A Life Well-Lived

John Mooney (2)“I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ said the Spirit, ‘let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.’” (Rev. 14:13)

What a wonderful thought!  All that we do for the Lord in this life goes with us into the next and into the resurrection.  It is like a bonus added to eternal life promised by Jesus.  All that we have done for the Lord in raising a family, being a good steward of God’s creation through our work, loving our spouse, children and others, witnessing to the Lord through our conduct  and sharing the good news with others – all of these actions do not die with the death of our physical bodies.  They accompany us in some way into the next phase of life after life.

This past weekend, I traveled from Virginia to Sedona, Arizona to attend the funeral and celebration of the life of John Mooney, a good friend and Christian brother whom I have known for 33 years.  

John was one of three founders of Christians in Commerce, an international Christian ministry whose mission is to encourage and equip Christians to be God’s presence in the workplace, bringing faith, integrity and excellence.

John was a mentor, teacher, evangelist and friend to hundreds of Christian men and women, including yours truly.  I still carry in my Bible a frayed edged, handwritten guide to daily prayer that John gave me more than 30 years ago.

At his funeral mass, there was a sizable contingent of men from Christians in Commerce not only from Arizona, but also from around the country.  We were privileged to be able to sing two of John’s favorite hymns at the beginning of the service, Rise Up O Men of God and He is Exalted.  During the homily, the presiding priest asked how many people John had mentored and a large number of people from around the church raised their hands.

John was instrumental in starting a number of the local chapters of Christians in Commerce in both Arizona and California, many of whom still exist today.  He owned and managed a chain of retail shoe stores.  He carried the vision of Christians in Commerce into his work in how he dealt with his employees, customers and suppliers in the policies he established to manage his business.

John was renowned for his airplane stories of befriending whoever was sitting next to him, gently inquiring into their lives and moving the conversation into one about Jesus.  These conversations would often end with John praying with the person for whatever need they may have had.

In all that he did, he always maintained his personal touch with the people in his life.  Whenever he was in the Washington, D. C. area, he would usually stay with us.  When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a number of years ago, John called my wife first before talking to me in order to give her assurance and support.

The trail of John’s works for the Lord, accompanying him into his new life, is long and varied.  His family and all of us who were present at his funeral rejoiced in a life well-lived.

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Overcoming the Spiritual Blahs

Do you struggle with spiritual dryness from time to time?  I certainly do.  St. Augustine offers an appropriate remedy for spiritual dryness.

In commenting on Jesus’ commandment to “to love one another as I have loved you,” Augustine says, “This is the kind of love that renews us.  When we love as he loved us we become new men, heirs of the new covenant and singers of the new song.”  He says this kind of love is distinguished from natural love by the qualification: “as I have loved you.”  (John 15:12)

So, the lesson seems to be, if you want renewal in your life, love others as Jesus loves us.  And, how does Jesus love us?  By the greatest act of humility ever recorded, he became one of his created.  Then, after teaching, modeling, encouraging, listening, healing and serving, he laid down his life for us.  He characterizes the latter action as, “No one has greater love than this.” (John 15:13)

If someone were keeping score, I am sure I have had many more failures to love according to this standard than successes, but nevertheless, I am blessed with a loving family and other opportunities to love as Jesus loved.

One such opportunity involves taking communion to shut-ins and a nearby senior living center.  On Palm Sunday and Easter this year, I had the privilege of taking communion to a lovely and gracious lady who is a 104 years young.

What a delightful person she was and what a blessing it was to listen to her share about her outlook on life and the events of her life transpiring over a century in time.  I was advised that while she could speak without any problem, she had some difficulty hearing and that there would be a pad nearby her chair that I could use to ask her questions or comment on what she would say.  Surprisingly, this method of communication did not deter or limit our conversation.  I would listen to what she had to say, and then write out a comment or question.

I heard about where she and her late husband were born, about his Scottish heritage, her children and grandchildren and their families.  It turned out that we had some similarities in our heritage and in the number of children we had, and in my mother-in-law who lived to be 103.  This just delighted her.  Each time I took her communion, we visited for more than thirty minutes.

Of her many gems of wisdom, my favorite was, “At my age, I think only nice thoughts.”

In the weeks following these visits, my spirit was renewed.  My prayer time and reading of scripture took on a new life and vibrancy.  St. Augustine was right.     

What’s in a Name?

After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter and John were entering the temple and Peter heals a crippled beggar.  The onlookers are astonished and everyone is wondering how this happened.  Peter boldly proclaims, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” (Acts 3:16)

The elders threatened Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, but Peter said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

Later when Peter and John are with other followers, they pray, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)

Do we treat the name of Jesus with the same awe and wonder as Peter and the early followers of Jesus?  Have we allowed the name of Jesus to become so familiar and common as to strip it of its power and majesty? 

Peter was simply doing what Jesus had instructed the apostles when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:12-13)

Many years ago some prayer group friends of ours prayed for healing of my glaucoma at a large Christian gathering at the old Shea Stadium in New York.  They put their hands on my head and prayed in the name of Jesus that my glaucoma be healed.

It just so happened that on the following Monday, I had an annual field of vision test with my ophthalmologist.  I will always remember his words at the initial diagnosis that while we might be able to preserve the field of vision I still had, I would never be able to recover the approximate 30% of vision that had been lost.

While he conducted the test, I heard him continue to say, “hum.”   After about the fourth hum, I asked him what he was humming about, and he said that I had a full field of vision.  When I reminded him of his statement to me a couple of years earlier that the field of vision that I had lost could not be restored, he had no explanation.  When, I told him some friends had prayed with me on the prior Saturday for healing, he said, “Well, I will take all the help I can get.”

I realize that not all prayers by Christians of faith made in the name of Jesus appear to be answered.  Yet, might we not take Jesus at his word, have greater awe and reverence for his name, and act with the same faith as Peter with the crippled beggar.

“God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

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“We Are Witnesses”

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)

These are the words of Peter to a large crowd that had gathered, wondering what was happening at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost.  They were hearing the sound of a roaring wind and the disciples praising God in various languages.  Peter was testifying to Jesus’ resurrection and the fulfillment of his promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had appeared to the disciples a number of times and to “more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time” according to St. Paul. (1 Cor. 15:6)

The disciples of Jesus were witnesses of his resurrection, to his physical appearances with them and to his explicit instructions. 

  • He showed them his pierced hands and feet. (Luke24:39; John 20:20)
  • He ate broiled fish in front of them. (Luke 24:43)
  • He opened their minds to the scriptures. (Luke 24:27, 45)
  • He showed them where to catch 153 fish. (John 21:11)
  • He appointed Peter to take care of and feed his followers. (John 21:15-17)
  • He instructed them to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19), and to preach the good news to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
  • He stated that they were to be his successors when he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)
  • He told them, “You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48)
  • Finally, he instructed them not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the Father’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4)

This past Saturday I attended a memorial service for my brother, Jay, who died two weeks ago.  At a dinner following the service, numerous men from his church’s fellowship and Bible study shared about Jay’s witness to Jesus and the salvation that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has brought us.  A number of them said when their discussions would get off track, Jay would always bring them back with the question, “Is this about Jesus and his salvation?”

Like Peter and the disciples, we are all called to witness to Jesus and to his resurrection, life and teaching.  He gives us the opportunity to experience his risen presence in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Scripture scholar N. T. Wright says in his book, Surprised by Hope, that we are called to partner with Jesus in the larger project of renewing creation and rescuing people from the way the world is now.

Partnering with Jesus includes witnessing to his risen presence in our lives as did the disciples and my brother Jay.  We can do this through the example of our lives in loving and serving God and others, in standing up for the truth of God’s ways, and in sharing his word when the opportunity is given us.

Eternal Life is not a Cliché

IMG_1039Year after year as we celebrate Easter we are reminded that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought us eternal life.  If we are not careful the constant use of the words “eternal life” can become overly familiar and transformed into a mere cliché.

What can bring us back to the real meaning of eternal life is to experience the death of a loved one.    

Eternal life is not a cliché to my brother, Jay, who passed from this physical life last Friday morning at age 83.  Although suffering for more than a year with a weakened heart and the constant pain of an inoperable broken hip, he died in a supremely restful state, surrounded by his wife and three adult children.

My brother fully embraced the promise of Jesus, “I tell you most solemnly, whoever listens to my words, and believes in the one who sent me, has eternal life; without being brought to judgment he has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24 JB)

Over the last several years God blessed my brother and me by leading us to become brothers in Christ as well as brothers by blood.  Because of a five year difference in age, we were not necessarily close when growing up together.  We were also different in a number of ways.  He was athletic, lettering in three sports in high school.  My interests involved music and debate.  He was good at math and became an engineer.  My favorite courses were history and English, and I became a lawyer.

As we moved into adult life we competed indirectly, he working for Exxon and I for Mobil, but God had a longer term plan.  Ironically, our two companies merged into ExxonMobil and we became retirees of the same company.  In the same way, God drew each of us into a closer relationship with his presence, and thereby into a closer relationship with one another.

When someone close to you dies, a little bit of your life dies as well.  But because of God’s promise of eternal life and the resurrection, we can expect full restoration of what has been lost.

While my brother’s body no longer lives, his love for his wife, children and grandchildren continues.  His love for the men in his Bible study and fellowship lives on.  His good works for God’s kingdom will accompany him into the resurrection, according to Anglican Biblical scholar, N. T. Wright. 

God created all living matter with an instinct to live and not die.  For only his human creation, did he join its physical nature with a spirit and soul capable of life beyond the death of the physical nature.  As the Psalmist says, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13)

Rest well, my brother.  For God loved you so much that he gave you his only Son, that as you believed in him, you have not perished, but will live forever. (John 3:16)

God’s Restrained Announcement

Empty-Tomb-Picture-07We have just celebrated the most important event of our Christian faith – Jesus’ resurrection. Yet, as significant as this event is for us and human history, God appeared restrained at the time in bringing it to people’s attention.

There was no proclamation from a choir of angels like at Jesus’ birth announcing that “A Savior has been born unto you.” (Luke 2:11) In fact, God kind of let Jesus’ followers stumble into what had happened. On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, we have a couple of angels asking the women who had come to anoint Jesus’ body, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)

The angels went on to explain that Jesus had risen from the dead just as he said he would, but the women did not understand. For them, the only conceivable explanation was that someone had taken Jesus’ body. Peter and John, upon hearing the women’s report had a foot race to the tomb only to find that the linens which Jesus had been wrapped in were neatly folded in two different places. Neither did they understand, although Luke reports that Jesus did appear later to Peter. (Luke 24:34)

Jesus also appears to Mary Magdalene, and two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, but there was no recognition of who Jesus was until he called Mary by name and broke bread in front of the disciples.  Even though the risen Jesus had met with the apostles on two separate occasions, they didn’t seem to immediately recognize him later on the seashore after they went back to fishing. (John 21:1-14)

In spite of all the times that Jesus told the disciples before his crucifixion that he had to suffer death and rise from the dead, they did not understand.

Why?  It was not until they had personally encountered the risen Jesus and were anointed with the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost that they began to fully comprehend what Jesus’ resurrection meant for them and human history. St. Paul reports that Jesus appeared to more than 500 at one time. (1 Cor. 5:6)

Realizing that the resurrection was not only for Jesus, but also for them and their followers radically changed the way they lived, modeled on the way Jesus lived.

Like the disciples and the early Christians, we too, need to personally experience the presence of the risen Jesus and the anointing of the Holy Spirit before we can comprehend the effect of his resurrection on our lives. No announcement, no teaching by itself will get the job done.

That was true for me 40 years ago on an October evening when I had a personal encounter with Jesus. Through God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit he opened my mind and heart to the reality of his risen presence in my life.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)

Following Jesus at a Distance

After Jesus’ arrest, we read in the Gospel of Mark, “Peter followed at a distance right into the courtyard of the high priest.  There he sat with the guards and warmed himself by the fire.” (Mark 14:54)

Like Peter, we may profess our allegiance to Jesus that “even if all fall away, I will not,” or we may recite the creed every Sunday in our church declaring that we believe in “God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.”

Yet, like Peter, there may also be times when we keep our distance from Jesus.  We may fail to show up for a daily prayer or quiet time with the Lord that we have intended for the beginning of each day.  After a busy week of work, and a Saturday filled with our kid’s sports activities, we may let a round of golf take precedence over our attending church on Sunday.

We may fail to respond to a friend’s request for help because it is not convenient.  We may put a higher priority on our comfort as Peter did when he sat with the guards and warmed himself by the fire.

Like Peter, we may be thrust into circumstances where we are reluctant to be identified with Jesus.  In Peter’s case, it was the guards, the elders and the mob.  For us, it may be a boss who has disdain for God, or social friends who consider any reference to Jesus as foolishness.

Early in my career when I would attend a company meeting followed by cocktails and dinner, the conduct could sometimes get a bit macho and boisterous. It was not unusual for the conversation to involve exaggerated exploits, the building up of self and the putting down of others, off-color jokes, gossip, and the fawning over whoever might be the most senior person present. At some point I began to realize that when I went along with this kind of conduct I was distancing myself from Jesus. It was so easy to go with the flow and tempting to want to be a part of the group. It required a decision on my part not to participate.

Just as Peter’s faith was tested, so is our faith tested in numerous ways, some obvious and significant, and some subtle and small.  From a faith perspective, the latter can cause as much harm as the former because of their corrosive effect on our relationship with Jesus.

The world inclines us to keep our distance from Jesus, while Jesus bids us to draw near.  He says, come to me all who are burdened from the cares of this world and I will give you rest.  Come to me all who are thirsty for meaning in life and I will give you understanding.  He warns us that in the world we will have trouble, but assures us that he has overcome the world.

He says step across the distance that separates us, and you will experience my love, my strength and my peace.