My Brother’s Unexpected Death

Psalm 39:4-5 CSB
“LORD, make me aware of my end and the number of my days so that I will know how short-lived I am. [5] In fact, you have made my days just inches long, and my life span is as nothing to you. Yes, every human being stands as only a vapor. Selah

My brother passed away last Wednesday night, January 9, 2019, unexpectedly after a family dinner. He was 47 years old a loving husband and good father to his daughter, Gianna. Everyone close to him were shocked. My parents came up from North Carolina for closure and funeral arrangements. I cried many tears over the past few days regarding his passing. As a family we began the grieving process.

Yet, as a Christian, my brother is at perfect peace and at rest (R.I.P.). In Matthew’s gospel it is written:

Matthew 11:28-30 CSB
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. [29] Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

There is no more pain, suffering, job stress, responsibilities to be done, he has found wholeness and shalom. Brandon Andress writes:

“Beauty can, and will, come from this wreckage and devastation. But sometimes, it may not be apparent to you, or even apparent to you in your lifetime.

Suffering, as an end destination, is nothing but wreckage and devastation and hopelessness. It is a wasteland where nothing good is found and where misery and brokenness reside. It is the valley of the shadow of death.

But suffering, as a transformative passageway, is the ground upon which beauty flourishes, where hope is birthed. It is the morning light, the dawning of a new day, from which the first hopeful rays break over the distant horizon of the valley that causes the darkness to flee. You may not trust these words right now, but there is hope in your pain and suffering. From the outside looking in, pain and suffering as a transformative passageway where beauty begins to spring forth, is completely counterintuitive. It is upside-down thinking to the logical mind. But for the contemplative seeker, for the humble mystic, it is the power of God that brings life from death.” (Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage, Kindle loc. 4161-4183)

Life will come from my brother’s death, and it can be an agent of transformation. My brother was a confirmed Lutheran, and one of the things that Lutheran’s believe about the rhythms of life is that it is contained within death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4), death and rebirth (Titus 3:5).

Revelation 21:4-5 CSB
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. [5] Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”

My hope is God will make all things new through my brother’s passing. Each and every one of us will learn something through it. Our lives are a vapor in the grand scheme of things, and everything is impermenant.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 CSB
and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes from her book, Learning to Walk in The Dark, about the cloud of unknowing, and the closer it seems we are to God, the more uncertain this life seems to be. Questions go unanswered, dogma or doctrine that seemed certain now leaves us some doubt, when disease seems to be cured, another ailment pops up. She writes:

“Among the other treasures of darkness I have dug up along the way are a new collection of Bible stories that all happen after dark, a new set of teachers who know their way around the dark, a deeper reverence for the cloud of unknowing, a greater ability to abide in God’s absence, and—by far the most valuable of all—a fresh baptism in the truth that loss is the way of life. ” (Barbara Brown Taylor, page 186)

So, as I close this article, by faith I know that my brother is at perfect peace and rest. He did believe that Jesus was the Messiah and that God raised him from the dead (Matt 16:16, Romans 10:9-10), so for those that come from Evangelical circles, he was a Christian. Even if he wasn’t, he is included just for the fact that he is human. The Gospel is never about our performance or works (Eph. 2:8-9), but is about what God did on the cross of Calvary as an outpouring of love where sin and death were finally defeated (1 John 4:7-16). Thus, perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). William Paul Young writes:

“Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. When Jesus was lifted up, God “dragged” all human beings to Himself (John 12:32). Jesus is the Savior of all humankind, especially believers (1 Timothy 4:10). Further, every single human being is in Christ (John 1:3), and Christ is in them, and Christ is in the Father (John 14:20). When Christ—the Creator in whom the cosmos was created—died, we all died. When Christ rose, we rose (2 Corinthians 5).” (William Paul Young, Lies People Believe about God, pages 118-119)

Thus, all of us are included (the inclusive gospel) regardless if we are good enough, made the confession that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, or if we don’t believe in God, all of humanity is included in God’s redemptive work. We as humans do not have to fear death. Death is not final, but only the beginning of eternity. Yes, since our lives are like a vapor, we need to make every opportunity to love well, to be the people that God has called us to be, and to be a blessing to those around us.

My brother will surely be missed. At the company he worked for, they will need to hire three people to replace him to do what he did. He loved his wife and met her needs in a way that she could only receive, he was good dad and loved being a big kid to his daughter. He was good friend to laugh with and watch Blue Jackets games with. He made an impact on the world. He accomplished what the Divine had set him out to do.

I love him deeply and miss him, yet there is a hidden treasure for the living in this loss.

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Theme of the year – Becoming healthy, seeking wholeness, and transformation

Introduction

One of our culture’s New Year’s traditions is to make New Year’s resolutions. Anyway, I was listening to the Ransomed Heart Podcast, which is hosted by John Eldredge, author of “Wild at Heart”, and their New Year’s tradition is to consecrate the coming year to Jesus. One of their practices is to wait and hear from the Lord what the theme of the year will be.

For example, for Alan the word “Asaph” was given to him. Asaph was a priest during the reign of King David, and was a writer of many of the Psalms like David was. Some of the characteristics of Asaph was creativity, worship, and being artistic. So Alan concluded, that God wanted to enhance and encourage Alan’s artistic gifts.

Eldredge writes:

Sit with that for ten minutes. Let your heart surface and then … take it to Jesus in prayer. Lord, come into this. Show me the way. I will often ask God for his “theme” over my new year: Jesus, what is the theme of this year?

One of the questions that John places before the Lord is

  1. What do you want to do want to be different this year?
  2. What theme do you want me to have this year?

My Consecration

One of my areas that I struggle with is codependency. My goal this year is to deal with my codependency and become healthy. Most codependents try to find life in their relationships. Yet due to sin, we dig empty wells that do not satisfy in our earthly relationships and idolize those relationships. The only one that can fully satisfy is God himself. Just as St. Augustine has said that:

In yourself you rouse us, giving us delight in glorifying you, because you made us with yourself as our goal, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. (Confessions translated by Sarah Ruden)

So earlier this week I was praying with a friend, and as we were praying, the Lord gave me the word “enough”. As we prayed some more this phrase was given to me by the Lord as a truth to hold onto when my codependency rears it’s ugly head and says that I am not worthy of love, or when I start believing that I have to do certain things to earn the love of my spouse, my boss and co-workers, or other authority figures, I need to remember and be reminded of what God, the ultimate authority says about me. So this is the truth that God gave to me that brings true peace and freedom and can put me on the path of transformation and wholeness:

Consecrational Truth for 2019 – I am deeply loved by God, I am enough, and I am his beloved child.

Here are some principle’s from scripture that ground me in the truth stated above:

1). Seek God and his Kingdom First (Matt 6:32-33);

2). Submit to Christ’s reign and rule so that peace may reign in my life (Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 3:15; James 4:7);

3). Lose myself to be saved for his sake (Luke 9:23-24);

4). Abide in God’s Love (John 15:9);

5). Life is about death and resurrection, contrast and expansion (Rom. 6, Gal. 2:20-21);

6). Don’t hold onto things whether good or bad (impermanence), learn to let go (Phil. 2:5-10)(Kenosis);

7). Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ; rebuke and renounce any lies that I may have been deceived and chose to receive by the enemy, break any agreements that I have made with the accuser, repent and allow the truth of Christ to dissolve those agreements and bring the freedom that is available to me for those in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 10:4-5; Rom. 8:1-2; Gal. 5:1);

8). Remember, I am loved and that nothing can separate me from God’s love (Rom. 8:37-39), and my identity is a child of God (Rom. 8:14, 1 John 3:1);

9). Learn to live in gratitude and thankfulness, prayer needs to start in a place of thanksgiving (1 Thess 5:18-19);

10). The path (praxis) of transformation is through Kenosis ( letting go, emptying myself), theosis ( co-cruciformity, divinization, participating in Christ’s story), and apokatastasis (hope for the restoration of all things (Col. 1:27, 2 Peter 1:4-8);

11). Be merciful to others as God has been merciful to me (Matt 6:14);

12). Be slow to speak, quick to listen, be salt and light (James 1:19-20; Matt. 5:13-16);

13). Remember that Christ is the filter how I need to relate people ( Gal. 6:14; Col. 3:3), the Bible, the church, and the world around me.

Conclusion

So how are you going to dedicate your year to God?

2018 Year in Review

This has been an insightful year.  The biggest change in my life is that I married Jayne Davis, and my family has grown from two of us to four of us with Lily and I joining Jayne and her daughter Kayli to form the Davis-Sloan Family Partnership.  Some of the highlights of the year other than marrying Jayne were:

  • Going on a family camping trip with the Davis’s to Mackinac City and Mackinac Island.
  • Participating in the Ohio Renaissance Festival, playing dress up for each themed weekend.  This year my favorite was Barbarian Weekend, Jayne’s was Pirate Weekend.
Barbarian Weekend at the Ohio Renaissance Festival
Pirate Weekend at Ohio Renaissance Festival

  • I got to witness my daughter Lily learn how to ride a bike.
  • Experiencing different cultures and religions such as participating in the Great Mohican Pow Wow.
Lily with two dancers at the Great Mohican Pow Wow

Favorite Books of 2018

The other change is that I have left conservative evangelicalism characterized by Neo-Reformed Theology and have become a Progressive-Evangelical.  You all can probably tell how I am slanted both politically and theologically from the list of books that has made the largest impact on my life this year.  Many of them were released prior to 2018.

These are some of my favorite books on my Kindle this year:

  1. Cross Vision and Crucifixion of the Warrior God – Gregory A. Boyd – Interpreting violent passages in the Old Testament filtered through the Cross of Christ.
  2. Jesus Untangled – Keith Giles – This book is a call for American Churches to come back to its first love, Jesus Christ, and stop flirting with Nationalism
  3. Heretic! – Matthew J. Distefano – An alternative view of Orthodox Christianity from a progressive view point
  4. A More Christlike God, A More Beautiful Gospel – Brad Jersak. This book is a beautiful picture of the biblical doctrine of Kenosis. He also talks about cruciformity as the means by which we walk with God and interpret scripture.
  5. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God – Brian Zahnd. Brian Zahnd is a Pastor out of St. Joseph, Missouri and has a written a book for those of us considering leaving Calvinism to a much clearer picture of Jesus.
  6. Inspired by Rachel Held Evans – A book about the Bible and learning how to read it from a literary perspective, not a theological perspective.
  7. Sola Jesus – Ken Wilson and Emily Swan – A great book that talks about that the foundation of Christianity should be Jesus not the Bible.
  8. Divine Dance by Richard Rohr. Richard Rohr has reintroduced me to mysticism and perennial wisdom where all world religions point to the Universal Christ. The Divine Dance is his book on the Trinity.
  9. Liturgy of the Ordinary with Tish Harrison Warren. Many Evangelicals have embraced aspects of Liturgical Churches such as Anglicanism where they have adopted the liturgy found within the Book of Common Prayer, adopted the Centering Prayer and the Examen from Catholicism, and started reading mystics like Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgealt as a means of connecting with God on a deeper level.

The other thing that I found this year were podcasts. Many of the podcasts listed below have helped revive my faith in the midst of some of the challenges I faced in the past year as I have left Reformed Charismatic and reconstructed to a more progressive-mystical brand of Christianity. They are:

  1. Son of a Preacher Man – Jonathan Martin. Jonathan has the gift of preaching and is also on a faith journey similar to mine. He has deconstructed away from Pentecostalism to a more deeper mystical faith.
  2. Word of Life Sermons – Brian Zahnd. Brian also has the gift of preaching. He reminds me of an Old Testament Prophet that holds the church and America accountable to being followers of Jesus, not Nationalism.
  3. The Heretic Happy Hour. I love the personalities of this podcast, Matthew J. Distefano, Keith Giles, and Jamal Jivangee bring their faith and talk about all of the hot topics that are of interest in Christendom such as hell, women in ministry, sex, smoking pot, and had notable guests like William Paul Young, Brian Zahnd, and Rachel Held Evans.
  4. The Bible for Normal People – Peter Enns. Peter Enns is a Scholar of the Old Testament and reminds me of some of my philosophy professors from Ohio University.
  5. The Meeting House Sermons – Bruxy Cavey – Bruxy is a Anabaptist Pastor and has a beautiful heart for God. He did a series on Buddhism and Christianity.
  6. Nomad – British podcast on faith and Christianity. Some notable guests were Brad Jersak, Vicky Beeching, and Tom Wright.
  7. Homebrewed Christianity – Tripp Fuller – A podcast for theology nerds like me. He introduced me to process theology.
  8. Drunk Ex-Pastors – A great podcast about current events, culture, and Justin Bieber.
  9. Black Sheep Experience with Craig Hostetler – Craig was a local Pastor in Illinois and left the pastorate. He is a metalhead like me, and is on a similar faith journey into mystical Christianity.
  10. Greg Boyd – Apologies and Explanations – Greg is a leading progressive Christian Scholar and Pastor. Since he is an open theist, he would be considered heretical in some circles. His podcast has short episodes answering questions from theology questions, relationship questions, to cultural questions.

As I look towards a wonderful 2019, I plan on writing at least a draft of a book what it means to be a follower of Jesus both from a theological, biblical, and personal perspective that may not fit into the neat little boxes defined by Evangelicalism.  The application part will be drawn more from the mystical traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy and Anabaptist traditions supported by Gregory A. Boyd and Bruxy Cavey from the Meeting House.

God’s love is what will be the baseline for all of my relationships and what defines a follower of Jesus. The question that God will ask us at the end of the age is “have you received my love, and how have you given away my love.”

The Shepherds – God’s Witnesses to Christ’s Birth

Luke 2:8–21

The Shepherds and the Angels

[8] And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. [10] And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. [11] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [12] And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” [13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

[14] “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”(1)

[15] When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” [16] And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. [17] And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. [18] And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. [19] But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. [20] And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

[21] And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Introduction

In our nation, we have a problem with defining who is “in and who is out.”  Many of us define this by sociological and by tribal means.  My tribe, race, nationality is right, and because you are not part of this, you must be wrong or on the outside looking in.  Yet, the celebration of Jesus birth, and the incarnation retold by Luke, tears down the barriers and walls that we have erected in our churches on determining who is in and out.

In the above passage, it was the shepherds that got to witness and experience Jesus birth first before kings, governors, rulers, and the religious leaders of those in Palestine.  God chose to reveal his messiah first to the shepherds as a sign what kind of King and Kingdom that God was going to initiate.

Shepherds

The shepherds were considered to be the lowest of those that were free, not enslaved who lived in Roman Palestine.  They were watching their herds at night which meant that this season was probably in the Spring or Summer months.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and they responded in fear.  The fear was probably due to their greatness, and also to the sudden unexpected appearance to them.  Most of them probably thought that they were doomed and were going to die being in the presence of such great and scary creatures.

The message that the angel gave to the shepherds was the good news (Gospel) found in verse eleven which says “for unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Three times in this verse, Jesus titles are spoken to the shepherds.  Jesus is the savior, the Christ, and the Lord.  All of which have significant meaning to anyone living under Roman occupation that isn’t part of the Roman Empire.  This King would bring peace on earth to its inhabitants. 

The significance of this event first being revealed to the shepherds is enormous. According to Walter Brueggeman:

“Not Caesar in Rome, not Herod in Jerusalem, not Pilate as governor, not all the presidents and premiers and executives and generals, not any of them will be king, because the world has turned a new way. It has been turned so that a king shall come from Bethlehem, not from a great city, but from a little city filled with filth and poverty…Where there has been fear, he will bring joy. Where there was oppression, he will bring justice. where there was suffering and sorrow, he will bring wholeness. All the kings of the world hustled to keep their thrones. They are panic-stricken powers, scared of everything and everyone, but they don’t know how to work at it except to kill and destroy, and our whole human history is like that. Except God has made a fresh decision, and this new one does not come as a threat, but as a child. He does not come as victory, but as a helpless child. He does not come in pride, but in a way almost unnoticed by the world. But he is King. He is not robed in splendor but in baby clothes. He is not in the royal nursery, but in a barn.” (Brueggeman – Celebrating Abundance, pages 54-55).

The shepherds did what the angel spoke to them about concerning Jesus birth, they were able to experience it by seeing that he was in a manger with his parents in Bethlehem. 

The fact that Luke chooses to tell this particular story of Jesus birth and incarnation about the shepherds reveals to whom his audience is.  It isn’t those that are considered right with God, or those that have status within Roman Palestine, but to those that are considered outcasts of their culture and society.  God was going to lift up and place value on those that the culture considered invaluable.

Conclusion

In Luke’s telling of Jesus birth and by highlighting the main characters of this pericope being the shepherds reveals that the gospel was not just for those in positions of influence, but for all of mankind.  God would bring joy and hope to all of the earth since it’s savior has arrived.   He would bring peace on earth in place of strife, unrest, and conflict.  His Kingdom would be everlasting and shall not end.  He was the hope prophesied by Isaiah and would be God with us (Immanuel).

This is the reason why this is significant is that according to NT Wright”

The birth of this little  boy is the beginning of a confrontation between the Kingdom of God-in all its apparent weakness, insignificance and vulnerability- and the Kingdoms of the world.” (Wright, Advent for Everyone, Kindle Loc. 1430) The fact that the angel called him Savior and Lord are titles used to describe Caesar.  The good news of Rome through their Pax Romana was through military force and wealth.  The good news of Jesus birth foretold what kind of savior he would be and to whom.  His rule and reign was through peace not intimidation and taxation.  His Kingdom would be a subversive Kingdom.  Also, according to Wright, the manager itself was a signpost to the type of Kingdom he would inaugurate.