didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? (preaching to the choir)

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the choir at WFPC

This is one of those blog posts that is a response to a question. And, like most such posts, I’m probably giving a bigger answer than the question begs. But I’m an over-thinker; always have been; that’s just what writers do.

The question came out of a hymn. Or, more properly, a spiritual. Here’s the text (I’ll paste in the whole song at the end of this post):

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
Deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel?
Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
But why not every man?

The question concerns the phrase “But/and why not every man?”

IMG_0455Obviously, this song emerged from the context of oppression and slavery; not just one individual’s experience, but a systematic oppression that was the living reality of an entire people. The idea that their God – the same God who kept Daniel safe in a den of lions, protected three men thrown into an incinerator, and facilitated the safe passage of Jonah in the belly of a huge fish – offers hope and the promise of deliverance to people bound in slavery, is a beautiful and transformational truth on every level.

PROBLEM: The problem with a song like this comes when we apply the story of Daniel as a prooftext, as a formula, or as a “name it and claim it” principle.

But the Bible is not a handbook of magic spells, nor is it a recipe book that details how God is supposed to respond if we line things up just so; it’s not a talisman, and it’s not a document we can use to manipulate God into giving us what we want. No, the Bible is a collection of writings that tell the ongoing story of humankind’s struggle to know, to understand, and to follow the Creator.

Sometimes that struggle yields epic tales, but the point of these stories is not the fact that things worked out nicely for the heroes, the point is that they were courageous strugglers. You see, the Daniel story is more about obedience than it is about deliverance.

Daniel didn’t enter the lion’s den with the expectation of deliverance so much as he was thrown in as a consequence of obedience.

“The Hebrew children,” were dumped into the incinerator because of their faithfulness to God; had they died, the story would have been just as powerful. Jonah didn’t survive three days in a fish because he prayed correctly, or did things right – he lived because he couldn’t escape the reach of God’s claim on his life.

WilliamTyndale1THE POINT: Yesterday evening my men’s group talked about the death of William Tyndale in 1536. He was burned at the stake because he translated the Bible into the English language (more about this in tomorrow’s post).

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? But why not William Tyndale?

The point of these stories is not escape, but obedience, love, grace, and faithfulness: Daniel’s obedience, the Hebrew children’s uncompromising love for God, God’s grace toward Nineveh, William Tyndale’s faithfulness.

The point for the enslaved people who first sang the spiritual was God’s greatness, their hope, their trust in God, their spiritual deliverance; the point for all oppressed peoples today remains the promise of God’s love and grace.

WHY SING IT TODAY? The point of singing such a song in the air-conditioned comfort of a prosperous church in a free country is this:

  • To remind ourselves that God’s love is not exclusive,
  • To remind ourselves that God’s promises are for all people,
  • To remind ourselves that nothing human beings do to one-another can imprison a soul,
  • To remind ourselves that we, too, can be enslaved by sin,
  • To remind ourselves that God is not finished with us yet,
  • and – maybe most importantly… to remind ourselves that there is nothing we can do to free ourselves from what binds us, only Jesus can do that.
Rebekah enjoyed singing with the chorus

Rebekah enjoyed singing with the chorus

And, finally, the point for me is the integrity of my witness to God’s faithful love. That’s my struggle.

– DEREK

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
Deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel?
Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
And why not every man?

He delivered Daniel from the lion’s den
And Jonah from the belly of the whale
And the Hebrew children from the fiery furnace
Why not every man?

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
Deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel?
Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
And why not every man?

The moon runs down in a purple stream
And the sun refused to shine
And every star did disappear
Yes, freedom shall be mine

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
Deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel?
Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
And why not every man?

Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
Deliver Daniel, deliver Daniel?
Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?
And why not every man?

reason to get up in the morning

“For I want you to understand what really matters…” – Paul, Philippians 1

Derek Maul

Derek Maul

This morning I’m heading out the door fairly early, so just a short post for today.

AGING: I’ve been listening to a series of TED-talks on the aging process (NPR’s The TED RADIO HOUR). It’s been an interesting discussion, and there are a lot of theories in play regarding how we can increase our life span.

Personally, I’m not so much concerned with living longer as I am about living like I mean it. If I pass away when I’m 100, 75, or next week, it’s important to me that I have lived every moment to its fullest, that I have loved well, and that I have appropriately utilized the gift of life that I have been entrusted with. That is a day-to-day question, and it trumps every other concern regarding age or health.

One interesting segment reported on the inhabitants of a region where the average life-span is a good 20 years more than that in the USA. Other than obvious benefits such as walking every day and a balanced diet, the finding that stood out for me was the fact that the local word for “life” translated into English as, “Reason to get up in the morning…”

What they are talking about is purpose. Without purpose, we die.

I like the way Paul addresses this fundamental idea in Philippians 1:8-11. And I’ll leave it with you as my short thought for the day.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

“For I want you to understand what really matters…” Peace – DEREK

moving forward – back to the garden

enjoying the back garden at Maul-Hall

enjoying the back garden at Maul-Hall

According to the calendar, it’s May 26 and North Carolina is moving into the summer months. But I have the house wide-open again this morning, Rebekah and I enjoyed breakfast on the deck, and yesterday afternoon, after a few hours of gardening, we sat in the shade, listening to the leaves rustle and feeling the balm of a gentle afternoon breeze.

I’m not really much of a gardener – that’s Rebekah’s purview – but I am a gardeneer (made-up word), or maybe more accurately a garden-dweller. Like the Japanese Maples we just planted, the row of nandina we put in this weekend, or the hydrangea Rebekah has been nurturing, I thrive in the garden.

IT IS GOOD: The garden is good for my soul. Of course, this is exactly what God understood so clearly when the first humans were place in a garden. “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” – Genesis 2:8-9

I don’t think it’s an accident that the biblical narrative begins in a garden and then returns there at the end of Revelation. I wrote about this in my book The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian, this pervasive sense that our spiritual lives are about “moving forward, back to the garden.”

I believe this is one reason we feel so at home, so naturally comfortable, so comforted, so nurtured in a garden. God wants to water us, to grow us, to refresh us; and then – as the Revelation passage suggests – to use us, in our refreshed state, “for the healing of the nations.”

On each side of the river is the tree of life, which produces twelve crops of fruit, bearing its fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations.” – Rev 22:2

putting in the row of nandina

putting in the row of nandina

Some see the experience of Christian community as a fortress against the world; but I have been experiencing both home and church as a garden, a place where I am renewed, where I can grow, where I am strengthened, and where I can go out from to invite others in.

Its gates,Revelation 21 points out, “will never be shut by day, and there will be no night there.” 

In other words, this garden is also our constant invitation – DEREK

Remembering by celebrating in gratitude

This do (life - all of it) in remembrance...

This do (life – all of it) in remembrance…

Jesus – “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”John 10:10

Typically, when I settle at my desk to post a few morning thoughts, I’m not really sure the direction they’re going to take until I get started. Today is a case in point.

freedom to worship...

freedom to worship…

MEMORIAL DAY: First, it’s Memorial Day, and the cumulative fact of it is certainly working on the back of my mind. Then, once again, Sunday at WFPC was a powerful experience of worship and fellowship – all day, from Contemporary Worship at 9:00 through the traditional service, discipleship in-between, lunch with good people, then the late afternoon picnic and concert in the park.

This morning, sifting through a few photographs from the weekend, I noticed the phrase on the communion table in front of Rebekah as she was preaching Sunday morning: “THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME.”

The point was hard for me to miss; there is little of any lasting value in this life that we can seriously consider without at some moment taking pause to remember the fact that my life – freedom, sense of security, the liberty to pursue happiness – cost somebody (many somebodies), at some time, absolutely everything that they had to give.

John Fawcett singing in thankgiving

John Fawcett singing in thanksgiving

Jesus likewise presented humankind with the possibility of peace, promise, completeness, redemption, and eternal life, and in so doing Christ tipped the balance away from the values espoused, marketed, and controlled by “the world.”

The world was not – is not – ready to accept such a shift in the balance of power, and Christ’s great gift cost him everything.

But isn’t that the nature of the high prize? The most offensive thing to an oppressor is freedom, and the Power of Evil is always working hard to keep God’s children from experiencing the beauty of such a life.

So today it is a natural response to remember with gratitude every great sacrifice made in order to grant each one of us access to all that makes this life so amazing.

freedom to enjoy a peaceful morning

freedom to enjoy a peaceful morning

I’d like to say thank you. Thank you to Jesus, and thank you to the countless people who have given everything that they have for our benefit. And the best way that I can think of to do that is to enjoy this life with every ounce of imagination and creative love that I can muster. And that is where Jesus is so critically important to this story. Because God’s great invitation is not just to live, but to embrace life with fullness and with joy.

Jesus – “A thief (the oppressor) is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”John 10:10

– DEREK

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a life of peace, security, and freedom made possible by the sacrifice of others….

Fist-fights at the altar! Jesus always lands on the side of grace and peace (irenic versus polemic)

IMG_0395Jesus – “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

This week’s focus in my Adult-ed discipleship class is The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 – it’s one of the key documents in the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Confessions, and one of my favorites.

(To place this in Reformation History, Luther’s protest in Germany started in 1517; Henry VIII initiated England’s political reformation in 1531; Calvin first published his Institutes in 1536; John Knox penned the Scots Confession in 1560…)

The Heidelberg Catechism has a lot to commend it, but the key characteristic for me is its overwhelmingly irenic approach to dialogue concerning the essential elements of Christian faith.

  • Irenic, according to Merriam-Webster, means “Favoring, conducive to, or operating toward peace, moderation, or conciliation.” A more concise definition is, “aiming or aimed at peace.”
  • The alternative – polemic – is a concept all too familiar in today’s contentious religious climate. Polemic means “An aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another.”

IRONIC: The occasion for writing the Heidelberg Catechism – just a few decades into the Protestant Reformation – was a growing conflict between the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and the Roman church. Things came to a head when the leading Lutheran in Heidelberg started excommunicating those who did not share his exact views vis-a-vis the Lord’s Supper.

Such an approach to disagreement (then or today) is not just polemic, but ironic, considering the central message of the practice of communion, and the exact words Jesus shared after he first served the bread and the wine: “Now I am giving you a new commandment,” the Master said, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35

In consequence there was a fist-fight, an all-out brawl, at the altar of The Church of the Holy Spirit in Heidelberg on Easter Sunday, 1562. It was this debacle that motivated Frederick III, the newly installed “Elector of the Palatinate,” to assign two young theologians the task of preparing a catechism upon which all sides could agree.

Ergo the irenic nature of the document.

heidelberg_catechism_originalJESUS-FOLLOWER: Frederick was highly educated, intellectually gifted, a devout Christian, eager to learn as much as he could about faith, well-respected, conversant with all the key theological arguments, and committed to peace. He lived a simple life in order to free up his wealth to promote education, and to advance faith.

Such commitments to the Way of Jesus naturally lead to irenic discourse.

So this is my simple, straightforward word for all of us this fine Sunday morning, another supremely beautiful Spring day here in Wake Forest, North Carolina. The substance of the catechism Frederick III commissioned was as follows: There are three things, the authors concluded, that we must understand…

  1. First, the completeness of our sin and our separation from God.
  2. Second, how Jesus frees us from the devastating consequences of that separation.
  3. Third (and here I can do not better than quote exactly), “What gratitude I owe to God for such redemption!”

And there we have it. Grace and Gratitude. Not only is the catechism irenic; but it’s something we really can all agree on.

Peace – and I really mean that – DEREK

Limitless

Rebekah getting some inspiration from the garden

Rebekah getting some inspiration from the garden

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

Over the past few weeks Rebekah has preached a powerful series of messages on The Holy Spirit here at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. This is a congregation that is very much alive and moving forward. The work of God is excitingly evident at WFPC, through the lives of disciples of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit.

This morning, deep in a spiritual conversation with my Saturday morning men’s Bible-study, we found ourselves talking about how God helps us to find our way.

That’s when I had an epiphany (at least, to me, it felt like an epiphany!).

It occurred to me that the many names the Bible employs to describe the work of the Spirit all add up to one modern word that probably wasn’t in the Greek lexicon two thousand years ago. That word is “facilitator.”

Rather than dropping specific answers into our laps, maybe a huge part of the Spirit’s role is to ask better questions?

PARTNERSHIP: I went on to talk about how creativity honors the image of God in us, and how God works in partnership with us – through the work of the Spirit – to continue doing new, creative, imaginative, and often challenging things in our role as Followers of the Living Way.

The Holy Spirit acts as facilitator in much the same way that a small-group leader will ask, challenge, coax, prod, re-state, clarify, and otherwise help to keep the channels of creativity and listening open.

This is an epiphany for me because it is helping to expand my “thought in process” idea that the ongoing work of the Creator is always more wide, and out-of-the-box, and expansive than our own tendencies; that we tend to hem God in via our own limited capacity to move forward.

We want to always put God in a box we can manage, and God seems always to be tugging hard to get us out of ours.

IMG_0398LIMITLESS: Maybe the “Superhero for Jesus” moniker I’m looking for is “Limitless Potential.” I’m beginning to see – more and more – that the role of the Spirit in my life is to untangle me from so much that holds me back. God wants more than all of me; God wants all of the Derek that engaging with the power of the Spirit makes possible.

It’s what God wants for/from all of us.

– DEREK

what’s your “Superhero for Jesus” name?

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“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

From the outside, Maul-Hall in Wake Forest is a traditional looking house – red-brick and nestled in the trees for all the world like a slice of classic suburbia. But it turns out the whole colonial thing is simply a superhero secret identity. Because – in reality – there’s nothing in the least bit ordinary about our home.

And I’m not talking about the fact that we painted all that traditional dark wood panelling a nice, bright, white. Or that we painted the dark red walls a lighter shade of pale. Or that we ripped out the dark kitchen cabinets and put in a sleek Euro-styled look. All true, but the really extraordinary aspect of our home is the revolutionary approach to life that goes on here, and that defines us as Followers of the Living Way of Jesus.

Like the house, my “normal looking” persona is really a superhero secret identity. In reality, I am “GOOD-NEWS-MAN!

Secret identity as regular people!

Our secret identity as regular people!

SUPERHERO! I really like this idea of a superhero metaphor for Christ-followers. It was always the “secret identity” part of the story that attracted me to characters such as SuperMan and Spider-Man; the idea that someone walking around looking and acting just like me could do a quick costume change, take their glasses off, and make such a powerful impact on the world.

The longer I live the more I realize that we all hold that breathtaking potential, the latent power to make a difference, the fact that God chooses my ordinariness to do extraordinary things – every single day. We are called to be “Superheroes for Jesus.” We’re not only called, but we’re equipped too, by the amazing power of the Holy Spirit.

OWN IT! I’m sure my Sunday morning discipleship class and my Wednesday evening men’s covenant group get tired of hearing me ask variations on the following questions:

  • “Please share a God-moment from this past week?”
  • “Where have you seen God’s glory over the past few days?”
  • … or this week’s question for the men, “Share an example of a moment when you thought, ‘This is where being a disciple makes an impact on my everyday life!'”

But I ask the questions because I know that the self we all walk around as is really, simply, our “Superhero Secret Identity.” I am – you are – a Child of the King! We are Disciples of Jesus! We are Followers of the Living Way! We are Blessed to be a Blessing!

And that represents just a handful of the superhero monikers we could adopt. Living as Christ invites us to live makes us extraordinary every day of the week. Now that is something exciting to report back on when I ask the question!

So here’s my challenge. Look through the New Testament; find some more ideas (I’ll list a few more); talk with God about it; pick your superhero name…

…Then step out of your superhero secret identity mode more often. Live for Jesus.

  • “Love in Word and Deed Person!”
  • “Conduit of the Holy Spirit”
  • “Prayer Warrior”
  • “Compassion in Action Dude”
  • “Justice Lover”
  • “Forgiven and Free!”
  • “Brother/Sister to the Savior”
  • “The Presence of Jesus for my Family”
  • “Encourager”
  • “Good News Man” (I really like that one!)
  • “Child of the King!”
  • “Disciple of Jesus!”
  • “Follower of the Living Way”
  • “Blessed to be a blessing…”

Just a traditional red-brick colonial nestled in the trees. Just an ordinary clay jar. Just a writer, a teacher, an accountant, a lawyer, an engineer… “To show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…”

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed,but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:6-10

Early morning light in the kitchen - saying

Early morning light in the kitchen – saying “yes” to God and another new day as superheroes for Jesus

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen

Qumran Caves (our trip in 2012)

Qumran Caves (our trip in 2012)

“Do not neglect the gift that is in you…”1 Timothy4:14a

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1

BLOOD & INK: Over the next few weeks, my Wednesday evening men’s covenant group is talking about how the Bible evolved to the particular content/form/configuration we have today. We’re using a DVD virtual tour of the “INK & BLOOD: Sacred Treasures of the Bible” museum exhibit Rebekah and I studied when it came to Florida a few years ago.

The exhibit featured everything from the earliest examples of writing – etched into clay tiles – to scrolls, parchment, codex, illuminated manuscripts, and a reproduction of Gutenberg’s revolutionary printing press, circa 1440.

dead-sea-scrollDEAD SEA SCROLLS: This week it was an image from the Dead Sea Scrolls that caught my attention. The scrolls, found in eleven separate caves at Qumran, are actually fragments, painstakingly reassembled like a vast and complex jigsaw puzzle.

The fragments are then juxtaposed with more recent manuscripts (from the Middle Ages and beyond), to verify the accuracy and the authenticity of later copies. If a certain verse or section of the book of Nehemiah – for example – dating from the Thirteenth Century AD, corresponds exactly with fragments of parchment originally penned in the Second Century BC, then we can have confidence that the balance of the 13th Century reproduction is also accurate.

Scroll of Isaiah

Scroll of Isaiah

EYE-WITNESS: In 2012 Rebekah and I stood in front of the scroll of Isaiah (one of the more complete finds) In the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and she was able to read the same words Jesus read when he launched his ministry in his home synagogue.

“When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
“And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Luke 4:16-21

It was a powerful moment, and I couldn’t help but think of it during my men’s meeting Wednesday evening.

FRAGMENTS: We are like fragments of parchment, and it is only when we hold ourselves up to The Word (Jesus) that we begin to see where we are incomplete, and where we also begin to see the possibility for healing and wholeness. Sometimes all we have “in hand” is the vaguest suggestion of assurance, or of certainly, or of victory; but the truth of what we do know – the experiential fragment that we understand with 100% conviction, the evidence of things not yet realized, the promise of eternity verified by the glimpse of an instant – gives us complete confidence in, and hope for, the balance of the story.

my current mug shot at APD

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.Hebrews 11:1-3

– DEREK

hey, dads, we’ve got your back

fcadv-slider (1)

Banner from AllProDad.com home page

“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.”1 Corinthians 16:13-14

For several years – other than authoring books – my most consistent writing gig has been for AllProDad.com, an on-line venue offering support, encouragement, resources, real-life connections, hands-on advice, inspiration, and a sense of “We’ve got your back” camaraderie for dads of all ages.

All-Pro-Dad – one of the three sites that make up FamilyFirst.net – is among the most heavily trafficked (and certainly the most useful) platforms designed for fathers anywhere on the World-Wide-Web. It’s the brainchild of Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy and Family-Minute parenting guru Mark Merrill, and we reach several tens of thousands of unique visitors each week.

my current mug shot at APD

my current mug shot at APD

RE-TOOLED SITE & BYLINE: Family First has published somewhere north of 200 Derek Maul articles over the years, and (conscious of the fact that thousands of guys who love my writing had no idea who I am and no knowledge of my body of work) I’ve consistently lobbied for a byline.

The byline finally came about a year ago. And now, after extensively re-tooling the nuts and bolts of the site, the latest All-Pro-Dad rollout features contributor photos, bios, and a link to DerekMaul.com at the bottom of all my new articles.

I’m very excited. In fact, you can check out my latest column – RIGHT HERE – to see the really cool new design and (hopefully) leave a positive comment under my work.

MISSION: Our goal at AllProDad is to help fathers with the critically important job of parenting, and with the equally important role – if they’re married – of being the best possible spouse. We want to reach everyone, regardless of religion, politics, age, philosophy, or anything else – and we want to equip men with the skills and the attitude and the spirit necessary to raise kids well.

That being said, the writing – the content – is all undergirded with principles rooted in scripture. Why? Because we believe that the bottom line when it comes to doing anything well, to maximum effect, and with cutting edge quality, necessarily emanates from a restored relationship with our Creator, the Living God.

…we believe that the bottom line when it comes to doing anything well, to maximum effect, and with cutting edge quality, necessarily emanates from a restored relationship with our Creator, the Living God.

A LITTLE HELP? The Internet, as we are all beginning to understand, comprises a constant flow of information. We learn best, we harness more value, and we reach more people, when we not only generate traffic, but send visitors elsewhere. Reciprocity is more than a quid pro quo, it becomes organic – evidence of vitality, movement, and interactive life.

What I’d like my readers to do is to pay AllProDad a visit, take a look around, and consider utilizing the site.

DSC_0018And, if you’re here because you first ran across my name at Family First, iMom, or All Pro Dad, then I’d appreciate a comment from your perspective.

Please pray for all dads, everywhere, for the critically important role they play in family life, and for the particular work All-Pro-Dad is doing to help and encourage fathers all over the world – DEREK

celebration, confirmation, and baptism in a joyful church family!

image from Amy Donahoo

Baptism at 11:15 – image from Amy Donahoo

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace-loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18

In yesterday’s post I promised “Part Two” of our busy weekend. Here it is. But be warned: if you have bought in to the lie that the “mainline” church is dying, if you’re cynical, if you prefer your religion coated in rancor, or if you’ve simply grown tired of reading positive, encouraging, uplifting, thankful, life-charged reporting about my faith community… then you might want to skip this post.

What a great congregation!

What a great congregation!

WORTH THE LATE-NIGHT DRIVE: One reason Rebekah and I made sure we got home Saturday night was Confirmation Sunday morning at WFPC. 19 young-people from our eighth-grade youth had made the decision to follow Jesus, and we weren’t about to miss any of that!

I was also scheduled to serve as liturgist in the 11:15 service, and I always look forward to the unique perspective of experiencing church from behind the lectern, feeling the beautiful voices of the choir wash over me, looking into the faces of the crowd. Helping to lead in worship is a tremendous privilege, and it’s especially gratifying with a packed-full sanctuary of enthusiastic Presbyterians.

The responsive call to worship always fills the room with joyful praise, but this time I took advantage of my role to help people remember that their part is supposed to be more of a SHOUT! than a room-temperature reading.

“Good morning!” I said. “Please join me in the call to worship. Before we start I’d like to point out the exclamation marks located at the end of each sentence in the congregational response. Those punctuation marks mean we’re supposed to, Read with ENTHUSIASM!!! Is everyone on board?”

  • out-of-focus (taken while singing)

    out-of-focus (taken while singing)

    I paused for a moment, then began: “Sing to the Lord a new song!” And the congregation let loose their response, “GOD HAS DONE MARVELOUS THINGS!

  • “Make a joyful noise to the Lord!” I read. And close to 300 Presbyterians called back, “BREAK FORTH INTO JOYOUS SONG AND SING PRAISES!!
  • “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it,” I continued. And – with one voice, a great shout of praise – Wake Forest Presbyterian Church called to the Lord (breaking forth), “LET THE WORLD AND ITS PEOPLE SING TOGETHER FOR JOY!!!

I paused again – and despite the carpeting, I could hear an echo of praise still resounding; if we had rafters I’m sure they would have vibrated with the sound.

BAPTISM and MORE: And it was joy that marked the reception of our young people into full church membership. Nineteen professions of faith, five baptisms, a room full of the good kind of tears. A team of faithful leaders poured themselves into these teens since the early fall, and – like always – the adults involved have been encouraged and affirmed beyond their dreams.

Rebekah addressing the young people

Rebekah addressing the young people (image by Naomi Campbell)

Why does this touch us so deeply? Events such as confirmation and baptism reach deep into our souls simply because that is how we were designed. Ecclesiastes tells us that the Creator placed eternity in the hearts of people; all people. Sometime we recognize the Spirit easily, sometimes we’re too distracted and hard-hearted to receive it. But, always, God is reaching in to re-calibrate that fundamental connection.

The connection was abundantly evident at church Sunday morning. Then again, Sunday evening, when the CLC was filled with young and old for the youth spaghetti dinner and talent show.

“This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had in the history of this event,” one parent said. According to the ticket folk, we had 100 more than last year, and last year was good.

Regardless of numbers, it’s the spirit of this place – The Spirit in this place – that makes me so grateful, and so encouraged. God is here; Jesus is the whole point of our life together; joy and gratitude become the natural result.

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart…” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

Peace – DEREK