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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

I wrote the obituary for Mike, it’s below. I thank you all for the prayers of family, friends and neighbors. I am in awe of the touch of love through eyes and arms and words through people, whether they were close to me (or Mike) or not, every touch matters. I see that now in a way I never saw it before.

Right now, I know this one thing. Mike was a healthy man with no history of heart disease. His death was both out of his control and mine. And for this reason, I understand, Mike’s passing is part of the journey set before me and my young adult kids;  we must all walk this road in faith and trust. We cannot know what lies ahead, but I rest in my God as best I can although this night of sorrow is long. I am so grateful for the presence of the Holy Spirit from whom I draw my hope.

The Obituary

Mike headshotMichael Leigh Brown died Saturday, Dec 13, 2014 of a massive heart attack at home; he was 64. Mike was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, the youngest son of Vernon Stockton Brown and Lina Snead Brown (both deceased). He attended the University of Georgia, served in the U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, worked at Georgia Public Television, and in 1982 married his beloved wife, Irmgarde Berzins Brown. In 1987, he moved to Havre de Grace, Maryland and began his 27-year career at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a television director and videographer. In 1997, he and his wife adopted two children, Arturs “Kip” Brown and Vernon Sergei Brown from Riga, Latvia at ages four and five; seven years later, they adopted Liliana Victoria Brown from St. Petersburg, Russia at fifteen. In addition to his creative work for the government, Mike donated his time and talents to both Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air and more recently, Restore Church in Havre de Grace. Mike participated in several para-church organizations: Kairos Prison Ministry, Walk to Emmaus, and Cursillo. Mike volunteered at two orphanages in Africa: Children of Zion Village in Katima, Namibia, and Village of Hope, Zambia. He and his wife were leading a team to Africa in the fall of 2015. Mike was a man of faith who walked out his beliefs by working for the good of his community, both near and far.

Mike used his video skills to create personal projects (see his YouTube channel, vydeoynkhorne), record family and life events, as well as church activities. Mike was a history buff, a Robert E. Lee re-enactor, a regular blood donor to the Red Cross, an avid reader, a conspiracy theorist, an investigator into the cryptic, and a champion for ambidexterity and healthy living.

Mike is survived by his wife, three children, and brother, Vernon Stockton Brown, Jr. and several cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Visitation with the family will be Thursday, December 18th, 2 – 4 pm followed by a Memorial Service at 6:30 pm at St. Patrick’s Fellowship Hall at 650 Pennington Avenue, Havre de Grace, MD. There will be no viewing as Mike requested his body be donated to science. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the benevolence fund of Restore Church, Havre de Grace [https://restorechurch.cloverdonations.com/give-online/] or one of the orphanages he supported.

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Painting by Will RainierApparently, this is a verse the academics love to tear apart and put back together again. A quick Google search threw me into all kinds of didactic sermons and instruction. Even Wikipedia took me beyond my desire to pursue all the ins and outs of the genealogies and implications of Jesus as the branch and fulfillment of the promises of God. What is left then?

The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness. [Jeremiah 33:14-16, CEB]

Simplicity is my choice. If I had to melt it all down into one tidbit, then it would be this: Jehovah Tsidkenu, The Lord our Righteousness. And yes, the discussion could amble about the meanings of righteousness but in the end I am at peace with my understanding that God knows best and all is within the working out of what is best. I have a belief in ultimate good whose source is God. And so, if God loves humanity as I believe God does (for the Creator loves creation), then all will be well.

It’s hard to look at the details to see the big picture because we interpret those details using our own limited framework. If my mind’s architecture believes that the peace of Jerusalem or Judah or Israel should have been played out by now, then I will be disappointed in God’s apparent unfulfilled promise. If I am looking for proof positive that Jesus is really in David’s line, scholarship may break my conviction. And so I say again, Jehovah Tsidkenu.

When bad things happen to good people, there are no explanations that can do justice to the sorrow except for our faith in Jehovah Tsidkenu. People die, children are hurt, families struggle, evil manifests, the earth groans.

Jehovah Tsidkenu.

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New JerusalemI have read (Bible Study Tools on Jerusalem) that there was a time that Jerusalem was invincible. I can certainly understand how that could happen, just thinking of the miraculous creation of the temple and the tangible presence of God there, how could any enemy prevail?

Jerusalem is built like a city joined together in unity . . . It is the law for Israel to give thanks there . . . Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” [Psalm 122:3, 4b, 6-7, CEB]

But not unlike the confidence in the Titanic, the unsinkable ship of wonder and power, people abused the vessel itself. The Temple was the core of Jerusalem, it’s lifeblood issued from its center, but the leaders and kings continued to misunderstand its role, the basic requirements of worship and faithfulness. As a result, they began to undercut its effectiveness. So it was with the great ship whose design was flawed and never fully tested, whose strength was challenged by boasting and unnecessary risk. Both Jerusalem and the Titanic suffered due to the pride of its caretakers.

And I wonder, are we doing the same thing with our religion? Are we borrowing from the texts the parts we want to use as a hammer against others and setting aside the words that condemn our own actions? Are we elevating our own understanding above the understanding of others? Are we so sure in the details?

And what about the Church itself? Have denominations and preferences become silos from which we are no longer able to see clearly? Now we have a myriad of “Jerusalems” into which we are endowing superiority and funds for the sake of our structures and mindsets.

God promises the earth, the peoples of this earth, a “New Jerusalem.” I do not believe that this is necessarily a humongous cube that will drop down out of space (the heavens) and we’ll all take a ride. Instead, I see it as a unified peoples, living for the sake of others, honoring humanity and the God who made us. The New Jerusalem comes at a cost, the paradox of letting go and surrendering to a different way of living and thinking.

Jesus was on a mission to bring us closer to the New Jerusalem. We’re not there yet. We may have to sink the ship a few more times before we are able to build a structure that can be inhabited by Truth.

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turning pointOnly in the re-telling of the beheading of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew, do we see a seemingly direct response from Jesus. He wanted to be alone and I can assume, he wanted to pray and contemplate the implications of John’s death. Not long after this self-imposed sequester, the crowds find him, he heals a ton of people, he feeds a ton of people, and he is basically “outed” as more than the average human.

When Jesus heard about John [the Baptist], he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived [landed] and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. [Matthew 14:13-14, CEB]

The death of John the Baptist was a turning point in Jesus’s ministry. No longer a game of secret miracles and teachings on the hill, Jesus went into overdrive, preparing his teams for the next round in transforming the way humans would engage their God. John’s execution is approximately the midpoint in Jesus’s three-year crusade. From this moment on, I believe Jesus saw his work in the light of life and death, not only for himself but for anyone who believed.

John the Baptist died for unabashed truth-telling. He was not terribly diplomatic or politically correct. In fact, he was brash and tactless, a veritable bull in a china shop. Whether at the hands of Herod or another, John would have been killed sooner than later. He was a fish swimming upstream all of his life. He saw the world in black or white terms.

I believe Jesus was much more measured in his dealings with people of all stripes, colors, and persuasions. Even at the end, he often chose silence instead of outspokenness.

But I am getting away from myself. Turning points are important to see clearly in our own lives, but unfortunately, we can only see them in hindsight and not by foresight. All the same, those moments are meaningful and we should all take the time to evaluate our own. Take the time to write them down. Usually, they are fairly easy to identify — those moments where we took the left road instead of the right.

But the biggest question for me today is whether I have reached that turning point in my faith. Have I reached the ultimate understanding of what it means to follow the Christ? Life and death. Total abandon. All in.

 

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prophesyProphecy, predictions, and fortune telling: do we really want to know?

Amaziah said to Amos, “You who see things, go, run away to the land of Judah, eat your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s holy place and his royal house.” [Amos 7:12-13, CEB]

We check with the local meteorologist/weatherman every day; we are obsessed with knowing the weather forecast. Most people have it on the home screens of their cell phone. Will it rain? Will it snow? Will my life be changed by either? Nope.

We say we want to know but then, if it’s not what we want to hear, we speak against it. Chance of rain today, 53%  Oh, please don’t rain, I want weathermanto take a run or a bike ride or a walk or go out in my boat. Tomorrow, warm and sunny with only 3% chance of rain. Of course, the day I have to work indoors, it’s going to be a beautiful day. Yada, yada, yada.

And if the message is particularly grim, the messenger’s credibility is immediately suspect.

Originally, predictors about our world’s atmosphere called it “global warming,” but then the naysayers used every snow storm as an example to the contrary, as though their local snowstorm can counter the scientific evidence that our planet is warmer than ever. So, the analysts switched up the label and now use “climate change” to speak to the future. All the same, very few want to hear this prophecy. Like Amaziah, they say, go somewhere else to tell your tale, we’re all just fine here.

fortune tellingAre you curious about your own immediate future? How many fortune tellers grace our city streets? In some areas, they proliferate more than others (New Orleans has a high number of soothsayers on every corner in the French Quarter and Bourbon Street). Is it a game or do we really want to know? Do we believe these strangers have access to the string of our future? Or do we hope for a tantalizingly dark handsome stranger to be in our stars? Something or someone we can keep a look out for.

Not long ago, I finished listening to a new sci-fi fantasy book, Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price (first in a series, of course). The book has some issues, but I love the way it digs into the idea of time, both future and past as well as alternate lives and worlds, seemingly existing side by side. It’s pretty exquisite world building. For one of the characters, it’s Groundhog Day on steroids, but he doesn’t become a nicer and nicer person, he just kills people sooner to get it over with, etc. He is doing his best to manipulate the present and the future.

We are all manipulating our futures by the decisions we make today and living out the decisions we made yesterday.

There is an exercise in which you can do a review of your past and snip out the pieces that you would (if your could) remove from your past. It’s illuminating actually because few of us can do it. Why? Because every snip would change today and the now becomes too similar to the unknown future we struggle with each day. Would I like to snip out my bi-polar mother? Sure. But then, I would not be in the United States because it was her extreme personality that under girded our emigration.

Why did God provide prophets in the first place? And then, why did they disappear after the coming of Christ?

milk and honeyIn the Old Testament, it’s as thought God acted like a Father, giving fair warning about the consequences of certain choices. There were a lot of “if you do this or that–expect this result.” God tried to lay out the benefits, a land flowing with milk and honey, and yet, it was never enough. Once acquired, the people rejoiced, but it wasn’t long before the land was treated like a entitlement and not a gift. And so, God tried a different tactic, and provided one last prophet, one last shepherd, one last message.

Unfortunately, despite knowing and reading and seeing how things have gone in the past, we continue to make the same mistakes. God says: Accept the Spirit of Christ and “heaven” is a given grace. Follow Christ and live differently, sacrificially, in love and forgiveness and the world will unfold in a completely different way, an incomparable future. And yet, despite the prophesied future, we choose idols instead. We choose our immediate desires over a promised future.

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Art by David Lawson.

Art by David Lawson.

Are you the observer or the participant? We don’t see much ecstasy in worship these days. Oh, there’s a lot of loud music and wild lights like a rock concert and occasionally some roaring and clapping and shouting, but the spectacle of David and the transporting of the ark is beyond words and unlikely to be repeated in our age.

When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might,  while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. [2 Samuel 6:13-16, NIV]

The journey, about 12.5 miles, was interrupted every six steps for a sacrificial offering. If this is true, they stopped about 4,000 times, and it would have taken almost a month to make the journey, assuming they stopped for 10 minutes for each sacrifice and went day and night. Not likely.

But, is the point of this story in the details or the implication?There are two distinct responses to the return of the ark: the participant and the observer.

King David led the procession as a worshiper dressed in an ephod (similar to a front & back apron), like a prophet, for Samuel also wore such a garment. He modeled, with apparent abandon, the joy of having the ark, a representative resting place for God on earth, returned to its origins, to the center of Jewish life and government. This day was his greatest accomplishment and gift to his people up to that point. He exhibited the fullness of his joy and pleasure and it burst out of him in dancing with disregard for how he might look or sound. He was that happy.

But from another vantage point was Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife for whom he paid the bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins, which suggests he killed many men to win her. And back in those days, she loved David as well. He was her hero, her “knight in shining armor.” But when his attention turned away from her and wholly unto his God, displaying himself transparently to everyone, she lost respect for him. She was embarrassed by his display of emotion (and evidently, he may have also displayed his private parts in his frenzy – see vs. 20-21). She watched and she judged.

It’s a dangerous thing to cast judgment on the behaviors of others, whether it is in joy or grief. We cannot know the depth of their feelings or what is needed to express them in that moment. Perhaps I don’t believe the machinations of others are authentic. So what? What does it matter? Who is harmed by displays of raw emotion or spiritual manifestations (from speaking in tongues or a whirling dervish)?

But even in less significant ways, I’m afraid we have become a culture of passive observers. I think we might be missing out on a entire array of experiences because we pre-judge even ourselves. We imagine observing ourselves and do not act.

When was the last time you experienced emotional abandon? Or unrestrained spiritual expression?

 

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Well, it’s just this simple. Whatever it might mean for you or any other, I cannot really know. But when I say this well-worn verse, I understand it quite subjectively for myself because it is to this truth I literally surrendered when I prayed that “sinner’s prayer” so long ago and asked that Jesus become my personal savior, my atonement and my redemption, my portal to the God of the Universe.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [Galatians 2:2]

It’s a contract of sorts because I gave permission to a spirit being, a very specific Spirit Being, to indwell within me. According to that contract, I also agreed, in theory at least, to give over authority to that Spirit, a right that Person actually earned through a blood covenant, the shedding of blood, which has been a symbol of agreement throughout the centuries of humankind. Interesting too, that this bloodletting was done preemptively, before I was even born. Impossible? Perhaps. But this I believe.

However, I am constantly meddling with the authority of this Presence: arguing and negotiating, ignoring and placating, lying and withholding. In essence, I spend a lot of time pulling on the threads of our contract and it’s only by sheer grace that I have not torn the thing to pieces.

And because I know these things about myself, I must often regroup, reconnect, recommit myself to that deal I made over thirty years ago. It’s shameful really, but true. Thanks be to God, there’s been a contingency plan for every misstep I have made.

path crookedToday, I was walking a path I have walked many times but for the first time, I was walking it in reverse. I assume it’s for this reason I had never noticed that moment in the path where it looked like it came to a dead end. It was just a sharp right turn, but as I approached it, my brain didn’t compute that logic. Instead, I stopped in my tracks, pondering how it could be that the path would end. I hadn’t really reached that point yet, but I stopped anyway, thinking I might have to turn back. How often have I done this in life? How often have I assumed something was at the end, when the way was still there, I just couldn’t see it. The calm of knowing and trusting in that “other way,” comes from within, comes from the Presence of the Holy Spirit, who is more than willing to direct me. It is in this way, that I understood my foolishness yet again.

And it is in this small lesson that I remind myself to trust my God and the Holy Spirit yet again.

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