Two Prayers for Memorial Day

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WFPC – It’s a different view from behind the preacher!

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

IMG_2412Every once in a while I get the opportunity to help lead worship at our 11:15 church service. The official title is “liturgist” and my turn comes along three or four times a year. Essentially, I get to play the part of “One” in responsive prayers and readings, invite the congregation to “share the peace of Christ” with one another, lead the opening call to worship and prayer, and do the prayer of dedication after the offering.

I enjoy the opportunity to put the kind of thought and creativity into prayer that I do into my writing. The intentionality of it, and knowing I’m leading others into God’s presence, makes my written prayers different from the conversational dialogue I have with God “on the fly.”

So – and in response to a couple of requests – here are my two prayers from yesterday’s worship service at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

First, the Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

“Loving God, in a world torn by conflict, rampant with unbelief, plagued by division, and overwhelmed with doubt – we stand in your presence in a bold affirmation of faith and with a renewed commitment to declare our faithfulness to you!

“This is a weekend set aside to remember the great cost born by the men and women who gave their lives to guarantee our right to assemble here without fear. So may the completeness of their sacrifice be honored in the comprehensiveness of our faithfulness as uncompromising followers of Jesus.

“We ask that our eyes will be opened this morning to see your glory, that by your Spirit you will remove the barricades from our hearts, and that we will know Jesus with the kind of intimacy you intended for us since the dawn of creation.

“We love you, Creator God, and we affirm our praise with a loud voice!

“And all of God’s people said – AMEN!

Then, after the offering:

“Sometimes, God, all we can do is to stand in your presence with tears of gratitude…. Sometimes, we can’t help ourselves but sing loud songs of praise…. Sometimes, all we can muster is a prayer of supplication or a sigh of longing…. Sometimes, all we can manage is to simply recommit ourselves to struggle the good struggle…. Always, most generous Creator, we can bring at least a portion of our treasure and ask you to use it for the extension of your Kingdom.

“Help us respond to the challenge to be faithful stewards of all you have blessed us with, Lord; and may the witness of this congregation be one of abundance, because that is how you always give to us.

“In the name of Jesus, who continues to show us the way – Amen”

IMG_2409Also, it’s a different perspective to listen to the sermon from behind Rebekah’s left shoulder, to look into the congregation from the stage area, and to remember what a privilege and a responsibility it is to lead people in faith.

As you read this post, put yourself in the position of one who is talking with God; and then put yourself in the position of one who is willing to listen to God too.

– DEREK

 

 

“As you go, proclaim the good news”

 “As you go, proclaim the good news: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'” – Matthew 10:7

IMG_2170This morning my discipleship class will be discussing Matthew 10. It’s an interesting and provocative chapter, containing the instructions Jesus gives when he sends his followers out on their first mission.

In a nutshell, Jesus tells his friends to share this one simple message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near!”

Wow! That statement almost sends shivers down my spine! I can imagine the disciples looking around, wondering. It’s near! Do you feel it? Can you sense the fact of something extraordinary? Can I reach out and touch it?

When Jesus talks like this it’s evident that he is referencing something beyond a philosophy or an idea; this is something palpable – something so real that you might bump into it.

Here’s what I’m wondering now, today – two thousand years later and right here in North Carolina: Can people sense the fact that the kingdom is near when we are living our lives as disciples? Is there anything about the way that we live as followers of The Way that leaves this feeling – something palpable – that, “The kingdom of heaven has come near”?

It’s what I want to achieve when I write. It’s what I want to shed, like little shards of light, as I live from day to day. It’s what I want people to sense with a growing understanding when they hang around our community of faith.

dsc_0343-001Listen to the good news! The kingdom of heaven has come near! (NRSV) Proclaim the message: The kingdom of heaven has come near! (NIV)

– It’s the truth that Rebekah is asking God to speak to people through her words as she prepares the message for the worship services this morning at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

It’s the most important message we can offer; it’s the most important good news we can receive – DEREK

 

“… and that has made all the difference”

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost

IMG_2359Friday evening Rebekah and I enjoyed the privilege of attending the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of our friends Brenda and Hank. The event was held at a beautiful outdoor venue – garden-party style – deliciously catered, attended by great people, and marked by warm felicitations and sparkling conversation.

Hank and Brenda’s daughter Beverly (who did a stellar job organizing the evening) asked Rebekah to offer a blessing before dinner, and she prefaced her prayer by reading Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken.

Rebekah’s remarks made me think – especially in the context of Hank and Brenda’s celebration – about the remarkable witness to life and light that a good marriage offers the world. It’s a testimony that stands as a quiet but compelling statement of faith in a faithless world, a glimpse of light in the middle of darkness, a mark of hope and promise in a culture marked by broken promises.

Our choice to take the road less traveled by really does make all the difference. Our choices always do.

Or, as Joshua put it so eloquently just a generation after Moses, “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve (whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living); but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

In gratitude for the faithful lives and eloquent witness to light and life quietly proclaimed by people like Brenda and Hank (and Grace and David, and Bob and Nelle…) – DEREK

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

we plant, and we water – but it is God who gives the growth

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“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-9

IMG_2339Rebekah and I love hydrangea plants. Last year – disappointingly – we had a total of one bloom in our garden. This year we’re well on the way to a magnificent display featuring ten healthy plants and literally hundreds of bursts of stunning color.

Fact is, there are so many variables at play it’s virtually impossible to predict how a garden is going to look. All we can do is faithfully prepare the soil, plant, prune, fertilize, water, and pray.

When we lived in south-central Florida, dealing with sub-tropical conditions, extreme heat, the amazing ability of weeds to grow out of control almost instantly, the pervasiveness of sandy soil, ravenous pests, the occasional devastating drought, and more, Rebekah and I would occasionally throw our hands in the air and say, “We’re giving the garden back to God.”

IMG_2330Theologically, that is a sound position to take. Not giving up on our efforts, our hard work, our vision, our planting, our tending, or our praying… but giving up on our ownership.

Our garden belongs to God, and with that acknowledgment must come trust, and with that trust we see much more of what is possible, because we are partners with the Creator!

WFPC: It’s the same with the ministry here at Wake Forest Presbyterian. “This is God’s church,” Rebekah often says, “not mine.” All we can do is to offer ourselves and our gifts to God, to faithfully prepare the soil, to plant, serve, prune, fertilize, water, and pray – all the while investing the hard work, the loving, the vision, the tending, the surrender….

DSC_0343The surrender.

“Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth.”

– DEREK

We plow the fields, and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love. (Matthias Claudius, 1782)

love is complete immersion

IMG_2275One huge plus of living this close to the grandchildren is the opportunity for a quick visit. So yesterday I drove to Richmond for lunch and some much appreciated family time.

Surprising the children when they opened the front door was worth the drive. Then there was the added bonus of a visit with our dear friend Sandee, visiting from Minnesota (not exactly in the neighborhood!).

I’m always struck with the intensity of absolutely everything the children are involved in. Maybe passion is a better word. They don’t just play, they play with everything that they are; they don’t just say “hello” or “goodbye,” they throw themselves into the greeting; they don’t just smile with their mouths, they smile with their entire being – same approach when they’re upset!

“Don’t go, grandaddy!” David said when it was time. He grabbed onto my leg and hung on!

IMG_2308David and Beks get it. They understand that relationships are absolutely everything. They remind me that love is complete immersion.

How much do we allow ourselves to love like this? Our spouse… our family… our faith community… our God? Complete immersion.

I know people – too many people – who deliberately hold back from that kind of absorption, that level of investment, because they are afraid. Afraid of the cost, afraid of the potential for pain, or rejection. So they build walls, hold people – and God – at arms length, keep things manageably cool.

I only know that the cost of not loving is far greater. I know that love is worth the risk.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

 

64 years and my parents’ “secret”

IMG_2210Yesterday, May 24, was the 64th anniversary of the day my mum and dad were married at the Baptist Church in Rayleigh, in the county of Essex, a short train ride to the East of London.

That’s “Rayleigh,” North Carolina peeps, not the “Raleigh” where they live today. My mum and dad went away on their honeymoon and then took the train directly to their new home in Folkestone, on the south coast of Kent, where they built a business, raised a family, and lived for the next 28 years before ending up in Florida of all places.

Someone asked me if they have a secret to share. You know, a “how to be married 64 years and be happy” secret. Other than “stay alive” they’d say it’s not all that complicated. You make the choice, you make the commitment, you remain faithful, you love one-another actively, and you hold on for the ride.

It’s this love one-another actively element that makes all the difference; that and choosing to make it work. There are two passages of scripture that tell this story as well as any, and they both hinge around kindness.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. – Galatians 5:22-23

IMG_2214Lather; rinse; repeat.

So we all went out to Longhorn for steak, we gave mum and dad a nice card, and we got them to share stories.

I’m sharing the card with you all today because what I wrote on it is so true; it’s exactly the answer to the “what’s their secret” question.

“64 years of love, faithfulness, commitment, hope, and promise. Your witness to life remains an inspiration, not only for us but for so many people in Wake Forest and around the world. Rebekah and I pray that this will be a year filled with peace and joy, and all the love you can handle. With love and gratitude – Derek and Rebekah.”

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that!

The Day I Helped a Baptist Preacher Recover His (lost) Dunking Mojo

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Sunday evening, after an amazing day of worship and celebration (see “Confirmation: day one of a new adventure with Jesus!“), we returned to church for the youth spaghetti dinner and talent show mission fundraiser. I had been asked to do a storytelling piece, so I shared one from growing up in the U.K. Several people have asked for a copy, so here it is, pretty much verbatim:

The Day I Helped a Baptist Preacher Recover His (lost) Dunking Mojo:

There are three kinds of stories I tell that people seem to like the best:

  1. Stories about the dog
  2. Stories about Rebekah
  3. Stories about growing up in England

This is one from growing up. As a child, I was raised in the classically English faith community known as Folkestone Baptist Church, on the South Coast of England where – on a clear day – you could see the coast of France from the front steps.

The Characters:

Folkestone Baptist was populated by some wonderful people, a whole caste of memorable characters. Among them were:

  • Mr May – who was deaf and didn’t mind reminding anyone about it at any time during the service, “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND A THING… I’M DEAF YOU KNOW…”
  • Mrs. Moncrieff – whose husband had once been the mayor. She wore hats you could have raised a vegetable garden in… or chickens… maybe both.
  • The Clough family – who always came in late, and stomped interminably around the entire balcony to their favorite pew.
  • Mr. Tea and Mr. Waskitt – who – along with my dad – were known to nod off occasionally during the sermon.
  • Mr. Pike – the preacher – He was a wonderful man, but his chief concern in life – and in church – seemed to be circumventing change of any kind, dodging controversy, and avoiding embarrassment. In this story he has to deal with all three.

The Setting:

I loved going to church, especially Sunday evenings, when the dying sun would illuminate the sanctuary with a gentle light. I can still hear the sound of hymns such as

  • “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide…”
  • “Now the Day is Over…” and – my favorite –
  • “The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended, the darkness falls at thy behest….”

IMG_2166The sanctuary was a stately old building, with a balcony that ran three sides, a tall pulpit turret my mother always described as “six feet above contradiction,” noisy wooden floors, and umbrella stands at the end of every pew, featuring porcelain trays to catch the rain as it ran off the brollies.

Sunday evenings the youth would all sit together in the farthest reaches of the nether regions of the balcony, pretending to try so hard to behave ourselves, yet somehow always managing to drop coins or a hymnbook, or catch our heels on the long thin wooden braces on the underside of the pew (the sound would reverberate forever), and fall victim to “the look” from one of the deacons, resulting in muffled giggles – the kind that spread like wildfire among teenagers, become inextinguishable, and lead to held breath and consequent snorting during sermons and pastoral prayers.

The Pool:

Unlike American churches, where baptismal pools are tucked discretely behind curtained windows featuring painted backdrops of the River Jordan, ours was directly in front of the pulpit and immediately beneath the choir. All that protected the entire chorus from an unscheduled soaking were the removable floorboards, and – during particularly painful anthems – I found myself dreaming of them all disappearing into the abyss. I’d sit in the balcony willing it to happen.

My Decision:

Around the age of fourteen, I attended a Billy Graham rally in London, where I finally understood that the God I had known and loved all my life was interested in a more personal commitment. So I responded to the altar call, had a serious talk with the counselor (I still remember his name, Norman Lynn) and made arrangements with my pastor in Folkestone to take the “Enquirers Class” and get baptized.

It was much the same commitment as so many of our young people made at confirmation this morning.

The Set Up:

IMG_2204So one Sunday, a couple of weeks before my scheduled baptism, Mr. Pike stood in the pool with someone we’ll call “Mary.” Mary was a substantial person who likely weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 pounds. At the same time, Mr. Pike was advancing in age, and he wasn’t exactly the kind of guy you’d see pumping iron at the gym. To say he was outmatched would be a significant understatement.

Anyway, long story short, when the moment arrived, Mr. Pike clasped Mary’s hands, placed one arm behind her back, and she surrendered all. Mary went back; Mr. Pike went back; there was a brief struggle as they hovered on the fulcrum, locked together on the precipice of disaster; and then – much to the delight of the youth group looking down from the balcony – both Mr. Pike and Mary disappeared beneath the water, and two sets of legs went right up in the air.

It was a beautiful moment. It was simply brilliant!

My Baptism:

So a few days before my turn, I went to Mr. Pike and said I’d like to talk with him about the “mechanics” of the event.

“First, and on behalf of the youth, I’d just like to say thank you!” I started. “However, I do understand that that’s not a situation you’d like to see repeated. So I have a plan: If you’re willing, then I’d like to be baptized kneeling down. It’s a very appropriate posture, and you wouldn’t be carrying any weight during the immersion.”

Like I said earlier, Mr. Pike did not like change, and he was nowhere near a fan of coloring outside the lines. But the prospect of avoiding another event like what had come to be known as, “The underwater threshing machine incident”…? – Well, of course he jumped at the chance.

IMG_2170And so, on Easter Sunday in 1971, along with two of my friends and a young couple new to our church, I entered the waters of baptism. And – beginning a practice that my pastor embraced from that day forward, I went down into the water (and came back up quite easily) from a kneeling position.

I had given my life to Jesus – no looking back, no second guessing, no turning around – and I wanted the whole world to know the decision I had made…

It’s a decision that I continue to make every new day of my life. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….

– DEREK

here are a few pics from the show:

confirmation: day one of a new adventure with Jesus!

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Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24

DSC_0373This morning’s post is essentially an invitation to look at some amazing photographs. At WFPC this weekend, both Sunday worship experiences were inspirational – but it was the presentation of this year’s confirmation class, at 11:15 in the sanctuary, that really touched my heart.

Thirty young people stood up to make a public commitment to follow Jesus. Four of them were baptized. The church was packed. The spirit of joyful community was so evident that it covered the day with a compellingly positive sense of joy and faithful love.

I think it’s fairly obvious why an event like this touches our hearts so deeply; it’s because the young people – fresh-faced, optimistic, enthusiastic, fearless – remind us of the raw, beautiful, indomitable power of the message of the Good News. There is a sense with these kids – on the verge of high school and then beyond – that anything is possible, and that there is so much to live for!

…the young people – fresh-faced, optimistic, enthusiastic, fearless – remind us of the raw, beautiful, indomitable power of the message of the Good News.

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welcome! and sharing the word

Rebekah picked up on that idea in her message, not wasting the opportunity to speaking with so many people about the dynamic possibilities inherent in following Jesus. She shared inspirational thoughts from some of the young people’s faith statements, and preached on the father’s declaration in Mark 9:24: “I do believe, [Lord] help me overcome my unbelief!

“Confirmation is not the end of something,” she said; “Today is not ‘now I’ve checked that off my list, and it will look good on my résumé when I arrive at the Pearly Gates.’ Today is just the beginning of this Great Adventure of following Jesus!”

Just the beginning for all of us!

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DISCIPLES: She went on to challenge each one of us in the congregation, at both services, to renew our commitment – optimistic, enthusiastic, indomitable, fearless – and to mark this day, this celebration of such promise, as the point from which we all move forward in faith.

Because by now more people should be tired of paddling around in shallow waters, peering in at Jesus from the edges of the crowd. Now is the time to become a disciple.

– DEREK

(WFPC members who want larger copies (more pixels) of any photo, just let me know)

standing on holy ground

IMG_2081-001If you attend our contemporary worship service – 9:00 in the CLC – you’ll find out that Wake Forest Presbyterian Church has a really good coffee station in the back corner. It stands – conveniently and providentially – right next to the classroom where I teach. The sign next to the coffee reads, “Holy Grounds.” I love that!

So this morning, preparing to come to church, I’m thinking about the whole idea of Holy Ground. In Exodus 3, when Moses approached the burning bush, God specifically told him to stand back and to remove his sandals. “The ground where you are standing is holy,” God said; “it’s important that you recognize and honor my presence here.” – Exodus 3

13256445_10153805995398710_2401700487174507734_n-001NO MORE VEIL! I’m well aware that Jesus has made God accessible once again; and that, because of Jesus, I can approach the Throne of Grace without fear – we all can. I get that. Without fear, yes – but not without respect. Jesus has broken down every barrier; but at the same time I really like the symbolic value of doing something like taking my shoes off, recognizing the gravity of entering the presence of the divine.

Jesus has promised, “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28). But this morning, preparing to drive to WFPC and to enter the sanctuary, willfully acknowledging the fact that worship – even in the gym – is a sanctified location, I find myself thinking about what I can do to affirm the amazing reality that “sanctified” implies.

What can I do? It’s a good question, and I believe we can all craft an answer in response to our own convictions. I’m determined to do something to acknowledge the Holy Ground, and I may or may not share what I come up with. After all, the important thing is that I know where I am, and who I am in the presence of.

Gravitas. Sanctuary. Holy Ground.

– DEREK

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in it for the long haul

IMG_2045This is Scoutie outside the Dirty Dog Spa. She gets “the treatment” every once in a while and quite enjoys the process. As a rule she’s pretty much 100% anti-paparazzi, but never minds posing when she knows she looks this good.

At this writing my parents’ front garden is also getting “the treatment.” Our good friend and garden guru Larry arrived with more plants, more dirt, and more imagination. So we snagged him for a few minutes consultation over at Maul-Hall, and ended up with almost a yard of good soil to play with.

The garden -and this is my constant observation – is a work in progress. New soil brings new weeds; new plantings require tending; growth leads to pruning; great ideas require hard work; new life asks for maintenance; today’s drinking in the beauty leads to tomorrow’s tending, next week’s sweat, and then next month’s appreciation.

It’s never over. If it was over it wouldn’t be a garden.

IMG_2072BIBLE STUDY: And so my early morning hour and a half with my Bible study brothers is a large part of what it takes to give me, “the treatment.” Nourishment, encouragement, watering, digging, a little pruning now and then, fertilizer for sure….

Today we wrapped up our study of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, and I was so pleased to see that the closing story was an honest testimony from a man who appreciated the ongoing nature of his walk with God.

The man had turned his everything toward Christ six years previously, and was celebrating the miracle of this new life he was experiencing as a follower of Jesus. At the same time, however, he didn’t want to give the impression that his conversion was “one-and-done.”

The concluding story was a reminder that we must choose Christ daily, that we must work hard at faith, and we must commit to being in it for the long haul. Making time, quieting our hearts, and talking with God as a daily discipline; saturating ourselves with the scriptures; recommitting ourselves, moment by moment….

IMG_2073-001So I laughed when I ran into this little guy in the garden today. He was making his way very deliberately, determined to make progress, digging, trying, moving stuff out of the way, constantly doing what it takes. Not spectacular, but in it for the long haul.

Because following Jesus is all about the journey. It’s never over. If it was ever over then it wouldn’t be a journey, would it?

– DEREK

(More photos of the garden – and the puppy….)