Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lent + 4 - The key word is forgivness

“I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me…” – Jesus (John 13:21)

I can imagine the scene: The casual glances around the room, the shifts in posture, the sideways looks, the sense of affront elicited by well-honed truth.

And I know that look, the one the disciples give Jesus when he calls them out. I used to teach middle school and, believe me, I know. It’s the same look a 13 year old boy will give when you stop him on his way to doing something inappropriate, and he simply can’t fathom how in the universe his teacher can read his mind so clearly. So he employs the only strategy he knows – denial.

“Not me, Lord; no how, no way...” I can just see the disciples, nervously fidgeting in their seats, ready to finger one of their friends. Because they all know that they are capable, all know that betrayal had already happened in so many ways, all wondering if Christ had figured them out.

Well they need not have worried. One of the great things about Jesus is that he does figure us out. Kind of takes the pressure off, really, understanding that we can’t fool him any more than we can fool ourselves. Remember how the Master also pointed out that the truth has the power to set us free? It sets up the imperative of honesty and allows us – requires us – to take things from there.

Have you ever wondered why confession is such an important element in traditional worship? Confession clears the air, it gives us a chance to acknowledge what God already knows:
  • Yes, Lord, I have sinned.
  • Yes, I have come short of your best.
  • Yes, I know that I need your forgiveness in so many ways.
I made this New Year’s resolution one time. Nothing like “Lose weight,” “Jog daily,” or “Spend less” – although I must admit each of those do have merit. No, this one was my best resolution ever. “I resolve to actively and deliberately try to BE THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST in my work environment.”

Now that’s a great concept. Much better than handing out tracts on street corners or doing the whole “bull-horn thing” to strangers at the mall. The problem, however, is my constant failure, my inherent sinfulness shoving its way – rudely – through. When I fall short of being, as Paul puts it, “Christ’s ambassador", then I really am actually betraying Jesus and in much the same way he predicted.

Yes, Judas did betray Jesus, but then so did Peter. The difference is that Peter accepted forgiveness and moved on. Judas was unable to let Christ love him that way. I need to be open with Jesus and let him love me too.

When we confess our sins; when I confess my sin. Paul reminds us that God is faithful and just to forgive us those sins. The key word here is not betrayal, it’s not even sin; the key word is forgiveness.

PRAYER: We understand that we betray you every day, Jesus. Help us to walk more clearly in your light, and grant us peace as we walk in the truth of the forgiveness that you purchased at such cost. Amen

Friday, February 27, 2009

Will we ever "Get It"?

"You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." - Jesus (John 13:7)

Lent Day Three: Will we ever understand?
Sometimes the crowds surrounding Jesus were dense; very often his closest friends were fairly dense too. Same word, entirely different meaning!

Most evenings, when Andrew and Naomi were growing up, we would pepper our family dinnertime conversation with "Questions." It was a great way to coax ideas and opinions and honesty out of the children. The practice worked so well that - quite often - I still go to dinner with friends or family armed with two or three new guaranteed conversation starters, just in case.

Jesus was well-known for doing the same thing with his friends. His most frequent and telling questions went like this.
  • "Do you not understand?"
  • "Have you not seen and heard?"
  • "Don't you get it?"
  • "Are you not a student of the law?"
  • The Gospel writers often include phrases like, "And he wondered at their lack of understanding..."
The Lord persisted. He rephrased, he told parables, he lived by example. But it was all so foreign, so radical and so personal. Christ's approach was markedly unusual in the harsh Middle Eastern world where life was often cheap and the last thing anyone expected of a deity was compassion.

They were, after all, looking for the kind of Messiah who would smash Rome into tiny pieces and then establish a tangible kingdom of RAW POWER. And yet here was Jesus, walking on water, calming the storm, caring for the child, touching the leper, speaking with - gasp! - women...

"The kingdom if God is like this ______," he would say, and startle them all with another grain of seed, a lost sheep, or a crippled man. And Jesus cared, passionately, for individuals. Not even one sparrow falls, he told anyone who would listen, without it mattering to God.

And so they entered Jerusalem, triumphant at last, with Jesus perched on a borrowed donkey, the sign of contrition and of peace. And then, rather than claim a temporal, earthly throne, he took his disciples aside for one last meal together, broke bread with them, and dropped the bombshell that he was going to die.

"Excuse me?" his friends must have said, "Would you run that by us again. We were just getting used to the servant stuff and then we really liked the whole triumphal entry thing. But now you say 'This is my body, broken for you? This is my blood - as often as you drink it'...?"

"So listen already," Jesus must have said. "I'm going to go over the highlights one more time..."

And this will be our study - during these next crucial weeks leading up to Easter. To go over the highlights one more time. We'll do it with Jesus, with all those original Jesus-followers, and with his last words - at the Last Supper.

PRAYER: Bless us, Great Creator. with hearts open to hear your radical and compelling message. Teach us through these forty days. and fill us with your Holy Spirit. Amen

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Intention: The second day of Lent

This is Day 2 of this devotional journey to Easter. Please join me every day - DEREK

"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" (John 12:28)

One of the most remarkable truths about Christ's journey to the cross is the understanding that it was deliberate... volitional... a purposeful choice. Jesus knowingly stepped out, turned his face toward Jerusalem, and walked - one step at a time - toward the humiliation and the torturous death that he knew was waiting for him.

But why THEN? Why after only three years of active ministry? Weren't there still signs and wonders to be performed? Weren't there yet disciples to make? Didn't he have more towns to visit and additional wisdom to speak?

At the heart of it all, Christ's message is simple and it is pure. It is uncomplicated and direct. It is an elegant, uncompromising invitation to live. After three years Jesus had said his piece very clearly, and for two thousand years since his followers - that would be me, and you - have been complicating every word and nuance until it has, far too often, become just about unrecognizable!

I do not believe that there was any more for Christ to demonstrate, any more for the Master to say. The imperative, after the SAYING, is to GO OUT AND DO. And he demonstrated the doing part most profoundly. How? By traveling to Jerusalem to face his certain death... and ultimately his most powerful victory.

But, first, Jesus had to turn his face, he had to set his will, and he had to take the first step.

Our first step is our intention. Let's join Christ on the road that Robert Frost described as the one "Less often traveled by...." Let's then add commitment to our intention - and so be on our way.

PRAYER: Help us, dear Lord, to set our sights and our intentions clearly on Jerusalem. Accompany us on this journey. Feed our souls. Amen

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sacred Rhythm - The first day of Lent

Growing up, the best thing for me about the season of Lent was Shrove Tuesday; "Pancake Day" for us, and "Fat Tuesday" here on the U.S. Gulf Coast. That was the day my mum made amazing English style pancakes, crepes floating in lemon juice and sugar; my brother and I tore into them like there was no tomorrow.

Of course that was the original idea of Fat Tuesday. There was no tomorrow so far as indulgent food was concerned, not until Easter around six weeks down the road. But - growing up in a Protestant household - I don't remember much particular attention given to today (Ash Wednesday) or to the traditional spiritual disciplines of Lent. I have since come to believe that an observance of the spiritual calendar, a kind of sacred rhythm, has a lot of merit in a world that has become so overbearingly secular.

So I'm going to use this space to share a devotional journey - all the way to The Cross. Please join me every day.

ASH Wednesday - Day One
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The promise of springtime is very deep with me. As a child, in England, this was the time the green tips of crocus leaves pushed their way through the slush of freezing rain or the melting snow. Typically, I would see them on a cold, wet, uninviting morning, having reluctantly taken our too enthusiastic Golden Retriever out for a run. There they would be, little heads poking up with inordinate hope. "We can do it!" They seemed to taunt, "What's your excuse!"

Today, in Florida, my springtime is already in full bloom. Everywhere the garden is pushing ahead in response to the imperative of nature. The nature of the sin that separates me from God may be death - life set aside in favor of darkness - but Jesus has given me this NEW DISPOSITION, and that is the disposition of life.

The surge of vitality that comes through cold soil and dead wood every Spring is small compared to the life that Christ offers through the nature of our birth into his resurrection. "You have to be born from above..." Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3. "Behold," he invites, "I make all things new!"

So each springtime is instructive to me in terms of my journey.
  • Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to work newness in my life?
  • Is my faith able to grasp - afresh - the promise of renewal?
  • Do I thrust forth the kind of evidence that the crocus achieves each and every year?
  • And does the witness of my living communicate the reality of God's amazing love to the world around me?
These next 40 days offer a unique opportunity to set our intention for life. How about you join me in this Journey.
Love and blessings - DEREK

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Our house is a very very very nice house...

I wonder if it's possible to love a house too much? Maybe it's different if you move around a lot, like our friends in the military and a lot of preachers I know... But Rebekah and I are suckers, we always manage to fall in love with our home.

We lived in two houses during our Pensacola tenure; five years in a little patio home and then nine in a classic 1954 ranch that had personality to spare. Here in Brandon we've enjoyed over 12 years at this address thus far, gradually shaping what was always a good house into this awesome place we love so much today.

But every time we do something creative that enhances the property or increases its "value" we have to ask ourselves: Could we leave this house if that's the direction God has in mind? Or are we beginning to allow something we possess to take on all the characteristics of a great treasure with the potential to hinder our willingness to be "In the flow" of God's purposes...?

Jesus said what we treasure turns out to be a good indication of exactly where our heart hangs out too. It always bothers me when any item on our expense list involves more monthly dollars than out tithe. We've never compromised that part of our budget and I'm happy to say that our charitable giving as a whole has grown to between 13% and 15%.

Then there are predictable times when specific line items necessarily go through the roof because of circumstance. The few years we had two teens on our car insurance the "auto expenses" line went berserk! Then there were the years we regularly sent more money than we had to various universities. But the home is a constant; and while I'd love to spend more actual dollars on God's work than our house, that reality is still a long time coming.

So what to do?
  • First, we understand that everything we've been given is to be held in trust; stewardship involves honoring the trust God has placed in us.
  • Next, Rebekah and I must be careful to hold even the home that we love lightly. What I mean is that we should always be willing to let this place go without resentment or regret. If a hurricane destroys the concrete and mortar we still have a home; if we are called to move somewhere else and live in a two-bedroom apartment, same thing...
  • Finally, it's impossible to lose perspective when we turn daily attention to the real source of our stability and security and hope. That means we love God with all our heart and our soul and our strength and our mind, that we love our neighbor as ourselves; and that we remember that we love each other and that our relationships give us more security than any house ever erected on any plot of land.
This is a good life. We really do love this house. We may even remodel the kitchen this year. But that is not what defines us.
Love and blessings - DEREK

Monday, February 23, 2009

Herding Cats

My Sunday evening small-group is made up of 16 phenomenal people. We have 16 active members, with anywhere from 12-16 present at any given meeting. Our format is simple: we eat together - along with the Parents of Teens support group (POTs), then gather in the church library for conversation, Bible-study, prayer and mutual encouragement.

We used to be the POTs group, but then our children all graduated and moved to college and beyond. So our new designation is "POGs" (Parents of Grads). One of our members just turned 60; the youngest is in her mid 40s; the rest of us are in between.

These people are all motivated, smart, and deeply credentialed. Just about everyone in the group has served as an elder in the church at some point, and the range of professions they have pursued includes bank executive, school principal, military officer, veterinary technician, school teacher (several), nurse, minister, public health, psychology, heating and AC contractor, software engineer, network administrator, chemical sales, finance manager, auditor, writer, airline pilot, merchandising....

I am, in title, the designated leader, or group facilitator; but I've got to tell you, bringing all the elements together for the 90 minute "meeting" portion of the evening is a lot like - as my friend Ben pointed out - herding cats.

My goals are simple:
  • Everyone contributes
  • We will all know each other a little better by the time we go home
  • The context or umbrella that covers our time together is 100% our commitment to grow as disciples of Jesus
  • We will read, discuss and be challenged by a passage of scripture
  • Everyone will share a prayer concern
  • We pray together
Fortunately, we are a "covenant group". This means that we operate under a group covenant or set of promises that include confidentiality, respect, active listening, unconditional love, mutual accountability, a commitment to refrain from judging one-another or offering glib advice.

Part of that covenant gives me permission to interrupt, redirect, draw out conversation, proactively bring us back to topic, ask probing questions and generally act like a former middle-school teacher when necessary!

BUT SOMETIMES FACILITATION CAN BE HARD, HARD WORK!!! The energy level in the room yesterday evening was ramped way up. Some people were just uber-full-of-themselves; the air-line pilot, the banker and the veterinary tech thought of hilarious comments every two or three minutes and never once refrained from sharing them with the group;

But the Spirit was there. It's Okay to be hilarious around God. People of faith who are comfortable with one-another and who love deeply are more fun, and fun can be healing in so many ways.

Then the Bible discussion was - as always - deeply illuminating. "My food," Jesus said to his followers in John 4, "is to do the will of him who sent me...." We talked about how we receive spiritual sustenance not just from worship or prayer or meeting together - but in living out a life of faith in the nitty-gritty of our day to day.

More on this as we move forward.
Love and blessings - DEREK

Saturday, February 21, 2009

No brainer....

Sometimes it takes a long morning walk to put two-and-two together. Other times of course I could walk five miles and the penny still wouldn't drop. But this morning - random thoughts settling on my brain and just as quickly moving off (how I wish I knew how to trap some of them) - I made a connection between a couple of recent discussions I've had that was kind of an "ah-ha".

So apologies to my Atlanta friends, but I'm going to out them on this one. I'm wondering if maybe they made the connection already; but then I probably would have heard something...

To summarize, here are the two posts in "Cliffnotes" version.
  • First, I responded (The February 6 post) to a question about realizing the truth of God's presence in everyday life. Several guys my friend knows had expressed the desire to know God more fully, but they were/are frustrated at God's apparent distance so much of the time.
  • Then, a few days ago (and I just realized this was actually an email exchange that I haven't blogged about until today) we exchanged some thoughts about what happens in between church, small-group gatherings, or Bible-study meetings - the ongoing challenge vis-a-vis encouraging people to follow through in terms of contact, prayer, accountability, intentionality, encouragement etc....
Now I hope it's not just me, but is anyone else seeing the GLARING truth that's just jumping around trying to be noticed here? It's like one of those New Testament moments when I swear Jesus would have used the word "duh" if it has been invented in its Aramaic equivalent. Here it is: The exact same people who expressed their profound and honest desire to connect more meaningfully with God in the day to day.... are the same group of folk who routinely pass up on the opportunity to deliberately be the presence of Jesus in one-another's lives...

The following turns out to be a consistent phenomenon: Jesus followers who intentionally reach out to one-another (on a day-to-day basis) experience more in the way of affirming spiritual experience between Sundays than those who park their faith-based relationships in a quiet place when they are not at church or attending a church-related activity.
  • Here's the (potentially) liberating truth: We say we want to experience the kind of relationship with God that is evident and personal each and every day... Yet we routinely fail to follow through when it comes to putting into practice the simple principles advanced by Jesus himself.... What's up with that?
Jesus said very little about doctrine, or about the way he leaned regarding church politics. But the Master did offer some very clear observations regarding how people would know that we are - in truth - his disciples. "Let me give you a new command," he said: "Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other." (John 13:34-35 The Message)
  • Would it not then follow that such a demonstration of love involve deliberate reaching out to one another, and more than once every week or two, at church?
  • Would it not also follow that following Jesus so closely might lead to an increased apprehension of the reality of God's presence?
Love one another.
Do it well.
Then let's talk about Do we feel close to God...?
I'm just saying....
- DEREK

Friday, February 20, 2009

Business card

Late blog today. Got up running. By running of course I mean "stuff to do"; I haven't actually run any real distance since I turned forty. It wasn't a deliberate choice - we just moved to Tampa and my routine changed and before I knew it I was a walker not a runner. My knees - decades of soccer abuse knees - are still thanking me to this day.

But I digress. I intended to write something about business cards. Not an exciting topic, but certainly one that occupied my creative energy for the past hour or so. I noticed this morning, when I was interviewing a very interesting martial arts practitioner over in the Plant City area, that my cards are seriously out of date, missing vital information, and not worth handing out any more.

So I got on the VISTAPRINT website and played around with the design elements. This time I chose "Design your own". That's the front of the card at the beginning of this blog; not bad for a first effort. You probably recognized the picture because it's my current favorite. Or at least my current favorite that happened to be available at the exact time I wanted to make the card.

On the back it says simply Grace, peace, and God's rich blessings. At least I think it does; I can't access the page again so I'm not 100% sure.

The exercise begged a few questions. Such as: what is important enough that I'm prepared to take up precious space on a teeny-tiny card to write it down? What image says the right things about me? How do I describe what I do? What important message do I want to emblazon across the back?

There is a lot about us that must be reduced to "sound-bites" in order to interface with this attention-deficit world. Like it or not, people make snap judgments, draw fast conclusions, and then move on. So I'm often left wondering about what I communicated in that short space of time. We communicate something, intentional or not; my question is do we pass along anything of substance?

Just something to chew on.
Gotta go.
Peace, and grace and God's rich blessings - DEREK

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Redefining prosperity - it's about time

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS:
This morning I'm wearing - not necessarily by choice - my "Philosopher/Commentator/Columnist" hat. I'm liable to write today's blog as if it were an "Op-Ed" submitted to the Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post. Several people told me yesterday that a couple of lines from this week's Tampa Tribune column should have run nation-wide... so maybe I'm thinking on a grander scale today. But more to the point is the fact that I finished my devotional time a few minutes ago, placed my writing day in the hands of the Creator, and immediately I felt my thinking begin to shift.

TO THE POINT:
It's about this Federal bailout thing. Of course the numbers are huge - unimaginable and by consequence unmanageable is better to say than huge. But it's not so much the numbers themselves that bother me so much as the thinking behind them; or should I say the yearnings behind them.

And I'm not talking politics here; Republican versus Democrat, or conservative versus liberal, or progressive set against traditional - or anything like that. The fundamental yearning at the root of six months of reactive economic policy seems to be summed up in this phrase: "We really liked the way things were going and we want the good times back."

I'm immediately reminded of something my wife, Rebekah, said in church last year. She was talking about married couples who come in for counseling, mired in years of strife, and some kind of tipping point drives them to her office.
  • "We just want things to go back to the way they were before..." they often say.
  • "No you don't," she would reply. "Why on earth would you want to turn the clock back to the way things were before? The way things were is exactly what got you into this mess in the first place. God's grace and forgiveness and redemption is about moving forward, reinvention, re-imagining! Somewhere, somehow, on a fundamental level, what is foundational to this marriage HAS GOT TO CHANGE!"
Somehow, somewhere, and on a fundamental level, what is foundational to this culture we live in has simply got to change. Because the way things were is exactly what has gotten us to this particular juncture. The way things always have been does not work. Why on earth would we want to repeat all that heartbreak and pain?

The answer to that question can be understood both in terms of a "failure of imagination" and a profound inability - or dare I say unwillingness - on the part of most of us to step away from the compelling addictiveness of THE BIG LIE.

THE BIG LIE is the idea much of our economy hangs on. It's the underlying value that more is by definition good, that excess is simply a multiplier for pleasure, and that all personal happiness is bound inextricably with the acquisition of material goods.

If we are a Christian nation - as advertised - then most of us already know that such a formula for happiness is a seductive lie, told and retold in order to lead people away from the truth that Jesus articulated so plainly in his teaching.

But we are not a Christian nation. We are an "I want mine and I want it now" driven consumer culture. We worship at the Mall, where we bring our hopes and our dreams and offer our tithes; we are instructed by 30-second sound-bites known as advertising; we measure success in terms of material possessions.

Our ultimate value defines us, and our ultimate value has been revealed.

That's what bothers me about our approach to the economic crisis. We want it all back, even if such a move will simply doom the next generation to repeat our own catastrophic failure.

Alternatively, and this time of crisis does provide us with a unique opportunity to re-evaluate and re-prioritize; choose, at it were, a new set of gods. Maybe the One God? Not to guarantee our fiscal prosperity, but - hopefully - to redefine the idea of prosperity altogether.

That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cats and dogs and Siths (?) - Oh My!

This is our cat "Darth Maul." Darth is a very cool feline, friendly and gracious, but he typically maintains a stealth presence when the camera comes out. Yesterday evening I caught him napping on a wall in the garden so he gets to make a rare blog appearance today.

Officially, I'm a dog guy. My best friend when I was growing up was a Golden Retriever named Lassie (or, as Rebekah always says, "Saint Lassie"). Then, until a couple of years ago, Mozart the Bichon Frise played the part of enthusiastic side-kick before simply wearing out at 16. The newspaper column about his passing remains #1, to this day, in terms of overwhelming reader response.

Darth was dumped outside our house ten years ago, right about the time the StarWars "Episode I, The Phantom Menace" came out. The cat was black, mysterious and took up lodging in the Maul household - so the name Darth Maul was a no-brainer. He turned out to be a lover, though, not a fighter, and he effectively redeemed the name. In our neighborhood, he's more famous than the the film-maker's vengeful Sith.

There's a lot in a name. It's one reason the Apostle Paul changed his from "Saul" once he became a Jesus follower. But I'm more attracted to the idea of redeeming a name; I think such an approach requires us to be more honest, both about who we have been and who we intend to be in the future.

My name is Derek Maul. I want people to see that name and automatically understand something of the truth of what it means to follow Jesus. I don't want any confusion about the Gospel on my account. I'm fully aware that I am an imperfect vessel and that I am supremely ordinary. But that's the exact point I made, right at the beginning of "GET REAL: A Spiritual Journey for Men": My ordinariness is the perfect vehicle for the glory of God... It's the exact venue where God purposes to shine... My ordinariness is God's opportunity.

So is yours. DEREK (Suddenly missing his old dog, Mozart)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The sound track of my life

Typically I'm not a gadget kind of a guy. I enjoy useful tools that help me navigate my world, but I don't tend to acquire technology just because it exists. In fact, the GPS Rebekah gave me for Christmas is probably the first time I've asked for something electronic just because I thought it would be fun to play with. It is!

But I've got to say I've fallen in love with my iPod. It's a great companion when I travel, and I take it with me on many of my long walks with Scout Labradoodle. I tend to alternate between listening to a podcast and enjoying an album or two or great music. Last night, for example, I listened to a message by author and Mars Hill pastor Rob Bell, then followed up with Steve Tyrell's classic big-band disk "A New Standard."

I'm still amazed at the sound quality I get via my $15 ear-phones and the fact that every album we own is at my fingertips. I also discovered - it was a beautiful evening yesterday and the windows to our house were all wide open - that I tend to sing along with a little more volume than I previously realized. Apparently Rebekah could hear me quite clearly, coming up the street crooning "I'm all broken-hearted 'cause I can't get started with you..."

I've been thinking about the sound-track of my life, and what music might best represent where I am and where I am going. There's a buoyancy to many of my selections at the moment, certainly indicative of my disposition; but I'm also aware that music has a way of helping set mood, so I find that sewing seeds of worship and hope and grace is something I can choose to do.

So I'm going to recommend a few (very recent) listening experiences that might help any one of us find our path into a mind-set of devotion and joy.
  • Choral Masterpieces - particularly Bach's Mass in B minor
  • Diamonds on the Inside - Ben Harper is brilliant
  • Lifesong - Casting Crowns
  • Worship - by Michael W. Smith
  • Long Line of Leavers - Caedmon's Call
  • Time - by Third Day
  • Hymns to the Silence - Van Morrison's iconic double-album
  • Beyond Nature and The Master & the Musician - Phil Keaggy
I'll share some of my favorite secular albums next, because I believe all creativity comes - in the long view - from God.

Good listening; redemptive listening; to all - DEREK

Monday, February 16, 2009

So many reasons to celebrate

February 15, 1985, twenty-four years ago, I stood in the front of the U.S. District Courthouse in Pensacola, Florida, and I took public vows to become a "naturalized" citizen of the United States of America.

Judge Vinson asked my wife, Rebekah, to offer both the invocation and the benediction, and - along with around thirty others from every corner of this globe, I was sworn in. The only glitch in the proceedings was an error in the printed program that listed my country of origin as "Spain." I'm guessing it was my dark complexion, heavy Mediterranean accent and raven black hair that must have confused them!

So of course I got presents! I do every year, because I celebrate Feb 15 as another birthday. This year, Rebekah got me a piece of classic Americana - the original Blues Brothers CD, and then a new book about Abraham Lincoln (click on the book for a fascinating New York Times article) that focuses on our 16th president's contributions to the language as a remarkable writer.

In actuality I celebrate three birthdays. There's my birthday into this world, March 26; there's my birthday as an American, February 15; and then there is my birth into faith, something I try to celebrate every day.

Fact is, I can't pinpoint a particular day or hour of the day when I first decided to follow Jesus. I have loved God all my life, it's a relationship that has been honed over time, since before I could even talk. My parents provided the kind of home where Jesus was already present - down to the details, and faithfully evident in the way that they lived.

As for the classic "Personal Decision..." I probably made a hundred such commitments, both as a child and as a young person - each time with sincerity and conviction. One moment that stands out was the day I "went up to the front" at a Billy Graham meeting in London; it led to my decision to be baptized. Today I consciously choose to follow Jesus every single morning.

I have been a disciple for most of my life and, while my faithfulness has faltered, God has never wavered. I have supreme confidence in the Redeemer's gracious love and I know God's promises are sure.

So there it is. Happy birthday to me! I have so many reasons to celebrate.
Peace and love - DEREK

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day - Redeemed!

Valentines Day; always a dilemma. Why? Because I hold two opposed ideals in my head and heart: First, my conviction that "V-Day" is contrived, artificial, exclusively commercial and as plastic as it's possible to be... Then, next, my ongoing commitment to honor my wife, Rebekah, and to not make her a casualty of my felt need to protest a day she neither invented nor corrupted.

Consequently, I always do remember V-Day. But I try to do it in a manner that not only shows Rebekah how much I love her but also redeems the concept.

One of my problems with V-Day is this. I am deeply committed to the idea that my faith - if it is lived authentically, and therefore my life - if it is reflective of my faith, is necessarily counter-cultural, standing at odds much of the time with the values and the passions of our secular consumer-driven society. As a Jesus follower it is important that I NOT BLEND IN.

So what did I do this morning? I found a really cool card (no hearts or candy or anything involving the color red); I wrote a thoughtful four-paragraph message that expressed why Rebekah is, has been, and always will be the love of my life; and I gave her a gift that demonstrated that I know her and I pay attention to what she values.

Two pounds of Peet's Fair Trade Coffee and Peet's mugs (one each) to drink from. Why?
  • We discovered Peets on the Pacific Northwest Coast on an amazing romantic road-trip; we can't drink Peet's without recapturing some of that experience.
  • Peet's Fair Trade Coffee speaks to Rebekah's growing passion to end human trafficking.
  • Two mugs says this is a part of our life together that is best shared.
  • I serve Rebekah coffee in bed every morning - it's a "better-than-V-Day commitment I've offered her for closing in on thirty years
So, take that, cheap and tawdry sentiment. Even the world's tackiest holiday can be redeemed!

Love and blessings - DEREK

Friday, February 13, 2009

Keeping the faith - even when things go well

68°F
Current: Clear
Wind: E at 3 mph
Humidity: 52%
Fri
Mostly Sunny
78°F | 56°F





I understand that those of you who live pretty much anywhere else in this country are going to think I'm crowing here (and I may well be), but this morning happens to be another one of those undeniable affirmations of why we live in Florida. When I got up to walk Scout it was 55 degrees. We walked two and a half miles, then I opened up all the windows in the house while the coffee was making. The high today promises to be around 78 degrees, and when I played golf yesterday I actually caught a little too much sun.

Yes, I have to say it, it's tough living around Tampa in the middle of February; but somebody has to do it!

Most of us are familiar with Paul's declaration that he had "learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." But it's one of those "often used out of balance" ideas, and too many of us tend to limit the concept as a reminder to grit our teeth and remember God when we're down on our luck, despite how crappy life can be. You know the drill:
  • I have the flu... but praise God!
  • My car got repossessed... but God loves me anyway!
  • Nothings going right today... but God loves me unconditionally.
  • Stocks are down again... but I have a spirit of joy.
  • It's cold and rainy... but I know peace in my relationship with God.
  • I burned dinner and my spouse forgot Valentines Day... but the Bible says I should be grateful.
It's truly redemptive to be able to see things from that perspective; I'm not knocking that at all.

But... today I can't help thinking about all those times when life is good, things are humming along, the sun is out, the UPS guys just delivered Rebekah's Valentines stuff because I RULE at remembering, and the dog adores me - all those circumstances that are wonderful and make life just hum along... but we often get caught up in the positive, forget that we follow Jesus, and go the entire day without even considering what it means to be a child of God - grateful and faithful despite circumstances that make us, albeit subconsciously, believe we really don't need God when things are going well...
  • I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want; I can do everything through him who gives me strength.(Philippians 4:10-13)
Strength today, for all of us. Simply because we are loved without condition by a God who is eternal and faithful and full of grace.
- DEREK

Thursday, February 12, 2009

So you must live like people who belong to the light.

Short entry today. We've been talking about the light, and how critical it is that we learn to connect with the source as a reflexive or autonomic response rather than keeping God at arms length, a separate part of our lives removed from immediacy - the day-to-day, moment-by-moment substance of living.

Well, Rebekah and I just had a new roof installed on the house. We thought about it, did some study, and decided to do something about the dark kitchen. The kitchen is where we hang out so much of the time, and while the fluorescent lights do brighten things up the light is desperately artificial. So we used the new roof opportunity to install one of those "Solatube" skylights. The little bubble on the roof has a series of prisms that capture tons of light and then flood the space below.

The difference is not so much in the volume as in the quality of the light.

That's how I feel as I learn to invite the source of light and life into my moment-by-moment. I feel flooded with life; I experience more insight; the truth becomes more incisive; there is a clarity I otherwise would not/could not know.

That light is necessary for the Life Examined. It is the only viable source of power for my ongoing journey. "Since you have become the Lord's people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to the light." (Ephesians 5:8 - TEV)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Trying to deal with reality

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Just thinking out loud here... But I'm concerned about my newspaper writing gig. Little, by little, the work is eroding in terms of the Tampa Tribune being my "count on" weekly income.

Two years ago I was writing four stories for $410 every week. Then they closed the West Tampa News... then they cut the rate they pay... then they started to pay less for photographs... now they sometimes "hold stories for space" which means they haven't sold adequate advertising to justify enough pages and so my columns get bumped.

So today, on average, I have two stories any given week - sometimes just one, and almost never three - and I'm earning mostly $155.

I have often said that I don't write for the money (or why would I blog?!!). But, and this is a key distinction, I do need to earn money so that I can write. Or, to put it another way, earning an income from the Tampa Tribune has thus far freed me up to devote the kind of time necessary in order to write the stuff (devotions, meditations, books, studies etc) that I believe from the bottom of my heart that God is calling me to do.

Right now for example I am overflowing with some great ideas for my next book. But I have to be practical. What I really need is three to six months where I can concentrate 100% on the new manuscript. I guess what I need is a grant!

So I'm thinking out loud here in terms of looking for wisdom. How do I proceed? The answer is partially revealed as I sit here thinking...: One of my all-time favorite books is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl wrote in response to real-life - namely his incarceration in a Nazi death-camp during WW2. There was no tidy comfortable "Genius Grant" set aside so that the philosopher and theologian could work on his manuscript without worry or interruption.

Darn it, I hate it when I get that kind of insight! I'd rather go with the genius grant any day. Oh well, that's reality for you; it's where we live. Watch this space to see how God continues to teach me.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

- DEREK

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One in spirit and purpose

This morning I got "up-and-at-em" extra early so I could get all the dog-walking and coffee making out of the way in time to drive 45 minutes to the community of Zephyrhills, where I was scheduled to speak at a 7:00 men's breakfast.

This is the third or fourth time I've made the trip. The drive is relaxing - I cut through the agricultural belt of Dover, Antioch and Thonotosassa - and I know by now what to expect. But even so it always takes me a few minutes to re-acclimatize myself; because a visit to Zephyrhills is - essentially - a time-warp experience. Walking into the Methodist church fellowship hall, full of guys in white short-sleeved shirts, is like stepping back into the 1950's or 60's.

The event was well attended, with 40 men from a variety of local churches seated around 6 trestle-tables. I read from Philippians Chapter 2 "Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose". Then I spoke for around 25 minutes, sharing three stories about God's faithfulness and the amazing redemptive quality of grace. I concluded by sharing about the blood-pumping immediacy that characterizes my own current journey.

I can't overstate how valuable it is to spend quality time around other people of faith, fellow travellers who are making their way along the same path. I didn't have time to talk with more than a few guys today, but I know for a fact that each man in the Zephyhills group owns a unique story that is worth sharing and worth knowing.

When did you last tell your story? When did you last listen to another pilgrim?
  • If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)
Peace and love - DEREK

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday morning headache!

I've got to say it's tough to be introspective when five guys with shovels, crowbars and hammers are literally tearing the roof off the house just ten feet above my head!

But this is real life. This is being alive on Monday morning, February 9, 2009. This is me being - or not being - a disciple of Jesus right here in the middle of whatever may be going on.

There is a necessary immediacy to the gospel message that gets easily lost between noon Sunday - when we leave morning worship - and 9:00 AM on a Monday morning. It helps a lot - for me - that I spend Sunday evening with a dozen or so of my closest friends, reading scripture, talking about our lives, praying for one another and keeping faith front and center.

So I wake up the next day and wonder if: -
  • This is the day I'm going to naturally think, act, respond, talk, write in the light and life of living faith...
  • Or if this is yet another day I have to make myself remember that I'm a Jesus follower - "Oh yea, right, I'm going to talk to God now - I knew there was something I was supposed to be doing..."
To be honest I really do understand that it is a process - and I understand that I was created with free will and the ability - the responsibility - to make my own decisions each and every day. THIS is the day I decide to follow Jesus. YESTERDAY I also had to make that choice. TOMORROW will be pretty much the same kind of day.

And I suspect that I am a lot closer to waking up already in the light than I ever have been before. My spiritual life is more of a reflex now than it has been in the past. Habits take time to form; deliberate willful repetition as a prelude to the natural flow.

Remember the hymn (I'm paraphrasing from cloudy memory)? God be in my head, and in my thinking; God be in my heart, and in my loving; God be in my hands, and in my doing; God be in my thoughts, and in my speaking...

OK - here it is, I found it on the web:
  • God be in my head and in my understanding
  • God be in mine eyes and in my looking
  • God be in my mouth and in my speaking
  • God be in my heart and in my thinking
  • God be at my end and in my departing.
(Walford Davies; 1869-1941)

God be in this day - and in my being.
- DEREK

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Live... love... shine... illuminate

Stage next on our "stop the house from falling apart" project is a new roof. Hey, it's only money. But the old shingles have - quite literally - been crumbling away; plus we've had a few leaks off and on the past year, and the one major breech cascades in during even a mild rain. So the crew is coming out Monday to strip and rip before laying primo dimensional tile.

We've been talking about light a lot in this space so it's more than apropos we're replacing one skylight and adding two "Solatubes ". The Solatube technology serves as a conduit for channeling concentrated natural light through a series of prisms and then diffusing that light into dark places.

Typically, few places in a house are completely dark; light comes in through the windows, bounces around and eventually the second-hand light seeps into even remote corners; there's a dingy quality to the illumination that leaves dreary spots in most homes.

But with the Solatube the results are spectacular; light just about floods the dark spaces.

We live in a world that often lives in the half-light; light that's artificial or left over from the past and with most of the life already wrung out of it. What Jesus offers is a connection to the source. We own this opportunity/responsibility to be prisms, disseminating life through our finger-tips like George Baily's image of lassoing the moon, swallowing it, and glory coming out through our finger and toes and hair. (It's A Wonderful Life)
  • George: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary...
  • Mary: I'll take it. Then what?
  • George: Well, then you can swallow it, and it'll all dissolve, see... and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair....
I appreciate the way Paul put out the challenge in his letter to the church in Ephesus. "Since you have become the Lord's people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to thee light." Ephesians 5:8

Live... love... shine... illuminate - DEREK

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Q & A" time? Or maybe "Q & Q" time...?

One interesting and sometimes challenging "extra" that comes along with being a writer has been conversation with the people who read my work.

My new friend, Gil, is leading a "GET REAL" study with some men at his Atlanta Church. He sent me a great email this morning and I have his permission to share. Here are some excerpts, followed by some of my comments below:
  • In a recent small group discussion, one of the threads focused on your car ride account of your seeking God and successfully getting feedback... One guy mentioned that he knew others who had a very conversational approach with God but that he, even though fairly "connected" and committed to God with prayer and study, did not feel like he had that degree of connectedness with God. He described a "glass ceiling" effect or bounce off the ceiling feeling.
  • Others of us agreed that although we recognized moments in our lives that had divine components, we haven't had experiences that would approach the intimacy you describe. After getting to know you through your two books and your blog, I must admit that I am jealous of your ability to view even the most mundane aspects of life through a spiritual lens. You recognize God so easily, and I wonder how you do it.
  • So do we really seek God like we should, if He is something we truly desire like we say? After all, that's your point (Chs. 3 & 4); it takes tenacity, persistence, and diligence to stay on course with our spiritual growth. I think the frustrating thing is that we all feel that we have diligence in our quest (admittedly we could all have more!), but that God's feedback loop to us is not as obvious as we'd like it to be...
  • Thanks for being such a great catalyst of conversation for my small group.
First off, I really don't recognize God so easily. A book is like a photograph in National Geographic. You say "Wow - that's great photography!" Well, yes, but you've got to remember the photographer took ten thousand pictures over 10 days and they published the best three. Then again they learned a lot in the process - which is exactly what's happening with yours truly. I've been spending a lot of time working on the "learning to recognize God's voice" part of this equation and I find God's voice is becoming more familiar - credible - real...

Then, and I know this is a clichĂ©, "It's not about the destination it's about the journey"… But you can't jettison a bit of good truth just because it's become a little worn over time. Fact is, most of the time it really is the getting there part that teaches us and reaches us most profoundly.

Another way to parse the idea is in terms of process rather than results. Now there's an honest-to-goodness spiritual principle for you - when the process of seeking God becomes our focus the results often take care of themselves.

John's gospel – which I find myself claiming more and more as "The Gospel of John for Derek" – looks at belief itself as an act of faith. I think we easily allow ourselves to become caught up in a kind of empiricism (the philosophy that knowledge derives from experience) - this is based on our assumption that life and belief should make sense in a quantifiable "one plus one equals two" sort of way, a "seeing is believing" mentality. So we tell ourselves that we're going to believe more effectively if and when we start to accumulate some feelings or experiences to bolster the possibility of belief. But believing turns out to be mostly a decision; and that - more often than not - fails to provide what we thought we were looking for.

What we end up with is - typically - something off the radar; not a "do this and you get this" result; not what we expected. But that is SO God!

That's enough for this entry.
The discussion continues...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

EKG, PSA and the gang all looking good

Busy busy day today. My annual check-up followed by a fascinating interview and then a tour of the Shriners Children's Hospital in Tampa.

Gotta be honest I was a little nervous about my check up. I've just come off a couple or three months serious munching - I knew my weight was up five pounds going in. Then they'd pre-drilled me for blood-work samples ten days ago and I knew the evidence would be waiting on Dr. Khan's desk. So I braced myself for creeping cholesterol, touchy triglycerides and burgeoning blood pressure.

But it turns out that ALL my numbers (other than the five pounds) are improved from last year. My doctor gave me an A plus in general, and the 25 point drop in cholesterol was sweet indeed. I now plan to eat my way around Italy this summer with a clear conscience!

My only anomaly was the EKG but it's all good: Let me explain.

"I want to give you a new EKG," my doctor said. "If you remember we found something unusual a couple of years ago and I want to check something out."

So she wired me up and, while the nurse was checking the connections, pulled up my last two EKGs on the computer. "This is an old one," she said. "Then next to it is the one we did when I first saw you three years ago. Notice this spike? That's what we want to see again today."

Sure enough, when she fired up the cables, today's readout perfectly mimicked the first two.

"I didn't like it when I first saw it," Dr. Khan said, "but the good news is it's consistent. That's your EKG signature and we'll only worry if it ever changes."

"Let me get this right," I said. "My readout is abnormal for the general population, but it's normal for me...?"

I actually like that idea a lot. I mean, who wants to be normal - especially if normal means "average", unexceptional", or "run of the mill"?

There are a number of reasons my doctor remembers me well, even though we only talk once or twice a year. First off I always make her laugh. Then I ask her about her family and her life - and I know that means a lot. She also knows that I'm passionate and motivated about my life and what I do - she once told me she wished she had more patients who actually live every day rather than merely mark time.

It's not just my EKG signature that's working its way out from the middle of "the bell-shaped curve..." I'm trying to make it my spiritual signature too.

Maybe it's time for a new spiritual check-up all around?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Celebrate something every day!

My wife, Rebekah, and I love to celebrate. Life is an awesome gift on so many levels. Our children; friends; our church family; our extended family; our work; peace; personal peace; the beautiful home we have made together; music; freedom; books; food; sunshine; this cool winter day...

I could go on, but I don't want this post to devolve into another rendition of "a few of my favorite things." Most specifically, this particular day - February 4 - has become one of our favorite ongoing celebrations. Yes, those are nice husband-generated flowers above left... Why? Because it's the anniversary of our first date!

Dateline: DeLand, Florida, Stetson University, 1977 -
The phone rings at my "dorm"; in reality a falling-down ancient house on the edge of campus designed as an affordable living alternative and populated by eleven Baptist pre-ministerial students plus me (believe me, that's a whole other story!). Rebekah Alexander is on the other end. "Derek," she said. "A bunch of us are walking over to the gym to watch the basketball game tonight. You want to come?"

So that was it. Group date; safety in numbers. She asked me out that first time, but she never had to again. Then, when it turned out we were still dating a couple of months later, we started shoving pennies, nickles and dimes in the brown ceramic frog that sat on my bookshelf. "If we're still dating after a year," we agreed, "we'll empty the frog and go to dinner on the proceeds. If it's $5 we'll eat at a burger joint; if it's more we'll splurge accordingly."

Long story short we celebrated the first anniversary of our first date at Orland's ritzy "Maison & Jardin" restaurant - one of those places where my menu had prices and her's didn't (kind of presumptive, if you ask me!). We both started with a flaming spinach salad - impressive - and we enjoyed filet mignon (Rebekah) and steak and lobster (me). The grand total, including tip, was $55. It was a small fortune in 1978, but the frog had been good to us and we somehow knew this wouldn't be our last celebration.

So last night I cooked tenderloin and we watched "Mama Mia". We couldn't help but think about how amazingly wonderful our 32 years have been, and how rich and full our ongoing experience, and how representative of grace and faithful commitment our family is.

So we celebrated - again (note exceptionally lovely flowers, at right!). Life is full of such opportunity. Are we grateful because we are so blessed?... or are we so blessed because we are so grateful?... or is it simply that - because of our gratitude and our honest relationship with God - we are able to perceive the blessings that were patiently waiting for recognition all along?

You be the judge. But also make it your experience - I'm talking about the awe-filled gratitude part - and just see what happens.

Love and blessings - always - DEREK

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"The New Spiritual Man"

Meanwhile, back at the ongoing "New spiritual man in America" discussion, this is a good time to go over some basics.

First - and contrary to the notion that talking about men's spirituality as something distinct is by definition sexist or reactionary or, God forbid, politically incorrect - I am possibly the least chauvinistic man in North America. To wit:
  • I am married to a phenomenally gifted Presbyterian pastor and I understand the role of "minister's spouse"
  • When the kids were growing up I served several tours of duty as a "stay at home dad"
  • I orchestrated pediatric visits, baby-sitters, play-dates, meals and car-pooling
  • I still handle 95% of our cooking and kitchen duty today
  • I actually believe Genesis 1:27: "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
Next: The fact is, historical trends in mainline Christianity reveal a wholesale "pulling back" by men. Today active participation, leadership roles, attendance, and commitment beyond Sunday morning worship services all reflect significantly more involvement by women than men.

Observation: I honestly believe one of the best indicators of health in a church (more useful than membership, general attendance, baptisms, or Sunday-school attendance) is the number of men present (aged 25-65) who are excited about their faith and who passionately follow Jesus.

Then - and this is significant - many initiatives to re-engage men have tended to lean toward chauvinism, have held out the cultural stereotypes of a previous generation as the ideal, have bought into the values of the so-called "Christian Right", have identified with the term "evangelical" as social/political ideology rather than divine commission, and have sought to role back the progress of women instead of embracing a partnership that moves forward rather than attempting to re-invent the past.

Consequently I am excited and encouraged every time I meet men who have made the faithful commitment to follow Jesus... rather than simply preserve "North American Christian Religion" as a social or even anthropological time-capsule from the 1950's.

Ooops, there I've said it! I've actually made the distinction between these two ideas.
  1. An orientation to religiosity that tries to mold Christ into the image of conservative middle-America.
  2. A commitment to follow Jesus that intends to see men and women transformed into the image of Christ.
Paul does a great job with this idea in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3:12-18. Read it, then think again about my great hope that the "New Spiritual Man" in America will not be limited (like the people of Israel whose minds were hardened) by reactionary efforts to re-invent the past... but instead will become/is becoming transformed into the image of Jesus - from one degree of glory to another....
  • Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The BIG lie

Today I've been thinking about deception, about how easily we are influenced by so much that is not true, and about the amazing power we willingly give over to ideas and values that prove - time and again - to be false.

At my adult Sunday-school class yesterday my friend Lee referenced a man who had said he wanted to be a Christian, but was going to wait a few years and have some fun first. The man's statement reflected not only ignorance but deception. Ignorance because he obviously didn't know the truth about following Jesus, and deception because his foundational belief about a life of faith reflects a lie that has been told and re-told so often that it's accepted as fact by a majority - people not only of the secular world but people in the Christian world too.

Even church-goers often think that they have to get their "fun" elsewhere and then return to God for periodic forgiveness. But it's a LIE! The community of faith is authentic fun because it's the fun we were designed to experience; a life of faith offers far more pleasure and satisfaction than the counterfeit. The truth is I had a ball - all day long - yesterday, and it was all 100% directly related to being a committed part of the community of faith where I worship.
  • Playing guitar with the Praise Band brings me genuine pleasure
  • Singing great music with hundreds of enthusiastic people is a blast
  • Rebekah's sermon was challenging, educational and full of inspiration; the church was full of laughter; it was a good time
  • My Sunday-school class are a lot of fun to be around
  • We gathered canned food and dollars for the "Souper-Bowl" hunger emphasis and then ate home-made chili for a youth fund-raiser
  • Later we gathered with our "POGs" small group to eat dinner together, to care for one another, and to watch the Super Bowl. If you haven't watched stupid commercials with a group your best friends in the context of supportive, nurturing community... then your definition of "FUN" may well be too narrow.
And that was just Sunday; every day offers deep satisfaction and fulfillment when it is lived in the context of my commitment to be a Jesus-follower. Yet somehow, and most unfortunately, a publicity campaign literally decades in the making has placed "Christian faith" and "FUN" as antonyms; mutually exclusive ideas on opposite ends of the scale. This is the beginning of the great lie.

So we're told that people of faith are fun-deprived, and we're also told that fun and pleasure are best defined in terms of excess. If a glass of wine is enjoyable, then drinking lots of alcohol is fun; If a nice house gives joy, then a much larger house equals more joy; If a $15,000 car brings me pleasure, then a $30,000 car is that much more pleasurable; if sex is enjoyable, then more sex with more people is even better...

Our culture has built an entire economy on the premise that more is always better and that we must have (much) more if we want to be happy. But it is a lie, and it's a part of the lie that keeps us constantly moving exactly away from the one direction where joy and fun and satisfaction and pleasure are realized on a day-by-day basis.

This is a theme I'll probably pick up again later. So much to think about; so much to consider in A Life Examined; so much promise and hope because this faith-life is always so vibrant and real.

Grace and Peace - DEREK