Tag Archives: Jesus

People of the Table

Of any church I have ever attended, VLC has the best fellowship by far! I am blessed by our commitment to eat together, including all the preparations by our designated hosts and by you all on the fourth Sunday of each month. It’s a delight to sit down across the table from a loving and smiling face and get to know each other and support one another. This is something to be treasured!

shared_mealI used the word fellowship above on purpose to describe our church family meals together. The word “fellow” conjures up notions of being on the same level, none being more important than another. It also describes the fact that we are all in this together. * I think it’s significant that we use fellowship along with our meal time, since when we sit down to eat we are, again, all at the same level, sharing a friendly, yet intimate, experience.

Being “people of the table” means more that just celebrating Communion, but it does include that. When Jesus gave us the practice of Communion, it was a part of a larger meal. When the early church worshipped and fellowshipped together, they did so house to house, sharing meals. I believe that when we sit down together for a meal we are declaring our unity, that together we are one as we enjoy God’s presence during our meal. For me that too is communion.

Lastly, Stuart Nice, in his Daily Scripture Reading email for Thursday, January 21, shared with us about Recognizing Our Brother. It is a great article on what little actually separates us when we choose to see Jesus in one another. As I read this I was reminded of the post-resurrection story of the disciple on the road to Emmaus. There Jesus meets them on the road, though they didn’t recognize him. He then sits down with them for a meal. While he is breaking the bread he is revealed to them, and they are revealed both to themselves and each other. Their example to us was that our hearts and lives can be expanded when we choose to be open to the leading of God’s Spirit and have eyes open to see Jesus in one another. These are also the marks of being People of the Table.

Grace and peace,
Brook

  • The etymology of the word “fellowship” comes from the Old English, meaning, literally, “one who lays down money in a joint enterprise.” Fellowship occurs when we commit and invest lives to Christ and one another.

Auld Lang Syne for the New Year!

You may be like me, curious about the song we hear sung just after the stroke of midnight of New Year’s Day – Auld Lang Syne. When I was a kid I thought the words were “Old Anxine,” and that people were singing about not having anxiety anymore about what happened last year. Once I learned what the words actually were, I just said to myself, “Oops!” and didn’t give it much thought, except on New Year’s Eve.

Sunset at Half Moon Bay, CA

Sunset at Half Moon Bay, CA

Recently, I read an article explaining what Auld Lang Syne meant. Here is the definition according to the article.

“Auld Lang Syne” was originally a Scottish poem that was later set to music. The phrase “auld lang syne” translates literally to “old long since” in English and means something akin to “times gone by.”

The song refrains that, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.” I feel that it is generally agreed upon that taking or lifting a cup, as in a toast, is for the purpose of remembering. Since we actually only sing the first verse and chorus on New Year’s, the song for us is about remembering old friends and times gone by.

I think it is noteworthy that this song is sung at New Year’s celebrations, because the new year is synonymous with “Out with the old, and in with the new!” at least in western cultures. So, what would an appropriate response be as the calendar date turns from 2015 to 2016, and how shall we treat the previous year?

First of all, we let go. There is nothing we can do to change the past. Second, we remember. How has the previous year shaped us, for good or not, through experiences, and by people and God? Remembering is important, because it helps us to take stock of what we learned, how we’ve grown, who we loved, and who loved us. Lastly, we move on. Here we choose what we take with us into the new year (new season, new day, next moment). By this, I mean, “What do we choose to focus on?” “What do we let fall to the wayside?” and “How do we walk with those who are closest to us?” *

This can all seem quite overwhelming, but it reminds me of what Jesus told his disciples during his last evening with them.

“The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.”
(John 14:26, CEB)

As they were edge of a new season, Jesus comforted them and reminded them that God, through the Holy Spirit, will help them move on into the new day before them and as the people they have become by spending the last three years with Jesus.

As we step into the new year of 2016, I pray that we have hearts to listen to the Holy Spirit as we seek to let go, remember, and move on into the new day that God has created for us to enjoy. And we can also sing with confidence the traditional song, Auld Lang Syne, knowing that remembering is a part of living life to the fullest for ourselves, for God, and for those closest to us.

Grace and peace,
Brook

  • In all reality, nothing is ever left behind. Everything we have experienced has brought us to who we are and where we are in life. It is our choice, though, what we do and how we live now, so that we become our best for ourselves, for God, and for those closest to us.

Jesus

An Advent Reflection for December 25, 2015, the Final Day of Advent

Advent concludes on Christmas Day, and the theme for this final Advent devotional is Jesus. The old and well-worn adage reminds us that, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” I don’t know; it may just be me, but I feel that amidst all the loving gifts and well intentioned activities of the holiday, we may have lost sight of what it means to have Jesus as the reason for the season.

As I was thinking about this and searching for the reason that would make this saying true in my life this year, I remembered a line in the fifth verse of the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem (underlined below).

Mary and Baby Jesus

The Story of Christmas from the LumoProject.com

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

I’m not sure why, but when I remembered that line, my first thought was, “How is born spelled in the song? Born, or borne?

It’s more than obvious that when we celebrate someone’s birthday, we are celebrating the day they were born. But, it is much more than that. It is celebrating their life, and especially with Jesus, the continual impact his life has in our lives today. So, as we celebrate Christmas this year, may the life of Jesus birth something new in our hearts and lives. May we also faithfully bear the image of Jesus through the ways we love God by loving others – Jesus, being borne in us today.

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

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

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

Loving unto Wholeness

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
(Matthew 5:4, NIV)

I have been sitting with this passage for a few weeks, not really knowing how to interact with it, not really sure of what it was trying to speak to me. It was the idea of mourning that was tripping me up. I don’t really know what it means to mourn, what it looks like or even how to do it. I think that says as much about me as it does the American culture we live in. Americans don’t mourn well, especially American Christians. We are taught to say “It is well with my soul” when we are confronted with any kind of loss. We are encouraged to throw a party instead of a funeral. But, setting that aside for a moment and returning to the passage at hand, I think that mourning is a stand-in for processing loss.

rocky path in the woodsIn this Beatitude, Jesus is inviting us to mourn when we need to mourn. He is saying that if you choose to enter into the process of grieving a loss and stick to through the end, you will come out of it comforted. This process is not supposed to be a lonely journey. God, through the Holy Spirit, is ever present and walking through it with us. There is also family, friends, and the community of faith to whom we can lean on throughout this process, if we choose to invite others into it with us.

“Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.”
(Matthew 5:4, CEB)

I cannot prescribe what this process will look like, nor how long it will last, but I do know it will include three things: love, acceptance, and forgiveness. This is first and foremost a work of love. It is love for those around us and ourselves that will lead us into the process and sustain us through it. Acceptance involves trusting the process and the new reality that the loss brings us into. Lastly, loss will most likely require some amount of forgiveness, and probably more than once. All told, we will come out of this process not only comforted, but able to comfort others. Choosing to go through a season of mourning is a very brave thing to do. There is nothing glamorous about it. It is a lot of hard work. But, there will be an end to it, and that end will bring love, joy, and peace.

My hope it that in embracing Jesus encouragement here, we can begin to establish a healthy environment for those experiencing the pain of loss and even help to change our culture so that grief would not be something to be dismissed, but seen as the next loving and logical step to living a life of wholeness and love.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Compassionately Bold

golden mushroomI am always amazed how God can speak through simple and familiar stories. I was reading in Mark’s gospel how at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus cast a demon out of a man in the synagogue. (Mark 1:21-28)  It says the Jesus spoke harshly to the demon. I can’t help but believe that it was deep compassion for the man that Jesus chose to silence the unclean spirit. Love makes us do bold things.

While thinking about this passage, I felt God say to me, “Speak harshly to your demons, but kindly to yourself.” It’s not everyday that we are invited to speak into the lives of those around us, but we are well aware of the things that we struggle with personally.

It just might be me, but I often take my struggles personally. Instead of saying “I messed up,” I would say, “I’m a bad person.” This is not what Jesus sees or says. We can act loving to ourselves by being bold against the things that trip us up.

What does this look like? It is a step-by-step, day-at-a-time process. Choosing daily to turn toward Jesus, allowing his presence to give us the boldness to walk forward in the way he is showing us. We may need help in doing this, and that’s ok. Or, we might not. The main point here is to have the compassion for ourselves that Jesus does so that we move boldly toward the freedom that we know is found in Christ. We may just have to speak harshly to our demons.

Grace and peace,
Brook

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