I woke up this morning incredibly grateful.
- For my life…
- For my life with Rebekah…
- For our family…
- For Wake Forest Presbyterian Church…
- For the promise of every new day…
- For our home.
Peace, love, and celebration to you all! – DEREK
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do. – Katherine Hankey
“I love to tell the story.” That’s the title of one of my favorite old hymns, and it’s also a great way to sum up what I enjoy so much about my life as a writer/speaker/teacher/consultant.
So I was excited, yesterday, to engage two new storytelling opportunities, one out in the community, and one at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.
COMMUNITY: The town of Wake Forest enjoys one of those compact, active, walkable, fun, well-maintained downtowns where you can visit a traditional homegrown hardware store, drink local coffee, shop in a variety of one-of-a-kind businesses, and even peruse a locally owned “indie” bookstore.
Page 158 Books – at the former home of “Storytellers” – contacted me this week and asked if they could stock my Advent book, In My Heart I Carry A Star. So we worked things out yesterday, and my work is being featured in a nice display.
Now all we have to do is have a few people go to the store and actually mention my name! If things go well then they plan to carry my new book (details before long) when it comes out just before Christmas.
The owners have also asked me to do a book-signing event, and that’s scheduled for Saturday afternoon, December 19. It’s one more way to contribute my voice, and my story, to this wonderful community.
STEPHEN MINISTRY: Then, in the evening, I was invited to teach a continuing education unit for the Stephen Ministry folk at WFPC. My topic was “The Spiritual Life of Men.” In my introduction I told them the subtitle should be, “Going a little deeper than the one more cheesy sports illustration!”
So I had the opportunity to tell the story again, this time on a more intimate level, with a group of people committed to providing care to those who are struggling, in need of an arm to lean on, an ear for listening, or simply a companion as they take the next step.
I used 10 Life-charged Words as my outline, and we talked about how radically life-changing a deeper walk with Jesus can be. Faith not as something optional, like some take-it-or-leave-it accessory, but a life of committed discipleship that is guaranteed to make a profound difference across the board.
The bottom line here – and this is why I love to tell the story – is that if we want to engage excellence, live with real passion, perform at (and beyond) capacity, see things with more clarity, and live authentically – then we’re going to need to know Jesus, become immersed in scripture, learn how to pray, pursue holiness, and find a nurturing, encouraging community of faith.
Those – in italics – are the 10 words. If you want to read more, click on this link: Derek Maul at Amazon…
Peace and blessings – DEREK
Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:13-18
HEAVY: It’s been a fairly heavy week again in the blog-o-sphere – both the heartbreak and the hope. I’ve written about terrorism, fear, refugees, and extremism; and also promise, love, faith, and then – yesterday – the beauty of community, and young parents presenting their child to God in Covenant Baptism.
Today I’m lowering the intensity and sharing a few images of Rebekah’s irresistible dog, Scout Labradoodle.
Yesterday, when I was in the kitchen preparing dinner, Scout’s huge and inquisitive nose was just about beside itself with curiosity. The baked ham was calling, and she simply could not keep away. She obeyed my directions to “stay down,” but every time I looked her way she had edged a little closer. She’d been crawling, an inch or two at a time, every time I turned around, until – finally – she was hard up against my feet.
She was immovable, rooted, moored, unbudgable. I considered grabbing her collar and sliding her out of the kitchen, but then had a better idea. I pulled out my iPhone camera and fixed her in my sights. Scout has developed a profound aversion to paparazzi (it’s the only time I see her obviously annoyed) and she was gone in an instant!
Scout is now nine and a half, and by every measure becoming a “senior” dog. She’s slowed down considerably, our walks have been cut pretty-much in half, and between the allergies and the pain in her joints she helps keep the pharmacy end of the animal clinic profitable.
But still, unfailingly, Scout makes us smile every day. She loves us with every fiber of her being, she is happy and excited about every aspect of her life, she is grateful for even the smallest treat or affirmation.
Scout’s secret to happiness is gratitude, and her love language is presence.
“THANK YOU”: Scout’s attitude reminds me of a great story Rebekah used in her sermon November 29, based on the book, 365 Thank Yous by author John Kralik. Kralik, mired in overwhelming circumstances and desperation, decided to write a thank you note each day for a year. The discipline of gratitude literally changed his life, transforming him from darkness into light.
If only we could approach life like Scout does – the way John Kralik learned to – and begin each day and every situation in that context? To “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus…”
Just grateful to be, grateful to love, and grateful to be loved? Then, to live – gratefully – into that truth, one moment at a time.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations
Sundays with our faith community here in Wake Forest are both wonderful and exhausting. There is a huge energy generated on the WFPC campus, but its the kind of energy that adds vitality to my spiritual nature while simultaneously sapping my physical strength.
Regardless of how tired I am at the end of the day, it’s the good kind of exhaustion, like the fatigue you feel after a hard day of physical work, or a long hike through the refreshing mountain air.
Refreshment turns out to be a good word for how Sundays leave me. Tired, yes, but invigorated too. Certainly more ready for productive work Monday morning than had I spent the previous day with my feet up.
9:00 worship set the tone with a large crowd, a beautiful baptism, great music, and some of Rebekah’s best preaching. She talked about how we typically look at Christ’s “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” aphorism upside down (Matthew 6:19-20).
The revolutionary point Jesus makes is not so much that our money follows our passion – there’s nothing remarkable about that – but that we can choose to steer the forward movement of our hearts by investing ourselves where we want our passion to grow.
JUST DO IT! If we really and truly want to be the kind of people who live Kingdom lives, then don’t wait for some “spiritual” feeling, don’t just talk about it, don’t just pray about it… just do it! Make a move in the direction of wholeness, irrespective of “feeling;” and then, Jesus tells us, our hearts are going to catch up.
I believe the baptism was a great illustration. These parents aren’t waiting around for their infant child to weigh all the pros and cons, try out a few different lifestyles, read all the relevant books, check out what the atheists have to say, and then maybe hang around the church and do a little faith. No, they presented their son to God, made promises as a family to be faithful disciples, had the child baptized as a sign of the covenant, and are already moving forward as intentional followers of Jesus.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-20
Our lives are full of these kinds of decisions. The decision to follow Jesus is no small thing. But when we begin to invest ourselves – all that we have been, all that we are, all that we hope to be – it’s not just that our hearts catch up, it’s that our hearts overflow, and we are transformed!
MAUL-HALL: Then, in the evening, Rebekah and I invited the newly trained class of church officers – elders and deacons – to our home for dinner, along with their spouses. Twenty-six people is a significant squeeze for Maul-Hall, but our home was saturated with love, laughter, wonderful food, good people, great stories, the deepening of relationships, and such strong belief in the future.
These are people who not only invest themselves in God, and in the life and ministry of WFPC, but people whose hearts have caught up to the point of overflowing.
Overflowing like a waterfall. Baptized every day in the spillover of grace.
Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:22-25
I know… it’s Sunday morning and I usually tend to post some meme designed to get everyone excited about heading in to church for worship.
I’ll still encourage you to make your way to worship. Church is the absolute best way to both enjoy Sunday morning and equip ourselves for the coming week. But today’s post stands as a simple testimony of gratitude for a good Saturday up in Richmond. Dinner with good friends Friday evening; visiting with Naomi and Craig; enjoying the grandkids; then golf with my good friend, Ray.
CHILLY! When we teed off it was still around 40-degrees. However, Saturday was a clear, sunny day, and by the time we finished the temps were in the mid 50’s. I’ve got to tell you, the contrast from sweltering, sweaty, heatstroke, Florida golf was hard to miss!
Most of the trees here have lost their leaves, but there is still enough color to make all 18 holes a spectacular display of autumn beauty. We both played terrible golf, worthy of the best ever blooper highlight reel, but every shot – and there were a lot of them – was as much fun as if we’d been making pars and birdies all day.
JOY! My point this beautiful Sunday morning is that life was designed to be enjoyed. We were created, and placed here in this amazingly beautiful world, for the purpose of knowing God, of exploring relationships, and of experiencing joy.
I can have more fun on the golf course with my good friend when I understand the simple truth that I was created with a purpose. Golf is more fun… marriage is more fun… hiking is more fun… good food is more fun… relationships are more fun… travel is more fun… work is more fun – indeed everything can be a more joy-filled experience… when we acknowledge and explore the possibility of relationship with God, and then live like we mean it, because God most certainly meant something exceptional when we were created.
So go ahead, jump into your car and zoom on over to church this morning, and be most genuinely thankful for this absolutely perfect fall day, and worship your heart out with the community of faith, and give generously, because everything we have already belongs to God; and then live like you mean it – live like God means it.
It’s why we were created. As the catechism teaches: “To love God and to enjoy God forever!”
In love, and because of the Gospel of Love – DEREK
Now that was fun! Rebekah and I drove to Richmond Friday afternoon to get together with a group of seminary students who are meeting to study my Christmas book, In My Heart I Carry A Star.
It was just a small gathering, it was off campus, and I was paid in pizza – but in my mind it counts as an actual gig (hey, it’s been a slim year for book-related speaking, a booking is a booking!).
Seriously, though, it always does my heart good to get together with people who are motivated to take a more intentionally Christ-centered approach to Christmas through reading one of my books.
The best part of the story, though, is Bruce and Jen McVey. The McVey family were an important part of our church family in Brandon, and the experience of growing as disciples there has led them to Richmond, where Bruce is enrolled in the Masters of Divinity program. God has called him into ministry, and we’re excited to see where that journey is going to lead.
The church needs enthusiastic families like the McVeys, and the world needs to learn more about the transformational gospel message Bruce is called to preach.
Between now and December 25, we’re all going to run into every possible variety of distraction; and if we’re not careful it’s all going to steer us steadily away from the heart of the beautiful story of the first Christmas…
…But it’s not inevitable! So I’d like to invite each one of you to take a more deliberate Advent journey with me, via the stories, the devotions, and the prayers of “In my Heart I Carry A Star.”
Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy – DEREK
So I’ve been thinking about all the refugee conversation that’s been rattling all around the news, the “water-cooler,” and social media this past week. I’ve been kind of horrified, to be honest, at the way fear has wormed its way into the consciousness, the opinions, and the decision-making of so many.
“Forget the Statue of Liberty,” many politicians (including North Carolina’s governor) are saying, “Fact is, you’re not welcome here…”
FEAR: Fear is an interesting phenomenon. And – typically – we approach it entirely the wrong way.
The best way to deal with fear is not to throw rocks, to demonize, to fight, to obliterate, to hide, to separate, to exclude, to build bigger walls, to pull out bigger weapons…
The best way to overcome fear is to love.
Seriously – and it’s a principle that is foundational to the ministry of Jesus and the witness of Christ’s followers – love is the exact opposite of fear.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. – 1 John 4:18
So when we look at the prospect of offering hospitality, mercy, grace, generosity, shelter, and a home to refugees from the Middle East, then what we are really doing is engaging the most effective intervention possible when it comes to dealing with fear.
Love isn’t just the best response to fear; it’s the only response that can move us forward. As children of God, as individuals, as communities, as states, as a nation.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear… whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4).
“Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” Ephesians 6:18-20
Wednesday evening – after some 230 people enjoyed the exceptional culinary gifts of Mandy and her food ministries team – my small group Bible study concluded our class on “The Armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-20).
The thrust of this passage is protecting the relationship we have with God, and the writer recommends the following tools:
Many commentaries list the above (six) items, and leave it there. But my Bible leaves no doubt that there’s one more:
Prayer is essential to protecting the restored relationship with the Creator Jesus gave everything to make possible. So prayer was our focus Wednesday evening. We prayed together, we talked about how prayer has impacted our own lives, and each man around the table shared a story about the power of prayer as a transformational truth, truth they had personally witnessed.
POWER! Something powerful happens when a roomful of men talk openly, and authentically, and humbly about their experiences of faith. We were all encouraged, validated, blessed, and challenged.
We talked specifically about four ideas that came out of the reading about prayer.
Men who talk faith with me, know me, listen to me, love me, grow with me, and hold me accountable! One more way this life I enjoy is such an amazing blessing! – DEREK
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 3:15
This morning’s post is a series of news-briefs. I need to dive into a couple of fairly deep projects, so this is – essentially – an update roundup.
GROWTH! Let’s start with this: 6,000 followers! Thanks for the support. I pray that these daily posts continue to reach people with the good news.
HIGH-TECH: Then – and this has me simultaneously annoyed at Time Warner and pleased with myself – the Internet has been “out” since Tuesday afternoon, but this morning I figured out how to set up a “personal hot-spot” from my iPhone. Believe me, friends, that’s a huge achievement for this non-techie writer!
I probably rely on the www far too much; but, for a writer, being connected is the most important tool when it comes to work.
NEW BOOK: My primary focus today, however, is still the new book. I’m confident my first new volume since 2012 will be available in time for Christmas, so please keep that in mind as you think about what gifts you’d like to share with family and friends.
Meanwhile, In My Heart I Carry A Star is most definitely available now, and I’d encourage all of you to get a copy for yourselves (remember, get the revised 2nd edition, not the old purple one), plus a couple to give away.
TRAVEL: Over at the other side of the Earth – literally – our travelling Citizens of the World son and daughter-in-love just touched down in South Korea, where Alicia will be attending a professional conference and Andrew will be taking it all in. Thinking of them I am reminded that this multi-faceted planet we share with so many billions of souls, is not only complex and tragically broken, but it is remarkably accessible. I pray from the deepest places that we will learn to listen, and to open our hearts to one-another.
IDYLLIC: Here in Wake Forest it’s a partly-cloudy, breezy, 60-degree fall morning, perfect for dog-walking. I have a hot mug of coffee in hand, and a labradoodle at my feet. For today I have moved my study to the living room, where the wide-open windows connect me to the fresh November day – and I am beyond grateful for the good life that I lead.
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
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: – Philippians 2:1-5
I’ve been thinking about the concepts of “good,” and “evil;” “right,” and “wrong;” “moral,” and “immoral;” “virtuous,” and “bad.”
In the aftermath of Paris there is a lot of talk about human behavior, and I’m concerned that many of these terms (good, evil, right, wrong…) seem to represent moving targets, and that the way we respond to horrific events often only serves to muddy the waters, and what we really mean when we say “right,” and “wrong” is often more rooted in self interest than it is something universal, or true.
what we really mean when we say “right,” and “wrong” is often more rooted in self interest than it is something universal, or true.
The beginning point for this post is a question that emerged in a class I lead at church. “Are human beings naturally good, and so our struggle is to resist evil?” or, “Are we by nature evil, and so what we need is to learn goodness?”
My personal response – and the direction the discussion took – is that it doesn’t really matter. Either way we’re going to need to meet Jesus, so the more important question then becomes, “Who do we follow?”
What we’re born as is not so much wicked, or good, as it is selfish. Then we grow up – typically – to apply the idea of good in relation to what we want. And that is my big concern when it comes to the worldwide stage. When what we want always becomes the standard for “right,” then any means employed to achieve that goal is covered under the umbrella of our self-centered morality.
The way religion is practiced also contributes to this moral confusion, by so often attaching “the will of God” to our own personal preferences. I’m currently reading a series of books on the American Civil War, and I’m struck by the juxtaposition of piety and brutality. Religious revivalism spread through the camps of Lee’s army, generals on both sides were convinced God was directing their campaigns, and Jackson – deeply devout – once answered a question concerning the next day’s action, “If it please God, I would kill them all…”
Religion too often recreates God in our own image, reassigning God’s interest from humanity in general to that of our own tribe. Our “good” then becomes God’s definition too, and what is bad from our point of view turns up on God’s hit-list too.
That’s why following Jesus is often so difficult; because Jesus always puts the priority on self-sacrifice, on loving our enemies, on putting others ahead of ourselves, “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2)
Following Jesus delivers. It delivers regarding all of the issues we started out with – the challenge of being born selfish, the question of who are we going to follow, and our universal need for redemption.
Even if you’re an agnostic, an atheist, or maybe a seeker with more doubts than faith, following the way of Jesus will still answer all the questions regarding the definition of “good.”
Being good means to adopt the attitude that Jesus modeled, and the Jesus Way is – always – the antithesis of self-interest.
I’d say that’s a good starting place, both if we want to heal the world, and if we understand the need we have for healing ourselves. And we do.
In love, and because of love – DEREK