Communion, and the Spectacular Initiative of New Life

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“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 6:16-21

Reaching-Toward-Easter-001This coming Wednesday – February 10 – is “Ash Wednesday” in the Christian calendar.

Ash Wednesday is the official “kick-off” for the season of Lent, the 40 days plus six Sundays leading up to Holy Week and the celebration of Easter.

If you want to experience all the fullness of the Lent experience, taking your own personal “Road to Jerusalem;” and if you want to engage the meaning of Easter in all of its passion, tragedy, and beauty; then I’d recommend a careful reading of Reaching Toward Easter: Devotions for Lent (Upper Room Books).

There’s a study guide in the back, so you can take the journey either as an individual, or in a class or small group.

The book follows the disciple John’s telling of The Last Supper, taking an in-depth look at the “let’s go over the details one more time” conversation Jesus had with his best friends before heading to Gethsemane, arrest, “trial”, crucifixion, suffering, and death; then the garden tomb, victory, new life, and “The Second Week of Creation.”

Sermon on the Mount:

But for today, around the table in conversation with my Sunday morning discipleship class, we’ll be talking about a few verses in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16-21) that I believe have a lot to say about Lent, about Holy Week, and about the new life Jesus makes possible via Resurrection, Forgiveness, Grace, and Redemption.

Lent can be a kind of a fast, a turning aside from distractions and setting our face toward the Passion of Christ. And our relationship with Jesus is a treasure that we can store up – not by setting aside but by embracing; because Jesus is a treasure that grows when we celebrate him, and new life is a miracle that multiplies when we give it away.

In both cases the critical question is this, “Where is your heart?”

IMG_0092I’d like to challenge each one of us to show up at our local faith community, to take communion (as we will at Wake Forest Presbyterian – you are more than welcome at our church), and to turn your heart toward the spectacular initiative of New Life that we celebrate, and that we strive to live into with creativity, with faithfulness, and with joy.

In love, and because of the Jesus initiative of grace – DEREK

peace and power

IMG_0114

Sunrise at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, 6:50 am Saturday morning

Peace and Power

This morning – a couple of weeks into our journey through Normal Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking – the men’s group I meet with discussed chapter two: “A Peaceful Mind Generates Power.”

We enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation around the challenge we all face when it comes to reconciling the idea of cultivating a peaceful mind with the reality of actual, real, day-to-day life.

Of course – and as Normal Vincent Peale himself would have directed had he attended our small group session – we spent the majority of the hour talking about the scriptures, and how God uses words of beauty, authority, and truth to facilitate the process of healing.

As always, my time together with my brothers was priceless.

IMG_0113POWER: It’s now late in the morning, and while the other guys are off and running with Saturday activities filled with Boy Scouts, the boat show, teaching a teenager how to drive, work responsibilities, and more, I’m here in my study thinking some more about the association of peace with power.

It’s a great concept, and a principle worth a lot more careful – and public – consideration in light of the fact that we live in a world where the projection of power is typically associated with brute force, dominance, subjugation, bullying, and war.

But peace, and a peaceful mind; it generates power!

During the Last Supper, Jesus promised to leave the gift of peace with the disciples. “I’m talking about my peace,” Jesus said, “and it’s not like anything the world offers; so don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t ever be afraid” (John 14).

Don’t be afraid. Power. Peace that takes away fear has to be rooted in love – because perfect love nullifies fear (1 John 4:18). Peace speaks love to power and immediately disarms the leverage power owns through fear. Power generated via fear, then, is less effective – less potent – than power generated out of love. A peaceful mind, then, a spirit resting in the Jesus quality of peace, born of love, not only cancels out fear but completely overcomes it, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

When we chose Jesus to be our companion and guide, when we invite God’s Holy Spirit to take up residence in every detail of our lives, then we begin the process of being equipped with the signal strength of a peaceful mind. It’s a slow, incremental process – like preparing for a marathon or paying off a mortgage, but eventually Jesus remakes us, and there will come a point where the balance is tipped inexorably in favor of peace, and we will begin to leak more and more of that kind of power into the world around us, and we will be a force to be reckoned with.

Of course, as in all the paradoxical truths of Jesus, it is more and more of a surrender to God that equips us with this kind of power.

“I must decrease,” John the Baptist said, “so that he may increase. He must become greater and greater; and I must become less and less.” – John 3:22-30

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Peaceful sunrise from Wake Forest Presbyterian Church this morning

 

 

devaluing education leads to valueless politics

PUBLIC EDUCATION: As a former school teacher (I worked in exceptional education for almost 20 years), I pay more than average attention to the chatter around public education.

I enjoyed my classroom experience immensely, learned at least as much as I taught, and was challenged in ways I could never have imagined had I not had the experience. I know I’ve never worked harder than I did as a teacher, and I’ve never been stretched intellectually to the extent that engaging the complex smorgasbord of excitable humanity known as a classroom taxed my capacity.

Yet, far too many supposedly intelligent people in this country fail to grasp either the complexity or the art of meaningful classroom leadership, dismissively consigning gifted educators to throw-away status with scarcely a second thought.

I remember running into a former college friend who was ten years into a lucrative law practice. “Why would you waste your time as a teacher?” he queried, his face a mixture of incredulity and derision; “I thought you were one of the more intelligent students?”

Don’t misunderstand the point of this post. I’m not advocating carte-blanch higher teacher salaries so much as I’m interested in raising public awareness of what is at stake if we continue to devalue public education as a profession, as a fundamental building block of our future, and as the most important priority of state and local government.

800px-James_Abram_Garfield,_photo_portrait_seated

James Garfield – Library of Congress

JAMES GARFIELD: James Garfield – who served a short term as president (1881) before being shot by a assassin and then slowly killed by an incompetent medical team – is someone our politicians could learn a great deal from today.

Garfield said this about public education (which he saw more as the teaching of values, of problem-solving, and of how to think clearly rather than the rote stuffing of brains in order to pass test after test after test after test): “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” 

Garfield – who attended his party’s 1880 convention as campaign manager for candidate John Sherman – was offered the nomination after a protracted deadlock between the leading contenders. He won the Presidency after a low-key “front porch” campaign, and entered the White House having avoided the soul-destroying path of self-promotion, narcissism, and political demagoguery.

I publicly admit to praying that some kind of time-warp will cover both major party conventions this year, and a public-spirited Garfield 2.0 will emerge to offer respite from the sad degeneration of 21st Century politics to its current high-cost, low-value expression.

LEARNING: The more I think about it, the more I believe there is a strong relationship between the value we place on public education and the value we get from public officials.

So I’ll let James Garfield have the last word. It’s a good one.

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” – James Garfield

You Keep Using That Word; I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

inigo1A few days ago I scrolled through one of those “I’m right, you’re wrong” conversations on Facebook, and I was saddened to see one participant reject another viewpoint out of hand with the dismissive, derisive, “Obviously, you don’t accept the authority of scripture.”

Over the years I have observed that the phrase, you don’t accept the authority of scripture is really code for, “Your understanding/interpretation/conclusions are different than mine… so that means you don’t really believe the Bible.” Sigh.

When I read it again I immediately thought of a classic scene from The Princess Bride (1987). The bad guy repeatedly uses the word “inconceivable” to describe challenge after challenge the hero overcomes with ease. Eventually Inigo Montoya (played by Mandy Patinkin) taps him on the shoulder and says, “You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So here’s my word to Christians who love to judge other believers, and who throw around the term, “authority of scripture” – I do not think it means what you think it means!

IMG_3917POWERFUL SERMON: This past Sunday my wife Rebekah preached from the following text – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The key word here is, “all,” and I believe the most important question we must continue to ask is this – “What is the witness of the entire word of God, especially viewed through the lens of The Living Word, which is Jesus?” Jesus is The Word Made Flesh, the most complete, eloquent, clear, and true representation of God’s transformational love and grace.

  • You say you want authoritative? I urge you to meet Jesus!

 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14.

Being guided by the authority of scripture is not the same as literalism, it’s not the same as legalism, and it’s not the same as proof-texting. Those approaches conspire to diminish and water-down the word of God; whereas recognizing and being guided by the authority of scripture embraces the sovereignty of God, the mystery that led God to remind Job (and the rest of us) how little he understood, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the fact that God breathes life into the scriptures, and the critical importance of our ongoing relationship with Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12).

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…”- Job 38:2-4

IMG_0092I’d like to recommend that you take a few minutes and listen to Rebekah’s message on the subject. She’s a powerful and engaging preacher, and I believe you will not only enjoy what she has to say, but become inspired to be a more committed, diligent, and open-hearted student of God’s word.

Here’s the link: “The B.I.B.L.E.” – DEREK

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

 

You are God’s masterpiece

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New handrails at my parents’ home

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10

IMG_0085It’s possible to find inspiration in a lot of different places, and I write about many of them here in this space. But my number one source – consistently – is people; and invariably those people move out of an anchoring of faith. They are good people – yes – but even our goodness, our compassion and our generosity, are gifts from God.

Our church family – Wake Forest Presbyterian – is full with people who live their faith through acts of service and generosity. Those generous acts are more than checkmarks on a list of Christian-ish things “to do,” they are extensions of themselves, the natural expression of of what it means to be a redeemed people, living faith out loud.

That’s what happened over the past few days when a couple of the men – Si and Paul – demonstrated their self-giving faith by building a handrail alongside the driveway to my parents’ home here in Wake Forest.

IMG_0002It’s a fairly steep incline, and we’d been talking about what to do for safety when Si stepped forward and volunteered for the job.

It took the best part of a week; anchoring the posts in concrete, measuring, cutting, capping off, assembling, staining. And what’s more, Si made his construction a work of art.

Hence the images. I don’t often photograph handrails, but craftsmanship, emerging out of hearts filled with faith and completed with love, can be a beautiful thing.

These men are God’s masterpiece, created anew in Jesus Christ, so they could do the good things [God] planned for them long ago….

– DEREK

groundhog day redux

All things are wearisome;
    more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    or the ear filled with hearing.
 What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has already been,
    in the ages before us. – Ecclesiastes 1:8-10

February 2:

groundhog_dayI have to admit it, the 1993 Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, is still one of my all time favorite motion pictures. The film works on a number of levels; but mostly it works because, rather than being fantastical, the premise is actually very close to real life.

The story – in a nutshell – goes like this. Weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) takes his crew to Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to film live Groundhog Day shots for his show. Murray’s character is flippant and self centered, and things don’t go well. A blizzard shuts down travel and Phil gets trapped in some hiccup in the space-time continuum. Mr. “It’s all about me” is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.

SAY WHAT? So how does that sound even remotely close to real life, you ask? Well, I’m really coming at this from a hybrid Ecclesiastes 1/Hebrews 12 reference point. Let me explain.

First, just about everyone reading these words woke up this morning to an alarm clock, rolled out of bed, and thereby launched a fairly predictable routine checklist of tasks, down to what order we put our socks on, where we sit for breakfast, how we fix our coffee, and what page of the newspaper we begin reading.

We then move out into our day to day lives in much the same manner. Sometimes we arrive at work not even remembering one single mile, turn, radio news item, or view of the commute. Auto-pilot; auto-think; auto-respond; auto-life.

The opening of Ecclesiastes – part of the Wisdom Literature section of our Bibles – is fairly convinced that nothing new ever happens, and presents the routine of life as a kind of hopelessness. The writer of Hebrews also sees the routine, but interprets it as an opportunity, a contest that needs to be engaged with diligence and commitment, an exercise in following Jesus.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2

bill-murray-groundhog-day-iataREINCARNATION? So it’s not so much that we are like Bill Murray’s character, doomed to a closed-loop cycle, a kind of perpetual reincarnation, so much as that – without Jesus – we are doomed to experiencing the dull monotony of pointlessness, day after day after day after day, days that might as well be exactly the same, when we fail to live as renewed, redeemed, reconciled, restored disciples.

Phil in Groundhog Day found meaning – and eventually a way into the rest of his life – by doing a couple of very important things:

  1. He shifted the focus of his life from himself to others (he becomes the most popular guy in town by learning people’s stories, going out of his way to help them, and eventually genuinely caring).
  2. He became the absolute best version of himself possible, doing everything with quality, creativity, and total commitment).

Newness, the kind of everyday wonder we long to experience, is always possible in the context of embracing the fact that – because of Jesus – we are a new creation, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

cropped-img_51281.jpgJesus challenges us to move out of mediocrity, out of sameness, and into the transformational, dynamic, charged-with-meaning experience of being a disciple. That’s how we can live to capacity, how we can serve others with joyful hearts, how we can live as a new creation!

– DEREK

 

All things are wearisome;
    more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    or the ear filled with hearing.
 What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has already been,
    in the ages before us. – Ecclesiastes 1:8-10

February 2:

groundhog_dayI have to admit it, the 1993 Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, is still one of my all time favorite motion pictures. The film works on a number of levels; but mostly it works because, rather than being fantastical, the premise is actually very close to real life.

The story – in a nutshell – goes like this. Weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) takes his crew to Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to film live Groundhog Day shots for his show. Murray’s character is flippant and self centered, and things don’t go well. A blizzard shuts down travel and Phil gets trapped in some hiccup in the space-time continuum. Mr. “It’s all about me” is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.

SAY WHAT? So how does that sound even remotely close to real life, you ask? Well, I’m really coming at this from a hybrid Ecclesiastes 1/Hebrews 12 reference point. Let me explain.

First, just about everyone reading these words woke up this morning to an alarm clock, rolled out of bed, and thereby launched a fairly predictable routine checklist of tasks, down to what order we put our socks on, where we sit for breakfast, how we fix our coffee, and what page of the newspaper we begin reading.

We then move out into our day to day lives in much the same manner. Sometimes we arrive at work not even remembering one single mile, turn, radio news item, or view of the commute. Auto-pilot; auto-think; auto-respond; auto-life.

The opening of Ecclesiastes – part of the Wisdom Literature section of our Bibles – is fairly convinced that nothing new ever happens, and presents the routine of life as a kind of hopelessness. The writer of Hebrews also sees the routine, but interprets it as an opportunity, a contest that needs to be engaged with diligence and commitment, an exercise in following Jesus.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2

bill-murray-groundhog-day-iataREINCARNATION? So it’s not so much that we are like Bill Murray’s character, doomed to a closed-loop cycle, a kind of perpetual reincarnation, so much as that – without Jesus – we are doomed to experiencing the dull monotony of pointlessness, day after day after day after day, days that might as well be exactly the same, when we fail to live as renewed, redeemed, reconciled, restored disciples.

Phil in Groundhog Day found meaning – and eventually a way into the rest of his life – by doing a couple of very important things:

  1. He shifted the focus of his life from himself to others (he becomes the most popular guy in town by learning people’s stories, going out of his way to help them, and eventually genuinely caring).
  2. He became the absolute best version of himself possible, doing everything with quality, creativity, and total commitment).

Newness, the kind of everyday wonder we long to experience, is always possible in the context of embracing the fact that – because of Jesus – we are a new creation, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

cropped-img_51281.jpgJesus challenges us to move out of mediocrity, out of sameness, and into the transformational, dynamic, charged-with-meaning experience of being a disciple. That’s how we can live to capacity, how we can serve others with joyful hearts, how we can live as a new creation!

– DEREK

All things are wearisome;
    more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    or the ear filled with hearing.
 What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has already been,
    in the ages before us. – Ecclesiastes 1:8-10

February 2:

groundhog_dayI have to admit it, the 1993 Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, is still one of my all time favorite motion pictures. The film works on a number of levels; but mostly it works because, rather than being fantastical, the premise is actually very close to real life.

The story – in a nutshell – goes like this. Weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) takes his crew to Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to film live Groundhog Day shots for his show. Murray’s character is flippant and self centered, and things don’t go well. A blizzard shuts down travel and Phil gets trapped in some hiccup in the space-time continuum. Mr. “It’s all about me” is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.

SAY WHAT? So how does that sound even remotely close to real life, you ask? Well, I’m really coming at this from a hybrid Ecclesiastes 1/Hebrews 12 reference point. Let me explain.

First, just about everyone reading these words woke up this morning to an alarm clock, rolled out of bed, and thereby launched a fairly predictable routine checklist of tasks, down to what order we put our socks on, where we sit for breakfast, how we fix our coffee, and what page of the newspaper we begin reading.

We then move out into our day to day lives in much the same manner. Sometimes we arrive at work not even remembering one single mile, turn, radio news item, or view of the commute. Auto-pilot; auto-think; auto-respond; auto-life.

The opening of Ecclesiastes – part of the Wisdom Literature section of our Bibles – is fairly convinced that nothing new ever happens, and presents the routine of life as a kind of hopelessness. The writer of Hebrews also sees the routine, but interprets it as an opportunity, a contest that needs to be engaged with diligence and commitment, an exercise in following Jesus.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2

bill-murray-groundhog-day-iataREINCARNATION? So it’s not so much that we are like Bill Murray’s character, doomed to a closed-loop cycle, a kind of perpetual reincarnation, so much as that – without Jesus – we are doomed to experiencing the dull monotony of pointlessness, day after day after day after day, days that might as well be exactly the same, when we fail to live as renewed, redeemed, reconciled, restored disciples.

Phil in Groundhog Day found meaning – and eventually a way into the rest of his life – by doing a couple of very important things:

  1. He shifted the focus of his life from himself to others (he becomes the most popular guy in town by learning people’s stories, going out of his way to help them, and eventually genuinely caring).
  2. He became the absolute best version of himself possible, doing everything with quality, creativity, and total commitment).

Newness, the kind of everyday wonder we long to experience, is always possible in the context of embracing the fact that – because of Jesus – we are a new creation, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

cropped-img_51281.jpgJesus challenges us to move out of mediocrity, out of sameness, and into the transformational, dynamic, charged-with-meaning experience of being a disciple. That’s how we can live to capacity, how we can serve others with joyful hearts, how we can live as a new creation!

– DEREK

All things are wearisome;
    more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    or the ear filled with hearing.
 What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has already been,
    in the ages before us. – Ecclesiastes 1:8-10

February 2:

groundhog_dayI have to admit it, the 1993 Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, is still one of my all time favorite motion pictures. The film works on a number of levels; but mostly it works because, rather than being fantastical, the premise is actually very close to real life.

The story – in a nutshell – goes like this. Weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) takes his crew to Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to film live Groundhog Day shots for his show. Murray’s character is flippant and self centered, and things don’t go well. A blizzard shuts down travel and Phil gets trapped in some hiccup in the space-time continuum. Mr. “It’s all about me” is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.

SAY WHAT? So how does that sound even remotely close to real life, you ask? Well, I’m really coming at this from a hybrid Ecclesiastes 1/Hebrews 12 reference point. Let me explain.

First, just about everyone reading these words woke up this morning to an alarm clock, rolled out of bed, and thereby launched a fairly predictable routine checklist of tasks, down to what order we put our socks on, where we sit for breakfast, how we fix our coffee, and what page of the newspaper we begin reading.

We then move out into our day to day lives in much the same manner. Sometimes we arrive at work not even remembering one single mile, turn, radio news item, or view of the commute. Auto-pilot; auto-think; auto-respond; auto-life.

The opening of Ecclesiastes – part of the Wisdom Literature section of our Bibles – is fairly convinced that nothing new ever happens, and presents the routine of life as a kind of hopelessness. The writer of Hebrews also sees the routine, but interprets it as an opportunity, a contest that needs to be engaged with diligence and commitment, an exercise in following Jesus.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2

bill-murray-groundhog-day-iataREINCARNATION? So it’s not so much that we are like Bill Murray’s character, doomed to a closed-loop cycle, a kind of perpetual reincarnation, so much as that – without Jesus – we are doomed to experiencing the dull monotony of pointlessness, day after day after day after day, days that might as well be exactly the same, when we fail to live as renewed, redeemed, reconciled, restored disciples.

Phil in Groundhog Day found meaning – and eventually a way into the rest of his life – by doing a couple of very important things:

  1. He shifted the focus of his life from himself to others (he becomes the most popular guy in town by learning people’s stories, going out of his way to help them, and eventually genuinely caring).
  2. He became the absolute best version of himself possible, doing everything with quality, creativity, and total commitment).

Newness, the kind of everyday wonder we long to experience, is always possible in the context of embracing the fact that – because of Jesus – we are a new creation, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

cropped-img_51281.jpgJesus challenges us to move out of mediocrity, out of sameness, and into the transformational, dynamic, charged-with-meaning experience of being a disciple. That’s how we can live to capacity, how we can serve others with joyful hearts, how we can live as a new creation!

– DEREK

All things are wearisome;
    more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    or the ear filled with hearing.
 What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has already been,
    in the ages before us. – Ecclesiastes 1:8-10

February 2:

groundhog_dayI have to admit it, the 1993 Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, is still one of my all time favorite motion pictures. The film works on a number of levels; but mostly it works because, rather than being fantastical, the premise is actually very close to real life.

The story – in a nutshell – goes like this. Weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) takes his crew to Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to film live Groundhog Day shots for his show. Murray’s character is flippant and self centered, and things don’t go well. A blizzard shuts down travel and Phil gets trapped in some hiccup in the space-time continuum. Mr. “It’s all about me” is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.

SAY WHAT? So how does that sound even remotely close to real life, you ask? Well, I’m really coming at this from a hybrid Ecclesiastes 1/Hebrews 12 reference point. Let me explain.

First, just about everyone reading these words woke up this morning to an alarm clock, rolled out of bed, and thereby launched a fairly predictable routine checklist of tasks, down to what order we put our socks on, where we sit for breakfast, how we fix our coffee, and what page of the newspaper we begin reading.

We then move out into our day to day lives in much the same manner. Sometimes we arrive at work not even remembering one single mile, turn, radio news item, or view of the commute. Auto-pilot; auto-think; auto-respond; auto-life.

The opening of Ecclesiastes – part of the Wisdom Literature section of our Bibles – is fairly convinced that nothing new ever happens, and presents the routine of life as a kind of hopelessness. The writer of Hebrews also sees the routine, but interprets it as an opportunity, a contest that needs to be engaged with diligence and commitment, an exercise in following Jesus.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2

bill-murray-groundhog-day-iataREINCARNATION? So it’s not so much that we are like Bill Murray’s character, doomed to a closed-loop cycle, a kind of perpetual reincarnation, so much as that – without Jesus – we are doomed to experiencing the dull monotony of pointlessness, day after day after day after day, days that might as well be exactly the same, when we fail to live as renewed, redeemed, reconciled, restored disciples.

Phil in Groundhog Day found meaning – and eventually a way into the rest of his life – by doing a couple of very important things:

  1. He shifted the focus of his life from himself to others (he becomes the most popular guy in town by learning people’s stories, going out of his way to help them, and eventually genuinely caring).
  2. He became the absolute best version of himself possible, doing everything with quality, creativity, and total commitment).

Newness, the kind of everyday wonder we long to experience, is always possible in the context of embracing the fact that – because of Jesus – we are a new creation, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

cropped-img_51281.jpgJesus challenges us to move out of mediocrity, out of sameness, and into the transformational, dynamic, charged-with-meaning experience of being a disciple. That’s how we can live to capacity, how we can serve others with joyful hearts, how we can live as a new creation!

– DEREK

….

“shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the world of life…”

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Communion at Chalice Christian Church

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:14-16

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with Rev Greg Ott

Sunday morning I enjoyed the inspirational 9:00 worship service at Wake Forest Presbyterian, taught my discipleship class, then jumped in my little VW TDi to zoom-zoom 194 miles for 3:00pm worship at Chalice Christian Church in Virginia Beach.

The occasion was the installation of my friend Greg Ott as pastor. It was a signal moment in a sometimes difficult journey in ministry, and I wanted to be there, to simply stand with him in encouragement.

I write a lot in this space about relationships; especially faith-based community, and spiritual friendships among men. We live in a culture where men are routinely discouraged from being honest about who they are – from embracing their feelings, from admitting vulnerability, from giving emotion any kind of a toe-hold, from loving one-another in the way Christ modeled love, from stepping outside of the carefully crafted veneer of “man-up,” machismo, and defensive sexism – and Greg has been part of a group of guys I first met in Virginia well before we moved to Raleigh, who have encouraged me in my efforts to change the parameters of the conversation, inviting men into a discipleship where Jesus – not the politics of chauvinism – is our teacher and guide.

At the reception I read a letter from our mutual friend Ray Gryder, and then had two very short thoughts to share from my own heart – one to the group, and the other just to Greg. Here they are:

  1. “Paraphrasing my favorite scripture from Philippians 2, it’s my prayer that, as pastor, you shine like a star in the universe – pointing the way to Jesus – as you hold out the word of life.”
  2. And then, “I feel a spirit of hope and promise in this place. You already know how I feel about this: So long as even a small group of people believe with passion – there’s not a church in this world that does not have the potential to grow, and to become renewed with life and purpose.”

So this is our calling, as Twenty-first Century Christian men:

  • To follow Jesus as faithful disciples;
  • To develop authentic relationships with other believers;
  • And to shine like stars in the universe, as we hold out the word of life.

Happy Monday, friends, let’s live like we mean it! – DEREK

“I can do all things…” #winning

For nothing will be impossible with God. – Luke 1:37

IMG_0049My Saturday morning Bible study has just launched an ongoing study based on Norman Vincent Peale’s classic text, The Power of Positive Thinking. The guys are motivated and excited about this, and I can’t think of a better way to launch 2016 together.

We all face challenges; none of us are immune – it’s the nature of life; yet at the same time we all have phenomenal resources we can tap into. Positive thinking is about understanding what tips the balance in favor of affirmation, of belief, and then living out of that sense of fait accompli – because we know without any doubt that nothing has the power to defeat us when we live in the light.

Saturday morning we discussed the first chapter, “Believe in Yourself.” As I prepared to lead our discussion, I thought about some of those resources we all have at our disposal, and I took a moment to think about how that balance stands in my life, and I jotted down the first half-dozen I could think of:

  1. Faith: I believe in a loving God who created me with imagination and purpose.
  2. Rebekah: I am married to the most positive, encouraging, spiritually alive, and resourceful person I have ever known.
  3. Family: My family believes in me and loves me; they “have my back.”
  4. Church: I belong to a church bursting at the seams with the best people in the world.
  5. USA: I live in the USA! This nation is dedicated at its very core to freedom, liberty, justice, equal rights, and opportunity!
  6. Intellect: God has equipped me with a good brain and a creative imagination.

Just considering the above brief list (and each one of us could easily come up with something similar) gives me pause; the items immediately make a strong statement that I can move forward with confidence and belief, no matter what is coming next in my life.

JESUS: But then, underlining everything with the bold mark of complete certainty, comes the icing on the cake when it comes to putting things in the right perspective; namely, Jesus. God did not send Jesus into this world just to save us for eternity, God sent Jesus to invite us to live into the possibilities of the “Life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19) right in the here and now!

  • “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13
  • “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” – Romans 8:31
  • “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
  • “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” – John 14:27

Positive thinking works most effectively when it is rooted in the fact of the gospel! Knowing Jesus gifts us with the confidence to move forward into this day, into tomorrow, into next year, and into whatever might possibly come along to trip us up and cause us to struggle; because of Christ we can live in the sure and certain knowledge that we have what it takes to overcome!

cropped-img_51281.jpgWhat we have is – as Martin Luther wrote – “the right man on our side,” and I can hear him telling me, plain as day, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches” (Revelation 3:20-22).

I can believe in myself because Jesus believes in me. In that sure and certain knowledge I can accomplish – we can acomplish – just about anything – DEREK

 

pasta, steak, and gorgonzola #foodiepost

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I haven’t written a “foodie” post in some time, so – after three superior meals in the space of three days – here’s some good eating for your Saturday entertainment.

First, we are remarkably blessed here at WFPC to have our own “director of Food Ministries.” Mandy coordinates a wide range of eating at our church, but it’s the magic she performs Wednesday evenings that is so unique. Around 200 people, give or take, enjoy dinner together before various Bible-study opportunities, and Mandy serves pitch-perfect food like she’s head chef at a six-table specialty restaurant.

Then, Thursday evening, Rebekah and I enjoyed dinner with our church Koinonia dinner group. Our hosts served authentic Italian fare (she’s first generation), and we enjoyed the kind of long, relaxed, conversational dinner evening the Koinonia program is designed to facilitate.

IMG_0037Finally, on Friday – and this is where the photos come in – I tried something new in our kitchen that turned out amazing. A couple of weeks back (and after too many disappointing visits), the Olive Garden restaurant pretty much won back my allegiance with their new Steak Gorgonzola-Alfredo.

So I tried to replicate the dish. I missed one ingredient that I believe will make it close to perfect next time, but it turned out really well regardless.

ONE: First, I made my own pasta. The cliché goes, “Once you make your own pasta you’ll never go back,” and I believe it. There are many pasta recipes, but none beats the most simple. Drop a cup of SR flour on the counter, hollow out the middle, drop an egg in the hollow, drag the flour in to the middle until you have a sticky ball, add a couple of tablespoons of cold water, kneed until the pasta is pliable, smooth, and even, then roll out and cut. Hang to dry for a couple of hours.

IMG_0025TWO: I then made a basic light Alfredo sauce, adding gorgonzola cheese, and – at the very last minute – cooked the pasta for two minutes in salted water at a rolling boil before combining the two.

THREE: Meanwhile, I marinated a flank steak all afternoon before cooking it – medium-rare – on my ridged iron skillet.

FOUR: On the side, I prepared a mixed herb salad, along with tomatoes, feta cheese, and walnuts.

What I missed, and what will surely be in the gorgonzola sauce next time, was sun-dried tomatoes. All the above, served with fresh bread, is a gourmet feast worth the few extra minutes of preparation.

Currently, I’m working on a new Bible-study book for men, and I’m in the middle of the chapter on “Purpose,” and “Intention.” It occurs to me that the way we “live faith out loud” has the potential – given the appropriate sense of purpose and applied intention – to be a gourmet feast for everyone we know.

Good eating, my friends, and good living too – DEREK

waiting, patience, birds, and photography

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

DSC_0625Today, following up a couple of deeper reflections, I’m simply going to share some great photographs. One sure sign of winter here is the influx of birds around our feeder; the other is the retreat of our labradoodle to the couch!

The other day I talked about wanting a good telephoto lens for wildlife photography. Our daughter – always eager to help – suggested I put the lens on my Amazon wish list. So I did, just for giggles, and the $1,000 price tag totally shocked her. “And that’s for the discount lens,” I said; “the Nikon version goes for $10,000!”

In the meanwhile I’ll be standing very still and as close as I can get without spooking my targets. The missing “prize” photograph is the Eastern Bluebird who posed beautifully until I edged one inch closer than his comfort allowed. Sigh.

Today I’ll be heading out to Lowes for more bird food. But I also need to load up on patience; I tend to watch the birds for an allotted time, then give up and move on after just a few minutes.

IMG_0003Scout Labradoodle is another matter. No stealth needed to take her photo. When she hits the couch it’s lights-out for the remainder of the morning. She’s there now, hoping someone will come by and get a good fire going in the grate.

DEVOTIONAL: A short thought to go with my patience observation a couple of paragraphs back. That tends to be my approach in prayer, too. Watch for an allotted time, then give up and move on after just a few minutes.

The patience thing: it isn’t for God’s benefit; it’s for ours.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31