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

don’t just listen to God’s word – do what it says (James)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:22

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new path to next door

One of the great challenges of moving is all the work that’s required to make the “new” place home. We’ve been in our Wake Forest house eleven months now, and – rather than finishing up – it seems like we’re still just getting started.

Sure, we did some painting right away, and we purchased some key pieces of furniture, and we’ve been incrementally working to re-shape the vision of the garden; but mostly we’ve been in the “listening” mode, letting our new home “speak” to us before we do anything too radical!

But now it’s time to actually do something! In June, the first big change involved painting the living room, a huge job which included painting over all the dark wainscoting, molding, and trim. The work took five days of concentrated effort.

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painting the wainscoting

Then Rebekah started the fence project (“Point of View can change everything”). We still have a long way to go, but the effect – along with the reclamation in the wooded area behind the house – is dramatic.

This week – after talking about it for six months – we’re finally taking out several trees in the front and have completed a winding pathway that links to my parents’ home next door.

Then – and hopefully soon – demolition is slated to begin in our kitchen. We’re redesigning the space from the ground up, and I’m anxious to see how the vision eventually translates into reality.

That is the key here, and why I appreciate the tenor of the writing in James; it may be true to say that “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), but the vision must be followed up by, “Do not merely listen to the word… do what it says” (James 1:22).

kitchen planning

kitchen planning

DO SOMETHING! Fact is, it’s too easy in our spiritual journey to talk, talk, talk – and then do very little in the way of implementation.

This is so true in the message I referenced in yesterday’s post – “from the heart of Jesus: hope and good news.” We can say “God so loved the world” a million times, but unless we’re willing to put love into practice then we – as James puts it – “deceive ourselves.”

I admit that, sometimes, I’d like to see all the work completed and then put my feet up for a while. But in my heart I really appreciate the fact that we’re always a work in progress; at our house, as individual followers of Jesus, and as a – WFPC – faith community.

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significantly lighter space

It’s not just that, “God hasn’t finished with us yet,” – it’s also that, “I still have a long way to go when it comes to responding properly to all the love, grace, generosity, and redemption that keeps coming my way.”

A long way! How about you? - DEREK

from the heart of Jesus: hope and good news

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6

preaching during 9:00 worshp

preaching during 9:00 worship

As promised, today I’m posting a link to Rebekah’s sermon from Sunday, July 13. She took a break from the “Judges” summer sermon series in order to address some of the controversy surrounding the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church – PC(USA).

Of course (as is often the case with public discussion), there has been a lot of misinformation, over-generalization, fabrication, and obfuscation. Rebekah’s message, in my estimation, cuts through the distractions, the divisiveness, and the politics, placing the focus of our attention on:

  • the Good News of Jesus,
  • the unifying nature of God’s spectacular initiative of love,
  • the central thrust of the Gospel, which is the invitation to be reconciled to God and the imperative to reconcile the world to God.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

worship at WFPC

worship at WFPC

THE MESSAGE: So here is the message – just click on this link “Rebekah’s Sermon, July 13” (I’d also recommend the entire series on Judges, beginning June 15). What is remarkable about her words, and – I believe – essential, is the fact that she never takes her eyes off of Jesus.

This is the message of the ministry of Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, in a nutshell. We stand in the middle of a messy, sin-saturated, secular culture; and we stand for Jesus. We stand for God’s invitation to enjoy a redemptive, hope-filled, promise-laden, restored relationship. And we stand as a forgiven people, charged with love, and motivated by that love to reach out with compassion into our community.

This is our mission statement: “Rooted in Christ; Growing together in faith; Reaching out to others.”

The second scripture Rebekah referenced in her message comes from Mark’s Gospel; it is the heart of what Jesus considered to be “The Most Important“:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. – Mark 12:28-34

Still loving the Presbyterian Church!

Still loving the Presbyterian Church!

You can click here if you want to hear it directly from Rebekah: “The Most Important Thing.

Peace and blessings – DEREK

Wake up and taste the hummus!

Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.” “Did someone bring him food while we were gone?” the disciples asked each other. Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. – John 4:31-35

Woman at the Well - Rembrandt

Woman at the Well – Rembrandt

Of all the “clueless disciples” stories (and there are many), the one from John 4 is my absolute favorite. For me, the conversation illustrates just how far off the mark we can be when we when we insist on looking at everything through the same filter we always have  – even when the obvious is standing right in front of us, waving its arms and yelling!

This “pericope” (extract from the text) comes from John’s story about Jesus and “The  woman at the well”.

JESUS BREAKS CONVENTION: Here’s what happens. Jesus is tired, so he sits by a well to rest while his friends head into town to pick up some food. A Samaritan woman shows up, and Jesus violates several layers of social protocol by engaging her in conversation. He offer the woman “Living Water,” and he invites her into a relationship with God, one that offers Samaritans the same level of access as anyone else.

When the disciples return from their hike into the village, they can’t believe Jesus is talking with a woman, let alone “one of those” people. That’s when they remind The Master it’s past time to eat.

Jesus – pulling back a little and getting “into the moment,” comes back at his friends with a classic teacher-retort: “Lunch? I have a kind of food you know nothing about.”

This confuses the disciples, who are already setting out the picnic cloth, “Say what? Did somebody already bring Jesus lunch? Because, we went clear across town to pick up the hummus and olives special he always asks for…”

So Jesus, shaking his head and possibly rolling his eyes, helps them out with a little explanation, “I’m talking about the nourishment that comes from living out God’s will in my life,” he said. “My work is to live for the Father; seriously, it’s like food to me. Look around you, friends; pay attention! There is so much of God’s work to be done I can guarantee you’ll never be hungry!”

MONDAY MONDAY: This week, launching another five-day stint of work and responsibility, let’s keep our eyes open, look at the world through the Jesus lens, and do the following three things:

  1. Drink from the well of Living Water;
  2. Nourish ourselves by living into God’s purposes;
  3. Share both Living Water and the Bread of Life with a hungry, thirsty world.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

 

preaching – and living – the gospel of light!

PREACH: verb  (SPEAK IN CHURCH) 1. to proclaim or make known the gospel, the good tidings. 2. to encourage others in the understanding and the practice of the way of love. 3. to tell the story of Jesus, and to encourage a body of believers to live as children of the light

Rebekah prepares to speak at the service. She was powerful...Yesterday, looking for a particular photo from my archives, I ran across this image of Rebekah fine-tuning a sermon. The occasion was the memorial service for her Aunt Ellen, a couple of years ago, at an old Presbyterian church in the North Georgia hills.

I selected the photograph for this morning because you really don’t want to miss her message today. If you’re out-of-town, or simply don’t live in this area, then I promise to post a link the moment it comes up at the Wake Forest Presbyterian Church website. Preaching is all about proclaiming the Good News, and encouraging others to live in the light.

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:8-9

It’s my opinion that too many Christians have allowed the issues that we can’t agree on to distract the church from its essential task of proclaiming the Gospel. The Good News is the whole point; it’s why Jesus came; and it’s most certainly why we packed up our home and moved all this way to North Carolina.

The writer of the Ephesians passage said we should live as people/children of light; the writer of 1 Peter encouraged believers to – in consequence – “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” In other words:

First, live in such a way that the hope that has taken residence in our beings speaks/shines with enough clarity to beg the question. Then, when the world says, “What’s up with that?” then we need to be prepared to share the story of how Jesus brings us so much light.

That’s why we’re here. That’s what Rebekah will be preaching about this morning. It’s the Gospel; it’s the Good News; it’s the heart of who we are.

- DEREK

listening at funerals

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Image from an Alexander family funeral a couple of years ago

Friday morning Rebekah and I drove over to Chapel Hill to attend a funeral service for the mother of a church friend. The mass was held in the beautifully designed sanctuary at the Catholic Community of St. Thomas More.

The front of the church featured a huge bank of tall windows, effectively connecting us with the trees and the sky, flooding the space with natural light, and pulling our spirits into God’s life-saturated creation.

FUNERALS: Other than the few folk from Wake Forest, I didn’t know any of the 200 or so people in the building. But, as I looked around, I couldn’t help but wonder about what it is that calls so many people to take the time to attend so many funerals. People of faith, people who doubt, people with no beliefs at all; family, friends, friends of friends, associates, neighbors, even complete strangers.

Each year in the USA, two and a half million people – give or take – come to the end of their life. That’s a rate of around 8 deaths per 1,000 population, per annum.

In 2011 (according to government statistics) the leading causes included:

  • Heart Diseases – 780,213
  • Cancer – 574,743
  • Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases – 138,080
  • Accidents -120,859  (Motor Vehicle Accidents 35,332)
  • Alzheimer’s – 83,494
  • Diabetes – 69,071
  • Influenza and Pneumonia -50,097
  • Drug-Induced Deaths – 40,393
  • Suicide – 38,364
  • Chronic Liver Disease and Cirrhosis – 31,903
  • Firearms – 31,672
  • Alcohol-Induced Deaths -25,692
  • Parkinson’s Disease – 22,032
  • HIV – 8,369
image from Alexander family funeral

image from Alexander family funeral

SO WHAT? I’m not publishing these statistics to alarm anyone, but because death is such a huge part of life. It occurred to me today that there has to be a reason why so many people go to so much trouble to attend so many funerals.

The reason – I believe – is that death is not the end of anything at all. Death, like birth, is one more transition; and a funeral (or a memorial service) is one of those occasions where we experience the awareness and the reality of both wolds.

For the Christian, the experience of transition comes with a profound sense of assurance and confidence. Why? Because when we become – as Paul writes – a new creation in Christ, that relationship is not interrupted by death. “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

Jesus – Paul also wrote – is “The second Adam” (1 Corinthians 15). What he meant was that when Jesus defeated death, he did something more profound and far-reaching than simply coming back to life; Jesus actually became the firstborn of that “New Creation.”

“Death has been swallowed up in victory!” he continued, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Paul was able to write this because death has no jurisdiction in the New Creation.

The kind of life that Jesus invites us to participate in transcends the limitations of these oh-so-mortal bodies, this physical frame that eventually breaks down and runs its course.

And I believe that – in addition to honoring the life and the memory of the deceased – so many people go to so much trouble to attend so many funerals because – sometimes only deep in their subconscious souls – they know this to be true; they know that the Spirit of God is calling them, and they come, in a sense, to listen.

But Jesus answered, “It is written,‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” – Matthew 4:4

- DEREK