Faith & Thinkology

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

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Stop the rot! There is a still more excellent way

We have had an interesting phenomenon at church (Wake Forest Presbyterian) this week. The communications team has – albeit in very rudimentary manner – started to live-stream Sunday morning’s message.

Now this might not sound like much for those of you in technology-heavy congregations, but you have to understand it’s only recently we’ve even been recording! And sermons are still not available as podcasts, you have to go to the church website to find them!



What makes this a phenomenon isn’t so much that fact of live-streaming, or that a church in the Research Triangle is finally using some of the technology its members make their living doing (as IT specialists and computer engineers)… the phenomenon is how many people seem to be tuning in!

The communications folk at WFPC say close to 400 additional people have viewed Rebekah’s message as of Wednesday morning. Many more have clicked on the link and watched segments; but the 400 number represents those who have watched the entire 20 minutes.

This of course begs the questions of who? and why? Apparently this breaks down into four groups.

  1. First, people who were unable to be at church but didn’t want to miss the message (folk who are sick, traveling, away at college, or otherwise not physically present).
  2. Then, there are those who enjoyed the message at church and want to listen again.
  3. Additionally, it is reaching people (family members, friends etc.) who WFPC church members are sharing the link with, along with a “you need to watch this” nudge.
  4. Finally, streaming like this engages the interest of the seeker, the curious, the researcher, the potential visitor checking things out first… And the list could go on.


The “so what” of this conversation is fact that I believe it is critically and increasingly important that we present the message of the gospel to the world via as many creative vehicles as we can. There is such a lot of what the British call “rot” out there, being sampled, consumed, and very often rejected by those who still don’t know that – as Paul pointed out – there is “a still more excellent way.

“Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” – 1 Corinthians 12:31


Rebekah and I would not be so committed to the ministry here in Wake Forest if we didn’t believe with all our hearts that there really is “a still more excellent way.” And that way, as Paul goes to point out over the next few verses (1 Corinthians 13), is the way of the Gospel of Love.

And if love is not the way you understand gospel, then you need to listen to this particular “live-stream” message; because Rebekah does an excellent job of kicking off a mini-series on the Fruit of the Spirit, and it’s all about love.



If we can put the Way of Jesus, the still more excellent way, in front of a few hundred more people every week via live-stream, then I say let’s do it, and let’s do it with as much passion and creative ingenuity as we possibly can.

Please pray for the ministry here in Wake Forest. There is so much that needs to be done, and so many broken people to reach – DEREK


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it’s time we ditched destructive diatribe in favor of constructive conversation!

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35


discipleship class

One element of my life that really helps the “Faith & Thinkology” theme is the constant, varied, intelligent, thoughtful, and open-spirited interaction I have with so many fellow pilgrims on this journey of following Jesus.

Sunday mornings, for example, I meet with my discipleship class, Practical Christianity. At the moment we’re praying, and reading, and talking our way through the Gospel of Matthew.

This past Sunday we looked at the story of “the feeding of the 4,000,” found in Matthew 15. We talked about how the fundamental motivating force for Jesus is always compassion, and how his love-charged response brings people together to break bread in community.

Our takeaway was that Jesus moves people into wholeness, that he stands resolutely against judging one another, and that the gospel is – at its heart – invitational. The purpose of Christ’s ministry is always reconciliation.

Let’s lay that out in bullets, because I believe the series of ideas is hugely important:

  • Jesus moves people into wholeness;
  • Jesus stands resolutely against judging one another;
  • The gospel is – at its heart – invitational;
  • The purpose of Christ’s ministry is always reconciliation.

In fact, it’s a fair commentary to suggest that people who divide, who judge, and who break community in the name of Jesus are preaching a false Gospel.

In fact, it’s a fair commentary to suggest that people who divide, who judge, and who break community in the name of Jesus are preaching a false Gospel.

Diatribe versus dialogue:

14224971_10153927122020875_935253292969723228_nThe other thing we talked about was how unfortunate it is that contemporary politics, social media, and conversation in general all seem to require that we take sides, that we dig our heels in and defend a position, that we prove the other guy wrong, and various other completely fruitless exercises in futility. That’s why I love this cartoon so much (it’s an oldie but goodie):

Then, yesterday evening, and as if to confirm my line of thinking, I found myself in the middle of a helpful, positive social media conversation about our responsibility to treat aliens/strangers appropriately, when someone responded to an attempt at a reasoned exchange by labeling the point of view “un-American crap,” and following up with: “Crawl back in your hole. I have little tolerance for idiots.”

Suddenly, an interaction that had the potential to be informative, dropped out of the bottom because the individual in question was not able to tolerate an actual conversation. The sad, angry, rude person then moved on from character assassination to baser insults that I will not repeat in front of polite company.

Religion? or Faith?

I know this is not news to anyone, but that is my point. This kind of destructive diatribe is exactly where too much of politics, and a disturbingly large percentage of religious discourse, has been finding its home.

And I say ‘religion” instead of “faith,” because much of modern Christianity has moved backwards, into a lightly Christianized religiosity that has little to do with the invitational, “the world will know you are my followers by the way you love one another,” reconciliation-oriented mission of Jesus.

I say ‘religion” instead of “faith,” because much of modern Christianity has moved backwards, into a lightly Christianized religiosity that has little to do with the invitational, “the world will know you are my followers by the way you love one another,” reconciliation-oriented mission of Jesus.

IMG_2507I believe that the “back to the Bible” crowd would not be moving backwards, trying to reinvent the codified legalism Christ came to rescue us from, if only they really did study the scriptures and take Jesus at his word. For me, the more deeply I go in the biblical narrative, the more it moves me forward into new life!

Talking of life – it’s time for me to post this and get on with some work!

Peace – always – DEREK

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“5-photo Monday”

img_5519-001You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.Psalm 16:11

Happy Monday, friends! I pray that your new week is full with promise, possibility, and anticipation. Each new day is a gift that we can unwrap with care and with gratitude.

I took the grandkids back to Richmond Saturday afternoon, but our house is still echoing with the residue of their irrepressible enthusiasm for life. In fact so is my car, as we listened to The Beatles’ White Album at full volume for most of the drive – David and Beks loved it!

So I scrolled through my photos to find a few particularly share-worthy images and came up with the following.

Baking Bread with Grandmama:

img_5487Making biscuits is a “thing” here at Maul-Hall. Rebekah still makes the old family recipe buttermilk biscuits and the children absolutely love getting their hands in the dough.

It’s not just the mess they make, but the complete experience with Rebekah. She tells them family stories; she lets them get involved in the process; she trust them with tasks most kids that age don’t get close to. It’s the classic “grandmama experience,” with the uniquely wonderful Rebekah twist to it. Simply put, the children can’t get enough of being immersed in grandmama Rebekah.

And the biscuits – for all the extra pummeling they receive, and the general loss of mass to the floor – they taste wonderful. They do every time. A couple of dozen went home to Richmond, then the balance… well, they’ve mostly disappeared now too.

The Park with Great-grandmama Grace:

img_5511My mum – a.k.a. Great-grandmama Grace – is always up for a walk to the park, Especially now the late September weather has given us hope for the fall. So David and Beks “help” her up the hill, and then she delights in watching them run around with joy and abandon. And so do I.

“I’m the princess,” Beks announced. “And David is the king.”

“Couldn’t David be the prince,” I asked, not intending to cause controversy, “and you reign as Queen Beks?”

“NOOOOOOOOO!” Beks yelled, her eyes blazing, clearly not open to my ideas of gender equality. “I’M THE PRINCESS!”

So the princess spent a quick couple of minutes in the penalty box before play resumed.

The bookstore with mommy:

img_5543This is the prize photo of the group. It was taken in Richmond Sunday afternoon, by our daughter Naomi, at one of the bookstores.

I’ve written before about how pleased I am with our grandchildren’s love of reading. They are both enthusiastic, on top of their letters, sounding out words.

I love how the picture books stimulate their imaginations. David may be recognizing more and more words, but he sees all the stories in the pictures, not just the ones the author suggests with the sentence or two. Both of them have fertile, active, and engaged imaginations.

And they concentrate. I have spent upwards of an hour reading with Beks. Then she’ll go another hour on her own. A book in her lap; one pinned under her leg; a couple more stashed behind her back!


So I pray that your Monday launches this week with joy, with confidence in God, and with the conviction that all things are possible for those who believe.

They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” – Mark 10:26-27





It’s Sunday morning: do this –

Sunday Morning: do this –


Sunday morning at WFPC

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

Saturday was full with our awesome grandchildren (up to our eyeballs in love and fun), so I didn’t get a chance to post a single word of writing. I’ll likely have something to share about that tomorrow (along with some more great photos), but for Sunday morning all I want to do is to encourage you to come to church.

Here’s Why:

Here’s why: We were created – that’s every last one of us, not just Christians – for the specific purpose of being in (and enjoying) a relationship with our Creator; it’s the “why?” of our existence, so the real question is “why not?” Worship of God, and the practice of experiencing worship in the context of community, is fundamental to who we are as human beings.

God is the “why?” of our existence, so why not explore the relationship?

IMG_4191What I’m saying is that the worshipping community is essential if we are at all interested in engaging a complete, full, balanced, always growing, challenging, cutting-edge life.

Those people in these photos show up at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church (around 400 every Sunday morning) because they are genuinely interested in engaging the practice, and the beauty, and the meaning of following Jesus. According to the standards of this world, they are some of the most intelligent, creative, successful people I have ever known… yet they still know they need a relationship with their Creator, and they understand that placing God at the center of their lives – and their family life – is the most important ongoing decision they can make.


So I’d like to challenge everyone who takes a look at this page to show up at a church this morning, to seriously think about what it might mean to become a follower of the Way, and to make a new – or renewed – commitment to be a faithful disciple of Jesus.

I can guarantee it is a decision that will transform your life in all the right ways


in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39



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I watch them “run and not be weary…” #grandchildren

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

img_5407It’s tough to settle down and write a post when the grandchild thing is happening. It’s all good, but it’s also all in. David and Beks are growing by leaps and bounds when it comes to self-directed behavior, but it’s still not the atmosphere where I can retreat to my study and write.

David is currently all into volcanoes and earthquakes. He has a detailed book he’s been referencing; then he spent a good hour in front of a series of National Geographic specials on You Tube. He’s very interested in the details. “The plates on the earth move on top of each other, Grandaddy,” he pointed out yesterday afternoon. “Then the lava comes up between the cracks.”

Beks is still more impressed with Minnie Mouse and Cinderella, and of course any and every book she can get her hands on. Today I feel very good about their futures as lifelong learners.

But it was the park this morning I enjoyed the most. I love giving them space, and watching them tear around at full speed without restrictions.

Later, back home after lunch, they pitched in to help make buttermilk biscuits with grandmama. They just shine. They love their parents, they love their grandparents, and they love their world. It is so good to see how beautifully they shine.

That’s it for today. Lots to do before they wake up from this nap.

Peace – DEREK


Break the bread… not one another…


AP image by Gerry Broome – photojournalist

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Ephesians 4:22-25


Wednesday evening my men’s Bible study group enjoyed a deep, productive conversation about honesty and authenticity.

This morning, the more I think about it, the more bearing what we discussed seems to have on our early 21st-century dysfunction as a society.

  • Our politics;
  • Our relationships;
  • Our family lives;
  • Our race-relations;
  • Our violence;
  • Our religious conflicts;
  • Our tragic need to present ourselves as “right” all the time;
  • Our brokenness;
  • Our fear…

I’ll share this short excerpt from the book we’re reading, then I’ll comment on how the scripture (above) spoke to my heart:

There is no better way to deal with insecurity and doubt than honesty. Authenticity turns out to be more closely related to strength than weakness; yet there we go, pretending, prevaricating, and twisting the truth, all because we don’t want to appear weak, or needy, or insufficient… But it’s Jesus who is sufficient, not us. We don’t need to worry about looking good; instead, we need to be concerned about our relationship to the Living God, and our faithfulness as followers of the Way. – In God’s Image, page 61

The scripture reading from Ephesians concludes with the following directive: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”


This really resonated with me because I’ve heard so much lately in the name of, “speaking the truth” that amounts to little more than name-calling, judgment, legalism, accusations, and the casting of aspersions. “I’m just telling it like it is!” and “I’m just being honest,” has very little to do with the Ephesians imperative to “speak the truth.”

In my men’s group we talked about being honest about ourselves – our vulnerabilities, our sin, our shortcomings, our fear, our doubts, our brokenness….

In other words, when we speak truth to our neighbors as a redeemed, forgiven, encouraging, Christ-centered faith community, then we speak from the context of the truth about ourselves and of who we are, and we experience reconciliation.

When we speak truth to our neighbors as a redeemed, forgiven, encouraging, Christ-centered faith community, then we speak from the context of the truth about ourselves and of who we are, and we experience reconciliation.

This idea of “calling out sin” in the other is usually a front for directing the incisive light of the gospel message away from our own sin. To be sure, there is a place for accountability in the body of Christ, but it can only come out of relationships steeped in trust, in love, in humility, and in the truth of mutual honesty.

Riots and blame and such:

So how does this have anything to say about the immediate world of riots and accusations and politics and anger and fear? Well, it is my considered opinion that the searchlight of truth is usually better employed to focus on ourselves, no matter who we are, and no matter what we are struggling with.

The searchlight of truth focused by the police force on itself. The searchlight of truth focused by offended minority communities on themselves. The searchlight of truth focused on our own hearts and motives and relationships….

Stop pointing the finger at the other. Start looking at ourselves, and be honest about our own sin, our own shortcomings, our own brokenness, our own fear, our own need for forgiveness.

Set up long tables on the streets and have communion together. Break the bread, not each other.

Break the bread, not each other…

Speak the truth of ourselves to one another – honest and vulnerable. “…to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”

In love, and because of love – DEREK


breathtaking landscape architecture and living as redeemed people…


Then the Lord God planted a garden in the East, in a place named Eden. He put the man he made in that garden. Then the Lord God caused all the beautiful trees that were good for food to grow in the garden. In the middle of the garden, he put the tree of life and the tree that gives knowledge about good and evil. – Genesis 2:8-9

img_5320This week my parents are hosting my aunt Dorothea and uncle John from England. Dorothea is my dad’s youngest sister. I’m helping out via transportation, a few meals, and general nephewness.

So Tuesday I drove them up to Richmond for lunch with Naomi and the grands, and a visit to Maymont Park. The park was a huge success, the grandchildren hammed it up for the camera, and I’ve decided I have to go back sometime soon – with my Nikon – to properly photograph the place!

What struck me about the park is the coming together of the natural beauty of Virginia’s landscape, and the creative overlay of people who work, and dream, and plant to make the landscape accessible, through the development of beautiful parks and gardens.

Privilege and Responsibility:


My faith tells me that God is the Creator, but also that God gave human beings the responsibility, the intelligence, and the imagination to take care of this good Earth. When God’s work and our grateful response come together, then the result is always wonderful.

In a couple of my books, I have defined salvation as “Getting on board with what God is up to;” 0r, “Participating in God’s ongoing work.” Romans 8 suggests that creation itself is anxious to see God’s children become more thoughtfully involved in following up on our responsibility to live as a redeemed people.

When I see beautiful landscape architecture such as Maymont Park, then I am reminded of what is possible if we – human beings – keep covenant with God rather than breaking it and pursuing our own selfish ends.

The greatest story ever told begins in a garden (Genesis), Jesus gave himself for us (and all creation) in a garden (the Gospels), then the narrative winds up in Revelation 22 with a new garden, one where we are seen as key players in “the healing of the nations.”


at Maymont in Richmond

The angel showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal. The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. It flows down the middle of the street of the city. The tree of life is on each side of the river, and it produces fruit every month, twelve times a year. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations. – Revelation 22: 1-2

Quite often (very often, in fact), God shows me the river of the water of life, and it really is as clear as crystal. I can’t understand why it is so difficult much of the time for us to see the way of Jesus, to sort through all the destructive rhetoric, and the divisive building up of our own kingdoms, and to simply enjoy our status as a redeemed people. Because – “with eager hope – the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay” (Romans 8:21).

Just some more faith to think about – DEREK


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beautiful skies, coolness, and the promise of fall

img_5292Like a deer drinking from a stream,
    I reach out to you, my God.
My soul thirsts for the living God.
    When can I go to meet with him?
Instead of food, I have only tears day and night,
    as my enemies laugh at me and say, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42)

Finally, here in Wake Forest, the heat seems to have broken and the promise of fall has seeped into the conversation. Not dramatically, but subtly, what I’ve been waiting for all summer is now looking more and more possible.

I have to laugh at myself, because this is the middle of September in North Carolina. Cooler temperatures will come, the leaves will change in a riot of uproarious color, there will be a crispness in the air.

But we lived in Florida so long (35 years for me) that sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s not going to be hot, humid, muggy, and uncomfortable, without hope of respite, for the balance of all eternity! So I simply have to believe, and have faith that the summer will be over.

img_5294So Monday evening, after supper, Scout and I took a short walk through the neighborhood, gratefully breathing in the possibilities. The sky was beautiful, the air was clear, and we both had a little extra spring in our step.

I know Fall is not really here yet, and we’re just splashing around on the edges of promise; but sometimes promise engaged is all it takes to free the spirit enough to embrace what is possible.

Sometimes promise engaged is all it takes to free the spirit enough to embrace what is possible.

And that – unintentionally – turned out to be my pivot into the devotional element of this post. Exactly how this conversation applies to being a faithful disciple, I’ll let you work out for yourselves.

Peace, blessings, and promise; always promise – DEREK


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Hocus-POTUS: Rethinking the Electoral College


overlooking Washington DC

This morning, while walking Scout Labradoodle and simultaneously catching up on a few social media messages (yes, I understand how silly this is; and, yes, I have – more than once – walked into a tree while reading and walking; and, yes I have repeatedly sworn never to to this again…) I came to a surprising new conclusion regarding the presidential election here in the USA.

I have – up to this point in time – held a position regarding presidential politics that I considered well-thought-out, practical, philosophically sound, and in the best interests of the American people. I believe it was grounded in research, history, moral integrity, and sound judgment.

But I was wrong…

It’s Okay to Change Our Minds:

Yes – and this is going to be the crucial point of this post – I have changed my mind. And in today’s political and religious climate, changing one’s mind seems to be largely verboten. In fact, people of conviction routinely refuse to even engage conversation about many issues. Why? Because, “I already know what I believe… I already know what the Constitution means… I already know what the Bible says… I already know all I need to know…”

Well, Mr./Ms. I Already Know All I Need to Know, bless your heart….

  • Little matter that every last one of us has something to learn, every day, about everything.
  • Little matter that the U.S. Constitution has actually been amended several times.
  • Little matter that people of supreme intelligence devote lifetimes to constitutional studies, and routinely disagree among themselves and change their personal positions.
  • Little matter that even God has changed God’s own mind any number of times.
  • Little matter that it’s far more important to be faithful than it is to be right…

But I digress. I’m here this morning to tell you that I disagree with myself and I’m doing an about face.

Scrap the Electoral College!

0501cover-ftrHere goes (and sorry to disappoint if you think this is a boring subject): I have changed my mind on the Electoral College. Short story, I think we should jettison the college and opt for an “every vote counts” popular vote election.

Why did I change?

Well, it goes back to one of the social media posts I was reading. A friend was passionately urging people to vote for his candidate, pointing out that standing on the sidelines is no way to participate in democracy. I heard his enthusiasm, I got his point, but then I realized he was living in a state that’s not even vaguely “battleground.” His candidate is slated to win handily, likely with a double-digit spread.

Here’s what suddenly “got” me. All but two states are “winner take all” for electoral votes. So it’s going to be the same number of electoral college votes, no matter how many more of my friend’s friends go to the polls.

I don’t believe a dozen or so battleground states (and, once again, I live in one today) should get to decide who is in the White House. I believe every American should own equal weight in the decision.

I believe every American should own equal weight in the decision.


twitter_cards_homepageOne more thing, but I’ll save writing about this for another post: I’m increasingly convinced the President of the United States should be non-partizan, the leader of the nation rather than the top Democrat or Republican. The way party politics look right now, such a move is imperative if we want to protect credibility and respect for the office going forward.

Anyway, that’s where I am. Thought you all should be the first to know that I still have a lot to learn about everything, a lot of listening to do, and a long way to go in terms of wisdom and understanding.

Peace – DEREK


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over the river and through the woods: living flat out!

Give this command to those who are rich with the things of this world. Tell them not to be proud. Tell them to hope in God, not their money. Money cannot be trusted, but God takes care of us richly. He gives us everything to enjoy. Tell those who are rich to do good—to be rich in good works. And tell them they should be happy to give and ready to share. By doing this, they will be saving up a treasure for themselves. And that treasure will be a strong foundation on which their future life will be built. They will be able to have the life that is true life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19


“Race you to grandmama’s”

One of the most fun aspects of the grandchild experience right now is the unabashed enthusiasm and goofiness. (To be completely honest I’m talking both about the kids and the grandparents.)

The children are so silly, and full with life, and they are reveling in the fun of it. We will welcome maturity when it comes, of course, but there’s something about the way children interact with and in the moment, without embarrassment, that refreshes my spirit.

The challenge is in teaching them to be circumspect without losing too much spontaneity or dulling their authenticity of spirit. “Yes” to ebullience, and “be careful” to tantrums and overreactions.

Real life can be costly:

We talked a little bit about this general idea in my Saturday morning Bible study. The topic was suffering, and how we respond to it as disciples of Jesus. We agreed that we learn and grow tremendously in response to struggle and hardship. But such growth can be extremely difficult, so sometimes we put our defenses up and try to avoid the pain; but such a level of self protection comes at a cost too, and that cost is often the joy, the transformation, the growth, the authenticity, the learning.

img_5261-1-001When we try to back off too much from what is hard, then we find out that what is easy is much less valuable.

When we try to back off too much from what is hard, then we find out that what is easy is much less valuable.

What my grandchildren are going to discover – and I believe they already are to some extent – is that we can  learn to be disciplined in our interactions and still engage this life full on and without compromise. 

But it’s tricky. What we need to achieve – not just the children but all of us – is a life that is grounded in a sense of responsibility, humility, and care for others… while at the same time unafraid to engage both the triumph and the tragedy that living like we mean it requires.


I think the children become good at this when they know how deeply loved they are, and when they are given the gift of safety and security by parents who never let any doubt creep in regarding the extent of their love and care….

… It’s exactly the same for us as adults. When we rest in the intimate knowledge of God’s unconditional, nurturing, permission-giving love, then we are foundationally equipped to live flat-out, grounded in care and motivated to serve.

Tell those who are rich to do good—to be rich in good works. And tell them they should be happy to give and ready to share. By doing this, they will be saving up a treasure for themselves. And that treasure will be a strong foundation on which their future life will be built. They will be able to have the life that is true life. – 1 Timothy 6

Peace on the journey – DEREK