Tag Archives: goodness

Christmas Candles Aren’t Just Pretty

Advent Greetings!
As I have been thinking about Christmas this week, the theme of darkness has stayed with me. It’s not something we like to think about when we think about Christmas, but it is definitely a motif in the unfolding narrative of the nativity.

The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
Matthew 4:16, NIV

Matthew 4:16, votives

A Christmas tradition is to light candles on an Advent wreath each Sunday of Advent, five candles in all. By progressively lighting candles, the wreath gets brighter. Our anticipation for Christmas also increases. Observing this, I started asking some questions. “Why do we add a candle each week? Why would someone light multiple candles?” The answer that came to me was this, the darker it gets, the more light we need. Today, I found myself needing a bit of light. The most obvious source for me was sharing coffee with a friend.

The Christmas season is full of light giving sources and traditions—Scripture, songs, activities, and gatherings. These “candles” offer us a respite from the darkness of shorter days, busy schedules, incessant advertising, and nagging discontent. My prayer for you is that you would find a source of light, embrace its significance for you, and in turn, share it.

I don’t think my friend knew he was my candle for today, and I don’t think I will know if I become that for someone else. I do know this, though, if we turn to Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s light of love will shine through us whether we realize it or not.

Grace and peace,
Brook

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

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

Taken by a Sunrise!

Three days per week I get to drive my daughter, Lydia, to Fremont High School. As the days shorten, the sun is usually rising as we drive. The sunrise is at our backs as we drive to school, but when I head over to my office, the sunrise is right in front of me. It is always a gorgeous way to come to work! Most mornings the sunrise is brilliant oranges and yellows. This morning I was treated to a show of blues, grays, and pastel oranges. The photo doesn’t do it justice. I saw colors I’m not sure I have ever noticed before, particularly a blue that was like a pale robin’s egg blue with hints of aqua. There was also a pale peach color, warm, soft, and reassuring. As you can tell, I was taken by the morning sky!

Taken by a Sunrise!

This sunrise reminded me of a passage I read earlier this week.

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
(Psalms 104:1-3, NIV)

Whether we acknowledge it or not, God is amazing! God’s handiwork is magnificent! God provides it for our enjoyment, encouragement, and as a vehicle for our praise. I already touched on the enjoyment piece above. The aspect of encouragement comes from the fact that we can hold these images in our minds as memorials to God’s greatness, faithfulness, and love. Even though we can’t see a sunrise at will, we can remember and gain confidence that the same God that created this glorious sunrise lives within us and through the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us. We just need to pause, remember, reflect, and allow God’s loving words to settle in our hearts. This is why the Psalmist reminds us to “Praise the Lord, my soul.” Praise opens our awareness to the beauty of God’s creation and the greatness of God’s love, setting us on course to receive the grace made available to us if we, again, pause, remember, and reflect.

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

Embracing Mercy, Part 2

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5)

“Bread and Wine,” Albert York, 1966

“Bread and Wine,” Albert York, 1966

The table in this passage is a table of extravagant blessing. I’ve always wondered why it is prepared in the presence of my enemies. After studying about blessing and persecution for a talk I gave a few weeks back, I realize now that the table is not for me alone. A few verses later in this Psalm it reads, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” People who are known for their goodness and love are those who less concerned about what’s in it for them and more about who they can bless with what they themselves have been blessed with. As I see it, this table always has an extra chair and setting. When we choose to love our enemies, as Jesus taught, then the blessings of this table are all the more sweet, because it is a table where we people are loved and relationships restored.

All this reminds me of a quote I read on Twitter this week.

“I’ve found God is wanting to be known more in the person that annoys us, and less in sunsets.” @Sarcasticluther

This is never easy, and I’m sure we will find ourselves going around the mountain again and again on this one, but hopefully our company of travelers will grow with each successive trip as we learn to love God by loving others.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Embracing Goodness

Last Sunday at VLC we were honored to have Josh Pinkston share with us a message of a spirituality of presence. The key phrase in his talk was “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) Though I wholeheartedly embrace this concept, I admit it is difficult for me to envision it in my life. The main reason is that I have a hard time seeing the good in me, others, and the world around me.

I read a devotional from Richard Rohr a few days ago that addresses this difficulty.

We are not so at home with the resurrected form of things, despite a yearly springtime, healings in our bodies, the ten thousand forms of newness in every event and every life. The death side of things grabs our imagination and fascinates us as fear and negativity always do, I am sad to say. We have to be taught how to look for anything infinite, positive, or good, which for some reason is much more difficult.

We have spent centuries of philosophy trying to solve “the problem of evil,” yet I believe the much more confounding and astounding issue is “the problem of good.” How do we account for so much gratuitous and sheer goodness in this world? Tackling this problem would achieve much better results.

This is something I have been meditating on quite a bit lately, particularly on reducing blame, alienation, and separation.

Embracing goodness enables us to turn toward others instead of against or away from them, something Jesus seemed to be really good at. This will always be a work in progress, but I trust that if we take Jesus at his word and follow his example we can begin to see and connect with the kingdom of God in those around us.

Grace and peace,
Brook