Way

I had the pleasure of spending three days and two nights at Old Oak Ranch in the hills above Sonora, CA, for a Foursquare District Pastors’ Conference. It was a refreshing time. It is amazing what a little change of scenery can do, not to mention spending time with friends you don’t get to see often.

As I was reflecting on my time there, I was reminded of a passage in the Psalms.hiking path

I lift up my eyes to the mountains-
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121:1-2)

So often we think that just doing this or that will change our life. In the first lines in the psalm above it is as if the psalmist is looking longingly to the distance for deliverance and protection. But then he remembers, “No, my help comes from God.” The rest of the psalm conveys how close God is and how lovingly God cares for us.

For me, going to the mountains was only a vehicle to remind me of God’s closeness and continual love, both in the quiet and alone moments as well as in community with others. We can experience the same thing down here in the valley. The same is true with our spiritual disciplines: prayer, reading scripture, meditating, gathering, etc. In and of themselves they only make us more disciplined people. But, if we treat them as vehicles to experience God, we will not be disappointed.

I pray that we find the expressions and disciplines that will be a pathway to experiencing God both as a community and in our personal lives.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Embracing Inconvenience: Because There Is Never a Good Time to Follow Jesus

Just this last Sunday, missionaries to Guatemala, Shawn & Damaris Smith visited us at VLC. They are directors of a missions organization called “Now Is The Time.” Their by line is “Because there is never a good time to go.” As you can imagine, their invitations to serve with them for a week in Guatemala have been turned down with the reason, “It’s just not a good time for me to go.” In all fairness, at times this is a legitimate answer. But let’s face it, how often have we turned down opportunities to __________ (you fill in the blank) with the response, “It’s just not a good time for me…” I know I’ve done it more times than I care to admit.

I’m not just talking about short term missions trips. Opportunities come our way constantly, either as invitations from people or directives from the Holy Spirit. It is almost criminal the number of times I’ve brushed off an invitation with the excuse, “I’ll pray about it,” or just ignored the leading of Jesus, pretending to not hear and not see. In the name of inconvenience I’ve turned off my heart and separated myself from the life flow of God that comes through service.

When I first thought about embracing inconvenience, three passages of scripture came to mind: 1) the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, relinquish our coat as well as our shirt, and go the second mile ; 2) the story of the good Samaritan where the priest and the Levite refuse to be inconvenienced by the injured man; and 3) James’ teaching about faith and works, saying one has faith but doing nothing to show it.

Of course the story of the Good Samaritan is the classic text illustrating how someone chose to be inconvenienced for the sake of someone else’s well being. He didn’t have to. The priest and the Levite walked by without rendering aid. Somehow, the Samaritan man valued the injured man’s life enough to take time to do what was in his power to do. I think that is all we are asked to do, as well.

So my encouragement is to not only be open to the possibility to serve, but also to purposefully as the Lord if and how we are to help when we see a need. Jesus may say “Go ahead and lend a hand,” or he may say, “I have someone else to help out here.” But in the asking, we must be willing to be inconvenienced. For it is in the giving, we receive. It is through blessing, we are blessed. It is in the laying down of our lives that life flows back to us.

I pray God’s grace on you as you choose to be inconvenienced for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

Grace and peace,
Brook

1) Matthew 5:38-42
2) Luke 10:25-37
3) James 2:14-18

Where Our Expectations Lie: Trusting Jesus to Bring Realignment

We all have expectations, and they are not all crazy. They do, though, at times need to be realigned. In the story of the walk to Emmaus, the Jesus encounters two of his disciples and helps them get their expectations of him pointed in the right direction. Luke 24:13-35

This talk was given at Valley Life Center Foursquare Church in Santa Clara, CA.

Right click here to download this file. It is also hosted at this podcast.

Exhale

A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to go to a contemplative prayer retreat. It was only six hours on a Saturday, but it was more refreshing than I could have anticipated.

 

Throughout the day, we would listen to passages of Scripture, excerpts from books, or pieces of music and then reflect on them and write down and/or share our thoughts. It was a wonderful exercise in which we were able to interact with a presentation within community and find correlations and applications. It was a rewarding experience.

 

Late in the morning, my friend, Josh Pinkston, shared a song he wrote, which was very personal and quite moving. The last word of the song captured me, “exhale.” After the song we shared a moment of silent reflection. In that moment I realized that I had been, both literally and figuratively, holding my breath.

 

In my anxiety and stress, in my desire for control and consistency, in the busy-ness of my station in life, I was holding my breath. We all know what that’s like. There are times when we feel like we just can’t let go or let down for fear that all come to a crashing end.

 

I was there. Then I felt God’s whisper, “Exhale.” I did.

 

I cannot fully express the subsequent experience. It was like a deep sigh of relief, a resignation to what is, and the sensation of hope that comes rushing in on the inhale. It was also all I could do to hold back sobs as I was sitting silently in a circle of people, most of whom I just met. But, though my exhale, God was able to bring resuscitation and relief.

 

Following this experience, we were encouraged to take a short walk to reflect on the morning’s readings and songs. As we did, God showed me a picture, and through it, how close God is to us.

 

God’s whisper is his life-giving Spirit. We inhale and then exhale God to God. He inhales and is affected. In God’s care for us he exhales his life-giving, life-saving Spirit back to us. Even though God is transcendent (over and above all), he is also immanent (up close and personal). God is not static. God’s affections for us are such that he is deeply invested in us. God is the one in whom “live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) God even cares about our very breath. Jesus is testimony to that.

 

I share all that to encourage you this, find a moment in which you can sit quite before God and exhale. Let go of what ever it is you need to let go of, and let God’s Spirit bring you the life and grace you need to take the next breath and move on. God is all that for us, and more.

 

Grace and peace,

Brook