Archive for August 2012
Just a couple of quick photos for my Monday morning post.
We all experienced so much joy and love at church Sunday morning. At the 8:30 “Praise” service we welcomed a bunch of new members – all younger adults – and celebrated two baptisms. One was an infant, one a young man.
It may have been a hurricane weekend, with a lot of guesswork regarding Isaac’s track and the ever-changing “cone of uncertainty,” but people came to church in droves, and there is absolutely no uncertainty around here when it comes to what makes a vital, transformational community of faith.
I believe that certainty – especially certainty regarding faith – is a something all people need to experience in their lives. That’s why Adalynn’s parents presented her for baptism; and that’s why Curtis, the young man who was also baptized, knelt in front of the whole church and publicly gave his life to follow Jesus. And that’s why it’s so important that we share the Good News of Jesus with the world – an invitation to wholeness and peace.
Because, in a world where instability, conflict, and disillusionment dominate the headlines, knowing and understanding the faithful love of God as experienced through a joyful community of believers is exactly what we all need, and where we all need to be.
My faith community, at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, is rock-solid with the power and the presence of God.
Experiencing the church community on Sunday (and I’ve written this before) sets the trajectory for my week; Sunday is what makes Monday work.
Peace and Promise to all – DEREK
There is something deeply peaceful and affirmingly right about Saturday evenings at our home. I think maybe it’s the mixture of hard work and good faith, and how everything seems to come together in a special kind of beauty.
It’s simple, really. I’m at my desk, working on some writing assignment and preparing to teach my Sunday morning class. Then it’s time for a fresh cup of coffee, so I get up and walk through the house, just taking it all in.
Everything is clean. We’re seldom messy, but Saturdays tend to see a little more attention to detail and the house is looking extra nice. So I pour the coffee, looking out at the garden in the fading light, noting how good it all appears from the hours of mowing and digging and weeding.
Over by the piano, Scout lies curled up in a ball, completely still but tracking my every movement with her eyes. Beyond her, in the front room, Rebekah sits at the dining table with her laptop, surrounded by her Bible, a couple of books, several pages of notes and a mug of coffee.
Rebekah is finishing off her sermon for Sunday morning. The process is a week-long journey of study, conversation, notes, listening, research, prayer, more Bible-reading, reflection, more conversations, and – finally – the hammering out of details.
SO RIGHT: It all feels so right. This life. This living out our faith through the words that we share and the way we live in community. This home we love so much. This grappling with scripture, and prayer, and hard questions, and a gracious God. This good, mutually respectful, encouraging relationship we enjoy with one another and with Jesus. This sense of spiritual community that pervades the very fabric of our home.
And I return to my desk, conscious of God’s good peace and the grace of a love-charged home.
A SHADOW and a PRAYER: But at the same time, there’s a shadow. I’m worried, not about this weekend’s approaching hurricane but about another kind of disturbance, a hard cynicism and simmering anger that seems to be gripping this world that we love; and I have to pause and pray:
Loving God, generous Spirit, great friend and motivator Jesus… I am so genuinely thankful for this life I enjoy here with Rebekah. I feel so richly blessed and so completely happy. But – at the same time – I am worried for our world. I am troubled by the hostility and the bitterness that have become so pervasive and so far-reaching. I’m not sure that the message of your redemptive and invitational love is reaching people in the way you intend; in fact I’m convinced of it. How can I share the truth about the Good News in a way that won’t fall on so many deaf ears? How can I tell this story in a way that will open closed hearts to your kind of peace? How can we be encouragers, who bring the message of hope and promise? Your friend and servant - DEREK
On average, I tend to generate in the vicinity of 400 hits per day, totaling somewhere north of 10,000 looks each month. Once people show up, they typically stay long enough to read the content. But there are wild variations from day-to-day – it all seems to depend on the subject in play.
- My post on the recent “Chick-Fil-A Incident,” for example, doubled my count for the day it was published, and has since made its way to the top-five all time.
- The travel posts featuring Egypt, Jordan and Israel were huge.
- My recent comments about the new school year were widely distributed.
- Deeper, more devotional, content typically goes unnoticed.
READERS: I appreciate my faithful cadre of daily readers – around 200, it appears – and another hundred or so of you check in a couple of times a week; but it takes a post of topical, tragic, or controversial subject-matter for the regulars to pass my blog on to their friends.
I know enough about keywords, Search Engine optimization (SEO), and the fickle vicissitudes of “public interest” to stack the odds in favor of higher numbers, but I don’t plan on going down that route because I’m not sure I see the point.
SO WHAT IS “THE POINT”? This blog is a window into how I am thinking about the title idea of Living the Life-Charged Life. I already know that such a subject matter is unlikely to attract a lot of random hits.
BUT… and this is really important… I am seriously motivated when it comes to inviting honest pilgrims (and seekers) to share in the devotional journey that the decision to think seriously about discipleship naturally becomes.
CHALLENGE: And so I’d like to challenge each one of you – those who regularly pause here and read my thoughts – to invite at least one other person to subscribe to this page (“follow”) so that you can possibly use these posts as a shared conversation about faith.
Let me throw out a few ideas. The Life-Charged Life could become the opportunity for an ongoing conversation, either with another believer or someone who is curious about faith.
Schedule a get-together, once a week or so, to talk about anything challenging or interesting that came up in one of these posts.
- For convenience, consider conducting your conversation on-line – via email, Face-Time, or Skype.
- You could even use these posts as the content for a book club discussion, “Pondering over pints at the pub,” a church-school class, Saturday morning coffee, or a small-group.
NOT ABOUT THE HITS! Remember, I’m not trying to gather additional readers for the sake of better stats, so much as wanting to stimulate a nation-wide conversation about The Life-Charged Life.
If you look around you, and listen in on the topics of interest so many people devote so much of their energy to, you’d have to agree that there’s room for a more deliberate, transformative, conversation about faith in our day-to-day lives.
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galatians 6:1-5)
his morning I’m starting with some awesome Bible words. I didn’t run across this passage by chance, but because I deliberately spend a short amount of time each morning reading scripture before I do anything else. I use The Upper Room daily devotional guide. It’s emailed directly to my phone and it’s right there, can’t miss, before I even get up.
This is how God works; my honest intention (regular prayer and Bible study) meets with God’s gracious response. The words from Galatians are exactly appropriate as a follow-up to my blog yesterday (marriage, this election, America – and the politics of shooting ourselves in the foot):
- Live creatively.
- Save criticism for yourself.
- We all might need forgiveness before the day is done.
- Share other people’s burdens.
- Be passionate about your own calling, but don’t be impressed with yourself!
- Don’t compare yourself to others.
- Take responsibility for your own life.
WINSOME: We all have so much to learn from this passage! There is a great deal that I could/should do to move with more creative purpose into this “Life-charged life.” My responsibility is not to criticize others so much as it is to live faith out loud, to interact with my world as if the good news of the gospel really is true.
This same principle, applied to the sour, cynical, and manipulative world of politics (and I’m talking about church politics as well as secular politics) would recommend living out the truth of what we believe so that our most compelling argument is our winsomeness.
The word “winsome” means – quite literally – a quality that will win people over.
The best way to win anyone over to our way of thinking is not to intimidate, or to judge their way, or to demolish their point of view, or to assassinate their character; but to, quite humbly, demonstrate the value of what we espouse in such a positive way that people are won over. Won over by proactive love.
Try it. Stow the negative attitude, and practice a month or two of winsomeness. I dare you.
This past weekend Rebekah and I had these two rings cleaned and polished. Beautiful, huh? They date from 1947, when Rebekah’s parents (Robert Alexander and Nell Perkins) exchanged them the day they were married in rural Georgia.
The beautiful rings survived fifty-plus years of faithful commitment and practiced love, the raising of five children, untold amounts of hard work, and the various (and often challenging) faith communities where the Alexanders were called to serve.
This next summer – some sixty-six years down the road – our son Andrew and his fiance, Alicia, plan to use those same, slender, bands of gold as a sign of their love and a seal for their wedding vows.
“Very nice,” you may think, “but what does this heartwarming story have to do with anything going on in this world today?”
Here it is: The point of a marriage is more than the particular happiness of the moment (although a good marriage is full to overflowing with happy moments), but the commitment to something larger than even the two people involved. When marriages work, the benefits extend to the “institution” of marriage and serve to strengthen the entire community.
Individual marriages serve witness to the theological truth that faithful love is larger than any one relationship.
Marriage works, in other words, not just because two individuals do everything they can to make their relationship succeed, but also because the idea of marriage is valued and supported and celebrated as a critical thread in the fabric of our culture.
Consequently, when so many commitments fail and the unknotted ends come loose, we all unravel to some extent, because – in a way – we’re all holding on to the same thread.
Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrasing of 1 Corinthians 13, makes this awesome observation: “So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” The passage goes on to define the quality of love that holds relationships together -
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
AMERICA: Similarly, our relationship to the foundational principles that make America tick is a lot like a difficult marriage. The Democrats say they love America, the Republicans say they love America, the Independents say they love America, we all insist that we love America – and the people we have elected to Congress solemnly swear to uphold and defend The Constitution of these United States.
However, the more these same politicians chip away at each other, blast away at each other, seek to demolish each other, sabotage the other party, try to break up the relationship that other politicians have with the American people (in other words, act contrary to the ideals of 1 Corinthians 13)… then the more the whole idea of America is at risk of becoming unravelled because – in the end – we’re all holding on to the same thread.
- When you try that hard to destroy your opponent, what you’re really doing is weakening the foundation that we all stand on.
A GRAND IDEA: So how about doing all we can to support one another, instead? How would that play on Capitol Hill? Seriously, it’s a grand idea! Because, when we work to strengthen one-another, then what we’re really doing is working to strengthen America.
These mean-spirited, angry, truth-twisting folk seem to have forgotten that what they were sent to Washington to do was to keep America strong. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to build one-another up, to put the needs of the country ahead of our own desire for personal power, and to remember that, when it comes to civil war, nobody wins without first destroying the entire nation.
And, surely, that can’t be what these people want. Can it?
Maybe it’s time for a renewal of vows?
Concerned, and more than a little worried – DEREK
his morning I turned on my computer to see literally dozens of “First Day Back to School” pictures and posts pop up on my facebook page. I knew this was coming, having seen scads of big, yellow buses scooting every-which-way while walking Scoutie before breakfast.
Rebekah and I may be out of that particular loop anymore when it comes to our own offspring, but we’re literally teeming with school-age children at church. The “back-to-school” energy was hard to miss this weekend.
It’s infectious, no matter what age we happen to be. Who doesn’t love a new box of crayons? A fistful of yet to be sharpened pencils? A clean eraser? A half-dozen spiral notepads? Some bright magic markers? A full container of Elmer’s glue? And a new back-pack?
My favorite – even though I do most of my writing on the computer – is still the fresh, clean notebook; unwritten but beckoning; a blank slate containing nothing but possibilities. It’s like an invitation.
TWO THOUGHTS TO GO ON:
- First, even though our children are young-adults now, and they buy their own pencils and paints and cars and iPads and suchlike, Rebekah and I did purchase a huge pile of school supplies – we do every year. Our church community is involved in an ongoing relationship with families who struggle to put food on the table, let alone buy back-packs and everything to fill them. This is something most of us can participate in, irrespective of the ages of our own children. If you haven’t, it’s still not too late. Believe me, there is ample room for your generous heart in the new school year.
- Then – again, no matter who you are or where you are on this journey – today (and each day) presents us with another new notebook, fresh and clean and stock-full of nothing but possibility. What we write in it has the opportunity to be beautiful, redemptive, and full with the life-charged life. So what are you going to do?
Peace and Promise, always – DEREK
appy Monday, friends. I pray that you were refreshed and energized by your Sunday. I know I was. If you don’t attend a community of faith where refreshment and energy are a regular part of your worship experience, then please consider visiting us at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon. It really is an exceptional place!
My awesome grandson, David, has turned 10-months. And, as you can tell, he’s just about ready to take off into the realm of toddler-hood. This image, captured by his very talented mother, looks to me like a decision point. “Do I open this door into the next stage of my life? or do I sit back down again and spend a few more days/weeks as a baby?”
It’s the kind of question that comes up time and again while children are growing:
- “There’s so much to learn and discover… but life here is comfortable.”
- “Change… or stay the same?”
- “Adventure… or what I’m used to?”
- “What do I do?”
And of course David is going to move forward; he’s just too curious to do anything else. Interface; experiment; open the door; fall down; get up again; learn; question; discover….
Curiosity – and then the willingness to take a few hesitant (brand-new) steps – is one of the most important marks of growing, not only growing up but also growing forward.
PROMISE: So my second image this morning is this one from 1979. I wanted to post the photo Saturday, on our anniversary, but I couldn’t find it. Look how young! Look how 1970′s my suit is! Look how gorgeous (no surprise) Rebekah (still) is.
But I honestly love the result of the passage of time on who we are and where we are. We have learned so much since that day; and we still have so much to learn. But I love the process. I love the discovery, the interface with real life, the falling down so we can get up stronger, the questions without answers and the answers that live beyond the limits of our questions, the moving forward that characterizes the life that is truly life.
FOUNDATION for the Adventure: I’ll finish this post with a couple of pictures from Sunday morning. This is Rebekah placing the Word of God into the hands of one of our rising 2nd-grade children.
It’s the tradition of our church to give Bibles to kids entering second grade, and it’s one of Rebekah’s favorite things to do. No quick hand-shake or pat on the head from this preacher. Rebekah gives each child her full attention, and her face shines with joy as she encourages them to take this opportunity to get to know Jesus, the Living Word, through the stories in the scriptures.
I couldn’t get close enough to the children’s choir for a good photograph, but I kind of like the effect of this one, taken through the communion table and the pulpit. Those Bibles are going home with some of our children, the pulpit is where Rebekah shares the Good News, and – together – it all makes the perfect context for their enthusiastic little faces!
“Praise Ye the Lord! Hal- le – lu; Praise Ye the Lord! Hal – le – lu; Praise Ye the Lord! Hal- le – lu; Praise Ye the Lord!”
No matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
First, Rebekah and I are celebrating the 33rd anniversary of our wedding. How cool is that! We were just 23 back in 1979, and so much has happened in three decades and three years.
Our marriage has been – and continues to be – an amazing adventure. I am so thankful for everything that has contributed to shaping who we are today. I can honestly say that I’m as excited about the coming next few years as I was about the first.
Has it been easy? Not at all. But life is seldom easy. The point is the faithfulness, the commitment, the journey, and the understanding – and this is key – that the marriage relationship is not about what we can get, but what we can give. Consequently, we are both guided by this principle from Philippians 2.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
OTHER RELATIONSHIPS: At the same time, we live in a world where people constantly struggle when it comes to living this “Christ-Charged Life.” And they especially struggle with what it means to put “following Jesus” into practice in the day-to-day. And so, right in the middle of celebrating our own commitment, we pray for those we know (and love) who are in need of a fresh charge of life.
We know individuals, families, and even entire communities of faith who are stuck, even slipping backwards, unable to fully engage “The life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). And it makes our hearts sad, because we understand how absolutely unnecessary that is.
So here’s my challenge (on the day Rebekah and I celebrate 33 years of deciding – on a day-by-day basis – to renew the commitment and engage the adventure): “Step away from the old patterns and take the risk to invite Jesus to lead you, both for today and for the – ongoing – challenging journey God has in mind.”
The possibilities are truly amazing! The faithfulness of God is always unfailing! Every promise ever made is a resounding “YES” in Jesus! (2 Corinthians 1:20)
So, what are you waiting for?
Peace, and promise – DEREK
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since I last walked out of my classroom and said “goodbye” to my teaching career.
I enjoyed teaching SED (severely emotionally disturbed) kids for the best part of two decades. My work provided a unique opportunity to bring stability, hope, peace, grace, encouragement and love into the lives of children who were tragically compromised in their ability to behave appropriately, to learn, and to interact with the world.
But by 2002 it was time to redirect my energies and my creativity. My new career as author/speaker/writer/consultant has developed into a broad-based ministry where I’m privileged to reach literally thousands of people.
THE BOTTOM LINE: I haven’t penned a book on my experiences – yet – but have written a lot of newspaper commentary about public education. And today, with almost 200,000 Hillsborough County public school students gearing up to return to the classroom next week, I’ve prepared the following “Top Six” list (10 was too long!) to think about.
- EDUCATION IS THE PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY: Seriously, folks. When I taught middle school I had the kids seven hours, five days a week, for a max total of 180 days. That’s 14.4% of the year, given perfect attendance. However, parents don’t get off that easily! Not only are they responsible for the other 85.6% of the child’s life, they’re also responsible when their child is at school.
- EDUCATION IS THE PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY: (Wasn’t this #1?) Well yes, but I’m not nearly done! Kids learn all the time. The question is, “What are they learning?” If education is not valued at home, then that reality becomes a strong, consistent lesson that shapes a child’s disposition toward learning. Likewise honesty, kindness, respect, attitude, tenacity, commitment and more.
EDUCATION IS THE PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY: (Really? Not done yet?) Nope, there’s a lot more. This point is for our lovely lawmakers in Tallahassee (and the other state houses too). We understand your frustration, politicians; we realize that you can’t get your hands on the parents and you can’t go inside their homes and make them do the right thing (and we’re so glad that you can’t). But that’s no reason to make teachers’ lives so difficult! Listen, because this is important, “MAKING TEACHERS MISERABLE MAY HELP YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING… BUT IT ONLY MAKES THINGS WORSE FOR THE KIDS… SO STOP IT!”
- EDUCATION IS THE PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY: (Okay, enough already, we get it!) Just one more point. Schools are still pretty-much set up according to the old industrial revolution factory model. Schools are, to some extent, sausage machines. But YOUR CHILD is an individual! This means that the enrichment end of the equation – the museums and art classes and piano lessons and trips to the Grand Canyon and Scrabble games and novels and long discussions over the dinner table etc. etc. – are (you’ve guessed it) the responsibility of the parents.
- SEIZE THE DAY!!!! Don’t misunderstand me. What goes on at school is critically important. But it’s only a small fraction of the interactive puzzle of raising a child. Every moment has the potential to be a teachable moment. So teach already, parents! Throw yourself into it with gusto and joy, and don’t wait for someone else to educate your child.
- INVITE GOD INTO THE MIX: Education may well be the responsibility of the parents, but they don’t have to do it alone. Dedicate your family to God. Be invested in a faith community. Make sure that God is preeminent in the home. And make sure that one of the most solid truths that your child learns from you is a faithful, committed relationship with their Creator.
iscussion at my “Men’s Room” small group has been extra helpful of late. Wednesday evening was no exception. We continued our conversation about “The Beatitudes” (Matthew 5), and several of the guys shared some profound insights.
We are all struggling with the deep paradoxes built into so much of what Jesus said (See “Scripture: Beauty in the Struggle” from August 2). Blessed when we are grieving? Happy when things overwhelm us? Lucky when we’re hungry? Successful when we’re persecuted? What does it mean when we say that we are blessed?
TOUGH QUESTION: So I asked that we all take a moment to think about times in our lives where we were at a low point, beaten up by broken relationships, underwater financially, hit in the gut by loss, overcome by despair or hopelessness…
A room full of men started nodding their heads. We may live in the land of plenty, with a roof over our heads and as many meals a day as we want, but that’s no hedge against despair, or pain, or loneliness, or illness, or alienation, or bankruptcy (and more)….
To a man my friends testified as to how much more readily they were/are receptive to God’s grace during those times of difficulty. For some, that’s where they first considered becoming a part of a community of faith; for others, that’s where they first met God; for all, the heightened awareness of their lack of self-sufficiency opened the door.
HARD STORY: I met a man recently – during my summer travels – who said that he will always be grateful for the grief he experienced when his infant child died just a few weeks after being born. “That’s when – and how – I was introduced to God.” he said. “It was the beginning point of this rich life of faith.”
Fact is, we are all more open to receive the blessing of knowing God – as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount – when we are in a place of desperation. It’s not that God favors our desperation so much as that we typically fail to open our eyes to the possibility of God until we’re so badly beaten up that we have nowhere else to turn.
IRRELEVANT IN THIS CULTURE? I read recently that the Christian Church is at risk to the extent that a society/culture fosters – and provides the means to – self-sufficiency. In other words, why bother with God when we can do well-enough without God?
I agree… but the premise turns out to be a huge lie. The fact is we really DON’T do well enough. I believe the current level of systemic mediocrity in The Church is to some extent a result of this lie. Self-sufficiency is (at best) only a small percentage of our potential as fully engaged human-beings. However, even in church we have become comfortable with our own sufficiency, and blind (or closed) to our need. The God-who-is-anxious-to-bless is told to wait until we are desperate.
GOD-SUFFICIENCY: It may take desperation for us to initially hook up with God, but it takes God to move us through the half-life of self-sufficiency and on into fullness (“I came that they may have abundant life, real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of….” – John 10:10). God-sufficiency is the place where we begin to truly live.
If we limit our dependence on God to our low points, then we will never move beyond the sad delusion that self-sufficiency is the apex of the human experience.
LIFE! If it’s the LIFE-CHARGED LIFE that we want, then we must learn from Christ’s Beatitudes, and live with a constant deep hunger for God; even – especially – when our experience tries to convince us that we really don’t need Jesus more than the one day a week.
But, for the Life-Charged Life, we need Jesus like we need the air that we breathe….