Sunday, August 26, 2012

peace and concern on a Saturday night

Rebekah, preparing her message for Sunday morning
There is something deeply peaceful and affirmingly right about Saturday evenings at our home. I think maybe it’s the mixture of hard work and good faith, and how everything seems to come together in a special kind of beauty.
It’s simple, really. I’m at my desk, working on some writing assignment and preparing to teach my Sunday morning class. Then it’s time for a fresh cup of coffee, so I get up and walk through the house, just taking it all in.
Everything is clean. We’re seldom messy, but Saturdays tend to see a little more attention to detail and the house is looking extra nice. So I pour the coffee, looking out at the garden in the fading light, noting how good it all appears from the hours of mowing and digging and weeding.
All is right and peaceful
Over by the piano, Scout lies curled up in a ball, completely still but tracking my every movement with her eyes. Beyond her, in the front room, Rebekah sits at the dining table with her laptop, surrounded by her Bible, a couple of books, several pages of notes and a mug of coffee.
Rebekah is finishing off her sermon for Sunday morning. The process is a week-long journey of study, conversation, notes, listening, research, prayer, more Bible-reading, reflection, more conversations, and – finally – the hammering out of details.
SO RIGHT: It all feels so right. This life. This living out our faith through the words that we share and the way we live in community. This home we love so much. This grappling with scripture, and prayer, and hard questions, and a gracious God. This good, mutually respectful, encouraging relationship we enjoy with one another and with Jesus. This sense of spiritual community that pervades the very fabric of our home.
And I return to my desk, conscious of God’s good peace and the grace of a love-charged home.
A SHADOW and a PRAYER: But at the same time, there’s a shadow. I’m worried, not about this weekend’s approaching hurricane but about another kind of disturbance, a hard cynicism and simmering anger that seems to be gripping this world that we love; and I have to pause and pray:
How can we share the message of peace?
Loving God, generous Spirit, great friend and motivator Jesus… I am so genuinely thankful for this life I enjoy here with Rebekah. I feel so richly blessed and so completely happy. But – at the same time – I am worried for our world. I am troubled by the hostility and the bitterness that have become so pervasive and so far-reaching. I’m not sure that the message of your redemptive and invitational love is reaching people in the way you intend; in fact I’m convinced of it. How can I share the truth about the Good News in a way that won’t fall on so many deaf ears? How can I tell this story in a way that will open closed hearts to your kind of peace? How can we be encouragers, who bring the message of hope and promise? Your friend and servant - DEREK

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why did the Chick-Fil-A cross the road? To maximize his potential hits...

not a real graph of my stats!
Not a graph of my blog! Just for illustration.
‘ve been taking a look at my statistics for 2012. The numbers are interesting, but I’m not sure if they actually say anything that means anything in terms of how I should approach this blog.
On average, I tend to generate in the vicinity of 400 hits per day, totaling somewhere north of 10,000 looks each month. Once people show up, they typically stay long enough to read the content. But there are wild variations from day-to-day – it all seems to depend on the subject in play.
Stock photo – they’re probably NOT reading my blog!
READERS: I appreciate my faithful cadre of daily readers – around 200, it appears – and another hundred or so of you check in a couple of times a week; but it takes a post of topical, tragic, or controversial subject-matter for the regulars to pass my blog on to their friends.
I know enough about keywords, Search Engine optimization (SEO), and the fickle vicissitudes of “public interest” to stack the odds in favor of higher numbers, but I don’t plan on going down that route because I’m not sure I see the point.
SO WHAT IS “THE POINT”? This blog is a window into how I am thinking about the title idea of Living the Life-Charged Life. I already know that such a subject matter is unlikely to attract a lot of random hits.
BUT… and this is really important… I am seriously motivated when it comes to inviting honest pilgrims (and seekers) to share in the devotional journey that the decision to think seriously about discipleship naturally becomes.
CHALLENGE: And so I’d like to challenge each one of you – those who regularly pause here and read my thoughts – to invite at least one other person to subscribe to this page (“follow”) so that you can possibly use these posts as a shared conversation about faith.
Let me throw out a few ideas. The Life-Charged Life could become the opportunity for an ongoing conversation, either with another believer or someone who is curious about faith.
  • Conversations about real life (Gator-Wesley Center)
    Schedule a get-together, once a week or so, to talk about anything challenging or interesting that came up in one of these posts.
  • For convenience, consider conducting your conversation on-line – via email, Face-Time, or Skype.
  • You could even use these posts as the content for a book club discussion, “Pondering over pints at the pub,” a church-school class, Saturday morning coffee, or a small-group.
Read in-depth about this concept in “10 Life-Charged Words”
NOT ABOUT THE HITS! Remember, I’m not trying to gather additional readers for the sake of better stats, so much as wanting to stimulate a nation-wide conversation aboutThe Life-Charged Life.
If you look around you, and listen in on the topics of interest so many people devote so much of their energy to, you’d have to agree that there’s room for a more deliberate, transformative, conversation about faith in our day-to-day lives.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


try the direct application of love – I dare you!
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galatians 6:1-5)
his morning I’m starting with some awesome Bible words. I didn’t run across this passage by chance, but because I deliberately spend a short amount of time each morning reading scripture before I do anything else. I use The Upper Room daily devotional guide. It’s emailed directly to my phone and it’s right there, can’t miss, before I even get up.
This is how God works; my honest intention (regular prayer and Bible study) meets with God’s gracious response. The words from Galatians are exactly appropriate as a follow-up to my blog yesterday (marriage, this election, America – and the politics of shooting ourselves in the foot):
  • Live creatively.
  • Save criticism for yourself.
  • We all might need forgiveness before the day is done.
  • Share other people’s burdens.
  • Be passionate about your own calling, but don’t be impressed with yourself!
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Take responsibility for your own life.
We seldom see the complete picture…
WINSOME: We all have so much to learn from this passage! There is a great deal that I could/should do to move with more creative purpose into this “Life-charged life.” My responsibility is not to criticize others so much as it is to live faith out loud, to interact with my world as if the good news of the gospel really is true.
This same principle, applied to the sour, cynical, and manipulative world of politics (and I’m talking about church politics as well as secular politics) would recommend living out the truth of what we believe so that our most compelling argument is our winsomeness.
The word “winsome” means – quite literally – a quality that will win people over.
… until we get all the way to the other side.
The best way to win anyone over to our way of thinking is not to intimidate, or to judge their way, or to demolish their point of view, or to assassinate their character; but to, quite humbly, demonstrate the value of what we espouse in such a positive way that people are won over. Won over by proactive love.
Try it. Stow the negative attitude, and practice a month or two of winsomeness. I dare you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

marriage, this election, America, and the politics of shooting ourselves in the foot

Wedding rings from 1947
This past weekend Rebekah and I had these two rings cleaned and polished. Beautiful, huh? They date from 1947, when Rebekah’s parents (Robert Alexander and Nell Perkins) exchanged them the day they were married in rural Georgia.
The beautiful rings survived fifty-plus years of faithful commitment and practiced love, the raising of five children, untold amounts of hard work, and the various (and often challenging) faith communities where the Alexanders were called to serve.
This next summer – some sixty-six years down the road – our son Andrew and his fiance, Alicia, plan to use those same, slender, bands of gold as a sign of their love and a seal for their wedding vows.
“Very nice,” you may think, “but what does this heartwarming story have to do with anything going on in this world today?”
Symbols of commitment to the ideal
Here it is: The point of a marriage is more than the particular happiness of the moment (although a good marriage is full to overflowing with happy moments), but the commitment to something larger than even the two people involved. When marriages work, the benefits extend to the “institution” of marriage and serve to strengthen the entire community.
Individual marriages serve witness to the theological truth that faithful love is larger than any one relationship.
Marriage works, in other words, not just because two individuals do everything they can to make their relationship succeed, but also because theidea of marriage is valued and supported and celebrated as a critical thread in the fabric of our culture.
Consequently, when so many commitments fail and the unknotted ends come loose, we all unravel to some extent, because – in a way – we’re all holding on to the same thread.
Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrasing of 1 Corinthians 13, makes this awesome observation: “So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” The passage goes on to define the quality of love that holds relationships together -
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
AMERICA: Similarly, our relationship to the foundational principles that make America tick is a lot like a difficult marriage. The Democrats say they love America, the Republicans say they love America, the Independents say they love America, we all insist that we love America – and the people we have elected to Congress solemnly swear to uphold and defend The Constitution of these United States.
However, the more these same politicians chip away at each other, blast away at each other, seek to demolish each other, sabotage the other party, try to break up the relationship that other politicians have with the American people (in other words, act contrary to the ideals of 1 Corinthians 13)… then the more the whole idea of America is at risk of becoming unravelled because – in the end – we’re all holding on to the same thread.
  • When you try that hard to destroy your opponent, what you’re really doing is weakening the foundation that we all stand on.
A GRAND IDEA: So how about doing all we can to support one another, instead? How would that play on Capitol Hill? Seriously, it’s a grand idea! Because, when we work to strengthen one-another, then what we’re really doing is working to strengthen America.
How about we work together?
These mean-spirited, angry, truth-twisting folk seem to have forgotten that what they were sent to Washington to do was to keep America strong. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to build one-another up, to put the needs of the country ahead of our own desire for personal power, and to remember that, when it comes to civil war, nobody wins without first destroying the entire nation.
And, surely, that can’t be what these people want. Can it?
Maybe it’s time for a renewal of vows?
Concerned, and more than a little worried – DEREK