baptism and the whole point of, well, everything…

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine…”  – Isaiah 43:1

IMG_4208NOTE: Life, Gratitude, Faith, & Passion is taking a short hiatus. After today, my next post will likely appear around the middle of August. Please feel free to peruse the archives; or – better yet – go to my Amazon author page and spend the next couple of weeks reading one of my books!

THIS: Sunday morning, July 27, at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, Rebekah had the joy of baptizing three children from the same family (you can see each baptism, in succession, in the image gallery below).

The timing could not have been better, as we wrapped up the sermon series on the Book of Judges. Judges is the chronicle of how, repeatedly, the Children of Israel failed to keep covenant with God. Whereas baptism tells the story, repeatedly, of how God’s faithfulness  continues today, to extend God’s covenant promises from generation to generation.

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At WFPC, a young family stood with Rebekah, and the parents publicly proclaimed their trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, promising to raise their children in a Christian home.

The congregation then pledged to support and nurture both the parents and the children. Everyone voiced their commitment to be in it for the long haul, together, looking forward to the day when the young people will confirm their faith, and claim God’s covenant promises for themselves.

EVERYTHING! What happened in worship Sunday morning was, essentially, the whole point of everything.

 As I stood there, watching a young family turn deliberately towards the light, the core value of our faith community came into clear focus.

Here’s what I mean. As I stood there, watching a young family turn deliberately towards the light, the core value of our faith community came into clear focus. I saw with a sharp clarity that nothing else comes close to mattering this much; I saw that if we’re not in the business of facilitating restored. reconciled, and regenerative relationships with God, then we’re really not in business at all.

It is a beautiful thing to look across a crowd of disciples, and to see a family promising to live as faithful followers of Jesus, pledging to practice their faithfulness in the context of a vibrant community of believers.

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That’s church, right there. This is the bottom line: God, reaching in to invite us into a different kind of life. “For I have ransomed you,” God says, “I have called you by name; you are mine.”

And that, my friends, is absolutely brilliant! – DEREK

 

Weekend Update: law, grace, birthdays, and reciprocating saws

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. – Romans 6:14

Dad's 86th birthday "selfie"

Dad’s 86th birthday “selfie”

WEEKEND UPDATE: I’d write about this morning’s discussion from Romans Six, but once I got started it would be hard to keep my post a reasonable length. So suffice it to say that – once again – the scriptures have challenged me, instructed me, fed me, and freed me. I’m never disappointed when I get together with other disciples and go deep.

So, instead, I’ll write about my dad’s 86th birthday. We moved the celebration forward to Saturday because we wanted to have time to relax and enjoy a long birthday lunch together.

the feeder

the feeder

Dad got to order exactly what he fancied, so I prepared filet mignon, baked potatoes with the trimmings, fresh asparagus, and hot croissants. Then my mom rounded up some amazingly scrumptious English birthday cake. So. Good.

Dad’s gift from us was a subscription to North Carolina’s Our State magazine. It really is a remarkable publication, full with great writing and amazing photographs. We also gave him a bag of bird seed… to go with mum’s present of a primo bird feeder set up (including pole, squirrel baffle and more). Then dad and I set the system up just off their deck.

ALL SHOOK UP: The balance of the weekend (so far) has involved more fence building. Rebekah and I got after it with serious intent Friday afternoon, and we managed to put three more sections in place.

This work turned out to be the maiden voyage for Rebekah’s new reciprocating saw. To be honest, the thing vibrated a whole lot more than we’d anticipated; consequently – like Elvis – we’re all shook up. But it cut like a hot knife through butter, and we’re very pleased with our progress. Now we know what we’re doing it’s going to go a lot faster down the home stretch.

"All shook up"

“All shook up”

ROMANS: Back to the Romans passage. I will take a moment to share how helpful it was to read the section about “living under the requirements of the law.” Paul makes it perfectly clear that when the law is more important than God, and takes precedence over grace, then, “Sin is your master.”

I thought about that long and hard, especially in light of how many people I know who routinely, and punitively, use the law to bludgeon other believers. According to Paul – and it seems clear to me that this is what’s going on – then “sin really has become their master.”

No kidding – I’d like to take a reciprocating saw to that approach to faith.

- DEREK

 

doing life around the table

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. – John 12:1-2

DSC_0036This week I’ve been mining the same raw material to produce articles for a variety of outlets. The general topic has been “mealtime conversation” and it first saw the light of day as conversation-starters for the family dinner hour – my latest column for All-Pro-Dad. Then, yesterday, it took on a little more substance for Wake Forest Today, finding a new incarnation as Koinonia at the Table. Today I’m taking another tack in this blog.

My Wake Forest Today column includes the following thought:

Great conversation is still, to my mind, one of the signal pleasures of living in community. People have such powerful stories to tell, so many important questions to ask, such rich experiences to share, and such deep convictions to contribute to mutual understanding (read more…).

Moffet, Ted, their children, and spouses/significant others.....

It’s not just the family dinner that I’m campaigning for, it’s the art of great conversation. I’m all for social media, but real communication can so easily fall victim to its limitations: the anonymity; the clinical repartee of even keystrokes; the time between responses; the absence of physical contact – especially eye-contact; the lack of inflection in text; the reactive quality of the Internet; the lack of any kind of a buffer between expression (writing) and delivery (“send”)….

An evening of rich conversation is one of my great joys. I love to connect with people’s stories, with their ideas, with their passions, and with what touches them deeply. I value points of view that challenge me, questions that cause me to think – or rethink, and the sharing of experiences that expand my horizons.

I think it’s because I see everyone – and their personal story – as a critical part of the Great Narrative that is the ongoing tale of history. I believe that we are all living an important story, and taking a significant path. If we share our journey, our narrative, our tale, then we are all richer…

around the table of plenty

around the table of plenty

… And besides, if we never articulate our story, or plot our journey, then how can we respond to the invitation to try a new path, or to expand our narrative to include the Greatest Story Ever Told? And if we never listen to the stories we live amongst, then how can we truly love?

Read Koinonia at the Table - and then plan to experience some for yourself - DEREK

 

life and light – sunflowers and grandchildren

In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1

10522558_10100298664356532_8589005450285050439_n- (all images in today’s post by Naomi Campbell – captions below) OMG! That’s Oh. My. Goodness. I feel a huge “Grandaddy Letters” post coming on today! Seriously, friends, I can’t help myself. Fact is, I could write a complete novel based on the picture, above. It’s our 33-month old grandson, David, looking out on a field of sunflowers in Connecticut yesterday afternoon.

Our daughter, Naomi, may have the eye of an artist when she frames out a photograph, but more importantly our grandson, David, has the posture, the aspect, of an adventurer – hungry at that – as he looks out over the world of promise and opportunity that is laid out before him.

And David’s tomorrow is “laid out” in a purposeful way. I believe from the bottom of my heart that God sees a child like David, looks into the future, and rolls out the cornucopia of possibility; every turn in the road a gift and a challenge prepared with faithfulness and love. I believe that is how God sees the future for all children – it’s just rare that someone could capture it on film in quite this way.

Cairo

Cairo

BROKEN WORLD: But we live in a broken world. Life happens, and life is loaded with sin and with disappointment, and the way forward for many children often looks more like this (left), an image Rebekah and I captured on the street in the “Garbage City” section of Cairo, just a few weeks after David was born. And what is so heartbreaking about this picture is truth of the story that it tells.

Precious few of the children of this world look out over a field of sunflowers; and even here in the U.S., a land defined by opportunity, far too many are raised without reference to promise. I’m not talking about economic opportunity, so much as my concern that the balance of hope has tipped away from the light.

Listen to these words from the beginning of John’s story about Jesus:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:10-13

10375900_10100298697150812_2000430825600305678_nPROMISE! Our opportunity is to live as Children of Light. My hope for my grandchildren is that they will live into that kind of promise.

The real difference being made in Cairo isn’t via any influx of capital, its the work of missions such as “Mother Maggie’s Kindergarten,” where the light is being turned on, one child at a time.

Likewise, the kind of future I pray that my grandchildren live into won’t be found in a nice neighborhood, in cute clothes, abundant toys, or even living in the United States of America. No, they have to find their way to The Light.

I pray for a community, a nation, and then a world, where the balance of hope tips back toward the light. This won’t be accomplished by armies, by economic manipulations, or by imposing “our way of life” on other cultures, but by living with integrity as beloved children of God, and by inviting others to live a different kind of story – to enter the Narrative of Light.

10577156_10100298697140832_2035998597838957021_nFrom his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. – John  1:16-18

 

 

the kind of God-promise we can grab onto

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says theLord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. – Jeremiah 29:11

powerful prayer...

power of prayer – at WFPC

This verse from Jeremiah is one of those “eminently quotable” scriptures. It frequently pops up in blogs, articles, and devotionals. And why not? It’s the kind of God-promise we can grab onto, and that speaks to the heart of what faith means for so many people.

However, and this always seems to be true with these “spotlight” quotes from the Bible, the balance of the passage where the verse resides adds dimension and depth that it would be a shame to miss. So let’s not.

Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29:12-14

What reaches deep inside me about this passage today is the dynamic relationship between God’s assurance and our response; the “then,” the “when,” and the “if,” followed by the subsequent series of God’s “I will’s.”

What reaches deep inside me is my responsibility in this equation. When I know, trust, and have faith that surely God knows the plans he has for me, plans for my welfare and not for harm, to give me a future and a hope… then I will faithfully do the following:

  • Call on God
  • Pray to God
  • Search for God
  • Seek God with all my heart

And then, Jeremiah writes, it’s not that we “find” God by our own efforts, but that God “will let us find” him.

And finally, and this speaks so profoundly to the place so many people live, God will bring us back from the place of exile.

in Raleigh on the 18th

So here’s my question: Do you want to be brought back from your place of exile? My responsibility – and your responsibility – is to call, to pray, to search, and to seek – with all of your heart.

Peace – in the only way true peace can come – DEREK

rooted in Jesus – not tradition

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

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dead roses in our window!

If you read this space often you know that I’ve quoted this scripture a lot lately. I think it’s because – for me – the heart of the gospel message, the good news about Jesus, is so clearly about new life, new possibilities, new creation, and a future loaded with living promise.

Consequently, both Rebekah and I were a little surprised this morning at breakfast to note that the roses on the kitchen table were beyond dead; and they’d evidently been that way for some time.

How had we let that one slip by?

Truth be told, leaving dead things in place is not that unusual. Sometimes we hang on to deceased traditions in the hopes that somehow they’ll spontaneously revive again; sometimes we’re simply in denial (“Oh, it’s not that bad, yellow roses often come back, maybe it’ll look better tomorrow…”); but mostly we just get used to the decline, we become inured to the decay, and we simply don’t see it any more.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS: I know a lot of church communities where people just seem to be hanging on, waiting for “the good old days” to come back around; but the blooms are drying up, the petals are falling off, and the leaves are curling. Because what they’re hanging on to isn’t Jesus, it’s tradition. They are, essentially, a vase of cut flowers and they aren’t rooted in anything that has any ability to give them life.

The vase of dead flowers reminds me of the story of Gamaliel (Acts 5) who pointed out that the early church would fall flat on its face if The Way was merely a human construction… “Because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them (vv 38-39).”

THE VINE: Here’s the thing. If the church is dying, then it’s not connected to the vine.

  • The gospel isn’t about propping up human traditions, it’s about following Jesus;
  • the good news is not about nostalgia, it’s about a restored relationship with God;
  • the church won’t flourish because we follow the latest interpretation of The Law, it’s going to thrive because people meet Jesus there;
  • salvation isn’t offered because people meet your particular catalog of standards, it comes when we accept – and live into – the saving grace of Jesus;
  • new life will never animate the soul of a community that builds walls to protects itself, but will vitalize a community that gives itself away.
the WFPC garden has the right idea!

the WFPC garden has the right idea!

Rebekah and I often say that we have been called to bloom where we are planted; but that planting must be rooted in Jesus, or we’re simply going to dry up and die. The mission statement of Wake Forest Presbyterian Church puts it this way, “Rooted in Christ; Growing together in faith; Reaching out to others.”

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

 

weddings, baptism, ministry, people, joy, and “the very best” of everything…

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:11-12

Rebekah officiating at Westminster

Rebekah officiating at Westminster

As a “preacher’s spouse” – aka clergy-hubby – one of the things I’ve had to get used to over the years is “working the room” at social events.

My normal, more natural, “go-to” response leans toward the shy, the bashful, and the “Let me sip coffee in the corner of the room, by myself, because I don’t know any of these people.”

But that doesn’t really cut it when your wife is Ms. Congeniality Preacher Person; so I have made some progress, over the years; I’m learning, and when I have to I know how to do a pretty fair mingling job.

downtown Raleigh from reception

downtown Raleigh from reception

WEDDING: Case in point Saturday evening’s wedding in Raleigh. The bride has family roots at Wake Forest Presbyterian, which is why Rebekah was asked to officiate, but grandparent mobility issues shifted the venue to Westminster Presbyterian in Raleigh. Additionally, all the guests were from somewhere out of town, so the only people I’d actually met before were the bride and groom (and they were a little busy!).

But, at the reception, there on the 21st Floor of some office tower at the “Capital City Club,” I worked the room like I knew what I was doing; and I had a blast.

The formula was, of course, good people plus the context of celebrating deliberate, life-transforming, committed, “I choose to be with you,” love. Love that puts its stock in commitment, in faithfulness, and in the day-by-day decision to put love into action, the quality of action that is rooted in the intention to serve, and to encourage, and to grow.

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my new friends the Corrigan triplets

THE BEST WINE: Rebekah’s message/homily/sermon summed it up well. She talked about the “good wine;” you know, the stuff Jesus served at that wedding he attended at the beginning of his ministry. The point is that whenever, and wherever, Jesus is present, then the result is nothing short of the very best. The involvement of Jesus in the marriage must be more than a sweet memory, it’s an ongoing relationship to be celebrated – and renewed – every single day.

Obviously, weddings showcase the best in people. We dress up, we make nice with everyone we run into, we speak positively, we try to be as encouraging and uplifting as possible.

But with Jesus, with the best wine and the best of everything, our opportunity – our calling – is to be our very best too, our very encouraging, uplifting, positive best, in every circumstance of every day of our lives.

LIFE: I thought about this as Rebekah and I worked our way around the room, smiling and sharing life; I thought about how it doesn’t matter if I’m naturally shy, or if I breeze through public spaces with the aplomb of a Rebekah; what matters is that I take the spirit – the life-giving Spirit – of Jesus with me.

baptism at WFPC July 20

baptism at WFPC July 20

Then, back at WFPC Sunday morning, I thought about how this commitment to be our very best – our very encouraging, uplifting, positive best – in every circumstance, is how we must be as a community of faith; it is most certainly what we are growing into.

Our best for Jesus. Our best because of Jesus.

 – DEREK

(Images, below – include photos from the baptism of Abby Boyd, during 11:15 worship at WFPC)

Peace with God – and birthday joy

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. – Romans 5:1-2

Rebekah planting her birthday hydrangea

Planting her birthday hydrangea

I’m probably going to say this almost every week; so here we go again. I do not like to get up early on a Saturday morning! However, when I get home – usually around 8:30 – having spent an hour and a half with a small group of good men, sipping coffee, studying the scriptures, and sharing our lives, I find myself enriched, encouraged, and equipped in so many ways.

Today’s lesson was Romans 5, and our conversation mostly circled around the supreme privilege of living as members of the family of God, and how it is that we find peace (and live into it) because of Jesus.

BIRTHDAY: The reading and the conversation caused me to reflect on Rebekah’s birthday yesterday, and the relationship of our “peace with God,” and “standing in this place of underserved privilege,” to how much we were able to enjoy the day together.

the "official" b/day picture

the “official” b/day picture

Both Rebekah and I are deeply aware of how amazingly privileged we are; and it is no surprise that having such an awareness, sharing this mutual journey of faith, and living in such peace with God, are all correlated with enjoying our life together.

But here is the best part; this “privilege,” this “peace,” this “belonging” is wide-open for absolutely anyone. Peace with God has nothing to do with wealth, or nationality, or race, or social standing, or education, or physical health, or intelligence, or politics, or any of the other ways we tend to segregate, to be selective, to exclude, or to cozy up.

PEACE: Peace with God is an open invitation, and all it requires is, A) our acknowledgment that we need it, B) our acceptance of Jesus as The Way, the bridge across the divide that continues to keep so many people separated from the heart of God, C) an ongoing nurturing of that relationship via worship, prayer, study, and “doing life together” with other believers, and, D) reaching out into the world with love, service, mission, and compassion.

Hmmmm. This is not definitive, of course; but I do like the way that listing emerged:

  1. Acknowledge that we need God’s peace…
  2. Accept Jesus as The Way – the bridge across the divide that continues to keep so many people separate from the heart of God…
  3. Nurture the relationship via worship, prayer, study, and “doing life together” with other believers…
  4. Reach out into the world with love, service, mission, and compassion.

Rebekah and I have a beautiful life together.

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breakfast on the deck!

LIFE: Sure, we have to work hard at the relationship; certainly, both of us must be creative and purposeful in the way that we love; and there’s no doubt we should be constant and deliberate in terms of kindness, encouragement, patience, faithfulness, building-up, service, and self-giving; BUT… it is this foundation of, “our peace with God,” and “standing in this place of underserved privilege,” that gives us the best opportunity to build the quality of experience we have enjoyed this weekend, and will continue to build on in the years to come.

More to think about. Always. – DEREK

It’s summertime: how about a good, long, read?

IMG_4080-001This week my Wake Forest Today column is an encouragement to enjoy some serious summer reading.

You may or may not have a couple of lazy weeks at the beach scheduled, but you can always pick out a great book, turn off the social media, set the television on “park,” pour yourself a huge mug of coffee, and deep-dive into one – or more – of the classics.

In my post I offer a suggested “top five.” A couple of those could change if you asked me again tomorrow, but I’m fairly sure I’m not going to stray far from the perennial 15-20 that always seem to come to mind when I talk about “The Great Ones.”

IMG_4079-001LIBRARY: One of the hardest tasks Rebekah and I undertook when we left Florida was to trim down our library. She gave away close to 50% of the books in her office, and then we did close to the same with our collection at home. But don’t worry, we’re still fairly flush with great books. Most of the rooms at Maul Hall have at least one well-laden bookcase; and I have to admit that, other than the rich resource, I simply enjoy having them around.

One liberty I did take with the “recommended-five” list published in my Wake Forest Today column, was to include one of my own books in the list. But it was still an honest selection. The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian remains one of my favorite books. Interestingly, the volume has never sold well! But you can take it from the author – it really is a great book!

IMG_4082-001So head into this weekend with reading on your mind. Get the ball rolling; indulge yourself in some books; and then let me know what you’ve been enjoying too.

Peace, promise, and blessings – DEREK

living into our potential as God’s children!

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

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Beks as an aviator!

It’s been a while since I featured photos of my grandchildren in one of my posts. Actually, what I’m really featuring is the “Good News” – the pictures of the grands simply help to tell the story.

First, Beks (13-months) appears to be interested in a career as an aviator. I have no idea, of course, what path she will eventually take; but I do know that absolutely anything is possible. Not because she lives in a culture where sexism is no longer at play (because that simply isn’t true); but because my granddaughter is – first – a child of God. When Beks fully understands that empowering and liberating fact, then there is literally nothing on Earth that can possibly hold her back!

You see, there’s a principle at play in living a life of faith that is often overlooked. If we believe that we are beings made/designed/formed in the image of our Creator, then a relationship with the Creator is the absolute best way to fully optimize our potential as human beings.

a relationship with the Creator is the absolute best way to fully optimize our potential as human beings.

I firmly believe that those who work to restrict opportunities for women (or any other “minority” group) are in effect attempting to work against God, as if God had made a mistake in equipping women – or anyone – with certain gifts, abilities, calling and leadership skills. God is so much greater, and more creative, than the prejudices and the limited imaginations of the religious – and secular – legalists.

God is so much greater, and more creative, than the prejudices and the limited imaginations of the religious – and secular – legalists.

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David on his way to tomorrow

VROOM VROOM! Another image that popped up yesterday was this one of David (two-and-a-half). He managed to buckle himself in at a rest stop in New Jersey. We’re not sure exactly what he was planning to do next!

David, like his sister, is a child of God first. “Child of God” is the common denominator that must supersede any other way we like to categorize – and thereby limit – other people.

Yes, we are people of privilege; but the only privilege that counts is the privilege to live into our identity as God’s good creation. Anything anyone does to try to deny equality on any basis is an affront to the core message of the Gospel.

So, wonderful and loved grandchildren, live into the amazing possibilities that are set free, enhanced, and multiplied when you claim for yourselves the amazing fact that you are dearly beloved children of God…

…Plus the whole “Being Derek’s Grandkids” thing can’t hurt either!

In love, and because of love – DEREK