Author Archives: Brook Fonceca

About Brook Fonceca

I’m a coffee snob, theology nerd, missio Dei tag-along, husband of Autumn, father of five, associate pastor, and acoustic guitar hack. The articles on this blog are some of my thoughts on God, church, theology, spirituality, and at times, coffee. The posts usually arrive in the form of newsletter devotionals.

Discovering God’s Heart for Us

Boy looking through telescope at the Empire State Building with quotation of Jeremiah 29:11-13, NIV

This Sunday is the second Sunday of Lent. Last week, I introduced the idea of Lent being a journey toward God’s heart for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The first step of embarking on this journey is to embrace God’s heart for us. The Lord is calling us and will accompany us along the way.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV)

We start on a journey to reach a destination, but we often make discoveries as we continue along the path set before us. Sometimes these discoveries are serendipities, other times they are specifically sought after. One thing is certain, though, we need to have a heart that is open and willing to see what the Lord wants to reveal to us.

I pray that as we seek the Lord with all our heart and discover God’s unconditional love and empowering grace, we will lean into our Lenten journey, aligning ourselves with the Lord’s plans for us and trusting that we will find God’s heart.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Embracing God’s Heart for Us

We are on our way towards Easter! Last Wednesday, February 17, was Ash Wednesday and began the season of Lent, which is the 40 days prior to Easter and is typically a season of prayer, fasting, and devotion in preparation for the celebration of God resurrecting Jesus from the dead. It might even be a season of discipline by which new spiritual practices can become a regular expression of faith. As I was considering Lent this year, I saw it as a journey, exploring our faith and experiencing God’s grace, which continually leads to newness of life in Christ.

Lord, direct me throughout my journey
so I can experience your plans for my life.
Reveal the life-paths that are pleasing to you.
Escort me along the way; take me by the hand and teach me.
For you are the God of my increasing salvation;
I have wrapped my heart into yours!

Psalm 25:4-5, The Passion Translation

This passage in the Psalms is David’s prayer for God’s direction and companionship in life’s journey. The last line in this passage is usually translated, “I wait or hope in the Lord.” The Hebrew word for wait/hope expresses an active awareness in our daily relationship with the Lord. This is why I chose The Passion Translation for our verse this week.

As we embark on this Lenten journey, I pray that we pursue the Lord’s heart along with the Spirit’s direction so that we can experience all that God has for us in this current season.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Clothing Ourselves with Love

As I’m sure you’re aware, this Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Even though it’s a day that we mark to celebrate love, it’s the daily expressions of love that make the day worth celebrating. The verse below came across in my reading this week and as I was reflecting on it, the idea of clothing ourselves with love really stood out.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14 (NLT)

We all want to live in perfect harmony with the people we know and love and also to see that harmony reaching out to our communities and beyond. Living in harmony, though, starts with us by choosing to clothe ourselves with love.

What, then, does it mean to clothe ourselves with love? We recently discussed in our Sunday Worship Gathering at Valley Life Church what love looks like.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 12:9-10 (NIV)

Simply, this means to love one another as we desire to be loved, walking in daily communion with the Holy Spirit so that the fruits of the Spirit are evident in our lives.

I know that there is so much here that could be unpacked. My encouragement for us this Valentine’s weekend is to take a few moments to think about those we love. How can we interact with them in a way that communicates love to them? (We all have a specific love language.) Then look for opportunities show them how much they are loved.

Let’s choose love daily and love deeply those God has placed in our lives.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Finding Joy in God’s Presence

I can’t believe that it’s already February. Even though it feels like the year is racing along, I was reminded in my reading this week that not every moment needs to feel that way.

In the morning, long before sunrise, Jesus went to a place where he could be alone to pray.
Mark 1:35 (GW)

This passage takes place not too long after the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. His popularity was surging and pressure began to increase for him to heal and deliver those who were brought before him. He knew that the only time he could spend refreshing his spirit was early in the morning. He chose to pause the rush of the day, even before it began, and enjoy spending time in God’s presence.

Not many of us experience the pressures that Jesus did, but being human we do go through stressful times just like he did. We can take a page out of Jesus’ playbook and find time to spend with the Lord. I’m not here to make prescriptions, but if we understand the “why,” the “how” will become apparent. I was encouraged by Leonard’s story during our Sacred Reading this last Sunday about how he was feeling disconnected from the Lord and so he decided to take a prayer walk. Since he made time to present himself before God, he was later able to hear a message of love and grace from the Lord to him.

We all need regular encounters with the Lord. I pray that as we open our hearts to experience God’s presence, the Holy Spirit will show us what it is we need to do to connect with the Lord in a way that speaks love, imparts grace, and strengthens us to continue in our walk of faith with Jesus.

If you set spiritual New Year’s resolutions this year, I hope you’ve been able to keep them up. If not, or if you would like to infuse your spiritual life with a challenge, Lent begins on February 17. Lent is the 40 days prior to Easter and is typically a season of prayer, fasting, and devotion in preparation for the celebration of God resurrecting Jesus from the dead. It might even be a season of discipline by which new spiritual practices can become a regular expression of faith.

Let’s put a pause on the rush of the day and take time to enjoy God’s presence.

Grace and peace,
Brook

My Word for 2020 – And

I wasn’t sure I was going to choose a word for this year. I was in a conversation at church a couple of weeks ago and a dear friend of mine helped me to identify a word that would encapsulate my intentions for the year to come. She said her word for the year is “and.” It resonated with me, and I’ve decided to adopt it as well. We are each approaching this word differently, but with equal passion, dedication, and integrity. I have a feeling 2020 might be a bit of a wild ride!

My word for 2019 was generosity. It definitely motivated me to live with an open hand and open heart, especially when I wanted to shrink back, circle the wagons, and live in fear instead of faith. I plan on keeping generosity in my back pocket moving forward. It gave me a sense of freedom that can only come from a posture of giving. 

So, why did I choose “and” as my word for 2020? It’s actually an extension of generosity. My heart still wants to say “yes.” Whereas in 2019 I wanted to say yes to opportunities that required a contribution, this year I want to say yes to opportunities of increase. For my friend, “and” is a shift from an either/or perspective to a both/and orientation. She is choosing to inhabit the liminal space of the seemingly opposite. It’s tough, it’s brave, and it’s the gateway to expansive growth. (Grace and peace to you, Kim!) For me, embracing “and” also means a shift of perspective from “this OR that” to “this AND that.” This will be a stretch fo me. I am a minimalist by nature. Less is more. My default filter is “if this, then that = No.” Last year, generosity opened my heart externally; “and” will work on my heart internally. Letting go always seems easier than embracing. As I mentioned above, this year could get interesting! In fact, I’m counting on it!

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;

Psalms 37:3-7 (NIV)

Generosity, My Word for 2019

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV)

Ok. It’s January 8, 2019. I know I’m late to the dance with this, but I’m stepping out with my word for the year.

Generosity.

If there has ever been a spiritual practice that I’ve been more challenged with, it is definitely generosity. I believe in it, because I’ve been the beneficiary of so many others generosity toward me. So why do I have such a difficult time with being generous? I don’t know. And that is the first half of the two-fold purpose for making this my word/work of the year. I know that by intentionally practicing generosity, all sorts of stuff will come up with it. And that’s the point. I hope to unearth the root of stinginess so that I can replace it with a root of open hearted, open handed giving. So, as we go along this year, I hope to drop a note here or there on this blog about the discoveries I’ve made through the practice of generosity.

The second half of my purpose is simply to become more generous. At the top of this post I quoted 2 Corinthians 9:7, emphasizing on “God loves a cheerful giver.” I know that God loves me whether I give or not. That’s not the issue. When I read that phrase, the message I get is that “God’s love is most genuinely expressed through generosity.” And to take it a bit further, God’s Spirit within us rejoices when we are the recipient of open hearted, open handed giving. This joy begets joy in the giver. This is why the Apostle Paul quotes Jesus, saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) and Saint Francis instructs us through his prayer, “It is in giving that we receive.” My hope this year is to discover the joy of giving, to enter into the reciprocal dance of joyous generosity, and to express God’s love to those around me through open hearted, open handed giving.

What will this look like in real life this year? For starters, I will keep it simple. Opening doors for others, offering smiles to those around me and even passers-by, to carry a little bit of cash to give anyone who asks, and so on. I hope to put into practice more sophisticated ways of giving as I get a handle on this. It is going to be a hard won process. I did a little experimenting with this toward the end of 2018 and found out that it can be really fun. So that’s the groove I’m dancing with into this new year.

So for me, 2019 will be a year of practicing generosity.
Thanks for reading.

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Way Up Is Down, Part 5: Doing the Work

The way through is down.

I really struggled writing this installment in The Way Up Is Down series. The fact is that I am IN the process of “through.” It’s also true that I’m scared as hell doing the “downward” work, yet…

To get through, we must go deep.

We all can get through, but unless we go deep and address the issues that we are facing as we go through, we’ll be back here again before too long.

When I first posted this thought experiment on Instagram back in January, a friend of mine commented, “the enemy’s gate is down…” Immediately I began to debate in my mind the meaning of down in his comment, directionally down or functionally down. Of course, it is directionally down. But you can’t take down your enemy’s gate unless you go down to do it.

My next question was, “Who is my enemy?” I knew the answer to that right away. Me! I am my enemy. To overcome your enemy, you must know what makes him tick. That means I must discover and take responsibility for the actions and decisions that got me here.

“A lot of people…have a problem being true to they self. They have a problem looking into the mirror and looking directly into their own souls. The reason I can…walk around, the reason I am who I am today is because I can look directly into my face and find my soul.”
Tupac Shakur

If I can “look into my face and find my soul,” then I will no longer be my own enemy. This takes courage. This is deep work. I may not like what I find, but unless I do the work, I will only be getting by instead of going through.

There is so much more to say, and I’ve left out a lot, but I will finish with this. Though this is personal work, it’s not solitary work. I have sought the help of friends and professionals to do this downward work. In a way, this is another aspect of going down, because it forces us to embrace humility. It’s allowing others to see our shadow side, trusting they won’t reject us, and taking their hand as they help us up.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:3 (NIV)

This is the hope of all of this. That we would find our way up. That we would rise with a new appreciation for life, love, and community, with our feet firmly grounded and our hearts centered in these realities.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
— Serenity Prayer

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Way Up Is Down, Part 4: Seeing It Through

The way out is through.

For Lent this year, I chose to do the Whole 30 eating plan. I wasn’t feeling well in the area of digestion. I never felt hungry, always a bit bloated, and quite lethargic. I knew something had to change in the way I was eating. The Whole 30 isn’t a diet, per se, rather a gastric reset. The goal isn’t weight loss, but digestive health. The Whole 30 prescribes eliminating all processed foods, added sugars, grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol. It wasn’t easy, but with the program being time bounded, 30 days, it was doable. I made it.

Even though I saw the program through, I don’t feel that I made much progress. There was more to the process than I anticipated. I think this may be true with anything we do to bring about change in our life. We start the process by implementing a program. We reach the end of the program, expecting to be done with the process, only to find out that the program was only the beginning of the process.

Programs reveal, empower, and relieve. They show us what needs to change and give us tools to make changes, which provide a sense of relief. If we are honest with ourselves, though, this is only scratching the surface of a much larger, longer, and deeper process of change.

I know that I need to revisit the Whole 30. I also know that there are a few other programs that I need to revisit in order to continue processes I previously started. This begs the question. Will I ever be done? Will there be an end to the process? I feel the answer is yes and no.

Yes. Most processes will come to an end. The process will have done its work. You will emerge in a better place, state, stage, etc. Even though the active work of the process will be done, you will continue to carry the work of the process. It will be assimilated into your life and will inform how you live your life. The work won’t feel like work, because it will just be life.

No. We will never not be in some sort of process. Life is full of destinations and arrivals. Finally arriving, in which we will never need to be in process, is not for this life. Sanctification, enlightenment, or whatever you choose to describe this arrival, has within it a recognition of incompleteness. Our completeness is found when we realize that we are a part of a larger whole. We are incomplete, and yet we make whole that which is incomplete without us. These little arrivals empower us to continue on in the process of living this life and even encourage others to begin their own process.

The way out is through.

“Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me?’ Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
John 16:19-20 (NIV)

Seeing a process through can be very difficult. From the passage above, Jesus said you will weep and mourn. It will seem like you are the only one going through your process. It will feel like others are rejoicing. They’re not. Their life will just look different than yours. There will come a time when the process will come to an end. Your grief will turn to joy.

The way out is through.

Grace and peace,
Brook

semicolon tattoo

I got this tattoo for my 45th birthday. It reminds me to stay engaged in my processes. When people ask me what it means, my short answer is, “My story is not finished.”

The Way Up Is Down, Part 3: Enacting Change

This post is a continuation of a series I started earlier this year.
The Way Up Is Down
Surveying the Terrain: The Way Up Is Down, Pt. 2

The way up is out.

You know something’s got to give
A change needs to be made
It’s not just bettering for better’s sake
It’s not sustainable anymore and without change, it will only get worse.

Or

Even though things are good, better is coming sooner than later.
Things are going so well, that space needs to be made for the real growth that is happening.
Like a child outgrowing her shoes or a hermit crab outgrowing its shell, the way up is forcing its way out.

road leading out into the desert

Stress and pressure are powerful motivators for change. Even though stress and pressure are uncomfortable, and even painful, it is not all bad either. The above examples are two ends of a spectrum. These ends represent the need for change due to negative or positive stimuli. Moving toward the middle, the stimuli reduces. It has been said that the only constant in life is change. Even in the middle of the spectrum where motivating stimuli is minimal, change is inevitable.

We all find ourselves somewhere along this spectrum. The thing to do is to get a bird’s eye view of your situation. Where are you along this spectrum? And, if you find yourself somewhere around the middle, are you experiencing a respite, the doldrums, or are you like the frog in the pot, unaware that the temperature is slowly rising?

With last weekend being Easter, I’m reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples during his last supper with them before his passion. “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  John 16:7 (NASB)  In this Jesus reveals that in order for his disciples to make the greatest impact, he would need to step aside and let them follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, just as he himself had done.

Where do you identify in this story? With Jesus, realizing that he was the bottleneck for his followers’ development as leaders? Or, with the disciples, understanding that growth only comes when we push our limits, explore other paths, and follow the Spirit’s lead (John 16:13)? The way up is out.

As a personal example, my attention to this blog has been intermittent at best. I have been preoccupied, and at times even overwhelmed, by other more pressing things. This has led to a lack of output, which leads to a sense of stagnation. Yet, not a day goes by where I feel I have got to write something. I miss this. I miss writing for you and for me. My heart tells me that in order to get beyond this stuck, plateaued, and stagnate feeling, I need to put myself out there, start writing again, and open myself again to the flow of thought, creativity, composition, and correspondence. The way up is out.

Of course, this is only one of many areas in my life that need me to be brave and find the way out that leads up.

Enacting change doesn’t have to be drastic. The idea I’m trying to share is to be proactive. Evaluate, make a plan, and start. Start small, but start. The key is that the change we make takes us out of our old patterns that weren’t working and onto a new path with new goals and new outcomes. We can allow change to happen to us, or we can gain a bit of perspective and enact the change for ourselves. It’s all up to you, and it’s all unto me. My hope is that as we examine our situation, we find the areas that need change and the pathway out that will eventually lead up.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Surveying the Terrain: The Way Up Is Down, Pt. 2

In this post I would like to expand the thought process I shared last week. This will be a high-level approach, with not much detail. I hope with this that it will provide an overview that will lead to more in depth exploration and discussion.

The way up is out
The way out is through
The way through is down

Looking out over the Silicon Valley

The way up is out.

Progress. Improvement. Development. Increase.
Not an exhaustive list, but enough to point out that as a species, humans are upwardly focused. This is all good, except when we try to go up with sheer effort. It’s no secret that the greatest gains and largest strides of improvement happen when we think outside of the box or take an outside perspective. To do this involves appreciatively setting aside our accomplishments and trusting the process, even when out looks nothing like up.

The way out is through.

Stepping out is probably the most difficult aspect of this process. It goes against everything in our nature. For the most part, our survival depends on security. Moving outside of our comfort zone challenges the very notion of security. For this very reason, we need to go through this process in order to see security for what it is, what it does, and what it hinders us from doing. Walking through will bring us face to face with our values, passions, commitments, and messages. This will be painful. It may feel like it will never end. Our demons will scream louder than our angels. You may even die to things you never thought we an issue. Just when you think you can’t go through any further, you will find out that you are not alone in this process. The community gained on the journey will make the pain of the process worth every tear.

Looking up at a trail descending to a rocky stream

The way through is down.

We relate the negative with going down, negative thoughts, actions, relationships, and events. The reality, though, is that no one is immune from negativity. The negative provides the opportunity for us to ask questions that can give us a deeper understanding of ourselves, our relationships, and our world. This depth of understanding gives us the foundation to realize a depth of living we never thought possible. Few would say that personal and interpersonal depth is negative or down, rather positive and the source of life’s highlights.

This thought process has come full circle. It gives us a view of the terrain ahead. Having walked through this process a time or two, I don’t wish it upon anyone, but discovering its benefits, I do encourage all who are not willing to settle with whatever the world gives you to embrace this process.

I would appreciate your thoughts.

Grace and peace,
Brook