Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Greatest Story Ever Told (well, a part of it)

(Readers who are still hunting for my Stetson and Stetson Soccer posts, just scroll down - or click on "older posts" - for great pictures and better stories)

Meanwhile, back at my regular life...  And of course my "regular life" is certainly not without its moments - which is why I'm able to generate posts to this blog almost daily. The day-in day-out of simply waking up every morning and the blessing of "being" is invariably loaded with meaning.

Working in my study
One of my facebook "friends" criticized this blog recently by way of suggesting I'd have "more credibility" if I wrote about things other than my spiritual life. But - and this has been a key realization for me - I can't really distinguish anymore between my "life" and my "spiritual life". I don't see myself taking those hats on and off during the day as if they're mutually exclusive.

Anyway, something cool happened yesterday evening that reminded me of what's important in my unique field of work. My books don't sell in large numbers (and that drives me crazy when I look at the books that do!!!) ... but every once in a while there will be a "moment" that justifies all the work, even if it helps just the one person.

I checked in on my on-line discipleship seminar, "A spiritual Journey". One participant, who has been fairly quiet during the first couple of weeks, commented that he really identified with "Eric" (a man whose story I shared in one of the GET REAL chapters), and he went on to detail exactly how. He said he felt inadequate in his faith and wondered about his progress.

Fair enough. It was an honest declaration of where he is in his spiritual journey. As the instructor, I could have affirmed him, encouraged him, and given his some ideas to go on....

But - as the author of GET REAL I was able to do one better. "I actually talked with Eric just an hour ago," I was able to say. "And we've been discussing how much his faith has grown over the past few years. If you're OK with it then I'm tell him about this conversation, and you can be assured that he is praying for you!"

I love the way these things come full circle sometimes. My life, Eric's life, the man taking the course, your life - they are all rich, full, meaning-packed stories. How God works through all of this is another story, it's the story that we're all a part of - it's The Greatest Story Ever Told.

That - as Rebekah would say - was a chilly bump moment. May your day be full with them.
With some of my "Men's Room" crew Wed night

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How I got on VPL's "A-List"

Echo Ranch
(If you're still looking for the soccer reunion post, just scroll down below this one!)

The other part of my birthday celebration over in DeLand involved visiting my great friends at "Echo Ranch". Here is the cliff-notes version of our history:

I met Linda Davis in England in 1975. We travelled Europe together with YWAM (see a couple of key chapters from "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian" for more on that experience!). Later, she joined me and my friend John Hess when we organized and led an epic two-month Appalachian Trail hike in 1976 (more on that in the same book).

Long story short - Linda introduced me to Stetson University. Her amazingly cool parents - Harold and Rabel Parson - made their home (Echo Ranch) available to me as a safe haven and retreat center during my undergraduate years. Later, they loved Rebekah immediately and generously, and we have remained close all through the years.

The old farmhouse at Echo Ranch
They're both pushing 90 now, but belie their age in every way possible. Most convincingly, both Harold and Rabel have the hearts of lions and the spirits of twenty-five-year-olds. They're active in the Presbyterian Church, are recognized as cornerstones of university life, and rival the chamber of commerce as enthusiastic supporters of the community. Rabel plays church organs all over the county, Harold attends every imaginable sporting contest the university can conjure, and together they grace pretty-much every conceivable cultural event within the radius of Stetson's reach.

Between them, Harold and Rabel Parson pretty much define DeLand and Stetson University.

"VPL" at the Garden Party
My friend Linda and her husband, Mike, live in the old farmhouse on Echo Ranch. I always stay there when I visit. It's a slice of traditional old Florida sitting on 30-acres in the middle of rampant development. The place is as much a haven today as it was when I first walked up the long driveway in 1976.

Stetson = a jewel of a campus:
Linda, who has been working with Stetson University over three decades, is the institution's vice-president for University Relations. In that role, she has been responsible for bringing in tens (and probably hundreds) of millions of dollars for the endowment, capital funds, and general revenues.

Elizabeth Hall
The result is a stunning campus, a vibrant learning community, a state of the art mission, one of the strongest academic programs in the Southeast, and a core values initiative that's both groundbreaking and visionary.

"I went to a Garden Party" -
In terms of net worth (remember, I'm a freelance writer, with the emphasis on "free"...) I'm not generally first on most people's list of high-profile invitees when it comes to events such as garden parties with the president. But I'm on the "A-list" when it comes to VPL (that's vice-president Linda!), so on Saturday morning I sampled great food, listened to live chamber-music, and got to hobnob with the swells on President Libby's pristine lawn. Nice.

University Entrance at Elizabeth Hall
So, thanks VPL, and "Nice to meet you", Wendy Pres. The old alma mater seems to be in good hands.

I spent the balance of my morning wandering the campus. It's always been a beautiful location, but the past few years have seen an acceleration in renovation and landscaping. So I'll conclude today's post with a series of pictures. In order: The front entry and Elizabeth Hall; The Student Union; Flagler Hall (Where I studied psychology) and Sampson Hall. Check the place out one day... send your next child... sponsor a scholarship - you'll be glad you did.
Student Union Building (enter for a great coffee house)
Flagler Hall
Sampson Hall

Monday, March 28, 2011

Old Memories and New Knee Pain - Still "A Kick-in-the-Grass"

Derek Maul and coach Gary Deckert
Here's a true statement: If you want to really know that you are well and truly middle-aged on your 55th birthday, then arrange to spend the afternoon playing soccer with one of the best college teams in Florida....

... No, no, scratch that, I can do one better. How about this: Gather together your college soccer team from the late 1970's, then get on the field and play AGAINST a bunch of 20-year-olds who happen to be one of the best college teams in Florida.

Do you have that image? Are your knees starting to hurt now just thinking about it? Mine certainly are. This morning my right knee kind of crumpled at the grocery store and I half-way went down. A searing pain drilled itself into the joint and I grabbed at a shelf to stay upright... and I started to giggle.

Fitz and Maz
"Are you OK?" a woman asked. "And why are you laughing?"
"Long story," I said. "I'll just say 'IT WAS SO WORTH IT!'"

March 26
I don't typically go to college reunions. But a few months ago an email circulated, locating soccer players from my era (1976-1979). Someone suggested showing up for the alumni game and before we knew it 6-8 key players made the commitment.

Saturday noon over a dozen from my old team showed up as part of the crowd of soccer alumni. It was the largest contingent ever from one era and - more than anything else - it was a tribute to our coach - Gary Deckert. 

Mark and Paul
Graciously, the younger alums let us take the field together.

The Moment: So imagine the scene. A bunch of guys, all in their mid-50s, facing off against Stetson University! Mark Berry said "Would you look at them! Were we ever that ripped?" Then someone pointed out that "ripped" had an entirely different meaning in the 70's!

We had a blast! And we actually lasted 15-20 minutes - which is a long time in a game that's fairly relentless when it comes to movement.

Who wants to play? Chuck, Fitz, Paul, Bob...
My definitive moment (of reality) came around ten-minutes in (a good five minutes after I ran out of endurance). I got the ball, made a fairly decent move, and found myself with some space 25 yards out. The goalie was off his line. My instincts took over and it was as if I was transported back in time to the same field, 33 years ago, poised in complete control of the game. I faked left, slid to the right, looked up and measured the top-spin chip that would flight the ball gracefully over the keeper and into the back of the net. I pulled back my right foot and struck the ball with confidence, anticipating that old familiar rush before standing back to witness my handiwork....
The ball barely reached the goalie, dropping softly into his waiting hands.

Together: So we left the main field for the younger guys and relocated for five-on five fun stuff, somehow managing to play for another 30-minutes or so. 

Then it was the sharing of stories, catching up, re-telling old tales from college, talking about our lives and our work and our children and our mutual friends. We talked on the field, we talked out in the parking lot, we talked back in the locker room, some of the conversation carried over to a favorite local watering-hole, and we all got back together in the evening, over at Steve Doran's house, where we talked and laughed and ate together long into the evening.

What counts: I noticed something interesting. We shared old stories, of course, and we talked about life at Stetson in the late 70's. But the majority of substantive conversation  (around nine-hours of it by the time we all said goodbye around 10:00 Saturday night) and what really reconnected us on my 55th birthday, was the fact that all of us are complete, well-rounded people with vibrant lives today, in 2011. 

Fact is, while we had fun together 33 years ago, and we have that camaraderie of a shared experience (soccer is, after all, still "a kick-in-the-grass"), I like the middle-aged version of these guys even more!

They're concerned parents, committed community leaders, loving husbands and cutting-edge in their professional fields. They're thoughtful and intelligent, and they hold deep convictions. Some of them are men of deep personal faith; all of them are guided by values that are rooted in a profound social conscience and a real concern for the world we inhabit.

I hadn't seen even one of my friends in well over thirty years, and I may never meet them ever again. But I left Steve's house Saturday night with renewed optimism about the world and our future.

I've never been a pessimist, but there's no better antidote for night after night of bad news  from around this war-torn globe than re-connecting with an otherwise random collection of people and realizing that this Earth is populated with so many good, decent, community-minded people.

So thanks, Gary, Chuck, Mike, Bob, Mark, other Mark, Maz, Eddie, other Bob, Steve, Marvin, John, Paul, Pepe... and anyone else I can't think of in this moment. Thanks not only "for the memories", but also for the belief. And thanks, simply, for being.

Your friend, who wishes you every blessing - plus grace, peace, hope and promise - DEREK

Friday, March 25, 2011

Happy Friday!

If you land here today, hop over to my "Preacher's Husband" blog and read my new post there!
Thanks - DEREK

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Invitation Beats Confrontation (Love Wins)

Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Sometimes beauty provides its own commentary. This - above left - is from the mess of bromeliads that crowd in alongside our front walk. I love the way the colors work together in a splash of celebration. It's nothing remotely close to the way I would design a flower if I started from scratch - but it works in every way possible; the effect is both surprising and exactly right at the same time.

If it wasn't for the pollen, Spring would be my favorite time of the year. Actually, I should say if it weren't for the hyper-sensitivity of my sinus passages. It's not the pollen's fault I can't handle inhaling several cubic feet of yellow dust every time I breath in! But my allergy only lasts a few weeks, and I usually get away with no more than a handful of bad "attacks" each year.

I don't remember who it was, but one of my friends left the following comment (or close to it) on facebook a few weeks back: "Dear Pollen; I know you have important work to do, but please try to stay out of my nose. Love, me."

But, philosophically (if you can be philosophical about something like pollen?), I have to admit I appreciate the foundational principle of how pollen operates. Flowers generate a saturation level of what it might take to get the job done and they just "put it out there." The pollen coats everything, regardless, because some of it is going to end up in the right place.

I can't help thinking about what we can learn, especially those of us who believe we have something important to share with the world. We could learn something from the flowers, and simply saturate our families and communities with love, hope, peace, promise and grace.
  • Invitation instead of confrontation. 
  • Saturation rather than isolation. 
  • Amelioration as opposed to alienation.
Instead, too many prefer the "hostile takeover" technique. Imagine having something wonderful to share, but instead of saturating the community with life we call people out, shove them against the wall, berate, condemn, criticize, catalogue their shortcomings, threaten them with hell and then - as if denouncing the people we're supposed to pollinate isn't enough - turning on other believers because they have a slightly different take on things and threatening them with eternal damnation for daring to open their hearts and minds....

"A-choo! A-choo!" Bless you... No, really; bless you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

I've shared before that book writing is a long process. But I had a moment of progress in my newest project (today) that not only fits perfectly with this ongoing Lenten theme, but highlights to me how this particular manuscript is managing to straddle both worlds - the instantaneous and the timeless.

First, we now have a title! My new book - to be released this fall - has an ISBN and is listed in the Library of Congress as "Reaching Toward Easter: devotions for Lent". And so today's email from one of my editors was more than timely. "I wanted you to get a chance," she wrote, "to see the 1st draft of the catalog copy I’ve written for your book."

Before I share what she came up with, I want to explain how the project bridges the gap between something that's 100% instantaneous and current (like this blog entry), and the unbelievably lengthy conception-to-completion timeline that defines book production.

Two years ago (Spring of 2009), I decided to blog Lent on a day-to-day basis. I pulled it off, never missing a day over almost seven weeks. Everything I wrote came fresh out of my head and onto the screen - it was published without any rewriting or editing - just "click" and there it was.

The result was rough, but very much alive. When I looked at the blog entries again, later, I realized they still held the vitality of immediacy. So I decided to use the copy as my basis for a book proposal and - by the end of the year - landed a contract.

My new manuscript was due by early the next summer. Consequently I wrote the book in real time during Lent of 2010. I captured some of the ideas from 2009, added fresh material as I was blogging my way to Easter of 2010, and - simultaneously - started from scratch on my manuscript. The result stunned me in terms of vitality. By continuing to rewrite and refresh I had created a book that resonated with the same fresh voice that defines my blog - yet with the gravitas of a legitimate tome.

And here it is, Lent again and this time 2011. We're in the late production stages of a book that will hopefully be read, together, by thousands of people throughout the English-speaking world this time next year.

Here's a rough version of what Upper Room Books plan to use in their catalog when the book comes out.
Peace - DEREK

Short Consumer Copy: Join Derek Maul on a 47-day devotional journey through Lent. Using the narrative in John 12–20 as a guide, Maul invites readers to remember Jesus daily and to live as  “Eighth Day Believers” true followers of Jesus. 6 weeks - Includes Leader’s Guide.

Long Consumer Copy: Derek Maul beckons you to join him on a devotional pilgrimage through Lent, and to engage in a sacred daily rhythm in the presence of Jesus. You’ll walk with Jesus on the dusty path from Bethany to the gates of Jerusalem, listening to his words of grace, hope, and challenge as he moves toward the Cross.

Reaching Toward Easter features 47 meditations, taking you from Ash Wednesday through Easter and into “The Eighth Day”. Using the Gospel narrative from John 12–20, Maul guides you to journey with Jesus from Bethany to Jerusalem.

Maul’s hope is that you will “arrive at Holy Week refreshed rather than tired, inspired rather than discouraged, reflective rather than overwhelmed.” By the time you reach Easter, your pilgrimage will have prepared you to live as an “Eighth Day Believer”—a true follower of Jesus.
- 6-week study for individuals or groups
- Includes a Leader’s Guide

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Going for it - no half measures - no holding back

Derek, Jack, Pat & Millie put together a surprising "62"
Today's post is on the lighter side. Because - while Lent is important, and what goes on in and around the church is a huge element of my life, and faith is undeniably folded into everything - sometimes I just play a round of golf and I don't actually think much if at all about the spiritual side of things.

God is most certainly there, always. But the reality is that - from my end at least - my interaction with the Creator works much the same as other primary relationship. My parents - for example - feature prominently in my life, but I didn't think about them at all (so far as I can remember) during 18 holes of fun on Saturday afternoon.

The occasion was a fundraiser. My friend Philip invited me to participate and help raise money for an educational trip his son is taking. So I hooked up with three people from his church who I'd never met before (Millie, Jack and Pat) and we somehow managed to shoot a "best ball" 62 on a tricky little course in New Port Richey.

(You may have noticed the new floppy hat I'm sporting. Yes, it may look silly, but the sun around here is just a little too relentless. I finished the day with my face, my neck and even the tops of my ears happily un-scorched... and I plan to keep things that way until November rolls around.)

"Best Ball" is a format that really sets me free. Once in a while - and mostly because someone else had been fortunate enough to hit safely - I was able to unwind and send my golf ball into the "risk-or-reward" territory featured on many of the narrow, hazardous short holes. Surprisingly, my ball tended to come to rest in really good places.

Consequently I chipped one of my longer drives in for an eagle on a short par 4. I've got to say that made my afternoon!

Since then I've been thinking (and this is a close to spiritual as I'm prepared to get this morning). Freedom, and especially freedom in the context of supportive community - an environment where you know people have "got your back" so to speak - is more than a beneficial setting for performance and creativity, it's the very best possible set up for confidence and premium achievement.

I believe what I'm talking about here is fundamental to understanding how and why I'm enjoying this excursion in my 50's so very much. I'm secure, I'm relaxed, I'm encouraged, I'm safe, I have a good sense of the big picture, I know how completely I'm loved.

I know that it's safe for me to try new ideas, to stay on the creative cutting-edge, and to give absolutely everything that I've got. No half measures, no holding back.

Now that's high-performance living!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Let the Music Speak to You

Just a short post today. The main action for Monday is over at my "Preacher's Husband" blog, so check that out once you've read this brief devotional thought.

Yesterday, during the second Sunday in Lent, our most excellent organist - Mark Prater - offered a wonderful late-afternoon pipe-organ concert. It was the perfect complement to meditation, especially in light of the fact that we're all trying to be more deliberate about a shift of focus during this time of the year. He was joined, on viola, by the inimitable William Goodwin

The simple point of this post is to remind us that great music can be extremely useful when it comes to preparing our hearts and minds for prayer and meditation. Creativity in its purest form tells a lot about the heart of God. Bach, for example, seems to draw a seamless connection between the human spirit and creative love that conceived us.

Mark couldn't have been more astute in his selections. I wonder how many people understand who blessed we are as a church to have someone with his gifts and sensitive spirit at the keyboard?

Peace (I sure felt it Sunday afternoon) - DEREK

Psalm 150

Praise the LORD.

   Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty heavens.
 Praise him for his acts of power;
   praise him for his surpassing greatness.
 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
   praise him with the harp and lyre,
 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
   praise him with the strings and pipe,
 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
   praise him with resounding cymbals.

  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

   Praise the LORD.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Listening to Cool People Share their Lives - it's my job!

People live at the very heart of of my work. It's an interesting idea to think about, especially in light of the fact that writing itself is such a solitary activity. But I've been going over my schedule for the past week, and much of it has been built around the stories of the people I invest in.
  • There are 36 men from all over the USA, for example, participating in my on-line GET REAL study. 
  • 12 men were present at my Wednesday evening small group. 
  • 13 people showed up for my Sunday morning class, 
  • 15 more attended the POGs (Parents of Grads) gathering I facilitate on Sunday evenings.
Then there are the interviews. I'll briefly sketch the three stories I worked on over the past few days:

The Rev Andy Bell runs a counseling center in St. Pete. He's also a passionate environmentalist. He argues - quite convincingly - that it's impossible to study theology without ecology infiltrating the process (and vice-versa). It's his belief that faith-based communities should be at the forefront when it comes to "Creation Care". He pointed out that the name Adam means "of the earth", and that a huge element of our systemic disconnect as human beings is related to the fact that we have severed our relationship with the earth.

You'll have to read the entire interview when it comes out. There's some good stuff in there about stewardship, mental health, inter-faith initiatives and our responsibility of faith-based communities speak truth to power.

Then, Tuesday, John Barbian was a good interview. John is a 28-year-old techie who works as director of media and technology at The Crossing Church, a mega-ministry with 5,000 in attendance each weekend. He has a strong grip on faith and loves both his world and his work. We talked about the importance of parsing the Gospel Message in sync with tech savvy, about how technology at church needs the Spirit or it becomes irrelevant from the get-go, and about how a church web-site is the equivalent of the old church lobby - it's the first part of the ministry most people are going to see. I especially noted how much more "at home" and comfortable I felt talking with John (in his hoodie) than many of the stuffed-shirt preachers I meet who are closer to my own age (not Andy, above - he was tres cool). That felt good.

Finally I've got to "give it up" for Cindy Sofarelli a church friend who also heads up four area YMCA branches. She's a mover and a shaker in the Y with a passion for connecting people of all ages with better living. All of my subjects this week integrate faith seamlessly into their work; there was absolutely none of the "part-time Christian" mentality that pervades so much of the North American Culture. For Cindy it's a "duh" thing when we talked about the fact that personal faith is a constant, a "force-multiplier" in every aspect of what it means to be a complete human being.

I was struck, not just in talking with Cindy but with all three subjects, at how taking care of ourselves as a complete package is a "no-brainer" when we're fully engaged as people who understand what it means to live an abundant life.

I'm looking forward to my next interviews, to sharing more powerful stories with the community, and to growing in who I am because I'm privileged to learn so much every time I spend a few minutes listening to someone share their life with me.

Peace - DEREK

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day by day... See thee more clearly... Lenten meditation

Day by Day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray. To see the more clearly; to love thee more dearly; to follow thee more nearly. Day by day. This morning I meditated in the garden with my camera.

One of the guys in my Wednesday men's group is following the "Daniel Fast" for Lent. Chris said that he felt more astute, spiritually, and it is as if he can apprehend God in his life with greater clarity.

It's not hunger or food deprivation (because my friend is enjoying a balanced diet) so much as it is a moving aside of distraction. It's as if over-indulgence creates a spiritual lethargy, a kind of torpid sensory dulling, a masking of the work of the Spirit.

I have noted before how my more meditative posture each morning is releasing a newly honed, finely tuned interface with the world around me. I may be in my mid-fifties but I'm seeing in HD for the first time, hearing in digital high-fidelity, engaging matters of the heart with greater sensitivity and openness. It's more of a four-dimensional take on the world. I guess I have eyes to see that really weren't that well tuned before, and a listening heart that is finding a clearer channel.

Anyway, I took a few photographs before the sun crested the rise behind our house to the East. It was a drink-it-all-in morning today, replete with freshness and expectation and promise. I'm not fasting so much as feasting. I'm not following a physical fast that would qualify me to raise my hand in church next time Rebekah asks the question... But I do believe I'm right there in terms of clarity of vision.

Peace - DEREK

- African Iris - (we have literally hundreds in bloom right now)
- Easter Lilly - (They seem to want to bloom in unison)
- the fence  and the golf course behind our house

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Ten Commandments as a Family Creed

Today’s post represents a change of pace. Yes, it is still the 2nd week of Lent; and, yes, the ongoing theme of more deliberate spiritual practices is still very much on my mind; but today I’m going to share a unique piece of writing I’ve been working on for the past few days.

I prepare a lot of "on-line content" for men with young families, and I’ve been thinking about some of the foundational principles of faith. And, while I am most certainly a “New Testament” child of God, I’ve been enjoying a lot of key readings from the Old Testament lately (I like to refer to Genesis-Malachi as “The journal of the Children of Israel’s on-again-off-again relationship with God”).

I’ve gone on record before regarding my disappointment with...
  •  Those who brandish Bible verses like an offensive weapon,
  • People who beat people over the head with holy scripture,
  • Christians who insist that the archaic/flawed King James translation is the only true Word of God. 
The “Ten Commandments” are a prime example. The “Big-10” are ubiquitous in today’s culture wars, posted all over the place and in an irrelevant dialect by religious people who don’t seem to be able to understand (or care to understand) that they are alienating the very people who need to know the great reach of God’s love.

The Ten Commandments are a basic building block in understanding the relationship between God’s law and a just society. But God’s purposes are not furthered when the narrow-minded confine the truth of scripture to the literary equivalent of an exclusive secret society!

So – respectful of the gravitas inherent in God’s Word to Moses and yet mindful that they were written to a specific people in a specific time and place – I have parsed the list in terms of a 21st Century Family Creed.

So here are The Ten Commandments, but expressed as a kind of “Family Statement of Foundational Values”. (The original text is reproduced below my signature, for reference).

Ten Commandments For the Family
  1. This is a family that is Grounded in Faith.
  2. We will keep our priorities in balance. That means that we do not and we will not worship the cultural "god of acquisitions and goods". Stuff will never become the core value of this family.
  3. There will be no cursing in this house, period.
  4. This family is committed to a balance of work and recreation that honors God’s natural rhythm of creation and rest. We will relax together as a family. We are a family defined by faith. This means that Sunday is qualitatively different to other days of the week, and worship attendance is always our priority.
  5. God is the final authority in this home… and we acknowledge that God has delegated much of that authority to the parent/s. Mom and/or Dad are committed to the practice of fairness and love, that is a promise; but disrespect will not be tolerated under any circumstance.
  6.  Physical violence is never an appropriate solution to conflict. Don’t hit your sister. Never strike your brother. Don’t kick the dog. Never raise your hand to your parent.
  7. We acknowledge the importance of an open conversation about faithfulness, and this includes pornography in all its forms. We understand the need to be clear regarding what is appropriate in this house.
  8. It is imperative that we respect one-another’s personal things. This principle is simple, and it includes a reverence for personal space.
  9. Honesty is a core value of this family. We recognize how critically important it is that we can trust one-another, and we embrace the power of the principle that “The Truth Will Set Us Free.”
  10. We will live each and every day in the understanding that we are blessed beyond measure. Mom and/or Dad do the best that they can, and this must be a household where gratitude is simply part of who we are. But this is also a home committed to generosity. We’d rather give stuff away than be jealous.
-       In this, and in all things, may we all be committed to God, guided by scripture, empowered by the Holy Spirit and equipped through our relationship to Jesus.

-    - DEREK 

Exodus 20 - The Ten Commandments (NIV):

 And God spoke all these words:

 1-  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 2 - “You shall have no other gods before[a] me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 3 -  “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

 4 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

5 - “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

6 - “You shall not murder.

7 - “You shall not commit adultery.

8 - “You shall not steal.

9 - “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

10 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Lenten Discipline in The Upper Room

So [Jesus] sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him.  Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there. (Mark 14)

Two days ago I posted the first general announcement on "The Blackboard" for an on-line class I'm teaching at I'm working with 36 men from all across the United States. What we're doing - essentially - is reading "GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men" together and engaging in an ongoing conversation about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus rather than simply a member of a church.

It's a big effort, one that involved a lot of prep-work that included training facilitators for the two groups of 18. But it's part of an even bigger vision to see similar on-line studies replicated and utilized to strengthen local men's ministry initiatives from coast to coast. One of our participants is The Upper Room's key leader in South Africa, and he's evaluating the possibility of promoting on-line discipleship classes there.

I think it's cool that this study has started during the first week of Lent. One of the purposes of Lent it to re-introduce spiritual disciplines into our lives so that our journey to Easter is more deliberate. I can't think of a better spiritual practice than pulling together men from across the nation so that we can encourage one-another in our commitment to following Jesus.

In a sense, when we go on line to the class "Blackboard" at BeADisciple, we're hanging out in our own Upper Room together with Jesus. My publisher, Upper Room Books, is committed to the development of reading materials that facilitate the kind of intimate relationship Christ's friends enjoyed with the Master.

So here's my prayer for Lent, along with the request that you pray for my 36 new friends as we journey together - "Lord God, thank you for the assurance of your faithful presence with us as we struggle with what it means to follow you in today's world. Grant us insight and peace as we make more deliberate choices to follow you. We ask in confidence, because you are always our rock. Amen."

Be at peace, and continue on your personal journey with encouragement and in hope - DEREK

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Lenten Experience - Wisdom & Understanding

OK, this is interesting. Someone told me "You really should get up earlier and post your blog before everyone gets up in the morning. That way I can read before I head out to work."

Sorry... I really do love "the reading public", and I certainly appreciate the feedback I get from those who find my blog posts inspirational; but this is my on-line journal (and you are all more than welcome to read over my shoulder), and that's not the same as a subscription service.

The scripture that's on my mind this morning comes from Proverbs 2:1-5:
  • "My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures-- then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God."
I believe the thrust of this passage is a key element of the Lenten Experience - or at least it needs to be. Worship yesterday at First Presbyterian here in Brandon was inspirational, yes, but it was also deeply thoughtful. Pastor Tim Black talked about Friday's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan, acknowledging our need for insight and understanding and building that sense of struggle into the tough questions that dotted the landscape of his message.

Understanding that there are no "one-size-fits-all" answers to difficult questions is critically important to engaging this journey to Holy Week and the Passion of Christ. Yes, it's true that "Jesus is the answer", but Jesus is always the question too. I appreciate the phrase "My soul is restless until it finds its rest in you (God)." There is a sense in which (first) being restless is an important part of finding our rest.

What happened - and is happening - in Japan is a contributing cause to my spiritual restlessness. My desire to grow in faith is a form or restlessness. My commitment to discipleship emerges out of restlessness. Paying attention to being restless is a step in the process of moving closer to God.

God is with me, profoundly, on this journey. But this is a real world experience, lived out in the context of brokenness, pain, sickness, catastrophe, rebellion, sin... all the elements that define "the human condition". It is precisely here, where the world so often hurts, that I am "finding the knowledge of God" (Proverbs). I have to ask questions, and cry out for insight, and search for understanding as for hidden treasures.

God is faithful, I know that more completely every day. But it is a constant process.

Peace on the journey - DEREK

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The First Sunday in Lent (2011)

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2)

Each Sunday morning I get up early (extra early today, as the absurd Spring-Forward time-change has taken effect!) so I can give Scout a decent walk before heading to church at for Praise Band practice. Typically, I show up around 7:15 so I can get my guitar in tune before the other instruments start up.

Then, right on 7:30, our director signals for quiet and - usually - asks me to lead an opening prayer. I always forget he's going to do that, so it's "prayer-on-the-fly". This time, however, I'm thinking ahead.

This morning's prayer: Good morning, Lord. This is the first Sunday in Lent. We're here this morning because we know that the best way to prepare for Easter is to love you with all that we are, and one way we can do that is to bring you our very best when we gather together for worship. 
  • We're a little extra tired this morning so we ask that you animate us with your Spirit; 
  • We're worried about our brothers and sisters in Japan, so we ask that you work through the relief efforts and that you touch the hearts of your people to be ready and generous with help;
  • And we each hold the burden of people we love sometimes heavy on our minds, so we ask that you speak peace and hope through the ministry of our lives.
Unify us through the power of your love, we pray, and equip us to lead this congregation into your presence through song. We ask because we believe; and we believe because you are always faithful. Amen

The official "Forty-Days" of Lent does not count the Sundays. The purpose of each Sunday is refreshment, renewal, and extravagant worship. I believe that being faithful in worship adds meaning and direction to the 40 days of preparation.

Lent is a good time to think about how we observe our Sundays. Is this day qualitatively different from the other six? If not, maybe some imaginative and creative ideas are in order. After all, there's a natural rhythm to the order of Creation that serves as an important component of a balanced life - physically, emotionally and spiritually.
It may well be your avenue to a deeper peace - DEREK

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lent: Embracing the Truth that Change Defines Life

It's tough to write anything about Friday's devastation in Japan without sounding trite. Maybe it's the availability of so much high-tech communication, real-time video imagery, and the "24-hour news cycle", but I've never in my life seen anything that even begins to approach the catastrophic levels of destruction that have been documented over the past couple of days. Even Hollywood's epic disaster movies never imagined anything close to the scope of what Japan is going through right now.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 
(Psalm 46)

I have a photograph of Rebekah standing in front of Washington's Mt. St. Helens that I often use when I'm on the road, speaking. I use it as a backdrop when I talk about perspective, and the omnipresent context that we live in/on a world that is constantly changing, that the process of Creation is still under way, that the same forces that carved out the details of the Grand Canyon remain at work today. I then point out the growing dome inside the massive crater, evidence that - in a hundred years or a thousand - Mt. St. Helens will have changed again, and will continue to do so.

There's a bronze plaque somewhere in the park that carries the following quotation. "Civilization exists at the consent of geology."

My point is that, even in the face of such evidence that dynamic change is a constant foundational principle of life - from the spectacular growth of a sunflower outside my window, to the evidence that stares at us when we look in the bathroom mirror every morning, to dramatic movement in the very crust of the earth - too many of us live as if substantive change in our own lives is not only anathema, but is actually not possible.

Since Ash Wednesday I've been contemplating how I am prepared to - willing - effect positive change in my life (I'd say "spiritual life", but I really can't distinguish anymore between my "life", and my "spiritual life"). In the mere act of contemplation I have already noted change. Not seismic change, but certainly incremental growth in terms of what it means to live this life as a disciple rather than, merely, a man who attends church.

If you're considering such contemplation, then this "Season of Lent" (between last Wednesday and Easter Sunday) is as good a place as any to begin.

Peace - DEREK