Tuesday, September 29, 2009

third commandment

Well, it's been a while since I've posted. I don't have any excuses, especially since blogger makes it so easy to post that I can even do it from my phone.

Things have been quite busy here at work now that we're up and running for the season. My small group is back in session and I joined a 10-week Bible study on Thursday mornings with Chris Wesley.

With all these things going on, my group's discussion on getting rest and keeping the Sabbath was very timely last night. So often I think we believe the solution is just to bring more of God into more of our daily lives more often. That may be true, but it's also very clear that we're supposed to rest. Jesus took time away to be with the Father and fill up his cup.

Paul talks about love overflowing and suggests that it wells up from within and naturally pours out to others. That only happens when we're full though. What are you doing to fill up your cup? How do you spend your Sabbath? It's a path to somewhere; is it where you want to go?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

what's on tap

Here's the second installment of "What's on Brian's whiteboard?" I think this exercise is quite pretentious, but with that said I still plan to share.

- Welcome Weekend (Sept. 12 & 13) plans for creating three unique environments for kids, students and adults
- Building layout plotting radio communication points on the weekend
- Channel breakdown for the different ministries using the headsets
- Diagram of the Children's Wing for All Stars and Religious Ed check-in
- Diagram of the new CN Backstage and ideas of how to improve its functionality
- A random leadership thought: Life cycles of creating a ministry (bad cycle) idea, to responsibility/accountability, to implementation, to people. And (good cycle) idea, to people, to implementation, to responsibility/accountability.

Things are really picking up around here as we're gearing up for three awesome fall message series, making some physical changes to the building, and preparing for the kickoff weekend right after Labor Day. As things get busier and busier, I have to constantly remind myself why I'm doing all these things and what it's really about. Church of the Nativity exists to bring people to Christ and his Church, leading them to knowledge of their faith and service for the greater glory of God.

Lord,
Teach me to labor and not to ask for any reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will.
Amen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

more caution tape

I talked about "red flags" in my last post. These are things that bring my attention to the fact that I'm not exactly in the right place. Thoughts like "What will make me happy right now?" and "You deserve it." are huge ones. But it's not all about thoughts, there are other indicators too.

As I've talked about before, we live in a physical world and, for now, our souls are connected to our bodies (check out 'allergies'). Back in May and June, Fr. White preached a series about the Catholic Mass and why we celebrate the Eucharist. One of the weeks was dedicated to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the part of the service that ends with Communion. He said that our ability to be present to God during that time in Mass is linked to our frame of mind, which is linked to our posture. Remember your school teachers telling you to "Sit up straight, and pay attention!"? Those two commands were given together for a reason...

Just like Fr. White talked about, another indicator of my spiritual fitness is my posture or physical state when I pray. Am I lying in bed at night while I rattle off a few prayers? Am I sitting up straight or kneeling? (There's also a reason why kneelers and lying prostrate are parts of the Catholic tradition too.)

It occurred to me a few weeks ago as I was in the middle of the 'lie in bed while praying but really just falling asleep' style of prayer, that I did have the ability to get off my back, sit up, and actually pray. You would have thought that the Spirit had prompted me to jump off a tall building the way I resisted. I really didn't want to kneel because I didn't really want to pray. Feelings like this one, and general physical feelings of discomfort are red flags that wave "Whoa, Brian. What's really going on here?" Think about the difference between bumping into someone and saying "sorry" versus muttering under your breath as they pass by? It's not the actual degree of pain in your body or even the person who collided with you. It's your own spiritual condition. Pay attention to your body, it knows what's up, even when you may not...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

leadership summit

I've just come back from the Willow Creek Association's 'Leadership Summit 09' (trend #TLS09 if you twitter). Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor at Willow, kicked off the summit with a talk entitled "Leading in a New Reality." He referenced the economic crisis that changed lives so drastically starting last fall and how in turn that changed the way Willow Creek held their church services. He ended with some of his personal struggles over these past months as he explained the disciplines he exercised in order to increase his own margin, to fill his personal bucket up, so the he could continue to minister to others.

In light of my last blog post, I'd like to a note or two considering Bill's last point about filling his own bucket.

He talked about a time where his staff, his family, and even his dog were walking on thin ice when Bill was around because he was stretched so thin. He struggled to have quiet time with God and his daily routines fell by the wayside in order to make time for more hours in the office. All of these things added up to a bottom that he described as a powerlessness over work. This is not what God wanted for him, and it's not what God wants for us.

I think self care often gets a bad rap. Self care can be looked upon as selfish, even undeserved. How untrue! We constantly need to be taking care of our physical bodies (by working out, eating well), our personal relationships (by having quiet time, holding boundaries), and our spiritual lives (by praying, listening to G0d). We need to do these things to function properly, and, yes, we function so that we can serve others. Surrender is not a sacrifice of our own needs but a willingness to follow Christ through adversity despite our own will.

Remember how Christ worded the greatest commandment? Love your neighbor as yourself.

Monday, August 3, 2009

monday, monday...

I just left the video review meeting where the staff re-watched Fr. White's message from the first week of Greatest Story Ever Told! It was all about the story of Joseph at the end of the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. The takeaway was a line repeated throughout the story: "And the Lord was with Joseph." How would you act knowing that God is always with you?

I woke up this morning feeling pretty lousy. I had overslept, which is easy for me to do on Mondays, still felt exhausted, and didn't want to get out of bed... at all! I eventually wandered downstairs, made a large cup of coffee, and then my brain started churning out all these negative thoughts: "I feel awful. I just want to sit here and do nothing. What's wrong with me? Why do I always feel like this?" And this went on and on... until the thought entered my mind, "What can I do that will make me feel happy?"

That's a huge red flag for me! (Another is, "I deserve this.") When I'm actively thinking about/wishing for things that will make me happy, I've reached the top of my self-centered scale. When I'm there, I quickly become resentful of others, angry over little things, and depressed about my own life. I don't know if you can relate to this particular line of thinking, but I have a feeling some of you may... The point is that I need to catch myself in this downward, selfish spiral and remember that I am here to serve others. God is always with me, and only when I am being of service to others am I positioning myself to receive God's blessing.

Heavenly Dad,
Teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost.
Amen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

survey says...

I just published a poll on this blog; it's up at the top on the right side. If you've been to Nativity during this message series, check any of the boxes that describe your reaction to the changes this summer.

If you haven't, you've got one more week to check it out. 'What God Wants' has been about the five purposes of the Church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, and ministry. These have been made popular in Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California. Check it out...

The point is that we've been playing video messages of this series at the end of Mass. This was a pretty big curveball both for the staff and for our congregation, and as a result we didn't have much time to prepare Mass-goers. That said, we've worked really hard to make the experience enjoyable and have been encouraged by the numbers of people staying for our "summertime experiment." It's definitely exciting to be a part of a culture so responsive to a changing environment.

Again, if you've been with us for the video messages, I hope you respond to the poll.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

moving day

On Monday I moved across the office to make room for our new Director of Children's Ministry, Lisa Scata. She just started full-time on staff and has moved into my former spot in the office... We're super excited to have her (1) as an awesome presence on the team and (2) charging up Children's Ministry, which is such a big part of Nativity's experience.

So today I'm getting a new desk. I'll plug Mark Downs here, who have been very easy to work with and will be providing me with a nice new setup. I have a lovely view of Vista Lane, a [shared] corner office, a brand new desk lamp from IKEA, and a sweet 6-foot whiteboard to lay out all my plans for 'weekend direction.'

(New idea: each week, devoting a post on my blog to whatever is currently up on my whiteboard...)

**Currently**

- The 5 steps to becoming an 'Emotionally Healthy Church'
- Advent series 4-week breakdown (worship fully, spend less, give more, love all)
- Thank you note from Lucas, addressed to 'Brain'
- New design for weekend minister namebadges

Saturday, June 27, 2009

bad to great, part iv

Peter loses a friend. He does not see how this part of his life will turn out, but it's very painful right now. He learns that God makes all things work together for good for those who love him, but although he wants to believe it, this doesn't make sense. He realizes that it might take time to experience the good, and so he tries to press into God through prayer, fellowship, and worship, but the hurt does not go away. He is in despair.

allow God to redefine 'good' in your life

"Be always on the watch, and pray..."
Luke 21:36

I heard the story of a middle-aged man who lost his father at a very young age due to heart failure. All his life he was burdened by this loss and suffered greatly from it. On top of his pain he also had inherited a high predisposition to the same heart complications. The combination of the absence of his father and a seeming spite by our Creator, led him into years of bitterness, anger and depression. One day he had a serious, life-threatening heart attack which lead to surgery, and eventually more surgery. His brother also had a bad heart, and was treated for similar issues.

Then 'good' was redefined in his life. See, his father's death was so strange that doctors did an autopsy and numerous tests on his body. After years of studying the condition and its causes, when this man and his brother suffered from the same problems, they were able to be treated. By dying a tragic death at a young age, this man's death became a sacrifice. This evil was redefined years later to save the lives of his two sons.

Remember Peter and his friend who died so tragically? How terrible was it for this man's life to be taken? Jesus, who was God's only Son, and who was supposed to save the world, whom was murdered, how could that evil, that tragedy be overcome? Three days later God redefined good in Peter's life, in his friends' lives, and in the lives of everyone in history. It was only by dying that Christ could be raised.

There is no evil God cannot overcome. He is working all things together for good for those who love him, and one day his good work will come to completion. So wait, be patient, watch and pray. Allow God to redefine 'good' in your life!

bad to great, part iii

So God is working to make good of everything in our lives. We don't always see it, but we try hard to remember that he is. This goes against every fiber of our being at times, but we want to trust God and try to do it more and more.

allow God to redefine 'good' in your life

Let's apply another Scripture verse to our discussion.

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion"
Philippians 1:6

This verse points out another difficulty in applying this concept to our lives: the timing. The bringing to completion of good works in us takes time, maybe a lifetime. So Peter, who grieves the death of his friend, might understand that it will work out in the end, but struggles because that might not happen for some time.

So in that period of waiting, Peter must continue to love God (see part ii), and expect his love to overcome Peter's loss. It's that simple, but we don't make it that simple most of the time. So often an event like this will shake our faith; we think that since things aren't going so well that God is not looking after us, God is not good, maybe God doesn't even exist. I know that's how I feel.

But God cares more about our character than our comfort. God does not promise that bad things won't happen, instead he says when they do, "Fear not!" He wants us to press further into him in our weakness, in our doubt, in our fear. Because when we do, will will always find that he is working to bring it to completion in a great way.

Monday, June 22, 2009

station identification

Although a friend of mine chastised those who "twitter dump" (def: multiple posts in a short time after an extended period of neglect) earlier this week, I'm pretty sure I'm about to "blog dump"... I must say however that this 'mini-series' idea hasn't been the best for me. Having to draft my blog posts only hinders me from building up any momentum, and it definitely kills the spontaneity of the whole thing.

I'm going to pause here to give a personal update and will aim to wrap up this 'bad to great' stuff by week's end.

Katrina Relief
I had an awesome time going down with 5 other guys from Nativity to sheet rock a house in Mississippi. We helped a couple whose house was 'relocated' 150 yards inland after the hurricane four years ago. They were very gracious and hospitable and taught us all a lesson in dedication and perseverance.

Production schedule
The staff is undertaking a production schedule this summer that will allow for 16 weeks of lead time from "ideating" to delivering each message series in 2009-10. This is really exciting for us because it's going to enable all aspects of the weekend to unleash new potential. More time and energy will be devoted to developing the message content, the creative look, and synergy among ministries, which will result in greater focus and intentionality.

Vision casting
Saturday morning, a number of ministers, leaders, and members of the staff got together to brainstorm about the future of Nativity. It was really promising. The pastor began by saying that all things are rooted in personal history as he then gave some background info and told a bit of his story. How important it is to begin a big picture, big idea, long-term, planning session with personal history! The only way to figure out where you're headed is to understand from where you came. Take a minute to read Nehemiah 9 and Joshua 7 to learn about how our personal histories affect us.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

iPhone

Trying out new technology... posting from my iPhone. In Charlotte-Douglas International on my way to Mississippi for Nativity's last Katrima Relief mission trip. I'll post tonight from the 'bad to great' series. Just seeing how well this works.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

bad to great, part ii

Okay. So believing or realizing that we don't know it all is fundamental to our ability to stay open to God and to this idea. Just like, "How can I have s'more if I haven't had any already?" Anyone? Sandlot?

allow God to redefine 'good' in your life

Let's make this a story. Right now we have a person, Peter, who experiences a loss, perhaps relational, and Peter does not know what to do. He may question God, become angry with God, cry out for help, or just grieve his loss. What does it mean for Peter that God knows the ultimate outcome of this loss and he does not?

Consider a promise from Scripture in his situation.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love him"
Romans 8:28

The amazing part of that verse is the word 'all.' All things means all things. Things past, things to come, good things, painful things, uncomfortable things, scary things... everything. So the death of his friend is not an exception to this promise. God makes all things work together for good...

That is exactly what is so hard for us to comprehend. How can any loss be good or even become good? You’re saying death can have a positive outcome? Job loss means good is to come, or a disease brings peace? Yes, I am. God makes all things work together for good.

Monday, May 18, 2009

bad to great

Last week, while finishing up a book, a new concept came into my mind. I think it'll be somewhat difficult to communicate, but I'm in love with it so the next few posts will be on this topic:

allow God to redefine 'good' in your life

As humans, we don't get to see the full picture. Some of us are good at forming big picture ideas or long-term planning even casting vision, but never can we see everything. Our points of view are relatively narrow, and our perspectives are limited. My outlook is contained to right here and right now without exception.

God's is not. God is limitless. He is omnipotent and omniscient. He sees past, present and future as one. He knows all.

Accepting these things as fact, let us consider our lives and the events within them. When death, loss, disease, etc. occur, we may be shaken but these two pillars stand firm: (1) we see some things [very few things], and (2) God sees everything.

Naturally, when a good thing happens, it is easy to see the benefits to come, which in turn are easy to attribute to God. But when bad, ugly, evil stuff happens, it is harder to see where any good might lie. Yet in both instances we remain unable to see the ultimate outcome.

I'll stop there for now, but this is something to think about. What does it mean to never be able to see the ultimate outcome? Wouldn't we just have to accept what is, and hope for the best?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

number one

Along with Maria Folsom-Kovarik, the Director of Adult Ministry, I just helped run an orientation for about 25 new ministers at Nativity. As people introduced themselves, their stories ranged from brand new members taking their next step in faith, to professionals looking to apply their knowledge to the church, to older members responding to the call to ministry. It is cool for me to witness these individuals getting involved because it reminds me of an important fact: it's not about me.

That's a radical statement. My default mode is self-centered thinking. In a pinch, I look out for my own tail. It's just what I do. That's why it's so important to be part of a culture, like the one here at Nativity, where people are constantly and consistently giving of themselves.

I heard a new definition of selfishness the other day: it's not how highly you think of yourself, just how often you do. I think that's a pretty good way to put it; not comforting for me, but definitely pertinent. If thoughts create feelings which inspire action, I need to focus my thinking elsewhere. Tonight, I will pray for others, that Christ's light may shine in their lives, and for myself that I may have the presence of mind to see the Christlike behaviors of other Christians and that I have the courage to witness to those who do not know Him.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

allergies

This year has been one of the worst for my sinuses. I don't know to what specifically it is that causes my nose to run, my eyes to itch and water, and my head to ache... but whatever it is, there must be a lot of it out there because I'm having a really hard time.

It's amazing how clearly my physical condition affects my outlook, mood, feelings, and even thoughts. It's extremely obvious that we live in a physical world. We have physical bodies, we use physical things, and we need physical objects to live our lives. There is more though: beyond my corpse, I have a soul, which cannot be touched, seen, or felt. I am part of another world that has no physicality. For now, both of these exist at the same time and in the same place (inside of me), but it's not always obvious that they have a relationship with one another.

When my body feels good, my thoughts are processed through a healthy object "in good standing." But when I am not in good shape physically (due to injury, sloth, sickness, or just aches and pains), my soul knows it. Maybe my point of view gets selfish or critical, my remarks turn sarcastic and harmful, or maybe my mood becomes negative and depressed. Anyway you look at it, it's important to know that these to "worlds" are connected.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

welcome back

[It's been a little while, but I'm back. Holy Week and Easter were somewhat stressful, but everything went extremely well, and I saw God provide for me and for Nativity in many, many ways.]

One of the cooler events since my last post occurred yesterday morning when the staff got together for our weekly prayer "meeting." We focused our prayers on how we saw God work through the planning and execution of Easter Sunday. As I mentioned in an earlier post ("first john" 3/9/09), when I hear the same message in different contexts it gets my attention. As we started reflecting and thanking God for his goodness, it reminded me of a section from The Shack I just read and a concept that I've been trying to incorporate more into my life: devotion.

In The Shack, one evening before dinner, God asks to have "a time of devotion" (p 107). Jesus goes on to hold hands with the Father and tell him, "Papa, I loved watching you today, as you made yourself fully available to take Mack's pain into yourself... You honored him, and you honored me. To listen to you ... whisper calm into his heart was truly incredible. What a joy to watch! I love being your son."

Reading this brought a different level of intimacy to my concept of devotion. And as we prayed as a staff, thanking God for his faithfulness, it became very real to me what that prayer is supposed to look like, and sound like, and feel like. I don't think this is an effective blog post because it's hard to explain, but what a wonderful way to act and to live as a child of God.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

slowly but surely, part ii

The other part of this "give time, time" idea is to take things piece by piece. First, you have to acknowledge that change happens gradually, and once you've set off on that path, things must be broken down to bite-sized pieces (hence the Q&A from yesterday's post). God never gives us more than we can handle, and we were never designed to handle our loads alone.

This week has been an exercise in spreading the wealth. Why should I deprive those close to me the opportunity to help me, pray for me, and support me when I'm taking on challenges? For me it's simple: pride. I'd just rather do it on my own. Sure it's easier with help, but that's just not my style.

So I'm workin' on it! Now that I've woken up to the fact that life is a journey and that change takes place progressively, I need to simplify my obstacles by asking for help and thus chipping away at my pride.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11.1-3)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

slowly but surely

I tried to publish a post from Colombia, but it didn't work out. I'm sure all my loyal followers were able to check up on my trip through Twitter... Anyway, I'm back.

One thing that I've been reflecting on recently is time. People say things like "give time, time" to explain that growth occurs over time, prayers are answered over time, and change happens over time. Personally, I'm no good at waiting. I'm task oriented; I like progress; I want results and want them soon. But recently I've been warming up to this concept of "God's timing."

We live life moment by moment. Other than when we're asleep, we experience life one second after the next. Never have I been able to jump ahead to the future to avoid conflict or to get results faster. I have no choice, I will continue at the same exact pace for the rest of my life. I need to slow down and take things as they come, not trying to avoid what's in front of me and not putting off things that must be done.

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

leaving on a jetplane

I'm heading to Bogotá tomorrow for five days to visit my in-laws, play a little golf, and re-celebrate my sister's wedding. (That first sentence took me a while to write. I first had to make sure "brother-in-law's" was the correct possessive form of a compound word. Then, after deciding not to use that word, I goggled "in-laws" to discover www.ihatemyinlaws.com. Wow.)

Anyway, I've always enjoyed flying and traveling and I'm really excited for this trip. In addition to doing fun stuff once I'm there, I'm genuinely looking forward to the traveling part(s). I've got a bunch of magazines and a few books that I'm hoping to knock off on the way. This is exciting to me because recently I've got a sort of renewed vigor for reading. Well, to be perfectly honest, I've got a brand new vigor for reading. Ever since summer reading back in sixth grade, I've abhorred to read.

Now that I've discovered I can choose the books I want to read and conveniently not choose the ones that look like a bore, my whole perspective on the exercise has changed. This reminds me of a question Rick Warren asked the presidential candidates back in the fall regarding positions on which they had reversed their opinion after a time. I've reversed my opinion on reading. It is a good way for me to learn new things, and it's also a fair reminder that I don't always see things clearly at first.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

pulse

After hearing a heavy message like the one from this weekend (week 5), it's a good idea for me to take a sort of mental, spiritual, and emotional pulse. What did that bring up for me? How did I react to the "bring it to light, bring it to Christ, and bring it to an end" points? What did I find myself wanting to do afterward?

Without processing information like this, I lose track of where I am and where I'm going.

Since this is an opportunity for me to sort of debrief, I'll volunteer that this was a tough weekend for me. I found my energy level a lot lower than usual, and coupled with that was a slightly negative attitude. My tendency is to ignore these things and try to "do better next time." Instead of pushing that stuff back down inside me, I'm going ask God to help me find the root of my attitude and my emotions.

None of this is accidental or irrelevant, and I just want to figure out what God's got to say about it all.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

what do i want?

As children we're taught the difference between "wants" and "needs." As we grow up, I think the line gets blurry as more things come within reach. The devil uses temptation to use the whole category of "things we don't have" against us.

First, it substitutes natural things we want with pleasurable things we can get. We all are designed to seek love and relationships, but temptation tells me I can have lust and fantasy, and I can have it now.

Second, it increases the amount of things we want. It says, "What you have is not enough. Look at everything else available! You want love? You can also have pleasure, and success, and money, and fun, and excitement..."

Third, it decreases the size of the world (and God) which confuses what it is we wanted in the first place. When I succumb to temptation, my world revolves around me and I am so focused on me that I forget that my original need was to love and be loved.

To these three things, I imagine God would say: I know all that you want and all that you need. What you have is enough, so trust me. I love you and I will provide for you. What you really desire is me, so you can have me. In fact, I've sent my only Son for you and I will never leave you.

Lord,
Let me see life through your eyes.
Help my neediness and discontent,
Reveal your truth and your way of life.
Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ceramics class

An art teacher gave his two classes very different assignments. The first class was to make the most perfect, beautiful ceramic vase, while the other was to make as many vases as possible. Quality vs. quantity. At the end of the week, the teacher reviewed everyone's efforts to find a shocking result. The second class, who had made dozens and dozens of vases, had also made the highest quality vases. The first spent the majority of their time carefully planning and preparing each vase and then studying and analyzing the results, but the second class, through trial and error, eventually found the right technique, the best plaster-t0-water ratio and proper baking time as they constructed vase after vase.

What's the lesson? I think there are many lessons in this story; it's one that I use often. Today for me, this story means that sometimes the best thing to do is chuck the vase you're so carefully crafting in the oven, crank a few out, and learn as you go. Failure is not the worst thing in the world. Never trying can be.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

tweet, tweet

So I just created a Twitter account; bpcrook is my name. I have been off the Facebook bandwagon for about a year now, and have enjoyed living clean, but I think it's time to bring some serious internet social networking back in my life.

It seems to me that you have to be a really compulsive, self-important, self-centered human being to be a good Twitter-er, so I'm pretty sure I'll be great at it. I've also added a gadget to this blog so you can follow me, direct message me, nudge me, and all sorts of sch-tweet stuff!

Monday, March 16, 2009

sleepless in seattle

Most Mondays I sleep late. Really late. After two full days of "weekend direction," I'm typically good for a solid ten to twelve hours of heaving snoozing. This morning however I woke up much earlier than usual (10am) to have coffee with a friend of mine. It wasn't anything special, but it did remind me that relationships happen in the margin.

For two people whose schedules couldn't conflict more perfectly, it's not always easy for us to find the time, and today was no exception. In fact, it sometimes takes small sacrifices to keep feeding our friendship, and I think that's why it's so easy for me to put off things like grabbing a cup of coffee. Small sacrifices are just that, they're tiny, bite sized, not a big deal.

If you want me to move a mountain, I'm there! But breakfast? Well, you know how I need that extra hour of sleep... Relationships happen in the margin. Even, or rather especially when it doesn't seem like much of a sacrifice, I need to be attentive to the opportunities I have to spend time with my friends and family.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

celebrations

Stopping to reflect is not one of my strong points. In fact, number one on my list of strengths according to "Strengths Finder 2.0" is Achiever. I wouldn't disagree with that assessment, and this played out very clearly yesterday afternoon.

I got distracted from reading on my day off and picked up a little thing called 'Tangoes' (a tangram game). Important to also note my third Strength Finder strength: Competition. I couldn't put the thing down! For hours I sat at the table doing puzzle after puzzle, and by the end of the day I had completed the whole deck, save for a handful of really difficult ones that were giving me a fit. After taking a break, I came back to tackle these remaining few. Within a minute or two, I finally figured out the last one! Triumph! Not exactly... My first thought was a negative one. "Now why was that so hard?" I said outloud.

Instead of celebrating the completion of a very challenging task, and one that I had enjoyed all afternoon, I criticized my own efforts. Let this be a lesson to me, and to all you task-oriented folk, to stop and celebrate the win. At the conclusion of things both big and small, it's healthy to pause and note a job well done.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

lucky

I'm staying at my aunt and uncle's house over the next few days to look after their dog, get the mail, etc. I wouldn't normally consider sojourning in Baltimore City a retreat, but for me, getting away from my usual surroundings and spending a little time in quiet will be nice. (I decided on giving up television, well watching TV alone, for Lent.)

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, for me it's been difficult to sit back and consider my past and its details. How many of my choices have been made without hesitating, without thinking twice? Hopefully the next few days will be filled with margin for me, and I'll be able to get a better idea of what my story looks, sounds, and feels like.

Tonight, I just thank God for his goodness and grace that allows me to feel safe and secure and for the freedom to think about these things.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

story time

I started a book today about how to become familiar with your "story." That is knowing your past and it's characters, scenes, settings, events, and so on that make up precisely who you are. Your life is your story.

It's kinda hard to think of our experiences as something that could be read like a novel, but I buy into it because I think there's value in knowing where you come from. Hear me out for a second:

When you read a book, you're able to learn more about the characters than the characters themselves. An onlooker can see when exactly the protagonist went wrong, where the crisis could have been avoided, and how the plot is likely to unfold. Consider that we are the protagonists of our own lives. How difficult it is to observe our own story while we are in the midst of living it.

This is some pretty heavy stuff... that is if you have the desire to look at your life as a type of living story. My one point for now is this--isn't it worthwhile to explore the details of my past so that I can have a better understanding of where exactly God is steering my life... my story? After all, he is the author.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

peanut gallery

Just figured out how to allow comments on my blog... Pretty fancy, I know.

You are all encouraged to let me know how I'm doing with this blogger thing, and more importantly share any of your thoughts and feelings on my posts.

accountability

Yesterday I talked about how well accountability works and how sometimes it's fun to see yourself grow. Today I'd like to share how it's not always so much fun.

Maybe you've experienced a time when you're trying really hard at something, and that 'something' is unnatural and uncomfortable and difficult, and maybe a little scary, but you're trying. Then after some time, you've been trying really hard to stay positive and continue pursuing your goal, and you start to get some results, and you feel like "Yeah, I'm really getting the hang of this. I can adversity and persevere!"

If you're with me, then great... Because that's where I was this afternoon. Then someone I'm accountable to came along and said, "You know, you've still got a lot of work to do." And that work is going to be hard and it's going to mean more suffering and more vulnerability, but you've got to do it if you want to get better results.

I read a blog entry a little while back that I think applies to today's experience for me. "Bad news will get you chewed out, but no news will get you fired." I felt like chewing somebody out for sure, but in the end, it's bad news like that which helps me grow... No news will ever help me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

first john

I'm reading the book of 1 John with some of the students I'm mentoring for confirmation this spring. This in itself speaks measures of how well accountability works, because I have little or no discipline and generally have a terrible time forming and breaking habits. Anyway, when I hear the same message from multiple sources in a short period of time, I stop to consider that God might be trying to get my attention.

In the last few days I've heard repeatedly that the love of others is something that overflows from us. Tom Corcoran said it today: it's as a reservoir that overflows with water because it has reached capacity and must flood in order to sustain. It jumped off the pages I read this evening, "While loving others comes from the overflow of loving ourselves" (Erwin McManus). And just now, "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

This is inspiriting language, but it's too easy for me to overlook one crucial detail. In order to overflow with love, I must first be filled with love. The only love that exists, exists because God loved first, and he loved so much that he created us. We are the fruit of God's boundless love, so we cannot love unless we too are full of love. So let us submit to his "perfect love" (verse 18) so that we may witness to it and that others may receive it as well.

How am I not letting God's love, and truth, into my life? What keeps me from his love that also keeps me from loving others?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

the precious present

I'm digging through some of my old CDs and uploading songs to my laptop. It's really wild how listening to most of these songs brings back so many vivid memories and events from my past, not to say all the feelings and emotions that I'm able to instantly recall as well. It's sort of like I've opened up some sort of musical time capsule.

I kept a journal in high school for a few months, and when I would reread my entries it would upset me. Maybe that's because I've always been hard on myself, maybe it's because high school was just a difficult time, or maybe it's because I was rarely happy with me, with being Brian.

Listening to these songs isn't painful or upsetting tonight. I'm able to look at how it was, how it changed, and how it is now with some acceptance. This post is starting to sound like a journal entry of its own, but if I have a point I think that it's this: all I have is right now. I'm free to agonize about the future and second-guess my past, but the only thing I really have is this moment. One benefit that comes with staying in the present is that it allows me to experience the presence of God. When I worry or regret I cannot say "yes" to God, but acknowledging God frees me from myself. Perfect love drives out fear.

Monday, March 2, 2009

man on fire

I read an article today about a man who is on fire for Christ. He's the pastor of a growing and somewhat controversial church in Seattle, WA. I'm choosing not to comment on the beliefs and theology of Mark Driscoll, but I hear his message and it's inspiring. He is uncompromising in his mission, and I'm listening because his mission is the same as mine... the Great Commission (check out Matthew 28:16-20).

Since the topic of evil has been on my mind of late, my thoughts keep coming back around to fear. The devil LOVES it when we're afraid, and he uses that fear to turn us away from God. How many different ways does fear manifest itself in my life? When I choose to argue and become resentful, or come up with reasons "why not," or declare "I need to pray about it"... are my motives always on target? Am I not just really afraid to be wrong sometimes, to take some risks, to act in faith?

Yeah, I am afraid. But I don't want to choose fear anymore. This world is not my eternal resting place. Jesus did not say, "I came to make you cozy," he came to save us and to send us out into the world. We are in this world but not of this world. My goal is to glorify God and to spread his glorious name! So enough with planning and careful stepping; bring on my Father's plan and his way of life. Rock my world!

Daddy,
I am broken;
help my unbelief.
Engulf my heart with your love,
and give me courage.
Amen.

Friday, February 27, 2009

ode

"Necessary but not sufficient," is a phrase used by Michelle Chan in Ode magazine last month to describe her own work to increase sustainability practices among major world banks. Check out the article if you'd like.

Reading this today got me thinking about how much of what I do in life is necessary but not sufficient. If my life's ambition is to honor and please God, how many of my actions are vital but inadequate?

Then I thought, in a way, all of my efforts (prayer, ministry, worship, relationship, discipleship, etc) fall into that category. Nothing within me is perfect, and I cannot produce anything perfect. All my time and energy spent pleasing God is necessary but never is it sufficient.

Knowing this does not depress me though, because I know that God is gracious. He offers an endless supply of grace for my journey, and mercy when I fall short. It is only with God, that I am able to persevere. Many times I give into temptation, but knowing that what I had to offer was never enough, my efforts were always flawed, my actions could never earn God's love, I am able to press further into into him. I need to accept his grace to live a full life.

So Psalm 103 is my Ode today. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! How great is our God!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

i am dust...

It's my goal to read a little bit each day out of "The Practice of the Presence of God" as a part of my Lenten fast. Don't know what I'm giving up yet though... Lent is something that I look forward to, in a strange, creepy, dark sorta way. It's also followed by Easter which is my favorite time of year, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

It is said that every part of your day can become an act of worship. Cleaning, sleeping, driving, writing in a blog can all be God-honoring activities. For some reason I believe this (although I'm not sure how it's done), and I believe that God can speak to us, and we to him, throughout the day. I said I believe this, but it's more than that. I'm really curious, really eager to know what that's like because it sounds cool. I also don't believe that self-serving, pious, religious acts done for self-sanctification and holy preservation are the point of Christ's death and resurrection, so it's my goal that in this exercise I am able to listen more to the voice of God and the prompting of the Spirit... so that I can be a better servant to others.

"God is closer than you think." He is all around us, calling our names at the top of his heavenly lungs, stretching out to get our attention all the time, but we're too wrapped up in our "stuff" to hear what he has to say. Sometimes my "stuff" is good stuff distracting me from the best stuff, but sometimes I'm just up to no good. Either way, I've got to get better at reaching out to others.

In Michelangelo's "Creation" Adam sits lazily on some sort of recliner, while God the Father with all the hosts of angles at his side is making a beeline for him. God is making every effort, using all his strength to be with Adam, all Adam has to do is lift a finger. My prayer is to lift my finger more often knowing that God is trying to tell me something.

Monday, February 23, 2009

it's a (real) start

I tried to start writing a blog almost exactly one year ago today, and not surprisingly it sat in cyberspace with one lonely post (the one about how I was starting a blog...) until now. I've deleted that original masterpiece, and this is my effort of starting fresh.

Kathleen Leslie, a fellow staff member at Nativity (her blog), has just posted about "Old Kathleen" and it got me thinking about what "Old Brian" might sound like. Journeying back to February 23, 2008 would be a real hike and I don't have that kind of time. But I do want to take a minute to compare the two dates through the lens of our current message series.

Our pastor preached about feeling opposed in life and how striving to make personal improvements was like fighting in a battle. In February of last year I was doing all that I could do just to get by (financially, emotionally, spiritually) and it really did feel like a war. I was trying hard, really hard, setting goals, drawing limits, making promises, starting (but not finishing) books, and reflecting on my life. All the while I was only getting more and more tired and not having any success at all!

Comparing 2/23/08 and 2/23/09, there is one HUGE difference. I was alone. I was doing all those great things, the things that they list in self-help books, and plenty of not-so-great things, but I was on my own... I was isolated and trying to self-will some serious life change. Today, I'm not alone. I've got support, I've got family, I've got friends, (I've got a Small Group,) and all of that is true because I've come to recognize that I can't do it on my own. Last year I was opposed, and today I'm opposed; the difference maker is that today I've got an army ready for battle, and it feels great. I was never supposed to do this by myself, and honestly I never could... I'll still be opposed tomorrow, but together with you and with the grace of God I know it can get better.