Featured

The Christian Mind: Irrational

If anything has led to the loss of religious faith in the modern world, it is the idea that “science” has proven that God does not exist. Much of the disdain in our society toward religious faith I spoke about in our last post can be traced back to this idea.

Which may not be obvious. But to the extent society believes that God is an irrational concept, those who believe in God will be seen not only as violators of human freedom but also violators of compassion and justice. Continue reading “The Christian Mind: Irrational”

Life is Beautiful

 

My five-year-old granddaughter Anna, who was close to my wife Catherine (who, as many of you know, passed away unexpectedly this month), was over with her mom and dad to celebrate the college graduation of my daughter (her aunt). There were about thirty people at the house and this house is not big, so there was lots going on.

Suddenly, Anna says to me from across the room, “Grandpa! I see something in this house that was not here before!” And with that, she walks over to an end table beside me where the guest book and brochure from Catherine’s memorial service had been placed on display. The brochure had Catherine’s photo on it.

“Yes, that’s Grandma,” I said. I waited to see what her response would be — and so did her dad, not far away. Several days before, Anna’s mom had explained to her that her grandmother had gone to be with Jesus in Heaven, and that God would surround her with other family members who loved her, and they would take Grandma’s place till we all saw her again. Anna had taken the news seriously but with surprising acceptance. But our journey through this loss has just begun, and today was a new day.

Anna studied the photo for a bit, then turned to her dad and said, “Isn’t today just wonderful?” And then she proceeded to take two flowers that had been attached to one of her aunt’s gift bags and place them carefully on the book stand, just above Catherine’s photo.

It has been a little over three weeks now since my wife Catherine passed, and as you might guess, many, many people who loved her and who love me have reached out and asked how I am doing. It has been difficult to answer with any form of honesty or credulity, not because I am too devastated to form the right response, but rather because of the opposite. How I, and my children, are doing has been a rich composite of many tears but also of unspeakable joy.

It has been characterized by unprecedented vulnerability and unexpected strength. It has been a tender marriage of both unprecedented grief and unfathomable grace. It has been a college graduation without mom here, but with sweet little Anna placing flowers next to her photo and declaring, for all the world to know, that this day, even with its sorrow, is just wonderful.

So my response to my loved ones, if it were a text message, would be simple and concise, amounting to four words: Life is still beautiful.


Photo by Jarl Schmidt on Unsplash

 

Catherine

 

Dear Readers: The following is a transcript of my reflection shared during the memorial service for my wife Catherine. For those unaware, she passed away suddenly June 5, 2018. I plan to resume my “normal” writings in the weeks to come, though in away, this is all part of the journey.


God I love this woman.

Well, as we begin to approach the end of this service, I want you to know two things. The first is that I am having a wonderfully imperfect day.

Catherine always liked to say that. “Thank you Lord I am having a wonderfully imperfect day.” I would be in my office working at home and suddenly I would hear from the other room, “Thank you Lord I am having a wonderfully imperfect day.” It was a simple phrase, but it actually had profound meaning. It meant there was absolutely no situation you were facing that was too big for God. It also meant that your imperfections were not too big for God either.

It meant, in a way, what Jesus said to His own disciples before his own death: “In this world you will have troubles. But take heart: I have overcome the world.”

I have told you these things so that in me you may have perfect peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you]. (John 16)

So thank you Lord I am having a wonderfully imperfect day. And thank you Father that we, here today, all of us, are having a wonderfully imperfect day.

I imagine many of you today are feeling acutely the imperfection of this life in the present moment. I know I am. The loss of my beautiful wife is anything but neutral. There is something deep within us that knows this is not the way things should be. On the contrary we know it is tragic, even perhaps unjust.

Well, I do not wish to get too philosophical. But I would like to propose to you, as a way of encouragement, that the reason we feel this way deep in our gut is because we know we were created for a different world.

We were made for a world where things like this simply do not happen, a world not built on the brokenness of human frailty but an eternal world whose maker is God.

That this life is not so much our home as it is the place where we are called home: A place where we are invited and given opportunity to return to the place to which we know we have always belonged.

It is also a place where we are given opportunity in this life to exchange our imperfection for God’s perfection: A crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise instead of despair. Of this I am convinced.

So thank you Father that I am having a wonderfully imperfect day.

The second thing I want you to know is what Catherine meant to me.

So I have hand-picked a few stories, beginning with the way we first met.

Now some of you may be aware that our relationship began with me volunteering to babysit her two children. Karyn and Paul were about 8 and 10 at the time, Catherine was a trade show coordinator. She traveled often and needed someone to look after the kids while she was away. On one particular occasion, I was available so I said yes.

As a a side note, if I may address the young single men in this room: If you are looking for a way into a woman’s heart, I highly recommend this strategy.

I am only kidding. The truth of the situation is, a master plan for winning over her heart was the farthest thing from my mind. We were no more than friends at the time. But when Karyn and Paul insisted I be their only babysitter after that first time, and I came to love her children as my own, and came realize in a profound sense they were my own.

And as Catherine and I evolved from no more than friends to good friends, and from good friends to me realizing she was much more than a friend, it was clear she had found her way into my heart. I love that woman.

But I still believe babysitting her kids was a good idea.

So that is how our relationship started. But many of you may not know that Catherine and I actually had met several years before, almost without knowing it. And how we actually first met is important, even symbolic, of who Catherine was and what she has always been to me.

I have to give just a bit of backstory. At that time, I was a wreck. Not five years before, I had experienced a spiritual crisis. As a result, I was broken on the inside in so many pieces, I knew I was beyond repair. And so now here I was a few years later, searching for God. I thought I needed God to simply show me He was real. But looking back, what I really needed was for God to show me He was love.

And so one evening, at a worship service at a church right here in Orange County called the Huntington Beach Vineyard, I found myself at the front of the church altar. The pastor had invited anyone who wished to receive more of God’s love to come to the front and others would pray for them. And so there I was.

What happened in the next moment was a bit unexpected. I suddenly felt the power and love of God in a way I had never felt before in my life.  I mean, this ovewhelming sense of peace and love filled my entiere body and soul and spirit. And this was a bit weird, but almost involuntarily, my arms raised upward to heaven as though on their own.

At that very moment, a hand touched my elbow. And then another hand touched my other elbow. They gently held onto my arms, supporting the weight of them as I connected with the love of God.

Moments later, I opened my eyes to find a young woman holding up my arms. She was very kind and passionate and of course just as crazy as I was to find ourselves in a church service like this. I would later find out that her name was Catherine Stevens, or as many of you knew her, Cathy Nugent, the woman I would one day marry.

In a way, our first meeting was a perfect symbol of who Catherine was to me as well as many other people. Her deepest desire in the lives of those around her was to connect them to the love of Jesus. She could not of course do this without God; she could only facilitate, much like a midwife.

Hold them up, support their arms so to speak. But she did this regularly and quite successfully, facilitating God’s work of reconnecting our brokenness to His perfect goodness, and in the process rebuilding our lives.

Okay, two stories down, one hundred ninety eight to go.

Just kidding. You know there is this desire — I do not know if you feel it — but to capture completely all that Catherine meant to us in a one-hour memorial service. To not leave anything out. I realize it cannot be done. She simply meant too much.

But I also realize that this is what the rest of our lives are for:  To recollect, to cherish, to appreciate, to be thankful. To cry. To laugh. To honor. To heal.

And throughout all of this, the one person I am not grieving for is Catherine.  Let me read something:

We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. (2 Corinthians 5)

I have to tell you one last story. Last Sunday I had the opportunity to visit that same church where so many years ago Catherine and I first met, and once again I found myself up front in desperate need. And once again, God met me as He has so, so many times since that first encountered. This time, I was standing, and the power of God was so strong I could not remain standing. I found myself lying on the ground with the love of God overwhelming me and going very deep. And this may sound strange, but in the midst of this tragic situation, the presenting emotion as I lay there with God was joy.

And then a woman who was praying leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I see in my mind’s eye your wife in Heaven, and she is dancing. And she is wearing a light pink garment, dancing in a meadow among the beautiful  trees with Jesus. And she is so, so happy. And she is so happy with you and for you.”

I knew it was true. It reminded me of one of the last things I said to Catherine as I sat beside the hospital bed after she had passed away: I am so happy for you.

You know, people say that after the loss of a loved one, your life will simply never be the same. I want you to know I do believe because of what has happened, my life will never be the same. But not because of Catherine’s death. On the contrary, because of her life.

 

Urgent Prayer Please (Update)

It is with great sadness I inform you that my sweet beautiful wife Catherine passed away last Tuesday night at 7:30 PM.

Many of you are probably unaware Catherine had her own prophetic prayer ministry, emotionalrenovation.com. The tagline was “letting Jesus rebuild our lives.” But I liked what Catherine often said about what it was she did: Helping people connect to the love of God.

Many of you are also probably unaware of how deeply my own writings were shaped and inspired by her own life: How her deep connection with Jesus has, throughout the years, connected me more profoundly to the love of God than I ever thought possible.

She will be greatly missed. She was the most profoundly authentic and passionate woman of God I ever knew and had such a tremendous impact on so many people.

Catherine, we will miss you and are so grateful for your blessing in our lives. I know for you and all of us who know you, this is not the end, but only the beginning.

Sincerely,

The husband of the most beautiful woman in the world. OOXXXOOOX

The Christian Mind: Modern

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge
(Psalm 19)

I wish to return to and idea that has to do with the parable in our last post, and that is: Consciousness, free will and thought are non-negotiable: No theory can deny them without destroying itself in the process. If I say, “I propose I am not thinking right now,” then the proposal itself loses all credibility, for if I am not thinking, then I am not proposing. You cannot propose a thought without thinking.

Similarly, we have also said that no moral system can deny that morality is objective without destroying itself in the process. If I say “morality is merely an illusion” then any moral pronouncement I make (“thus and such is hateful”) becomes meaningless.

This is a recap of course. But what these two ideas have in common is that both are key features of the modern mind. We modern people like to think (or accept as unquestionably true) we are educated and sophisticated and are so much more advanced than our forebears. But we claim morality is merely a byproduct of evolution and yet continue to make moral pronouncements and live as though things like right and wrong actually exist. And we say consciousness is merely a chemical phenomenon, not realizing the very claim we are making is a product of that same phenomenon. For being so educated — and pardon the bluntness — we come across a bit dim.

There is also something troubling about such claims. It means things like beauty and truth and virtue and awe and splendor and compassion and love do not exist. These things seem core to who we are as human beings, even vital to what it means to be human. And yet we — as modern people — are willing to part with them. Quite easily, in fact. We are willing to part with them even if our very claims about truth that cause us to part with them are logically incoherent.

Why is this? I think it is because of the alternative. If we allow ourselves to recognize the logical incoherence of our conclusion, we would have to acknowledge that one of our assumptions is invalid. In the case of human thought being an illusion caused purely by chemical reactions, we would have to say, “Wait, no. That cannot possibly be true.” And then we would have to challenge the assumption that gave rise to that assumption: That humans are no more than biological machines. But what gave rise to that assumption? That reality itself is purely physical. This is the base assumption that cannot possibly be true.

But if our whole notion that reality is purely physical is not true, by definition that would mean reality is more than physical; it is more than nature. It would mean we live in a supernatural world. And this is something the modern mind is simply not prepared, or perhaps willing, to accept.

It is more willing to divest itself of all that is sacred and destroy itself in the process than acknowledge what cannot be denied. In short, it seems the modern mind would rather become nothing than acknowledge God.


Photo by Denis Degioanni on Unsplash