Unmoored

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About a year and a half ago, my dad, Bob Moore, passed away. I didn’t realize that his death would leave me feeling untethered, unmoored, if you will (no pun intended).  I thought I had grown to a point to not need him; evidently, even with his deteriorating condition, his presence, his life was still “a strong pier to which I latched my little barque.”

After taking a new job and moving to a new city, I thought I’d eventually get my bearings. Then our Quarantine Shelter-in-Place descended upon us. My dad’s passing, changing jobs and moving to a place where I knew few folks contributed to a sense of disorientation; however, this quarantine has made it much worse.

I had started this blog after he died and titled it “Untethered” because that’s how I felt. But I had to go on, even though I felt like a little boat out in a sometimes tempestuous sea without anchor, harbor or mooring. Now, with this global pandemic upon us, I feel even more “unmoored”. Overnight, things we were accustomed to, perhaps took for granted: work, school, church, recreation stopped. Quite quickly. Thankfully, I have a position that is secure, but not so for many of my kids. Not so for many, many other folks. Unnerving, scary, almost un-“bear”able.

To add to this disorientation is a political landscape and suspect media that do NOT cultivate calm, competency or control. To that mess, I must trust Jesus’ words, “Be ye not troubled.” That aspect of this situation is just too overwhelming.

But here in the corner of my little world, how do I find some sense of perspective, peace and protection? My environment helps. My new town is surrounded on the south side by luscious green hills, so it’s easy to look up, and remember from where my help comes.

Oddly, as I grapple with this disorientation, I’ve yearned to go to someplace familiar, like the Russian River, grasping to feel some connection with my childhood that seemed to have some security, some foundation, some familiarity. In my new town, there is not one river, but two; two rivers where small boats skirt by freighter ships. A providential plus.

However, we’re not the only generation to suffer through global crises.  Certainly my parents and their parents remember the Great Depression. Then that was followed by a global conflict, a conflict that resulted in the death of millions. A pandemic of Evil. A World Unmoored.

Also, two thousand years ago, on the small stage of Judea, in Rome’s Palestine, a Man had been born, had lived and was killed by the various powers that be. And yet for the handful of men and women who counted Him as Lord and Savior, the Anointed One, the very Messiah of Israel, they were left bewildered, lost, and unmoored after His gruesome death. For three days, they hid, and they feared for their own lives.

Until that glorious first Easter day…He Lives! The resurrection of Jesus Christ exploded all religious models. Here was the Way, the Truth and the Life. Here was the Creator God extending His reconciling Hand to mankind. Who was, still lives. And the fact of the Resurrection drove the first generation of believers to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, even in the face of great persecution. Their hope was strong and steadfast.

When the disciples struggled with their boat on the troubled Sea of Galilee, and our Lord slept below…they not only feared their deaths, but they also thought Jesus was unconcerned. When they finally awakened the Lord, He gently, quietly rebuked the storm, and the disciples, “‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?'”

So in the midst of unknown new surroundings and the temporary scary new normals, I look to the One who calmed the seas. I look to the One to Whom I can latch my little barque. I look to the One Who asks me – asks us – “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”

— Psalm 42:5

  “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…”  

       — Hebrews 6:19 

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Life Is But A Preface

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Life is but a preface

To a never ending tome.

A story yet unwritten,

Waiting to unfold.

There will be no epilogue,

“The road goes ever on,”

As someone wisely wrote

Not so long ago.”

Our short stay here on earth is like the preface of a book. Short and sometimes sweet. If we stand back and put our years into perspective of just known history, our lives are very short indeed. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” As my parents have gotten older just like when my grandmother and great aunt had aged, I seem to be walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I am surrounded by their mortality, and reminded of my own.  One day, it will be my turn. And for the record, no one knows when it’s their turn. I don’t like to presume I have thirty more years, we’ve all learned, sadly, that some will go sooner than expected.

So somber, so sad…especially for those who left unexpectedly. But…as believers in Jesus Christ, the good news is that life really is just a preface, a short introduction to the complete story, the purpose of the literary creation. A preface to a wonderful story yet to be written by the One Who created the beautiful heavens and the luscious earth, the One Who wonderfully and fearfully created you and me. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

I have come to accept the finish line of this earthly race, whether it’s far ahead or near, I can’t tell. My eyesight has worsened since my 40’s. My hare-like nature has wizened up a bit, and is trying to apply some tortoise-shaped brakes to the break neck speed I’m used to. Always in a hurry. Time to slow down and ponder this short brief “vapor” of a life I’m living.

What is life all about? Is life nothing more than a library of stories of those who came before us, those who share our point in time and those who are to come? Our brief tango with time. Will our accumulation of experiences and memories only disappear after our deaths or, at best, linger in the memories of our family and friends? What’s it all about, Alfie?

When I was a young adult, I struggled with these questions. I struggled to find my place in my family and in this world. I sought for truth. The true understanding of what this life was about. I found the answer in Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  Coming from a catholic background, it wasn’t hard to personally embrace the teachings of the New Testament. Being born again was and continues to be the prime reality for me. Yay, Jesus lives! There is eternal life, and there is meaning to our lives here on earth. And there is Someone Who loves us beyond our imagination.

So after I made this decision, my life was perfect, right? Hahaha…ad infinitum. No, it wasn’t. I was still saddled with this human, sinful nature. I’ve made my share of mistakes, poor decisions and sins of omission. I’m at a place where I look around at the landscape of my past and try to understand my present. I am thankful God in Christ has forgiven me, and for all that is in Christ which is now mine. It’s taken me a long time to apprehend the treasures we’ve received as Christians. I hope I can redeem the remaining time for the benefit of my kids, to provide a somewhat sturdy, albeit at times stumbling example to walking in His steps.

Moses is attributed to writing Psalm 90. In this lovely piece of Hebrew poetry, he writes, So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.As I look forward (meaning looking forward (ahead), not looking forward) to the conclusion of my preface, however long that might be, I look to Him to teach me to number my days, that I may present to Him a heart of wisdom. Something I can take from this life, and hopefully, something that will linger in the memories of my family and friends to point them to the Ancient of Days, the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He had sent.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
-Robert Browning

A Greater Love

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In one of my all-time favorite movies, Xavier Beauvois’ resplendent “Of Gods & Men” (Des hommes et des dieux), old Brother Luc has a conversation about love with Rabbia, one of the workers in the monastery. She asks him questions about love, including if he’s ever been in love. He responds, (in French, but I’ll use the subtitle),

“Yes, several times. And then I encountered another love, even greater.

And I answered that love. It’s been a while now. Over 60 years.”

What is this greater love old Brother Luc speaks about?

In 2006, while in the middle of a sad divorce, I had an interesting experience. First, one night, I had a vivid dream about my friend who recently married. In the dream, she emailed to me pictures of her wedding. No big deal….yet. That same day, I received a wedding invitation from another friend who was remarrying. Humh…ok, I see a little connection. Then finally, late that day I read Mrs. Cowman’s wonderful devotional “Springs in the Valley”, and et voile, another marriage reference. The topic verse was:

“Married to another, even to him.”  – Romans 7:4

Now that was interesting. At that time, I had hoped in the deepest recesses of my soul (yes, I hid that desire that deep) that I would find another, but knew, with many children yet to raise, that it was highly unlikely.  The verse and its subsequent devotional point to our spiritual union, our spiritual marriage with Christ. This is the greater love that Brother Luc spoke about.

A greater love, a love whose glimmer is so brilliant and magnificent that we cannot comprehend it. A love also that is so tender and gentle as illustrated in Luke’s “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” A love so peaceful that our Lord repeatedly told his disciples: “Be not afraid.” A love so pure that Paul dedicated an entire chapter to its sublimity:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

You realize these words were written almost two thousand years ago. This greater love through Christ has been available to all, to everyone for centuries.

And this greater love was never so raw and powerful as when Christ hung on the cross. Truly a love incomprehensible.

Most folks I know enjoy that romantic love that Valentine’s Day is known for. For those of us who weren’t blessed with that kind of relationship, there is a greater love we can answer to, like Brother Luc did many decades ago. A love just as fulfilling and joyful.

From that devotional:

Oh, sacred union with the Perfect Mind,
Transcendent bliss which Thou alone canst give;
How blest are they this Peerless One who find,
And, dead to earth, have learned in Thee to live.

Thus in Thine arms of love, O Christ, I live,
Lost, and forever lost to all but Thee.
My happy soul, since it hath learned to die,
Hath found new life in Thine Infinity.

Go, then, and learn this lesson of the Cross,
And tread the way that saints and prophets trod:
Who, counting life and self and all things loss,
Have found in inward death the life of God.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Below is a nice review of this great film, and the story of the Monks of Tibhirine.
https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/of-gods-and-men-the-gospel-of-love/

 

God Loves You…So What?

prodigal son

“For God so loved the world….” so goes the most famous of Bible verses. Its reference can be found on posters in end zones at football games. Its short message”God loves you” can be found on bumper stickers and coffee mugs, and its greeting is repeated in church services all over the country. God loves you…yeah, so what? It seems to have become a trite slogan, a shallow sentiment, a cheap Christmas present.

How many times have you heard this phrase? I’ve heard it so much that it seems to have lost its meaning. It’s fallen not so much on deaf ears, as unhearing ears; like when water falls on polyester, those words bead up and roll right off my ears.  My ears are a poor conduit to my heart and mind in relaying the profound magnitude of the simple fact that God loves me. This Person, Who many of us believe in, loves us. Wow! The One who not only defines Love, but is, quintessentially, Love. All that we cherish in life originates with this Being who happens to, according to the Bible record, love us.

How can a simple phrase carry such power? A couple years ago, I was at work and it was toward the end of the day. It was March. As I was sitting at my desk, a text came from my son-in-law. It was a photo and it was uploading. I wondered what he could be sending me. Now mind you, I was just sitting there finishing up some work, looking forward to going home. Within seconds after I received the picture – a sonogram scan with a lovely caption “Congrats Grandma!” – I was crying, afraid, excited and stunned all at once. The couple that was not going to have children was going to have a child.

I use that example to illustrate how a simple communication can dramatically change one’s life. So does “God loves you” and as it should be. God loves you….from the gospel writers, Paul, the early fathers and down through history, this is the church’s banner. A banner she has dropped over the centuries, but a fact nonetheless. A fact that has survived.

If you want to believe, if you chose to believe or even are compelled to believe like C.S. Lewis did when “in the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” then you get to unwrap the greatest of all Christmas presents – the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is the greatest gift. Ever. The price – well, that’s the Easter Story.

And there are other gifts in that box, you get the light of the world, the fountain of living waters, the gate to the pasture, the bread of life, mercy, grace, faith, hope and charity to name a few of the unsearchable riches in Christ. Not a bad haul.

Are you tired? “Come unto to me all who are weak and heavy laden.” Are you doubtful? “Come, let us reason together.” Are you thirsty? “Let him come to Me and drink.” Are you lonely? “I will be with you always.” Are you shackled in sin? “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Amen. And to the church today, tomorrow and everyday, I say, “Come let us adore Him.”We only know love because He first loved us.

God loves you, so what? Well, that’s what. The greatest of all simple sentences is gloriously true and life-changing. Merry, merry Christmas!

 

A Thing of Beauty…

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December 24, 2019 – Our gift from God is not only redeeming, reconciling and resurrecting; but our new relationship with Him through Jesus Christ is also a Thing of Beauty. Merry Christmas, and “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

August 2015

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” so said Mary Poppins. Well, she borrowed that line from John Keats who wrote a poem about “A thing of beauty…” Many nights I get the privilege to drive by the ocean. Each time I am overwhelmed by its beauty and majesty. Tonight’s sunset was especially beautiful.

One of the wonderful things about beauty is its ubiquitousness, its omnipresence. It’s everywhere. You just have to look for it. The flowers blooming along the path, the smell of newly cut lawns (not much of that now though), someone’s kindness, a favorite song, sound of water rippling over rocks, I could go on and on, so could you. Even Goethe said: “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

When I drove by the beach this evening, I stole some glances at the lovely sky, I wanted to fly into it, embrace it. That impulse reminded me of something C.S. Lewis wrote: “We do not want merely to see beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”  And from beauty, we get joy.

Through beauty, joy is always available to us. If we take the time for beauty, we will have joy, even in difficult seasons of life. But for believers we have much more. We have Him. George Mueller exclaimed about his relationship with Christ: “Oh be not satisfied until in your own inmost soul you can say, God is an infinitely lovely Being!” We may experience beauty in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I agree with George that Jesus is an infinitely lovely Being. Even in the midst of a “dark night of the soul”, we have beauty at our fingertips in the presence of our Lord.

Don Miller in Blue Like Jazz relays a story:

A guy I know named Alan went around the country asking ministry leaders questions. He went to successful churches and asked the pastors what they were doing, and why what they were doing was working. It sounded very boring, except for one visit he made to a man named Bill Bright, the president of a big ministry. Alan said he was as big as life, and listened to his questions without shifting his eyes. Alan asked a few questions-I don’t know what they were, but as a final question, he asked Dr. Bright what Jesus meant to him. Alan said Dr. Bright could not answer the question. He said Dr. Bright just started to cry. He sat there in his big chair, behind his big desk, and wept.

When I read that, I could relate to Dr. Bright; often when I think of Him, I will be overcome with a deep emotion. The beauty of His character, the beauty of His kindness, patience and love is simply overwhelming. I think Dr. Bright cried because of the beauty of the Lord. And the subsequent joy is deep and abiding.

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Ps. 27:4

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Second Chance

prodigal son

In 1963, Henri Nouwen became captivated with Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son. He even went to St. Petersburg to spend time with the masterpiece and subsequently wrote his own work of art, The Return of the Prodigal Son. He analyzed every detail of the painting and with the text of the biblical story, tells the tale of reconciliation not only for the obvious prodigal, but the need for it even within the Father’s household.

This past week, I had my own little captivation with El DeBarge’s song Second Chance. Of course, it is not a Rembrandt painting, but it did remind me of the heart of a prodigal. I know many prodigals, and am one too in many ways. DeBarge’s prodigality is pretty well-known, but in this song, this song he wrote after a couple years in jail, he turns his face toward home, toward the Father’s house. While his sins are obvious and well-documented like those of the returning son, some of us are in our own “distant country” like the older brother. We dwell in our own lands of prejudice, fear, shame and hate. We may appear to be in the Father’s house, but we are “distant” from the Father’s heart, which is at the center of His house. The prodigal son’s brother could not understand – in fact resented – all the excitement and joy over the return of the son because his heart was in “a distant country” – where there was no room for love or joy.  He was far from the Father’s love.  I am afraid many Christians are like that.

I am distant when I stay in my fear-filled ways. I have many fears, I’m afraid to say. Recently, I had to make a big decision, a decision I was afraid to make. But I made it and stepped out and faced that particular fear.  And, when El DeBarge sings these lyrics in his feathery angelic falsetto “so when the mirror speaks, it tells me that you’ve faced your inner fears and you’re loving the song,” I know I have moved closer to the Father’s heart – away from the fear that alienates love and joy, and closer to that “perfect love that casts out all fear.”

Easter Sunday, the day Christians all over the world remember that Jesus Christ conquered death in his resurrection, is mankind’s greatest second chance. He made redemption, reconciliation and rebirth possible for those far off and for those who are near. We have a second chance to be courageous or clean and sober or kind and compassionate, even Christ-like, but also a second chance at a new life. Happy Easter, folks!