throwing down a discipleship challenge

First Presbyterian of Greenville

First Presbyterian of Greenville

Tuesday’s speaking trip to Greenville turned out to be a good time. But my experience, without exception, is always positive when I have the opportunity to stand in front of a group of men and encourage them in their journey as followers of the Living Way of Jesus.

Essentially, we talked about the fundamental challenge I always throw down: “Let’s make a shift from thinking of ourselves as members of a particular church, to living as passionate disciples of Jesus.”

Church membership is an important commitment, and I’m all for joining the church. But I want us to think of ourselves as disciples, Jesus-followers who are exploring – and being encouraged in – living faith, in the context of our affiliation with the local church.

DISCIPLE versus MEMBER: Here are a few sound-bites that seemed to be helpful over at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville.

- Membership identifies us… Discipleship animates us.

- Membership quantifies the church… Discipleship equips the church.

- Members sit on the premises… Disciples stand on the promises.

- Membership brings us together in community for worship… Discipleship is what happens the other six days of the week.

Membership notes our affiliation; Discipleship is the living faith that animates the lives of committed followers of The Living Way.

Men's leader Dallas, and Roy Alexander

Men’s leader Dallas, and Roy Alexander

COMMISSION: I shared a few stories about how being a disciple has impacted – and continues to impact – both my day-to-day life and the lives of the people I encounter.

And that – the encountering part – is critically important. Because encountering turns out to be a key element of what it means if we intend to be disciples of Jesus instead of just church members. You see, part of being a disciple is making disciples.

In Matthew 28, when Jesus gave The Great Commission, he didn’t charge his followers with the responsibility to, “Stay put, get comfortable, form a private club, bring a casserole if necessary, and hope some other people who look and think just like you walk in off the street.”

No! What Jesus said was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples.” “Go and make followers of all people in the world.” “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.”

“Go into your everyday and share the Gospel of Love with everyone; invite them into life; and bring them along as new disciples.”

with Roy, my host

with Roy, my host

So what’s it going to be? Are we going to be members of a social club, where the preacher plays the role of chaplain? Or are we going to be followers of the Living Way of Jesus, disciples, and disciple-makers?

Peace – DEREK

what it takes to be a disciple

web_13This afternoon I’ll be driving over to Greenville to speak at a men’s ministry gathering; I’ve been thinking about what I want to say.

Typically – and especially when I’m just visiting for a short “after-dinner” talk – I like to engage people in a conversation about how important it is that we see ourselves as “disciples of Jesus” rather than merely “members of a church.”

This idea has been on my mind a lot lately, as the men’s ministry groups I’m involved with at WFPC have been talking seriously about the practical applications of faith, the “how do I live my relationship with Jesus,” challenge, and the “what does being a Christian look like when I’m not at church” question.

THE BLUES: I find myself coming back to a story I shared in my first book, GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men, about wanting to play the blues on my guitar. We lived in Brandon at the time, so I asked our Praise Band director for some advice. Don was an accomplished musician who played trombone with the Florida Orchestra; he knew all the white notes, and all the black notes – plus the ones in-between.

I told Don I wanted to learn how to play “bluesy stuff” on my guitar. “I’ve got just what you need,” he said, and hooked me up with this really thick book. It had a photograph of a jazz guitarist on the front, looking so cool playing his blues.

I took the book home and I dove into it, excited, motivated, and ready to sound like B.B. King. But I was instantly disappointed; the volume was 80% theory, musical scales, finger exercises, and tedious repetition.

The next week I took the book back to Don. “This book is nothing but scales and exercise,” I complained. “Where’s the part where I can lay down a few sweet chords, plug in my amp, improvise, and get all bluesy?”

Don looked at me with a kind smile (and here I’m going to quote directly from GET REAL), “You don’t understand. You can’t improvise unless you have something to improvise from. If you don’t memorize all the scales first, you’ll be pulling from a dry well.”

You can’t improvise unless you have something to improvise from. If you don’t memorize all the scales first, you’ll be pulling from a dry well.

DISCIPLESHIP: WOW! I immediately thought about my spiritual life, and about how I want God to be with me every moment of the day, and how I want my life to play the sweet tune of the Gospel of Love as a natural response to whatever is going on, whatever the circumstance, and whoever I’m with.

And I realized that if I don’t give God something to improvise from – if I don’t ground myself in prayer, in study, in learning, in fellowship, in service, in mission, in the disciplines of faith – then God is not going to have anything to improvise from.

Being disciples is about equipping ourselves for God’s service, and a large part of that is theory, scales, exercises, and (sometimes tedious) repetition.

Derek Palm Sunday 1TALK: That’s what I intend to talk about tonight in Greenville.

Please pray that God will help me get the message across with clarity, with encouragement, and animated by the Spirit.



Four-photo Monday (stewards of the manifold grace of God)

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. – 1 Peter 4:10

This week’s “Four Photo Monday” post is a simple celebration of gratitude for faith, community, and the presence of God in all things.

Yesterday, Rebekah’s Sermon-on-the-Mount message was especially powerful. She presented the story of how we hunger and thirst – literally ache sometimes – for God, with a persuasive clarity. Then – and this is where the first two photographs come in – God showed up in powerful ways.

IMG_5440PHOTO #1: First, during the 9:00 Praise Service, WFPC’s “Harmony Youth,” choir offered a beautiful rendition of a simple worship song. I wondered why the teens were remaining on stage during the pastoral prayer, but then realized they were staying to lead the congregation in the same song as our closing act of worship.

They were joined by the Praise Team, and the simple song became even more rich as layers of sound – voices, instruments, and the entire church – added a canopy of praise that became – in a sense – inhabited by God.

With somewhere around 200 people honestly, authentically, and simultaneously reaching toward God with earnest sincerity, it seemed to me that something powerful happened, collectively, in the spiritual realm – as if a God-ordained multiplier was at work.

IMG_5446IMAGE #2: Next, and I’ve published many such photographs over the past few months, God’s presence again satisfied our thirst for the spiritual in baptism. This time it was a pair of beautiful twin girls. Eight-months old, yet more than happy for Rebekah to take them, one at a time, for a walk into the congregation. The girls looked around confidently, joyfully, as if they too understood the significance of such a moment:

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1


Party-party!! Rebekah and Derek

#3: The third photograph comes from our visit to Richmond for David’s #3 birthday. Naomi captured the image, and a number of people have remarked on how young Rebekah looks.

Well, I have this to say about age. Age is simply a number. It’s not that Rebekah looks younger than her age so much as that Rebekah is full and spilling over with love, vibrancy, spirit, passion, animation, purpose, and more. Rebekah shines because the Spirit of God is alive and active in and through who she is.

Simply put: Rebekah is what life is supposed to look like; she is God’s invitation to embrace what the Bible describes as, “Taking hold of the life that is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6:19

Derek, Rebekah, Pat, Bill

Derek, Rebekah, Pat, Bill

PHOTO 4: Finally, we were privileged to enjoy a visit from our good Brandon friends, the Ogdens. Pat and Bill were our neighbors in Buckhorn, and they are faithful, committed, members of First Presbyterian Church, where Rebekah served from 1996-2013.

They showed up at WFPC for 11:15 worship, then we visited for a couple of hours over lunch and tea. It was so good to see them.

You see – and this is where we started this post – God shows up in powerful ways all the time; we just have to pay attention, and have our hearts wide open to receive grace. Not just to receive, but to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

Because of the initiatives of Grace – DEREK

David’s Wonderful, Marvelous, First-rate, Very Good Day

IMG_5298-001Okay, here’s the big question today, “Will my grandchildren generate as much interest as the new kitchen?” The kitchen has garnered somewhere around 2,000 looks over the past couple of days, so, David and Beks, what have you got? It’s “game on.”

Just for fun, let’s make this a story:

ONCE UPON A TIME, Grandaddy Derek and Grandmamma Rebekah drove up to Richmond for David’s third birthday party.

It was a beautiful day, and – along with Great-grandma Grace – they followed the road all the way to the Chesterfield construction site where Naomi and Craig’s new home is being built.

Everyone was very excited.

IMG_5255Right when everyone arrived, three builder guys got busy with their construction equipment and started to work. It was as if someone had arranged it all for a birthday surprise!

The foundations have been laid, huge progress is being made, and David could hardly contain himself. But then neither could Naomi. The Campbells are very excited about their new house!

For a while, everyone watched the construction. The guys with the hard hats went out of their way to move impressive amounts of dirt, kick up lots of dust, and make it look like the house will be up and ready well ahead of schedule.


Then Beks took her daddy on a walking tour of the new neighborhood. Everyone agreed that this is going to be a great place to raise Campbell children.

PARTY! After a while, the family headed over to the Campbell townhouse for some serious birthday party fun.

Grandaddy Derek made spaghetti, Grandmamma Rebekah played with the children, and the pile of presents grew bigger and bigger.

Eventually, it was time to unwrap. The family was careful not to overwhelm Mr. Three-years-old, so David enjoyed each present, eyes wide in wonder, one at a time. Most of the gifts were so cool Grandmama Rebekah wanted to bring them home to Wake Forest.

IMG_5347Derek and Rebekah ignored the “5-and-up” sticker on the box, and presented David with his first Hot-Wheels set. Great-grandparents Grace and David added a fire truck to the extensive wooden toy collection. Then Andrew and Alicia hit a home-run with an interactive globe that everyone wanted to play with.

All in all, David’s third birthday was a Wonderful, Marvelous, First-rate, Very Good Day. You know, I believe that would make an excellent name for a book or a movie!

Gratefully – DEREK

Click on any picture below to begin a lengthy but fun slide show





God as refuge and home

“The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.” – Deuteronomy 33:27

IMG_5244-001HOME: One of the benefits of living on a cul-de-sac with a deep-set front yard is that Scout can safely watch me working outside. She either sits on the front stoop, or lies down on the sidewalk, occasionally looking up over the grass when she hears something potentially interesting.

Finally, after two-and-a-half months as a staging area, I’m starting to clean out the garage, and Scout likes to watch. It’s a good week for it, with afternoon temperatures in the high 60’s and fall very much in the air.

My goal is to have room for Rebekah’s car before winter (after 35-years in Florida, I’m still not used to saying “winter”). I’ve made a creditable start, but there’s going to have to be some serious purging.

MOVING IN: In a way, Rebekah and I are still moving in. I know it’s been 14 months since we rolled into Wake Forest, and we feel completely at home at WFPC. But we’re still staking our claim in this house, one room at a time – and our garage still says “you just moved in.”

Maybe that’s why this passage from Deuteronomy spoke to me so poignantly this morning:

“The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

If my idea of “home” is a refuge, a safe place where we can retreat, find sanctuary, and be filled with peace, then that place is always God. God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

“God our refuge” is a faithful and incontrovertible truth, something to hold on to regardless of moves, kitchen renovations, out of control garages, or any imaginable circumstance at all.

Gratefully – DEREK






kitchen remodel – finished product!

IMG_5216 Okay, friends, it’s time for “The Big Reveal.” Yes, other than some touch-up paint work and a handful of replacement cabinet doors (factory problem, not the carpenter), the epic kitchen remodel is a wrap. Done. Finished. Complete. Put to bed. History.

So today, as promised,  I’m sharing pictures. A few “before,” a couple of “demolition,” and a few “today.”

Some people buy jewelry for their spouse; some guys hanker for a new car; Rebekah built me a phenomenal, state-of-the-art kitchen!





OLD to NEW: What’s even more interesting than the pictures, I believe, is the process. We purchased this house in August of 2013, with the understanding that we’d be making a lot of changes. When we moved to Brandon (1996) we had similar ideas – but didn’t get any serious work done until around 2009; this time we knew coming in we weren’t going to wait that long.

I knew I didn’t like this kitchen (dark cabinets, laminate floors, soffits, in-the-way island, zero lighting…) and I totally loved the amazing space we built in Brandon – for the new owner! (click here if you want to see a photo of the Brandon kitchen); but I had no idea what to do. Rebekah, however, has the ability – and the vision – to see things clearly and in a whole new light.

The design is one hundred percent Rebekah (as was Brandon), and it completely blows away anything I could have possibly imagined. She even installed the hand-made Italian tile backsplash, and fabricated the salvaged barn-boards into open shelving.

DSC_0158Light; color; architectural salvage; cabinets to the ceiling; appropriate use of space; eat in counter; sleek, Euro-styled cabinetry; solid granite counters; hardwood floors; and no more popcorn ceiling (did anyone ever like popcorn ceilings?).

So this (right) is the “after” shot to go with the “before” photograph above left. I’ll include a full set in the slide show below.

  • I have to give kudos to our contractor, Wayne Moore, who supervised the endless parade of trade specialists coming and going.
  • And I also have to say how thankful I am that this is coming to an end! I’m more than ready to launch my next book-length writing project

A few of you have asked for plans/drawings. I’ll do my best. But for the time being just browse this set of pictures. It’ll give you a good idea of what becomes possible when you combine vision, imagination, and a great eye for design.


So now I’m inspired – and this is my only faith-related observation in today’s post – to apply the same kind of creativity and craftsmanship to the way I live out my life as a disciple of Jesus.

Peace and blessings – always – DEREK




listening to God on a rainy day…

But let me run loose and free,
celebrating God’s great work,
Every bone in my body laughing, singing, “God,
there’s no one like you.
You put the down-and-out on their feet
and protect the unprotected from bullies!” – Psalm 35:9-10


enjoying today with a little help from my coffee

Today Wake Forest is dark, cloudy, cool, dreary, and soaked with rain. And I love it.

I’m not a fan of rain and dreary days so much as I’m a fan of life. That’s why the scripture I quoted this morning rings so true – even on a messy day like today. Maybe especially on a messy day like today.

With absolutely zero construction workers scheduled to show up today I’m free to concentrate on some serious writing. And days like this always seem to call for hot drinks, study, contemplation, and books.

SCRIPTURE: I’m fascinated at the Bible’s consistent inspiration. I use a lot of resources as a writer, and I don’t necessarily plan to use scripture as my jumping off place every single day. But, somehow, God’s word always speaks so directly into my life that I am compelled to respond.

IMG_5027This morning’s The Upper Room meditation directed me to Psalm 35:28 – My tongue will talk all about your righteousness; it will talk about your praise all day long – but I foraged a little deeper, and ended up reading the entire Psalm; it was as if God reached out and touched me with verses nine and ten.

A PRINCIPLE WE CAN TRUST: There is, I believe, a positive cycle that is set in motion when we become more deliberate about the way we invite God into the details of our lives. Because I routinely include God in the way I launch my day, God meets me more and more consistently in all that I do. Then, as the Creator’s presence becomes more recognizable, I become more inclined to turn to God as a matter of course.

So, here is the principle at play:

  1. I routinely include God in the way I launch my day, so – in consequence – God meets me more and more consistently in all that I do.
  2. As the Creator’s presence becomes more recognizable, I become more inclined to turn to God as a matter of course.

IMG_5209All I know is this. God is real and God speaks to me through the words of scripture in increasingly powerful ways. And, like Peter and John in Acts 4:20, “[I] cannot keep from speaking about what [I] have seen and heard.

It’s another rainy day. Gotta love it!

In love, and because of love – DEREK

Italy in one post

San Marino

San Marino

I’m offering a change of direction for today’s post. Mentally, I’m back in Italy, and I can’t seem to get my head, or at least my heart, back to Wake Forest for routine work – no matter how great a space my study is.

It’s all the fault of the photographs. Seriously! I’ve had to take a look through my Italy collection for a couple of upcoming projects, and they have captured me all over again.

PHOTO-BOOK: First, I’m trying to finish up our latest “Great Adventures” photo-book. The challenge is to take 1,200 great photographs and find around 200 that tell the story, It’s absolutely the best way to put together a memory book.

There are three categories in my collection:

  1. Images that are beautiful.
  2. Images that tell the story.
  3. Images that are beautiful and also tell the story.

I’m only considering drawing from #3.

at the Ponte di Rialto

at the Ponte di Rialto

The book, once completed, will cost somewhere around $75. Funny thing is, many people react with, “That’s shockingly high,” or, “I could never afford that,” or, “I can’t believe you’d be willing to spend that much!”

These are the same people who used to take 20-rolls of film on vacation, have all 450 pictures developed for around $250, pull out the thirty or so they really liked, and then stash the bulk of them in a shoe-box in the attic, never to be seen again.

A photo-book (I use My Publisher) is a work of art and fraction of the cost; then it sits on your bookcase or coffee table, easily accessible for all to enjoy.

TRAVELOGUE: The other project is a “travelogue” presentation for members of one of the “branches” at WFPC. They’ve asked for an hour of slides and commentary, hitting them with the best stories and a few of the highlights.

Verona - for Carmen

So I thought I’d share the following sneak preview. I’ve challenged myself to limit this post to two only photographs from each key feature of the Great Adventure: Naples, Pompeii, Vesuvius, Assisi, Andrew and Alicia’s home, Vicenza, Venice, the Opera, Ravenna, and the Republic of San Marino. That should equal 20 images (the ones in the text are a bonus) and a good beginning to my summary.

Enjoy, and happy adventures to all – DEREK



How Sunday Saves Mondays (an inheritance we could never imagine!)


9:00 Praise Service

One of my favorite Monday morning observations goes like this: “The best preparation for Mondays is always Sunday with your church family.”

Rebekah has been preaching on The Beatitudes, and yesterday’s focus was #3: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5 – KJV)

  • “God blesses those people who are humble,” another translation says, “the earth will belong to them!”
  • Or, “Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!”
  • Then, – from The Message – “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”
  • And, “Blessed are those who are free of pride; God makes happy those who quietly trust him and do not try to get their own way.”

New members October 12

NEW MEMBERS: Also, during the 9:00 Praise Service, we received three beautiful new families into membership at WFPC.

It occurred to me how critically important this beatitude is when we consider what is at the heart of our focus as a community of faith.

Essentially, we’re saying this: “Join us in our commitment to be like Jesus – ‘humble and lowly of heart’ (Matt 11:29)- to eschew personal power, and to redefine success in terms of serving God and others.”

We live in a culture that values self-promotion; where pop-psychology focuses on the advancement of “me”, the acquisition of power, and the celebration of personal achievement; and where pop-religion is all about health, wealth, and self.

MOTHER TERESA: I’ll borrow this short story from Rebekah’s message:

A reporter followed Mother Teresa around the streets of Calcutta, watching as she literally went into the gutters and the sewage to take dying, diseased people in her arms, and carry them to a place where they could either recover – or die – with dignity and in the presence of love.

“Mother Teresa,'” the reporter said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.”

Mother Teresa was quiet for a moment; then she spoke softly. “I wouldn’t do this for a million dollars either,” she said.


More new members Oct 12

“Don’t be fooled,” Jesus tells us; “this good news I’m proclaiming is all about giving it up and giving it away. Only then – when you have put personal pride aside, and when you have given all that you are and all you hope to be over into the hands of God – will you be in a position to realize that everything already belongs to you.”

JOIN US! Some invitation to join a church, huh? Join us as we grow in our commitment to follow Jesus, and to serve God as a community of faith. We don’t ask much – only everything; and the benefits of membership can be summed up as the privilege of giving ourselves, our resources, and our gifts back to God.

Meekness is an amazing quality of strength, when we think about it. It’s about allowing God’s kind of strength to flow through us; it’s about serving others unimpeded by our personal pride, our lack of humility, or our need for power and approval.


still more new members, Oct 12

“The meek will inherit the earth,” Rebekah said. “They won’t conquer it, they won’t purchase it, they won’t take it, they won’t force it into submission; but they will inherit it.”

Welcome to church, where all God wants is everything we are, and all God offers in return is the kind of inheritance we could never imagine!

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:1-10

11:00 Worship

11:00 Worship

the war on dust-bunnies (and more)

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. - Colossians 3:14-15

Scout trying not to be confused with a dust-bunny

Scout – not to be confused with a dust-bunny

IT’s WAR! – The past two days have been all about sorting and cleaning. The kitchen work is almost completed; so Rebekah and I are – painstakingly – putting the house back together.

This initiative has included an all-out dust-bunny war. To be honest, after more than ten weeks of everything from the kitchen and dining room stuck in odd places, they’re less “dust”-bunnies, and more “tumble”-bunnies. These tumbleweed-esque monsters have joined forces and launched coordinated attacks from under the bed, behind the sofa, and other inaccessible places.

But they’re gone now. We have the living room back; the dinning room is close to pristine; the kitchen is possibly three days from the “big reveal;” and even my study is beginning to resemble a functional working environment.

In fact, my study is the most organized it’s been since the big move last year, and the process turned up a few interesting finds.


“Mr Derek” and friends, 1986

PHOTO ARCHIVES: First, this photograph – circa 1986 – from my days teaching 3-6-year-olds in the Autism Unit (Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Delay) at a Pensacola day-treatment program.

The little guy asleep on my leg is Gregory. He’d be 31 or 32 by now. I loved that kid. I still remember the day his dad bought him in; Gregory wasn’t even three yet. After we went through intake, “Captain B” shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “I expect you to take care of this for me; keep me apprised of his progress.” Then he clicked his heels together, turned sharply, took his wife firmly by the arm, and was gone.

I gave Captain B a week before I asked him to come in for a private meeting; one on one; mano a mano. “Listen,” I said; “I appreciate where you’re coming from. But you’re not the Roman Centurion, and I’m not Jesus.”

“Only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority…” – Matthew 8:8-9

“Besides,” I said, “I’m not here to fix kids, I’m here to teach them the skills they’re going to need if they’re going to thrive. And that’s not just my responsibility, it’s yours too.”

IMG_5166FAMILY: This next image brings two inseparable ideas together – faith and family. First, there’s the family photograph taken around 1993. We had just climbed Lookout Mountain, along with my faithful dog, Mozart.

It had been a tough year at our house, and we all needed to do something good together, something encouraging. The hike was an epic moment of family unity; it brought us together in just the right way.

But, see what’s behind the photo? It’s a family circle, carved from one piece of stone. To me, it’s a family praying together; a family standing firm, regardless.

But there’s more, and this is important. This family isn’t praying together because family devotions make everyone feel all warm, let’s sing kumbaya, and lovey-dovey. No, they’re doing it because they have made the choice to pray together. The mamma and the daddy have made the choice – on behalf of the family – to be rooted and grounded and nourished in God’s love.

It’s a choice. It’s a choice carved out of solid rock.

IMG_5177-001STUDY: So, this is my revamped study. I like the way it feels. I like what it says to me about who I am, and why I’m a writer on this mission to communicate hope and promise to the world.

I’m committed to this in the same way that I was committed to working with Gregory, the kid who made my eyes well up with tears whenever he relaxed into me. I’m committed to this because I know what it takes if we really want to thrive.

Peace, promise, and love – DEREK