January 26, 2012

The Root of My Sin

This past Sunday, preaching through Revelation 3, the issue of Repentance was front and center. The churches in Sardis and Laodicea were both in desperate need of waking up to their true condition and turning back to God. As a pastor, if Im' being honest, repentance is a whole lot easier to preach than it is to practice

The day before, I had just dug in to J.D. Greear's new book, "Gospel". It only took a few pages for me to know that these were words my soul needed to hear at this crossroad in my life. But somewhere near the end of Chapter 2 a painful realization began to take place. Greear shared that he had begun to investigate what recurring sins were present in his life. He started down his list: worry, anger, overworking & neglecting his family, depression, lying.... His list was very troubling to me. Not because of judgment. But because of identification. His list was my list. And that stung. But then we moved from the sting to the blow to the head (or maybe I should say, the heart). Greear began to humbly confess that, while these sins are exactly that - SIN - there was a deeper root to them. They were just symptoms of a much greater, deeper-rooted corruption. All these recurring rebellions were simply the ripple effect and byproduct of his need for people's approval. Listen to what he says:

"My problem is that my heart so craves the approval of others that these sins come as instinctively to me as breathing! I delight more in the approval of others than I do in the approval of God. I am an idolater. That is my depravity."

I sat there in my chair in the corner of my bedroom, broken. Exposed. Humiliated. And at the same time, somehow beautifully and wonderfully relieved! How could I not have seen this? How could it not have been crystal clear? I had spent so much time and energy trying to trim off the branches and snip the limbs of a diseased, dying tree rather than digging down to the root of it all, pulling it up, and carrying that filth out of my yard. No more! I'm not called to live this way. And neither are you. And if the tree keeps showing signs of rot, decay, or death, it might be time to check the roots.

I am so grateful for my church family. As I stood there this past Sunday, having to confess that the underlying root of most of the sin in my life is "the need for your approval and admiration", never did I feel condemned or isolated. I felt loved. Forgiven. Hopeful. Relishing the truth that "the Gospel shows me a God who is better than the approval of others and a God more valuable than their praise. The Gospel shows me that God's presence and approval are the greatest treasure in the universe." (Greear) I don't need their approval. Or yours. And my church family, they don't need mine. We are all in desperate need of God's approval. And in Christ Jesus, I am found righteous, purified, and redeemed. Approved! Thank You, Jesus!

Have you taken time to dig below the surface of your "sins"?
Is confession and repentance a regular part of your life and walk with Christ?

"God made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21

January 17, 2012

Read the Books You Read About In Books!

I like to read. When I was in school (and by "school", I mean at any institution where I was being told what to read) I was not a fan of reading. And by "not a fan" I mean I hated it. And by "hated" I mean loathed! You get the picture. But then, something magical happened. I graduated from seminary and it was like I had been set free from my nonfiction prison, ready to spread my wings and fly through the pages of my own choosing. (Any analogy where you get to be a bird-like person is a good one!) So for the last 13-14 years of my life, I've been a reader. I like to read.

Several years ago, I was reading a book from Louie Giglio. I kept noticing him referencing this A.W. Tozer guy. Then, not long after this, I was reading someone else's book. And they were quoting Tozer as well. Who is this Tozer fella? (That's what my country brain would have said.) It suddenly dawned on me that if these guys I genuinely respect, follow, and look to for advice in areas of spiritual maturity, guidance, and leadership are all quoting this guy, I should probably find out who he is. Find out what he's written. And read it! And so I did. And OMG! if this Tozer guy didn't rock my world! (And still does.)

This was not the only time this happened. This is how I discovered Dallas Willard, as well. I remember some of my friends (while we were in college) asking me, "Who is this C.S. Lewis guy?" After a mild scolding, I began to inundate them with the greatness of "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Mere Christianity". Only to later realize that I had only seen the iceberg above the surface when it came to Lewis's works: The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain...the list goes on.

Here's my point: If you're a reader, and you see an author (or moreover, authors) mentioning another author, investigate. When you repeatedly see names like Mark Noll and Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell and A.W. Tozer, there is probably something to that. Then when you read 3 authors in a single year referencing The Tipping Point, you'll know exactly what they're talking about. AND...you'll know exactly WHY they're referencing it. When you love, respect, and read a writer, and they make it a point to tell you who they are reading, pay attention. You might learn more than ever expected.

What writers or books have you discovered from other writers and books?

January 16, 2012

Planting the Gospel

When I arrived at The Brook almost 3 years ago, as I began praying about the vision the Lord was going to place on my life for our church, there were a few things that I knew for certain. One of those things was clear: I believed the Lord desires us to be a church that plants churches. I firmly felt the conviction that we were (and are) to be a community of believers who are always searching out how God desires us to expand, grow, and launch new works that expand His Kingdom. And sometimes the Lord will give you a vision - a clear picture of that preferable future - without filling in the details. That was definitely the case in this situation.

A year ago, our Youth Pastor, Josh Britt and I began talking more in-depth about this calling for our church. And Josh began filling in some of the details I referenced a moment ago. While I knew WHAT the Lord had ultimately called us to do, he was hearing from the Lord on HOW it would unfold. And over the last 2 months all our talking and praying began to gain serious traction. Josh (and his wife, Michelle) started seeing the Lord answer and affirm one question or uncertainty after another. It's truly been awesome to watch as God has made His calling clear to Josh and Michelle: the Lord is calling them to step out in faith and plant a church. We are so incredibly excited about what's ahead!

While many details are still being prayed over and discerned, there are some important things we do know:
  • Josh and Michelle will serve through February 2012, with Sunday, March 4th being their last official day at The Brook.
  • While our campus is located in the far NW corner of Madison, Josh has sensed a very specific leading to plant a church in far South Madison off of Zierdt Road - a 5 mile stretch with ONE church. And that's in the Bible Belt!
  • Friday night, February 10th, we will be hosting a Vision & Prayer gathering where Josh will be sharing several ways people can consider partnering with them in prayer, financially, or even in stepping out in faith and being part of this new work.
We are incredibly excited to continue to share more with you as the Lord continues to allow His plans and direction to unfold over the next weeks and months to come. We would covet and appreciate your prayers in a few specific areas:
  • For the Britts - that the Lord would continue to unleash His vision, wisdom, guidance, and provision on Josh, Michelle, and their boys during this season (&) that the Lord would surround them with the core of people He is calling to step out in faith with them.
  • For The Brook - as we not only walk with Josh and Michelle, partnering with them to plant the Gospel in our city and community, but also as we will soon begin the process of searching for the person God has planned to join our team to passionately reach, lead and disciple students.
"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? and how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'" (Romans 10:14-15) Our prayer is that we are always fertile soil - that our lives are constantly ready - to plant the Gospel - to bring His Kingdom - everywhere we go!

January 12, 2012

Down In Flames

I love counseling. And I don't mean I love to counsel people - although that's part of my calling as a Pastor, and I do enjoy it - to an extent, anyway. What I mean is, I love to receive it! [Proverbs 15:22 and 19:20 both teach us that seeking Godly counsel and advice from others is a great sign of wisdom.] I consider it a great privilege to be able to seek someone's advice - to pour out my heart to someone who's trained to listen - who can help me sift through the dirt to find that one little nugget of gold. I love counseling so much that I'm going tomorrow. My counselor, who's not only a LPC, but a retired Pastor, is named Mark. And last week as Mark and I were talking, he said something that got my attention. It was for all intents and purposes a warning. This is what he said:

"Brian, I know you've known people who've experienced burnout. Well, you're not there. In fact, I don't think you're even growing in that direction. But I do think - after listening to what you're telling me - that right now, you're tilling the soil and prepping fertile ground for burnout. Now is the time to stop that dead in it's tracks." (My paraphrase)

Needless to say, Mark was dead on in suggesting that I absolutely do know people who have not just burned out, they've gone down in flames like the Hindenburg! And that "tilling the soil" he spoke of - I've felt the tiller cranking up and beating the life out of the ground inside me at times, knocking my teeth together as it reverberated through every tip of my existence. He was right. And I was ready to hear whatever he was going to tell me that would begin to loosen my grip on the tiller. I do NOT want to go down in flames! And I'm pretty sure you don't either. That said, many of you physically go home at the end of every day. But mentally, you're still at the office. Your brain not only ignores closing time, it punches in for double-overtime! Some of us, our weekend is no longer about relaxing, unwinding, and refueling. It's more about further exhausting ourselves, refusing to believe that the train needs to pull over at any passing station. Like me, some - if not many - of you may not necessarily be going down in flames. But one of your engines is about to catch on fire. (You've seen one of those movies, right? You know what happens when Engine 1 goes out, don't you? Apparently Engine 2 is a total follower!) I want to encourage you: DO SOMETHING NOW! Take action. Get some objective advice. And allow me to grace you with a freebie.

After informing me of my "tilling the soil" issue, Mark asked me a question: "What do you do at the end of your Thursday?" (You see, Thursday is my Friday, Friday is my day off, Saturday is my Sabbath, and Sunday...I work.) So again, the question: "What do you do at the end of your Thursday?" I sat confused for a moment, looked at Mark, probably made a weird face, and told him, "I go home". And in all honesty, that's exactly what I do. I pack up and head home, ready for a great, relaxing, fun-filled weekend with my family. Except somehow, that's often NOT what I experience. Because so many times I find myself on Friday and Saturday thinking about Sunday and Monday. (Been there? I'm betting you have.) And this is where Mark gave me some really great advice about CLOSURE. Essentially he told me, "Brian, at the end of my Friday, I will clean off my desk, make a To-Do List for Monday, prep my calendar, make sure everything's in order, and I go home. And I've closed the day and week out knowing that work - the things that will await me on Monday - can wait for Monday." And like a sponge, I sat and let that soak in for a moment.

CLOSURE. Bringing a definitive and satisfying ending to something.

That's it. This week - my Sunday through Thursday - needs closure. It's over. It's a week. That's why God gave us weeks. He knew we weren't cut out to live in months. We can't sustain that. We're not wired that way. We'll go down in flames! And that's not in my long-term plan for my life. So beginning today - this cloudy, rain/sleet-filled Thursday - I will be laying a week to rest. It's over. I'm satisfied. And I have meetings to lead, a sermon to write, blogs to post, conversations to enjoy, and decisions to make next week. But they can wait. They can and they will.

What are you doing to avoid burnout?
What steps do you take to bring CLOSURE to your day or week?
Would love to hear your thoughts.

January 9, 2012

Theology Matters

Early last year I received an email from someone who'd visited our church. In the email they asked me a pretty loaded question: "My partner and I have visited a couple of times and are wondering if your church welcome homosexuals?" My response was probably not what they were wanting to hear, but it was the truth. I told the person: "Anyone is welcome at The Brook. Our desire is to share the love of Christ with everyone. That said, we firmly believe that part of that 'love' is boldly proclaiming His Word and holding firmly to the truth of scripture. And we believe that scripture clearly teaches that homosexuality is a sin. You will hear that taught and preached at The Brook, just like you will hear that adultery and lying and drunkenness and cheating on your taxes is sin as well." Again, I am fully aware that this is not the response they were looking for. But the reality is, this is not just an issue that arises with a person struggling (or settling) with homosexuality. In truth, an enormous percentage of nominal Christians want to simply say, "I'm not really concerned about theology and doctrine. I just love Jesus. Can't we all just agree on that?" And the very simple answer to that incredibly naive question is "No".

This issue resurfaced yesterday when someone who was visiting The Brook shared that they really liked it here - especially that their kids loved being in our Children's Ministry - BUT they were concerned that we might not see eye-to-eye on some doctrinal issues. Major Issues. Like creation and evolution. Issues that call the validity and integrity of Genesis - and ALL of scripture - into question. Apparently they had come from a church that held to a "loose interpretation of the biblical account of creation". (Not being part of this conversation, I'm not really sure where or when their red flag went up since I was preaching out of Revelation. But something alerted them to the fact that we might not be on the same page in some major areas of theology.) I'm seriously hoping and praying to be able to have a conversation with this person (couple or family) for a couple of reasons:

First off, I believe that while we may disagree on Day/Age Theory - that the first "day" wasn't a 24 hour day, but a period of time - that's one thing. But to start leaning - or in their case, having jumped off the cliff - into Theistic Evolution - that God created, but He chose to do it through evolution - puts us on 2 completely different sides of an enormous chasm. [To call the Creation account - that "God made man in His own image" - into question, calls ALL of scripture into question. Think about it: Did God come to earth as a monkey only to "evolve" into the "Son of Man"?] I hope to have an opportunity to explain to them why I believe their theology is incredibly dangerous.

And second, with all the love in my heart and with every ounce of compassion and grace the Lord gives me, I would encourage them that, if this is firmly the belief they hold to, we are definitely NOT the right church for them. Doctrine is that important. Theology is that vital! And that's what has shaken me to the point of needing to say this:

To hear "Christians" ignorantly say things like, "I'm just not concerned about theology" is not only alarming, it's frightening. We have to comprehend what's actually being said:
I'm a "child of God", but I don't really care about the "study of God". 
I'm a "child of God", but I really don't care about actually KNOWING Him.
I'm a Christ-follower, but just don't bother myself with understanding what it actually means or looks like to follow Christ.

Are we serious?

It doesn't work this way. It also doesn't hold water to say things like, "I don't really care much about the Old Testament. I mean, we're living in the New Covenant, right?" Uh, no. Actually yes, but no. To begin to understand that the Gospel is the whole message and story of the redemptive history of the God of all creation reconciling people back to Himself through His Son - and that the Old Testament is just as much a part of that story as the New Testament - we come to the conclusion that scripture - from Genesis to Revelation - are the life-giving, mind-transforming words of God. They are Truth. They are LIFE!

If you're looking for a church - for a new church home - a church "family" to belong to - doctrine and theology aren't important; they're essential!

And if you're a Christian - a follower of Jesus Christ - theology is not something that should trouble or bother you; it should CONSUME you! The opportunity to know and to understand the God of the Universe - to know Him more today than we did yesterday (as feeble and minuscule as our attempts may seem) - is a privilege we don't deserve. But we've been given this opportunity because of the Cross of Jesus Christ and because of the power of His Holy Spirit illuminating scripture, piercing our hearts, and transforming our minds.

Theology matters.

January 6, 2012

Throw A Curve In Your Workout

I've been really encouraged this week hearing many of my friends talk about their excitement to start exercising, working out, and getting back in shape. And of course, I've enjoyed watching all the new faces migrate into the gym. Hopefully most of those folks will still be there next month. In light of all this, one thing I've noticed - especially this last week - is so many people who've leaped the biggest hurdle of them all - just getting there - only to evidently have no idea what to do now that they're there. Let me make this clear from the start: I am NOT a trainer, an exercise expert, or anything more than a recreational athlete, BUT...exercise is an almost-daily part of my life, I've spent the last 10 years getting in better shape, and I consider running and weight-lifting to be 2 of my favorite things to do. So, with that, I want to share some tips for anyone who might be diving into a workout routine for the first time (or) even diving back into it after some time off (or) just looking for a way to shake things up and bust out of the routine. Here we go.

First off, when you go to the gym, have a plan. I see so many people that walk in, wander around, and barely break a sweat over 45 minutes. If you're going in the morning, map out or decide WHAT you're going to do before you even go to sleep. Take a flash card if necessary. Have a plan!

Another thing to take into consideration is that if after 15 minutes - regardless of what you're doing - if you haven't broken a sweat, it's time to pick it up! I don't know how people who walk 2.2 mph on the treadmill think they're burning fat. If their goal is to make sure their legs aren't dead, then maybe they're successful. But if you're there to burn fat, build muscle, and pump your heart, you better be bringing a towel with you.

After you've been working out and exercising awhile your body stops being fooled - your muscles get used to what you're doing - and it needs to be tricked. Throw a curve in your workout. Swim laps, go to Spin Class, take Zumba (but don't expect me to be there). Shake things up! One thing I love to do at least once every 3 weeks is circuit training. If you're not familiar, here's a page-full of examples on LIVESTRONG. Basically, it's moving from one exercise to another, spending about 3-5 minutes on each one. For me, I'll usually do something like this:
Stretch/warm-up - 5 minutes
Treadmill - 1 min/walk, 2 min/medium, 1 min/fast, 1 min/walk
Abs - 4 min
Stationary Bike - (repeat Treadmill routine)
Weight station - 4-5 minutes [Example: mix up 2 different dumbbell routines]
Arc Trainer - (repeat Treadmill routine)
Leg Press - 4-5 minutes [pyramid down]
Start Over at Treadmill, repeating whole "circuit" 2-3 times.

If at this point I'm not throwing anything new out at you, here are some other simple ways to amp up your time in the gym:

- Put your water bottle on the far side of the gym so you have to walk to get to it
- Regardless what you're doing, every 5 minutes run in place for 30 seconds
- Pick someone out at the gym in a little bit better shape than you and determine to do everything harder & faster than they do (Keep this to yourself!)
- Set goals - REAL goals - and reward yourself for achieving them
- If you're addicted to your iPhone or Blackberry, leave it in the car! No one else in the gym wants to hear your incredibly important conversation (&) that smartphone - in the gym - is just making you look dumb.
- Buy some new workout clothes or shoes. First off, it can be a self-motivator. But also, there's a chance your old workout clothes stink.

Here's the bottom line to it all: DO SOMETHING! 
You owe it to yourself - and to those who love you - to take this body that the Lord has given you and do something! Have fun! Your couch can massage your butt for hours and yet, it won't get it in shape. DO SOMETHING! Break a sweat. Get your heart rate up. Take care of yourself.

What ideas did I leave out?
Would love to hear your thoughts. Inspire and motivate us!

January 4, 2012

WHY...All Over Again.

This is a guest post from Karen Walther, our Preschool Minister at The Brook.

On Sunday Brian spoke about the question, "Why?" Why do we do the things we do? So many times I catch myself going through my day on auto-pilot, doing things a certain way just because that is the way I have always done them. I have caught myself parenting the same way. I tend to have the same schedule with my children every day. I ask them the same questions each day, "Do you want peanut butter and jelly or turkey on your sandwich? Do you want milk or juice?" I don't even think about it anymore. Heck, sometimes I don't even ask!

What I once put great thought into when they were little, I let pass me by without a glimpse. Do you remember when your child was young and all your decisions about this little one were firsts? I really thought about them. When do I put her to bed? Why that time as opposed to the time my girlfriends put theirs to bed? How should I discipline her for the first time? How will this impact the way she sees things? How do I talk about God with her? What do I let her watch on TV? Do I even let her watch TV? I mean, I thought through EVERYTHING. Now…not so much. Why?

This year I will begin asking myself WHY all over again. Why do we do homework right when we get home from school? Why don't I sit down with my kids more often? Why do I discipline them the way I do? And after that I will ask my Heavenly Father to help me discover the reasons WHY and if they aren't good enough…then I'll be asking where I go from there. 

What are you asking yourself this year?

January 3, 2012

Start With Why

At the recommendation of a friend, I started reading a book recently called, "Start With Why", by Simon Sinek. While the book is intended to help leaders inspire and motivate, rather than deceive and manipulate, it's also just a simple, straight-forward idea: So much of WHAT we do and HOW we do it ultimately fails or fizzles out because we don't start with the most important question of them all: WHY? 

[I hit on this subject a couple of weeks ago in a post called "Early Resolve".] 
Let me give you an example.

If I told you, "I need to work out more" - and you kindly inquired as to "Why?" - and I proceeded to tell you that 1) I really want abs like Brad Pitt's and 2) my favorite jeans don't fit so well anymore - while those might be honest answers, they really aren't going to sustain me or ultimately inspire or motivate me. But if I told you, "I need to work out more" - and you asked me "Why?" - and I told you that my doctor said I needed to lose 6-10 pounds, exercise at least 4-5 times a week, and make some drastic changes to my diet so that my family's heart, cholesterol, and blood pressure history didn't sneak up on me - so that I could be here to watch my kids grow up - you would probably guess that this WHY is going to sustain and motivate and inspire me a whole lot longer than my Brad Pitt poster. (Not that I have a Brad Pitt poster. Anymore.) You see, it all has to start with WHY!

WHY = The purpose, cause, or belief that determines the WHAT.

This was the New Year's Challenge I gave this past Sunday in my sermon. If you'd like to check out the podcast, you can listen or download it HERE

Are you starting a new diet? Please make sure & determine WHY first.
Joining a new gym? Better get your motivation straight.
Need to be reminded of WHY you should daily be walking with Christ - WHY you should be seeking and pursuing Him? Check out these scriptures:
2 Peter 1:3-11
2 Corinthians 13:5
Matthew 13:18-22