are you angry… or absorbed into God’s wide-as-the-ocean love?

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Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heaven above;
Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Savior’s love.
I, though so unworthy, still am a child of His care;
For His Word teaches me that His love reaches me everywhere. – Charles Miles (1914)

There’s a lot to be said for sunshine, but I’ll admit I also enjoy the occasional cool, wet, rainy week. These last couple of days here have been classic examples of “It’s a little British outside.” But what better weather for getting comfortable, enjoying a pot of coffee, and writing my heart out?

This wet week is especially timely in light of all the new planting in our garden, and the cooler temperatures (yesterday never made its way out of the 50’s) are a refreshing reminder that we live in a part of the country where spring is an actual season rather than a wistful idea.

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wet, cool spring day

ANGER! I may be naïve, but I find myself honestly amazed – “nonplussed” may be an even better word – at how readily so many people fail to appreciate the day to day blessings of the life we enjoy. Instead of humble gratitude and a consequent generosity of spirit, we seem to have become a nation where the most important question is,”What are you angry about?”

This phenomenon is abundantly evident in the politics of 2016. And it’s sadly true in religion, too, where it doesn’t seem to be okay anymore to appreciate one another’s diversity while worshipping together in grateful unity, with the understanding that we’re all a little bit wrong and that’s why we need Jesus – and each other.

I am convinced that the practice of deliberately sowing seeds of discontent, and actively promoting disunity plays directly into the hands of the powers of darkness. When people of faith allow themselves to be manipulated by fear and anger (or other people’s fear and anger) it sends the world the message that the gospel is ineffectual.

WIDE AS THE OCEAN! Think about that for a moment. When we know Jesus and the liberating power of his wide-wide-as-the-ocean embrace, we need not fear what we don’t understand! When we allow ourselves to be absorbed into God’s deep-deep-as-the-deepest-sea love then we have the confidence to give all our concerns over to God!

Life is good! God’s love for us is broad and expansive, and there is room in it for both us and the people we think have their theology, their doctrine, and their politics all wrong. It’s okay!

Those people who are confused and flat-out wrong are still loved by God’s deep as the deepest sea love. When I am wrong, and when you – “though so unworthy” – are wrong, there is still room in God’s wide as the ocean embrace; you – I – “still am a child of his care”.

IMG_1092-001If it’s something you cannot handle, then be sure that it’s something God absolutely can handle. In the meanwhile, be grateful for the massive, huge, epic, generous, merciful love of God that brings us together, and worship – with your errant, unworthy brothers and sisters – in spirit and in truth.

“For his word teaches me that his love reaches me – everywhere!”

Can I get an Amen? – DEREK

learning from the labradoodle #Lifeisgood!

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17

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Scout loves her mama!

Yesterday, Scout Labradoodle turned ten. According to the “Pedigree Dog Age Calculator,” that makes her the equivalent of 75 human years. She’s officially a “senior” dog with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities appertaining – not to mention the opportunities, loopholes, and advantages.

Scout is already – and has been for some time – on the high maintenance plan, meaning more pills, shots, allergies, and tests than I’d ever believed possible. But she is happy, she is grateful, and she loves her people with every ounce of her seventy-four pound being.

IMG_1790-001Her mama was a mid-sized black lab; her dad was a large standard poodle. So she has the tail-wagging good nature of the lab mixed in with the cocky smarts of the poodle; it’s a great combination.

ALASKA: Scout was born the same day our family boarded the Alaska-bound cruise ship in Seattle, where Naomi met Craig, and the Maul family kicked off the most incredible decade of growth and change.

A few weeks later Rebekah found Scout, and first introduced our new family member to me via a, “You’ll never guess what I’ve got in my car” phone call. And so the great adventure began.

Scout is Rebekah’s dog, and one of her favorite photos is this one from when she was still a puppy, not yet a year old. As you can see, I am blessed to be able to take photographs of such naturally beautiful subjects.

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2006-2007

I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating. There is so much I could learn from Scout’s orientation toward life. She lives great theology; she is simply grateful, all the time. “I love you people! I love my bowl of dog food! This is the best day ever! Thank you so much for coming home! I love my family! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Life is good; it really is. And I am so very grateful.

– DEREK

(Enjoy the photo-shoot gallery!)

 

a funny story and a word about excellence

“I would give the best wheat to my people.
    I would give them the purest honey, until they were satisfied.” – Psalm 81:16

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image from the web

This morning I’ll post a fun grocery store story that’s earned a few chuckles over the past few days.

I was waiting to check-out, and couldn’t help but notice the jammed full and piled high cart of the woman next to me in line. It was stuffed to the gills with packages of hamburger, corn dogs, chips, bread, gallons of milk and chocolate milk, cookies, more chips, more cookies, sugary kids’ cereals, ice-cream, french fries, chicken nuggets, white bread, soda, and more….

She noticed me looking and smiled. “How many kids?” I asked.

“Just two,” she said; “they’re ten and twelve. You?” She peered into my cart appraisingly; it was less than half-full, with very little packaged food, featuring mostly fresh meats and produce, a variety of cheeses, whole-grain bread, fresh fruits, and craft beer.

“We have two,” I replied. “But now they live in Virginia and Uzbekistan.”

IMG_1761“Oh, an empty nest,” she said, her gaze drifting back between my cart and her own overflowing load.” I guess that means lower grocery bills?”

“No,” I responded without hesitation. “Better food.”

GOD GOT MY ATTENTION: The incident was funny for a number of reasons. But mostly the interaction made me think that her cart was a metaphor for the way we tend to consume across the board – not just food but resources, time, and priorities.

We routinely load up on spiritual junk food, we invest our resources based on the mantra that “more is better,” we prioritize our time and attention in response to “the munchies” rather than healthy balance, and – this is the sad part – we end up increasingly unsatisfied because we fail to nourish ourselves with “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, [priorities of] excellence and [life choices] worthy of praise…” (Philippians 4:8)

But we don’t listen, we won’t listen, and we end up pilling on more and more of what will never satisfy. It’s an age-old issue for us as human beings, and the psalmist lamented the condition in this way:

“But my people did not listen to me.
    Israel did not obey me.
 So I let them go their own stubborn way
    and do whatever they wanted.
 If my people would listen to me
    and would live the way I want,
 then I would defeat their enemies.
    I would punish those who cause them trouble.
 Those who hate the Lord would shake with fear.
    They would be punished forever.
 I would give the best wheat to my people.
    I would give them the purest honey, until they were satisfied.” – Psalm 81

“I would give you the best,” God promises, “and you would be satisfied!”

– DEREK

Love is also an English Garden

 

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My soul, praise the Lord!
    Every part of me, praise his holy name!
 My soul, praise the Lord
    and never forget how kind he is!
 He forgives all our sins
    and heals all our sicknesses.
 He saves us from the grave,
    and he gives us love and compassion. – Psalm 103: 1-4

GARDEN OVERWHELM: One of the big challenges about having two houses next door to one another is staying on top of both gardens. Long story short, it’s not happening! I’m way behind, due to time, a couple of bad allergy weeks, my chronic lack of gardening zeal, and a dozen other really good excuses!

I’ve shared some posts this spring about the good progress we’re making with the Maul-Hall garden (the right of the lead picture) but next door I’ve barely stayed up with mowing, let alone the fine-tuning and imagination a good garden requires.

Enter good – really good – Wake Forest Presbyterian friends stage left.

IMG_1684GARDEN HELP! My friend Larry thinks my mum and dad deserve a really good English Country Garden. I’m inclined to agree, but there’s no way I can make it happen. So last year Larry put in close to 500 daffodil bulbs in the back garden. This year he’s gone bonkers in the front.

There’s so much cool stuff in this garden now I can’t even keep up with the names. But there is one classification/genus/species that’s taking root beautifully, and it’s called “love.” Love does a lot in our community, and one of the things it’s doing around here is making my parents’ garden beautiful.

And that makes me happy.

We talked yesterday in this blog about the best ways to communicate the good news of the Gospel of Love. Well Larry is doing it in a way that brings the beauty of God’s creativity into my parents’ front garden, and it serves as such a true and eloquent testimony to the good news.

IMG_1749I talk about my grateful heart a lot in this space. Well I can’t say enough. So I’ll default to a good old standard; you can sing along to any tune that you’re familiar with and that blesses your soul.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise God all creatures here below; Praise God above you heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” – Psalm 103:2

Check out some of the progress at my mum and dad’s front garden in the photo gallery below (and feel free to come pull weeds whenever you’re in the neighborhood!).

Peace and blessings – DEREK

the most effective way to share the gospel

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Cultivating a Servant’s Heart:

Sometimes there’s so much going on around here I’m tempted to journal two or three times a day! I know today’s post is going to end up looking like I’m trying to build my Pinterest presence, but if I had to pick one focus from Sunday I’m going with WFPC’s afternoon “Ladies’ Spring Tea.”

The gathering was designed to be fun. Women were encouraged to come with their daughters and/or mothers; there was dressing up, the wearing of fancy hats, a photography booth, and bringing along a favorite doll with a memory to share.

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well-oiled machine!

What made the event special for me was the group of men who handled the serving and clean-up. Around 20 guys worked the afternoon in some capacity, and my privilege was to be part of the “elite squad” of ninja servers, ten men who worked as a well-oiled machine (!!!), swooping in and out (under the direction of maître d’ Robert Deeprose) to take care of the 90 ladies who graced the CLC.

Simply put, it was fun. Hard work, but fun.

POWERFUL LESSON: To me, the afternoon illustrated something powerfully true about church life here. Some of our women were talking to me about “how delightfully positive” it is to be around other people in our church, about the fact that it just feels good, and right, and encouraging to be together.

She put her finger on one of the most effective witnessing tools The Church (around the world) has at its disposal, and that’s the fact that – as Jesus pointed out time and again – “The world will know that God sent me because of the love you have for one another.”

  • Not, “The world will be impressed with your strident doctrinal purity…”
  • Not, “The world will come to know my love because of your energetic judgment…”
  • Not, “The lost will find their way home following the bright light of your unbending dogma…”
  • Not, “People will be reconciled with God as a result of your skill in pointing out their sin…”
  • Not, “God’s great love will be communicated best if you continually argue and fight about how right you are and how wrong ‘those other churches’ are…”

But, “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 13:24-25

IMG_1722FAMOUS! I don’t need to point out the hugely obvious and sad fact that The Christian Church is very well known in this country as a place routinely and repeatedly split asunder by exactly the opposite of the vision Jesus Christ had for his body.

Telling the truth about the beauty of the Gospel of Love via the way that we do community is pretty much the only credible card we have to play in terms sharing the light of God in this broken world.

I am so pleased to be part of a faith community where we are beginning to wrap our hearts and minds around the power of this truth.

Telling the truth about the beauty of the Gospel of Love via the way that we do community is pretty much the only credible card we have to play in terms sharing the light of God in this broken world.

May we all learn to serve one another in this way – DEREK

 

 

why worship is so important to real life

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9:00 Worship – WFPC, April 17, 2016

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’m going to post this early, just in case these words reach anyone who has yet to make up their mind about going to church today. Speaking from my heart, I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be. Fact is, whatever else is pressing, or looks important, or is occupying your attention – nothing comes close to the sense of connection, the “rightness,” the soul-satisfying completeness of spending that short hour in worship.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that quality of life Jesus offers – “Real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10, The Message), “the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19) – is essentially dependent on being fully engaged in a vibrant faith community.

I believe (especially in a sparkling, passionate, all-about-Jesus church like ours) that the sense of “electricity,” the “buzz” you feel coming into the sanctuary, is only possible in the context of the community of faith. Here at WFPC there is always a palpable sense of anticipation, first in the CLC at 9:00, and then in the sanctuary at 11:15. It’s not an expectation of entertainment, but a sure knowledge that the reality of God’s presence is not only “in this place” but resident in the hearts of the people too.

Energy like that feeds me; it nourishes me, it strengthens me, and it equips me for the Monday-Saturday to come.

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Rebekah speaking

God’s spirit is welcomed, active, and up to something extremely special at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. If you haven’t experienced something like that before, or in a long time, then come join us today! If you live somewhere else, then I recommend that you show up at your local faith community expecting to meet God, to be encouraged, and to be blessed.

There is nothing more wonderful on a Sunday morning that to gather with God’s good people, and to devote an hour to renewal and worship. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you are in your faith journey; God will meet you this morning, if only you open your heart.

I’ll see you in church!

 

good publicity and why YOU are so important to me

But before people can pray to the Lord for help, they must believe in him. And before they can believe in the Lord, they must hear about him. And for anyone to hear about the Lord, someone must tell them.- Romans 10:14

Screen Shot 2016-04-029Over the course of a decade I likely published upwards of two thousand “profile” articles in various Tampa area news outlets. My column featured local personalities, business owners, preachers, authors, politicians, and more.

Once in a while the tables get turned, and a small portion of that helpful media exposure shines the spotlight on my work.

That’s what happened in Tampa last week, via local editions of The Osprey Observer, when writer Andria Barrios did a creditable job reporting on my recent release, Pilgrim in Progress: notes from the journey.

Here’s the link to the article: “Popular Christian Author, Columnist Publishes Latest Book.

PUBLICITY: Generating exposure of this quality is one of the huge benefits of placing work with an established publishing house (as I did with Upper Room Books for seven years). Publicity is everything when it comes to establishing a toe-hold in the market, and getting my name “out there” is one of the reasons I am so very grateful when readers choose to share my work with their friends via social media.

If anything, the quality of these latest two books (Pilgrim in Progress, and In God’s Image) is my best to date; but – absent the support of the trade – only a handful of people have any idea they even exist!

This is where you come in (if – of course – you’re willing to help). If you really are on board, then here’s what you can do:

  1. Share – and recommend – links to my work on your social media account.
  2. Purchase “Pilgrim in Progress” and/or “In God’s Image.”
  3. Write a positive review to post on Amazon.
  4. Buy copies of these books for your friends.
  5. Get a copy for your pastor, or small group leader, at the church you attend.
  6. Lead a study based on one of these books.
  7. If you are a pastor or leader, recommend these books as an alternative to the expected “everyone is reading them” selections.

41fRYB7nCnL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_THE NEW BOOKS: 

Pilgrim in Progress: notes from the journey is an inspirational memoir of sorts, a series of 99 short chapters covering topics such as life, faith, church, travel, scripture, and – most powerfully – the weeks leading up to and immediately following my brother Geoff’s death.

If you want to get an unvarnished look at life, and what I think about just about everything, then Pilgrim in Progress is going to be a great read for you.

(Click here for more information…)

BookCoverPreview - In God's ImageIn God’s Image: what the New Testament teaches about being a man is designed as an eight-week study, suitable for individuals, small groups, or an entire church. The book takes seriously the idea that human beings are created in the image of God, and then asks us to take a long, hard look at how we reflect God’s likeness in the way that we live as Christians.

Men are specifically targeted because, in my estimation, there is a boatload of misinformation circulating when it comes to the biblical idea of manhood. What does a man made in God’s image look like in this 21st Century? What can we learn from the witness of the New Testament? Do we have any room for growth as Followers of the Living Way?

(Click here for In God’s Image…)

THANKS! So I’d like to thank you in advance for your help in spreading the word. Just a couple of weeks of solid sales would propel these new books into noticeable positions on the lists. Once that happens, who knows how God will choose to use such an opportunity to share some good news about the amazing reach of the Gospel of Love?

Peace, love, and blessings – DEREK

 

 

 

 

 

there’s a lot of “kairos” at the beach

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This post is my “wrap-up” from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I’ve gone back through the week to share new images that didn’t necessarily fit the previous stories.

I’m a writer first, but this kind of vacation tends to communicate best via photographs. There’s a deep tranquility built into the place where the ocean meets the land, and I believe it’s because the shore is such a perfect metaphor for the juxtaposition of the physical and the spiritual, the meeting place of mortality and immortality, the idea of time washing against eternity.

DSC_0206Time certainly does move differently at the beach. I’ve always understood that time is a more complex, harder to define concept than the seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years we impose to try to account for it.

Our measurements are calibrated in relation to the rotation of the earth on its axis, and its progress through space in relation to our sun. At the same time, this solar system is hurtling through deep space as part of a galaxy, which in turn moves in relation to other galaxies, and as part of a complex dance of expansion we are only now beginning to understand.

At the beach all of that drops away, and what we understand as chronos time is essentially irrelevant. I like that. In fact, the more advanced in chronos I become (remember I turned 60 just a month ago) the less the passage of time seems relevant to my experience of life.

DSC_0223I guess that’s fortunate, seeing as I have a lot less chronos – quantitatively – in my future than before. So instead I am enjoying it qualitatively, and that turns out to be more of a spiritual – or kairos – reality. There’s lots of kairos at the beach.

Peace – in every way – DEREK

(enjoy this last collection of photos from the Outer Banks)

Manteo, Raleigh, and the politics of the Lost Colony

IMG_1652-002Wednesday Rebekah and I woke up on the Outer Banks, worked our way slowly back home, via Manteo, then went to sleep in our own beds here in Wake Forest. Along the way we enjoyed some more natural beauty, and we learned some interesting history – it’s all good.

Manteo sits on Roanoke Island, the site of the ill-fated 1587 “Lost Colony.” So we checked in at Fort Raleigh, then enjoyed one last seafood lunch in town. Manteo is a great little town. It’s walkable, has some good restaurants, and features a beautiful waterfront.

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Manteo waterfront

It was the perfect way to wrap up a relaxing three day trip. We enjoyed getting away for a while, and my parents were delightful company. Rebekah and I feel like we’ve got to know one more aspect of North Carolina; and – as always thus far – we really like what we see.

LOST COLONY: The story of The Lost Colony has been working at the back of my mind, so I’ll share some of my thoughts and – hopefully – make some sense.

I’m a fairly good student of history. I especially like learning about real people and the way their stories overlap with the big picture of history. It seems to me that the people in The Lost Colony were pawns in a much bigger game played by people like Walter Raleigh.

Raleigh was trying to convince Elizabeth l that she should put the weight and prestige of royal resources behind colonization. He envisioned his new settlement as a base for privateers who would attack Spanish treasure ships and enrich the crown (and himself).

He advertised what became The Lost Colony as an easy opportunity for young families; they would each receive 500 acres of pristine land, they’d be welcomed by friendly natives, and they would quickly establish themselves as a prosperous English community.

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David and Grace Maul on Roanoke Island

Instead, they were left on Roanoke Island in difficult conditions, found themselves near indigenous people who had already been brutally attacked by an earlier expedition, and had none of the advantageous circumstances and resources promised in the sign-up brochure. Their leader, John White, soon returned to England for supplies, but he was unable to get back to Roanoke Island for a full three years. When he did, there was no sign – not a trace – of the 115 colonists.

The fate of The Lost Colony, according to historians, remains a mystery.

NO MYSTERY: But it’s no mystery to me what happens when government – and the politics of ambition, narcissism (Sir Walter Raleigh), and spin – rides roughshod over the lives of the people it is supposed to serve.

I can only pray that leaders will emerge who are less interested in themselves and their own ambition than they are the lives of the people they have sworn to serve. And I don’t mean serve the rich and the powerful, but serve the least among us – like those colonists who trusted people like Walter Raleigh with everything that they had.

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:37-40

 

shine in me, shine through me #lighthouses

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 “You are the light that shines for the world to see. You are like a city built on a hill that cannot be hidden. People don’t hide a lamp under a bowl. They put it on a lampstand. Then the light shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

Tuesday we had a closer look at the 1875 Currituck Beach lighthouse. It’s a phenomenal piece of engineering, 162 feet tall, 220 steps, and more than one million bricks.

The structure is commanding, sleek, beautiful – a real work of art. None of that matters, however, if the light doesn’t shine. It’s an aid to navigation, not a piece of public art; Currituck Beach lighthouse tells ships exactly where the land is, and it tells ships exactly where they are too.

DSC_0309I like the lighthouse metaphor for the church. Church is not only a beacon that lets people know about the Good News, but a fixed point of reference that helps the world navigate troubled waters. The church is not only supposed to let people know where it is, it’s supposed to let them know where they are too.

Faith is not so much a “bridge over troubled water” as it is a help when it comes to navigating through difficult waters. We are best when we are a light fixed to the solid rock that is Jesus. The waves crash, the billows roll, the tempest rages… the lighthouse stands.

In the late 19th Century, three families were commissioned to take care of the Currituck Lighthouse. They ran shifts, including tending the light during the night. You see it isn’t enough for the beacon to shine when it is convenient; the light must be visible at all times – most especially times that are inconvenient.

LET YOUR LIGHT SO SHINE: The time it’s most critically important that the light of Jesus be evident in me is likely the time I feel the least inclined to shine. The team of families that ran the lighthouse remind me of my sisters and brothers at WFPC. It’s not only challenging to shine all by ourselves, it’s effectively impossible. We must lean on one another; we must encourage other believers; we must be able to trust other light-keepers; we must be ready to hold one another up when our witness needs a boost.

IMG_1631DUCK: Rebekah and I rounded off the day with a walk along the shoreline in Duck (we were looking for Duck Donuts, but that’s another story..). What a lovely community. The entire economy of Duck hinges on its ability to communicate the core message, the idea that Duck is a beautiful place where people want to be.

I wonder, how are we doing in that regard as The Church (Christendom)? How are we doing as a church (WFPC)? Are we shining with such integrity and with such signal brilliance that the Kingdom of God is presented as a beautiful place where people want to be? It’s called The exhibition of the Kingdom, and it’s a huge part of our core mission. We’re not just called to guard the light, we are called to be the light…

– DEREK