Saturday, February 27, 2010

"I Will Not Leave You Comfortless"

Saturday, February 27: So much for blogging every day during Lent!

If you have been travelling with me on this particular journey, then you may be surprised that I’ve allowed myself to fall behind. Well, I’ve had to spend some deliberate time with my extended family this week and – while it is certainly time well spent – it’s been pretty much impossible to be attentive to my work.

But my work, and this is certainly a very valid tie-in with our thoughts leading up to Easter, is much more than writing. My vocation is to step deliberately and continually into the role of “Being the presence of Christ” in my daily life. That’s why I’m with my extended family this week; that’s why I’ve been sleeping in my cousin’s living room.

It’s even why I was so polite to the car-rental people when they committed the corporate brand of highway robbery yesterday. Wasn’t it the disciples who asked Jesus, “Hey, Lord, would you please bring down fire from heaven and we can destroy these annoying folk who insulted you...” The thought certainly ran through my mind over at Enterprise Car Rental...

One of the great themes that Jesus repeats to his friends in many ways is this idea that he is “returning to the Father” in order that they (that we) will then have the opportunity and the responsibility to carry on the program.

And “the program” is this: "I will not leave you comfortless," Jesus said. He was referring to the Holy Spirit – but the Holy Spirit does most of God’s best work in and through the lives of people – real, flesh and blood, followers of Jesus.

It was, I believe, one of the reasons Jesus gathered his friends together for one last, unforgettable – meal together there in the “Upper Room” – to go over the highlights one more time. "This is your program now," he said; "The ball is in your court. Let not your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, now trust me

Jesus was asking a lot, in terms of trust. But – and here’s the beautiful thing – God followed through. God is following through. God works in and through each one of us, if we allow it, and we can literally be the presence of Jesus where we find ourselves.

So God sent me here. I know it; I’m certain. I’ll be reporting back on some of what I learn as we go along.

Don't forget to go to worship somewhere this weekend.
With love - DEREK

Thursday, February 25, 2010

No Need to do this Alone - Lent Day 8

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." - Jesus, John 13: 34-35

One of the great things about journeys is the people you meet and fall in love with along the way. We've been talking about Lent as a journey, a journey to the Cross, and - for me - the best moments so far have been shared with others.

There are places - and certainly times - when my spiritual path is solitary. It can be necessary, and there are things it's only possible to accomplish when we're alone. I'm anticipating those experiences along the way and I'll share them when appropriate. But, my experience over the last couple of weeks has been beautifully community oriented. Or, to use a phrase from "the Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian", Christianity is best experienced as a team sport.

I'm so grateful that I can share my faith with Rebekah. To be able to have a conversation - over breakfast - about something I learned about God during my morning devotion; to call her at work and say, "Hey! You wouldn't believe what I was just reading in Colossians, it's so cool!" or driving across the state together, listening to a sermon she preached while I was out of town, and talking for the next hour about faith, or grace, or being a servant-leader, communion....

Then there's my Men's Room small group that meets Wednesday evenings. These are more fellow travelers I've fallen in love with along the way. Yesterday we were discussing the meaning of "significance" in our life journey. We told stories about some of the people who have impacted our lives, we talked about how we influence others (for good or for ill), and got excited about the opportunity we all have to make a difference, every single day, no matter what we're doing.

There are many people in our immediate circles, and others we will meet along the way, and they will understand something profound about faith because they have or will interact with us. They will understand that following Jesus means something, or that - possibly - the journey is not as significant as we like to pretend.

By the official count, this is Day 9 of the season of Lent.
Here's the question: are we going anywhere? Or are we simply marking time?

Either way, we don't have to journey alone - DEREK

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lent - Gourmet Living - What?

Gourmet Living, Act 8:

OK, so yesterday morning I get extra ambitious, and I tell Rebekah she can look up any recipe - unrestricted - and I'll cook it for her for our Tuesday date-night treat.

Well, she pulls out this three-page, single-spaced article from "COOK'S Illustrated" magazine that detailed "Rescuing Baked Ziti: Transforming this tired Italian-American classic into a dish worth making..."

There were whole sections on "the right degree of al dente", side-bars on cottage cheese, details on "recipe diagnosis", instructions on "the special sauce", etc. etc. I learned more about making a perfect tomato sauce than I'd ever imagined!

Believe me, I'll never-ever see Baked Ziti as a "throw in some noodles and sauce with cheese on top and you're done" easy casserole dish again! By the time I was ready to begin I had measured and set aside a pound of cottage cheese, some lightly beaten eggs, fresh grated Parmesan, crushed and chopped garlic cloves, fresh oregano, leaves I harvested from a basil plant, cornstarch, heavy cream, various tomato products, and diced mozzarella.

The sauce started with my "releasing the aroma from the garlic" via sautéing in olive oil; then I started to stir in some tomato sauce - it just got better from there!

I went shopping at 3:00, started work on the dish at 4:00, and served the MASTERPIECE at around 7:30!

"BUT THIS IS LENT...?" you say. "What happened to all the self-denial and asceticism?" Well, first off I've never believed this time of the year was about imposing hardships on ourselves. I'm much more excited about this "Gourmet Living" concept I've been touting.

The reason Jesus came was/is to set us free from the stuff that separates us from a full and vibrant life. Me spending several hours to make something wonderful for Rebekah that we could enjoy together, fits with my understanding that love is about giving and life is about living. That's Gospel if ever I heard it!

Peace and Joy! - DEREK

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Good Words from Jesus - Lent Day 7

Lent Day 7 - Good words from Jesus - "How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me." - John 14:9b-11a

This morning I read an interesting rant directed against men. While the post certainly had an element of "tongue in cheek", the overall tone was pretty-much serious, and the thesis was grounded in the generalization that "Men" behave in certain, unacceptable, ways simply because they are men!

I laughed, and came up with a lighthearted response. But the thought also gave me pause, so I will credit the original author with setting useful thought-sequences in motion. The blanket condemnation and the consequent gender-based indictment caused me to think about how acutely (for better or worse) presuppositions effect the way that we interact with the world, and about how critical our foundational beliefs become when we think, speak and act.

In other words, what we believe profoundly affects the manner in which we live.

I think that Jesus understood this better than anyone else in history.
  • Here, by way of a brief aside, I'll voice my opinion that Jesus did not come into this world preloaded with infinite knowledge and abilities - kind of a "GOD-version7.7". Instead, it's my opinion that Jesus had the opportunity - and the responsibility - to live and learn and grow and develop with the same reality-based constraints that we all have to contend with.
Jesus understood how belief dramatically affects everything else. That's why he was constantly asking the question, and parsed it again in the scripture we're looking at today. Jesus challenged his friends to believe that God literally inhabited him, and that God "does his works" in and through the life he was living amongst his friends.

One of the best - and most accurate - definitions of salvation is this - "Participating in the work of God". Jesus challenged the disciples to believe, so that they too could participate in the work God is up to.

So there Jesus is, laying out what is important in the last days before he is killed by the people his radical ideas threaten, and he tries to make his friends understand that they will never "see the Father" in the way that they are imagining God and think they need to experience God.

God, Jesus points out, is best understood and experienced in terms of allowing God's work to take up residence in us, and then to believe, and - consequently - to live.

That's the Jesus imperative. And it's a good word to conclude the first week of Lent.
Peace - and belief - DEREK

Monday, February 22, 2010

Giving Up the Need to be Right - just a suggestion!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? - John 14

Lent - Day 6 - Church Rocks!

So you want to give up something for Lent, do you?

Try this- Give up the need to be right!

  • Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 2

Our church rocks way more than just Sundays. This weekend I attended a meeting sponsored by our Visioning Team. The Visioning Team are the group tasked with peering into the future and helping us to prepare the way, as a faith community, so we can be faithful to our mission as a church - rather than always a step or two behind.

It's the logical next step for the "Foundation for the Future" campaign - the 6-year initiative that included calling a second pastor, buying up surrounding property to double our footprint, retiring the debt (all gone!) and competing the current renovations.

So now First Presbyterian of Brandon is looking at radically redesigning the entire campus. Saturday Rebekah and I attended one of many informational home meetings. My friend Bill led the discussion and asked folk to share what the church means to them.

Among many great answers was the following testimony: "I'm blown away by the fact that people with such varied viewpoints understand that those differences of opinion are nowhere near as important as the fact that we love one another..."

Someone else said, "For the first time my husband and I are part of a faith community where I'm sure this is what it means to be the Body of Christ..."

Simply put, we have managed to achieve a practical understanding that what draws us together is God's love for us - unconditionally and without preference - and that the best we can do for the Kingdom of God is to follow Jesus. Our personal agendas and preferences and biases are subordinate to the agenda of accepting, unconditional, motivational love.

So here's the Lent part of today's post. A lot of people talk about what they're "giving up" for Lent. I suggest giving up the need to be right!

Look at the scripture again. Jesus said he was "preparing a place for us." That place is the Kingdom of God. Maybe it's time we rolled up our sleeves and started helping Jesus to build - right here at home in the faith community where we are learning how to love.

"Salvation" means to participate in God's work. God is building faith communities defined by unconditional love, where following Jesus means being the presence of Christ in this world. So, while Jesus is "preparing a place" for us, we can be preparing one for him.

Just a suggestion - DEREK

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lent Day Four - Light and Renovation

You have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light. - Jesus, John 12

This morning Rebekah and I watched a home renovation show while sipping coffee and - hopefully - easing into what's going to be a very busy Saturday. The show is built around the following disturbing premise: It turns out that - far too often - contractors who come into people's homes to do extensive/expensive remodels, not only perform botched work and violate code, but they knowingly cover it up, take the money, and move on to another job.

The one-hour show goes on to document the problems, bring in a team of experts, and literally rescue the homeowners from the unfolding nightmare.

(Our house has seen a phenomenal amount of work over the past 15 months. But we did a lot of research, hired well-referenced contractors, love what they have done, and are enjoying wonderful, high quality, results.)

One consistent factor in the intervention is extensive demolition. Floors are pulled up, walls torn down, ceilings removed, plumbing jack-hammered out of the concrete. One thing leads to another until the extent of the cover-up is exposed and the ultimate root of the problem corrected.

Lent tie in:
Today is the fourth day in the season of Lent, the time of preparation for Easter. It occurs to me that I will never really be ready for what Christ offers until I'm willing to look beneath the surface and deal with the shoddy workmanship - often accumulated over time - that sometimes characterizes the way I do business as a human being in the day to day.

Jesus did not come to work on my facade; Jesus lived and taught and suffered and addressed death head-on in order to set me free. Freedom goes a lot deeper than appearances.

The scripture for today talks about light. Simply put, we need light to see clearly or nothing really changes. Christ offers that light, and it's a view of ourselves that is incisive without condemning. The light the Jesus applies brings healing along with the revelation.

Earlier in John's story of the Good News Jesus makes his purpose clear: "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

So this weekend, if you're reading this post with any sense of journey through Lent, why not ask Jesus to bring light to the dark places? - and then have the courage to embark on some renovation work.

As the guy on the TV show likes to say, "Let's Make This Right!"

Peace - DEREK

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hard Lessons and Real Love

Lent - Day 3

The true test - as I intimated in yesterday's blog - of a spiritual life that means anything in the long run is - well - the long run! Has this week's sudden rush of intention, going into Lent, yielded yet to the difficulty of sustaining forward progress? Or are we waking up every morning with our desire to follow Jesus, daily, trumping the temporary distractions that can so easily steer us off course?

I was reminded of that in a potentially overwhelming sense this morning, when the first email alert I read (while walking Scout) was the sad news that my cousin - Linda Andrews - had died during the night. This was not unexpected, since her prognosis had been grim since around Thanksgiving; but the passing of someone you love always hurts deeply.

Just yesterday morning I had made the decision to fly to England and see the family (She's my dad's sister's daughter). I purchased my tickets by noon, and just a few hours later she was gone. Linda, just in her mid 40's, was a beautiful woman, both inside and out, someone who's vibrant sense of life and "live-it-out-loud" application of faith was very much the heart of her immediate family.

Solemnity: And so here is a day that engages the deepest meaning of Lent's primary focus - and that is the powerful truth that Christ's signal achievement at the Cross was/is an understanding that eternity is held in every moment; life, death, and - sometimes most poignantly - the transition between the two.

I sensed this acutely, and I've written about this before, during a wonderful conversation I had with Linda and her husband, Dave, via Skype the first week of December. I used the idea that it was difficult to tell anymore where Linda ended and God began...

I can't do any better - at least not today - than to paste in some words from that post...We prayed together at the end of the conversation, and I wish we all could have taken one-another's hands. But it was interesting how prayer itself linked us inexplicably, and I could barely speak through the tears. It was as if a different kind of conduit had opened up the moment we began to pray..

So there is communication and then there is communication. The content was necessarily deep, but something else happened when faith entered the equation. "Perfect love," Jesus said, "takes care of all fear." and "Have courage - take heart; I have overcome the world."

I've said before that my cousin Linda is a cool lady, full of grace and strength. Well, she'd say it isn't her, that the grace is all God - and even more the strength part. But that is what happens when you don't really know anymore where you come to an end and where God begins.

I' m thankful that, as who Linda is becomes more and more defined by eternity than it is by time, my cousin's faith is something that we all can embrace, and that God's powerful presence is all about the fullness of life.

That we all might know the assurance of such faith and love - DEREK

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Don't Crash on the First Turn....

LENT - the second day:
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name."
Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again". - John 12:27-28

Like most spiritual initiatives, Lent always gets off to a running start, especially when there's an Ash Wednesday worship service offered at church. The real test - and I use the word deliberately - is the next day, or two, or three.

The danger is that Lent can so easily turn out much like the ill-fated women's downhill ski competitor I watched during yesterday evening's Olympics coverage:
  • She practiced
  • she prepared
  • she took the lift to the top of the mountain
  • she waited her turn
  • she made her way to the starting gate
  • she readied herself
  • she shot out onto the track...
  • Adrenaline flowing, her goal in mind, her route memorized, her purpose clarified - the skier bolted onto the hill, hit the snow, teetered for a moment, and fell to the side of the course less than one hundred yards into a two mile race.
Now that is a sad story! But it is so often our story when it comes to initiatives of the spirit.

Read the scripture again - “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

The scene, the setting, was Jerusalem. Jesus had already had his big parade and a lot of people were excited (we'll be talking about this some more on Palm Sunday). Now he's talking with some people about his purpose, why he's in Jerusalem, and what's coming up for him in the near future. Jesus is well aware of what's going to happen, and it's getting to him, like a gut punch in the very heart of his humanity.

Big parade. Excited crowds. Then reality. Of course his heart was troubled.

Faith Community:
So yesterday evening my church met for dinner and a worship service. The focus was Ash Wednesday, what we purpose to accomplish during Lent, and the understanding that we are talking this journey together, as a committed faith community. I don't know how many people were there, just that our fellowship hall was stretched to its limit and that people had to scurry to find extra chairs.

Pastor Tim preached, using the image of the phoenix, a mythic bird that lives around 500 years before dying in flames. A new phoenix then emerges from the ashes.

It's a great picture of Reformation, both as a church and as individuals. And it's a great picture of Lent. Because, as we took communion together, sharing the bread and the wine, the pastors also offered the "imposition of ashes".

For us, in our small corner of the worldwide community of faith, it was quite clear - it is quite clear - that our lives as spiritual beings have the opportunity to come to a place, like the phoenix, where we can die to everything that gets in the way of the gospel-imperative - the imperative of life - and can rise from the ashes in terms of newness and restoration and reformation and redemption.

We are saved! Not so much from something as into something more. That something is the Work of God in the here and now.

The Challenge:
It's the second day of Lent. We headed out of the shoot with intention and purpose - especially last night at my church. So what is today going to look like, and tomorrow? When our hearts are trouble, like Jesus, what are we going to do? Will we be faithful... or are we going to fall off our skis, drift to the edge of the course, and never know what might have been?

It's a choice - our choice - every day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

First, (if you've been paying attention) I've changed the "header" image for this blog. I want to match the general direction of the postings between today - ASH WEDNESDAY - and EASTER - six and a half weeks down the road.

I'll start with the story behind the header image, then I'll outline the process I'll be following between now and Easter. If you'd like to take this Easter-bound journey with me, I'll be honored to have you along. Lent is truly a road less-travelled-by; so come back to this space every day and I can guarantee you'll see Easter with New Eyes.

- This past summer, Rebekah and I took our epic vacation to Italy. Two weeks in Tuscany, a weekend around Milan, and three short days in Rome. Rome - of course - is awesome no matter what your agenda. But the Sistine Chapel, with the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo (completed in 1512) was an emotional highlight.

Okay, so I like to take photographs. But I also respect protocols and especially those designed to protect antiquities. Our guide told us that no photography is allowed in the Sistine Chapel. "The flash will cause damage to the art," she said. Plus there were large signs everywhere "No Photo!" Then there were numerous, scowling, guards. I put my camera away.

However, when we entered the chapel the place was jam packed with tourists. Flash photography all over the place - it was relentless! Then, every three minutes or so, one of the guards would yell loudly - "NO PHOTO!" and it would stop... for about one minute, before starting all over again.

Eventually, after watching this pattern repeat for several cycles, I couldn't stand it any longer. I took out my camera, turned the flash off, dialed in a deep depth of field, set the exposure to "existing light", placed my Nikon face-up in the palm of my hand, stood in the center of the crowd, and took three frames - without even looking through the viewfinder - before putting the camera away.

The result is the blog header you can see at the top of the page.

ASH WEDNESDAY and the sacred rhythm:
Over the past few years I've been learning to appreciate some of what I call "the sacred rhythms" of the Christian calendar. I used to pay little or no attention to Easter until Palm Sunday. Then I'd rush, headlong, through Holy Week, always playing catch-up, never quite in tune with the enormity of Christ's Passion until it pretty much crushed me on Good Friday.

Observing Lent is a much better idea, and Ash Wednesday is the traditional kick off - 40 days of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter (there are 46 days total, but 6 of them are Sundays). The 40 day idea comes from the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his public ministry.

"40 Days" is one of those Bible numbers that means something more than simple mathematics. It's the biblical equivalent of "A long time". Like the number "7" (perfection/completeness) "70 times 7" (perfection to the tenth power of perfection) or "666" (incomplete/short of perfection) , it's kind of a Bible slang or euphemism. "Hey, Moses; how long is your mother-in-law staying?" "40 days, you know what I'm saying..."

So I'm thinking ahead. I'm launching my 40 days by saying this to God. "Please be with me as I think more seriously about my relationship to Eternal truth. Today I'm making a promise. I promise to be more deliberate when it comes to moving aside distractions that cloud my ability to see Jesus clearly. This is a daily commitment. Amen."

This is the fun part, and the part where I need your prayers. Upper Room Books have given me a contract to write a new book. The book is designed to be read during Lent. I'm writing this book "in real time", right now, day-by-day during Lent 2010. That means I have a short chapter to write later today.

This morning devotional time, these daily blog posts, the time you get to read "over my shoulder", are an important part of this process. Your responses - comments and emails - may find their way into the new book.

Life is a journey, Lent is a particular element of the journey. Won't you walk with me over the coming 40 days?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting 40 days and 40 nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread along, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" - Matthew 4:1-4

- Love and blessings - DEREK

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Awesome Life - Get Your Groove On!

Around 8:00 I sat down at the computer, read my morning devotional, and tried to jump start my reluctant brain. No joy there. So I parked my keyboard, rattled Scout's leash, and headed out for another walk.

By then, 8:45 AM, the sun was shining brightly, the air was clear and the temperature registered 43 degrees. By all accounts, and with a fresh mug of Costa Rican coffee in my hand, I should now be ready to rock-'n-roll; but I can't seem to shake this insistent desire to close my eyes and sleep another couple of hours.

- I watched the "snowboard cross" finals yesterday evening from the Winter Olympics (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images North America). Now that was some fun! Fast, close-quarters, impossibly daring maneuvers, a spectacular course - all the ingredients of a real race.

The exuberant snowboarders offered perfect contrast to the ice-skating (Pairs figure-skating was running around the same time slot_. No prissy nuances of judging with the snowboards. If you fall on your butt you're down - but it you can make it back onto your feet you're welcome to try and catch up.

None of this "Well, you're Russian, so we like the way you fall on your butts. In fact, we still think a Russian pair falling on their butts is better than an American pair jumping and spinning flawlessly. Go ahead and skate with the final group."

The race footage jumped out at me and a question quickly followed. Is my life more like ice-skating - tense, rehearsed, choreographed, broken down, criticized, judged according to a narrow code and constantly evaluated? Is the way I "do" life always on the balance edge of acceptance versus condemnation?

Or... is life a fun adventure that's different every day, messy and unpredictable: is life this amazing challenge?!

There's none of that uptight inquisition hassle in snowboard cross. In snowboard cross it's all "Race you to the bottom!""Eat my snow why don't you." "So I lost, big deal... but did you see the way I hammered that turn?!!"And, "You think turning in circles is pretty? Well, pirouette this!"

Figure-skating sure is a beautiful art form, comprised of demanding, high-level skills. I have a lot of admiration for the strength, the poise, and the commitment of the figure-skating athletes. But I'm not seeing a lot of joy there, not around the ice-rink.

Too much tension; too much pressure; not enough fun.

Living this "Life Abundant" simply rocks! Have you got your ear-buds in? Are you getting your groove on? When you "drop in" every morning, do you feel that rush of adrenaline right out of the gate?

Have an awesome day, dude!

Monday, February 15, 2010

"I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty."

If you read this blog, then you already know about my "Gourmet Initiative!" (It's my commitment to cook one new recipe - exactly as written - each week during 2010) Well last week turned out to be a mixed bag. I actually prepared four dishes, but only one was a significant success.

The first, seared chicken with a tomato-tarragon "pan-sauce", didn't flop - but the sauce was too thin. My second, braised lamb-chops with olives and artichokes (right), would have been better if I hadn't left the artichokes at the store. Number three, a simple Irish stew from The Joy of Cooking, needed much more time to cook down...

...Fortunately I hit a home-run Saturday night! The dish I prepared, "Fillet of Beef with Blue Cheese, Rosemary & Pine Nit Sauce" was amazing. I served it with twice-baked potatoes, perfect asparagus, fresh bread and a really good Chianti.

One thing I've learned about these reduction sauces (popular in the cookbook I'm using) is to prepare all the ingredients before I start cooking, and place them in containers ready to tip into the pan at just the right moment. We purchased a stack of small porcelain bowls; so I chopped a couple of shallots, measured out the right amounts of butter, olive oil, blue cheese, stock and red wine, and then lightly toasted the pine nuts on a skillet (let me tell you, the fragrance from the heated pine nuts was unbelievable).

This was an occasion where spending enough to get the best possible cuts of Filet Mignon was definitely worth the extra $$. By the time I had seared the meat, prepared the sauce, and lightly sauteed the asparagus with some fresh mushrooms (DO NOT overcook asparagus, please!), I knew I'd hit this particular recipe out of the park.

Okay, so why am I sharing all this with you (other than to make your mouth water)...?

First off, I'm committed to encouraging guys out there to get serious when it come to performing significant acts of service around the home. That's why this particular initiative is about a gourmet meal every week for a year.

The "every week" part moves the idea from a romantic gesture to an act of committed love that can be hard to follow through with. But isn't that the point about faithfulness in a relationship?

You follow through because you're faithful, not because it's always easy. Believe me, committed self-sacrifice gets the right message across, and the message of self-giving love is one that should never let up - not ever - in relationships such as marriage.

Then I simply can't lay off my current them of "Gourmet Living" (and I'm not talking about food!). A similar word to gourmet is connoisseur, or a person who enjoys and studies the process of making the most of good things, who appreciates and is able to discern fine subtleties, someone who can detect a nuance or a distinction that makes all the difference.

You see, most of my distinct enjoyment of living has more to do with nuance and interpretation that the actual raw experience itself. Many of us make the mistake of assuming enjoyment is dependent on radical change, huge doses of high-octane pleasure, or things coming to us easily - no effort on our part. But my understanding of gourmet living has to do with our ability to isolate and to appreciate what is good and what is rich.

The apostle Paul put it this way in Philippians 4 (this is "The Message" translation):
  • "I've learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Self-Confidence? all over the place - Arrogance? not so much...

Okay, so I'm sure that I'm just one of literally MILLIONS of bloggers writing about the Olympics this morning. The image - at left - is cut and pasted from an AP report, so props to them for a great shot...

... BUT, this may well be the only blog post in the entire world that ties in so nicely with what I wrote about communion & community yesterday (go back and read the post if you missed it) and - I swear - with absolutely no element of planning ahead.

So there I was, watching the world walk into the Vancouver opening ceremonies, one nation at a time, smiling HUGE smiles and snapping photographs and generally acting as if the re-release of "We Are the World" expresses actual truth - truth that runs more deeply than the hate and the fear and the political posturing that threaten to destroy us all; truth that resonates in billions of people around the globe... and I couldn't help but think about "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring Good News, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings - who proclaim salvation..." - Isaiah 52

Yes, these athletes have beautiful feet on the Canadian Mountains:
  • Dancing aboriginal nations, moving non-stop, joyful, with arms open wide in welcome.
  • Crowds of athletes ecstatic simply to be there, together, already having received the only prize that means anything at all.
  • Cheering and excitement, people celebrating the extravagant joy of simply being alive, of being together.
  • 60,000 spectators caught up in the fun... and hundreds of millions more, worldwide, wide-eyed in wonder at the potential beauty of the human experience.
  • I got the sense that 99% of these folk weren't at the Olympic Games to win so much as to participate.
Self confidence? Yes - I saw it all over the place, it's a beautiful attribute. Arrogance? Not so much.

That's the dovetail into yesterday's piece on communion. My relationship with God - the story that is so beautifully articulated in the bread and the wine - it gives me such confidence and such deep-seated assurance. But, arrogance has no place in the Christian story.

Arrogance has no place in the Christian story.

Arrogance has no place in the Christian story.

I believe God probably enjoys the opening ceremonies at an Olympic Games significantly more than many - less generous - demonstrations of overly-religious, doctrinally constrictive, politically coercive, theologically stunted, culturally exclusive so-called reverence...

Arrogance has no place in the Christian story. When are we going to understand?


Friday, February 12, 2010

Life in the Kingdom....

This morning Scout and I walked past a family loading up children for the ride to school. The dad was standing by the back door, yelling: "WHY DON'T YOU HAVE YOUR JACKET?" The exchange quickly escalated, becoming louder each each time the ball crossed the net into the other court...

  • "FINE THEN!!!!"

So the guy climbs into the front of the car and slams the door. I notice he's wearing a t-shirt.

When I meet with my men's study group Wednesday evenings (affectionately known as "The Men's Room") so many concerns and prayer requests center around difficulties in relationship. Guys struggle to be the right kind of parent, to communicate to their wives without tripping over themselves, to be more open about their inner lives, to move their relationship with God beyond a perfunctory nod of the head, to own the moral courage to lift themselves out of "the way things are" and to blaze a new trail - be it at home, at work, on the freeway, at the gym, with their friends at church...

But we live in this conflicted world. Too many people find themselves defined by what they are against, who they are at odds with, what makes them angry, disappointed, frustrated. It's almost as if the world wakes up in the morning with a chip on its shoulder and gets out of bed daring anyone to do so much as breath on the precarious balance that holds it in place.

But listen to these words of Jesus. Jesus who is The Way. This Jesus who we say we follow. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." - John 16:33

The point of a discipleship that lives in the truth of Christ's teaching is to get up each morning and believe that Jesus really has "overcome the world"!

Our opportunity is to infuse all of our relationships with grace.

So there I was, thinking about the family still screaming at each other as they pulled out of their driveway. And I continued on my long walk, practicing my morning devotional initiative. Then - clear as a movie screen - God places this image in my mind of what Kingdom Life really looks like. It helps of course that the image was, originally, a movie that I watched back in 1984.

You may have seen the movie - "Places in the Heart" with Sally Field. The screenplay, set in the Great Depression, tells the story of a young mother trying to make her farm work against seemingly insurmountable odds. Her husband had been murdered; there's deep grief, horrible racism and an attempted lynching; people behave dishonorably, others do the right thing; a terrible tornado hits; infidelity rears its ugly head; throw in greed, manipulation, oppression, hope, belief, yearning...

But the image that played out in my mind is that of the closing scene. At first it looks like a simple communion service at the community church; the bread and the wine served as the pastor reads from scripture. Some people (I can remember quite clearly over 25 years later) got up and started to leave the theater because they sensed it was the end... and they thought they got it... and so they were done.

But Rebekah and I were mesmerized because, subtly, the scene shifted and suddenly everyone was there. The widow, the man who shot her husband, her husband himself, the racists, the young man they tried to lynch. Black and White - Rich and Poor - Just and Unjust - The Living and those who have passed on.

These people were serving one another, sharing the bread and the wine, demonstrating what is possible when we live out loud in terms of Grace and Forgiveness and Peace and Reconciliation - all wrapped up in the word "Redemption..."

It was a picture of what Kingdom Life really looks like. It was an image of what is possible when we follow Jesus. It was a picture of real prosperity - prosperity of heart and of mind, and of soul.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Light in the Morning

- Photo from the beach with Rebekah - but it suggests the idea....

When I got up this morning it was dark, cold, and clear. So I bundled up and headed out - with Scout - for our walk. Up in the sky and to the East, gently scalloped layers of cirrus clouds were forming, stretching out in a fan-like shape from the hint of promise of the rising sun.

Meanwhile the surface of Earth, rotating on its axis, was spinning at around one-thousand miles per hour toward the coming light so that, as I rounded the corner of one street and headed directly into the morning, I witnessed an emergent splash of red highlight the underside of the clouds against the sudden blue of the open sky. I had to stop for a moment and drink it all in.

The next twenty minutes were a riot of color, the ambient light loaded with promise - it was as if we were walking inside and around the edges of a rainbow.

Just before we arrived home again the following scripture came to mind, from Psalm 119: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path..." This morning, my path was a light to God's word.

May your experience of today hold such truth - DEREK

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Discipleship is more about "being" than showing up

Colossians 4:2-6 (NRSV)

"Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should."

Well that was unusual... I skipped yesterday's blog post. That means only 33 entries in the first 40 days of 2010 - I must be slipping!

I did get my devotional reading and meditation time in, but then I needed to wrap up a new magazine article and after that the day just took off and got away from me!

But it was all good: Rebekah called mid-morning and asked if I'd be willing to pick her up for an early lunch and join her on an afternoon visit. She'd been invited to a last-minute consulting conference with a church in another city and wanted me along to chime in some when she talked with the pastor about small-group ministry.

It turned out to be a much deeper visit than it looked on the surface going in. We spent two hours talking with just the pastor, and it was time well spent. Rebekah and I left feeling as if we'd been able to both encourage and inspire him in terms of the direction of his church - pivotal in that community - over the next five years.

It's been interesting, looking back over the past year, to see how often visits to churches for (ostensibly) other reasons have turned into a lot of listening (primarily listening to pastors). Encouraging ... sharing ideas ... prayer ... and the hope-infused promise of transformational initiatives. Rebekah and I honestly believe that every single church is loaded with potential, and that God has exciting plans if only the body of Christ is willing to morph from the church membership model into a culture defined by purposeful discipleship.

When a church culture is built around the idea of discipleship, the numbers take care of themselves. Not that - all of a sudden - membership burgeons and attendance goes through the roof ... but that the weekly head-count is less important than responding to the call to follow Jesus with passion and via a daily walk with God.

Discipleship is more about "being" than showing up. Consequently, life-styles and priorities tend to shift to line up with a daily walk with Jesus. Then, it's only natural to attend worship, be involved in a small group, get involved with hands-on mission, participate in Bible-study and invite other people to be a part of your vital faith-community as well.

At the same time, the pressure is off the "organization" to "generate" numbers. In fact, the metrics that are traditionally used to measure church "success" (membership, attendance, Sunday-school enrollment, annual budget, ratio of attendance to membership...) begin to mean less as soon as they - inevitably - begin to improve.

So yesterday was a serendipity. Kingdom work. Deeply satisfying. Timeless.

God is good - DEREK

Monday, February 8, 2010

Our Responsibility? Live Love Out Loud!

- Picture: Tuscan hillside
You have heard people say, "Love your neighbors and hate your enemies." But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. - Matthew 5:43-45

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

I'm starting out with two scriptures this morning because it's apparent to me that God placed them in my consciousness with a purpose.

For me, there are several ways that scripture comes to mind:
  • First is the simple fact that I read the Bible every morning - typically via the Upper Room daily devotional (linked via this image).
  • The second way is via the ever increasing accumulation of Bible passages that have seeped into my subconscious mind over time - this is a continual process - then, sometimes, circumstance or related readings or the deliberate prompting of God's Spirit bring items from this repository to the surface.
  • Another contributing factor is my concentration on God's word every Sunday. Messages from Rebekah and Tim from the pulpit, passages from my Sunday morning study group, insights with my friends on Sunday evening.
  • My mid-week Men's Bible-study group always gives me a lot to chew on.
  • Additionally, my privilege as a writer is to include Bible-references in much of my research and - like any good line of inquiry - one verse leads to other sources, leads to more reading, unwraps additional scripture, opens up more thinking etc. etc.
Quite often there are other factors at play, circumstances that set up my direction of study, or open my mind. This morning it was an ongoing conversation I've been having with several people about the public presentation of faith.

Typically, the loudest voices in any area (politics, religion, sports, art, literature...) tend to be from the people on the fringe. Either their extremity makes them bolder, or the media gives more attention because these folk are "colorful", or it's a mixture of both. Regardless, disproportionate attention is both required by and given to people who stake out positions that are harsh, bizarre, controversial and - largely - false.

Consequently - and this continues to "burn me up" - the growing non-Christian, un-churched and de-churched population is routinely exposed to false messages about Jesus - and often on a daily basis.

Bullhorns of the religiously oppressive:
The message that seems to be reaching "the ends of the Earth" - or at least the ends of North American culture - is not the real Gospel story. How can we respond to the mandate to make disciples when living as "Followers of The Way" is drowned out by the noise coming from the megaphones and bullhorns of the harsh, the judgmental and the religiously oppressive?

God's call for me - and this has been growing over the past few years - has been to "hold out the word of life" (Philippians 2) with more obvious passion; to live the Christ-Life out loud with more volume; to make sure that the truth about God's dramatically generous love is evident in everything that I do.

That's why these two Bible passages captured my attention this morning. The first stakes out Christ's position that the sun rises and the rain falls (and earthquakes rock and hurricanes strike and tsunamis roll....) without regard to faith or behavior or status as to "God's favor. Regardless, our opportunity (our responsibility) is to live love out loud and with powerful conviction.

Then the second passage reminded me that love need not be timid. In fact, the way we love can - and should - be a vehicle for God's power.

The Bible = good stuff. Read it every day. God's Word will change your life!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Enlarging my Borders in Ways "Prayer of Jabez" Fans Might Have Issues With!

"Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my border!" - from the prayer of Jabez.

Sunday afternoon: Resting my brain a bit and posting a few snippets from the last couple of days.

Friday Rebekah and I drove over to Clearwater Beach to have lunch with Sally - one of my very close friends from growing up in Folkestone. She has spent a couple of weeks out at Indian Rocks every winter for the past 15 years - a connection we didn't realize until two years ago when we found each other again after more than thirty years!

Sally has travelled the world doing documentary film-making, then more recently with Help International, a Christian relief and development agency. More and more she has moved into interacting with people based on their spiritual needs and she has some amazing tales to tell!

God has used Sally in many miraculous ways, especially in places like Africa, India and Afghanistan - stories that would be difficult to believe if I didn't know her. The stories sound fantastic, but they have a ring of authenticity that is more compelling than unbelief ... or disbelief ... or the inability to believe.

Our conversation dovetailed nicely with the ongoing study my Sunday-school class is doing around the limitations Western thinking and ideology tend to place on creative thought and spiritual formation. We have placed God in a tidy - easy to manage - box, limited our engagement with the divine to stylized anthropomorphized images that feel comfortable, and thrown pretty-much everything else under the bus - or at least filed it away in our "does not fit with western cultural orthodoxy" box.

The truth turns out to be that the Bible is much more encompassing and generous that we typically allow. The challenge is going to be to learn how to read God's word in a way that continues to honor what we know while giving the Holy Spirit enough room to shake us up and lead us into deeper pathways.

The older I get (and that's a relentless progression) the more I understand that God's love is always more generous than I am. Judgement turns out to be a huge waste of spiritual and emotional energy. God's love is big enough for everyone; my task is simply to help point the way.

The best way that I can point people toward Jesus is to live the kind of life that honors such generous love and such selfless sacrifice.

"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." - John 3:17

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Does God Want You to Do?

- The question of asking becomes subsumed into the imperative of being. If we live as people who are connected to/with God, then guidance becomes more a matter of living in the truth of that deep connection.

-He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

One frequently occurring "spiritual" conversation I have with people is along the lines of "What does God want me to do?" Typically, the questions are situation specific, oriented around a particular decision, and focused on ideas such as "Should I take this job?" or "Does God want me to move to this place?" "Should I try to sell my house?" or "I need God to fix this problem with my spouse... or my child... or (fill in the blank _____)...."

First, I think it's laudable that so many people want to do the right thing. Just having the mind-set of "following God's path" is a great place to be.

But, and this is - I believe - a critical distinction, I tend to think that God doesn't care two hoots where I live, what job I'm being paid for, or even if I live in a house... so long as I am loving, serving, following, praying, and impacting the world with the Christ-presence.

It's not that God doesn't care about the specifics of my life and yours. It's more that when our focus is limited to those elements we're selling ourselves (and the world) short.

Let me offer an example: It could well be that God's great, over-arching plan in 1996 was for me and Rebekah to move to Brandon, and to spend the next couple of decades exactly where we are, working through First Presbyterian Church and making a positive difference in this community...

... But, what if God's #1 plan had been for us to move to (for example) Atlanta? Or Texas? Or that church in Daytona Beach? What if we got it wrong when we came here, and God's ideal choice had been somewhere else?

I honestly don't think it matters. I think what matters is that we serve God where we are; that we live as Followers of the Way; that we seek the presence of God on a daily, a moment-by-moment, basis; that we bloom where we are planted; and that we make decisions based on the fact that we are committed to love and serve God and God's world as our first priority.

The best answer to our questions of guidance is - always - to move closer to God. I like the way Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3. "But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."

The question of asking becomes subsumed into the imperative of being. If we live as people who are connected to/with God, then guidance becomes more a matter of living in the truth of that deep connection.

Live for Jesus; live into Jesus; be the presence of Christ in the world! We can do that here and now - and wherever we are and doing whatever job we have. Living into Jesus is so much more important than the more narrow questions we started out with.