Monday, October 31, 2011

The "So What" of celebration...

Campbell Discipleship Center - Oct 30th
As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) - Luke 9
CELEBRATE! Saturday morning workshops are fine. Saturday evening dinner gatherings with the leadership team are always a treat. But, nothing else is quite so invigorating as the atmosphere of celebration and joy that characterizes Sunday morning worship as a community of faith.

One of the best things about the church I attend is simply being there, just hanging out in such a vibrant community. The experience is not only worshipful but redemptive, rejuvenating, invigorating and reassuring (and more...). This weekend was a little extra exciting, even for us. But then it's not every day that six years of hard, focused work comes to the point where it's time to dedicate the project and begin to ask God, "What's next?"

Rebekah with Rev. Kim - representing the Springwater Korean Presbyterian Fellowship
So What? You'd think, after a project comes together, that it would be time to sit back, take a vacation, and just rest in the satisfaction of accomplishment...? Well, no; it turns out that's not exactly how God moves in this world. The question is always some version of Rebekah's (my wife) famous "So What?" response to just about any scripture, sermon or event in the life of the church.
The idea hung like a huge banner over every aspect of this weekend. So what? So you've built an amazing new "Discipleship Center"... So what? So all these fine people show up for church every weekend... So what? So we say we're excited about how the Gospel is impacting so many lives... So what?

11:00 Worship
"Un-B-Flippin'-Lievable." That's why this scripture jumped out at me today. Jesus took some of his closest friends up the mountain for a worship/educational experience that was truly inspirational. Then, because these guys had forgotten the "So what?" imperative that runs through everything Jesus said and did (like a thread of DNA), all they could think to do was to set up a few tents so they could live in that moment for ever.
"Good grief!" Jesus have thought, "There's a valley full of people who need me, and you clowns want to stay up here on the mountain and just 'live in the moment'....? Un-B-Flippin'-Lievable.'"

So here we are. We are at another wonderful place of dynamic celebration and promise and achievement. So what?

Speaks for itself!
WRITING THE FUTURE: I like what I said on Saturday evening, when our elders and their families gathered at the Evans' home for dinner with Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow (Moderator of the 218th General Assembly). We had been talking about our 50-year story, and I'd mentioned that I just finished writing the church history for First Brandon's 50th anniversary.... Then I corrected myself: This is what I said:
I was wrong when I said that I am writing the history of this church. It is all of you - all of us, the leaders who are sitting around this room this evening. We are writing the history of this church from day to day, moment by moment. All I have done is to record some of it.

Excited about the future
That is the only reason we have doubled the size of our church campus in the past six years, added staff, expanded the pre-school ministry, and dedicated this awesome new building. We are doing this so that we can tell the story more effectively. So that we can be the story. So that Jesus is invited to live and to love through us.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

The key words in "life" are transformation, vitality and adaptation (nostalgia = slow death)

Rebekah, Tim and Bruce Reyes-Chow
Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’  Is anything too hard for the LORD? - Genesis 18
Interesting scripture for a blog post, huh? Well, it's the first Bible reference Bruce Reyes-Chow - our guest speaker for the weekend - threw up on the overhead this morning and I love, love, love the choice.
His topic was "Leadership and the Future Church." The Genesis story about Sarah reminded me that, in many respects, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is an old lady who for the most part doesn't believe it's possible to grow her family. But - and this, as Rebekah would say, gives me chilly-bumps - "IS ANYTHING TOO HARD FOR THE LORD?"

Bruce Reyes-Chow teaching at First Brandon this morning
How about this? Well, getting the average mainline church to move forward as a life-charged community may be one of the hardest things the Lord has run into in the past millennium or so. And I'm not limiting this observation to the Presbyterians. Remember, I'm partially "Methodish," have significant Baptist roots, hang out with all sorts of Episcopalians, Lutherans and Disciples of Christ, and have written newspaper profiles on pretty much every pastor with a pulse (and some don't!) within the radius of twenty miles.

The Church Jesus envisioned when he moved around the Holy Land with his faithful band of followers - men and women both - was a living organism. That kind of church evidences life through:
  • Vitality,
  • Transformation,
  • Impact on the ambient environment,
  • Replication,
  • Movement,
  • Growth,
  • Animation,
  • And adaptation via internal change... (Compilation of ideas from scientific definitions of "life")
Too many people think that the ideal church equals "Exactly what I remember growing up." The task, then, would be to attract people (just like them) to buy into their vision of church and strengthen resistance to change. That's not ministry so much as it is institutionalized nostalgia, and it amounts to an inevitable slow death.

Too bad so sad: I hate to disappoint, but Jesus did not live... and teach... and die... and then conquer death... in order to prop up a cultural time bubble that has more to do with what American looked like in the 1950's and 60's than God's radical promise of new and abundant life to EVERYONE who accepts that love.

There is no template for how church should look. Our congregation strives to be a loving, faithful community of disciples who gather together to worship God, to learn, to serve and to encourage one-another as we work out what following Jesus - day-by-day - looks like under the umbrella of our Presbyterian identity.

Excited about the future
Back to the scripture: So back to Sarah and baby Isaac (Isaac means "laughter"). I honestly believe that, with God, anything is possible. And I truly believe we're just scratching the surface of what is possible here in Brandon. But God is not going to impose any future we don't have the faith or the courage to engage.

Peace - DEREK

Friday, October 28, 2011

Follow the Ancient Paths

The Ancient Paths
"Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." (Jeremiah)
I love great quotes. The Bible is definitely my #1 source, but then there are songs, books, poems, movies etc. Back in college my friend Kirk and I used to see how long a conversation we could have stringing together lines from the music we were listening to on the radio!
  • Me (coming in from a long shift working security): "Do You want to know a secret?"
  • Kirk: "Shout!"
  • Me: "It's been a hard day's night."
  • Kirk: "You'll get by with a little help from your friends..."
  • Me: "It's like I'm working 'Eight Days A Week.'"
  • Kirk: "Run For Your Life!"
  • Me: "I'm going to sit right down and cry."
  • Kirk: "Let it Be."
And that was just titles of Beatles tunes!

Jeremiah: But I digress... The quote from Jeremiah Six is a great one. I've read it many times, but today I went back and looked at the words in context. So here it is again, but this time with a little more: This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.’  I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.'"

Reality check: Now, rather than a nice quote about people finding ancient paths, this is God speaking, and God is saying: "I keep offering you great advice about how to find your way, but you turn me down every time!"

God points out two things that we all tend to say on a regular basis:
  1. We say, "Thanks but no-thanks, God; we choose not to walk in the ancient paths..."
  2. And we also say, "That's nice, God, but we will not listen..."
That amounts to one astounding observation about human nature. But it resonates on so many levels. Here's one quick story about this, then I'm done.
My "Men's Room" small group is studying the psalms; we've had various versions (all pretty-much the same) of the following conversation recently:
  • Me: "This week, let's make the commitment to read this psalm (Psalm 23; Psalm 46; Psalm 100; Psalm 8...) out loud at the beginning of the day, each and every day. Then refer back to it several times during each day. The result will be a powerful affirmation of God's word and a daily invitation to live in response to faith."
  • Men's Group: "That's a great plan!" "Yes, that's what we'll do!" "Let's do it! I can't wait to see how God infiltrates my mind and heart!"
So what happens? You may have guessed what's coming here. Fast forward to the next Wednesday:
  • Me: "Let's start out by sharing some stories about how God worked in our lives as a result of our decision to walk in the ancient paths over the past week."
  • Men's Group: ....... ("crickets")...... ("awkward silence")....
Now I'm not throwing the entire group under the bus! There's always someone, maybe even two or three out of the 12-15 in attendance, who report back how God moved in their lives simply because they followed through on their commitment to spend deliberate time in God's presence on a day-by-day basis.

Peace on the Journey...
But our tendency (and this is God's point in the Jeremiah passage) even though we know the truth and we know God, is to hear God say, "Listen to the sound of the trumpet," and then respond, "WE WILL NOT LISTEN!"
I wonder why that is?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Starry Night - so shine already!

Starry Night - Vincent Van Gogh
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory  in the heavens... When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? ... You have made us a little lower than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor. You made us rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under our feet... (Psalm 8 - selected verses)
Today's schedule:
  1. Appear on the Colson Elementary School "Good Morning Show.
  2. Drive to West Tampa and give presentation to the Church & Synagogue Library Association.
  3. Meet with upcoming moderator to discuss possible Presbytery-wide adoption of "Reaching Toward Easter".
  4. Drive to Sun City to meet with Charles about Adult Ed teaching schedule
  5. Meet Brandon Friends for dinner.
In-between times? Make it home as often as possible to play with extremely bored dog.

7:45 This Morning....
My background soundtrack will be Psalm 8, and the amazing perspective the words offer. The same Creator who is responsible for the unfathomable wonders I see when I gaze into the night sky... also created me, and gave me the opportunity to live a life that makes a difference.

Each one of us has been "crowned with glory and honor!" How do you like that? And, more importantly, when I've had enough of admiring my cosmic significance, what am I going to do about it?
  • Today I plan on letting a little light from the glory seep out from my soul and color the few minutes I have with several hundred elementary-school children.
  • And then I'm praying that my presentation to a room full of church educators will communicate some of the "work of God's fingers" from when God was crowning all of us with that glory and honor stuff.
  • And I'm also asking God to guide my words, so that the idea of sharing my work with more than 70 local Presbyterian congregations might take shape in a way that changes lives...

No accident: In other words, I don't believe it was an accident that my Wednesday evening group talked about the beauty and purpose wrapped up in our individual creation, as witnesses to God's work and glory.

It was God, giving me some inspiration, and then a little shove into the opportunity of another new day - DEREK

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This do in Remembrance - (A story that remains untold is no story at all)

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do. (entire hymn - by Katherine Hankey, 1866 - posted below)

The 1920 Alexander/Maul/Campbell Rocker 
It's a simple thing, really. A grandmother and a baby sitting in a chair. But it's so much more when there's a story attached. The rocking chair in question is one of a pair we were only willing to split up when Naomi was expecting. It's around 90 years old, and was first rocked when David Henry's great-great grandmother Mary (Mary Roquemore Alexander) started having babies in the 1920's.

The pair of rockers (or should I say "Roquers") was the first furniture purchase made after Reed Alexander married his oh-so-young bride around 1920 in Athens Georgia.

When we gave the roquer to Naomi and Craig it had at least two sets of tooth marks on the arm. The first was imprinted when Rebekah's dad, Bob Alexander, chomped the furniture in the vicinity of 1926. Almost 60 years later, either 1982 or '83, Andrew Maul added his own mark. Any damage perpetrated by Rebekah and her four siblings remains, at this time, undocumented.

Mary Alexander holding Robert D. Alexander, circa 1926
There is a lot of love in that strong rocker. It was, to be honest, hard for me to see it go. It was the right thing to do, of course, but I have so many tender memories of holding Andrew, and then Naomi, as they fell asleep in my arms. I'd keep the rhythm going, back and forth,long after they were heavy into their slumber, unwilling to leave the pure and blessed beauty of the moment.

Some of the best family times are built around that kind of remembering. We may have photographs, and digital recordings, and pictures both still and video, but the best way to remember is still in the sitting around and the telling of stories. Annotated, of course, by "corrections," "interpretations," "slants," "additions" and "addendums," from those sharing in the telling.

Family history is best when it's a shared story. That's what we've been doing this year at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, as we celebrate 50 years as a family of faith. It's been an all-year-long invitation to share the ongoing story, and to testify as to what God has been up to in Brandon because there's a Presbyterian Church here.

Always sharing the story
We're at our best and the most engaged with the Gospel we've been entrusted with when we gather in small groups and when we share. We tell the truth about God's family of love when we share our faith, our questions, our struggles, our enthusiasm, our doubts, our triumphs, our growth and our belief; when we share our experiences of God and our need for God; when we pray together and pray for one another; when we celebrate and when we cry.

We've been doing all of that here recently, and we're the richer for it. Fact is, a story that remains untold is no story at all.
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me;
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.
I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Drinking from the Wrong Well?

Thanks for stopping by
Encouraging stats: First, an interesting statistic. So far this month (and it's only Oct 25) my blog has generated around 4,500 hits. That works out to around 250 regular readers at 3-5 visits per week, and then 500-1,000 hits from folk with the potential to tune in on a more regular basis.

I understand that I've received a real boost from the birth of our grandson, David Henry, but I'm confident I have a shot at encouraging some of those visitors to come back as regulars.

So, if you are one of those infrequent readers, then please accept this invitation to look in on a daily basis. I post here 5-7 times each week, so it's always worth a quick check-in to see if the headline may grab your interest. You - and this applies to everyone who stops by - are very important to my future as a writer.

Drinking from the wrong well?
The big idea: My purpose is to write in a way that communicates the passion I have for normal, run of the mill, everyday living. My essential point is that each one of us has been designed, by our Creator, with the potential to enjoy each day at a level that few of us ever engage. The concept of "abundant life", or "more and better life", is neither pie-in-the-sky nor limited to the fortunate few who have access to resources much of the world can't imagine.

In fact, I've come to believe that most of the material goods that so many of us spend the majority of our lives chasing after (often to the exclusion of healthy relationships) have exactly the opposite effect than that advertised by those who hawk them.

My theory (it's something I spend a considerable amount of time discussing in my June 2012 book): People are hungry for satisfaction. Our consumer culture promises happiness if we just purchase the "correct" toys. So we go into debt in order to purchase said toys. Then - when we find out we're not really satisfied - instead of redirecting we purchase more. But what we don't realize (or are unwilling to realize) is that we're investing in the wrong stuff.

But it's like standing in the wrong line at the grocery store. We've already committed so much time to the one we're in that we're fearful of starting over. So we stay exactly where we are, watching shopper after shopper go through the other line, out into the parking lot, and on home. But we don't want to let go of all that valuable time we've already invested....

Rembrandt Etching - Women at the Well
Here's the thing: What we consider a valuable investment is less than negligible in the grand scheme of eternity. Ten years... twenty years... forty years - or even an entire lifetime dedicated to drinking from a well destined to never satisfy - is simply a blip in eternity.

If it's life that you're after, the satisfaction of matching your unique design with the intentions of the Designer and the needs of this world, then it's time to re-think your bottom line. Drinking from the wrong well? So stop it already! Just take one, deep, draft of living water and it won't matter how much time you wasted in the wrong direction...
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.
Or, as the classic folk song asked, "When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?"
It's a good question - DEREK

Monday, October 24, 2011

Beyond Warming the Pew...

David Henry went to church this Sunday - he was 7-days old!
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — Hebrew 10....

Ah... the best-laid plans... Typically, when Rebekah takes a trip out-of-town, I use the opportunity to get huge amounts of work out of the way. Then, yesterday, I woke up with a head-cold  that turned nasty in the evening. This morning I slept through my 6:15 alarm and would still be asleep if Scout hadn't intervened at 8:30, impatient for her walk.

It feels like - sometime during the night - someone snuck in the house and stuffed my entire head with around 3-lbs of tissue-paper. But, never fear (especially if you're an editor awaiting my work), I'm loaded up on coffee and DayQuil now; so who knows what will emerge from my caffeinated, rattled, numbed brain!

Yesterday church was, as always, good for me despite feeling unwell. There's a positive spirit at First Presbyterian of Brandon that's consistent, regardless of the occasion. Tim preached about how the way that we live in community can be a catalyst in our spiritual growth. Then all he had to do was to point back at the week we had just experienced together, a workshop in community defined by mutual care, love, prayer, support and encouragement.

Tim welcomes new members at the 8:30 Praise Service
"Community" was a good topic to speak about on a day when eleven new members were presented. Eight are regular early service attenders, including three young couples and a teenager. These folk all have long lives stretching ahead of them, and I honestly can't imagine how thy could possibly negotiate all that's bound to come along in any context other than Christian Community.

And I don't mean merely "joining a church." Joining a church is an important first step, but we have to be deliberate about investing ourselves in the day-to-day life of service and mission and fellowship, all the while pursuing a personal commitment to discipleship. The strength of First Presbyterian of Brandon is not in its raw numbers, but of a community built around the idea of following Jesus.

Our church is a great place to gather. But what really counts is what goes on Monday-Saturday, in our homes, at the workplace, in the grocery store, on the golf-course, as we eat together as a family or with friends, as we "do life," pouring everything through the filter of what it means to make the decision to follow Jesus.

Our church comprises around 550 disciples who worship as a body, who learn together, who serve and are served, who reach out into the world, and who look to one-another for strength and encouragement and accountability as we make this journey - always forward - through life.

"2nd Ringers" playing the chimes
Worship is an awesome experience mostly because of what goes on the rest of the week. It's not a bunch of members who show up Sunday mornings, it's a band of disciples who have been living the Gospel out loud all week long.

And that - new members at First Presbyterian - is what you've got yourselves into!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's fun to aim higher!

Surprised at myself after a great round!
Ah... Sunday morning. It's been quite the week, hasn't it?

In light of all that's happened in the past seven days, it made perfect sense to schedule a golf outing for Saturday - my first in a couple of months. So I headed out with my friend Gerard, and we enjoyed possibly the most perfect golfing weather I've ever experienced. Sunny, mid-60's when we started, and around 75-degrees when we walked off the 18th green.

For some people, golf winds them up and adds tension. For me it's the opposite. Play well or play poorly, I simply enjoy the experience. What's not to love? A relaxing walk, good conversation, smacking the heck out of a little ball, beautiful surroundings. It's all good.

This time I was so mellow I scored well too. Didn't realize how well till we added up at the end. Now I'm wondering where I could have saved that one shot and carded a 79! To be honest, though, I dropped so many unlikely long putts (30-40 footers or more) that my low numbers were more accidental than a reflection of finely honed skill!

SO WHAT: So what's my "Life-Charged Life" point here? Well - and my parents will confirm this - I've always loved to play games. For as long as I can remember I've enjoyed the challenge of looking at anything and everything with the view of how I could make a game out of it... do it better than last time... improve my score... make it more fun, more interesting, more of a challenge.

Now I'm not proposing a "quest" theology, where mortals are set a series of tasks to accomplish in order to prove ourselves worthy... but I am suggesting that there is merit to the idea that we are all created with a built-in desire to improve, to push the envelope, to live to (and beyond) capacity... and that we miss out to the extent that we are satisfied with the kind of systemic mediocrity that defines too much of the way too many people approach too much of  life.

Naomi and David - work the camera!
Take a look at Naomi, trying to get the perfect angle for a photograph of little David Henry Campbell. I want so much for him; I dream on his behalf so much more now than I had the energy to do when our children were that young; I see his story stretching out into the future and I am so excited for what is possible....

But I'm excited about what is possible for all of us; each one. Live. Live forward. Live this life-charged life like we mean it!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Listen for the Heartbeat of God...

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. - Luke 18:17

Rebekah has her first conversation with David Henry
So how do I build a blog post around this grandson when Rebekah's up there in Connecticut loving on him, and I'm not? Fortunately it's not too difficult, because I have a few new pictures - and a picture sometimes says it all.

Like this one. Rebekah finally got to hold him. It was around 3:00 yesterday afternoon, right there in the Hartford airport. It certainly looks like David Henry has a few things to say for himself. Or he's yawing. It's difficult to tell. Rebekah said he was welcoming her to Connecticut. I think he was asking, "So where's my Grandaddy Derek?"

Snuggle down
GOD'S HUG: But overall I hear David is a real snuggle-bunny. He likes to hold tight and just form himself into the contours of Naomi's lap... or Craig's... or Rebekah's for the next few days. And I love that image because it makes me think of God, and how God simply wants to surround us with love - especially in light of this difficult week.

MEN'S ROOM: Wednesday night - all reeling still and full with questions - I chosePsalm 46 for my men's group. We've been reading from the Book of Psalms for the past several weeks and this one just seemed to fit so well. You already know how it goes, so I'll just quote a few of the highlights:
  • God is our refuge and our strength... that's why we have no need to fear...
  • The Lord is with us... the God of Jacob is our strong place...
  • God says, "Be still and know that I am God..."
  • The Lord almighty promises to never let us go...

"Just hold me, Daddy..."
"Sometimes," I told my guys, "all we can do is just to be still, to snuggle into God's presence and cultivate an awareness of God's care and love."

I told them about David Henry, and how he doesn't have the foggiest notion of what his mama or his daddy are saying; he has very little idea what they're up to; he has no clue as to how he should communicate other than to cry like crazy when he needs something - and even then he really doesn't know what it is...

But little David Henry does know WHO he needs. He needs his mama, and he needs to be held, and he just wants to be there and to feel her heartbeat like he heard his whole entire life so far - all those months before he was born.

God is the heartbeat of my life. God formed each one of us and created us as particular individuals. God did that with the idea of a relationship of love in mind. And sometimes all we need to do is to lean in close and to let the arms of God wrap around us. And we need to hear that heartbeat again like we did when we were being formed.

That's all. God's heartbeat. So snuggle in already - DEREK