Posted by: Jack Brown | November 11, 2012

The Ebba Compline

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone:
my hope comes from Him.

Come I this night to the Father,
come I this night to the Son,
come I to the Holy Spirit powerful:
come I this night to God.
Come I this night with Christ,
come I with the Spirit of kindness.
Come I to Thee, Jesus.
Jesus, shelter me.

I will lie down and sleep.
I wake again,
because the Lord sustains me.

By day the Lord directs His love;
at night His song is with me –
a prayer to the God of my life.

Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.

This dwelling, O God, by Thee be blest;
and each one who here this night does rest.

May God be in my sleep;
may Christ be in my dreams.
May the Spirit be in my repose,
in my thoughts, in my heart.
In my soul always
may the Sacred Three dwell.

May the Father of heaven
have care of my soul,
His loving arm about my body,
through each slumber
and sleep of my life.

The Son of God be shielding me from harm,
the Son of God be shielding me from ill,
the Son of God be shielding me with power.
The Son of God be shielding me this night.

Sleep, O sleep in the calm of each calm.
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of all guidance.
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves.
Sleep, O beloved, in the Lord of life.
Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life.

The peace of all peace
be mine this night
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Posted by: Jack Brown | November 6, 2012

Five Things About the Man I Voted For Today

As a rule, I don’t share my political convictions with many people. A pastor I used to work with suggested that those in ministry should play their political cards fairly close to their chest, and I agree with that sentiment. I would never want anyone to think that the person I vote for is the “right” choice for a Christian, or imply that people of faith should agree with me. I’m human, I’m fallible, and I vote the issues that are important for me personally, and yet I know many wonderful people of faith who disagree with my choices. And in the end, I pastor folks on both sides of the aisle, and that’s far too important a privilege for me to let politics hurt those relationships.

That said, I did vote today. And I want to tell you a little bit about the man I voted for for President of the United States.  This is as political as I will ever get on this blog, so enjoy it. 🙂

Here are five things I think are important to know about the man I voted for today:

  1. I believe with all my heart he wants what’s best for this country. His detractors claim this isn’t true.  There are countless posts and tweets and columns and blogs out there that would have you believe he is the devil in disguise, out to ruin this country and implement his own agenda that will destroy our nation. I refuse to believe that. I believe the welfare of this nation and its citizens are at the heart of his policies, and that he believes his vision to be what’s best for America’s future.
  2. Although he and I would have many disagreements regarding theology and religion, I believe his faith to be authentic and a central part of who he is.  And even though I come from a different faith perspective, I respect how his faith has informed his life and his policies.
  3. He is not perfect.  But neither am I.  He has said some things on the campaign trail that have really frustrated me, and at times angered me.  There have been times he has been in “politician mode” and I have been left shaking my head.  But then there have been times when the real person underneath shines through, and I have found that person remarkably appealing.
  4. I don’t agree with every policy he proposes.  But then again, I don’t expect to agree 100% with my President.
  5. Regardless of what happens today, I will be praying for him and his family that God will bless them and guide them and make himself known to them.  And I think we all would do well to pray for him, even if we voted for the other guy.

Think you know who it is?  Think you can figure out who I voted for? Before you draw any conclusions, let me share one last thought with you:

6.  Everything I said about the man I voted for, I would also say about the man I didn’t.

Posted by: Jack Brown | July 6, 2012

Closing Time

I often find God does things in my life with very precise timing. I’m not talking about changing traffic lights to get somewhere faster (personally I think he’s more likely to give me a red light to remind me to stop rushing about), I’m talking about the way certain events line up in ways that are freakily connected. In small examples of this songs come on the radio just that speak directly to something I’m praying about at that moment, or a coupon comes in the mail from Firestone just as I need to have that particular thing done to my car (call it coincidence if you will, I see it as provision).

Sometimes, though, the connections are larger and more significant, and are meant to get my attention in a big way. One of those happened just recently. As I’ve shared on this blog, I’ve been in counseling for the past few months processing instances of sexual abuse in my childhood. It’s been an extremely productive time of reflection and self-realization (“Oh…THAT’S why I react that way”), and I’m very thankful for the counselor I’ve been seeing. I can honestly say I’m a different person now than I was 9 months ago, and those weekly times in her office were eye-opening, heart-opening, and tools in the hands of a healing God.

A couple of weeks ago I came to the realization that my time of processing, at least this particular season of it, was drawing to a close. I had an appointment with my counselor for Friday, and I decided to tell her I didn’t need any further appointments for now. Now some of you may recall that this whole journey began for me with Jerry Sandusky’s arrest last year for molesting young boys while part of the Penn State football program. Sandusky reminded me strongly of the man I encountered in my youth, and the news stories of his arrest hit me like a brick wall. So it seemed appropriate to me that on that Friday, just a few hours after I told my counselor I felt I had moved on enough to end my sessions, Sandusky was convicted of almost all counts against him. The headline “Sandusky Convicted” also hit me like a brick wall, but in a good way. The timing just seemed to much to believe. I sat by the television and cried for those young boys, now young men, and what they had to be feeling at that moment. And I prayed they would also find good people to walk alongside them in their path to healing. I knew what I experienced was only a shadow of the evil they encountered, but then again when you run into evil who quantifies? I wept for them and I wept for myself, but my tears were different than they were last autumn. Then they were the bitter tears of facing truth, now they were healthy tears of grieving loss. The first tears stung, these tears healed.

As I got ready for bed that night I sensed a strong feeling of closure. I felt a release to move on and see what the next steps of this journey look like. Now, of course I’m not suggesting that God timed the Sandusky case for my sake, but I do think the opposite may be true: it’s possible he timed my journey to coincide with the case. I don’t bother trying to figure that out. But I am thankful that it seemed like he was telling me, “I’ve got this under control. I know what has happened…and I know what needs to be done next. You can trust me.” That was a good feeling.

One thing my counselor was always good about was offering me something to drink for our sessions (water, tea, coffee if you’re wondering). I’m not much of a drinking man, so that may be the closest I’ll ever come to pouring out my troubles to a bartender figure. But now it’s closing time, and I need to head back out into the “real world.” And I know it’s a scary place, believe me–I know. But that’s OK. It may be closing time, but it opens up a lot of possibilities.

Posted by: Jack Brown | March 25, 2012

20 Reasons I Love My Wife

All I want to do in this blog post is list just some of the reasons I love my wife. Anyone got a problem with that? Good, now let’s start. 🙂

1. She is one of the most gracious and gentle people I know.
2. She pursues Jesus with all of her heart.
3. She makes me laugh.
4. She is insightful.
5. She lets me cry when I need to cry.
6. She gives me space when I need it.
7. She pushes me when I need to be pushed.
8. She listens to me.
9. She is kind. She is smart. She is important.
10. She is also hot.
11. She loves many of the things I love. When she doesn’t, she puts up with it anyway.
12. She provides care for hurting people in a way I wish I could.
13. She is a fantastic mother.
14. She stops to soak things in, instead of rushing to the next thing.
15. Did I mention she’s hot?
16. She is a joy to be with, even if we’re just sitting on the couch watching “American Idol.”
17. She sees things I miss.
18. She still likes to ride the carousel at Disneyland.
19. She loves me.
20. She has traveled the world with me, and says she would do it again.

This list is not exhaustive. It never could be.

Posted by: Jack Brown | February 21, 2012

Casting Out Fear

“Fear is the path to the dark side…”–Yoda

Twenty years ago if you had told me they’d be releasing a Star Wars film in 3D to theaters, and that I wouldn’t care a bit, I would’ve thought you mad.  But that was before (*whispered fearfully*) the prequels.  While nothing will ever take the luster out of the original trilogy for me (Ewoks and all), you can bet I won’t be running to the theater to catch the first couple of episodes in all of their 3D mediocrity.

I’ll say this, though…I think George Lucas may have stumbled into a rather profound truth with the above quote from The Phantom Menace.  The full Yoda quote (for you non-scifi types out there) is “Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  There is great wisdom in that little green guy.  The idea that fear is what sets on down a very dark path is one of the truths I’ve been sitting with the past few months.

As I said in my last post, one of my earliest memories is of the terror I felt whenever the janitor from my school was near.  I’m realizing now that the fear I encountered then has shaped so much of my life ever since.  Over the years I have struggled with depression and anxiety in various doses, and most of the time I would blame it on the circumstances I encountered at any given time: a horrible boss, financial pressure, stressful relationships…you name it, I blamed it.  But the thing was, even when I dealt with the circumstances (either by change, departure, or therapy), the lingering darkness was there.  Actually, it was more than lingering.  It was crippling.

One of the most profound moments of the past few months was when my wonderful Christian counselor encouraged me to picture myself as a young boy, hiding behind that pillar at the school, running down the hallway to escape “the closet.”  She asked me how I felt about that young boy, and the sense of sadness and loss was thick in the air.  But then as I talked about it, I slipped in the way I spoke of what I saw.  I said, “When I was hiding behind the pillar at the church.”  Not “the school.”  “The church.”  And she wisely pointed out my slip.  That opened the door for me to talk about the fact that although I am nearly 40 years older, I am still that young boy.  I am still hiding.  And I am still haunted by fear.  Fear that has impacted my family, my job, my relationships…fear that definitely led to the “dark side.”

I wonder how many of us are struggling with darkness that we attribute to our circumstances, when instead the primary need is to name the fear that opened the door to it in the first place?  Name it, then seek healing from it.  And you may ask, “Where does the healing come from?”  That’s a good question, especially this time of year.

In the past few weeks, as I have learned more and more what it means to walk in freedom and grace, I’ve noticed something very interesting.  I often wake up with songs in my head, and then they stick with me through the day.  Sometimes that’s not a good thing, but lately I’ve noticed that the songs I wake up with and have in my head are songs that focus on a common theme: the love of God.  Songs like “And This is Love” and “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”  On top of that, the love of God has been a topic that keeps coming up in conversation, and as I read Scripture and prepare for Sundays.  Then it struck me: a verse I know well but had yet to apply to what I’ve been processing.  It’s 1 John 4:18–

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

All my life I’ve been wondering how to escape the fear, escape the darkness.  But what I’m learning to live is that the only way to escape the darkness is to run towards the light: the light of God’s love.  That is where fear is cast out, that is where true freedom lies.  And how wonderful to be rediscovering this truth at a deeper level now–at the beginning of Lent!  The next few weeks are all about the love of God shown in Christ’s sacrifice.  And now I see more clearly where that is meant to lead–to the place where we are “made perfect in love.”  To see that as my journey now–running to something instead of away–is a huge shift for me.

If you think about it, all of this relates to another thing George Lucas actually got right in Star Wars.  Because in the end (SPOILER ALERT, THOUGH IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN “STAR WARS” WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?), it’s the love of Anakin for his son that drives out the dark side and become the place of redemption.  And to George’s credit, he did set up that theme nicely in the prequels.  Hmmm…maybe I should go buy a movie ticket after all.

Oh, wait…Jar-Jar.  Forget I said that.

Posted by: Jack Brown | February 7, 2012

The Janitor’s Closet

Two weeks ago in my sermon I said these words:

“When I was nine years old, I encountered evil.
The effects of that encounter have been long-lasting and far-reaching.”

I didn’t go into detail from the pulpit (out of a desire to be sensitive to families with young folks in our church), but I did talk about the journey to freedom I have been on in recent months as I have been dealing with one simple, yet very complicated, fact: the janitor at my elementary school was a pedophile. For years (decades, in fact) I have ignored that reality and refused to face up to the impact it had on my life, but a number of factors last fall brought me to a place of realizing I needed to deal with it. The Penn State scandal was actually a big part of that realization, as I found myself not only obsessing with the story but also realizing the accused offender, Jerry Sandusky, reminded me of the janitor at my school. And as I watched that situation unfold, I heard a voice inside my head saying, “How long, Jack?” And for the first time in my life I found myself replying, “No longer.”

The main reason I have never dealt with this is that I spent all my life minimizing what had happened. My attitude was this: “What happened to me wasn’t as bad as what other kids go through, so I should just get over it and move on.” It wasn’t until a friend of mine pointed out to me that while it may be true I was spared the very worst possible scenarios, what happened to me would have been more than enough to send this guy to jail for a long, long time. She looked at me and said, “Jack, you were the victim of a sexual predator.” I never thought of myself that way. After all, who wants to?

I don’t know how long it went on, but I have numerous memories of being lured by this janitor into his little closet near the school bathrooms (I would later learn he had holes drilled in the wall to look into them). There he would show me things that a nine-year-old boy shouldn’t have to see, and try to get me to experience things a nine-year-old boy shouldn’t experience. And one my strongest memories is running as fast as I could to get away from that closet. In fact, it became a regular practice of mine to hide behind a pillar in the school near the closet anytime I needed to go past it. I would stand there, consumed by sheer terror, and then when I was sure he wasn’t looking I would run as fast as my little legs could carry me.

What I’ve since come to realize is that I have been running ever since. That janitor’s closet has come to symbolize for me all the things I’m afraid of, the greater sense I’ve always struggled with that there was something “out there” just waiting to get me. Most kids worry about monsters under their bed, but the image in my mind as a child was of a very real monster who has lurked in my subconscious ever since. I have always struggled with inordinate levels of fear and anxiety, worry and sense of being out-of-control. While I know it isn’t all because of that closet, I know that it begins there. And unless I deal with the root, the weeds will never stop growing.

So I hope you can understand as I attempt in my next few blog postings to process the journey I’ve been on. One of the very clear things I’ve learned recently is that I need to open up and share my story with others. This seems a good medium for doing that–I always think better when I type things out. And who knows…maybe there are others out there who have a “janitor’s closet”–a memory, a struggle, a stronghold that hovers in the back of their life and exerts too much control over them. And maybe we can make some progress on closing the doors together.

Posted by: Jack Brown | January 23, 2012

How Do We Remember Joe Pa?

Earlier today I read an editorial from a local sportswriter who made this declaration: “In my book, [Joe Paterno] always will be remembered for the child sexual abuse scandal and nothing more.” The question that came to my mind, after first uttering a few choice words in anger at his failed attempt to make this a “black or white, all or nothing” issue, was this: how should we remember a man who positively impacted countless young lives, yet failed to protect other young men at a time when they were most vulnerable and exposed to pure evil? And as I sat with that question an even larger one formed in my mind: what defines us and our legacy in this world? That’s a big question, but an important one.

Another sports commentator I listen to attacked that question from a different angle today regarding Paterno–he kept asking, “When all is said and done, does the good outweigh the bad or does the bad outweigh the good?” His attempt to work through the issues was somewhat more nuanced than our local personality, but in my mind it still missed the point. As if we could somehow quantify the whole of the man’s life and assign points in the “good” and “bad” columns, then add them all up and see what the final tally is. How do we begin to do that? How much is it worth, for example, the number of times Joe Paterno encouraged a young man who was failing to live up to his potential, or steered a player into a greater determination to make the most of every academic opportunity and expand his understanding of life beyond the gridiron? How many points do those get in the “good column,” and then how many “bad” points do we give for his various failings and shortcomings? And the biggest question–how many does he get for failing to act on behalf of the innocent victims who continued to suffer because he and the PSU administration did nothing about Jerry Sandusky?

I, for one, am not willing to even attempt such a grading task. Yes, without a doubt, what happened in the Sandusky situation was far more heinous, far more destructive, and far more painful that we can possibly imagine. And no amount of good Paterno ever did could “balance out” what happened to those kids. But it is also true that what Paterno did, or failed to do, in that situation does not automatically cancel out all the good he did in young lives and for his university community through the decades. To say the man deserves no credit or respect for that is to say that the only thing that defined him as a person was his role in the sexual abuse scandal. It was a huge thing, to be sure, but it certainly did not define him.

I suppose my thinking on this is shaped by my belief that defining a human being can never be as simple as a math equation. I am not the total of the “good things” I’ve done in my life minus the “bad things.” I am both. I am both the things I’ve done right and the things I’ve done wrong. I am both the things I’ve done for selfless reasons and selfish ones. I am both the remorse I feel for my mistakes and the pride I feel for my accomplishments. You cannot separate the two, not for me or not for Joe Paterno. And on top of that, whenever we bring this reality to bear on another person we need to remember that we have no insight into their heart. Who knows the remorse and grief he felt for what happened? Some are saying it killed him, and whether or not that’s true what is true is that you and I have no window into the man’s soul. And surely that must be taken into account when “defining” someone.

So how do we remember Joe Pa? I will choose to remember him as I hope I will be remembered: as someone who desired to do good, but didn’t always live up to that standard. As a failed and flawed mortal who cannot be defined merely by success or failure, but as an amalgam of both in varying degrees. In doing so we acknowledge that many lives were positively impacted by the man’s actions, just as many were harmed by his inactions. And ultimately I will choose to remember that what I believe or say about him pales in comparison to the grace and mercy of God, which should be the final word anyway.

Posted by: Jack Brown | September 26, 2011

The Real Problem With Facebook’s New “Ticker”

I will be posting less and less on Facebook until some changes are made to their new feature, the constantly-updating real-time news feed function called the “Ticker.” It seems that every single post, comment, and “like” I make on Facebook is now broadcast to my friends list regardless of my desires. Facebook presents this as an issue of privacy, their stock line is “We aren’t putting anything in the Ticker that isn’t already public on Facebook.” What they don’t understand is that it’s not a privacy issue really. It’s more of a comfort and control issue, where I believe I should have more say over how my interactions on Facebook are broadcast and displayed.

For example, suppose I have a second cousin once removed who lives in Nebraska. If I post something on his wall, it may well be public, but I think I have a reasonable expectation that the only people who will bother to read that post will be his other friends and family. I don’t expect every single one of my friends to pop by a total stranger’s page and read what I wrote. In the past when faced with situations like this, where I didn’t mind something being public but I also didn’t see a need for it to be shared with my friends, I would simply delete the “Posted to so-and-so’s Wall” that would appear on my profile and it was done with. But now, as I’ve already tested out, that apparently doesn’t work with the Ticker.

Another issue, one that is not as bothersome for me but certainly comes to mind, is that the Ticker broadcasts to the world, “Hey, so-and-so’s on Facebook RIGHT NOW!” Certainly there are times when we all would like to be on Facebook, but not have it broadcast to the world that we’re currently online. After all, Facebook gives us the opportunity to “hide” in the Chat feature, shouldn’t we be able to do the same for the Ticker as well?

Facebook tells me I shouldn’t post things I don’t want made public. That’s true. But I also think that I should have the ability to decide if something I post is transmitted to my entire friends list or not (and immediately, to boot). Facebook doesn’t seem to understand that just because something is publicly available doesn’t mean it needs to be broadcast to every corner of the earth. And for that reason, I will be using Facebook less and less until changes are made.

Posted by: Jack Brown | September 15, 2011

Could it be…

I always loved Dana Carvey’s Church Lady on Saturday Night Live. My favorite part of each sketch was when she would point out a disturbing reality in the life of her guest and then search for the name of the one to blame for such sinful behavior. After pretending to mull over the question for a moment, the answer was always the same:

“Could it be…SATAN?”

You ever wonder when Satan is first named in the Bible? You might think it was early on, like in the garden or some of that weird early history of humanity in the book of Genesis. But despite all the appearances of the “evil one” from the beginning, he doesn’t really get a name until well into Old Testament history–during the reign of David, to be exact. In 1 Chronicles 21:1 the Hebrew word satan appears for the first time without a definite article, giving it the ring of a proper name instead of “the adversary.” The verse goes like this:

“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.”

A few of us at Redeemer have spent a lot of time mulling over this story from 1 Chronicles 21 these past few months. It’s interesting to note that Satan’s first named appearance in the Old Testament comes when he convinces David that it’s time to number the men of Israel to get a sense of how strong they were as a nation. As the story continues, David’s ensuing census angers God, who offers David a choice of punishments for his lack of trust. God is offended that David places his trust in human strength instead of divine promise, and as a result God sends judgment for David’s sin.

There is such wealth in this passage for pastors and churches. We tend to obsess over numbers in our congregations: how many are in worship, how much are they giving, how many volunteers do we have, and as Yul Brynner would say, “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” And while it’s important to stay on top of such things, we can never place our trust in them. Our strength is not in our numbers, our strength rests on the promises of God. Imagine what church could be like if we trusted less in our many censuses* and learned to trust more in God Himself.

Of course, we don’t only do this in churches, do we? We can do it in our own lives, looking to the resources at our disposal as the means of our success or our failure. In the end this story of David is about the sin of self-sufficiency, something I am prone to quite often. And I’m thankful for the way God intervenes to pry my fingers loose, even though the process He uses to return my trust to its proper place is sometimes painful. It needs to be, because I need to be reminded how worthless it is to trust in my own strength and resources ahead of God’s provision and promises.

There is so much more in this story worth diving into, but it’s late and now I can’t get songs from The King and I out of my head. More on 1 Chronicles 21 later. But I’ll leave you with this question for now: next time you find yourself taking a census of your own resources, looking to them as the indicator of your success or your strength, you might want to ask yourself, “Who is enticing me to this behavior?”

Could it be…SATAN?

———————————————————-
*”Censuses” is the correct plural. I looked it up. 🙂

Posted by: Jack Brown | August 26, 2011

Shouting at the Darkness

So…anyone still out there?

Anyone who was kind enough to check out my blog when I started back in March may have noticed I abruptly stopped after just a week or so. This was not laziness or forgetfulness, prone as I am to those maladies. There was a very specific reason I stopped, and now there is a very specific reason I’m attempting to start again.

I began this blog in the midst of the whole Rob Bell “Love Wins” nastiness, and part of my initial intent was to work through my own feelings regarding that book and the ensuing controversy. But a funny thing happened on the way to the heretic-burning…I found myself agitated beyond belief, and rather than processing my feelings I quickly became overwhelmed by them. For a while there I ate up everything I could find regarding heaven, hell, and the fate of everyone who read Rob’s book, and as I ingested all the stuff out there I became distracted, disturbed, and occasionally disgusted. The amount of vitriol and uproar over “Love Wins” became, for me, an unhealthy thing.

The operative word in that sentence is “for me,” by the way. I am not saying that debate and discussion about issues like Rob raised in “Love Wins” is unhealthy, only that the tenor of the conversation was not good for me personally. I am, by nature, a debater. I love to engage people I disagree with in some fun and thoughtful exchange of ideas. But with the whole “Love Wins” dustup I was reminded that I am also, by nature, a bit obsessive (some of you will no doubt chuckle at the phrase “a bit”).  I started gorging on the controversy, and truth be told, the more I digested, the more nauseous I became.

So I walked. And I’m glad I did. It kept me sane. Well, sane for me anyway.

But yet here I am again. Why? Well, thanks for asking…I’ll tell you. Yesterday I was challenged by someone I respect very much to add a new level of thinking in my daily walk. Seems I spend much of my life focusing on things that are “not true.” Depending on my mood I either debate them or become overwhelmed by them, but they consume my thoughts more than I care to admit. And let’s face it, in our lives, our culture and our church communities we could spend almost all of our time thinking and debating the things that are false, misleading, or downright lies. And there’s a place for that–untruths need to be challenged and called out for what they are. But that is only half of the battle. Not only should we point out what is not true, we should also focus on what is true. It’s not enough to root out the lie, we must also dwell in the truth. In fact, dwelling in the truth is the surest way to defeat the lie. Falsehoods are not beaten into submission by our clever arguments and deconstructions, much as we feed our ego by thinking so. We don’t dispel the darkness by yelling at it and calling it “dark,” rather the darkness dissipates as we dwell in the light.

Jesus says in John 8 that the truth sets us free. So as I begin this little exercise anew, I hope to spend more time focusing on what is true, and in doing so to discover more of what freedom looks like. Time to stop shouting at the darkness and turn towards the light.

““I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”–John 8:12

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