why Jesus connected so well with children

“Happy September,” everyone! It’s our second in North Carolina and I’m looking forward to seeing what will emerge as the theme for this month. The underlying emphasis on Life, Gratitude, Faith, & Passion is deliberate – that’s the lens through which I look at the world; but how it all plays out on a day-to-day basis often turns out to be more of a surprise.

One surprise was the record number of hits this blog recorded during August (14,500); that’s in addition to the growing base (1,338) of “followers” who have elected to receive posts via email.

IMG_4622Baptism and Joy:

At church yesterday we celebrated another baptism. For me it set the beginning of our second year into powerful context, a living symbol of the witness and mission of Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. “Rooted in Christ; Growing Together in Faith; Reaching out to others.”

  • How are young families going to thrive without being rooted in the life of a faithful body of believers?
  • How are children and teens going to learn to engage their full potential as children of God without a church family?
  • Not the kind of church we attend when it’s convenient, or when there’s a special occasion, or absent something else more interesting – but an active, compelling community of living faith.

This is why we are here in North Carolina. We’re here to be part of God’s initiative of transformational love in this community. We’re here to encourage others to live as if Jesus really meant it when he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” - Matt 19

When Jesus had placed his hands on them,” the Bible goes on to say, “he went on from there.”

HE WENT ON FROM THERE: Today I’m excited to be part of a faith community where we understand what “He went on from there” means. It means that Jesus moved forward in his ministry from the context of “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” It means that our receiving the Good News with the open-spirited trust and enthusiasm of children is exactly the reference point from where we should be moving forward – always.

Rebekah pointed out that children tend to engage and receive life with their arms thrown wide and their hands open; whereas adults often stand in front of Jesus with arms folded, palms facing out, defensively, or fists clenched tight.

Are we moving forward, leaning in toward Jesus, with our arms open wide like the children? Or are we standing in a defensive posture, unwilling – or afraid – to take a step in the direction of Promise?

IMG_4618Today, Labor Day, is supposed to be a day of sabbath rest. May all of us find our spirits refreshed and our faith renewed - DEREK

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. – Matt 19:13-15

change – even good change – is never easy

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me… – Philippians 1:6-7

David and Beks watching the moving van (Naomi Campbell)

Change is never easy; although without it we would be missing one of the most telling elements of the definition of life.

It’s not that change is necessary for its own sake, so much as that change is one of the symptoms of dynamic life. Sometimes change is subtle, sometimes it’s more dramatic; but without change the balance of growth begins to tip away from life.

This photograph gives a glimpse into the huge change this week that is central to our daughter Naomi’s unfolding family story. The Campbells – Naomi, Craig, David, and Beks (along with their pets, Star and Capriccio) – are packing up their Connecticut home and moving to Richmond, Virginia.

It has been a difficult and a courageous decision, made in response to the understanding that rural Connecticut has failed to offer the quality of opportunity necessary for such a gifted, creative, gregarious, and faithful family to engage their potential and to share it with the world.

In other words, Naomi and Craig are not content to set life on cruise control, and simply coast into their tomorrows; they know that the challenges and joys God has in store for them require this kind of change, and so the pain of leaving is mixed with the hope of faith and promise.

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leaving Brandon

LEAP OF FAITH: The photograph of David and Beks looking out into the uncertainty of tomorrow causes me think about this time last year, when Rebekah and I left the comfort and predictability of our life in Florida, packed up our house, and took off for North Carolina.

It was a giant step of faith; but God knew exactly why he called us here, and we are living into God’s purposes with such a renewed sense of passion and joy because God did not imagine transforming this community of faith without intending to transform us too.

because God did not imagine transforming this community of faith without intending to transform us too.

And that is exactly what God has in mind for Naomi and Craig’s young family. In Richmond there are people, and there is opportunity; and I believe there is a community of faith where the Campbell family will respond to God’s initiatives in such a way that they will grow in grace, and in confidence, and where their gifts will be used to bring the Good News of the Gospel of Love into clearer focus, and to more young adults.

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Beks (Naomi Campbell)

God is up to something! I know it. God is up to something here in Wake Forest, and it is God’s abiding purpose to be up to something in and through the lives of all his children. I can’t wait to see what happens in Richmond…

And the fact that we will be just 130 miles away from the grandchildren? That’s just gravy…

In Love, and in the confidence of Promise – DEREK

 

We Belong to the Day!

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. – Romans 13:12-13

stock Internet image

(stock Internet image)

If you’re keeping up with my weekly men’s Bible-study readings (“Iron Sharpens Iron”), this morning we continued our Romans discussion through chapter 13. It’s an interesting read, with a whole lot of questions around Paul’s apparent carte-blanche endorsement of ALL government authority.

What really got our attention, and mine in particular, was the above passage. Such beautiful language and imagery, and such an inviting idea for those of us interested in living a more eloquent testimony to the transformational life that faith can release.

I love the imagery of getting out of filthy clothes, being refreshed in a torrent of God’s love, and being dressed in light.

Because we belong to the day,” Paul writes. And I find myself thinking about Revelation 21, where the gates of the City of God are always open during the day, “and there is no night there.”

“For the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” – 23-25

We belong to the day! I’m not sure I can think of a more concise summation of what it means to live as a passionate follower of the Living Way of Jesus.

  • I belong to the day;
  • there is no night in the presence of God;
  • In Jesus was/is life, and the life was/is the light of all people.” (John 1:4)

How, then should we live? Remove the dirty clothes, put on the shining armor of right living, and remember that – because of Jesus – we belong to the day.

committed to the light

committed to the light

Remembering that we belong to the day helps make, “putting on the shining armor of right living” a more natural response.

Peace, and Promise – DEREK

God is building a foundation (HGTV and the Bible)

For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:9-11

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contractor Wayne and sheet-rock guy

It’s a well-know fact that I am not “handy.” I have a missing gene, or a broken chromosome, or some other root-level malfunction that seems to work against success in even the simplest operation involving tools, plumbing, electricity, or suchlike.

Rebekah, on the other hand, has been known to roll up her sleeves and give pretty much anything a try. She once demolished and reconstructed the entire master-bathroom – including tile, cabinets, plumbing, backer-board, drywall, and more. One famous moment saw her sweating a pipe, blow-torch in hand, phone tucked under her chin while her plumber brother Joe talked her through the operation.

“Holy cow!” our son Andrew said, “you let mama use a blowtorch?”

IMG_4595Anyway, other than painting, watching HGTV, and changing light-bulbs, there’s not that much in the way of home improvement it’s wise to let me get involved with.

However, I have been paying close attention during this kitchen remodel, and I’ve already learned a few interesting principles that have – I believe – wider applications.

It turns out there’s a very specific order in terms of what piece of the puzzle goes together next:

  1. First we had to have a plan, order all the appliances, give the model numbers to the contractor, and approve the overall kitchen design.
  2. Demolition went down while we were in Italy, filling up one of those huge metal construction bins and most of the garage.
  3. Then the electrician came in and spent a day “roughing in” wires, electrical boxes, outlets, can lights, and more. He even had to go back to the main electrical box and do something with the power supply.
  4. Then came the first of several inspections, in response to the permitting. Certain standards have to be checked-off by the city of Wake Forest before the project can move forward.
  5. Next up was the sheet rock crew. These guys are artists, and they transformed the space from a wrecking-ball disastor-site to something vaguely resembling a possible kitchen.
  6. Yesterday was the noisiest so far, with a crew installing hardwood flooring.
  7. Today is already calibrated chaos and more, with the flooring folk finishing up, the sheet rock guys finessing their work, and the cabinetmaker beginning his part of the install.
  8. Sometime over the next couple of weeks (maybe) the granite folk will template and install the countertops.
  9. Eventually the contractor will hook up the appliances, and the electrician should install the lighting (we’re going from three dim lights to a total of nine carefully placed cans and pendants, plus under-the-counting illumination and one standing lamp in the nook.
  10. Last will be what they call “finish” and “trim,” involving back-splash, paint, “oops” redo’s and a hundred other little things.

IMG_4591MY POINT? OK. It’s quite possible I’ve left out some important details. But what I’m getting at is how critically important it is to take care of foundational issues first, then move forward, layer by layer, with thought, with imagination, and with care.

We understand this as regards to construction, and remodeling; but when it comes to matters of faith we often flit around without any sense of direction or coordination at all:

  • Attend church haphazardly;
  • get involved with a Bible-study every few years, maybe;
  • pray on Sundays, sometimes before meals, and/or when we’re sad or upset;
  • maybe read a devotional thought someone forwards by email;
  • no regular plan or pattern of giving;
  • read the church newsletter when it crosses our mind and -“did you see that?” – something looks interesting and we get involved for a couple of weeks;
  • ask God’s help when we’re desperate, but seldom get God involved at the ground level when we’re making our plans;
  • buzz around the church with renewed excitement when something out of the ordinary happens… then settle back into other routines….

But, if we want something vital, and transformational, and truly remarkable, then the only way to engage this life of faith is as a deliberate, intentional, disciple of Jesus.

Everyone's here today!

Everyone’s here today!

Let’s start at the beginning. Tell God, now, that you are from this moment a Follower of the Living Way of Jesus; attend church this weekend, and make a point of renewing your commitment to the (imperfect but faithful) community of believers; then begin the process of remodeling, one careful piece at a time.

Believe me, it’s going to be better than a new kitchen – DEREK

 

10 reasons middle-age rocks! #BabyBoomers-R-Us

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you. Isaiah 46:4

baby_boomers_populationPeople born between the years of 1946 and 1964 (the official American “Boomer” population) now range in age from 50 through 68. My year, 1956, falls pretty-much squarely in the middle.

I’ve loved every age I’ve ever been. Life is good, period, and I wake up every morning grateful for the opportunity to experience another day. Age really is just a number, and in many ways I believe I’m younger today than I was a decade ago.

But, no matter how you rearrange the numbers – “New Math,” “Traditional Math,” or even “Fuzzy Math” – there’s no denying I’m well into middle-age.

Like I said, I’ve enjoyed all my life so far; but there’s something special going on at this stage that I believe is unique and wonderful. So, as a public service to “young” people who may dread growing older, and as a shout-out to my compadres of the Baby-Boomer persuasion, here is a list covering “10 Reasons Middle-Age Rocks.”

Some are serious, some are more whimsical. Enjoy:

  1. The “nest” is empty: Need I say more?
  2. After 35-years of practice, Rebekah and I are pretty darned good at being married: This cumulative, passionate, work hard at it, always default to grace, always practice kindness, worth the struggle, deeper by the moment, Grand Adventure will never settle into cruise control. Rebekah is quite possibly the best reason I have to love this time of my life.
  3. $241,080: According to a recent government report, that’s how much it costs to raise a child from birth to 18 (and those numbers probably reflect the “discount” program). No offense, most excellent offspring, it was an amazing privilege to launch you into this world; but we’re happy and proud to see you make your own way, solvent, and “off the payroll.”
  4. We ditched the mini-van: Rebekah’s first utterance after the dust settled, and after four (or five? they were all the same) minivans in a row – “I get an SUV now, right? Can I? Can I? Can I?”
  5. Flexibility: Plans can change at a moment’s notice. on the fly, and we only have to tell each other!
  6. Living arrangements: When we moved to North Carolina it was the first time we’d purchased a house without children in the equation. Maul-Hall.4 doesn’t have three bedrooms – it has an owner’s retreat, Rebekah’s craft room, and Derek’s study.
  7. Rather than worrying about where life is going, we can simply enjoy life where it is: It’s not that we’ve stopped growing and learning, but that middle age allows the luxury – and the awareness – of the beauty of the moment. Middle-age says, “Keep moving forward, yes, but we don’t have to be in such a hurry.”
  8. Grandchildren: We’re old enough to have them, but still young enough to enjoy them. Nothing says “life rocks” quite like a couple of beautiful toddlers.
  9. Perspective: There really is a clear view of life here on top of the “50’s” mountain. Middle-age find new clarity on the other side of the fog, and it’s more possible to see where everything fits. So many things that might have caused stress earlier in life simply don’t matter any more.
  10. Spirituality: We are beings made for eternity. When life itself ceases to look like an eternity, a new understanding of immortality begins to emerge. My identity, my definition as a living being, has shifted its epicenter toward the spiritual.
Gray but Okay!

Gray but Okay!

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. – 2 Corinthians 4:16

- DEREK

your prayers make all the difference

Derek

This morning – and this happens once in a while – I’ve hit a fairly significant writing block. I don’t have any idea about what to write for my “Wake Forest Today” column (due in a couple of hours); I can’t begin to come up with any direction for my FOCUS magazine column (due by the end of the week); and I don’t have a clue where this blog post is going.

So I’ll begin – as the best of my work always does – with scripture. Today’s reading from The Upper Room devotional guide came from Colossians:

Paul wrote, “We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Colossians 1:9

Rebekah and I read these words, together, on the deck after breakfast. It’s a beautiful morning, cool and clear, so we took our cereal bowls outside and sat together on the rocking bench.

Scripture with a devotion is the best way to transition from the morning newspaper to the beginnings of the day’s work. We read, we reflect, we pray, and we root our consciousness – going forward – in the context of the transformational Spirit of God.

YEAR TWO: This week, at the beginning of Rebekah’s second year as pastor here at the Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, the certainty that people “have not ceased praying for [her] and asking that [she] may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” is not only a huge blessing, but a powerful resource in ministry.

So I’m going to use this post as a community-wide… state-wide… nation-wide… world-wide prayer request.

Yes, I understand I can’t make the assumption that every person who reads this blog is on the same page regarding faith. But I do have this confidence, and that is that all of you respect and value the great spirit, the life-changing ministries, and the positive community-building work of churches like Wake Forest Presbyterian.

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First Sunday at WFPC

PRAY for YEAR-2: On that basis, and because I believe that prayer makes a difference, I’m asking for a world-wide outpouring of prayer and love on behalf of this Great Adventure that is year-two of our new life in Wake Forest. We feel the Spirit of God moving here, active and fresh in all the imaginative and life-affirming power of new creation. We not only value your prayers, we depend on them.

We feel the Spirit of God moving here, active and fresh in all the imaginative and life-affirming power of new creation.

My morning began to shift, in terms of creativity and productivity, when Rebekah and I opened the scriptures and placed this day into the hands of God.

Doing everything together - especially faith

Doing everything together – especially faith

May your day – every day – take on such meaning and focus; and please remember to pray.

Love and blessings – DEREK

What holds your home together? (kitchens, faith, food, community)

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” – John 4:31-34

IMG_4265The night we arrived home from our big Italy Adventure we walked in to a house without a kitchen. Intellectually, we knew this was coming; emotionally, it was still a huge shock.

To be fair, our contractor had already emailed photographs of the empty space, post-demolition. He moved the refrigerator to the garage, and put up plastic sheeting to protect the rest of the downstairs. Plus we had already moved every piece of furniture to the living room and completely filled our guest room with dishes, utensils, dry goods and sundry “why do we even own this?” items.

RAMEN NOODLES, ANYONE? Regardless of the care involved, fixing meals around here the past two weeks has been like grad school déjà vu; with the exception that this time we can actually afford to eat out once in a while.

The toaster oven (I think it’s the same one we used in grad school!) still works, plus I have an excellent electric griddle. But it takes forever to do anything.

Scout watches from the stairs

Scout watches from the stairs

The fridge is in the garage; the dishes are in the guest bath upstairs; non-refrigerated food is in the living room; the table is in the dining room but it’s sealed off from the kitchen so we have to go the long way around; the utensils are in the guest bedroom; the toaster-oven and general prep area is on a small table near the front door; the garbage is wherever Scout can’t find it (we’re not doing so well in that regard); the coffee is upstairs too.

Sometimes the best way to get to the milk (especially today, with sheet rock guys in the kitchen and the dining room too) is out through the front door, in through my car window to hit the door opener, and on through the pile of debris in the front of the garage to the refrigerator.

Consequently, it takes me close to 15 minutes (and around a quarter-mile of walking) to prepare a simple breakfast of cereal, milk, coffee, and fresh fruit.

FAITH: So what? Why – other than the fact that it’s interesting – bring this up in my Life, Gratitude, Faith, & Passion blog?

Well, this morning I’m thinking about the way a good kitchen pulls everything else together in a home; it’s the epicenter of activity. Not just because everyone likes to eat, but because everyone needs nourishment, and everyone needs community; nourishment and community are the functional and spiritual heart of the home.

It’s a great metaphor for faith. Faith not only nourishes, it places us in community and it equips us for life. But if faith is not central, if it’s not the epicenter of who we are as individuals and as families, then it’s like having the refrigerator in the garage, the coffee in the upstairs bathroom, the food in the living room, and all the confusion that goes along with fragmentation and dissociation.

progress today!

progress today!

Jesus said that “My food is to do the will of the Father.” We can dress up our kitchen and organize our home beautifully (and – hopefully by the end of September – it’s going to happen soon…), but it’s a million times more important to install, and maintain, “the will of the Father” as the nerve-center of life at Maul Hall.

Here are a few pictures of the progress to date. Hopefully, I’ll have some radical transformation to share with you soon.

Peace, Promise, Hope, and Blessing – DEREK

The Tree of Life, ALS, and the Healing of the Nations

(Statistics note: Over the past 13-days, this blog has seen a buzz of activity. 1,329 followers have now signed up to receive Life, Gratitude, Faith, & Passion daily, plus this space generated an additional 950 hits – on average – each day.)

Monday Morning Perspective:

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. – Revelation 22:2

Gethsemane - 2,000 year old trees

Gethsemane – Tree for the Healing of the Nations

Yesterday at WFPC, Rebekah shared a great illustration about the strength of trees. If trees are planted in an environment where there is no stress, no wind, no storms, then they fail to develop the strength necessary to thrive. They are weak; they don’t produce good fruit; eventually they die.

I spent the Sunday-school hour talking about this with a small group my friends. We looked at several Bible passages that use trees to demonstrate a spiritual point, and (as often happens at church) the direction of the conversation worked its way over to some of the terrible news stories we’ve been hearing about this summer.

1477655EVIL: We all share a profound sense of horror at the depth of hate, brutality, inhumanity, and applied evil that seems to dominate so much of the news headlines.

“So what do we do?” I asked. “We hear so many sad stories that it’s easy to become numb, calloused, or even disinterested. Is the world beyond saving? Should we go bomb somebody, or invade somewhere? Should we build more schools? Should we send more missionaries? How do we respond?”

Someone shared a story about a friend involved in mission work; someone else talked about an aid program they regularly contribute to; another referenced an ongoing hunger initiative our church sponsors; and there was a subtle shift in the tone of our conversation.

ICE-BUCKET CHALLENGE: Not surprisingly, the “ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge” phenomenon came up. Eyes open wide; exclamations of wonder; “can you believe what happened!” I mentioned the newsletter I receive in response to our donation, and the fact that the unofficial campaign has already generated around $55-million since July 29. Ordinary people; $10 here, $50 there, some donating $100; building awareness; doing what we can.

One of the scriptures we looked at talks about The Tree of Life, from Revelation 22. The leaves of that tree, the Bible points out, are “for the healing of the nations.” Our opportunity, as leaves on a tree made strong not in spite of but BECAUSE of the storms we endure, is to serve God – and our neighbors – as a source of healing for this world!

Trees at WFPC

Trees at WFPC

LIVING HOPE: “One of the best things we can do,” I said, “especially when we feel so helpless to make a difference, is to stay rooted in good soil, to thrive ourselves, and to stand as living hope for those who otherwise may not remember what hope looks like.”

Fact is, we can’t help others if we’re not strong ourselves; we can’t share resources we don’t have; we can’t be a beacon of light if we run out of fuel; there won’t be any leaves “for the healing of the nations” if our tree is not rooted in love, and if our branches are not connected to the vine.

  • we can’t help others if we’re not strong ourselves;
  • we can’t share resources we don’t have;
  • we can’t be a beacon of light if we run out of fuel;
  • there won’t be any leaves “for the healing of the nations” if our tree is not rooted in love, and if our branches are not connected to the vine.

CONNECTED: I don’t know what particular ministry any one of us will be called to do. One of you may well be the person who one day eradicates Ebola, or the diplomat who brokers peace in the Middle East, or the missionary who sets up a new school in Iraq. But I do know that if you want to make a difference, then the best way to begin is to be connected to a strong tree and to live as a witness to light and hope.

Living hope at WFPC

Living hope at WFPC

And if enough of us shine, if enough of us respond with the kind of enthusiasm that raised a bucket of ice-water and over $50 million for ALS, then we will see healing, and we will see hope. Because it only takes a small flicker of light to defeat a whole world of darkness.

Peace, Promise, Hope, and Blessings – DEREK

 

 

 

Italy, cappuccino, and oaks of righteousness

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.- Isaiah 61:3

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last view of Andrew and Alicia’s valley from the guest room balcony

Eventually Derek and Rebekah’s Epic Adventure to Italy had to come to an end. Yes, there’s a chance we’ll see another sequel - “Italia.3, the Adventure Continues” – but that all depends on where those two travel addicts, Andrew and Alicia, end up living next.

One thing you can count on; Rebekah and I will be traveling somewhere. We love our world, and we’re going to keep on journeying to – and over – new horizons so long as we have the opportunity. So stay tuned.

Our last evening treat involved dinner picked up from Drewski and Alishka’s favorite local pizzeria. I have to say it was by far the best pizza we’ve had. Apparently, people drive thirty miles to pick up from their village, and I can understand why.

Then, Andrew broke open his best bottle of wine (I felt touched and honored), and Rebekah and I enjoyed a relaxed evening, feeling very good about this son we raised, the choices he’s made, and the life he and Alicia are building together.

from the kitchen

from the kitchen

The last morning in Italy dawned misty and lovely. We enjoyed the muted views, had breakfast, watched Andrew take off on his bicycle for work, then hitched a ride with Alicia to the airport at Verona.

Once we made it through security – an exercise complicated by the fact that I’d forgotten about the six-ounce glass bottle of primo balsamic vinegar in my backpack – Rebekah and I made good use of the time to drink our last authentic Italian cappuccino before boarding.

So long, cappuccio - so sad

So long, cappuccino – so sad

Seriously, friends, about the cappuccino: It’s just not the same – nowhere near the same, not even vaguely close – anywhere else in the world. It’s a combination of so many variables: the atmosphere; the amazing competence of a real Italian barista; the choice of coffee; the way the milk is frothed; the ambiance (be it a piazza, a train station, an airport espresso bar, or a fine restaurant); the fact that we’re on an adventure together….

Our flight to Paris was uneventful other than some amazing views of the Alps, then we continued the long, long day on an Air France Jumbo to Boston before taking a small, 32-seater to Raleigh Durham.

HOME: All of a sudden we were home, and then – the next day – checking the calendar reminded us that we’d been in Wake Forest exactly one year.

Long story short, that’s my real joy today, as today is the anniversary of Rebekah’s first Sunday as pastor at the Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

over France

over France

Travel is a tremendous privilege, and we enjoy adventuring together so much. But the place where “the rubber meets the road” in terms of meaning is local ministry, in doing life together with this amazing congregation of faithful believers.

That’s why I quoted the Isaiah passage above; Rebekah is preaching from the text today. And so far as we’re concerned, we’re surrounded by an authentic, firmly rooted, growing collection of “Oaks of Righteousness.”

This church realy is “a planting of the Lord, to display His glory…”

I’m so glad to be home – DEREK

the last of the Italy photographs…

 

San Marino: time-tested republic and witness to freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

DSC_0120-001This weekend I’m winding down the “Italy Adventure” series. Maybe one or two more posts after today. For me, retelling the journey has been a lot of fun; and I trust I have communicated the essential “fabulosity” of Italy for all of you.

Today we’ll be visiting the Republic of San Marino. Founded on September 3, 301, the tiny nation – 24-square-miles – has continuously maintained its independence and its neutrality. Even Napoleon Bonaparte respected the republic’s right to exist. Then, in 1871, after San Marino provided refuge for supporters of Italian unification, Garibaldi exempted the state from integration.

DSC_0063San Marino has by definition stood for independence and for political neutrality; the state represents a more than eighteen-hundred year commitment to principles that – to date – govern only a minority of the Peoples of this world.

Abraham Lincoln admired San Marino, and the republic granted the 16th U.S. President honorary citizenship. “A government founded on republican principles,” Lincoln wrote, “is capable of being so administered as to be secure and enduring.” He added that San Marino proved his point.

Rebekah and I, along with Andrew and Alicia, drove into the republic, and as far up Monte Titano as we could before parking and walking to the top of the mountain/fortress (2,425 feet). The views are spectacular; we could see the Apennines to the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east.

Monte Titano is a great location for panoramic photographs and – more importantly – panoramic views over a long lunch. The restaurant may have catered to the tourist market, but there’s no getting around the fact that “tourists” is exactly who we were that day, including Andrew and Alicia, and we enjoyed ourselves completely.

DSC_0088FREEDOM: Reading about San Marino, and then physically being there, has encouraged me think about the whole idea of freedom, and what part the ideal plays in our day-to-day lives. And I realized that there is a critically important relationship between faith and freedom.

The apostle Paul points out (Galatians 5:1) that setting people free is a purposeful act on the part of Jesus – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” We have been set free for more than just ourselves; we have been set free on behalf of the ideal of freedom. In other words, along with the freedom we are privileged to enjoy comes the imperative to invite others into this good story.

Yet religion is also at the heart of so much that works against freedom. Fact is, the idea of freedom is a deep threat to those who depend on guilt, intimidation, fear, manipulation, and control to advance their political – and social – agendas.

Listen to these words from Romans 12; they surfaced in my men’s Bible study discussion earlier this morning:

DSC_0087“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!Romans 12:9-16

THE GIFT: Christ has given me complete freedom. Christ has also given it to you, irrespective of your decision to claim it – or not. This need that some have to “know it all” is presented as a non-example of gospel, a counterpoint to communicating the Jesus message of love. Judgment, condemnation, exclusivity, and finger-pointing serve to illustrate how far from God’s truth so many religions, and religious people have moved.

San Marino

San Marino

I know there’s a lot of “free association” in this line of thought, flowing from one simple starting point in San Marino; but if travel doesn’t cause us to think, then have we really been anywhere?

- DEREK