Friday, April 30, 2010

Smarter than the average readers...

Thanks a bunch, everybody! Nice job so far with the response to yesterday's post. Several of you wrote something in the "comments" section; a few of you left me a note on facebook (both private and public) and even more have sent a helpful email my way.

So, you guys are absolutely intelligent, insightful, thoughtful, deep, sage, spiritual, reflective, faithful - and a bunch of other superlatives. But I'm going to wait at least through the weekend and let some more of you respond before posting any of your wisdom here.

So today I'm en-route to the conference, and I have successfully reduced the essence of my presentation from six and a half hours to about two and a half. That still leaves another 50% purging up in the air, but I'll probably go into my first workshop with the material "as-is" and cut and paste as I go, in response to the unique combination of people at the time.

I've found that speaking is always interactive. Even if the format is lecture, there is always a dynamic connection between "audience" and "presenter" that must be taken into account. That's one reason so many of the "insert local name here" talks I've heard miss the mark so badly. Not so much that the content was boring, or poorly prepared - more that the the person standing at the front of the room was unwilling or unable to "hear" or "read" the collective human spirit present. They might as well be speaking into a TV monitor from a studio.

This is what gives me joy in these trips. The opportunity to meet fellow travelers, people I have never met before, and to learn some of their story... to be an encouragement along the path... to even - sometimes - help to point the way.

Life is a great adventure; this particular section of the journey is especially full...
.. May yours, always, give you peace and others hope - DEREK

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It Comes Down to This...

Today I'm thinking hard about the following question: "What is my essential, bottom line message?" Or, "At the heart of everything, are there a handful of foundational concepts that drive everything else that I have to say?"

I'll put it this way, for those of you reading ("Google Analytics" assures me that - once in a while - a few people really do log on!). Imagine yourself at an intimate gathering, maybe a dinner party for a few of your closest friends and family. There are ten, maybe as many as twenty people, sitting around a long table.

At the end of the meal, over coffee, you stand up and pull out a sheet of paper. Maybe it's your 50th birthday... maybe you're about to move to a new home in another city, another state... maybe you know for some other reason that this occasion is special and this is a unique opportunity to share your heart with the people you love.

So you clear your throat, smile self-consciously, pause, and look at all the people who mean so much to you. It's only five-ten minutes of material - but you've thought it all through very carefully. You glance at the paper again, and you begin...

"I love all of you here so much that I don't want anything this important to be left unsaid. So I've been thinking; I've been thinking about what really counts; thinking about what - deep inside - really makes me tick; I've been thinking about what makes this life - my life in particular - worth living, worth getting up for each morning, worth engaging with enthusiasm and with intention. So I'm going to tell you -"....

What would you say?

The reason I'm thinking this way is my preparation for this coming weekend. I'm flying to Texas, I'm driving up into the hill country, north of San Antonio, and I'm speaking to a group of Presbyterian Men at the Mo-Ranch Conference Center. There will be around 500 men in attendance, and I expect anywhere from 25-50 to show up for my workshop.

Here's what they want me to talk about; it's the class description the organizers put in the catalog. "Faith in 4-D: Living Like We Mean It - Because God Most Certainly Does."

It references, essentially, the contents of two of my books! A couple of weeks ago, up in Virginia, I covered the same material over six one-hour lectures plus one 20-minute Sunday morning message. Up in Mo-Ranch I have 60 minutes, that's one hour - plus ten minutes for questions!

So you can appreciate my dilemma. What on earth should I talk about in such a short amount of time?

I'm more inclined to make this post interactive than to answer my own question just yet. So please post a comment... send me an email... or make contact through facebook.
  • Let me know what is foundational for you...
  • Write about the passion that defines you...
  • Let me know what you wish you had the courage to tell your dearest friends - and are now challenged to deal with...
  • Tell me what you wish someone who loves you had shared a long time ago...
  • Share the heart of what you know to be true...
  • Pass on the essential wisdom that's at the core of your life.
Peace and blessings - DEREK

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesus: "If you are as humble as this child, you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Sometimes - in the middle of all the serious stuff and the hard work and the important meetings and the deadlines - profound moments of serendipity work their way in and all we can do is smile.

That was the case yesterday, when I got to play guitar for a bunch of pre-schoolers, singing their little hearts out at their Spring Program at church. Some of my favorite little dudes hang out at First Presbyterian and when they get together, en-masse, they can pretty-much knock your socks off with cuteness!

The kids are great, but it's also fun to watch the parents watch the children. Especially when it comes to cameras, videos and cell-phone shots. I wonder what percentage of people were watching indirectly, through a lens? Then, depending on the age group on stage, a whole new set of cameras pop up, like periscopes, while the first set comes down.

The children have such fun, and they're so full of themselves. They throw themselves into everything they do without holding back. They haven't learned cynicism yet, or shame, or hypocrisy, or deception. What you see is what you get; who they are is what you see.

I think that's why pre-schoolers are so refreshing. We talk a lot about "maximizing learning", about "standardized educational curriculum", about making sure kids are "being exposed to the real world", and how important it is that they get their Florida state standard ducks in a row...

... But what I think, whenever I have the privilege to spend time with two's, three's and four's, is about what it is that we need to learn from them! I think that their "real world" is pretty cool. And, I think, isn't it a shame that those of us so far removed from childhood have un-learned so much over the years?

Don't worry, I'm not suggesting we back off on the education. But I am suggesting that we take pause once in a while and realize that grown-ups don't have all the answers. Fact is, we often have more questions than answers the older we get, and I honestly believe that this "real world" we have created, and that we're raising these awesome children to live in, could use some serious tweaking about now!

And it's not too late. Jesus told a lot of stories to illustrate what "The Kingdom of God" looks like, and the world Jesus describes is the kind of place I'd be so happy to see this set of pre-schoolers grow up to inhabit. And it's not "pie in the sky when we die". The Kingdom Jesus points to is ours to occupy right now.

It's not too late - DEREK

Jesus called a child over and had the child stand near him. Then he said: I promise you this. If you don't change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. But if you are as humble as this child, you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And when you welcome one of these children because of me, you welcome me. It will be terrible for people who cause even one of my little followers to sin. Those people would be better off thrown into the deepest part of the ocean with a heavy stone tied around their necks! The world is in for trouble because of the way it causes people to sin. (Matthew 18:2-7 CEV)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

God's Stand Against Mud-slinging!

I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream. - God, circa 760 BC, slamming the religious hypocrites. (Amos 5: 21-24

If there's one thing we're good at in America right now, it's rhetoric! Not just talk, but negative talk! Not argument so much as rant.

Why engage in conversation when we can save time and get directly to the condemnation? Why waste time with dialogue when there's some good diatribe right there on the tips of our tongues?

Consequently, I'm pretty much clear regarding what most people are against - but wouldn't it be nice to hear a little more about what they're for?

The good news in all of this (I guess it's good news!) is that our current level of malfunction is nothing new. Hypocrisy, misinformation and misrepresentation, amped up and disseminated via loud invective, has been around as long as there have been people to take note. The scripture I quoted above was aimed at religious hypocrites; but it's a good fit for any of us more inclined to run our mouths than to take positive action.

In Montgomery, Alabama, there's a really nice monument to civil rights leader Martin Luther King. The problem, however, is that the words from Amos are credited to MLK! Here it is. But I can understand the confusion on behalf of the guys with the chisel; because MLK lived the words he quoted, and after a while they just seemed to fit.

It makes me wonder what words might be attributed to us, if as much attention was given to what we do as what we say. Would it be from the other end of the Amos quote: "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies..."

The problem grows exponentially when talk is preferred over action. Sitting around with people pre-disposed to agree with a certain slant and exchanging hearsay, stories, distortions, accusations, myths, lies, half-truths, assumptions, and versions of "This guy who actually heard it from a friend who was there wrote about it in his blog - then a friend emailed some of that to his cousin, and what I got from that forwarded email from my co-worker's friend - who knows the truth about what's going on - is the gospel...."

After a while it all begins to sound like the truth - and that is a sad commentary!

Here are some gentle suggestions:

  • Put down your megaphone... and pick up a bag of food for the homeless.
  • Enough with quoting talk radio hosts... try the Bible - "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God...."
  • Stop labeling advocates for the poor Marxists... instead, make a substantial donation to your local indigent care health clinic.
  • Quit calling down fire on same-sex partnerships... but work your butt off to reduce the divorce rate in your community.
  • Abandon your campaign to smear those you disagree with... and invest some effort in making your ideas more compelling.

Or - to paraphrase God's lament in the above passage - Stop dragging God's name into the middle of your pettiness, your nationalism (it's not the same as patriotism) and your angry, unfounded, sense of superiority. You should know it's not cool to include your politics, your prejudice, or your hate in celebrations of God. If that's the way it's going to be, then stop the music, God's not even listening any more... As an alternative, let fairness and mercy roll on like a mighty river, and let the evidence of your right-living, defined by love, be a never failing drink of cool water.

Amen - DEREK

Monday, April 26, 2010

"We're Made Mostly of Water"

I enjoyed an interesting devotional experience this morning. I did my usual - walking the dog, reading the Upper Room meditation for the day - then I listened to a song my friend Gary sent via facebook. The song - "Water Song" by Colin Hay - was excellent, thoughtful; full with poignant, poetic truth.

I didn't listen intently to the words (I'll have to get back to the song later), but one idea - repeated several times - referenced our bio-chemical make-up as people: "They say we're made mostly of water; so how come we can't find the sea?" Hay goes on to ask the question "How blind can we be?" Then, later, "Oh, how I wish we were like water.."

I knew about the "we're mostly made of water thing" - it's around 60%. But listening to the song made me think about baptism; putting the two together adds a powerful twist to the symbolism. I'm guessing ancient peoples didn't actually know how much of a human being is made of water... yet baptism was chosen as this symbol representing the New Covenant introduced by Jesus.

Some Christians make a big deal over immersion versus sprinkling, pouring or other variations. But that misses the point. Baptism represents our participation in this covenant. Water turns out to be what we're mostly made of; and it's a powerful symbol for the opportunity we have to flow, spiritually, into the great ocean of God's love.

The song also made me think of "pouring," another strong image from scripture. My Sunday evening group took a look at the first 11 verses of Romans 5 yesterday evening. It's the passage Rebekah preached from when the church met for worship in the morning, and the thoughts are so rich we wanted to take another look in our small group. Here's the particular verse I thought about in terms of the fact that we're made mostly of water - "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

So here I am, mostly water. I have been baptized. I am a part of The Church Universal, a covenant community that claims the promise of New Life. I'm involved in a local faith community, a church that embraces promise on a daily basis; it's here that I experience both pouring and flowing, like water into the ocean. Then today, this morning, each new day, I get to understand in some fresh way the ongoing truth that God is pouring out his love into my heart.

Here's a good chunk of the Romans 5 passage. It's really the best that I can pass on to you this Monday, this hope-filled morning.

Peace and blessings - DEREK
  • Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jesus: "You Give Them Something to Eat!"

Late in the afternoon the twelve apostles came to Jesus and said, "Send the crowd to the villages and farms around here. They need to find a place to stay and something to eat. There is nothing in this place. It is like a desert!" Jesus answered, "You give them something to eat. (Luke 9:12-13)

Key quote from Shane Claiborne, talking about the "Feeding of the 5,000" miracle:

Claiborne - "The Disciples asked Jesus, 'How will they eat?' Jesus said, 'You feed them...'"

I really enjoyed yesterday morning's drive through downtown Tampa and on over the blue, blue water. I had my car roof open and all the windows down; the day was sun-soaked and clear; classic Florida; primed for the tourist-catalogs.

I was headed to "Missio Dei", a self-described "holistic, missional, Christian community" close to the center of St. Petersburg. Missio Dei is hosting their "A Sustainable Faith Conference" this weekend, and I showed up to report for the Florida Methodist News Service.

The sanctuary filled with eager conference participants -20's and 30's mostly (plus a smattering of interested boomers like me) - there t0 hear Shane Claiborne, one of their generation's leading voices. Claiborne is quintessential emergent: young, articulate, radical, brash, deeply committed to gospel.

The message engaged the heartbeat of an emerging voice within the church that increasingly rejects the values of a religious culture seemingly more interested in maintaining the status quo than living a cutting edge witness as passionate followers on The Way.

The conference title, A Sustainable Faith, subtly references both environmental stewardship and care for gospel; promoting a message with enough 21st Century credibility to emerge intact for the next generation; stewardship of both Earth and Good News.

I talked with Doug Pagitt, author of A Christianity Worth Believing, Journey Church pastor Danielle Shroyer (The Boundary Breaking God), pastor Joe Esposito of the Missio Dei Community, and members of the Immokalee Farm workers Coalition.

I learned about real-life slavery here in Florida, heard stories of Christ-directed lives effecting substantive social change, and witnessed the power of hope and encouragement as it settled on the hearts and minds of participants who realized the kind of difference they can make in their own homes, neighborhoods and communities of faith.

The most important work, of course, was accomplished in the conversations that emerged between people who had never met before, as they shared God's love together and encouraged one another. In the photo below right Danielle - who pastors the emergent Journey faith community in Dallas - is talking with a young Presbyterian pastor from the Tampa area.

The message we all shared was this: The Good News that Jesus introduced to the world 2,000 years ago is as fresh, vibrant, real, relevant, cutting edge and necessary as it was when a small group of Jesus followers first began to turn the world upside down with their message of hope and liberation.

But too many people still live in chains (and I'm not just talking about forced labor and the abuse of farm workers). Chains of our own making. Chains as a direct result of our unwillingness to claim the freedom offered by Jesus. Chains of lifestyle, debt, addiction, priorities..... and - yes - chains of constrictive religion.

More to think about - always - DEREK

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Sustainable Faith - Part I

I'm spending the day at the "A Sustainable Faith" Conference, with Shane Claiborne. So just this picture today (taken around noon), full report tomorrow.
Peace - DEREK

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day - an article of faith

This morning I've had a variety of thoughts swirling. One, though, worked it's way to the front via the children at our church pre-school program.

Yesterday, Rebekah tells me, a horde of the three and four year olds spent some time scouring the church campus, picking up trash as part of their Earth Day curriculum (Today is the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970). They had a BIG time, as they do with pretty much every activity they're involved with, and eventually came parading through the office wing on their way back to class.

"Mrs. Rebekah, Mrs Rebekah!" they yelled, "You have to see our trash!"

And of course they were more than willing to share, fishing through all the yucky stuff to find the REALLY yucky stuff. Everything in a four-year-old's life is one more big moment of excitement. And they're not putting us on; it's real, genuine; they're serious about fun and learning. In fact there's not much if any of a distinction between the two.

Kids are so impressionable, so wide-open to learn and grow and soak it all in.

I remember when Andrew was two (or even less) and Ms. Sue - his "nanny" for four years -would take him for a walk. "Our daily constitutional" she would say. They always took two plastic bags with them; one for Andrew, one for Ms. Sue. They invariably filled the bags with trash along the way. And there was always more the next day. (photo from the Internet)

By the time Andrew was three he was looking out for trash on his own. He was evangelical in spreading the word about the environment to his friends and pretty much anyone he ran into. Taking care of our planet is as natural to him today as breathing.

As a person of faith, I understand that God's Word speaks very clearly and consistently to our responsibility to take care of this world. We were created and placed in creation for a purpose; the shorter Catechism puts it this way: "What is the chief end of man (people): The chief end of people is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever."

One way to both glorify and enjoy God is to take good care of God's creation. Too many religious people take the idea of "dominion" over the world as license to abuse and exploit. I believe God feels the same way about toxic waste as a toxic life.

One of my favorite scriptures about the environment is this, from Romans 8 (Yes, we all have our "repeaters" and this is one of mine!)" The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

The Earth itself is anxious, eager, waiting... for us to get it. That's it for this morning. Just sowing seeds of clear thinking.

- Honor God
- Honor God's work
- Live as agents of redemption!
- Invite God's truth to infiltrate every aspect of our lives...


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Needing a Jump-Start this morning

Some mornings, I wake up with profound thoughts and bright ideas popping up all over the place in my mind. By the time Scout and I have walked the first mile I'll have my blog outlined and a sense of direction for my writing all day. Rebekah will throw out crossword clues and I'll answer them in a flash. By lunchtime I'm ready to spend the afternoon on my new book...

... Then there are days like today. I enjoyed the walk, but nothing was firing. I scanned the newspaper, but the crossword puzzle made no sense. I read today's Upper Room devotional, but was uninspired. I answered some emails, couldn't think of a pithy facebook status update, looked - nervously - at today's deadlines and then stared at a blank screen for several minutes.

When I was a school teacher, the kids showed up no matter how limber my mind was on a given day. The buses would arrive, full of highly carbonated children. The ride would shake them up like a can of soda in a paint mixer. Then someone would pop the lid and they'd spill out all over my classroom. Agitated, effervescent, frothy.

So here I am, praying for clarity, insight, inspiration, froth! - anything to jump start this morning's writing. Then (and by "then" I mean three minutes ago) I note an incoming email that I leave this page to read. It's from my friend Gil in Atlanta, who is replying to a message and link I sent him all the way back in November of '09. All he writes is this: "Thanks for sharing this. I reread it today and it appears even *more* relevant and on target. Continue to keep me inspired, focused, and accountable!"

So of course I go back and re-read the original (November) message, and the following paragraph jumps out in terms of today:
  • "We can't wait until we see clearly before we take the risk of believing; we have to be in motion - moving forward in some way - in order to steer our course You can't steer if you're standing still. God is more interested in our moving forward in this spiritual journey than in our seeing the way clearly. If we wait for everything to be crystal clear before moving then we're never going to go anywhere."
Point being, sometimes we need (I need) to simply put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

So I'm moving forward into this day, writing with belief if not erudition. Because I am confident that God is going to honor even my most tentative footfalls of faith.

Thanks for the boost, Gil, and rich blessings on all you are up to in the service of God's purposes up there in Atlanta.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Has The Greatest Story Ever Told lost its wallop?

Here's a thought-provoking story - it follows up from yesterday's post about "Telling the Story..."

Easter morning, my daughter Naomi and her husband Craig attended services at the church they're visiting in Connecticut. The minister shared a resurrection joke that featured a Groundhog Day inspired "Jesus saw his shadow and there were six more weeks of winter" punch line. I won't try to tell it here but I'm sure we've all heard one version or another.

That evening, at dinner with friends and family, Naomi thought it would be fun to re-tell the story. It's a fairly long joke that involves three recently-departed people, the ubiquitous interview at the Pearly Gates, and an extended lead-up to the hook at the end.

Naomi launched, laid out the story, included all the details, then delivered the punch line: Silence... Crickets... Deadpan faces... Quizzical looks... Nothing.

No, they weren't a bunch of fundamentalists who were offended by the joke; and they weren't missing their funny-bones. These people simply didn't get it.

So Naomi, not one to waste a good yarn, started to explain. But she was quickly interrupted by a young man: "Well, I have heard of Jesus," he said dismissively; "But I'm just not that familiar with the story."

Yesterday I wrote about someone who asked one of my friends to share more of the Jesus story. Today I'm referencing the larger reality of a world not only unfamiliar with Jesus, but pointedly uninterested.

The Greatest Story Ever Told seems to have has lost it's wallop.

I have some theories as to why that is, and most of them involve our less than wonder-inspiring performance as Jesus-followers.

Interestingly, in a curiously relevant side note, I just saw a hilarious clip from the Jimmy Kimmel Show that included footage of the Pope falling asleep during mass.

I'm paraphrasing, because I can't find the clip anymore. But Kimmel said the following: "When the Pope is bored at church you know you should be doing something to liven things up..."

Amen, brother Jimmy.

Tell me the Story

This weekend, while meeting with my Sunday evening group, I asked participants to share something meaningful from the past couple of weeks. The conversation became a powerful testimony to the spiritual depth lived out in the lives of my friends.

One of them talked about a terrible tragedy a colleague had experienced. Long story short, the woman in question was invited to church for a Holy Week service. Before she went she said this to my friend: "I think I know what Easter's about, but I'm not sure; would you please tell me the story...?"

Wow! What a concept. Being invited to tell the story of Jesus. It gives me - as Rebekah would say - chilly-bumps!

The exchange reminded me of a conversation I had with a missionary - he was in Europe at the time (another long story, but he found a copy of "GET REAL" had a transformational experience, and tracked me down). The phrase he used about his own faith life was this: "Deep down, I knew that the stories I had been telling were getting older and older..."

As a child, growing up in England, one of my all-time favorite hymns went like this" "Tell me the stories of Jesus, I love to hear/ Things I would ask him to tell me, if he were here/ Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea/ Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.." (I've pasted the compete text at the end of this post)

Another member of our group said that her Easter experience with our church had left her "So full with God that it just started spilling out on people around me...."

She had a new story to share, and I'd like to think God is interested in updating our collection of stories on a daily basis.

That's one reason I shared the following as my "status update" on facebook this morning.
  • From a prayer by a wise African-American preacher who attended my retreat in Virginia: "Thank you, Lord, for this day - it's a day we've never seen before and that we'll never have again." My question - what are we going to do with such a gift?
Peace - DEREK
  1. Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear; Things I would ask Him to tell me if He were here; Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea, Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.
  2. First let me hear how the children stood round His knee, And I shall fancy His blessing resting on me; Words full of kindness, deeds full of grace, All in the love light of Jesus’ face.
  3. Tell me, in accents of wonder, how rolled the sea, Tossing the boat in a tempest on Galilee; And how the Maker, ready and kind, Chided the billows, and hushed the wind.
  4. Into the city I’d follow the children’s band, Waving a branch of the palm tree high in my hand. One of His heralds, yes, I would sing Loudest hosannas, “Jesus is King!”
  5. Show me that scene in the garden, of bitter pain. Show me the cross where my Savior for me was slain. Sad ones or bright ones, so that they be Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.
(William H Parker, 1885)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cultivated Mellow; Life as a Soul-Nurturing Retreat

It's a peaceful Saturday morning, here in west-central Florida. The temperature reading for my walk with Scout was around 65 and the pollen was, for the most part, keeping a low profile. When we returned I ground some coffee beans - Fair Trade "Equal Exchange" Colombian - and spent a half hour or so reading the morning paper with Rebekah.

Rebekah is still working today's crossword puzzle, occasionally sharing a clue for my opinion on a word choice. She's being deliberate about the mental exercise, jump-starting her consciousness with an early morning combination of fresh air, caffeine and brain gymnastics; she'll spend some devotional time on the bench out in the patio later, then head into the office to work on tomorrow's message.

I always enjoy the way morning unfolds around our house. There's a deliberate pattern each day, yes, but the process feels more like a purposeful meandering than a strict regimen. It's like we're participants in a soul-nurturing retreat, every day. Once in a while the routine is broken by early morning commitments; but - by and large - we launch each day with a kind of cultivated mellowness, and I'm thankful beyond words that we're able to do this.

Consequently, I write out of a peaceful heart. And it's not just because we're "middle-aged", empty-nesters, have cushy jobs, "successful", or financially secure. None of those factors are necessarily givens; they're all subject to change. Besides, Rebekah's work can be extremely stressful, my income goes up and down like a yo-yo, and good health has never been something we've been able to take for granted.

No, the fact that "I write out of a peaceful heart" has to do with faith, love, commitment, faithfulness, purpose, grace, and the fact that the work we're involved in is deeply meaningful.

Sometimes I'm behind and way too busy; sometimes Rebekah is dealing with heart-shattering situations; sometimes we're stretch beyond capacity because of our work, or financially, or regarding difficult people; sometimes we find ourselves over-committed; sometimes things simply don't go the way we had planned...

... But my peaceful heart does not depend on such things. My faith does not require assistance from happenstance, the vicissitudes of the economy, or the cooperation of a world which is itself in need of redemption.

In fact, as Paul put it so well in Romans 8 (read the entire chapter, it's an amazing piece of literature), the world is waiting for us to "get it"! Rather than our faith being dependent on the world around us lining up in our favor, the world around us is looking for those of us who love God to live as if what we preach is actually true!

I've got my mellow on:
So, yes, this morning is one more in a series of soul-nurturing retreats. I've got my mellow on, so to speak. And I'm thankful to God.

Love and blessings - DEREK

Friday, April 16, 2010

Social Networking with God!

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. Psalm 133

This whole "social networking" phenomenon is interesting on so many levels. I signed up with facebook about a year ago, and am still discovering more cool stuff the website is capable of achieving.

Because of facebook I'm "in touch" with several hundred people, and on a daily basis. Information, status updates, blog entries, news items, interesting details passed along, and friendly messages thrown every-which-way - all around the globe. It's mind-boggling, to say the least.

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, I lead a group of around 15 men in a weekly Bible-study/support group... Most of the time I can barely get more than a handful to acknowledge an important email! Here's how it goes:
  • Me: "Hey, how's it going? Did you take a look at the important message I asked you to read...?"
  • Guy from my group: "Uhhh, well, not exactly... But I did see the subject line where you said it was critical that we all take a look...."
Meanwhile, in places like India, Georgia, Oregon, France, Virginia, England and Peru (for example), upwards of 50 people have pulled a similar item off my blog or via facebook and messaged me in some way to let me know I was in their prayers!

Generally, my contact with folk via facebook is more likely to be leaning toward the superficial. At the same, however, seeing a friend's name and status pop up on the screen can also be an opportunity to pause and pray. I have lifted (and continue to lift up) countless people "Before The Throne of Grace". Just a short prayer of thanksgiving, or maybe a petition on their behalf, and I'm back to work. I know it's always a blessing for me.

Instant Messages?
Typically, I write with two computers open on my desk. One for whatever I'm working on at the time, and the other for emails, facebook, and a variety of "peripheral" tasks. Consequently, my status tends to read "available", even if I'm out shopping or walking the dog. I have around a 99% failure rate when it comes to responding to "chat" or "instant messages". I don't ignore them on purpose - I simply don't notice the alert until it's too late.

To tell the truth, I'm glad I don't notice the chat prompts. They're one more level of distraction that I don't need and I'd rather have a few minutes to think about a response. So let's stick to emails if you really want to talk.

Which brings me to this cell-phone picture from my men's conference this past weekend. A room full of faithful men, committed to moving forward in their faith journey, and sharing deep ideas with their brothers in a room full of small groups.

A few minutes later, I issued instructions for the prayer portion of the session, and every man bowed his head to pray aloud for the ministry of the local church, and for the men who would benefit from receiving a personal invitation to join a band of faithful brothers.

I have to tell you, and I remarked on it to my new friend, Ray, that morning: the sound of 75-plus men talking with God about their home church, praying aloud about what they could possibly do to advance the kingdom Jesus talked about so much... that sound was beautiful.

Social networking, with God as an intimate part of the equation. Not a journey to faith so much as a journey in faith, of faithfulness, and alongside their friend - Jesus.
  • How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. - Psalm 133

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Know Your Enemy (Don't throw out the Spring with the pollen)

My enemy is pollen. Oak pollen, specifically. Kind of ironic that I live on Laurel OAK Drive!

But I can't really complain, because I'm only affected for a little over a month each year, and only badly for a couple of weeks. There are moments, however - and this morning so far has been one long moment, where every nerve in my body seems to be irritated to the nth degree, and I'm almost unwilling to breath in for fear of overloading my sinuses and exploding, right there in the spot.

"You'd think a good, hard sneeze would pretty much take care of the allergens and make my sinuses happy," I said to one of my friends the other day.

"No, when you sneeze like that it just pisses them off," he replied. "Then they spend the next hour making you pay."

So this morning I returned from my long walk with Scout with a yellow film of pollen covering my shoes and a couple of tons of the stuff compacted inside my nose, eyes, ears and throat. Then, through the haze of watery eyes, I saw the plus side of pollen making its grand entrance into the day.

It seemed as if every amaryllis in the garden had chosen that precise moment to bloom. There, up against the back fence and just catching the first rays of morning light, they spoke eloquently to the fact that something amazing happens in response to the imperative of spring.

Then a wild rose bush caught my eye, then an azalea; and, finally, a spectacular lily under the tall cedar behind the 7th green.

It's important to understand what exactly is the problem - that would be the five cubic-yards of pollen currently inside my head - and what is simply an innocent bystander. The flowers do nothing all day other than look spectacular and sing the praises of their Creator... yet my tendency is to throw everything in together, sulk inside a house with closed windows all day, and insist that I'm allergic to the entire month of April.

I couldn't help but think - again - about the awesome privilege I have to be involved with men's ministry all across these United States. Too many men believe that they're allergic to transformational faith initiatives; they stay closed up inside resistant hearts because they're tired of being constantly irritated by the disingenuous, the hokey (apologies to V.Tech), the manipulative and the political.

So they retreat, closing the doors and windows to protect themselves, and they miss the fresh bloom of the new creation God initiates every day.

Guys! Listen up! It's not God's good work in you that's the allergen, the irritant. You're throwing out Spring with the pollen!

When my dad had his heart surgery last fall, the doctors had to work hard to break through an outer casing (a calcified, tough to negotiate membrane) before they could do the repair work inside. Sometimes our hearts need to be broken before they can be healed.

If we're resistant to the initial breaking because we've learned to be suspicious of the entire spiritual package... then we miss the real work of Spring.

Let's not.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The "Men Who Shall Not Speak in Class" Club

One of many pluses about my Virginia speaking weekend was incorporating a "ROAD TRIP!!!" with Rebekah.... We drove together as far as Montreat, NC, where she spent Thursday through Monday catching up with friends from our years at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Pensacola. Eight women gathered together on "Reunion Hill" in Montreat - they'd all been part of our "Kaleidoscope" Sunday-school class, back in the 80's and early 90's.

We had arrived in Pensacola fresh from graduate school, in a young marriage and with an brand-new baby; so we did the only thing we could think of to survive - we started a Sunday morning class for people just like us, so we'd have friends to lean on and a community to love.

The experiment was wildly successful, and before long we had around 100 "twenty and thirty-somethings" sharing faith, raising children, and doing life together - 50 or more in class every Sunday morning. The women Rebekah met in Black Mountain - Sandee, Margie, Vicky, Abbey, Katherine, Nancy and Alice - were all a vital part of that experience.

Sunday night, when I came in from Virginia, Katherine, Sandee, Margie and Nancy were still there (Picture, l-r, Katherine, Margie, Rebekah, Nancy seated). It was great to get in on the tail end of the memories and the stories.

Nancy, now living in Colorado Springs, had a great one! I already knew that many of the men in Kaleidoscope didn't always "buy in" to the sharing and the "honest about my inner soul" atmosphere we cultivated. Sunday night Nancy told me her husband, Mike (now a professor at the Air Force Academy), was actually complicit in a kind of organized resistance...

... According to Nancy, a kind of informal men's club had evolved around the coffee pot and the donuts. The guys who tended to keep a lid on things gravitated to one another, and eventually dubbed themselves the "Men Who Shall Not Speak in Class" Club.

How awesome is that! The very fact that they talked about it, of course, was a commentary on the depth of Mike and the other guys' commitment to the idea of community.

I can't help but think about my new friend Ray Gryder, who is working so diligently to guide his Disciples of Christ Men into a new era of transformative spiritual growth and active Christian community. (the picture is of me teaching in Virginia) The very fact that some men identify themselves as uncomfortable with change is good news - inasmuch as it is the beginning of an honest conversation!

Our experience in Pensacola with the Kaleidoscope Sunday morning class was awesome in many ways. Our lives would not have been the same without the friendships and the trust and the prayer that defined that community. But that was then - and this is now. The key question for all of us, in 2010, is this: "What are we doing to make sure we're rooted in a solid community of disciples today?"

Rebekah and I still need the encouragement, the accountability, the mutual growth and - most of all - the commitment of faithful prayer. If such a community is not a part of your current experience, then take the following word from Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Star-Ship Enterprise: "MAKE IT SO..."

Amen to that - DEREK

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Virginia Disciples (part one) - Living Large for God

I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:100-105)

Okay, here I am - in Brandon and back in my study - wading through all the catch-up stuff that needs to be done. But, before diving in, I paused to spend a few deliberate minutes with God. That's where the scripture (above) spoke to me so clearly.

It's also pretty much the theme from my weekend in Virginia, shared with over 75 men from the Disciples of Christ Church. How do we negotiate our lives? How do we live - intentionally - as children of God committed to living like we mean it; because God most certainly means it? How do we follow Jesus?

I don't want to over-do the superlatives, or to make my use of language inflationary. But, I honestly can't say enough about how positive I feel about the trip to Virginia. It's been almost three years since the release of "GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men" (May of 2007), and since then I've spoken at scores of locations in eight states; but this weekend the message came together in - I believe - a unique way.

The men at Smith Mountain Lake, from all over Virginia, owned a collective hunger for authentic spiritual growth that translated into a palpable sense of receptivity in the room when I spoke.

  • It's not just that they listened... they tuned in.
  • They didn't just chuckle when I said something funny - they roared.
  • They didn't simply pray when we paused to talk with God - they sought God enthusiastically.
  • They didn't politely chat in the small-group sessions - they poured their hearts out to one another.
  • They didn't just show up for a retreat at the lake - they committed themselves, heart and soul, to moving forward in the spiritual journey as Followers of The Way.

Every time I speak, from a small group of five to my biggest crowd of around a thousand (at Palm Harbor UMC), the experience is interactive. There is a dynamic vested in any gathering of people that impacts both the spirit and the content of what I say.

This weekend, somehow, the Virginia Disciples of Christ gathering communicated openness, motivation, sincerity and love. That made it easy for me to be effective in my presentations.

I understand that, so long as I am open to faith, God uses me - in some small way - every day. But, the remarkable privilege of being the conduit for God's grace and blessing in a retreat/conference setting is both heady and humbling at the same time! I'm overwhelmed; I'm excited; I'm proud; I'm full of God's spirit; I'm full of myself; I'm motivated; I'm exhausted... and so much more.

It's quite possible that God may continue to use me to encourage the work of the Disciples of Christ - maybe even beyond the scope of Virginia. All I can say is - "Bring it on, God! I'm more than willing"....

Photo, below, by the lakeside, early Sunday morning at Smith Mountain Lake

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Virginia - faith, fun and opportunity

This is an amazing weekend in Virginia. I'm here with around 75 Disciples of Christ (DOC) men, privileged to serve as the keynote and program speaker for their conference/retreat. I have honestly seldom encountered such an enthusiastic, genuine group of guys.

We started with a golf tournament, yesterday, and I don't believe I've ever played on a more interesting and visually stunning course. For some reason, I was hitting the ball long and straight. My team managed to get a (two-man, best ball) winning score of 67. I even carded a few legitimate birdies, tee to hole, and almost aced a 190 yard par-three.

The DOC in Virginia are in the process of retooling their men's ministry - it's a task that needs to be addressed in most Christian Churches of every denomination.

These guys have recognized the "Writing on the Wall" and, rather than:
- A) Insisting that the clock be rolled back to the 1950s
- B) Abandoning men's ministry all together
- C) Whining ineffectually, while adopting a defeatist attitude that proves its own point...
(All the above approaches are being tried by too many men's organizations), they took a long look at the model they have been using and decided pretty much to start over, step away from the "same old same old", and invite God to "Do a new thing."

Consequently, there's an air of renewal, hope, optimism, belief and purpose here that is sure to usher in some positive results.

Bottom Line:
Here's the fundamental questions these guys are asking: "What does it mean for men to live as followers of Jesus in the 21st Century?" and "How can I serve God as a disciple in my local church?"

The old way of men's ministry (failing men's ministry) is all about protecting the structure. Baton down the hatches - talk incessantly about "the good old days" - close rank - sponsor another pancake breakfast on a morning no man under 70 can attend - shore up the walls - save the organization. The focus is on protecting a used up, worn-out model that's increasingly irrelevant in today's world.

The new way of doing men's ministry is about developing a culture where men see the value of renewed spirituality, and where that sense of living discipleship works its way into every aspect of our lives.

I'm personally very excited that some of my work (GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men) is helping DOC leaders articulate their vision.

The day of a "Men's Club" at church may well be over. And I think that's a good thing - because the vision that's replacing it is a vision of:
  • Men committed to following Jesus...
  • Men meeting together for mutual encouragement and to hold ourselves accountable...
  • And men asking this question: "What can we do, as brothers, to further the Kingdom of God and to strengthen the mission of my local congregation?"
That's the kind of men's ministry that will attract men of all ages. When my life, and yours, is animated by the transformational truth of a renewed relationship with the Living God - then the question of renewal and vitality throughout the congregation is already being addressed.

I believe God is calling men to leadership. Leadership via example. An undeniable model of what it means to live as if we mean it - to live lives rich in spirit and in truth - to live without reservation - to live the kind of life that following Jesus calls us to....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Stories from Virginia - the responsibility of freedom

This morning's post is brought to you from Virginia, somewhere near Smith Mountain Lake. Yesterday I dropped Rebekah off in Black Mountain, NC, then drove up 40, 77, and then 81 into the heart of Virginia.

Wow! What an awesome drive. I had the roof open and the windows down, watching the temperature gauge finally, at long last, inch it's way down into the 60's.

So I checked into a hotel, turned on my computer, and spent the evening catching up on several writing assignments before turning my attention to the presentations I have lined up for the conference.

This evening I'll start by introducing myself, and laying the groundwork and the back-story for my keynote emphasis. I have some great slides of Rebekah, Andrew, Naomi and Craig and the pets. I'll include some photos from church, too, because I can't talk about my family context without talking about First Presbyterian.

"Dad," Andrew said one time when we were talking about my teaching schedule. "Learn how to used Powerpoint; that way you'll be less boring."

Well I hope I've learned how to avoid being boring by now!! I have so many great stories, and I really am truly excited about my foundational message.

My real challenge is going to be not so much "how to fill time" as what to include and what to leave out. They have me teaching six one-hour sessions, and then bringing the message at the communion service Sunday morning. There's so much I want to share, and I may never see these guys again.

That's where this picture (right) is helpful to me. I took it (plus the other two) Thursday afternoon. At first glance it's just a wooden shack. Interesting only inasmuch as it's an old structure in a picturesque setting. But... add some story and everything changes. This happens to be the plantation where Booker T. Washington started his life as a slave. It's the precise spot where he remembers a man reading from a piece of paper and then saying: "This means you're free. You can come and go as you please."

Now we're talking history; now we're talking story; now we're talking redemption. Redemption, not in terms of just "Now you can come and go as you please..." so much as "What is a man - or a woman - going to do with the fact that freedom is now on the table?"

Now this old wooden shack speaks to me about the struggle of all people to accept such a gift, and the responsibilities that go along with it. Now we're talking about living with a sense of owning the great gift, living as if we mean it....

Not sure if I'll be on-line during the conference. If not, I'll catch up on this blog when I get home Tuesday. Grace and Peace, always - DEREK

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Living in this moment...

On the road today, heading to North Carolina and then Virginia, where I'll be leading a retreat for some men from the Disciples of Christ Church. So my blog entry this morning is simple and short.

I was struck, yesterday, by the amazing volume of traffic on I75. People, going somewhere. A lot of them seemed to be in an extreme hurry, impatient and out of sorts with pretty much everyone else on the road.

I'm learning, more and more, that the journey itself is every bit as important as the destination; maybe more so. There is no "somewhere else", just where we are in the moment. I want every moment to reflect something of the peace and the meaning that infuses my life.

Consequently, the rubberized eggs I ate this morning, the bad - weak - insipid hotel coffee, and the aching back I have as a result of a poor night's rest... these are all experiences ripe for redemption.

We'll have to see how that goes. This is, after all, not just a blog but reality!