Monday, August 19, 2013
Monday, July 1, 2013
This week, I’ll be posting sporadically, as Rebekah and I are going to be crunching out the miles between here and Michigan. We’ll be rocking the RAV4 with our favorite road tunes (Queen, Sting, Robert Palmer, The Beatles et al), and looking forward to some quality family time around “The EPIC Wedding of the Year!”
In the back of our minds, though, doing its usual job of both quieting our souls and inspiring our day-to-day living, will be yesterday’s worship experience here at FPCBrandon. I’m not sure when the office staff will post the link on the church website, but do yourself a favor and listen in to Sunday’s message on “Worship.”
If you weren’t at the 11:00 service then you’ll just have to imagine what was going on during the loud roars of laughter you’ll hear a few minutes in to Rebekah’s message. A large spider chose the best possible moment to rappel all the way from the vaulted ceiling to the pulpit, its dangling appearance dovetailing with the message to perfection!
BAPTISM: But it’s these pictures, taken during the baptism of the newest Okwen child, that tell the story best for me. This is what it all comes down to, that tender moment when we present ourselves, and our families, at God’s feet; claiming our status as God’s children, owning our need for redemption, and promising to live into the promise of new life in Jesus.
Rebekah took Ambang Yirinwei Okwen in her arms, blessed her, and baptized her in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “Her name,” Roland and Beryl Okwen said, “means ‘Praise God!’”
Moments like this always remind me of the following scripture, from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, when Zachariah welcomed his new child into the world:
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace
This imperative to shine the light of Jesus on those living in darkness, and to guide the feet of God’s children into the path of peace, turns out to be the exact mission of the church,
One of the ways we do this is through baptism, when we celebrate new life by affirming the new covenant God has made with his children. Ambang was welcomed into this family of faith, her parents recommitted themselves to raising her in the knowledge of the love of God, and the congregation pledged to be an active part of the process.
And the entire church smiled. And God is smiling too. - DEREK
Posted by Derek Maul at 6:45 PM
Sunday, June 30, 2013
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
I have to admit, it can be a constant struggle to stay grounded when you’re in the process of turning your life upside down!
This weekend we’ve been working on packing up the books from Rebekah’s office; we also finished off the “punch-list” of house repairs, and are attempting to get all our ducks in a row for the trip to Michigan for Andrew and Alicia’s wedding celebration.
What kind of blindsided both of us was the sharp stab of grief, even in the midst of all the anticipation and excitement (not to mention the sharp stabs of pain in my back, from moving over 30 boxes of books!). I guess we’re going to be experiencing a lot of this kind of dissonance over the next few weeks.
GROUNDED: So back to the idea of staying grounded. The grounding I’m talking about is really the heart of the central mission that has always guided our life together. It’s the sense of purpose that first took Rebekah and I to Columbia Seminary in Atlanta in 1980, that steered us to Pensacola in 1982, that moved us to Brandon in 1996, and that is now leading us to Wake Forest, North Carolina. It’s the message that Jesus is the answer to life’s most essential questions, that the most important decision any of us can ever make is to follow him, and that Rebekah and I – as a family – have been called to serve as guideposts along the way.
You will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life (Philippians 2).
So I am especially glad that today is another Sunday, because the context of worship never fails to anchor me back into the heart of what really matters, and guides us from day to day.
I’m going to stand on the stage, at the back of our most excellent praise orchestra, and play my heart out on the guitar while we sing contemporary worship songs; I’m going to let the music wash over me, the word of God nurture me, and the message uplift me; I’m going to rest in the knowledge that God loves me; I’m going to revel in the presence of God; I’m going to settle, comfortably, in the cumulative reassurance of the living witness of the community of faith known as First Presbyterian Church of Brandon; I’m going to breathe in the resurrection power of the Spirit of God; and I’m going to be grounded in the heart of the very reason God has called us to move away.
So I will still be a little sad; we both will. But we will also – because of this amazing church – be more thoroughly equipped for the next leg of the journey, living like we mean it, all for Jesus.
Posted by Derek Maul at 4:05 AM
Thursday, June 27, 2013
God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways. (Galatians 5:22-23)The real enemy of marriage is our pervasive failure to engage/practice/value/honor our primary relationships from the context of faith, and of placing God at the epicenter of our lives.
ack in the 60′s and the 70′s, the so-called “Free Love” movement, and the “Sexual Revolution” were often discussed as a way of freeing human sexuality from prudish and restrictive mores that built a puritanical wall around the subject. The mantra was, essentially, “Too many rules are unhealthy, so ‘anything goes‘ must necessarily lead to freedom, and better relationships, and peace, and happiness.”
History, of course, tells us that “Free Love” didn’t exactly deliver as advertised! History also tells us that this is not a new conversation. Listen to the following words from C.S. Lewis, written in the early 1940′s:
They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last 20 years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it straight… (Mere Christianity)
I love the phrase, “ventilation would have set it straight.” Well, by the year 2013, the subject has been well and truly ventilated, along with visual aids to sear every conceivable image into our consciousness. Yet the evidence suggests that the world of human sexuality is as dysfunctional today as it ever was, if not much, much more.
BACKLASH: Some have reacted with a backlash against anyone, or any practice, outside their own, narrowly defined, norms. However, rather than help, such responses serve to exacerbate polarization and come across as defensive rather than productive. Too many churches, for example, consistently and loudly trumpet what they are against with more conviction than sharing the good news about what they are for.
Enter the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA, 1996), the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by states. To me it has stood as another classic example of backlash, of trying to blame what’s wrong with sexuality in America by pointing away from ourselves (and the sickness of the majority), and by shifting the focus of attention anywhere other than the root problems that compromise all relationships.
MARRIAGE IS UNDER ATTACK! Yes, marriage in America is under attack, that’s for sure; but it’s not gay marriage that’s the problem, and it’s not an open conversation about sex. The real enemy of marriage is our pervasive failure to engage/practice/value/honor our primary relationships from the context of faith, and of placing God at the epicenter of our lives.
The malfunction resides in our failure to love one-another with a mutually self-sacrificial love. Marriage in America is under attack inasmuch as men and women (many of whom fly the flag of “Christian”) relate to one-another absent the principles outlined in Galatians 5:22-23: “God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways.”
So you say you want marriages to be strong, and you want sexuality in America to experience healing? Then start in your own home, renew your commitment to represent the self-giving love of God in every relationship, and tell the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply and eloquently via the way that you live.
Posted by Derek Maul at 2:20 PM
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! (The Message) – Matthew 6:19-23
CHILDREN & FLOWERS: What do children and flowers have in common? I’m not exactly sure, at this precise moment, but that’s the phrase that has come to mind as I sit down to write today’s morning post.
I just came inside from shooting a few photographs of this morning’s crop of rain lilies. I saved the images on my hard drive, then checked out the latest pictures of our grandchildren on Naomi’s facebook page. That’s when the question came to mind: “What do children and flowers have in common?”
There’s a freshness and a “new every morning” quality to flowers – and especially the rain lilies – that always speaks directly into my soul. Yesterday, most of them were nothing but stems. Then, in the evening, we had a nice gentle rain. So this morning, there they are, all perky and all “so pleased to see you,” and just bursting with praise.
REBEKAH MAE: Today, Rebekah Mae is exactly one week old. She passed yesterday’s check-up with flying colors. “She’s perfect,” was about as clinical as the pediatrician’s office could get with their assessment.
Rebekah Mae is a rain lily of sorts, suddenly blooming and just about bursting with thanksgiving and praise. A new baby like Rebekah doesn’t give me much intellectual ammunition for a debate about the reality of the love of God; instead, she simply shines as a grateful testimony to life and light; she is a prayer; she is an evidence of grace; she is a vibrant offering of light and life and praise.
- She shines as a grateful testimony to light and life
- She is a prayer
- She is an evidence of grace
- She is a vibrant offering of light and life and praise
DAVID: David – all of 20-months, all joy and tears and laughter and fun, all “experience the moment” – is fascinated by his new sister. He likes to sit in front of Rebekah’s swing and poke her foot every time she comes forward, laughing outrageously and uproariously at the game. He pats her, he watches intently, and he gets down as close as possible to look into her little face and to see the world from the new baby’s point of view.
David is still very much a baby. He is fresh and vibrant and literally bursting with light and life. He shines. He experiences. He opens up each day like a rain lily turning its delicate face to the early morning light. His wide open spirit is at once an invitation and an offering of praise.
We, my friends and readers, are no less witnesses to the imperative of light and life. The day lily; the infant; the toddler; the 57-year-old writer; the ________ (you fill in your own information). We all confront the choice to engage this and every day with either cynicism or with joy.
I honestly don’t believe we are required to reserve judgement each day until we see how things go. I believe we can decide now, and then choose to live – to bloom – into what becomes possible once we acknowledge what the lily, the baby, and the toddler already seem to know.
Posted by Derek Maul at 10:49 AM
Monday, June 24, 2013
Church yesterday was, as per usual, a beautiful experience of worship, fellowship, grace, hope and promise. It was our first Sunday since the news about Rebekah’s move became public, so there was also a lot of emotion and more than a few tears
BE STRONG IN THE GRACE OF JESUS!!
Rebekah’s message was – again, as per usual – spot on. She spoke about the Community of Faith, opening up the questions, “What are we here for? What is our purpose? What is the church?”
The current podcast should be available sometime this morning; just click on First Presbyterian Church of Brandon 2013 Sermon Podcasts. I really recommend taking the time to listen.
Sunday was a day full with great conversation, from the worship hour, to Sunday school, to lunch with Tim and Kelly, to our wonderful small-group in the evening. But interestingly – and this is “par for the course” too – it turned out there was a unifying theme that ran deeper than the sum of all the individual parts, and that’s where Second Timothy comes in.
2 TIMOTHY: I read the New Testament book of Second Timothy in preparation for my morning class, and I was captured by the sense of personal communication that came through. The writing commented with unerring relevance at every turn during the day, culminating in our evening meeting, where the text seemed to offer specific wisdom that spoke into our lives and our prayer concerns time and again.
“I know the one in whom I have put my trust,” Paul writes, “and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” And then, like a clarion call to proactive Christian living, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
GUARD THE GOOD TREASURE ENTRUSTED TO YOU!!!
The letter goes on to encourage readers to “Be strong in the grace that is in Jesus,” and refers to the good news not just as the gospel, but as my gospel.
And I believe I’ve just discovered, or uncovered, my point of inspiration for this Monday morning post. What God is looking for is disciples of Jesus who don’t just think about the Good News as for everyone (which it is), or for the church (which it is), or for their family (which it is), or for their friends (which it is)… but to intentionally engage the amazing message of love and reconciliation and salvation as MY GOSPEL!
MY GOSPEL: This is the good news that is so clear in my heart and mind this morning. God loves me; God sent Jesus to break down all the barriers that have been erected between humankind and God (personal barriers, cultural religious barriers and more…); God invites me to become a Follower of the Way of Jesus; the Holy Spirit fills me with the grace to live a life of love; I have been given the community of faith as a mutual strength and encouragement…
- God loves me;
- God sent Jesus to break down all the barriers that have been erected between humankind and God;
- God invites me to become a Follower of the Way of Jesus;
- the Holy Spirit fills me with the grace to live a life of love;
- I have been given the community of faith as a mutual strength and encouragement…
… and THIS DAY, Monday June 24, just happens to be my latest opportunity (our latest opportunity) to live into the truth of such a good treasure, that has been entrusted to me.
In hope and in promise – DEREK
Posted by Derek Maul at 7:01 AM
Saturday, June 22, 2013
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (I Corinthians 3:6-7)
ebekah loves to garden (Here’s a picture from yesterday afternoon as she gave away her prize giant bromeliad to our good friend Steve).
Occasionally, gardening will cost Rebekah in terms of back pain, but she persists because the whole cycle of planting, nurturing, fertilizing, watering, pruning, re-imagining, tearing out, rebuilding, visioning, and sometimes just plain starting over again from scratch is such a beautiful progression, and so theologically apropos.
GARDENING/MINISTRY: Gardening, like ministry, is about recognizing and then cultivating unique microclimates. No two gardens are the same, and the rule holds true for communities of faith. When we moved here from Pensacola in 1996 we pretty-much had to learn all over, both at the Presbyterian church and in the back yard.
The “garden” on Laurel Oak Drive was a veritable wilderness. With the exception of our three big oak trees, absolutely everything has been imagined and grown since we rolled in 17 years ago. There’s a lot going on, from the tiered patio to every imaginable variety of vegetation. But if Rebekah’s garden has been any one thing, it’s been the amazing display of bromeliads.
PRINCIPLES: She had a few bromeliads in Pensacola, but they were all potted, and they had to be invited in during cold weather. Here, we have literally hundreds of specimens, representing scores of distinct varieties. But they are uniquely tropical, and we’ll be forced to reinvent our entire approach the moment we roll into Wake Forest.
All differences aside, however, there are a few key principles at the heart of a “Rebekah” garden that hold true no matter where we put down roots. Doesn’t matter if we’re in Pensacola, Brandon, Wake Forest, or some desert climate in New Mexico, the gardens may look radically different but they all stem from the same foundational truths that never shift, and always lead to maturity and growth.
PARALLEL: I guess I really don’t need to write the balance of this post. Our new church in Wake Forest is going to be another faith-community micro-climate, just as the amazing Body of Christ in Brandon has been and will continue to be. The ministry in Wake Forest is going to be beautiful, and it’s going to thrive.
It’s going to thrive even though it’s going to look nothing like First Presbyterian Church in Brandon. Why? Because the new garden is going to be built on the same essential principles, the timeless message that God invites each one of us to move beyond church membership and into discipleship, to live as committed Followers of the Way of Jesus.
The bromeliads have been amazing, full and rich and proliferate and colorful, and we’re so happy some of them are going to a good home with Steve. But now it’s going to be a time and a season for day-lilies, hydrangea, dogwoods, azaleas and more….
Fact is, I don’t even know the half of what’s going to grow and bloom around Wake Forest. But I do know that God will bless the garden.
In the hope of promise – DEREK
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. (Ecclesiastes 3)
Posted by Derek Maul at 2:27 PM