A Celebration of the Life of Rose Ella Miller Brooks, 1933-2018

On March 1, 2018, I had the honor and privilege of preaching my Momma’s celebration of life service. I have received messages from folks who were not able to make it and wanted to experience it. I have posted the text here and the audio from the service is below (inserted below the opening prayer) so that you don’t miss the great music by my wife, Paige, and the music ministry of ISBC Glenwood Campus.

On behalf of my family, I want to thank you for being here this evening and for all the wonderful expressions of love through your kind words, flowers, food, and other gracious acts over the past few days. They have all been greatly appreciated.

Jesus once stood before a vast crowd on the side of a hill and uttered these words we find in Matthew 5:

 “13 You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14″You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.16Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

I would like to use these words to try to frame the life of my mother, Rose Ella Miller Brooks. Would you pray with me?

 Prayer: “Heavenly Father, tonight we gather in this place to celebrate the life of one of your children. We are clinging to your gracious promises of peace and comfort that available to us through your abiding Spirit. Father, give me the words to speak and the strength to speak them. And may you receive all the glory and honor tonight. In Jesus name we pray, AMEN.”

If you thought it was easy to try to encapsulate her life into a few, concise words, think again! Mimi and I, under the leadership of the Good Lord, have collaborated on this because it was a task too big for just one of us. Fact is, there’s never been one quite like my momma!

My grandfather, K. Miller, instilled in my momma, along with sisters, Vonda and Sue, that if you were going to do something at all, you needed to do the very best you could. Just halfway doing something was NEVER an option. This value shaped and defined my momma. Jesus speaks of His followers being the salt of the earth and what happens when salt becomes tasteless. While some might want to disagree, I would submit to you that tasteless was never a part of Rose Brooks’ vernacular. Fashion and appearance were passions for her. My mother dared not even step outside the door to get the newspaper unless she was completely and totally “put together.” Not only did she have the outfit, she had the accessories, the jewelry, and the shoes to match whatever the theme of the day.

She was on a first name basis with the salespeople from Nettie Lee, Miller’s, Hess’, Parks-Belk, Proffit’s and Belk again. If UPS had established a Hall of Fame, my momma’s bronze bust would be adorning one of its pedestals right now. Those little brown trucks were the bane of my father’s existence. I have friends who have never seen my mother without her makeup on and hair just right. For that matter,  I have family members who have never seen it either.

To illustrate how much this meant to her, I take you back to Tuesday, February 20, a little over a week ago. Mimi and I finally won the battle and momma agreed to go back to the ER. Though we didn’t want to believe it at the time, she was dying. But before I carried her out of the house and placed her in the car, she spent 30 minutes walking Mimi, step by step, through the process of applying her makeup. She would not have, consciously, left home without it. Before Tim came from Oak Hill to pick up her body early last Sunday morning, Mimi carefully applied her lipstick and highlighted her famous beauty mark because that was what Momma would have wanted.

Speaking of tastes, not only was Momma passionate about fashion, she was a foodie from way back. Rose Brooks was a gourmet chef. From good ol’ country cooking like fried potatoes and onions and biscuits and gravy, to stir frying Oriental recipes in the wok, to more intricate and complex entrees, crepes, appetizers, and making the best candy and desserts ever, she could do it all! Momma was the greatest cook I ever knew. Anytime we ever went to a restaurant and had something especially tasty, I would sarcastically say to her, “Momma, there’s no way you could ever make this!” She would either get the waiter to ask the chef for the recipe or she would just go home and perfect it by trial and error. Heck, I even loved the errors!

She felt like no matter what “ailed” us, she could heal it with food. When Aunt Susie nearly broke her foot and was bedridden for a time, she convalesced at Mom’s. When Mimi had brain surgery to remove a tumor, she recovered at Mom’s, like so many times before. Mom delighted in waiting on us hand and foot…and Mimi thought long and hard about what other organ she might be able to do without just to continue to enjoy that treatment.

Momma delighted in cooking things that I would like. Being a large man, I have always struggled to keep my weight down. When I would go to Mom and Dad’s they would be quick to say, “You might want to start watching your weight – you’re getting a little heavy.” Which would always be followed by Momma saying, “Here taste this! Have a piece of this!” Very confusing!

One of her all-time specialties became a New York style cheesecake. She always kept one around, ready at a moment’s notice to be delivered to some bereaved family or someone celebrating something somewhere.

Speaking of salt, I would be remiss if I did not also say that momma could be salty when it was necessary. You see Rose Brooks loved her family fiercely. She invested a great deal of time and attention into her husband, her children and her grandchildren. And when we made friends and brought them home to meet Momma, they were able to take shelter under her protective wings, as well. But don’t dare cross her or those she loved! I will never forget the time I was in the fourth grade. I would walk home from the old Washington Elementary School. I would cross paths with a couple of middle school boys walking from Sevier and they would like to try to pick on me and it would make me mad. Momma made me tell her about it one day. The next day the big black, 1979 Lincoln Town Car was parked in front of the school because Momma was there to pick me up … and go hunting. Though I protested, she made me point them out and she wheeled that Lincoln up to the curb and commenced to giving those two boys what for. In eight more years in the Kingsport public schools, I never saw them again!

Jesus continued saying, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” Rose Brooks lit up every room she ever walked into. Her laugh was one of her signature characteristics. She loved people and she loved creating environments that allowed people to be entertained. She was an amazingly talented and creative person when it came to directing and producing a party. The soirees that she hosted at our home, as well as, larger community events involving the Commodore Club or the Country Club became legendary.

Mom and Dad were together for 60 years. Though there were plenty of salty moments in their relationship, they loved each other deeply and they shared some wonderfully memorable times with family and friends. Now, after a little over three years of separation, they have been reunited. I can say that with confidence because we had many discussions about faith and both of them had trusted Christ and were clinging to the hope that is found in Him. Though I would have liked them to have been more involved in the life of the church during my lifetime, Mom and Dad grew up in the church and spent many years singing about the Savior and Lord in whom they had each confessed their faith.

Even after Mom stopped attending church regularly when I was a kid, she loved listening to the Bible on tape. She had a set of audio tapes with the King James Version that she would listen to on her Walkman while working around the house. In fact, she listened so often, one day she was standing in the kitchen at the sink looking out the window when Dad came home from work. Oddly, rather than approaching the house as he normally would from the right side, down Radcliffe Ave., he came from the left, down Springfield. So when he came in, she was puzzled and asked, “Why comest thou from the left?” They both had a big laugh.

One of my greatest experiences came nearly seven years ago when Mom and Dad came forward and I received them into the fellowship of Indian Springs Baptist Church.

So if you are here tonight and you are a theologian, you know that I have grossly misappropriated scripture to create a paradigm with which to talk about my Momma. Now I intend to rectify that. You see, when Jesus speaks of His followers being salt and light, He is urging us to live godly lives. To live in such a way as to allow the Holy Spirit to empower and enable us so that the gospel is given an opportunity to do what only the gospel can do. The gospel convicts folks of sin and points to the only hope that we have to overcome our sin problem which is Jesus Christ. You see, my sister and I are who we are in large part due to the Momma that gave birth to us, raised us, loved us, taught us and nurtured us. And many times, when we do and say things, people will point out that we sound or act just like Momma Rose. Likewise, for those who have been born again, we are who we are and we do what we do because of what Christ has done in us and is doing through us.

We need to look at the last verse of this text which states, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Though I love my Momma, my ultimate goal is not to have people see me and remember her. My ultimate goal is for people to see me and/or any good works that I might perform, and they would glorify my Father in Heaven. I mentioned earlier, there is no one quite like my Momma. But greater still, there is no one quite like my Jesus! And “there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” And I have it on good authority, that if my parents could somehow get a message back to you right now, that message would be, “Repent, believe and confess Jesus as Lord. You will not be sorry.”

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we are grateful to you that you are here with us as our shepherd to give us peace, comfort, and hope, because we need it.  We thank you for Rose Brooks and the many blessings that you brought to us through her life.  We are thankful that we were touched by her spirit and encouraged by the way she loved You and loved us. We are grateful that by her faith in Jesus Christ, now she is in Heaven with you, and all the weakness and frailty of our human experience has been taken away and replaced with eternal peace and joy.  But her being there means that she is no longer here with us, Lord, and we hurt tonight.  May Your Holy Spirit minister in a special way to our family.  Lift us up with Your tender comfort.  Sustain us with Your perfect peace.  Fill us with Your hopeful joy.  Lord, help us to trust You and live with You, abiding in You, and may we continue to experience Your peaceful presence in our lives, for we pray this in Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

 

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The Power of Investing in People

Edith Jennings had a decision to make.  She was in her late fifties and had worked many years for the hotel in housekeeping.  Now a new opportunity had presented itself.  The hotel manager had come to her and asked if she would be willing to quit her job and start a new one, taking care of the manager’s infant son so that she could resume her duties managing the successful enterprise.  Edith had already raised 5 children and played a significant role in the rearing of her grandchildren, but her love for the Lord and her love for children compelled her to say “yes.”

She took to her new vocation with vigor, doting over this little boy as if he were her own.  She was short in stature, but her heart knew no limitations.  They would play together, take walks together and she tried her best to keep the little tike from messing up the house, after all, she would not stand for her boss coming home to a house that had been destroyed on her watch.  For three years she cared for and prayed for that young child until his mother could stand it no longer and gave up her career to raise her child.  Edith certainly understood and she retired to spend the next 32 years of her life shining the light of Jesus’ love upon all who would know her.

I must tell you it came as quite a shock to me when Mom called to tell me that “Edie,” as I called her, had passed away.  I had not seen her or spoken to her since she left in 1973. Immediately after hanging up with Mom, I went to my computer and pulled up the obituaries on the Times-News internet site.  I was not prepared for my reaction as I read the words on the screen.

Though my recollections are few–just images really of a sweet lady in a white uniform– I know Edie loved me, prayed for me and invested her life in me even if for a short time. The 47-year-old man who writes this article today “is who he is” because of the legacy of love invested by many people like Edie over the years.  My name was not listed in her obituary, but I know, spiritually, I am a surviving descendent of Edith “Edie” Jennings.  Never, ever discount the effect of investing your Christ-like love into a life.  You may be shocked at the return.

As Jesus approached Jerusalem on the back of that colt, the disciples could not grasp that He was entering His last week of earthly, bodily, ministry. He had poured Himself into the disciples for three years and now He was about to pour Himself out for all humanity. I would never seek to diminish what Jesus accomplished on the cross, His true purpose in coming to us to begin with. I just want to pause long enough to appreciate the investment He made in the disciples during His earthly ministry. What a perfect model to follow! What a tremendous legacy to leave.

 

“Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” – John 13:1

 

 

 

“Hey Big Man, Let Me Hold A Dollar!”

Okay, okay, in all deference to the John Boy and Billy Show, no one has actually used that particular line on me, but in my line of work benevolent requests are a regular occurrence.

Five years ago I was installed as the Campus Pastor of what became known as the Glenwood Campus of Indian Springs Baptist Church. It happens to be located on one of the main thoroughfares in Kingsport (Center Street) and in an area replete with socio-economic depression. As God blessed our little congregation and He began breathing life into our midst, it was not long before the benevolent requests began to stream in. Having served another church in similar geographic and demographic circumstances, I was accustomed to the dance. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the truth is 20% of the requests are what I would describe as bonafide, legitimate needs and the other 80% of the requests involve people trying to game the system and abuse the good graces of God-fearing, faithful supporters of the church.

Our church and churches just like ours establish systems and protocols so that we can, in good conscience and under the Lordship of Christ, minister to the people. A large number of requests involve money for groceries and/or diapers and other basic necessities. One of the greatest things we did was to ramp up the food pantry ministry that Glenwood Baptist had been doing for many years. This gave us the ability to immediately meet the need without the risk of giving money which may or may not facilitate other unnecessary things. I will never forget the time one man scoffed at the two bags full of canned goods and dry goods I handed him — completely free of charge — by saying, “My kids don’t like to eat these kinds of things.” Before I could tame my tongue I responded with, “Then they must not be that hungry.” Suffice it to say I had to repent and confess after that encounter.

We do NOT keep cash on hand at the church. If people come with needs for rent money or money to pay a bill, etc., we have them fill out a detailed request form. This gathering of required information serves two purposes. If they just wanted the cash for alternative reasons, they can bow out and play the “I don’t have time for this” card. If it is legit or they agree to play the long game with us, the information we gather can verify identities and check prior requests made to other churches or organizations.

This is all well and good, but what do you do when the individual comes to you, personally, seeking assistance and just wants money? This happens to me quite frequently. I don’t know if it is because they know me or know what I do or I just have “that look,” but this happened just a few days ago. I have developed a response over the years and I want to share this concept with you.

Share Your Time Before You Share Your $

It never fails. They catch me at the end of a worship service, after all my deacons have vanished, or they catch me in the parking lot of a grocery store or Walmart, or while I am standing at a gas pump filling my car.  They have a well-rehearsed back story that explains their current plight.  I will interject here that often the mistake they make is offering more details than is necessary or humanly possible to comprehend. Then they make the “ask” for just enough money to put with the money they already got from others to meet their need. I am notorious for not carrying a lot of what my father would call “walking around money.” Since the dawn of the age of the debit card, I rarely carry much cash unless I am traveling. This special trait comes in handy in these circumstances because I will not lie to someone about my not having the needed cash. I have been known to carry some Pal’s Bucks (an East Tennessee tradition) or McDonald’s gift cards for people who say they just need some food for their family. It is much harder to convert that type of currency for some nefarious purpose.

However, what I started doing that has produced the greatest results is offering my time instead of money. A few days ago, the lady who approached me at the gas pump at Food City who needed money for a tow truck for her disabled car that was on John B. Dennis, who already had a little money and just needed some more, who worked at the hospital and who’s sister also had some job somewhere [breathe]  – turned on her heels and marched away when I had the audacity to say, “Ma’am, I don’t have any cash to give you, but I would be happy to go to where your car is and see what I could do.”

Then there was the man who needed gas for his car so he could make it up to Big Stone Gap, VA, where his brother-in-law was in the hospital with stage four cancer and was not supposed to make it through the night. He stopped me in the parking lot behind my church. I said, “Sir, I don’t have the money to give you, but I will follow you down to the corner market where I can buy you some gas on my credit card.” He actually took me up on the offer. While going through all the motions to put the gas in his car, I asked him about his relationship with Christ and shared the Gospel with him. He was not really interested. Oh, and his Toyota held a grand total of $3.78 worth of fuel. I’m thinking he could have made it Big Stone just fine.

But once every so often, this tactic pays off. Like the time I elected to not give a man money for food and, instead, offered to take he and his family to McDonald’s. I sat and watched his kids eat like I was about to take the food away from them. I was able to share my faith and show my faith rather than just throw money at a problem.

Offering to share your time before you share your money can prove to open some doors for opportunity and, most certainly, close some doors where they need to be closed. I hope this helps you live the Life and give the Life.