"The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." – Genesis 17:8
Not long after I opened my eyes this morning, I noticed that I had a text message. In the darkness of my bedroom, I read these words:
Brother Moore died about 30 minutes ago. The funeral will be in Oak Grove. I don’t know any other details.
Immediately, my mind whirled with a flurry of Brother Moore’s words of advice and admonition. I thought about his faithfulness to God and all of the years he had given in service. I remembered the funny stories he told and the way he chuckled, just barely audible and with a big grin that hid his eyes in the wrinkles of his face. Brother Moore was a man that you didn’t soon forget once you met him. Both opinionated and gentle; he’d tell you like it was, or at least how he saw it, but he’d do so with such a loving tone that you couldn’t deny that his words were flowing from a pure heart filled with conviction and compassion.
Although I had grown up with stories of Brother Moore (he reportedly said “Elvis Presley sent more people to hell than..” but I never heard him say it), I didn’t really get to know him until I moved to Louisiana in 2009. It was then that I taught at Bethel Christian School, a private school across the street from his home, and preached at North Hodge Church of God, the church Brother Moore and his wife attended when he wasn’t preaching elsewhere. Over my four years there, I visited with Brother and Sister Moore often. On many Sundays, after church, he’d sidle up next to me with his dark brown fedora on and cane in hand.
“Would you and your wife like to come to the fish house with us?” he’d ask in his deep, unwavering voice.
The “fish house”, as he referred to it, was a little all-you-can-eat catfish and shrimp joint that sat 30-40 minutes from our home. Despite the drive, unless we had other plans, I always quickly replied, “Yes.” He had too much wisdom and I enjoyed his company far too much to pass up the possibility of spending an afternoon with him and his wife. I’d eat too much fish while he told stories about his childhood, the Bible, the people he’d pastored, and everything in between. It was during these meals that I learned much about him. I found out that he drank floats but instead of vanilla ice cream and root beer, he used Diet Coke and orange sherbet. I heard about his previous three wives (he had outlived them all) and how he had courted Sister Helen, his last wife, by bugging her until she finally “gave in” (I believe those were the words used). He recounted his experiences with the supernatural and how he had died once before, an event that led to his salvation and life of ministry. Throughout my time with Brother Moore, I learned a number of spiritual lessons for which I’m incredibly thankful. And that’s the reason that I’m writing this morning. He wouldn’t have wanted me to just tell the small, insignificant things about his life. Instead, I believe that Brother Moore would want me to do the same thing that he did throughout his life: point people toward Jesus. So, here are three lessons that I learned from my time with Brother Moore.
It’s all about Jesus
I remember so clearly the first night that Brother Moore heard me preach. I felt so confident, or at least as confident as you can preaching to a man who had been preaching twice as long as you had been alive. I spoke on a subject, I’m not sure exactly what, out of the Old Testament. The sermon flowed and every point fit perfectly in place, everything just seemed to come together beautifully. I was feeling mighty good about myself until I got ready to leave. I was walking toward the back of the church when Brother Moore pulled me aside. He wore a serious face and I was, understandably, nervous about what he might say.
Without cracking a smile he said, “That wasn’t bad.”
Relief washed over me for a second.
My stomach sank again.
“I didn’t hear the name of Jesus once during your message. It’s all about Jesus.”
I smiled politely and thanked him for his critique. We spoke for a few more minutes about the message and he walked out the door. My flesh wanted to revolt, “But everything I preached about was made possible because of Jesus. Surely, every sermon doesn’t have to mention the name of Jesus. After all, everyone here understands what I’m talking about.” His words had pierced my soul and I didn’t like the conviction at all. As I drove home that night, I thought about his words, “It’s all about Jesus.” I couldn’t seem to get them out of my head and soon, my heart softened and my pride gave way to humility. It is all about Jesus, I realized. Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He’s the “Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” (Revelation 1:11). In the end, it is Jesus who is “before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:17-18). “In all things he might have the preeminence.” Of course he should have as much in the Church’s preaching. That moment changed the way I preached forever. It made me far more aware of Christ. When preparing my messages, one question persistently enters my mind even now, “Where is Christ in this?”
It’s not just in preaching that this idea applies though. Christ should have “preeminence” in all things. In the way we speak and in our actions; in our thoughts and in our dreams. Christ must be “all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). I saw this principle not just mouthed but lived in the life of Brother Moore. He had served God in several churches throughout his life of ministry (a life, by the way, that began over a third of the way through his 99 years). Even after being unable to pastor, he continued to travel and preach well into his 90s. In fact, he held a revival at our church just 2 or 3 years ago. Above all things, he preached and lived Christ.
He came up to me one Sunday after he’d been gone for several weeks and I asked him where he’d been.
“Well, I preached at the Presbyterian church last week,” he replied.
“Really? How’d it go?”
“After I preached,” he started with a smile and a laugh, “a man stood up and said, ‘He may not be a Presbyterian but everything he’s preaching is the truth!'”
That was how Brother Moore lived. Preaching and living the Truth of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ only.
Service to God is a Lifetime
Brother Moore was not raised in a Christian home. In fact, I once heard him tell a story during one of his sermons about the first time he ever heard someone pray in his home. He was just a boy at the time, enjoying the warmth of the fireplace. It was a picturesque winter night: snow falling, a chilly wind blowing the trees in the moonlight. A knock came at the door and his mother opened it to find an older black man, in tattered garments, standing on the stoop. He was ragged and looked hungry. Brother Moore’s mother invited him in and sat him down. She brought him a bowl of soup and gave him a drink but, before spooning it into his mouth, the man bowed his head and prayed, thanking God for his many blessings. It was the first prayer that Brother Moore ever heard in his family’s little cabin and it would leave a lasting impression on him. But what happened next was what really lodged the moment into his memory. After eating, the man stood up, thanked the family and walked out the door. Brother Moore, the curious child that he was, walked to the window and looked out. The man was gone and there were no footprints in the snow. After telling the story, Brother Moore verbally mused on the verse “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Although it would be another several decades before he came to Christ, this was an event that left an indelible impression on him.
After getting saved at a rather late age (I can’t remember for sure but I believe he was in his 30s or 40s), Brother Moore devoted his life to the service of God. He pastored at a church in Missouri, “the only church that was in a state park” he used to say, and worked as an evangelist for decades. He shared the gospel everywhere he went. Once, in his later years, he ended up in a hospital because of some health problems he was experiencing. He used the opportunity to tell the doctors and nurses regularly about the God who was able to save and heal both body and soul. He witnessed to atheists, nominal Christians and everyone else that crossed his path. His was a life given in service to God.
Many other ministers and pastors would have retired and slowed down long before the thought even entered Brother Moore’s mind. He was still traveling and preaching, albeit less extensively, well into the last few years of his life. He never saw an end to his calling in Christ and that’s exactly how God wanted it. God used Brother Moore to reach out and minister until the very end. He wants to do the same thing through each of us. “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance [or irrevocable]” (Romans 11:29). God has placed a call on every believer to be a light, to salt the earth, to witness concerning him and these are never repented of or revoked. Our whole purpose of existing is to give glory to God. Paul told the the Corinthians, “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). As long as we’re alive, every breath should be done in honor of and in glory to our great Heavenly Father. This faith of ours is a lifetime commitment whether we live a moment or 99 years.
Follow the Call of God
I left Louisiana in June of this year to move to Ohio. I had struggled a great deal with leaving because of the people that I cared so desperately about there. One of the last times I saw Brother Moore, he pulled me aside and said “I heard that they’re wanting to take you away from us but I know that you’ve got too much here to leave.” My heart sank as I worked up the courage to tell him that he was wrong; I was moving. I hadn’t really wanted to move and I’d spent months denying God the privilege of placing me where he wanted but I’d finally submitted to him in late December. I pulled Brother Moore close to me and said, with tears welling up in my eyes, “I told them that I’d come. I know that God is calling me there.”
Brother Moore smiled and, without missing a beat, said, “Well, you must follow the call of God.”
His words filled me with peace. God used his words to call me back to a that place of rest in Christ. Ultimately, it didn’t matter whether some people got upset with me or were saddened. All that mattered was following the call of God. It might lead me to the far-reaches of the Earth or it might leave me right where I was; that didn’t matter. All that mattered was faithfulness to God’s call. After comforting me and assuring me that he’d be praying for me and my ministry in Ohio, he stared at me and said, “And tell Tony (Brother Tony is the pastor of the church in Ohio where I moved) that if he hurts you,” Brother Moore raised his fist as if he was ready to start swinging, “I’ll come after him.” We had a good laugh before he had to go. It’s a moment in time that I now cherish even more.
I have no doubt that Brother Moore has already heard those words that await every faithful follower of Christ: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Brother Moore, we love you and will carry on your legacy. Enjoy the joy of the Lord and save me some fish.
In Memoriam Brother Earl Moore