Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BONUS! - February 29

Thank you for responding to me God;
you've truly become my salvation!
The stone the masons discarded as flawed
is now the capstone!
This is God's work.
We rub our eyes—we can hardly believe it!
This is the very day God acted—
let's celebrate and be festive!
Salvation now, God. Salvation now!
Oh yes, God—a free and full life! - Psalm 118:21-25 - The Message

So... what are you going to do with this?
I'm not sure how you do arithmetic, but my calculations tend toward what Ronald Reagan referred to as "Fuzzy Math." My budget, for example, tends to include "Money In," "Money Out," and then another whole leakage area it's hard to get a handle on.

To be honest, I'm really not so sure that numbers actually represent consistent values. I happen to be 55, but I know 45-year-olds who are considerable older than me. I consider myself rich, but many people who earn more than twice our family income complain that they don't have enough.

BONUS! In yesterday's post we talked a little about time. Then this morning - not thinking about the fact that 2012 is both an election and a  summer Olympic year - I woke up expecting March. But now I have this WHOLE EXTRA DAY staring at me!
Wow! How cool is that? What am I going to do with all this extra time?

With a little help from his daddy
DAVID HENRY: I know what my grandson, David is going to be doing. He'll be test-driving his new noise-making piano toy. That's right, four months old and really getting in to some interactive play. At this age, the "extra" day is more than one percent of his life. That's huge!

For me, the ratio is 1/20,429. I know, that sound's like today is at best an insignificant blip on the radar of my life, just a mere 4.2 seconds if my time on earth thus far was a 24-hour day. But you know what? This bonus, extra, four-point-two second gift owns the potential to be life-changing for any one of us, no matter what fraction of our experience it happens to be.

So, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to process this amazing gift of today? Here's my plan (from Romans 12:10-18):
  • Love each other deeply.
  • Honor others more than yourselves.
  • Never let the fire in your heart go out. Keep it alive. Serve the Lord.
  • When you hope, be joyful. When you suffer, be patient. When you pray, be faithful.
  • Share with God's people who are in need. Welcome others into your homes.
  • Bless those who hurt you. Bless them, and do not call down curses on them.
  • Be joyful with those who are joyful. Be sad with those who are sad.
  • Agree with each other. Don't be proud.
  • Be willing to be a friend of people who aren't considered important. Don't think that you are better than others.
  • Don't pay back evil with evil. Be careful to do what everyone thinks is right.
  • If possible, live in peace with everyone. Do that as much as you can.

"I'm busy here, this is très important..."
Look at my grandson, David. He's seizing this day with focus and energy. So why not the rest of us? It's a bonus, extra, a day serendipitously slipped in as an opportunity to live with abandon.

This is it! This is a day created especially for us. What else can we do other than celebrate? (Psalm 118:24 TDMV) - DEREK

Note: "TDMV" = The Derek Maul Version.... :-)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

communication and active listening - more on the "C" word

It is truly wonderful when relatives live together in peace. It is as beautiful as olive oil poured on Aaron's head and running down his beard and the collar of his robe. It is like the dew from Mount Hermon, falling on Zion's mountains, where the LORD has promised to bless his people with life forevermore. - Psalm 133

Derek and Geoff, circa 1957
As I left my brother Geoff's house, Monday afternoon, the conversation went something like this:
  • Geoff: "I want you to continue writing about this. But maybe this time, instead of "one more post about the guy with cancer," you could reflect about how the process impacts relationships?"
  • Me: "I'm way ahead of you; it's already been working its way around in my head. Now I've got to figure out how to say it."
Interestingly, this part of the conversation turns out to be an extension of Monday's post about relationships being defined by love. Because love is the only context in which to properly live in community, and to begin to understand and practice the idea of this "Life-Charged Life" that's always at the back of my mind.
Hospice Family Meeting: Part of the way hospice takes care of patients is to take care of the family. Consequently, while not required, a family meeting with the hospice social worker is an important element of the process.
So yesterday, at my brother's little house in Bradenton, four of us gathered to talk with Mary-K. Geoff, Hannah (his only child), our mum (Grace), and me.

The most important item on the agenda was to put all the cards on the table. We needed to move forward from this moment with everyone in possession of the same information, aware of the same facts, on the same page when it comes to how we interpret those facts, and going home with the same set of documents (Living Will, DNR, Medical surrogacy etc).

Transparency is also a must. My brother did a good job of making sure that everyone knows about his hopes, his fears, his concerns, his plans, his desires, his decisions. After that we all needed to express how we felt about what he said. Then each one of us needed to make sure that we understood one another's feelings about all this.

Good family conversation last November: Geoff, Hannah, Naomi, Andrew, David, Grace
Active listening: I can't stress enough how important it is to posses and to practice active-listening skills. As much as we love one-another, and as committed we all are to Geoff's comfort and well-being, what we hear is still filtered through our own personal wants, understandings, needs, fears, theologies, issues, preconceived ideas and the individual agendas we tote into the room with us.

Consequently, it took a while for Geoff and Hannah to actually hear to the heart of what the other was saying. But, and this is the important thing, they did manage to burrow through the assumptions and the presumptions and the misunderstandings until they were able to look - with clarity - into one another's hearts and see that they were, after all, talking about the same thing.

PROCESS: But this is a process. Relationships are - by definition - a constant work in progress. If we love one-another enough to want to occupy one another's hearts, then we must be willing to listen and always be open to the possibility that we are wrong (and we very often are)... because good communication is inevitably a series of approximations that lead closer and closer to the heart.

I'm talking, as you can guess, about more than hospice family meetings where we know we're dealing with limited time. I'm talking about marriages, families, churches, friendships and more.

We're all "on the clock" (from the Internet)
ON THE CLOCK: We're all dealing with the possibility of limited time.

Life is a "chronos" experience, faith lives in the realm of "kairos," and there's a lot of overlap. But we have the opportunity to know one-another with greater clarity and on a deeper level now, in the chronos that we have. Husbands. Wives. Children. Friends. Church members. Brothers and sisters. Neighbors.

Honesty is key to real relationship. But - and this is HUGE - if we close someone down because we just know we have them all figured out; if we insist we understand a friend or a lover's motives (or other Christians... or people we disagree with politically... or ___...) and refuse to be willing to be wrong; if we judge rather than listen, presume rather than learn, and limit access to the truth about our hopes and dreams... then we have effectively closed the door on the possibility of genuine love.

According to Mary K, our hospice social worker, many families simply can't engage this kind of conversation about death - and that's largely because they also fail to have any real conversations about life. That's sad on many levels.

me, Geoff, my dad - a couple of years ago...
INVEST: Here's the "take-away" from today's conversation (if you have stayed with the post this far in): We're all "on the clock" in one way or another. Relationships are the key to "The Life-Charged Life," and if we fail to invest in those relationships, we will both live and die in the most complete - and unnecessary - poverty.


Monday, February 27, 2012

my week with people, and the common denominator that counts

Last minute adjustments to the message at Temple Terrace Presbyterian
Yesterday wrapped up a hugely busy week. I've had seven speaking engagements, in Lakeland, Nashville, Bartow and Temple Terrace, all related to the "Reaching Toward Easter" initiative. Additionally, I've been in "virtual" contact with another 110 people through the Upper Room/Be A Disciple on-line retreat.

Sunday morning I had the opportunity to share with a good crowd at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church. It's a quieter, more traditional setting than I'm used to, but the positive experience reminded me that God's people come packaged in all varieties and - once you reach beneath whatever veneer we wear on the outside - we have the following qualities in common.
  1. People want to know God and to receive God's love - that's why they become part of a worshiping faith community.
  2. People are motivated to put their faith to work to make a positive difference in this world.
  3. The people we meet in church have decided, or are thinking about deciding, to become followers of the Living Way of Jesus.
Other than that, there's not a whole lot that matters in terms of the fine details. Seriously. The whole point of church is to gather together and worship God, and to let ministry to one-another and service to the world come out of that unifying experience, and to present a powerful witness to the world in terms of the way that we love one-another.

LOVE: What makes us The Body of Christ is not our doctrinal purity, it's not our theological acumen, and it's certainly not our ability to codify the teachings of Jesus into a set of restrictive social mores we can then use to decide who is "in" and who is "out." No, what sets any community of believers apart as "The Body of Christ" is, quite simply, the way that we love one another. Love, it turns out, is the only rule.
Jesus said - "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." - John 13:34-35

God's people are everywhere
GOD's PEOPLE ARE EVERYWHERE: This is probably the part I enjoy the most about visiting so many places, and having the opportunity to share with such a variety of people from my heart. I love the foundational ground that we have in common, and that's an experience of grace, a personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus.
That is the point at which we connect. From there, I pray that I will always encourage a more transformative journey and a "Life-Charged Life."

750 or one: Over the course of the week, in all the venues added together, I was privileged to speak to around 750 people. Today, through the Monday posting to this blog, I'm connecting with you. Can I take this moment to encourage you to think about faith, and to make Jesus the ground that we have in common?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” - John 14:1-7
In love, and because of love - DEREK

Saturday, February 25, 2012

different kingdom, different values... same Presbyterian Church

Communion with Presbyterian leaders
Well, that was an exceptionally rewarding morning. I've been doing a lot of speaking lately - mostly caught up in the frenzy of the new book release - but this morning was especially meaningful because A) I was able to present material I believe in, passionately, to a large number of people in leadership, and B) Because, speaking during worship, I had the opportunity to help set the tone for the day.

It was the Winter Meeting of the Presbytery of Tampa Bay. Preachers and elders from over 70 area Presbyterian congregations were gathered for the quarterly business meeting. Our Presbytery, in a move of incalculable wisdom, always opens with a worship service. Today the service included communion (see picture, above).

Beginning in the context of worship is the only way to attempt to navigate some of the tough issues that can so easily divide. Additionally, when we break bread and drink from the cup as a body, we can't help but realize what holds us together. And that, of course, is the fact that:
  • we are all - equally - sinners; and that 
  • we all - beyond reason - have been the recipients of grace; and that 
  • we all - without distinction - can live confidently in the knowledge that we are loved and forgiven and free.

on the same page...
Reaching Toward God: I had been invited to bring the message from the context of the Reaching Toward Easter study. So I talked about redemption, restoration, and "the health of the human soul." I presented the idea of taking Lent seriously and of embracing God's sacred rhythm. We were neither designed nor created in a haphazard manner, yet we often sidestep -  in a cavalier manner - the cadence, the balance, and the rich harmonies of deliberate spiritual practices.

And as I looked out over the gathering, I didn't see the contentious, the opinionated, the self-righteous or the angry - instead I saw several hundred brothers and sisters, gathered in the joyful knowledge of sins forgiven and hearts set free.

GOD's SPIRIT: I felt, albeit in a markedly Presbyterian fashion, the Spirit of God rest on each head and settle in each soul.

For my text, I read the words Jesus spoke in the presence of Pilate on Good Friday, when everyone was looking for an excuse to haul the Lord off and have him killed:
"If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my Kingdom is not from here."
Listen folks, Jesus said, I'm not from around here. I don't do things the way you would. My values are different. That's why my followers aren't fighting. Fighting isn't what settles things in my Kingdom. What settles things in my Kingdom is self sacrificial love....

Well. That kind of sucks the wind right out of our power-plays, and preemptive motions, and win-lose scenarios, and self-serving bouts of pontificating... doesn't it. 

Not from around here!
If I can say anything that raises the banner of Christ's "not from around here" Kingdom values, then I'd say that's a good morning's work. 

It is so phenomenally exciting to be given the privilege of saying something that might possibly make that kind of a difference. Glory be. Seriously, glory be....


Friday, February 24, 2012

the hope is in the stories

South. By Southwest
Friday, the third day of Lent: I'm back home today, having wrapped up my visit at The Upper Room in Nashville Thursday afternoon. We crammed a lot of work into my short visit, and my head is still spinning. It's going to take a few days to thoroughly process all the details we talked about.

I'm getting going this morning with a quote from an upcoming article I prepared for the United Methodist Florida Annual Conference Newsletter (No, I'm not "scooping" my own work - it's just a concept I want to use as a jumping off point for today's post). The quote is a statement made by Florida United Methodist Foundation President Wi-Lee Tan, during an interview for my upcoming story on Africa University.
The hope is in the stories. Ultimately ministry is captured in the stories of lives transformed, of communities transformed, and of societies transformed. It’s about the leaven in the bread. One person can make a difference.

This world map underscores the worldwide reach of Upper Room ministries
STORIES for LUNCH: And so yesterday, over a casual lunch at a Nashville eatery, I listened to the stories that help define my new friends - Tom, Philip, Matthew, John, Andrew, Dusty and Kyle. Two are in their 20's, three in their 30's and two in their 60's.

The context was this ongoing - and critically important - conversation I'm involved in regarding what it means to be a vital, active, Christian man in the Twenty-first Century.

Lunch was set up by Tom Albin, the Dean of the Chapel at The Upper Room. Tom has been gracious enough to host me in his home this week, and we've spent several hours talking - like we were old friends - about matters of faith and spirituality. I'd been back at the Upper Room during the morning for some video-taping and he wanted to facilitate some dialog about what's going on with Christian men.

Most of the stories are too personal to share with you here. But one recurring theme stood out, and that was the crying need in 21st Century North America for men to create safe spaces where they can not only share their stories but also ask hard questions.

ANSWERS: "But what if we don't know the answers?" one of the young men asked. He's pulling together a group of ten guys for a start-up group; most of them are "Culturally Christian" but have no active relationship with either God or church.

"You want to be a group that is defined by its relationship to God's Word," I said. "I suggest that your focus as a group be the seeking of truth, not answers. You're going to discover a more beautiful relationship with God as you develop a deeper relationship to God's Word. You're going to find that you love one-another more to the extent that you are honest and transparent. And you're going grow in grace as you begin to put your commitment to follow Jesus into action and live like disciples."

There are always going to be stories!
ONE STORY: The young man who is starting a group had recently been set free from some destructive patterns that threatened his life, his livelihood and his marriage. The group he'd been in played a huge role in his healing. Then, when he decided to launch a new men's group, he searched the Internet for resources.

"What kept coming up was your name," he said, "and your book, GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men."

So - around four weeks ago - the young man purchased a copy of GET REAL. He then asked his father-in-law if he'd heard anything about it.

"Well, yes;" his father-in-law responded, "that's one of the books we publish at The Upper Room. In fact, I just invited Derek Maul to come to Nashville for a few days. Would you like to meet him?"

It's always something...
SERENDIPITY: You can't make this stuff up! One person's story is all it takes. Ministry is the story of lives transformed. The hope is in the stories.

Hope... Peace... and Promise - DEREK
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” - Jeremiah 29:11-13

Thursday, February 23, 2012

We simply must tell the story

Speaking Ash Wednesday at The Upper Room Chapel
Dateline Nashville - Yesterday was a good day. The Ash Wednesday Chapel service went well and I enjoyed the more interactive luncheon session with the Reaching Toward Easter study group. But there is a lot more going on besides my presentations; I'm in the middle of a series of important discussions with my publisher.

The staff at Upper Room Books are working hard to facilitate progress regarding topics such as media interface, communication, accessibility, and how they work with authors. There's a lot to talk about and there's a lot on the line.

Here's the question - and I'd value input from my readers on this point - how does a "niche" publisher with a highly respected name position itself to move with the market when what they're really good at begins to shift toward the mainstream?
But how can people call on him if they have not believed in him? How can they believe in him if they have not heard his message? How can they hear if no one tells the Good News? - Romans 10:14
Let me explain:
  • Upper Room Books has built its reputation on developing "spiritual formation" materials that try very hard to avoid sensationalism, emotionalism, tapping into "trendy" spirituality, or buying into the absolutism and fundamentalism that defines more strident interpretations of Christian faith.
  • Upper Room Books tends to keep a low profile. However, as more Christians - and especially young adults - begin to embrace a more thoughtful and less abrasive faith experience, the titles The Upper Room publishes turn out to be exactly what The Church both needs and wants.

Getting the word out
PUBLICITY! But my publisher is consistently out-gunned when it comes to getting the word out. There are precious few resources available to throw at publicity, and the corporate culture around here traditionally leans toward humility and reserve.
  • Consequently, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, UCC, Cooperative Baptists and a whole host more denominations are buying books that don't really speak to them and don't come anywhere near to representing the theology and relational values they espouse in worship and their day-to-day lives.
  • And they're doing it for no other reason than this: they have no idea that Upper Room Books has exactly what they need to grow as Followers of Jesus.

Resources for the church
ETHOS: Don't misunderstand me; I respect the Upper Room ethos and I'm proud to be part of an organization that is more interested in honoring its core mission than making a pile of money.

But here's the conundrum... The core mission of The Upper Room will be compromised (is compromised) to the extent that literally millions of people miss the opportunity to utilize such a world-class resource.

The folk around here present a unique and faithful witness to the deliberate and transformational spiritual life, and - I believe - the Upper Room produces the best cataloge of faith-based books currently available in the English-speaking world.

MODERATES TO THE BARRICADES!!! Seriously, folks, this is no time for false modestly. We have to step up and claim the truth that moderate Christians have a strong case to present, a compelling story to share, and an amazing collection of resources to back it up!

"But how can they believe," Paul writes, "if the have not heard his message..."

Upper Room Books
We need to preach it loud, and we need to put those resources to work to share the Good News.
So what can be done? How can my publisher guard its historic integrity while fulfilling its responsibility to make sure more people have access to these products?

Like I said, there's a lot to talk about up here in Nashville - DEREK

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday - a shift away from business as usual

The Upper Room Chapel
Tune Town: I'm waking up this morning in Nashville, Tennessee. My publisher flew me in yesterday to do some author-ish stuff for a couple of days. Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room Chapel, thought it might be a fine idea to have me speak at the Ash Wednesday service.

It's always a thrill and a privilege to be asked to bring a few words of encouragement. I seldom feel like I'm teaching anything new so much as putting words to unspoken impulses of heart and spirit, yearnings that are simply looking to find their voice.

And there are so many voices.

So this morning I'm reading from Christ's conversation with Pilate in John 18. "But as it is," Jesus said, "My kingdom is not from here...." It's a phrase Jesus uses more than once during his ministry.  "My kingdom is not from here..."
But as it is - Jesus said - my kingdom is not from here

ashes, ashes....
The point of an Ash Wednesday observance is to enter into the spirit of Christ's cryptic observation. There's something about this journey through Lent that's likely to bring out the, "not from around these parts" assessment from those we might run into. In fact, it should.

Some of you will go through the day with ashes on your forehead or the back of your hand. It can be a little unsettling. But that's the idea. Ash Wednesday means something.

But what? For me, and this year especially, Ash Wednesday is a call from God to make a shift from "Business as usual" and to experiment more deliberately with Kingdom Life.

What's the worst that could happen? Oh, people might wonder if we're "from around here." Maybe - if we begin to live more deliberately as Kingdom people - we'll be tagged as "different" or "weird."

Not from around here!
But you know what? The alternative is looking exactly like we belong in a culture that is teetering on the brink of collapse due to several decades of greed and corruption....

So it would bother you to act in a way that - instead - identified you with Jesus? "But as it is, my Kingdom is not from here."

Not from around here? Good call, Jesus...

Monday, February 20, 2012

giving thanks, regardless

Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)

Marianne and Bill giving report as Rebekah listens
I really can't think of a more appropriate "Monday morning" scripture selection. It's another example of the question I posed last week: "Do you have to go scrambling for some useful scripture to custom fit your circumstance...? or is the Word already at hand?" For me, increasingly, The Word is already at hand. Consequently, the stories I'm sharing this morning are attaching themselves to the scripture selection that's already written on my heart and mind.

I'll start with this (above) photograph from yesterday's "Annual General Meeting" at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon (I apologize for the image quality but it was a last moment snap to help me remember). Many congregations dread these meetings because they're typically full with dismal news, contentious, and loaded with negative statistical reports along with spin and defensiveness from staff.

Reviewing the annual report
Not so at First Brandon. Average weekly attendance (396) showed an increase every month as compared to 2010. Membership (508) posted a small gain. Giving is up despite the economy. "Over-and-above" special mission initiatives added close to another $100,000. Ministry team leaders gave reports that were positive and inspirational.

Then there is the building. We're all moved in, yes, but the real excitement is the expansion of ministry the space facilitates. Bill Hellman summed up by saying, "Remember the initial quote for cost? Well, we're all done and we have over $100,000 remaining. Remember how the plan didn't have enough money to finish out the second story? We were able to do the whole thing and now we're using it. Remember that the plan didn't include money to do anything at this end of the fellowship hall - now it's completely done. Remember... Remember... Remember...?"

Say what? We came in under budget plus we did a bunch of stuff extra? Holy moly!
I'd like to say "Thanks, God." Plus I believe the whole "pray without ceasing" ethos has had a lot to do with the positive results.

they had to drag in some more seats
BOOK THING: First thing Sunday morning I drove over to Lakeland to speak at First Presbyterian over there; two or three adult Sunday school classes are studying "Reaching Toward Easter." So they asked me to do a "kick-off" talk.
Well, they expected around 75 participants. By this weekend they had sold 100 books. Then Sunday well over 100 people showed up to hear me speak. The church plans to order more copies.

MORNING: Today the skies over Valrico were partly cloudy in the early A.M. and the air temperature hovered just below 60. I enjoyed the way the cool morning light worked its way over the eastern horizon and onto the underside of the low clouds before spilling over onto my street.

Sometimes I get a little carried away when I'm speaking!
I know it's easier to give thanks when life is so positive. But look at the instruction at the end of the Thessalonians admonition. It says that giving thanks is the will of God for me. That sounds like a commandment, and one with no less direct authority than the original Ten.

Be thankful. In every circumstance that we encounter. It is the will of God for us!
In thanks - DEREK