June 19, 2014

Are We Parenting Our Smartphones?

This morning I stopped at Sonic for a breakfast burrito. When I pulled up I saw a dad and his little daughter (I'm guessing she was about 6) at the stand-up order booth by the tables. They placed their order, sat down at a table, and then - like clockwork - dad pullled out his cell phone. I sat there in my Jeep watching this little girl work harder than an army of ants trying to carry a ham - trying with every fiber of her being to get her dad's attention. And as far as he was concerned, he was giving it to her. Heck, he brought her to Sonic. 

What more could she want?

Allow me to answer that question.

She wants her dad's attention.

She wants her daddy to ask her, "What's your favorite color today?" (because you know that changes about every 3 days when you're 6).

She wants her daddy to tell her, "That dress is amazing! Obviously only a princess could wear that dress."

She wants her daddy to play "I Spy". (Like 38 times)

She wants her daddy to share whatever it is that he ordered.

She wants her daddy to comment on her hair and ask her questions and tell her about what he would do with his dad when he was 6.

I sat and watched this in great frustration, not jugdment. I've been that parent before. I've been guilty of it just like he was. Maybe just like you've been. 

I've been deceived into thinking that physically being there automatically meant I was present. I was wrong. I might as well have been absent.

I watched that little girl stare at her daddy, then stare at his phone, all the while making little 6-year old mental notes. Those notes say things like:
"When I grow up, I'm going to look at my cell phone 24-7."

They're not only missing us being there because we're not fully present or engaged; they're also watching us, learning what it looks like to be less than present and living a life somewhere else rather than where we are - giving more attention to people who AREN'T there than people who ARE.

We get one shot at this. 

These opportunities are slipping through our hands like sand. I'm not called to raise or disciple my smartphone. I'm not called to respond to email every 10 minutes. Facebook and Twitter (and everyone on it) can live without me and you for awhile. Our kids can't. They need us. They need us right now!

Let's take intentional steps today to show them that we're here & we're present.
Let's show them what it looks like to love someone by putting them first.

Read John 10:10.
Ask yourself: Would the Good Shepherd tend to the cell phone...or the sheep?

June 16, 2014

Saving Your Marriage Starts HERE

Need help with your marriage?

Don't start with "5 Love Languages".

Don't go through "Love & Respect".

Stop looking for the latest book, study, or conference to fix things. Don't spend another minute trying to treat the symptoms when you can go to war against the disease itself. 

Allow me to give you some potentially life-changing advice.

Saving Your Marriage Starts HERE:

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, anyaffection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:1-11)

If you want your marriage to heal, you have to humble yourself.

If you want what's broken to be restored, you have to start with you.

If you want to lead your home (husband) like Jesus calls you to lead your home and like He modeled for you to lead, then you have to DIE to yourself.

If you want your home, your marriage, your spouse, and your family to be filled, you have to empty yourself.

Forgiveness is not possible without humility.

Restoration is not possible without humility.

Grace and mercy are not accessible without humility.

Salvation would not be available without humility.

Jesus chose humility. This must be our choice as well.

The first "love language" you need to speak is called DIE TO SELF.

Some of you have forgotten why you started fighting in the first place. You're now just consumed with winning - with the false fantasy of one day being crowned the "winner" of a perpetual, sin-born, death-ridden argument that no one even remembers anymore. 

You're drowning in entitlement. 

You're faking it in front of everyone and yet, everyone knows you're faking it. 

You've literally sacrificed authenticity at the altar of appearances. 

There is only one place to begin:


Seek the Lord. Humble yourself. Die to your rights. Forgive your spouse. Save your family. Seek accountability. Confess your garbage. Allow someone to walk with you and speak truth into your life and your marriage.

Husband, love your wife as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her.

"Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same."

Philippians 2:1-11
Ephesians 5:15-33

May 24, 2014

Believing & Expecting

This is a follow-up to the post on Thursday, The Prayers of the Righteous.

Jesus spoke often about believing. He said, "I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Obviously, Jesus is not saying, "Just ask willy nilly - whatever you want - God will give it!" The Creator and Sustainer of the universe is not a genie. Jesus is talking about our hearts lining up with the heart of God. But he is also talking about having the faith to believe that God not only hears us, but wants to give us our hearts desire WHEN our hearts line up with his will. We must believe. This is faith.

I believe that for most of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, when we pray, we believe. We know that God "owns the cattle on a thousand hills", so we also trust that (as Paul said) He will "supply all our needs according to his riches". And when we cry out to him to bring healing to a little boy who is on the verge of death, because we know he is the Great Physician - because Jesus healed the lame, the blind, the deaf, and the leper - and he in fact called 4-days dead Lazarus out the grave - we BELIEVE that he can heal. We don't doubt for a second that he is capable. That he is able. We believe.

But do we EXPECT?

Think on this for a moment. 

Do we expect God to do what we're asking him to do? To provide the miracle?

There's a great story in Acts 12 about Peter being arrested and imprisoned. As an angel came and rescued Peter from prison, it wasn't until he was at the city gate that he came to and realized he wasn't dreaming. He then said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me..." At that, he went to John Mark's house where "many were gathered together and praying." He knocked on the door. A servant girl named Rhoda answered. She was so excited that she ran to tell everyone and forgot to open the gate for Peter. But when she reported to everyone that "Peter was at the gate" - when she told all the people who were undoubtedly praying for Peter's protection, strength, and presumably, even his rescue - they said to her, "You are out of your mind!"

She kept telling them. They told her she was crazy.

Of course, they eventually realize that Rhoda was NOT crazy and that yes, in fact, Peter was rescued and standing at the gate. 

They may have been praying and believing, but they were not praying and expecting.

I wonder, how often do we do this?

And I wonder why we do this.

Do we not expect because we don't want to be let down?

Have we asked before and the answer was "No", and we don't want to have to hear "No" again?

Or maybe we don't want to look or feel silly, like we were duped or fooled.

In Habakkuk 2:1, the prophet says, "I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint." Habukkuk not only believed that the Lord could answer him; he believed that he would. He was going to stand watch and wait patiently, believing that God was going to respond.

Jesus told the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount to "keep seeking, keep asking, and keep knocking."

How much does it change things to move from simply believing to expecting?

What do you think?

May 22, 2014

The Prayers of the Righteous

As you may know, this past week a little boy in our church family (who's also part of my missional community) almost lost his life to viral meningitis. I was in the room Monday morning when the doctor (after much prodding from an exhausted father) finally gave the very grim and seemingly hopeless diagnosis: "The swelling on the left side of his brain has increased. We see no activity. And we believe the virus is spreading to the right side of his brain. The next 24 hours are crucial. If the swelling doesn't go down...I don't think he will survive this."

At this point, my friend laid over his son's body and wept. 
All that Chad and I could do was lay over Jamin and weep with him.
We wept and prayed.

For 24 hours, from Monday to Tuesday, I prayed. I asked everyone I could think of to pray. So many people prayed. Thousands of people all over the world were praying. And honestly, I don't believe I've prayed more consistently, constantly, fervently, and desperately since my Dad's accident 10 years ago. On Tuesday morning, our staff at The Brook spent our entire time together praying, asking God to do a miracle that only He could perform or provide. I saw and heard these sweet friends I lead and serve with pray with openness and brokenness that I am certain had the attention of God. We cried out, we claimed promises, and we begged the Great Physician to bring merciful healing to Ryker's brain and body, and for swelling to go down and for this vicious virus to be eradicated from him. We know that many others were praying along with us, wherever they were. The people of God were crying out for the Father to miraculously intervene. This was literally all we could do.

In retrospect, I believe that after the most gut-wrenching 24 hours I have lived in years, I said "Amen" for the first time around 11:00 on Tuesday morning.

And at 12:15, sitting in my children's school program, I received this text message from our Youth Pastor:
Great news! Swelling seems to be going down. His body is fighting the infection. Seems to be activity on left side of his brain.

I almost let out a scream and burst into tears all at once. I could hardly contain myself. God had done what we begged Him to do. All I could do was follow the example of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2, when her sorrow turned to praise. Only God could move, work, provide, and heal. And He did.

Over the last 48 hours, as I've reflected on all of this and continued to pray, asking God for complete healing in Ryker's life, many things have come to mind that I believe are worth us reflecting on, conversing about, and considering. Over the next week, I'd like to try and separate them out and have a conversation. Most of my thoughts, questions, and impressions have to do with PRAYER. How we pray. Why we pray. How much or often we pray. Do more people praying for one thing make a difference? If so, how many more? Do we really have any idea what it means to "labor" in prayer? Lots of thoughts. Lots of questions. I would love for you to join me in this conversation.

To begin with, one of the verses that has been incredibly prevalent in my life over the last years, and was claimed and held onto tightly this week, is James 5:16. It says, "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." Let's resolve something about this verse. First off, those of us who are "in Christ" are the righteous, but only because Jesus IS our righteousness. And because of the saving work of Christ on the cross and His shed blood, we can now go directly to the Father. We don't need a mediator. We have one. His name is Jesus. (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 4:14-16)

So here's what I'm wrestling with:
If the "prayer of a righteous person has great power" - if the prayer of ONE righteous person is effective for interceding on behalf of someone else - then are the prayers of MORE THAN ONE righteous persons even more effective?

I remember when my Dad had his accident and was in a coma. At the beginning, during the first weeks, we knew that thousands of people were praying. But as weeks (and especially months) went on, and Dad's condition slowly improved, my Mom began to worry that people were going to stop praying. This might sound ridiculous, but I wondered: If the amount of people praying drops below 1000 - maybe dips down to 739 - does an alarm go off in heaven and God inform the angels and heavenly hosts, "Pay less attention to Jerry! We'll teach those 221 lazy, apathetic children to keep praying!" Again, I know that sounds absurd, but that's precisely why I ask. 

What if ONE PERSON had been on their knees, desperately crying out, interceding, weeping, and begging God to move on behalf of Ryker? 
Would God have been listening? Is one enough?

What if you were the ONE? Would your prayers be heard?
What does James 5:13-20 tell us about this?

I think this is worth our prayerful consideration. It's worth talking about.
What do you think?

May 13, 2014

Seize Every Moment

This past Sunday was Mother's Day. What we once called "Baby Dedication" we now call "Parent/Child Dedication" at The Brook. As we had several families on our platform, they were there not so much for some supernatural blessing over their child(ren), but to say as parents to our church family: "I'm standing here before you to prayerfully commit to take every moment captive that the Lord gives me to lead these precious ones to Jesus!" And as a church, it's our opportunity to prayerfully come alongside them and say, "We're here to walk with you."

In conjunction with Parent/Child Dedication, we showed a brief video in our services telling some of the story of how God has worked in the life of one of our families (who also happen to be some of my close friends) to open their home and their lives to foster children. We wanted to tell this story first of all because it's a powerful and beautiful picture of sacrificial love, but we also wanted to share it because it illuminates the reality that none of us know how long we have to shape, mold, influence, and disciple these little lives God places in our care. My friend Stephanie shared that the hardest part of fostering is when the child is taken out of your home - when they leave. Going in, you hardly ever know when or how that will take place. And the thing is, even though almost all of us who have children of our own are lulled to sleep with this false sense of security that we actually have control over things like that, the reality is that none of us have any idea how long we'll have this opportunity. We aren't promised tomorrow. Neither are our children. As parents - biological, foster, adoptive, whatever the case may be - we must seize every moment to lead them to Jesus.

When I uttered these words, I didn't tell God that I needed an example.

I wasn't attempting to proclaim prophecy, but simply state the truth.

But sadly, yesterday, one day after making that statement, it unfolded right in the middle of our lives.

The Brown's are part of our school family at PCS. They have 4 biological children and 2 adopted from the DR. Yesterday afternoon, on the way to pickup their 2 adopted kids, the mom and all 4 other children were in a horrible car accident, as their Suburban was broadsided by an 18-wheeler, causing it to roll over. The mother and 3 year old are going to be OK. Their 8 & 9 year old daughters are both still in critical condition fighting for their lives. [Please pray for Sarah & Rebecca - for the almighty, healing power and presence of God to fall on their little lives and do a miracle that will bring Him glory.] And it breaks my heart to write these words, but their 5 year old son did not survive the accident. Even though I was not present when all of this took place, I can assure you that it happened in the blink of an eye.

When I heard this news yesterday I thought I was going to throw up. 
I thought my knees were going to buckle out from underneath me.
I felt that rush of sweat-filled anxiety come over me that feels like your soul is falling out.

I wept. 

I prayed.

I wept and pray some more.

When I went into my daughter's room yesterday afternoon to share this with her and my son, and to pray with them, I could barely hold myself together or get through the prayer.

We weren't made for this broken world. We were made for something greater.
When we read that "all creation is longing for redemption" - that everything God has made is longing for the world to be put back the way it should be - we only need these kinds of moments to remind us of why we truly, desperately long for "all things to be made new".

How many times do we need to be reminded to seize every moment?

How many times do we need to be reminded that the eternal perspective is the only one that gives us hope and peace?

Will I ever get to the place where I don't need the Lord to painfully remind me of how desperately I need Him - not just today, but in every moment and every breath?

I'm not promised tomorrow.
Neither is my wife.
Neither are my children.

Lord, give me the wisdom, strength, courage, and selflessness to desperately pursue you and to lead my children to do the same. Give me the wisdom to preach the Gospel to myself and to them daily - that my identity is not only found, but complete in who Jesus is and what He did on the cross. Empty me of the lure of the temporary and set my heart on fire for what's eternal. 

Lord, please help me to seize every moment that you give me.

Lord, pour out your mercy, grace, presence and power on this beautiful, young family. Show your power! Be glorified. Bring healing. Only you can.

May 8, 2014

Integrity Hates Excuses

For the 10 years I lived in Wichita I took care of my own yard. And when I say "took care" this is probably a gross understatement. I have friends that would say I was a bit obsessed with my lawn. One of my friends even called me the "Lawn Nazi". I would argue. But it's true. 

We moved into our house Memorial Day weekend of 1999. When I started talking about putting grass in, I was quickly scolded and reeducated by friends that NO, you cannot put fescue grass in at the beginning of summer. OK. Great. What am I going to do with this yard until fall? 

My home was the very last one built in the neighborhood. It was the only one without grass. Which makes it all the more painful when I tell you that I spent the entire summer raking, nurturing, prepping, and "taking care" of my big fat lawn of dirt. That's right. I spent an entire summer preparing that soil. And while I'm sure numerous neighbors drove by and had a good laugh at the guy standing out in the heat, raking his dirt, it all paid off eventually. I laid that fescue sod down in late September - rolled it, watered it, fed it, winterized it - and by the next fall I had the greenest, thickest, nicest yard around. And it stayed that way the entire 8 1/2 years I lived in that house.


5 years ago we moved to Madison. Here in North Alabama, most people have Bermuda grass in their yards. I knew (and still know) nothing about Bermuda grass except that I hate it. I have no idea how to care for it. It's only green 4 months out of the year. It's horrible. (It doesn't feel like grass under your feet; it feels like walking on pick-up sticks.) So I hired a yard company. (Not to mow my grass. I've got that covered. It's the fertilizing, winterizing, and weed killing I'm clueless about.) Actually, I hired them, then fired them. I then hired another company. And now, I'm about to fire them. Why? Because I have weeds.

Currently, at this moment in time, I'm paying someone for weeds.
This is unacceptable all by itself. But what makes it worse for me - and the real reason I'm firing this company - is because every time I complain about the weeds, they don't supply me with solutions or even apologies. All I get is excuses.

If you say you're going to supply something, then supply it with integrity.

If you fail to supply it, make it right with integrity.

You see, integrity hates excuses!

If you have enough people calling your product, your program, or your method into question, then - with integrity - try and recall why you started supplying the product in the first place. If you wanted to assist people in being proud of their lawn, then get back to that place. If you simply wanted to make money, then don't lose a minute of sleep wondering why you're being fired and having a blogpost written about you.

Friends, I really truly believe we've come to a place where integrity almost shocks people, as if we've forgotten what it looks like and can hardly recognize it anymore. 

So, if you want to shock people, one way to do it is to have integrity.
Be who you say you are.
Do what you say you're going to do.
Either that, or get fired and be replaced.

In closing, here's a bit of irony for you. The company whose products I used for 10 years to successfully take care of my own lawn is the same company I'm getting ready to fire for not taking care of my lawn.

Has someone shocked you with their integrity lately?
Would love to hear about it.
Let's tell the stories of those who are living it out!

April 22, 2014

Heaven (Was Already) For Real

This past weekend my wife and I went to see the new movie Heaven is for Real. If I'm being honest, I went to see it more for this purpose - to evaluate it, critique it, and share with those I lead and pastor how I believe they should interpret this story (and others like it) or if they should even give time and attention to them at all. So with that said, let me share with you my thoughts on multiple levels about Heaven is for Real.

First of all, this is a really good movie. Let me reiterate and repeat that. This is a really good MOVIE. It was compelling, entertaining, had a great cast (including one of my favorite actors, Greg Kinnear), and was very well produced. It's being marketed like a well-oiled Hollywood machine. People want to talk about and know about heaven. Authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers know this. Hollywood knows this. And this wasn't a "Christian" film (like Facing the Giants or Courageous), this was a Tri-Star/Sony film, written for the screen by Randall Wallace. That dude wrote Braveheart! How awesome is that!? So I felt I needed to begin by expressing my feelings that this is a really good movie. My wife subbed at least 2-3 napkins as Kleenex. (You can sub Kleenex for Stars. Ex: "That was a 3 Kleenex performance!")

Another positive element about this movie (and the book from which it was inspired) is that it is drawing attention to and creating renewed conversations about the fact that - just as the title expresses - heaven is most certainly for real. And while it's great that something might be sparking conversations about spiritual things, that doesn't always mean it's for the greater good. Allow me to now move into the things about this movie and "story" that concern me, alarm me, and cause me to feel the compulsion to warn others to be incredibly mindful and careful of.

Heaven is for Real is nothing new. In fact, it has to get at the back of a LONG line of books and stories just like it. There's 90 Minutes in Heaven, Waking Up in Heaven, My Time in Heaven, and To Heaven and Back. I haven't even gotten started. The list goes on and on and on. There are numerous accounts of what people claim are "trips" or "visits" to heaven - to the afterlife - to the place where scripture tells us God resides. One problem with this is that it goes against scripture - specific scriptures and orthodox theology. In Proverbs 30:4, Solomon asks the question, "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" The answer to that question is an emphatic "Nobody!" God is the only one who moves between heaven and earth. Jesus restated this to Nicodemus in John 3:13 in reference to himself. And while several biblical writers had visions of heaven (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John), they had only that: visions. They did not physically or tangibly "hang out" in heaven for awhile and then God said, "Well, you better head on back." Heaven is for Real treats what very well may have been visions as an actual visit to heaven. This is a distinction that cannot be taken lightly.

Another incredibly troubling element of the story shared by Colton Burpo is that his "trip" to heaven seems to be all about him. He sees family, sits on Jesus' lap, apparently even entertains some angels (who seem to laugh at his innocent question) because - I can only speculate - they're looking for a few good laughs, and catches a glimpse of the Holy Spirit, who we are informed is some shade of blue. While I can't even begin to speculate about any of this, I can tell you one thing that is very visibly absent from Colton's visit into the presence of the author of holiness: the Glory of God. If there is one resounding and recurring characteristic we are given in any biblical account of heaven, it's that everything finds its purpose and origin fixated on the glory of God. If we have even a fraction of a notion of what selflessness looks like here in this life, we still don't begin to understand how absent self-centeredness will be in heaven. Our concept of God-centered doesn't even start to inch down the path. So while this emotionally-compelling and heart-warming story gives credence to the afterlife, it is void of the most powerful element we are given in scripture of what heaven will be: all about God!

Something else to consider in our quest for wanting to know more about heaven is that, while most of the encounters shared in our day come from people having "near death experiences" (which is actually not what Connor Burpo claims), those who were actually raised from the dead in scripture gave NO account of what they saw. When Elisha raised the Shunammite boy from the dead (2 Kings 4)? Nothing. When Jesus raised Jairus' daughter (Luke 8)? Zero. And Lazarus? He was dead for 4 days! When Jesus called him out of the tomb (John 11), all we know is that they immediately got him out of those stinky grave clothes. We hear nothing of any accounts of his 4 Days in Heaven. (Much less 90). I don't say this to be cold or crass, but to reemphasize that what maybe God has allowed someone to see in a "vision" cannot be automatically assumed to be a "visit". Big difference. My father, when he was in a coma for 5 weeks, later told us that he kept walking along this beautiful, immensly tall iron fence. The grass was the greenest he'd ever seen. And at least 3 times he remembers someone coming to the fence from the other side and saying, "Jerry, we're not ready for you yet." (Let me just be honest and confess that the first time he shared this with us, without hesitation or thought, I just blurted out, "Holy crap!") Do I think my dad was lying or making this up? Absolutely not. But do I think this means he visited heaven and they told him, "Sorry Jerry, you're number hasn't been called yet." No.

And the last thing I would encourage you to prayerfully consider in light of this issue is this: What does the story of a 4-year old boy validate about heaven that scripture hasn't told us? Furthermore, is there anything about the story of a 4-year old boy that conflicts with what the scriptures have already told us? If the Word of God - if the testimonies of Old Testament prophets, one of the 12 disciples, and the writer of half the New Testament - are not enough for us, but the testimony of a toddler finally bring the missing piece we need to have the faith to believe, what does this say about our view of the scriptures? I'm not going to tell you, "By no means should you read these books or believe anything about these peoples stories." I believe some of them genuinely saw what they saw they saw. But I don't need anyone to see anything of any sort that will give me greater cause to believe in heaven outside of what has already been made known to us in the scriptures. As I preached this last week on Easter, we know that heaven is for real because resurrection is for real. We know that because Jesus rose from the dead, when our lives are "hidden in him", we have victory over sin and death as well. 
(Romans 6:1-14, 1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 1:17-18).

Yes, heaven is for real. Jesus defeated death when he walked out of the grave.
But death was just the symptom or result.
SIN gave birth to death. And Jesus defeated sin when he died on the Cross.
The Shepherd became one of the sheep and gave his life for them, that they might have true life. Right here. Right now. 

"Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." Revelation 1:17-18

"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26

April 11, 2014

Simple Ways to Serve

[We sent out an email to our church family this morning. I thought it was worth posting here.]

One of our Core Values here at The Brook is Servant Leadership. We believe that "Actions speak louder than words." We'd like to share with you some simple ways to serve as part of the family of God.

Last year we introduced a simple mantra to you to encourage you to make Sundays about others - to think about others first. It's short, sweet, and straight to the point:
Come early. Park far. Sit close. Here's a reminder of WHY this is such a simple, yet powerful way to serve others. We come early because we want to be there in time to greet other people, especially our guests who may be there for the first time. We park far so that there's always a parking space closer for the person or family that may be new, have a pregnant mother, or even just bad knees. And we sit close so that friends or families - particularly guests - who arrive late can come in and easily find a seat. Please understand, while Easter approaching is a motivator for us ask you to consider this, our intent is not for this to be a repititious seasonal swing, but an adopted mindset and way of life. This is a small thing that can make a HUGE impact every single week. Would you pray about making this a part of your Sundays? We promise, in a very short time you will be blessed by what God does through your putting others first.

You may have noticed we said "Simple Ways to Serve", as in plural. Well, here's another one. About once a year we begin to see our 10:45 service quickly expand to the point of being full. It's a great thing! But it also brings with it a dilemma: We begin to run out of room. Let us share with you a simple way you can make a significant impact. If you come to the 10:45 service simply out of convenience, would you pray about moving to the 9:00 service? We have people who serve at 9:00 who have no choice but to come to the 10:45 service. There are families with 5th & 6th Graders who come to The Bridge at 10:45. Some people, couples, and families have no choice on Sundays for corporate worship but the late service. Convenience has no part in their decision. If that's not you, we'd like to share with you some of the Top Reasons to Attend the 9:00 Service:
  • The coffee is FRESH! Juan Valdez has just finished grinding it around 8:30, putting it in the roaster, and brewing it up. It's amazing! (So we hear.)
  • You have more of your day ahead of you to play, relax, or even frolic. If you're into frolicking. If you haven't frolicked in awhile, this would be your chance.
  • Not only could you be the first one to eat lunch, you could be the last one to eat brunch! Who ever gets to enjoy brunch these days? 
  • Have small children? Well, more than likely you're awake anyway. You've probably been awake for several hours in fact. Go ahead and pack up the family and come on!
  • And last but certainly not least, you will make a difference! 
Would you pray about how the Lord wants Servant Leadership to come shining through in your life? Would you prayerfully consider making a small change on Sundays that can make a HUGE impact on someone else's life? Make a decision to make a difference!
Come early. Park far. Sit close.
Consider the 9:00 worship service.
These are some seriously simple ways to serve!

April 10, 2014

Core Values

During 2013, our staff and elders at The Brook spent the entire year working on Vision Clarity. (We were blessed to be able to work with Bryan Rose from Auxano. Any pastor, staff, or church that desires to be lifted out of the fog would greatly benefit from time with Auxano.) Beginning with our Mission, we worked diligently to make sure our values and our vision were not only in sync, but were clear to us so we could clearly communicate them to anyone and everyone else. People not only need to know WHAT, but WHY and HOW. As a result of many months of prayer and hard work, we had the incredible experience of seeing our core values come to life. These are the motive behind our mission - "shared convictions that guide our decisions and reveal our strengths". Your core values should always be able to bring you back to the question, "Why?" 

WHY do we choose to do this the way we do it?

WHY do we forgo these specific programs, even if everyone else embraces them?

WHY will we go to battle for this...but not for that?

Beginning in February we walked through a six-week sermon series called Rooted :: The Foundation of Who We Are, taking an in-depth look at these values. These biblical principles are the catalyst and motivator that drives our church. They always bring us back to the question, "Why?"

Here's a look at our Core Values:

Authentic Worship - Worship is a way of life

Audacious Faith - Our vision goes beyond our resources

Disciple Making - Imitate me as I imitate Christ

Generous Giving - We are blessed to be a blessing

Intentional Living - No relationship happens on accident

Servant Leading - Actions speak louder than words

When we plan our corporate worship gatherings, are we encouraging and equipping our people for those times to be an overflow and an outpouring of praise to God for what He's done and is doing in and through our lives, or is it just a weekly routine meeting where we simply get "filled"?

When we ask God for vision for our church, our ministries, our missional communities - and we better be asking Him for vision - is it birthed from, thought up, and prayed for through the lens of our own limitations, or through the knowledge that we serve the God of the Universe, the giver of ALL good things, supplier of all needs, and rightful owner of everything? 

When we talk about missional community here at The Brook, it's not our end goal. Making disciples is what sits at the center of the target. Speaking of audacious, can you believe that Apostle Paul, telling the Corinthians, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ?" Well actually, you and I are called to that same audacity as Christ-followers. This was Jesus' directive and command, to "go and make disciples", not "go find a church with some great preaching."

When God set up the tithe it wasn't so that we would always have the easy math of finding 10%. It was a starting point. It was to teach us how to begin "giving back" to the One who gave it to us in the first place. We don't give out of obligation, but out of gratitude and generosity. 

When we live like Jesus, our lives will be interruptible. We live every day on purpose and on mission for the Gospel. This won't happen on accident.

When we lead, we remember that Jesus showed us how to do this by getting on his knees, wrapping a towel around his waist, and washing his disciples feet. 

You see, we can always - and should often - come back and check our motives.
This gives us freedom to say "No" to certain things. Sometimes even good things.
As you seek the Lord's guidance and He unfolds the values and principles that guide WHO you are, WHAT you do, and HOW you do it, you find yourself walking in great freedom to do just that; be who He's called you to be.

Simon Sinek's awesome book "Start With Why" wasn't a new idea. That's a Jesus idea. 
And it's not just a great idea for a church or business. It applies to your life and your family, as well. 

If you belong to our church family at The Brook, I encourage you to begin to press into these values and examine your day, your schedule, your habits, and your whole life through them. Always come back to the question, "Why?"

If you belong to another church family, what values drive your congregation?

If you don't belong to a church at all, I guess I would ask you the same, simple question: Why?

April 3, 2014

The Worst Kind of Miscommunication

Miscommunication, how I loathe thee. Let me count the ways!

Miscommunication fractures relationships.

Miscommunication deflates culture.

Miscommunication kills momentum.

Miscommunication breeds mediocrity.

Miscommunication compromises standards and settles for less.

The list goes on. The reasons are countless. The verdict remains.

I HATE miscommunication.

And there's one kind of miscommunication I hate more than any other. There's one type of miscommunication that makes me lose sleep, grit my teeth, and can even raise my blood pressure. The kind of miscommunication that turns my stomach and chaps my hide more than any other is...


When I realize I haven't communicated effectively...

When I realize I haven't communicated thoroughly...

When I realize I have left expectations floating out in the wind...

When I realize I haven't reiterated enough...

When I realize I have miscommunicated...it frustrates me to the core. But then I have a choice to make. You can either allow your miscommunication to paralyze you OR you can allow it to motivate you.

When you allow it to paralyze you, you allow yourself to begin thinking of all the other people or circumstances to blame for it. When you let it cripple you, you become consumed with how to cover it up rather than expose it so that it doesn't happen again. When you let it consume you, you're actually making a choice to continue miscommunicating. You're saying, "My failure defines me."

But when you let it motivate you, you take steps to correct it. You refuse to not come up with a plan to defeat it at all costs moving forward. When you let it motivate you, it also reminds you to graciously prepare for the inevitable times when someone will miscommunicate with you. They have. They will. How will you respond to it?

So, do you have a plan to defeat it at all costs moving forward? That plan could sound something like:

  • Ask the person to repeat back to me what I told them
  • Send a follow up email to make sure expectations are clear
  • Personally call each person and ask them if they have any questions
  • Invite each member of the group to provide me with feedback
Will you join me in the battle of bringing down miscommunication?

Will you do the work of reiterating, following up, and following through?

What one thing can you do right now to better communicate?

Let's graciously help each other out with this.

April 2, 2014

2 Places At 1 Time

"I can't be two places at the same time!"

Have you said these words before? You probably have. If you're a parent, then you definitely have. But all of us at some point have felt there were demands on us that were unreasonable, like too many people were expecting us to be too many places at once. Or the same people wanting us to accomplish more at one time than should be expected of a human being. And regardless of what Einstein proposed or some loon in a quantum physics labs says, you can only be fully present right here, right now.

So this begs the question: Why aren't we?

I know full well that I can't physically get my son to baseball practice and check my stocks at the same time. But wait a second. Yes I can! (Like I'm a guy who "checks my stocks"!)

You know that you can't finish writing that email while you're also trying to carry on that business lunch. Wrong again, my friend! Yes you can.

We've been liberated, haven't we?

We used to be slaves, but now we've been set free by our mobility. 

We've gone from the boring existence of doing one thing at a time to being multitasking machines!

I now CAN play with my kids and be at work at the same time!

I now CAN be on a date with my wife, watching the game, reading the news, and commenting on a blogpost all at once. It's amazing, isn't it?

Yes. Amazing.

It's amazing that we've allowed ourselves to stop being fully present.

It's amazing that we've actually become more enslaved than ever before, addicted to having our brains trying to focus on 14 things simultaneously; addicted to knowing what 150 acquaintances are doing at this very moment; addicted to the idea that if I don't let the world know this moment is happening, then it might not actually be happening.

Do we even realize what we're doing?

Where along the way did we stop realizing that just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD?

Will your friends remember that picture of the sunset you took ten years from now? NO.
Will your wife remember that moment when you caught that sunset together and you forgot about everything else in the universe but her, including your phone? YES. Yes she will.

(I know it's a crazy proposition; an intimate moment with your wife...without your phone.)

If we know we can't be two places at one time, why do we keep trying to pull it off?

If the greatest gift we can give our children, our spouse, our friends, or our family is to be fully present, then why don't we go to war to be fully present?

I am very aware that on the one hand this blogpost is a hypocrite preaching to the choir. But this hypocrite has come to the realization over the last days, weeks, and months that this delusional attempt at being more efficient is actually resulting in me being less of anything and everything I really want to be.

A selfless husband.

A great dad.

A true friend.

I could go on. And on.

And even if I am preaching to the choir, that means nothing if all the choir is doing is shaking their heads in agreement, but doing nothing about it. The choir can shout "Amen" and "Preach it" all day long. Who cares? They won't hear the next thing you say because they'll be too busy tweeting the last thing you said.

I'm not suggesting we throw out our smartphones or burn our tablets.
But I am suggesting that we have become slaves to them. And when you realize that you are the one who sold yourself into this slavery and that you are the one who keeps tightening the chains, you also realize that there's only one person who can say "Enough is enough!" It's you.

Stop trying to be 2 places at 1 time.

Be here. Now.

You'll be glad you did.

March 20, 2014

The Death of Hate

Having lived in Kansas for 10 years, I had my fair share of trying to stomach the vitriolic hate that Fred Phelps and his church spewed out. I know everyone in America has been subjected to their un-Jesus-like version of "Christianity", but the closer you are to the fire, the more you feel the heat. There were times I remember just simply wanting to retaliate. And I know the only reason I didn't was because of 1) the working of the Spirit of God in and through me and 2) the realization that I was feeling and experiencing the devastating truth that hate breeds hate. It's scary when you feel that welling up inside you. All you can do is pray - cry out to the Lord - and ask Him to consume you. 

So you'll have to understand the bizarre and confusing mix of emotions I've experienced this week as I heard about Fred Phelps' death. I won't lie to you; I have thought and felt things that I have had no category for. I've thought about how to express any of it or to share for someone else's benefit. Anything I typed, I just deleted. I had nothing.

But today I read Ed Stetzer's post on Christianity Today's website. It's titled:

I encourage you to take 5-6 minutes and read it.

Ed always has a great word. This is no exception.

How will we respond to hate? The only way to overcome it is through love.

The death of hate will only come at the hands of love. The love of God.

1 John 4:7-12

March 13, 2014

The Sin of a Dumb Story

I'm very aware that if you click on even a fraction of what's on Facebook, you're head could very well explode. There are so many stories, myths, wives tales, anecdotes and analogies floating around it's impossible to wade through all of them, much less be able to tell what's genuine and what's overblown sentiment or what's even just plain flat garbage.

There are a million stories floating around the internet.

Maybe a trillion.

Some true. Some false. Some laugh out loud ridiculous.

And the other day, in a moment of weakness, I couldn't help myself. I was on Facebook. I clicked on one. I just had to. Surely this one had to be real. It sucked me in like the tractor beam on the Death Star. Baited and hooked. Maybe you've heard of this story. It's called "The Sin of Presumption". Take a minute and read it. Then come back.

Crazy, right? And so horribly sad! That woman killed that poor dog. And he saved her baby! And how on earth did that snake get into the house? 

Allow me at this point to admit that I never really made it past the first 2 sentences. Let me refresh your memory:

"There is a legend of a woman who had a faithful dog. This dog was so faithful that the woman could leave her baby with it and go out to attend to other matters."

I'm sorry. What? 

A woman left her baby with the dog?

Oh, wait. It was a faithful dog? And that matters why?

Attempt to think of every conceivable thing a baby could need in an hour. The list is endless. Then try to pinpoint the number of those needs a dog could meet. Unless 1) bark at baby, 2) lick baby, and/or 3) lick himself are on the list, I think we're out of luck.

I realize I'm being a bit ridiculous. For good reason. This story is ridiculous.

How about the Sin of Stupidity? Or the Sin of Neglect? 

Is there a Sin of Being the Dumbest Parent in the History of EVER?

I would have liked this story better if the dog bit the mother and then told her (in dog language, of course), "You're being grotesquely irresponsible! I can't possibly care for this infant. I'm only a CANINE!"

What a dumb story!

I remember one day in college in Systematic Theology class, our professor, Dr. Bell said, "You know, God is sort of like water. Water can be liquid, solid, or gas, but regardless...it's still water." We all sat there amazed, wondering how he'd come up with this brilliant illustration, jealous that we were not yet super theologians who could come up with analogies of this magnitude. Just about the time we were all getting over being fascinated, Dr. Bell, in his dry, straight-faced, witty way interjected this: "If I ever hear of any of you using such an atrocious illustration in an attempt to analogize God, I will hunt you down and take back your diploma." I believed him. I still do.

There are some things that we just don't need to analogize.

It's a sin to judge and condemn before we have all the information. It's presumption. It happens all the time when we fail to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Proverbs 18:17 tells us that "Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight." Let's be a people of grace; a people who give the benefit of the doubt and do our due diligence. May we be slow to judge and condemn, and quick to extend grace.

But hear this: If you leave your baby at home with the dog, we may be out of grace.

March 11, 2014

Don't Fail to Be Bad

Once upon a time, I was in a band.

That picture to the left; that's one of our albums.

Sometimes it seems like it was so long ago that it was some sort of fairy tale from another life or something. At the same time, some of those memories feel like yesterday. Good memories. Amazing opportunities. We did some things that I'm still very thankful for and incredibly proud of. Some of my favorite memories include:

Playing the opening concert for Student Week at Glorieta. (The stage, which opened out of a flat bed trailer, was insane!)

New Years Eve at the Berger Center in Austin, TX. 2500 screaming teenagers create some serious energy.

Leading worship at tons of camps throughout the summers, meeting & ministering to students.

Hours upon hours upon hours in the studio creating music from nothing. I miss that.

And of course, the weekly opportunity and privilege we had at our home church to lead students in life and worship.

I loved it!

Sometimes. Most of the time.

But other times, just to be clearly transparent and honest...I absolutely hated it.

Hours upon hours upon hours of practicing.

Getting mad at Nathan for showing up an hour late for practice on a Saturday morning. (Of course, he'd usually bring donuts. So that was good.)

Staying in a cigarette smoke infested roach motel in Nashville so we could play in front of some people who could not have cared less that we drove 12 hours to change their lives with our music. Jerks.

And man, did we write some BAD songs. And when I say "BAD", I'm not talking Michael Jackson "BAD". The other bad, that's really bad.

We wrote some songs that I would love to have wiped out of my memory for good.

We wrote some songs that we still text each other about just for a good laugh.

We wrote songs that the United States Army could pump out over enemy territory just to make them come out, lay their weapons down, surrender, and give up. Just make it stop!

So many songs. So bad.


We wrote some really good songs as well.

We wrote some songs that I'm still incredibly proud to claim.

We wrote songs that I've let my kids listen to and they actually want to hear again.

I still get emails or messages every once in awhile from someone telling me, "Brian, that song was just what I needed at an incredibly hard time in my life." And I will never in my entire life forget the email I got from a young college guy who told me that our song "The First Step" kept him from committing suicide. You don't forget that.

I say this without reservation: We wrote some great songs!

But at the end of the day, WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

You should care because this blogpost really isn't about our band or my songs.

I'm not writing this so you'll give me a "Way to go!" This isn't an attempt at resurrecting a Sycamore reunion show either. (We'd probably need a lot of Red Bull & a 30 minute intermission.) I don't care if you ever hear those songs or not. What I do care about is the fact that so many people never even tap the surface of the GREAT thing they could do because they are so scared of what it will take to break through. 

If you want to write a great song, you've got to be OK with writing 50 (or 100) BAD ones.

If you want to find that great idea, you've got to be OK with plowing through 100 FAILED ones.

If you want to sell that non-profit idea that you know can (and will) change the world, you've got to be willing to hear "No" 100 (or 1000) times before you ever hear "Yes!"

You can't be afraid of failure. You can't be allergic to bad. And you sure as heck cannot be overly sensitive to "No". Get over it right now. Failure and bad are not the things that will keep you from success and from great. Your FEAR of failure and bad are the enemy. And as Jon Acuff says in his latest book, "Punch fear in the face!" Let me put it to you this way: Don't FAIL to be BAD! If you do, you'll never get to GOOD, much less GREAT.

So play that horrible song for your Mom. She likes everything you write!
Keep writing. Keep trying. Keep asking.

If you want to make your mark on this world, understand ahead of time that it's probably going to leave a mark on you. Wear it proudly. 

If you want to make an eternal impact on this world, just know in advance there will be some temporary pain that comes along with it. It's worth it.

The only path to GREAT goes straight through FAILURE and NICE TRY.
Keep walking!