Tag Archives: generosity

Be Born in Us Today

Impressionist painting of the Nativity

While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.  Luke 2:6-7, CEB

Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.

This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Merry Christmas!

Grace and peace,
Brook

Taking a Moment with Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful for you and everyone that makes up our dear church family, locally and abroad. I trust that you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. All I have is a simple encouragement to share with you this week.

armchair overlooking dining room

When you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, take a moment for yourself and sit off to the side, but in view of where everyone is gathered. Pause, and with a few deep breaths, take in what you see with a heart of gratitude.

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous, your whole body also is full of light.” – Jesus, Luke 11:34, NIV

Let the transformative power of gratitude can give you a fresh perspective on the moment as you breathe in God’s love and grace for you today.

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

Love

An Advent Reflection for December 20, 2015, the Fourth Sunday of Advent

I trust you are experiencing a deep sense of joy and peace as you prepare for the Christmas holiday next week! I pray that we all have the heart of a child that revels in the joyous expectation of all that Christmas is and can be!

The theme for this Fourth Sunday of Advent is Love. It is more than obvious that we express our love during Christmas by giving gifts. Recently I saw a plaque with this quote on it.

Yesterday is the past. Tomorrow is the future. Today is a gift of God. That is why it is called the present.

boys walking in natureWhen I read it, I immediately questioned if it was true, so I looked up the etymology of the word present. As it turns out, it’s not that far off. Sparing the details, present literally means “to be before,” which is more commonly rendered “to be at hand.” The time that is at hand is the present. This also refers to being present. The word present gains the meaning of gift, because to give a gift is to “put a thing into the presence of a person.”

I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that we can express our love by giving a present, being present, and being in the present this Christmas.

Listen! The virgin shall conceive a child! She shall give birth to a Son, and he shall be called ‘Emmanuel’ (meaning “God is with us.”)”
(Matthew 1:23, TLB)

May we find the perfect way to show those close to us how much we love them through our expression of present!

Grace and peace,
Brook

Making a Home

Have you ever had a moment that you feel your eyes have been opened to a hidden reality or an experience that transcends the visible so that you can observe the fabric that holds together everything you are experiencing right now? These events are rare gifts. They definitely don’t happen for me very often. None the less, I would like to share with you one of these moments that I experienced just last weekend.

familyAutumn and I, with our five kids, were on vacation visiting family in the Los Angeles area. It was an informal family reunion. All of Autumn’s family, except one brother, live in LA. Her middle brother, who lives in Seattle, drove for 20 hours, nearly non-stop, with his wife and daughter to be there to see family. Even though we stayed in a hotel, the hub of our vacation was my wife’s grandparent’s house. We gathered there every day to go swimming, share at least one meal, and see the extended family as they came and went. It was a very rich time.

On Sunday evening I was sitting next to the pool with my wife’s granddad and her brother from Seattle. We had just finished eating dinner and the kids were already back in the pool. In that moment of repose, I found myself replaying the previous day’s events with family from all over the LA area coming over and visiting and recalling the grace and openness with which my wife’s grandparents received everyone that walked over their threshold. It reminded me of what Jesus said in the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
(Matthew 5:5, NIV)

I recently wrote about meekness as “the strength to embrace one’s limitations.” I now see it to include the ability to hold lightly to the things that we posses so that it can be a blessing to those we interact with. I clearly saw this in Autumn’s grandparents. Their love, compassion, and grace over the years wove together a fabric of meekness that not only brought us all together but even held us all together.

Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth. This is far greater than wealth and property. It expands to include people with whom you can share your life and all that comes with it. I saw the richness of meekness in Autumn’s grandparents because they were surrounded by people they loved and who love them back. May we strive for this type of inheritance.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Seeing God in Our Neighbor

Religion has a tendency to complicate things. Take this simple saying from Jesus.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
(Matthew 5:8, NIV)

heartAs I read this, my religious self wants to say, “What must I do to be good enough to see God?” This type of thinking fails on two levels, doing and seeing. Purity of heart is not something we do, but something we are. Purity of heart has more to do with relationship than it does righteousness. Throughout the Bible, the condition of our heart is shown by how we relate to one another. Jesus taught, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:35) When we speak, we speak to those around us. What is our heart communicating through our words?

How does the condition of our heart help us to see God? We first need to define what it means to see God. I believe that God’s self revelation comes in ways we don’t immediately expect. No one expected Israel’s messiah to come in the form of a peasant child, born to an unwed mother in a stable in Bethlehem. We may not expect to see God in our family members, neighbors, friends, or co-workers. If we do, we might hope to see God in the people we like and love, but we might not expect God to be revealed in the people we don’t know or even care for. I believe that God’s self revelation comes through the people and situations we find ourselves in, with them.

We can know the purity of our heart by how we treat one another. What if we feel that our heart is not that pure? This is actually a continuation of Jesus’ previous saying in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” There we found that mercy comes from empathy. To be pure of heart is to love God by loving others the way we would love ourselves. Living in love is both a work of the Holy Spirit and a choice we make. I find that I am more loving when I set myself aside to meet someone where he is at. It is in being present with those we are with that we find we can love them as they are. It is also a work of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit begin with love. (Galatians 5:22)  When we commit our lives to follow the indwelling Spirit of God, we commit ourselves to live a life of love as Jesus loves. Jesus said that the role of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the Father and the Son, which is the purest relationship ever. God is love. We love God when we love others. When we love others as Jesus does, we live out of the purity of our heart, which is the outworking of the Holy Spirit within us.

Religion wants to complicate what Jesus simply calls love.

May we grow in love as we seek to honor God in the face of those we find ourselves with, and may we see the face of God in the face of our neighbor!

Grace and peace,
Brook

Being Mercy

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
(Matthew 5:7, NIV)

sunrise through the treesQuite often it is the understated that houses the greatest treasure. As I was looking at this passage, my initial thought was that there wasn’t much going on with it. I basically said to myself, “Well, of course, the merciful will be shown mercy.” I just wasn’t getting it. I actually had to sit with it for a few days asking the question, “What was Jesus trying to teach us with this simple couplet.” The answer I found was much richer than I had anticipated.

It was like Jesus answered my question with a question. “How is it that the merciful are able to show mercy?” 

I realized that in order to give mercy we must be able to identify with the need of the one seeking mercy. In other words, it takes empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel with someone. Empathy, though, is a by product of a much larger practice of being present. To be present is simply to pay attention to the opportunities to love someone as you would love yourself.

Mercy can be defined as: the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially of showing kindness toward someone in need. We all know what it’s like to need mercy, to need a helping hand, to feel the need to be released from the weight of judgement. This can be a tricky thing. Sometimes we don’t know that we need mercy. We’re struggling so hard that we don’t realize that someone is holding out a hand to help us. Sometimes we feel the pressure of judgement, but don’t realize that it’s only in our head. Understanding this and practicing being present toward others will give us the capacity to extend mercy.

Mercy will look as different as the opportunities there are to extend it. This is where the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes in. Mercy may be lending a helping hand, listening and reflecting with a dear friend, or extending forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.

Now, what about the second half of the passage? I don’t think this is a “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” type of situation. True mercy has no obligations attached to it. So, where will the mercy come from? I think it comes from the fact that the merciful know when and how to seek mercy, because they have made giving mercy a part of their own life.

May we be present to others and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, so that we will have a merciful heart, reflecting the heart of God for the world.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Children Helping Children: Guatemala Service Trip, June 2015

This June (20-28) I am traveling to Antigua, Guatemala, with two eldest children, Lydia and Clayton. This is our third trip together. When we are there, all of our service projects, from start to finish, are Lydia playing with a girl in Guatemaladone with children in mind. The stoves we install protect children from smoke inhalation and burns. The concrete floors we install protect children from intestinal parasites that infect them through their feet. We also provide children’s clothes and shoes, child sponsorship, and a Vacation Bible School. To do this for just one child is more than worth the cost of going to them! For me, though, these trips are an opportunity for Autumn and I to provide for our children the opportunity to see how children in the two-thirds world live and let them love and serve these children, who, when it comes right down to it, are just like them, beautiful and worthy of every opportunity to grow up happy, healthy, and whole.

Jesus said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” (Mark 10:14, CEB)

These service trips are sponsored by a Christian non-profit, Now Is The Time Missions, and a church, Valley Life Church. Christians of all stripes regard themselves as the body of Christ, a perpetual extension of the ministry of Jesus Christ. My heart, as well as all I get to serve with in Guatemala, is to be Christ to these children. Since they can’t possibly come to us, we will go to them!

Clayton having fun with a Guatemalan boySeeing my children play with these children in the villages we visit is so precious to me! My children are as much of a motivation to go to Guatemala as the children we get to serve.

In order to make this possible for my children and me, we need to raise $1700 each. That’s $5100 for the three of us. This cost is beyond our resources to fund. Would you consider partnering with us? Donating money for us to go not only covers our airfare, food, and lodging, but nearly half of the $1700 goes to funding the service projects that we will be doing. No money goes to either organization sponsoring this service trip. Everyone involved are volunteers and raise their own support, even the directors. This is a very good use of your money!

By donating money to help us cover our fees, we get to be an extension of your ministry to these children. We get to be Christ to them for you. This is an opportunity we don’t take lightly. We deeply appreciate your support!

To donate, please follow this link. Thank you!

Grace and peace,
Brook

Enjoying the Journey!

I am a task oriented person, and a bit perfectionistic at times as well. It is easy for me to pay more attention to getting something done or getting somewhere than it is being present with those I’m working or traveling with. I’m sure most of you have no idea what I’m talking about!

For about the last month, I’ve been meditating on Jesus’ third statement in the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
(Matthew 5:5 NIV)

Meekness is not weakness. It invokes a spirit of humility, but that’s not all. A definition I’ve been working with lately is “strength that embraces it’s limitations.” At first I approached this definition with the attitude that meekness was the ability to say, “I can’t do everything, but what I can do, I’ll do it well.” But, I began to realize that meekness is also the presence of mind to say, “I don’t need to do everything that I can do well.”

wooded pathAn example that came to mind is that my family and I went on a hike last Saturday. We were at a place that had quite a few trails that led to different points of interest. We didn’t have a map and thought we were going to a specific place, but ended up somewhere else. Since we weren’t exactly sure where we were, we just went back the way we came.

One of my kids said, “Well, this is kind of pointless!” And, he was right. We lacked a spirit of adventure. Our hike turned into a trek from point A to B and then back, instead of enjoying the scenery and the people we were with (our family). It would have been so much more enjoyable if we hiked until we felt we had gone far enough and said, “Let’s see what we can find on the way back!”

Meekness is a complex ideal in regards to wisdom, learning, caring, and being. Meekness can also be simple in its application. It is being true to yourself and those you are with, and enjoying the moments you have together. From there, the potential for fruitful outcomes is endless.

I’ve always wondered why Jesus said that the meek would inherit the earth. I’m realizing that we possess our experiences. We can receive them as an inheritance, not only for ourselves, but also as something we can pass along. Meekness informs how we live our lives so that we can be a blessing to others.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will lead us into ways of meekness, so that we will inherit an earth that honors God and those we love and that we would be proud to hand down to those who follow us.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Listening

If we are made in God’s image, and we are relational beings, then God must be a relational being as well. God is continually communicating with us, if we only have generous ears to what is being spoken.two chairs

Last week we looked at the following passage:

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous*, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are stingy*, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.” (Luke 11:34)

I feel that the same principle applies to listening as well as seeing. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7, NIV)

I was at a prayer retreat recently where we meditated on Matthew 6:6-8.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

As we sat quietly with this passage of scripture I was taken aback by my emotional reaction to it. I felt agitated, even angry. There was a visceral rising deep from within my soul. I felt that Jesus’ words were confining my prayer life, almost like my prayers would not count if I didn’t find a quiet and private place to offer my prayers. But, as we shared our thoughts concerning this passage I discovered that most people saw that “go into your room” was quite a flexible phrase and could entail everything from a traditional “quiet time” to taking a moment to be with God during a coffee break or at a stop light.

I initially felt guilty for having such a reaction to the scriptures, but then I remembered the verse in the letter to the Hebrews:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

I could have stayed with my angry feelings, but then I realized that God was using the scriptures to reveal something that needed to be addressed in my heart. That is, even though God does communicate with us all the time, God also wants us to experience special times when God relates to us as a parent. These special times may be brief or extended, but they are more than a passing acknowledgement. They are moments when we know that our hearts have conversed with God. I came to see that God received my angry thoughts as an invitation to a conversation. God listened to me, then I listened to God. We had a conversation. We were both understood. Our relationship took a step forward that day. I learned that a little listening goes a long way.

Grace and peace,
Brook

* The Greek for healthy here implies generous. The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy. (Luke 11:34 NIV Notes)