stunning sunset photos and road-trip images

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One of the absolute best things I get to do as an author is to talk about faith at conferences and retreats. Here’s some relevant pre-retreat dialogue:

  • Unsuspecting pastor or men’s leader: “Wow, this Derek Maul guy’s a pretty good writer; let’s ask him to come talk for four hours over a weekend.”
  • Me: “OK. I’m in. Just tell me when and where.”
  • Me (to myself): “These people have no idea!”
  • Men’s group to unsuspecting pastor: “You’d better hope this guy’s not a dud…”
  • God to me: “Got your back, Derek; just leave this in my hands… but you’d better start praying hard…”

IMG_9316So I spent all day Friday driving to North East, Maryland. Sandy Cove Ministries. It wouldn’t be more than a six-hour drive… if I didn’t have to go through Richmond, and Washington, and Baltimore – on a Friday afternoon.

But I enjoyed the “motoring,” and arrived in good time to walk around the delightful community here, before spending the evening preparing for Saturday morning’s first talk.

Instead of more words, this morning’s post features some of the beautiful images I captured during the day – especially as the sun went down over the North East River estuary.

IMG_9335It’s not hard to experience the presence of God in a place like this. The challenge this weekend is to encourage a group of men to return home Sunday afternoon with the same quality of spiritual intention they brought with them to Sandy Cove.

Privileged to be anywhere on the Master’s business – DEREK

20 really cool images:

writing, “Wake Forest Today” and connecting with this community

my current mug shot at Wake Forest Today

my mug shot at Wake Forest Today

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

There’s no time to write a post this morning, so I’m simply pointing readers toward my weekly column at Wake Forest Today (new ones typically post every Friday).

Back when I was considering a writing career, it was my popular Tampa Tribune column, featured in the “regional weeklies,” that gave me the initial boost of confidence I needed. I was literally at the “Go, no-go” decision point when the Florida Press Association recognized Reading Between the Lines as the “best serious column” in the state.

I wrote about day-to-day life – faith, social issues, teaching, and family – and Reading Between the Lines ran in as many as six of the Tribune’s then eight local editions (Brandon, Plant City, Carrollwood, South Tampa, Sun City, North-East…) my work must have caught someone’s attention, at least for a little while.

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just a plaque – but it kept me going

So I’m thrilled to be able to share some current day commentary with my readers over at Wake Forest Today.

This week’s column is about my new glasses and “Fuzzy Vision.” Click on the link to check it out; you’ll likely want to bookmark the entire site.

Good reading to everyone, and have the kind of day you can’t help but be grateful for – DEREK

photos of color and promise #hope

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azaleas blooming at Maul-Hall

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. – Romans 13:8

This Paul quote from Romans is really good to read the day after April 15, “Tax Day” here in the USA. It’s a refreshing reminder of what really matters in a world where we are constantly clobbered with obligations, debts, taxes, bills, and more.

by the sidewalk on South Main

by the sidewalk on South Main

STRESS: I shared earlier that this has been a stressful week in a number of ways. That’s one reason that yesterday, when faced with one more experience I’d much rather have avoided, I walked the mile to the dentist’s office rather than drive.

Walking – like that quote from Romans – tends to put everything else into perspective.

It was an overcast day, with a little light drizzle mixed in. A day that I tend to describe as, “It’s a little British out there today!”

My walk takes me out of our cul-de-sac, up Holding Avenue, then along South Main Street and into downtown. The “picturesque” part of Main is north of town; but yesterday, dressed up in the fresh spring colors, I thought the old homes our end of Wake Forest looked grand.

I’ve included a few images, grabbed without pause while walking with my iPhone, but I think they get the point across.

IMG_9239THE POINT: And the “point” is this. The new life and fresh colors of spring bring out the best in these homes. My photographs aren’t “doctored,” and I didn’t spend time carefully finding the most flattering perspective. I was walking, fairly fast, so I just shot from the hip.

What made yesterday’s walk beautiful was the eyes I looked through, and the fact that the promise of spring is always more compelling than the clouds and the rain.

It’s also a theological truth; it’s what walking with God promises for our outlook, and the way that we interact with the world around us. Difficulty, stress, trouble, disappointment, computer crashes, lost glasses, financial anxiety, health concerns, work angst… you name it… the promise of the good news of the Gospel of Love is like new life, fresh growth, and spring color on a dismal, rainy day.

seeing clearly with new glasses too!

seeing clearly with new glasses too!

The promise of the good news of the Gospel of Love is like new life, fresh growth, and spring color on a dismal, rainy, day.

Can I get an “amen?” – DEREK

a little serenity in the storm…

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:1-4

IMG_9210This morning, deep in the middle of some very demanding work, fresh from wrestling with taxes (rendering unto Caesar), immersed in the testing logistics of setting up a complex event, and pouring every spare minute into my preparations for this weekend’s retreat in Maryland, I also find myself deeply grateful for the serene and renewing environment where I live and work.

DEEP BREATH: We live in a quiet cul-de-sac, full of towering pine trees. The dogwoods and the daffodils are just about done, but now the azaleas and the phlox are busting out in color. This morning – looking over toward my parents’ home and then their neighbor’s, I was struck by the profound but understated beauty.

With so much to do, I was (I am) reminded to pause, to take a few deep breaths, and to remember that this life is a gift to be celebrated and enjoyed.

It is too easy to become caught up in the mess that we have created, and forget the garden that God first placed us in.

There’s an idea from The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian (that’s my theme for this weekend’s retreat) that is on my heart and mind this morning.

IMG_9228“Pushing to the surface like insistent growth on a hopeful spring morning, my promise to follow Jesus finds its way, often one tentative footfall at a time. But it is progress all the same, and I know where I’m going; finding my way full circle; onward back to the garden.” (p 142)

In love, and because of the hope we can be sure of – DEREK

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rendering unto Caesar

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Then Jesus said unto them, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21 KJV

It seems to me that in this country – the United States of America – there’s really not a whole lot that we believe belongs to “Caesar,” to the government, or – for that matter – even God.

Problem is we think it’s all ours.

Mine, mine, mine, and I’ll give it away – or not – to anyone or anything that I choose. Nobody can tell me what to do with what’s rightfully mine!

But it isn’t ours, the Bible teaches. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.” Psalm 24:1

IMG_9220TAXES: This morning, just a few minutes ago, I hit “send” on the computer, and someone over at Wake Forest Federal Savings & Loan probably heard a loud sucking sound come from the vaults as a boatload of money was spirited away and into the coffers of the United States Treasury.

Ouch, that really, really hurt. Like they say, “That’s gonna leave a mark…’

At the same time, my men’s Saturday morning Bible-study is deep into a book about giving, generosity, stewardship of our resources, and “Living a biblical lifestyle.”

What is mine? What exactly does belong to the city? the state? The federal government? God?

MINE! When I collected money from my Wednesday evening group for the homeless outreach, and when we shared a meal with folk who live on the streets in our city (read “Feeding Jesus“), were we giving them something that was ours? Or were we simply returning to them what already belongs to all of us?

When my grandfather started his business, was it for the purpose of enriching himself? or did he use his resources and his gifts to create good-paying jobs for people in his community, and to fund missionary work overseas?

I am well housed. I can eat pretty much anything I like when I am hungry. I have decent clothing, and I everything else that I really need. I have running water, electricity, and reliable transportation. I feel safe, because I am. I am at liberty to travel, and I enjoy the freedom to write or share anything that I’m thinking with anyone that I want to.

I lack for nothing.

But is it mine? Or am I simply the interim caretaker of resources that have temporarily fallen into my purview.

GOD IS WITH US! I believe I am generous, and I say that I love to give things away. The one part of the tax return I enjoy is the place where I get to feel good about what we have donated to a variety of charitable ventures. But why should I take credit for generosity, when all we’re really doing is redistributing some of the bounty that has landed in our zone of operation?

Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple… In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one of God’s people. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'” – Zechariah 8:13,23

So I looked under every mattress, and in every corner, and under the seat cushions to scrape up enough in order to fund Uncle Sam for another year.

But it’s all right. Seriously. Because here’s what Rebekah and I think about money. We don’t work in order to earn money. We earn money so that we can do the work God has called us to do. I am quite confident that we will both be able to continue to apply all the creativity and passion and joy that we have to the important opportunities that are at hand.

my regular life

We don’t work in order to earn money. We earn money so that we can do the work God has called us to do.

Grateful – DEREK

IMG_9217Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin,[a] 20 he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” 

His reply amazed them, and they went away. – Mathew 22:15-22

feeding Jesus

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When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. – Luke 24:13-35

Good morning, friends! It’s been a busy weekend, loaded with challenge (lost glasses, crashed computers, poison-ivy…), opportunity (teaching, reaching out, mission to the homeless…), and blessing (pretty much everything, so long as we keep our eyes on Jesus).

IMG_9174I’ll post a photo gallery at the end that covers more, but for this morning’s writing I’m going to talk about Sunday afternoon’s outreach into downtown Raleigh.

This is a mission we share with other churches, but this weekend was an extra, as we filled in for a congregation that was unable to put a meal together this time. So 18 faithful Presbyterian disciples served dinner to around 85 homeless guests in the small park that stands between the governor’s mansion and the state legislature.

IMG_9180The operation is well organized (it’s been said that Sandie Buda could run a Fortune 500 company standing on her head!), so the practical part of serving ran like a well-oiled machine.

Consequently, many more of us were freed up to spend time with our guests, carrying trays, sitting down at table, helping them select from a huge table-full of new t-shirts and other necessary clothing.

I listened to some stories; I shared some encouragement, and – hopefully – we all communicated the most important message we had, and that is the liberating, reassuring, empowering fact that we are all God’s children, and that God loves and values us with unqualified affection, and with complete love.

I was asked to share a brief devotion and prayer before the meal. What I said, essentially and to the best of my recollection, was this:

IMG_9191“My name is Derek, and we’re here from Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. It is our privilege to serve you this afternoon.

“In church this morning we talked about the two disciples who were walking along the Road to Emmaus a couple of days after Jesus was crucified. A man joined them on the road, but they didn’t recognize that is was Jesus. Later, when they sat down to share a meal together, they realized who it was who had joined them.

“Whatever is going on in our lives, we often fail to recognize the fact that Jesus wants to walk with us.

“So I want to encourage everyone to keep their eyes open, and to have a welcoming heart. Don’t eat alone, share what you have, and cultivate an open heart. You never know when – in the breaking of the bread – you’re going to realize that it’s Jesus who is your guest.

Today is a good day to be grateful, and to be generous – DEREK

as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord (worship seems the only reasonable response…)

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Spring breaking out around Wake Forest Presbyterian Church

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols… Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served…? Or will it be the gods of the land where you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15

sunlight and fresh green

sunlight and fresh green

LOVELY: Saturday around Wake Forest was, in a word, spectacular. Spring in every possible way that springtime can be lovely. Beyond beautiful.

Rebekah and I sat on the deck together, drinking tea, and we simply breathed in the realization that we are so incredibly blessed.

In fact, if you experienced any of the Saturday we saw in Tyler Run, then heading into church tomorrow morning for worship could be the only reasonable response.

  • Soccer game on the calendar? Sorry, but we feel this overwhelming urge to attend church, and to say “thank-you” to God.
  • Golf outing scheduled? Maybe later; but right now there’s nothing my soul can imagine but heartfelt worship.
  • Long, lazy brunch? Great idea; but let’s put that off till after we show up at the 9:00 Praise Service and spend some time with God.
  • Head for the beach or the mountains? Good call, but how about we all head over to WFPC first and get our worship on…?

That’s just how I’m seeing things this pure and beauty-saturated Sunday morning; it’s the only way I can imagine responding to this amazing gift.

IMG_9119HERBS: One exceptional treat I enjoyed this Saturday afternoon involved watching Rebekah and her green thumb as she got her hands dirty getting my “kitchen herb-garden” rolling for the new season.

The Italian Parsley is coming back from the winter, and so is the Silver Thyme; I’m not sure about the Oregano, but we’re giving it some time. Rebekah did, however, put in some new sweet basil, some purple basil, a little Rosemary, and some Mint.

Cooking with fresh herbs, grown where I can step out from the kitchen and cut them from our own deck, is beyond good.

PRAISE: The Bible talks about the entire sum of creation taking the initiative to praise God. This week I have heard creation loud and clear.

As human beings, blessed in so many ways, heading over to our local church this morning for an hour or so is the least we can do…

Grateful – DEREK

Gallery of Saturday shots:

 

 

 

lost in the fog…

Then the eyes of those who can see will no longer be blind,
    the ears of those who can hear will listen,
    the minds of the rash will know and comprehend,
    and the tongues of those who stammer will speak fluently and plainly. Isaiah 32:3-4

trying out new glasses

trying out new glasses

Here’s a bizarre story for you. It still doesn’t make sense to me; but it happened, and it’s the reason I spent Friday morning at the optometrist getting my eyes examined.

First, I have this whole history of losing my glasses. It’s one reason I moved from readers to progressive lenses 15 years ago. The readers just couldn’t keep up with me, and I’d have as many as four pair AWOL at any given time. So, when my mid-range started to get blurry too, I moved to eliminate the need to ever put them down and got a prescription pair that would stay on my face 100% of the time.

It worked. Until Thursday night, that is. I still don’t know exactly what happened.

STORY: Here’s the short story. I walked Scout Labradoodle, got caught in heavy rain, and came in through the garage to dry off. I pulled my glasses off before drying my hair, toweled off the dog, then reached for my glasses to put them back on. Couldn’t find them.

After ten minutes of searching I found one lens, still wet. But no glasses. I hadn’t moved from the one spot where I stood to dry off the dog. I searched for an entire hour, Rebekah helped. We expanded our search to the entire garage. Nothing. In the morning we searched again. No glasses. No sign. No clue.

not her best look!

not her best look!

So I headed to the optometrist, where I received the best possible help from my good friend Terry Anderson. Fresh exam (it had been a decade), new prescription, new glasses on order.

So this morning, and for 6-7 more days, I’ll be using a pair of reading glass for the computer, and generally moving around in a partially disoriented fog where nothing is as clear as it could be.

FOG: I’ll be OK. Driving is not an issue. But that last phrase kind of sticks with me – “Generally moving around in a partially disoriented fog where nothing is as clear as it could be” – talk about a helpful metaphor for living without the benefit of an active relationship with God!

Jesus talked a lot about seeing clearly, and putting on our listening ears. I’m convinced that it is impossible to fully experience “the life that is truly life” until we first begin to work on the primary relationship we were created to enjoy.

There is a beautiful clarity to walking with Jesus.

these are the ones!

these are the ones!

It’s going to be an interesting few days, waiting for my new eyes. I pray that I will be open to learning everything God wants to teach me through the experience.

– DEREK

 

 

 

“God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good” #North Carolina Spring

DSC_0069SPRING ROCKS! People have asked me to identify my favorite season here in North Carolina. I’d have to say, regardless of the time of year, “The one we’re in right now.”

One of the many features I love about our new home is the fact that we get to enjoy all four seasons. Currently, we’re in the heart of Spring, and thus far March and April have been beautiful. Full with color, fresh growth, and a visual landscape that’s changing daily as new plants and trees respond to the progression of time with buds, blossoms, leaves, and new life.

I fully intend to do a “walk through” of downtown with my good camera, but I haven’t managed it yet, and I fear I may have missed some of the showiest photo-ops. I did, however, take a few moments Friday to capture some of the beauty at church and then along Durham Road. I think the pictures tell the story well enough.

DSC_0067It’s a story, of course, that repeats itself every year. There is a rhythm to the seasons – birth, growth, fruit, harvest, death, and then rebirth – that echos a fundamental truth that resides in the heart of each one of us, irrespective of how we understand it.

That truth is the imperative, the initiative, and the insistence of life. And I have found – and continue to find – that a faithful relationship to the author and the sustainer of all life connects me to the natural rhythm of creation, and recreation, engrafting my spirit into the deep truth that springtime is nothing more – and certainly nothing less – than a theological statement about the relationship of God’s children to eternity.

Enjoy the photographs, and ask God to breath new life into the foundational roots of your spirit as children of God, sisters and brothers to Jesus, and faithful stewards of this good creation,

DSC_0101God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.

There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.Genesis 1:27-31

– DEREK

 

 

 

 

 

some tweetable God

Drinking coffee, enjoying God's word...

Drinking coffee, enjoying God’s word…

The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.”Hebrews 1:3 NLT

(Note, the “very character(s) of God” would either be much more than 140, or just the 5 J-E-S-U-S…)

TWEETABLE: Last year I was invited to be a “Contributing Blogger” at the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. The badge adds a little Bible-cred to my site, there’s a link to this blog on their network, and the only quid pro quo is me remembering to link back to Bible Gateway when I quote scripture.

So this morning I’ll acknowledge Bible Gateway’s “verse of the day” as my source for the scripture quoted above (although, interestingly, the passage also popped up in our daily Upper Room meditation at breakfast).

The reference caught me off-guard (as God’s word often does), because I read it directly after thinking, “I wonder what I can write that is so pithy, deep, profound, and tweetable that people’s lives are encouraged, blessed, and transformed…?”

So immediately, just to underline the obvious, God steers me to just such a scripture. “If you’re not quite up to it, Derek,” God points out, “I have some nice stuff in Hebrews you could use…”

Touché. Okay, God, good point.

I also appreciate the translation in the Common English Bible (CEB): “The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message…”

reflecting on God's good word

reflecting on God’s good word

CARRY THE LIGHT: I like the expression, “The light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being.” This actually turns out to be part of the package when it comes to being an active follower of the Living Way of Jesus. We are invited to be the presence of Christ in this world, and in particular in the immediate vicinity of our individual lives – at home, in the workplace, out and about in the community, and where we gather to worship.

God not only acknowledged by us, but God in us; God’s light; God’s love.

You, carrying the imprint of God’s being.

Now that’s tweetable!

– DEREK