Faith & Thinkology

a journal of living-like-we-mean-it, by Derek Maul

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I have called you by name; you are mine



But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.Isaiah 43:1

There are a lot of promises spelled out in the Bible – anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000, depending on who’s counting and how they do their math. But the ones that resonate most deeply with my spirit are those that affirm the central theme of the scriptures, and that theme is the redemptive initiative of God’s relentless love.

I like that, so I’m repeating it: The central theme of the scriptures is the redemptive initiative of God’s relentless love.

In the final analysis, this is what counts: God has called us by name; we belong to Jesus.

A day of beauty and of light:



If you haven’t seen the Outer Banks sunrise images I posted a couple of days ago, then you owe it to your love of the beach to take a look (“Morning Light“). The balance of that day was also luminous and beautiful, as I spent the day photographing the gathering of New Hope Presbytery, the quarterly meeting of leaders from 122 Presbyterian congregations, all the way from Chapel Hill to the Outer Banks.

In a freelance career where I wear many hats, “Presbytery of New Hope Photographer” is one of my favorites. I get to participate in worship, observe workshops, share lunch with saints from various congregations, learn the stories of all these different faith communities, and – best of all – partake in communion with so many people who have devoted their lives to being the presence of Christ in this broken world.



The theme of the day was “Spirituality and Prayer” (not a bad focus for a bunch of church leaders!). But – and this has been consistently true over the three years we’ve been in North Carolina – the gathering was enfolded in a spirit of peace, unity, and the common purpose of serving God as faithful followers of Jesus.

After worship, the body broke into small groups for conversation, for prayer, and for listening to one another’s stories. After lunch, and during the business portion of the day, speaker after speaker stood up to give testimony to God’s ongoing work and to address matters of common concern.

Unity in Purpose:



Regardless of the topic (prayer, finances, resolutions, examination of candidates, reports, initiatives, ministry…), everyone came across as a humble disciple, doing their best to serve God and to reach into the world with the grace-filled, reconciling, redemptive, healing love of Jesus.

That’s all. Again, I have too many photographs. But feel free to look through the slides and get a glimpse into the meeting. The full-length, annotated,  Powerpoint will be posted at the New Hope website later in the week.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine. Isaiah 43:1



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We belong to the day!


All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness. So then, let’s not sleep like the others, but let’s stay awake and stay sober. People who sleep sleep at night, and people who get drunk get drunk at night. Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8


Founding and current pastors

If you’re someone who carries any doubt in your heart regarding the future of The Church, then you really should have been at WFPC Sunday morning, when we gathered to celebrate our 25th anniversary as a worshiping community.

  • Talk about good news! – there was so much of that you could stuff your pockets full, take it home, and save some for later!
  • Talk about life! – it is vibrant, compelling, and palpable!
  • Talk about passion for Jesus! – we are lit up with the gospel!
  • Talk about the presence of the Spirit! – the electricity in church makes me tingle.
  • Talk about evidence that God is at work around here!

25 years of adventure!

It really is remarkable to see where this church has come over a short 25 years. Rev. John LaMotte, who served as organizing pastor in those early years, looked around the CLC Sunday morning, and all he could do was point out the wonder of how God always has something in mind that far exceeds our limited faith, our foggy vision, and our Earth-bound imaginations.

dsc_0736The place was teeming with people! A team of creative and hardworking Wake Forest Presbyterians went above and beyond in planning a day of worship, celebration, and fun. And it wasn’t just that so many people showed up – it was the obvious joy of a faith community learning to shine as a living witness to the reconciling power of the Gospel of Love.

This church is overflowing with life; life keeps spilling over, and it’s getting all over everyone, and everything.

The sermon was brought to us by Chris Edmonston, senior pastor at White Memorial Church in Raleigh and recognized nationwide as one of the best preachers in the PC(USA). The message was powerful and inspiring; our music ministry came together to offer some sensational anthems; and then – after worship – the congregation paraded to the front of the church to plant another oak tree, representing the church mission statement – that we are Rooted in Christ; Growing together in faith; Reaching out to others.

Rooted in Christ; Growing together in faith; Reaching out to others.

Looking into the future!


introducing Katherine

In addition to everything else, this was also the first Sunday at WFPC for Katherine Pieper. Katherine is our new director of children, family, and youth ministries. She, too, is full of spirit and life, and we are excited about what God has in store as her enthusiasm and vision become part of setting the course for our next twenty-five years.

There was too much going on yesterday for me to cover in one post – and I haven’t even covered the fun and fellowship of Holy Hay Day!

So I’ll let this gallery of images fill in a few more of the details. Suffice it to say that we are so grateful to God for inviting us here to Wake Forest, and it remains our constant prayer that we not only honor God in how we respond, but that we tell the truth about the amazing love of God with such genuine enthusiasm, that others are invited in to meet Jesus too.

14804820_10210946503642363_95732880_n-001“In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 5:16

I have a quite a few wonderful photographs to share with you. As you enjoy them, be encouraged by the witness to light, hope, and new life that Wake Forest Presbyterian is presenting to this community, and to the world. Absolutely anything is possible when we follow Jesus….

Peace, blessings, and promise – DEREK



and morning light poured over the horizon…


sunrise at the Outer Banks

When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was…” – Genesis 1:1-4

dsc_0070My challenge with this post is to keep the picture count down to a dozen. I got out of bed early Saturday morning, made myself a cup of bad hotel coffee, grabbed my Nikon DSLR, and headed for the beach, just as the sun was beginning to pour silver light over the horizon.

A stiff breeze was blowing in across a rough sea, the sky was alive with color and cloud formations, the light was perfect. I relaxed for a few minutes, enjoyed the gift of another new day, then made my way to the church for my 8:30 meeting. It was hard to tear myself away.

img_5999So today, on the Sunday morning we celebrate Wake Forest Presbyterian Church‘s 25th birthday as a worshiping community of Jesus-following disciples, I’m going to share a few photographs of sunrise at North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

In the words of the first chapter of Genesis, this simple affirmation: When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was…” Genesis 1:1-4

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when deep calls to deep


on the Outer Banks

Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.
 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life. – Psalm 42:7-8

Friday afternoon I drove over to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, arriving in time to make this (Saturday) morning’s meeting of the Presbytery of New Hope.

img_5989Kill Devil Hills is a bit of a tourist trap; but it’s beautiful out here, a thin strip of land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, all sea, surf, sun, and sand. It just feels good to walk through the dunes, place two feet on the beach, and breathe deeply of the fresh air.

I stood there, looking out into the waters, across the widest stretch of the North Atlantic, due west to the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea; and I thought about the words of Psalm 42: “Deep calls to deep…” and, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me…

His song is with me. I didn’t just breathe deeply, I drank deeply. The ocean calls, the Outer Banks are a kind of sanctuary. But it’s God who fills me; that’s the song that is with me.

img_5994God does not want us to remain shallow; God invites us to go deep. Deep is where the song resonates; deep is the place from where the song can call back.

First listening. Then opening. Eventually knowing; knowing this song is with me. Breathing – not shallow breaths, but being filled. Finally, singing.

– Derek

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This election will pass – then it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas!


Today, in the middle of the ongoing contentiousness that seems to be dominating social media, I’d like to remind the world that no matter how things turn out November 8, election day will quickly be followed by Thanksgiving, and soon thereafter we get to enjoy the light and beauty of Christmas!

So – once again – I have reviewed and revised my Christmas classic, In My Heart I Carry A Star: stories for Advent.  After seven published titles, this book still remains one of my favorites. It’s all about getting ready for Christmas; and who couldn’t use a little help with that?

If you already have a copy, then please consider getting a few to give to friends and family as gifts. Also, with a study guide in the Appendix, In My Heart I Carry A Star makes the perfect Advent study for your church or a group of friends.

Here is one a story from the book. I hope you will enjoy the read… and then share – DEREK

Tannenbaum Flambé

(excerpt from the first week, In My Heart I Carry A Star)

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!  – John 16:33 

IMG_4146Have you ever found yourself reclining in your favorite armchair, a cup of coffee poised on your lap, staring at the Christmas tree in the corner and kind of wondering? I mean really, let’s be honest, what exactly is it in the wacky world of interior decorating that makes an oversized dead shrub so compelling?

We talk about our commitment to save the forests, and spend extra money to bring home a “live” Christmas tree. But then we cut it off at the knees, strap it to the wall, plug it into a light socket, and electrocute the poor thing. After a while parts of the tree start to die and fall off all over the rug. By the second week of December any open flame within 50 feet is likely to result in Tanenbaum Flambé. Somebody help me understand!

Think about it. It’s a tree; what is it doing in the living room? And then we cover the unfortunate specimen with the most hodgepodge assortment of mismatched paper products, figurines, glass ornaments, party-favors, and angels. We top it off with tacky colored lights and hand-made strings of snack food. What’s that all about?

Yet somehow, standing there dressed in a kind of horticultural drag, our Christmas trees have become just about the most enduring symbol of the season for families all the way from London to New York to San Francisco.

A visual journey into family history, an archeological dig on a stick…

In our house the tree – or several trees depending on Rebekah’s decorating inclination – has become a visual journey into family history, an archeological dig on a stick, evolving over the years into an elaborate seasonal scrapbook pasted together as events and people pass through our lives. Each ornament has its own story to tell, from first-grade handkerchief angels, to the handcrafted ornament purchased in Appalachia when we were expecting our first child, to the sterling silver pine cone given by a generous friend who often shared our celebrations.

Our Christmas tree moves from everyday worldly images – such as trains, singing birds and snowy houses – up through drummer boys, Santas and nutcrackers – to a sacred host of stars, angels, and Nativity scenes toward the top. When the children were little I remember Andrew – proud of his growing but inaccurate vocabulary – loudly informing a guest that our tree had, “Sacred ornaments at the top and ‘sexual’ ones lower down!”

IMG_4132It is that meeting place of the sacred and the secular that makes the Christmas tree such a durable and endearing feature of our holiday homes. It is a place where even the least religious feel compelled to stick an angel on the apex, include a Nativity underneath, or simply place a star near the top…. (story excerpted from In My Heart I Carry a Star: stories for Advent, by Derek Maul).

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It’s not middle ground we need, but new ground #RagingModerate

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:14


Derek Maul trying to choose grace

In many respects, I have been “over” this presidential election since the middle of the summer, back when I realized we would see very little substantive conversation regarding some of the real challenges we’re facing vis-à-vis social justice, healthcare, jobs, national security, and the emerging global economy.

While a lot of general criticism focuses (rightly) on the candidates themselves, I find myself even more troubled not only by the two major political parties, but also by the willingness of so many of the electorate – that’s us! – to be distracted by the antics of those occupying the fringes.

We are a nation historically defined by our plurality, our diversity, our respect for those we disagree with, and the ability of regular people to stake out vastly different positions, yet get something constructive done anyway.

“Raging Moderate” story:

I’m reminded of a story I may well have shared before – but if I can’t remember when, then likely you don’t either! Regardless, it’s a good one.

The occasion was a meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). My wife, Rebekah, was there as a commissioner. She weighed in during one debate and – over the course of the next few minutes – was dismissed out of hand as, “an extreme conservative” in one rebuttal, and pigeonholed in another comment as, “a radical liberal.”

Rebekah made her way back to the mic, and her response made the daily bulletin of the Presbyterian News Service. “Over the past few minutes I’ve been dismissively tagged as both a conservative and a liberal,” she said. “I believe that illustrates the absurdity of labels. Labels are dismissive, they are prejudicial, they separate us from one another, and more importantly they get in the way of God’s initiatives of grace and reconciliation. If you need to call me anything at all, then call me a raging moderate! Call me a child of God.”

“Labels are dismissive, they are prejudicial, they separate us from one another, and more importantly they get in the way of God’s initiatives of grace and reconciliation. If you need to call me anything at all, then call me a raging moderate! Call me a child of God.” – Rebekah Maul

In that same meeting, she called the body to prayer, causing one minister to stand up and say – I kid you not, – “Generally, I believe that prayer is highly overrated.”

Prayer Works!

I’m sharing this with my readers today, because I believe it’s time for the majority of Americans to begin making some noise as a “we’ve had it up to here” group of Raging Moderates. That, and a more intentional commitment to prayer. And by prayer I mean the kind of prayer that opens our hearts and minds for God to change us.

Not just, “God I pray you will fix this broken political system,” or, “God please make so-and-so a better person,” – but, “God I commit myself to a more complete relationship with you, and to pray that you enter my heart and change me; change my heart, change my mind, change my response to this world, heal my relationships, make me a more effective witness to love and grace.”

“God I commit myself to a more complete relationship with you, and to pray that you enter my heart and change me; change my heart, change my mind, change my response to this world, heal my relationships, make me a more effective witness to love and grace.”

It’s not middle ground we need, but new ground. The ground that Jesus lived, served, and died to prepare for us. We need to invest ourselves in a groundswell movement of grace, of listening, of compassion, of reconciliation, of faith, and of promise.

If we as God’s people – known as followers of the Living Way – will only humble ourselves, and get on our knees, and seek God’s face, and turn away from our own divisive agendas, and learn to trust…, then God will lead us forward into something new and beautiful: healed hearts, healed relationships, and a healed land too.  (author paraphrase, 2 Chronicles 7:14)


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beautiful photography and a refreshed soul


The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul. – Psalm 23

A walk in the park:

dsc_2725Monday morning, our grandson David – the newly minted five-year-old – marched happily into school while the rest of us made our way to Maymont Park in Richmond. It was a warm, sun-soaked day, and the pictures (captured by my Nikon DSLR) look entirely different from the iPhone 5 images taken on the September excursion with my aunt and uncle (click here for those photos).

The beginnings of fall color only offered a hint of the glory to come (I’ll have to return in November); but the trees were beautiful, the Japanese gardens were delightful, and Naomi’s family is, as always, photogenic.

Unconscious Meditation:

dsc_2647-1For me, wandering slowly through these beautiful gardens was a kind of spiritual meditation. I didn’t formally engage in prayer or contemplation, but serenity accompanied me as a constant undercurrent, integrating God’s presence through the experience as an unstated truth.

Of course, one could argue that the fact of God is always an integral part of any experience, acknowledged or not, believer, agnostic, or atheist. But I have come to appreciate the fact that it is different when we have chosen faith, when we learn to consciously rest in God, when we intentionally walk with God, when we cultivate that relationship. Then, even when we are not necessarily thinking spiritually, we are living spiritually, and the apprehension of divinity resides so close to the surface that it colors everything we experience.

So God was speaking to me as I watched Beks walk along, holding her grandmother’s hand; God was nurturing me when I looked through the lens of my camera and caught a moment of natural harmony; God was filling my heart with love when I focused my telephoto on Craig, Naomi, and Beks, crossing the stepping stones; God was smiling, God was refreshing me, God was reminding me – is reminding me – that life is fundamentally good.

Be Still and Know:

dsc_2698This is a constant refrain I tend to sing, but we still forget so easily – so willfully. God wants us to cultivate stillness as a routine part of our lives of faith.

How can we pray if we have not first quieted our minds? How can we grow in the knowledge of God if we fail to take the time to listen? How can we be renewed, refreshed, and restored if we constantly immerse ourselves in noise, and rush, and clutter?

Quiet your souls, friends. Stop. Stop wherever you are, and repeat these words slowly and deliberately:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me… Psalm 23

Quiet your souls. Be still, and know that God is God. Allow yourself to be filled up with the peace that passes human understanding. Give God the space and the time to refresh your soul….


(click on one picture, then enjoy 20 slides:)

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“and a little child shall lead them…”


In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all. – Isaiah 11:6

I know some of you come to this page for the writing… and then some of you show up for the photography. Well, I’ve got to tell you, today is a photo day and then some!

In fact, there’s so much to share that I think I’m going to have to spread this out over two posts:

First, the birthday, all promise and imagination…  And then, the park. The Maymont Park images turned out to be so cool it’s going to be hard to wait another whole day to share.

David Turns Five:

img_5881Having the grandkids just a couple of hours up the road is a tremendous blessing. So Sunday, right after Rebekah finished church officer training at WFPC, we zoom-zoomed our way to Richmond to share a birthday party with a very happy little boy.

There were several gifts, there were some good friends on hand to share the occasion, and every single birthday present was gratefully and graciously received (David’s parents have done a tremendous job teaching him to say thank you) – but when all the noise was over and the dust settled, it’s obvious that nothing else mattered quite so much as one particular gift: this was the birthday of the Disney Monorail!

The Campbell family have been going to Disney World for several years, and David has been enchanted by the monorail the entire time. Not just the actual monorail they ride into and around the Magic Kingdom, but the one in the store; he’s been ogling the perfectly designed, exact to scale, super-cool play set off and on since his second birthday!

img_5902And, yes, there was the soccer ball from Grandaddy, and I’m thrilled with the poise and natural coordination he demonstrated when we kicked the ball around outside for a few minutes (well, until he went down with his first soccer injury!). And there were bubbles for everyone – a “full-contact” activity that especially excites Beks. And there were new books, and science experiment kits, and dinosaurs, and Naomi’s amazing Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake…

But, without even a second thought, this is definitely the birthday of the monorail. And David’s daddy, Craig, is almost as excited about it as the birthday boy himself!

A Little Faith & Thinkology:

img_5890Once again, David has fallen for something that captures and engages his imagination and his creativity. Seriously, the child is an engineer (and I don’t mean the person who simply drives the train, I mean the innovative mind that invents and designs the next one).

Sure it’s fun to put on the “railwayman” hat and sit behind the wheel once in a while. But David is more interested in how it all goes together, what makes it work, how to design the layout, how to improve the concept, and what possibilities come into play when you look at all the details.

You see, watching my grandson gives me hope for the future. It’s not just that God created, it’s that God is creating. Things could go either way in this country, on this planet, over the next couple of decades – and they will likely go both ways at the same time – but it’s because of children like David (and his “force-of-nature” sister, Beks) that I am confident that the balance can be tipped to the good.


Heading off to school!

Because it’s not enough for people of faith to believe, or to pray, or to encourage one-another in the beautiful experience of community we know as The Church… it is incumbent on us to do something, to apply our gifts, our good news, and our indomitable courage to be the change we want to see.

Five years old… before I know it he’ll be out there changing the world. Oh, wait a minute! I believe that he already is.

– (Grandaddy) DEREK

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all. – Isaiah 11:6

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light-saturated life!


They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God. Acts 16:31-34

img_5784I often say that a good Sunday in church is the best preparation for a great experience the other six days of your week. Today I’ll add that a Sunday when we celebrate a baptism front-loads even more light and goodness into the equation.

Having missed last Sunday morning with Rebekah in the cardiac ICU (read “Adventures in Health Care” for the details), followed up with a week of recovery and working from home, worshipping with our WFPC church family – in a CLC filled with joy and praise – provided both inspiration and restoration.

Belief and commitment at this level is life transformational. Putting faith into practice from day to day is the most effective way there is to live a fully engaged, meaningful, light-saturated life.

Peace and promise – today and every day – DEREK

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Equipping ourselves to shine in an unsteady world


“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” – Matthew 5:14-16

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. – Galatians 5:1

It’s another Sunday morning at WFPC, and I feel it’s important that we all show up at church so we can grab a little perspective before we move into the coming week.

  • Life is good.
  • We live in an amazing – dare I say “great” – nation.
  • We can choose to attend worship and sing our hearts out in praise of God.
  • We can also choose to skip church, and to make absolutely anything we like our priority in life.
  • We are free to voice our opinions, to dissent, and to disagree without fear of reprisal.
  • We have amazing resources at our disposal, and – even though it’s not always easy (maybe because it’s not easy) – opportunity is always in abundant supply.

However, even though I live in these most amazing United States, where freedom and liberty are written into the DNA of our lifeblood, I am making the choice to attend church today. Why? because none of the good life referenced above means much of anything at all outside of squaring away the most essential question of all – and that’s the question of meaning, the raison d’etre at the very core of who I am.

Because what we all need, before wandering into another week of political small-mindedness, diatribe, invective, and the abuse and misuse of the freedom of speech, is to realign ourselves with the teachings of Jesus, who put absolutely everything on the line in order to make real liberty something that cannot ever be taken away.

Nothing can compromise the freedom we have in Christ. No bullying, no threat of violent reprisal, no defamation of character, no undermining of trust, no mob, no civil unrest, no specter of breakdown of government; nothing.

I believe the only way any one of us can be appropriately equipped to engage the three weeks running up to November’s election with any sense of hope, promise, peace, and assurance, is from the perspective of following Jesus, of living in the light, and of loving with his radical kind of love.

So come to church. And then go back into this crazy world with your light shining brightly, with grace, with purpose, and with integrity – DEREK