Love Beyond Reason; Promise Beyond Understanding

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Rebekah speaking at WFPC Maunday Thursday services

Rebekah speaking at WFPC Maunday Thursday services

Today is Good Friday. It’s a day when love stepped up beyond reason, set all defenses aside, and allowed hate to nail the best hope history ever saw to a wooden scaffold.

However, rather than being ground into obscurity under the heel of fear and brutality, love transformed the crudely assembled cross from a symbol of torture and repression into the most enduring emblem of victory, promise, and redemption this world has ever known.

But that’s what Jesus was all about – what Jesus is all about. Jesus is in the business of redefinition. He redefines words such as peace, power, life, death, light, victory, healing, eternity, and love; and he stands ready to help each one of us redefine the very nature, the substance, and the promise of our lives.

WAKE FOREST TODAY COLUMN: That’s just a part of my word for Good Friday. You can read the balance of my thoughts in “Let’s Not Hop Right Over Holy Week,” this week’s local news column.

Here’s an excerpt, you can read the rest by clicking one of the links:

I understand that it’s easy to become distracted, but that’s the point of taking this kind of journey one deliberate footfall at a time. My story for the remainder of this week is going to be the story of moving from the enthusiasm I experienced on Palm Sunday to the startling celebration of Easter, without skipping the darkness of The Passion.
Fact is, if we do the “Easter-Bunny” thing and hop right over Friday’s Crucifixion, then there’s really not that much to get dressed up for on Sunday. (read more…)

Maunday Thursday: communion around the tables

Maunday Thursday: communion around the tables

Seriously, friends, let’s not do the Easter-Bunny thing and hop right over The Passion. Believe me, Easter Sunday is the story of New Creation, the narrative of re-Creation. For that to happen, first something has to die.

In the hope and promise of Easter – DEREK

God’s initiative of love, The Last Supper, and our dogwood trees

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Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law (Romans 13:8)

DSC_0365THE GOSPEL OF LOVE: I know we’ve talked about the subject before in this space, but there are still too many people out there (millions) who evidently need some serious coaching in terms of what it means to follow Jesus, and to live the heart of the Gospel as if The Master really meant it when he voiced the following mandate at the occasion of The Last Supper:

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (John 13:34-35).

Yet so many strident voices are fast and loose when it comes to judgement, argue every detail because they simply have to be RIGHT, and make ungrounded and arbitrary statements such as, “I go to a ‘Bible-believing church’ and you don’t.” Their read on John 13:14 goes more like this: “The world will know we are the real disciples because our doctrine (my doctrine… my church… my interpretation) is right, and other people have it all wrong.”

The Bible, however, is the narrative account of A) God’s evolving relationship with The Children of Israel; B) God’s initiative of redemptive love via the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; and C) the beginnings of the movement of the Good News into, “Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The Bible is not the kind of document that comes with one irrefutable, correct, verifiable, conclusive, exhaustive set of commentaries; and it’s not the kind of manuscript that lends itself to tidy, flawless explanations. It’s the story of God’s reaching in through time and space, and offering healing to a broken world. That’s God’s initiative of love; that’s the work of the cross. It’s our opportunity, then, to either live into love or to reject it.

And I believe it is quite impossible to be a disciple of Jesus, a follower of The Way, and to fail to live in love.

dogwood blooms...

dogwood blooms at Maul Hall

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8).

In love, and because of love – DEREK

(Your reward for reading this far is the following set of photographs around the outside of our home. Spring has certainly come to Wake Forest, and it wears a beautiful garment of praise.)

Easter egg hunts, grandchildren, and Italy (all this and more)

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People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

IMG_2739Now that I’m finally settled back at home, I can write the closing post from my 12-day Connecticut granddaddy odyssey.

Friday night I prepped the kids by giving them baths and getting them snug in their PJ’s; Beks was already fast asleep when their mom and dad’s car rolled into the driveway. After all that time, I was the status quo, so David’s face lit up with both delight and surprise when he recognized the familiar footfall on the stoop.

But I think it was Naomi who was the most excited. It was the first time she’d spent even a night away from Beks, and seeing the children again plugged a growing void in her heart. Italy was wonderful, but coming home was even better.

For me, one of the highlights turned out to be something I didn’t even witness first hand. It was the fact that our two children, Andrew and Naomi, voluntarily spent a week-plus together – along with their spouses – and that they had a wonderful time being a family.

Craig, Naomi, Alicia, Andrew (in Venice)

Craig, Naomi, Alicia, Andrew (in Venice)

I’ll just include the one photograph from Italy, but keeping up with their adventures via Facebook provided me with such a charge of joy that I’d often find myself grinning from ear-to-ear, just knowing they were all together.

Saturday morning we all headed over to the little Congregational Church for the Easter Egg Hunt. Cuteness reigned! We teamed up with Naomi’s friend Jen and her little girl, Kayla. Being free to roam around with my Nikon produced an entirely different set of images than the hastily snapped iPhone shots when I had them by myself!

DSC_0274So the odyssey ended and I came home. But I came home with a new relationship with my grandchildren that couldn’t have been achieved any way other than “in the trenches,” 24/7, nurtured in the complete immersion of love.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

(lots of really great pics below… especially if you like Easter egg hunts!)

When I look to the heavens (and home), the work of your hands…

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When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8)

Monday morning I was back at the airport – just about 36 hours after I’d landed Saturday night. This time it was a flight to Sarasota to – finally – pick up my parents’ car, the one that had been wrecked just a few days before they moved to North Carolina.

Long story short, my plane was delayed until after the official close of business, so I asked the body shop to meet me at the airport with the car.

I expected the guy to pull up in a grey Impala then have me drive him home. But instead, right there in the loading/unloading “Arrivals” area, “Bubba” pulled up in a flatbed, rolled my parents’ vehicle onto the road, handed me the keys, then drove away! Talk about your curb-to-curb service!

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Consequently, and less than 15 minutes after touchdown in Sarasota, I was motoring north in time to make Jacksonville by 10:45. It was my sixth visit to Florida this year, and certainly my shortest to date.

I caught the sunset photo as I passed Brandon, both literally and metaphorically leaving the town behind once again in my rear-view mirror.

All I wanted to do was to get home, and as quickly as possible. I’ve been gone far too much recently.

IMG_2923The bottom line is that Rebekah and I need to be together. Every flight out of Raleigh/Durham was for a good purpose and has been a positive experience – but I seriously pray that I’m done for a while.

Today’s travel left me feeling awed, both by the beauty of this good earth and by what we are able to see when we look with creative eyes. At the same time, it left me looking forward to renewing the perspective of home, and thankful that I have such a rock-solid home with Rebekah, and with God.

There is so much to enjoy, and I am so grateful that I have the eyes, and the spirit, to see God’s grandeur and goodness in every aspect – DEREK

Life and Enthusiasm in Wake Forest

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IMG_2877The psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains — 
 where does my help come from?” (psalm 121:1)

There is still so much to write about from my 12-days in Connecticut. But for this morning I want to share a little of the joy of returning home, and Palm Sunday with Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

There is such vibrant life in our faith community! This Sunday the CLC was pulsating with enthusiasm, vitality, joy, worship, and a sense of anticipation for the future.

It simply does my heart good to be at church, and to worship with these wonderful people!

The symbolic act of waving palm branches – not just the children but every person in attendance – made me think of the words from Psalm 121: “Where does my help come from? It comes from God!”

IMG_2870Palms representing Jesus, riding in triumph on a donkey, the symbol of peace.

Peace via love, as the alternative to the brutal pax romana imposed by Rome. Our help does not come from towering mountains, weapons, force, money, politics or any kind of dominance; our help comes from God, who entered Jerusalem on a donkey, telling the world clearly that his reign was to be a reign of service, and humility, and self-giving love.

Someday maybe we’ll get that. Someday maybe the world will understand.

Peace (the Jesus kind) – DEREK

(a few fun photos from my flight home from Connecticut and Palm Sunday at WFPC)

 

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

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Dogwood this morning, welcoming me back to NC

Dogwood this morning, welcoming me back to NC

It’s Palm Sunday! I’m back home! I’ll share guest blogger Rebekah Maul’s Lenten devotion for today.

Peace – DEREK

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”(Mark 11:9-11)

It’s Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Today in church we’re going to have our own brand of palm branches to wave around, and the CLC will be full of people and beautiful music as we begin the last steps to the Cross.

I wonder how grand that parade truly was… the one where Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on a colt? How many people were in that crowd waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!”?

In all likelihood, there was another parade that day coming in on the other side of the city. It would have been a truly impressive sight. The Roman garrison was marching in, fully loaded with weapons so that everyone could see how powerful they were. There were probably trumpets and drums… lots of excitement… officers on grand horses. Of course, they were making a spectacle of this entrance because it was the week of the Passover Feast, and extremists would want to take advantage, so this garrison would help to keep the peace. Which parade would you have wanted to see?

The Prince of Peace rode a symbol of peace… the untried colt… not very exciting by comparison. The scripture says there was a crowd, and I would like to think that I would have been in that parade.

But, we also know that the crowds quickly dispersed, just a few days later when it became clear that Jesus wasn’t a safe person to be associated with. He was going down, even though he had done nothing wrong (other than threaten the status-quo). Distancing oneself was just common sense.

We still use this reasoning today… just when the alternative to our lives (that we say we hunger for) begins to be within the realm of possibility, we retreat.

It’s safer to be a fan of Jesus, where we can sit in the stands and cheer, and then go home. But it’s a very different thing to be willing to go to the foot of the cross and watch the Savior of the world die. There is always a choice.

Prayer: Lord, this is going to be a tough week of reflection. We ask that you guide our thoughts, but also our hearts as we move closer to the empty tomb. Will we choose to look for you… to see where you have gone… to follow you into the world? We’re asking in Jesus’ name. Amen.

10 Things You Need To Know About Being A Grandparent

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Reading a great book

Reading a great book

It seems de rigueur nowadays to write list-driven posts. They’re all over the Internet, and I’m sure you’ve read your fair share:

  • “20 things I wish I’d known in my late 20′s”
  • “10 things to deal with before you get married”
  • “12  facts about life they don’t teach in college”
  • “25 tidbits that would have made all the difference before we had children”
  • blah, blah, blah.

So why, then, am I jumping on this bandwagon today? Am I desperate for something to write about? Hopeful for a few extra “hits” on my blog? Jonesing for an invitation to read my post on Ellen? (The Ellen idea, BTW, is most excellent!)

When you crunch the numbers, I’ve only had a combined 38-months of grand-parenting experience, and most of that had been off-site. But this Connecticut odyssey has been epic on so many levels, and I know I’m qualified to generate at least a handful of items everyone really does need to know.

Feel free to comment with your “Amens,” corrections, or additions.

  1. IMG_2847It’s much harder than it looks: Behind every cute “granddaddy in a rocking-chair reading to the lovely toddler” picture is a 12-hour shift that includes diaper changes, laundry, baths, meal preparation, dislocated shoulders (from carrying) and much, much more. You can’t spell grandparent without some serious sweat.
  2. It’s about the relationship: This is different from parenting in that grandparents don’t have to worry so much about the details. Consequently, we’re free to focus on the relationship. And, as people with a lot of life experience, we’re exceptionally well qualified. What a wonderful opportunity!
  3. It begins with love, but it doesn’t end there: Love not only hugs, plays, and kisses, but it teaches, encourages, corrects, shapes, trains, holds accountable, and follows through.
  4. Hugs are better answers than answers: We don’t have to have all the answers, we simply need to have the arms that are willing to wrap around our grandchildren and their challenges. Our role is more along the lines of being one of the answers than having the answer.
  5. The parents are the head coaches, our role is special teams: We may be older, we may well be wiser, and we may know so much more than we did when we were young; but they’re not our children, they are our children’s children. The parents call the shots, and as grandparents it’s our role to be 100% supportive and to implement the plan. With our own unique pizzazz, of course.
  6. Consistency is the glue that holds everything together: When I taught exceptional education a student once said, “Mr Maul, thanks for running a tight ship. At least I know what to expect around you.” Don’t rock the consistency boat!
  7. When in Rome, do as the Romans do: When we’re at our grandchildren’s home, we’re in Rome, and we follow the protocols of the house (Unless, of course, their parents are literally in Rome – like Naomi and Craig have been this week – then the Granddaddy can do what he likes!)
  8. Hold the course: Grand-parenting is not about the short-term, it’s about the long haul. Being a grandparent is about being solid, it’s about being the kind of rock the children can come alongside in a storm, a place to seek refuge, a steady, reliable, consistent presence of love and strength.
  9. Wisdom beats out strength any day: We may not be as physically strong as we were 30 years ago, but we can tap resources we never knew existed when we were young. Love plus spiritual maturity makes us mighty!
  10. Listen, listen, listen: When I was a young parent I had so much to say to my kids (well, I thought I did…) that I often didn’t take enough time to listen. As grandparents it’s imperative that we have ready ears to listen, and that we encourage our grandchildren to share their hearts without limitation.

IMG_2827Of course, I’ve learned a whole lot more from my grand-children this weekend than I’ve taught them. But if I could teach them anything, just one thing, it would be to love this life with a passion, and to live it without reservation; because they were created, by a generous God, to be brilliant beings of light and joy.

- DEREK 

The power of positive grand-parenting

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IMG_2801This morning I’d like to direct you to my Wake Forest Today column. It features – no surprise – commentary on this past week’s adventures in grand-parenting.

Here’s a paragraph from “Grand-parenting 101, and a shot of confidence“:

Naomi didn’t even question if I could handle it, despite the protestations and gasps of the less emancipated of her acquaintances. She was honestly offended that people wouldn’t blink an eye at a woman taking care of things, while wondering aloud if grandpa would run up the white flag before the first diaper was changed… (read more….)

IMG_2811I’ll throw in a few relevant photos below. Then, please click on the Wake Forest Today link for the article.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

Peace, Promise, and Love – DEREK

notes from a rainy day in Connecticut

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Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3) 

Yesterday we were almost rain-bound. The morning was a wash, but things did clear up in the late afternoon and I was able to let David outside for a short romp.

Rain may be hard on cooped-up children, but the light of an overcast, misty day made for some beautiful shades of browns and greys in the trees behind the house, here in the Connecticut woods.

IMG_2771Rain Day, of course, translates into: “build elaborate train sets, use the wooden blocks to make roads, bring out every car and truck in the house, and generally cover 90% of the floor space with every other toy imaginable.”

I played music on my iPhone (The Lumineers), kept the television off most of the day, and watched in wonder as David used his creative mind to manipulate the cars and trains.

IMG_2781ABSORBED: We’re eight-plus days in to this Grand-parenting Adventure now, and both children are feeling it.

There’s an uptick in neediness, their feelings are tender, and tears are always close to the surface. But at the same time I feel more completely absorbed into their world. I can sense the children’s confidence in me, and they can sense my confidence in what I am doing.

Beks smiled at me when she woke up from her nap; David happily helped carry mail back up to the house. You know, they might even miss me when I fly back to North Carolina. You’d better believe I’ll be missing them.

IMG_2793Until then… we’ve got some trains to play with before lunch… and some towers to build… and some more roads to lay out….

- DEREK

 

“Spectacular” doesn’t have to be that complicated!

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IMG_2739This is my signature shot for the day. It was just a simple adventure – heading into Old Saybrook to look at the water and then a walk around the town – but there’s something special about doing anything, deliberately, as a family.

I remember when our own children – Andrew and Naomi – were little. Rebekah and I made adventures out of everything. The point is that it’s a big deal to be together as a family. And, in consequence, even a trip to walk around the mall for an hour can qualify as special.

It’s the same principle that Rebekah and I have always built “date night” around. Back in college, when we could scrounge up maybe 50-cents cash, we’d still “go out” for a date. Sometimes that involved walking long hours around the residential streets behind campus. We’d stop at the 7-11, purchase one honey-bun and a pint of milk, and share it over on the steps of the Baptist church across the street. But it was special, because it was deliberate.

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driving through Connecticut

Same thing with the kids. Summer vacation especially, we’d go somewhere pretty-much every day.

Maybe we’d drive out to the beach for an hour and a half, and make stopping for a smoothie on the way there the special treat. Or maybe we’d ride our bikes in convoy around the neighborhood, finishing up at the church for lemonade with mama.

It really didn’t matter what it was, it was special because it was together, as a family. It’s the effort that can make anything at all an amazing adventure!

That’s the kind of thinking that’s been running through my head and my heart this week. Do something, do something every day; it’s going to be memorable simply because we did it!

Spectacular day with the grand-kids!

Spectacular day with the grand-kids!

The principle is true for all of us. Marriages, kids, friendships. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money or to do something spectacular. Just being together – intentionally – turns out to be pretty darned spectacular.

- DEREK