Tag Archives: presence

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.

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

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

The Lord’s Appearing

http://brookfonceca.vsco.co/media/560da23d4dfaf718a4ea9ba7I know it wasn’t much, but it rained in the SF Bay area this week! For me, rain is a significant image. It speaks to me of God’s presence and blessing. The thought of autumn rains got me thinking about some passages in the Old Testament, but all I could remember was the word “rains.” You know what it’s like. There’s a song that you heard a long time ago. You remember that you liked it. You even remember a few words of the chorus, but that’s about it. That’s how it was with me and rains this week. So I looked up “rains” in my Bible app. I found the passage I remembered. (I think!) This led me to other related passages, even one in the letter written by James.

Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises, he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
(Hosea 6:3, NIV)

This passage in Hosea speaks about God’s faithfulness, especially the faithfulness of God coming to us. We can trust that God will come when we call. There are times that we need God’s help, but are not aware that God is right here. The Lord’s appearing happens when we acknowledge the presence of God. The sun rises and sets. The seasonal rains come and go. It’s not much of a surprise for us, but then there are the moments when we appreciate a gorgeous sunset or stand out in the rain, just to soak up the refreshing environment. It just takes a moment to turn our hearts to the Lord, who is always here, and in that moment God appears!

Grace and peace,
Brook

All Things New!

By the weather we have been enjoying lately in SF Bay area, it would be hard to know that this Wednesday was the First Day of Fall!

sunset and fog

Sunset and fog, Half Moon Bay, CA

I love the equinoxes! They are the two days of the year that are in perfect balance. Equinox means equal night. We get 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. It is also the day when the sun rises and sets due east and due west, respectively.

What, if anything, does this have to do with us?! It is simply a reminder of God’s expansive wisdom, grace, and love. Wisdom within the cycles of balance and reset. Like the Sabbath, God knows we need things to be renewed, so we don’t lose heart. Grace through the truth that, “this too shall pass.” Love, because God created this universe for us to partner with God, and God with us in the gospel promise of making all things new.

The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. Psalm 19:1-4 (TLB)

I pray you take a moment this weekend to pause and receive God’s love letter to you through the beauty of creation.

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

A Family Marked by Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers...A few months ago, I was at a Day Retreat organized by Josh Pinkston for the Foursquare pastors in our area. The focus of the retreat was prayer and meditation. Only four of us came. As we gathered, we took prayer requests. Then we dispersed to pray. As I looked over the prayer requests, including my own, they all seemed to embody a Beatitude, which provided a beautiful focus for prayer. Oddly enough, I found some blank notecards in my Bible. For each of the prayer requests I wrote down the Beatitude and a sentence or two of affirmation and encouragement. My prayer request was to be an instrument of God’s peace. This is what I wrote for myself.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
(Matthew 5:9, NIV)

“God’s presence is peaceful, but not comfortable. Peacemakers find themselves in places of conflict and by being present, expressing God’s peace, work to establish the kinship of God.”

In my study of the Beatitudes lately, coming to this one brought back a flood of memories from that Day Retreat. The thing that stood out to me the most that day, and still does, is the idea of the kinship of God. This produced a sort of “if – then” formula in my mind. “If peacemakers are called God’s children, then God must be a God of peace.” This equation can also be flipped. “If God is a God of peace, then God’s children must be peacemakers.” This is where I find my heart. I want to be a peacemaker.

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” – A. J. Muste

Peacemakers are traditionally defined as, “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.” I would like to redefine what a peacemaker is as one who creates an environment of peace. Peaceful environments can naturally bring about a resolution to conflict. Otherwise we are left with less than peaceful means by which we try to establish a conflict reduced situation based on contingency and condition. Not exactly peace.

Last weekend, at the VLC Family Camp, getting kids to settle down and go to sleep in the cabin is always a challenge. At one point, our three younger children, who were seriously over tired for a day full of play, all started to melt down. I realized that Autumn and I had become ping-pong balls in the middle of their chaos, so I went over to one end of the room and sat on the floor. A few moments later, Lillian, the youngest, walked over to me sobbing and sat down on my lap. She calmed down and was soon in bed. The tension in the room was deflated, which allowed Autumn to help get the next two kids situated in bed. When we choose to not feed the conflict, the conflict will begin to resolve itself.

One other example that I have come across that demonstrates peace through kinship is Father Gregory Boyle. He is the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, CA. Their purpose is to “provide hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.” The driving philosophy within the organization is “kinship.” Upon entering the Homeboy program, each person begins to understand that the person working next to them are their brother or sister, even if they are formerly from rival gangs. The environment of peace established by Father Greg and his staff empowers this concept of kinship, which translates to changed lives and renewed futures for those who work through this program. Here is a TED talk from Father Greg telling the story of kinship. Make sure you have tissues nearby!

Peace is one of those ideals that humanity strives after for millennia, but striving doesn’t produce peace. Only peace produces peace. Peacemakers don’t make peace; they are peace!

My hope is that people of peace establish environments of peace where the kinship of God can flourish through the act of being peace, a family of peace.

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

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