The Most Wonderful Time

The Most Wonderful Time
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...." So begins Charles Dickens' timeless novel, "A Tale of Two Cities." I remembered that line as I was thinking about what it means to celebrate Christmas in 2008 -- and how often it is the "worst" around us that allows us to see the "best" within us.

Many of us are reeling from the impact of one of the worst economic downturns in our nation's history. While some have suffered "only" the loss of retirement or investment funds, others have lost income, jobs, and even homes. We have also felt the impact as a church -- having already cut 10% of our annual budget in response to a drop in our collective giving. Yet, in the midst of the economic bad news, we see expressions of faithfulness, generosity and good news. Our offerings last weekend totaled over $87,000 which is very encouraging because December is a critical month in our giving cycle. Food donated in this weekend's food drive will enable us to share with dozens of struggling families through the ministry of our Food Pantry. And our Benevolent Fund continues to minister aid to those in critical need. We are also planning to offer a Financial Workshop after the holidays that will provide an opportunity for families to acquire the necessary tools and information to weather this economic storm. Some of the "best" things come into view through some of the "worst" of times!

Through the recent TCI survey of the congregation we have also begun to understand some of the "best" and "worst" things about FBCG! We have learned that we are pretty good at providing quality programs, preaching, worship and financial leadership. Yet we have also learned that we aren't so good at providing a sense of fellowship and connection to the church as a genuine community of care. But because you have been willing to share your experiences and opinions, we believe we will be able to work together to address these issues and become just that kind of community - and that is a very, very, good thing!

And as I think about all these things it is impossible not to see the connection to the story we celebrate at this time of year. It is, of course, the story of the God who chose the worst of times to do the best of things. It's the story of the God who chose to do the unthinkable; to take on human flesh, to step out of the glory of heaven and into this sinful and broken world. The Apostle John said he came like a light to a dark place. The angels announced that his coming would bring good news and great joy to a world full of bad news and deep sorrow. The prophets told us he would come so that we would know we are never alone - because he is, and always will be, Immanuel, the God who is with us. We know him as Jesus, who was born so long ago, but is born again in our hearts by faith, that we might bring his good news to our world.

As you celebrate this Christmas; as you observe family traditions, exchange gifts, sing carols and enjoy all the special events at FBCG; take a moment alone somewhere along the way and ponder again how Jesus transforms even the worst of times into the best of times - and transforms even the worst in us into his best for us!

Have a merry and blessed Christmas season! Pastor Brian

Fun of Giving

The Fun of Giving

Quick question: Which is more fun – to receive a great gift on Christmas morning, or to watch the face of someone you love as they open a gift you have given that you KNOW is the perfect gift? I think most of us would agree that giving the perfect give is WAY more fun than receiving the perfect gift! But why is that? What is it about giving that brings such joy to our souls?

I believe giving produces joy because that’s the way God made us. I also believe that giving produces joy because it is an expression of love. Think about it: we tend to give gifts to people we love. We tend to give generously toward causes that we are passionate about. It is the combination of love and generosity that always generates joy!

At FBCG we celebrate generosity because we know that our generosity not only produces joy but pleases the heart of God. About 6 weeks ago we, as leaders, communicated that FBCG had begun to feel the downturn in the economy. We let you know that our weekly offerings were running about 10% behind our budget and that we were preparing to make cuts in our ministry and operational budget as a result. Since then our church family has responded with the strongest giving we have seen since the spring. During the month of November, our collective giving EXCEEDED our budget needs for several weekends, with the result that we are now running behind by 8%. While this number is a significant concern, the fact that so many of you have continued to give generously through this difficult time is a powerful testimony to your love for your Lord as well as a great encouragement to us as leaders!

While we have exercised our responsibility as leaders by trimming back our budget some 10% through:

• reducing costs of many ministry programs
• eliminating expenditures deemed unnecessary at this time
• going to a four-day work week at both campuses
• eliminating the shuttle but between campuses on Sunday mornings

we are very hopeful that with strong year-end giving we will not have to cut back any further!

Historically, year-end giving has provided a large percentage of our annual budget. We know that, for many of you, the current economic situation may have impacted the way you are approaching your personal year-end decisions. We simply want you to keep the ministries of FBCG in your mind and heart as you allow God to lead you in those decisions – and to know that we deeply appreciate your continued faithfulness and generosity!

Finally, as you move through the celebrations and traditions of this joyful time of year – take a few moments to reflect on the gift God the Father chose to give so long ago. Think about the joy he feels as each one of us receives the perfect gift of his Son and our Savior!

Have a wonderful celebration of Christ’s birth!

Courageous Thanksgiving

Courageous Thanksgiving

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

At first glance, the words “courageous” and “thanksgiving” don’t seem to go together. But when we remember that Paul wrote these words from prison – uncertain that he would survive – and still found a way to express thanksgiving to God, we see that perhaps these words do belong together!

What does it mean to offer thanksgiving “in everything?” How can Paul be thankful while he is in prison? How can we be thankful when we face uncertainty or pain? How can we be thankful when the cornucopia isn’t quite so full? It means that we are to be “courageously thankful!” That is, we are to trust that God is unfailingly good even when his goodness seems hidden from our eyes. It means to intentionally cultivate an attitude of the heart that allows us to be grateful even during the most difficult of circumstances.

When I think of this kind of gratitude, I always remember the example of Matthew Henry, a 19th century Biblical scholar, who was once robbed by street thugs. He later wrote in his journal,

“Let me be thankful; first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

That’s courageous thanksgiving!

This weekend we will celebrate thanksgiving as a church family. We won’t be carving a turkey or feasting on pumpkin pie – that will come next week as we celebrate in our homes. But we are going to give thanks! Our services this weekend will not feature a sermon (but that’s NOT the reason to be thankful!) – but rather a time when we will share with each other – and with the Lord – our spiritual thanksgiving for what he has done and is doing in our lives. Come prepared to share your personal words of thanksgiving – or a passage of scripture that has been particularly meaningful to you in recent days.

Let me start by expressing my thanksgiving to God for the love of a wonderful wife and four healthy sons, and for the great privilege of belonging to and leading this church family!

Pastor Brian

Courageous Hope

Courageous Hope

FBCG Mission Fest Nov 15
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for
what we do not yet
have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:24-25

I believe that HOPE is the second most powerful force in the world! The most powerful force, of course, is love (1 Corinthians 13:13) but hope runs a
close second. Hope sustains in the midst of great suffering. Hope inspires great achievement. Hope can save a floundering marriage or a nation at
Hope is more important than the air we breathe or the food that we eat. We need air, food, water, shelter and clothing to stay alive physically, but
we need hope to stay alive spiritually. We need hope to be human. We need hope to believe in anything. And HOPE, properly understood, requires

What is HOPE and why does it require courage? Let me define it this way: Hope is the fierce longing for a preferred
future that shapes the way we
live today.
Now there are lesser kinds of hope that are more like "wishful thinking." Hoping to win the lottery or hoping that
the Cubs will win the
World Series qualifies as this kind of "lesser hope" (my apologies to Cubs fans!). True hope, fierce
, is a different thing altogether. True hope
is what you feel when your expectant wife goes into labor; it's what you feel the moment after you say the words "Will you marry me?" but before she
answers; and it's what the Bible says followers of Jesus are to feel ALL THE TIME.

HOPE, the Apostle Paul teaches us, is most fierce when it is focused on that which is certain but, as of yet, unseen. As followers of Jesus our hope
is certain because in Him we have the promise of eternal life. But we have not yet received the fullness of that promise - we have not yet seen or
experienced heaven! So we wait with a kind of fierce longing for that which God has promised to be revealed. This means we live now in light of what
we shall be! That's courageous hope!

This weekend at FBCG we will be celebrating this "courageous hope" by celebrating our commitment to Short Term Missions. Why do we joyfully go to
places like Turkey, Ecuador or Africa to share the hope of Christ when it takes so much effort to do so? Well, simply put, because Jesus told us to!
Jesus commanded us to use this time of waiting to share His HOPE with our neighbors, with our family, with our friends, and with the world that He
died to save.

Make it a priority to join us this weekend to celebrate the hope that Jesus gives, and to be part of sharing this hope with the world!

Pastor Brian

Visit my blog, Coffey Break. I'd love to hear from you.

Courageous Leadership

Courageous Leadership
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

Joshua 1:9

God gave these words to Joshua as he set out to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. In fact, God repeats the phrase "be strong and courageous" three times in the first 9 verses of Joshua 1! I have sometimes wondered what Joshua must have thought as he received God's command. He had been one of twelve men sent to check out the land of Canaan. He had seen the fortified cities and fearsome warriors. He knew the difficulty of the struggle that lay ahead. Did he feel afraid? Did he feel inadequate? While we can't know all that was in his heart, we do know that God is preparing him for the task ahead by acknowledging that there will be challenges to be overcome and battles to be fought. God is letting Joshua know there will be times when he feels afraid and discouraged. But God is also preparing Joshua's heart by promising that he, the Lord, will be with him each step of the way.

While the challenges that we face as a church family are not to be compared with the challenges Joshua faced in conquering the Promised Land - we do find ourselves in a time that requires "courageous leadership!"

The leadership of FBCG, which includes both ministry staff and lay Boards, are facing two challenges that each will require courageous leadership in the months that lie ahead. The first challenge involves understanding and responding to all the feedback we have received through the Transforming Church Index survey and focus groups. It will require a certain kind of leadership courage to identify areas of our church life where we have failed or are weak; and it will take both wisdom and courage to created and implement the changes necessary - but we are committed, with God's help to do just that!

The second challenge we face revolves around the current economic crisis. The church is not immune to the economic forces of our culture! In the first two months of this fiscal year (which began on Sept. 1) we have fallen 11% behind budget. On the one hand, I believe it is extremely encouraging that even in the current economic atmosphere our church family continues to give and to give generously! On the other hand, we must be responsible as leaders to begin to prepare for the likelihood that our ministry and staffing budgets will need to be reduced significantly in response to lower levels of giving.

Here are a few things we are already beginning to consider:

  • Trimming back all ministry department budgets - including staffing - by 10%
  • Identifying another 5% that can be cut back at a future date
  • Studying the impact of moving to a four-day work week
  • Identifying more economical ways to accomplish the same or similar ministry events and purposes
  • Communicating with the FBCG family frequently regarding our budget needs
  • Focusing on more effective assimilation of new comers to FBCG so that they will be led to invest themselves in the mission and vision of FBCG

I want you as the FBCG family to know that we, as leaders, are not terrified or discouraged! But we are being challenged to lead courageously through these times. We covet your prayers as we head into a two-day retreat this weekend (Nov. 7-8) to begin to dig into the survey feedback. Let's trust together that the Lord has promised to lead us and to be with us - and that he will be glorified through this process!

Courageous Generosity

I saw a headline in the Chicago Tribune today that got my attention:

Economy Tops All Other Worries

I think most of us, if we are honest, can admit to worrying about money – at least occasionally. Although the price of a gallon of gas has come down recently, we worry that it will soar beyond $4 again soon. Those of us facing retirement worry about what has happened to our retirement funds. Those with children heading to college are worried about our college savings plans. Some of us are worried about our homes and investments; some of us are worried about our jobs – it is an anxious time.

As Christians, how do we respond to what is being called an economic “crisis?” How does our faith in God and the truth of his word shape the way we understand and react to the fear and anxiety that is all around us – and sometimes in us?

Perhaps the first thing we can do is to acknowledge that our finances are important to us – and when our finances are threatened, we become anxious or fearful. I think it is important for us to know that we can confess this very real and human reaction to God. I believe he knows and understands how we feel. The second thing we need to do is allow God’s truth to shape our perspective on the issue. What do we know about what God says about this area of our lives?

• Everything belongs to God
• God is generous and shares his blessing and resources with us
• God has not promised us endless prosperity as Americans or Christians
• God does not want us to be enslaved by wealth
• God does not want us to be enslaved by debt
• God wants us to be generous
• God wants us to invest in his eternal kingdom
• God promises to meet our needs by giving us what we need which may be different than what we want

We also know that, by any standard of comparison, even with the current downturn in our economy, as Americans we are among the richest people on the face of the earth. And furthermore, we know that history tells us that even though we are having to “tighten our belts” in the short run (and this process can be painful), our economy will rebound at some point in the future.

If we understand and accept all the above – then the following questions emerge:

• How do we manage and live through our current situation?
• What can we learn – from God and about ourselves – through this situation?

While I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers to those questions, I do have a few suggestions. How do we manage? We tighten our belts; we evaluate our priorities; make tough decisions about where we are investing our treasure; and we refuse to panic. What can we learn about God and ourselves? We can learn that sometimes we have trusted more in money than in the phrase printed on our money, “In God we trust.” We can learn that some of our priorities have, at times, been misplaced. We can learn that we can do without certain “luxuries.” We can learn that God is good even with the stock market isn’t. And, perhaps, we can begin to learn the power of what might be called “Courageous Generosity.”

What is “Courageous Generosity?” Courageous generosity is being generous in an atmosphere of economic fear and anxiety. Courageous generosity is being generous when our culture is telling us to hold tightly to that which is ours. Courageous generosity is being generous because God calls us to be generous not because our bank accounts allow us to be generous. And for most of us, courageous generosity is a frontier of faith that we have rarely been forced to experience – and yet might be exactly what God wants to teach us in and through this time.

As leaders of FBCG, we are paying close attention to what you are telling us through our offering plates. We believe you are telling us two things: first, that these are scary economic times and that it is hard to give in such a time. We know this because our collective giving this fiscal year has dropped by about 10 percent. At the same time, we believe you are telling us that you do trust God and want to trust him even more! We know this because to give at all right now is a powerful expression of faith!

We want you to know that as leadership, we are beginning to “tighten our belts” at FBCG. We are going through a process of evaluating all of our ministries for the purpose of identifying where we can trim costs and be as responsible as we can be with the resources God provides through you. We will keep you informed each step of the way.

On the other hand, we also believe that God wants to use this time for his purpose – and his purpose is to change hearts, change lives, and to use FBCG in that purpose. And therefore, we believe that God is calling us collectively to “Courageous Generosity.”

In gratitude and expectation,

Pastor Brian

Cardboard Testimonies

A couple of weeks ago we concluded a message series called "Renovation of the Heart" with a video clip called Cardboard Testimonies. In the clip, a series of people told their stories using big pieces of cardboard - on one side they scrawled the story of their lives before meeting Jesus, and on the other side they described the change that had taken place. At the close of our services that weekend - many of you chose to share your own "cardboard testimony" with us.

Here are a few of the cards we received:
Selfish self-made man; prideful, sinful, disobedient
     His child; everything I am/have came from and belongs to Him!
Afraid of rejection
    Confident of my worth in Christ
Cynical mocker
    Content servant
Angry and quick tempered
    Joyful in Jesus!
No church - little God
    Much church - very much God
Blamed God
    God forgave me and gave me peace
    Hopeful, found, man of God

I hope you find these brief and very personal expressions of life change as moving as I do! They remind me that there are stories being written every day all around us. They remind me that if we can just slow down enough to pay attention to these stories - stop,look, listen! - we might actually be used by God as he seeks to write brand new stories! Who will God place in your path today who needs to have someone listen to their story?

Or maybe it is your story that needs to be re-written. Maybe you don't like what is written on your side of the cardboard. While I don't know what is written on the cardboard of your life today - Jesus does, and he is always, always, ready to turn the cardboard over and start all over again.

At FBCG we celebrate stories of life change. We call them "FaithStories." Every FaithStory is as unique as a fingerprint - for God is infinitely creative in how he draws us to himself. But each FaithStory is also the same - because every last one of them is about Jesus and his power to transform the heart.

So pay attention to the stories around you -- and pay attention to your story - you might be surprised at all the writing going on!

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has
gone, the new has come."
2 Corinthians 5:17

Celebrating Generosity

Celebrating Generosity
At FBCG we celebrate generosity wherever it appears - generosity in sharing time, talents or treasure! I want to take just a moment to celebrate the
generosity of the people who make up FBCG when it comes to the giving of financial resources.

We all know that these are tenuous economic times for our nation. We wake up every day to more bad news on the financial front. Yet, despite the
anxiety and fear that many families are feeling, our church family demonstrated remarkable generosity earlier this month. On the first weekend of our
new fall season of ministry (September 6-7) you gave just over $60,000 to the FBCG general fund; another $8,600 toward the special Benevolent
offering to benefit the "Turkey Defense Fund," and some $6,000 toward "Building on Faith." That means that, in total, we received giving of more than $75,000 in one weekend!

I believe that generosity lies at the heart of everything good God wants to do in us and in his Kingdom. Your generosity enables FBCG to minister to
children; to send teams to serve hurting people in different parts of the world; to offer help to the needy right here in our community - and so much
more! I believe God loves and takes great joy in generosity! I also believe that your generous giving in an atmosphere of economic fear is an
expression of both faith and obedience - and is a powerful statement that the Holy Spirit is living and active in his church!

On behalf of the leadership and staff of FBCG, I simply want to thank you for your collective generosity, ask for your continued faithful and joyful
stewardship throughout this challenging time --  and I pray that your hearts will be filled with the blessing and pleasure of the One who has
given us everything we have!

Together in His Service,

Pastor Brian