following God’s lead… and waiting for a publisher

The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it – John 1:4-5

Naomi and the kids (photo by Craig Campbell)

Naomi and the kids (photo by Craig Campbell)

I’m sure we all know the old adage: “When in doubt, blog about your grandchildren.” Well, maybe that’s not exactly right? But it usually works for me.

But not today. Okay, having got your attention with this super-cool photo, please keep reading; I have something important to share.

THE NEXT BOOK: Today it’s not writer’s block that holding me up, it’s quite the opposite. Here’s my dilemma: I’m working on two books right now (no contracts yet, just great ideas), and all my creative writing thoughts seem to want to head that way too.

So – and maybe this will help me – I’m going to share a little about where the projects are headed. Maybe you’ll think of a story that fits, something you want to share with me? Maybe you’ll be motivated to think more seriously about how God is challenging you? Maybe you’re a publisher, and you’d like to see one of these projects in print?

RETHINKING MEN: The first is a book that addresses the huge disconnect that – I believe – exists between what the New Testament teaches about being a man, and the “industry standard” at many churches. I’m convinced that many popular men’s ministry models have hijacked the biblical Jesus, replacing Emmanuel with an imposter modeled after the cultural preferences, political leanings, machismo, and endemic sexism of Evangelical America.

My vision is to help men to understand what it means to be created in the image of God, to honor that image in the way that we live our discipleship, and to discover what God really values in a man, by learning from the New Testament rather than following the clichéd cultural icons of 21st Century America.

STRIPPED DOWN: Book number two is an attempt to strip away 2,000 years of arguments, and reinterpretation, and opinion, and spin, and “clarification,” and doctrine, and dogma, and power-plays – and so much more – and to consider the impact of being exposed to the essential story of Jesus, absent all the stuff that gets in the way.

The problem is, I haven’t had time to string more than a couple of paragraphs together since well before we had our adventure in Italy!

got my grands!

got my grands! (photo by Naomi)

However, just talking about it with you all, like this, is getting me excited. So, friends, thanks for the boost.

I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, those of you who pray, please do; because I honestly believe God is at work in and through this, and I want to do my very best.

Peace – DEREK

 

listening and love (love isn’t given a chance when we close one-another out)

So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. – Romans 14:19

Some good conversation has been generated around the “That Spanking Thing” post (yesterday). So give it a look if you missed.

"Rock Solid." These guys are good

“Rock Solid.” These guys are good

LISTEN: Today we’re headed back to the kitchen, via some excellent discussion in my Wednesday evening “Iron Sharpens Iron” men’s small group Bible study.

We’re a couple of weeks behind my Saturday morning crew in the Book of Romans, and it always amazes me how the direction of conversation veers off in different directions depending on how the Holy Spirit is nudging/provoking/prompting.

This time, rather than focus on all Paul’s “do not” statements, we talked about what we can do that is positive, and that is incompatible with being judgmental? In other words, rather than being judgmental about the judgers, we’re more interested in what we can do to – as Paul put it – “aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.”

One of the men immediately talked about listening. “I often have my mind made up three words into what the other guy is saying,” he confessed. “I have it all figured out, because I know I’m right. I don’t even take the time to listen.”

Image pirated from Outlook

Image pirated from Outlook

EDITOR: This reminds me of a great conversation I had with editor/preacher Jack Haberer. We were both speaking at the same conference and I quizzed him about his work as editor for the independent Presbyterian news magazine, The Presbyterian Outlook (Jack is moving to Florida next month to pastor the Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in Naples).

“You led a very conservative congregation before you took the job,” I said, “and you leaned fairly sharply to the right yourself. How has that played out as a journalist?”

“If I wanted to cover the news accurately, and to tell the story honestly, I had to listen,” Jack said. “And I found that the more I listened to people, the more I respected them, and the more I valued them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Listening is critically important. But it’s hard to do that when your only agenda is to demonstrate that you’re right and the other guy is wrong.”

IMG_4934KITCHEN: Our new kitchen is nearing completion (still to do: install appliances, trim, paint, backsplash, finish floors, fixes…). But it almost took on an entirely different shape when one of the carpenters (a highly skilled craftsman who does great work) dug his heels in and didn’t want to listen.

The old kitchen (pokey, tight, impractical) didn’t venture an inch beyond the invisible line dividing it from the “breakfast room.” Our new design treats the two spaces as one. The carpenter’s vision, however, could not cross the invisible line. That line, his inability to listen, and his predetermined conclusions, became an almost impenetrable brick wall.

Fortunately, we were able to insist that he lay out the cabinets according to our plan. So he did (under protest, shaking his head, and rolling his eyes). However, once every piece was in place, he said, “That’s awesome! I love this design.”

SPIRIT: I don’t think the Apostle Paul was that interested in everyone agreeing with each other. But I do know that he wanted believers to respect one-another, to aim for harmony, and to build one-another up.

DSC_0459One of the best ways we can do that is to listen. Active listening; patient listening; “I love you” listening. Love isn’t given a chance when we close one-another out.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

That spanking thing (and violence against children)

But if any of you causes one of these little ones who trusts in me to lose his faith, it would be better for you to have a rock tied to your neck and be thrown into the sea. Matt 18:6

This whole spanking brouhaha has me thinking about why it is that any of us are driven to violence – under any circumstances? Parents; teachers; cops. Discipline? Abuse? Anger? Domination? Retaliation? Love?

my teacher of the year apple

my teacher of the year apple

BULLY: The first story that comes to mind comes from my work as a student-teacher. One internship placed me with teenagers struggling with a variety of emotional issues.

The school had two Phys-Ed teachers on staff. One was a petite woman who couldn’t have weighed more than 95-pounds; the other was a slightly overweight man with huge muscles and a loud voice.

“Coach Linda” – who relied on creative lesson plans and heads-up classroom management skills – ran a tight ship, and she had very few behavior problems to deal with. “Coach Brad” – who seldom made lesson plans, and relied on intimidation to get his way – called the office for help on a regular basis. Brad was a bully, and I’ll never forget watching him poke a student repeatedly in the chest with his finger, step well inside the 15-year-old’s personal space, then square off with the agitated adolescent, just itching for a fight.

“CARPET-THERAPY”: Story number two comes from my work in a mental health day treatment center. One year, concerned with an escalating pattern of confrontations, we reviewed every “incident report” from the previous few months (Incident reports were required any time a child was physically restrained or placed in seclusion, or when anyone was injured).

Yes, we worked with an extremely challenged and sometimes violent population; but the results were staggering nonetheless. Classes with just 10-12 students were reporting 15 or more “incidents” per day; teachers (and aides), routinely restrained children at the drop of a hat.

Kids were being wrestled to the ground and locked in isolation for cursing, talking back, refusing to cooperate, and a host of other inappropriate reasons. In other words, violence was being utilized for coercion and punishment. Several teachers used the phrase, “This one needs a little carpet therapy,” before putting children face down on the floor with a knee in their back.

CRISIS-PREVENTION: In response, the lead teacher and I were trained as instructors in Non-violent Crisis Intervention. We – in turn – trained the entire staff. The emphasis was on prevention, and we saw an immediate and dramatic reduction in violence – both from staff and students. Over the next two years we trained several other school faculties throughout the district.

The bottom line – and my foundational point in this discussion – is that violence tends to be the knee-jerk response of people who are not equipped with the necessary skills to handle a situation properly.

violence tends to be the knee-jerk response of people who are not equipped with the necessary skills to handle a situation properly.

This is true for anyone required to deal with difficult people. Teachers; police officers; parents; mental health workers, prison guards. Unnecessary violence is typically a by-product of incompetence.

APPROPRIATE: Sometimes, physical interventions are unavoidable. When called for, hands-on techniques can save lives and actually de-escalate a situation. Non-violent crisis prevention training did not completely eliminate take-downs when I was teaching, but it did reduce them by over 90%. Why? Because people who are properly equipped to deal with a crisis have a trunk-load of other, more appropriate, tools at their disposal before they get even vaguely close to putting a client on the floor.

The same is true for parents. I’m not going to say that the mild sting of a hand-slap is always, 100%, without exception inappropriate. But I will say that there are a vast array of creative and effective options available to parents, alternatives that virtually eliminate the likelihood that they would ever resort to corporal punishment.

IMG_4101

author Derek Maul blogs daily about life

Like I said before – violence is typically the purview of the incompetent and the unprepared. There is a better way.

Peace – and I mean that in every way – DEREK

my niche is life (the life that is truly life)

Jesus - I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. – John 10:10

perspective

perspective

This blog engages readers with a huge variety when it comes to content! Over the past month I’ve written about travel, family, life, church, faith, politics, remodeling, education, health, gardening, theology, food, dogs, music, and more.

The social media experts say the secret to reaching more people would be to narrow my focus. “Find your niche,” they say, “and hang out there.”

LIFE: Well, my niche is life. Or, more accurately, “Living like I mean it.” Everything that happens, every detail of my day, is viewed through the lens of grace. Not rose-colored glasses; nor the tunnel-vision of religiosity; but a faith-saturated perspective that can’t help but count the blessings.

Consequently:

  • I could post a column about walking the dog, and it would turn out to be about faith;
  • I could share photographs from our recent Italy adventure, and it would be more about my growing relationship with God;
  • I could write about the remodeling going on in our house, and it would really detail the renovations going on in my spirit;
  • I could feature pictures of our grandchildren, and it would end up painting a picture of God teaching me;
  • I could post a story about what’s going on with my men’s covenant group, and it would become a true story about the beautiful things God is up to.

NICHE: My niche – when you pull all of this together – is what the writer of 1 Timothy calls, “The Life that is truly life.”

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19

got my grands!

got my grands!

THIS IS IT! I am convinced that this is exactly what God had in mind when we were created. To live faith out loud; to interface with every aspect of what it means to be alive in the context of our relationship to the Creator; to love with all the excellence we can muster; to play and to recreate with gratitude to our Maker; to enjoy the goodness of this earth with thankful hearts; to build relationships with all God’s children in the spirit of service, and generosity, and open hearts; to live like we mean it, because God certainly meant it when we were created.

I truly am grateful; and there is always so much Good News to share! - DEREK

 

Four-Photo Monday

Great weekend all around! Too much, consequently, to write about. So I’ll pull an oldie-but-goodie and reprise the ever-popular “Four-Photo-Monday” standby.

 "Practical Christianity" - 1st meeting


“Practical Christianity” – 1st meeting

DISCIPLES: First, we kicked off my new discipleship class at church. This is one of three brand-new adult Sunday-school classes being offered at WFPC (There are currently seven to choose from). My goal is to bring “Sunday-school dropouts” together, and to develop a curriculum designed to move participants from seeing themselves as church members to living as disciples of Jesus.

We had a great beginning. The “take-away” for everyone was the following: “Let’s move forward in faith in such as way that we can’t help but invite others to join us. We want our journey as followers of Jesus to spill over into every aspect of our living.”

The other new classes were also both full and enthusiastic, and over 450 people joined together for worship. What a great church!

got my grands!

(photo by Naomi Campbell)

LOVE: Then, Sunday afternoon, Rebekah and I drove my parents to Richmond to visit with Naomi, Craig, David, and Beks. After our first year in Wake Forest I noticed my SUV has only been using one tank of gas each month. Guess what? That little statistic is going to change!

We enjoyed lots of great moments. But my favorite was how I am being greeted by the marvelous munchkins. For David, I’ve become “Grandaddy! Grandaddy! Grandaddy!” And – from Beks, it’s “Big broad grin” (until she learns a few more words). Regardless of how they say “hello,” I’m very happy!

B/DAY: Birthdays are always worth celebrating. Especially so when the birthday girl is turning 83 and has great-grandchildren close enough to visit.

Sous-chef for Naomi

Sous-chef for Naomi

So our daughter put on her “Chef Naomi” hat, and I worked as “sous-chef” for the party. It was a lot of fun following Naomi’s instructions in the kitchen. Dice this, chop that, roll out the other thing. She really is becoming a good cook.

For great-grandma Grace, seeing David and Beks so happy, and responding to David’s, “Let’s play, grandma Grace!” worked out fine as a most memorable birthday treat.

There’s always cake, and ice-cream, and candles; but having extended family close by is a luxury many great-grandparents simply don’t get to enjoy.

Grace, David, Beks, other David

Grace, David, Beks, other (original) David

And that sets up PHOTO # FOUR; “Great-grandparent-ness“. Most kids don’t get to cultivate a memory of their great-grandparents. Many families fail to remain intact; people move all over the country, and all over the world; people die before their greats are born; grandchildren, and also great-grandchildren, fail to do what it takes to stay connected.

So this kind of visit is a great blessing. I’m not only proud of our children, and our grand-children too, but I’m also so pleased that my parents are able to share in this great joy.

And that is exactly my word for all of you for today: “Share the joy!” Whatever joy is yours, do everything in your power to spread it around.

Peace – DEREK

(full set of pics)

 

 

reposting “beautiful imperfection” for Sunday

NOTE: For Sunday I’m reposting this “column” from yesterday; I really think it’s an important concept for those of us committed to a life of faith. If you want to see all the pictures, just go back to Saturday’s version – “Beautiful Imperfection.” – DEREK

Beautiful Imperfection:

I’m exploring an idea that penetrates all the way – I believe – to the core of who we are as redeemed people. It involves most of my favorite “r”-words; you know the ones I mean: redemption, reconciliation, restoration, renewal, renovation, reinvention… and more.

But the idea itself isn’t in that list. It’s “imperfection;” and, more specifically, the idea that imperfection can be a beautiful thing.

THE STORY: So the story starts a few days ago, when I motored down to the Mosaic Tile Company showroom in Raleigh to pick up six (heavy) boxes of the tile Rebekah has picked out for our backsplash in the new kitchen.

I bring the tile home, put five boxes in the garage, and haul one into the kitchen.

“This is the wrong tile,” Rebekah said.

“What’s wrong with it?” I replied.

“Nothing,” Rebekah shot back.

“What?” I queried.

“That’s the problem,” she explained; “I don’t see any flaws.”

Seriously. Rebekah had chosen the particular tile exactly because each one had one – or more – unique flaw.

So we took the tile back. “This is unusual,” our very helpful consultant said, looking at us quizzically. “People typically come in to complain that the tile is NOT perfect. These are handmade, in Revanna, Italy, imperfections are a natural part of the process.

“That’s right,” Rebekah said. “There’s a lot of great theology in these tiles.”

PART TWO: Because the kitchen will include so many sleek, finely finished, surfaces, Rebekah has allowed space so she can build some hand-made shelving. Nicely planed wood, even and smooth, with flat surfaces and narrow tolerances will not fit the bill.

So we headed out to the small, rural, community of Bunn to visit some church members who live on an old farm. Jane and Randy have been tearing down old buildings and salvaging what they can.

“Now this is some wood with a story!” Rebekah said (she get’s quite excited about this sort of thing).

So we visited, we shared some great stories, we foraged among the salvaged boards, and Rebekah found exactly what she was looking for.

PART THREE: I couldn’t help but think about the community of faith where we worship. Wake Forest Presbyterian is a beautifully imperfect church.

Now this is where all those “r”-words have the opportunity to come in. The redemption, the resurrection, the renewal, the restoration, the renovation, the reconciliation, and – most of all – the constant reinvention.

We are a collection of around 800 flawed disciples, all moving – at various speeds – into a life of deeper faith and more Christlike graces. And, along the way, we get healed.

Sometimes we get healed and a scar remains; sometimes we carry our imperfections for years before we’re ready for God to deal with a particular area; most often we simply limp along and do our best, humbly submitting ourselves to the guiding, correcting, healing hand of God.

One thing we know without a doubt is that we will always be flawed – at least so long as we are on this particular part of our journey. But we are loved, we are nurtured, we are encouraged, and we provide this collective witness that is beautiful; it’s beautiful because it is so authentic, and it is so real.

WFPC provides this collective witness that is beautiful; it’s beautiful because it is so authentic, and it is so real.

Enjoy the story of our search for beautiful imperfection; then join us in church to celebrate the journey that we’re all taking, together.

Peace – DEREK

Beautiful Imperfection

IMG_4815Today I’m exploring an idea that penetrates all the way – I believe – to the core of who we are as redeemed people. It involves most of my favorite “r”-words; you know the ones I mean: redemption, reconciliation, restoration, renewal, renovation, reinvention… and more.

But the idea itself isn’t in that list. It’s “imperfection;” and, more specifically, the idea that imperfection can be a beautiful thing.

Explaining why we want a flawed tile

Explaining why we want a flawed tile

THE STORY: So the story starts a few days ago, when I motored down to the Mosaic Tile Company showroom in Raleigh to pick up six (heavy) boxes of the tile Rebekah has picked out for our backsplash in the new kitchen.

I bring the tile home, put five boxes in the garage, and haul one into the kitchen.

“This is the wrong tile,” Rebekah said.

“What’s wrong with it?” I replied.

“Nothing,” Rebekah shot back.

“What?” I queried.

“That’s the problem,” she explained; “I don’t see any flaws.”

Seriously. Rebekah had chosen the particular tile exactly because each one had one – or more – unique flaw.

Farm outside of Wake Forest

Farm outside of Wake Forest

So we took the tile back. “This is unusual,” our very helpful consultant said, looking at us quizzically. “People typically come in to complain that the tile is NOT perfect. These are handmade, in Revanna, Italy, imperfections are a natural part of the process.”

“That’s right,” Rebekah said. “There’s a lot of great theology in these tiles.”

 

PART TWO: Because the kitchen will include so many sleek, finely finished, surfaces, Rebekah has allowed space so she can build some hand-made shelving. Nicely planed wood, even and smooth, with flat surfaces and narrow tolerances will not fit the bill.

IMG_4835

So we headed out to the small, rural, community of Bunn to visit some church members who live on an old farm (above). Jane and Randy have been tearing down old buildings and salvaging what they can.

“Now this is some wood with a story!” Rebekah said (she get’s quite excited about this sort of thing).

So we visited, we shared some great stories, we foraged among the salvaged boards, and Rebekah found exactly what she was looking for.

PART THREE: I couldn’t help but think about the community of faith where we worship. Wake Forest Presbyterian Church is a beautifully imperfect church.

Now this is where all those “r”-words have the opportunity to come in. The redemption, the resurrection, the renewal, the restoration, the renovation, the reconciliation, and – most of all – the constant reinvention.

IMG_4844

We are a collection of around 800 flawed disciples, all moving – at various speeds – into a life of deeper faith and more Christlike graces. And, along the way, we get healed.

Sometimes we get healed and a scar remains; sometimes we carry our imperfections for years before we’re ready for God to deal with a particular area; most often we simply limp along and do our best, humbly submitting ourselves to the guiding, correcting, healing hand of God.

One thing we know without a doubt is that we will always be flawed – at least so long as we are on this particular part of our journey. But we are loved, we are nurtured, we are encouraged, and we provide this collective witness that is beautiful; it’s beautiful because it is so authentic, and it is so real.

IMG_4847WFPC provides this collective witness that is beautiful; it’s beautiful because it is so authentic, and it is so real.

Enjoy the photos from our search for imperfect boards; then join us in church to celebrate the journey that we’re all taking, together.

Peace – DEREK

 

Heaven is for Real and the Law of Love

The psalmist wrote, “Your laws are righteous forever. Help me understand so I can live!” – Psalm 119:144

IMG_0398This week – as you can read in my discussion of Romans 13 – the idea of “God’s Law” has been rattling around in my cerebrum and my soul.

I’ve really found the conversation quite liberating. Then this morning, when the Psalm 119 reference popped up in my daily Upper Room devotional, I realized this is more than just a passing thought, it’s a deepening and widening theme that warrants still more reflection.

“Help me understand so I can live!” Understanding how God’s law shapes us and liberates us is a huge component of, “The life that is truly life,” and “Living like we mean it!.” I let the psalmist’s exclamation have some room to bounce around in my spirit, and my thoughts keep returning to a movie Rebekah and I watched together Thursday evening.

MV5BNjc3MzYzMTUzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYzNzI2MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_THE LAW OF LOVE and THE CHURCH: “Heaven is for Real,” recounts the true story of a minister who finds himself struggling to process his young son’s profound experience of heaven, after he almost died during emergency surgery.

For me, the meat of the story wasn’t so much what happened to the kid as what happened to the church. Some people got caught in the snare of trying to line up other people’s experiences with some kind of a check-list, leading to judgment, distrust, fragmentation, alienation, and the destruction of community.

What healed the church was not the preacher doing a better job of meeting other people’s expectations; it wasn’t the church members lining themselves up with “proper doctrine;” and it wasn’t everyone either getting their thoughts and opinions in lockstep or splitting off to start their own version of church. It wasn’t any of those things…

  • It was a case of, “Your laws are righteous forever. Help [us] understand so [we] can live!” – Psalm 119:144
  • And it was a case of, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8

princeofpeace13JESUS: This law business has been both simplified and tightened up by Jesus. It’s been tightened up inasmuch as Christ consistently pointed out how completely impossible it is to earn our way into relationship with God via rule-keeping. It’s been simplified in that Jesus stands in the gap on our behalf, and offers us this incredible opportunity:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:16-17

Now we are subject only to the law of love. Jesus pointed out that the evidence of this is not conformity, or uniformity, or rule-keeping, or an error-free belief-system. No, it is love:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

That’s the message of “Heaven is for Real,” and it’s the message of Jesus for the church today. - DEREK

food, friends, community, and the Law of Love

IMG_4808

dinner with 175 of my closest friends!

I’m very happy that Wednesday Night Suppers are back at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church! Great food; chatting in line while waiting to be served; sitting at the big, round tables with other families; the buzz of the CLC full with people; experiencing community the way it is supposed to be….

After dinner I met with the Wednesday-evening men’s Bible study, and we talked about Romans chapter 13. Romans is always challenging and inspiring, but this particular conversation triggered an insight that has been growing in significance the more it settles in to me.

Romans: It’s always a great exercise to read an entire book – in sequence – rather than simply sampling the favorite “sound bite” verses here and there. But, as Paul has restated and amplified his essential points, some of the guys have struggled with the letter’s back-and-forth commentary about Grace and The Law.

Paul is very clear regarding the “sufficiency” of Christ, yet he references The Law relentlessly, and with enough conviction attached that it’s easy to wonder sometimes if he really believes his own declarations that we are free,

“The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” – Romans 8:2

Then, right in the middle of Romans chapter 13, we read the following:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Paul is still eager about The Law because – now – he is talking about the Law of Love. He’s talking about something Jesus pointed out in Matthew 22:36-40:

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Bottom line, it is impossible to even contemplate keeping the Law of Love absent Grace. In other words, Jesus places us in the same predicament that Old Testament Law does, but with this caveat:

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:17

Salvation means to get involved with the work that God is up to, and that work is rooted in the Law of Love. Jesus makes it possible for us to become partners with God in the ongoing initiative of love.

IMG_0398Yes, we’re still subject to The Law; but now it is the law of love. Live, Paul advises, this way because now, “We belong to the day…” and we must, “cloth ourselves with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.” – v 13-14

Peace and blessings – DEREK

“your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James)

But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
to tell of all your works. – Psalm 73:28

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. – James 4:8

Wizard-of-Oz-w20 horse of a different colorThe Wiz:

There are many great lines in The Wizard of Oz. One of my favorites is delivered when Dorothy and her friends arrive at the Emerald City; Dorothy asks the Guardian of the Gates about an unusual horse.

  • “There’s only one of him, and he’s it,” the Guardian says; “he’s the Horse of a Different Color you’ve heard tell about.”

Individualization & “Me first”:

The phrase, there’s only one of him, and he’s it came to mind this morning when I was thinking about the extent to which we seem to worship individualism (and ourselves!) here in the United States. Everything, all the time, irrespective of how the idea affects the community, has to be about the individual. But not just any individual, that individual is, “me.”

I’ve noted an alarming move away from “the good of the community,” and toward, “You need to cater to me; you need make me happy; I demand that my needs be met first.”

This is true politically, it happens at schools, businesses, community organizations, recreational activities, restaurants… “It’s about me; make me ‘happy,’ there’s only one of me, and I’m it.”

Years ago, when a major university radically expanded its campus, engineers had the following bright idea. “Let’s hold off on laying sidewalks until the true traffic patterns emerge!” So they set up cameras, used computer programs to keep a record of where the students walked, and determined to link the new buildings with paths that matched individual preferences.

After a full semester, when all the data was in, they were faced with two choices. A) Put in two major arteries, with spurs to the various buildings, totaling a mile and a half of walkways; or B) Build approximately 75 sidewalks, reflecting the most-used routes, adding up to a total of a little more than ten miles of poured concrete.

They chose option A. Later, the sociology department crunched some more numbers, and noted “increased student communication, interaction, and conversation” along the main arteries and at the junctions. In other words, a sense of community develops when individual paths merge along common ground.

a sense of community develops when individual paths merge along common ground.

12826179-mmmainOSTEEN: This idea of rampant individuality, “There’s only one of me, and I’m it…” leads me to think about (and briefly comment on) a video that’s currently circulating on the Internet. It comes from Joel and Victoria Osteen’s mega-feel-good-church in Houston. In the video, Victoria says the following, to loud applause:

“God takes pleasure when we’re happy, that’s what gives him the greatest joy this morning… Just do good for your own self; do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church and worship you’re not doing it for God, really, you’re doing it for yourself. Because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

The Osteen’s pitch sells so well because it appeals to the “it’s all about me” ethos, the guiding beliefs and ideas that reside at the heart of our culture.

JESUS: But Jesus calls us to be countercultural. Jesus tells us to lay down our lives for other people, to give the shirt off our back, to build community based not on our own preferences but on the ideal of self-giving, mutually encouraging love.

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Jesus calls us to put ourselves at the back of the line, to be servants, to look beyond ourselves, and to put God first. Worship is absolutely not about us; worship is about God.

  • There’s only one of God, and he’s it; Jesus is the Good News of a Different Color you’ve heard tell about.

- DEREK