Monday, April 29, 2013

Photos and a great retreat

Lakeside Retreat in Tennessee
Lakeside Retreat in Tennessee
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Nothing has the power to separate us from God’s love in Jesus.
  • Not bad religion…
  • nor fundamentalism…
  • nor dogma…
  • nor polity…
  • nor hypocrisy…
  • nor judgmentalism…
  • nor legalism…
  • nor prejudice…
  • nor my sin…
  • nor anything at all that we utilize to create walls between us.
DSC_0198TRAVEL: Sometimes the best words about a travel experience turn out to be a few good pictures.
While it did rain pretty much all weekend in Tennessee, I did manage to capture a series of beautiful photographs. So I’ll highlight just a few representative images (fifteen) in the short slide-show below.
This particular weekend, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, was characterized by such diversity that the spiritual focus was all over the map, from “I’ve been a down-the-line Methodist all my life,” to “I’m a recovering Baptist,” to “I’m not sure I could call myself a Christian at the moment,” to everything in between.
Blakemore UMC Men's Retreat
Blakemore UMC Men’s Retreat
BURNED: Some of the men had been so badly burned by the harsher interpretations of “evangelical” Christianity that they had moved a “safe distance away” even from Jesus.
However, just about everyone at the retreat was in attendance because they knew that the choice to do what’s necessary to move closer to God was/is undoubtedly the most important decision they need to be (or are in the process of) making.
they knew that the choice to do what’s necessary to move closer to God was/is undoubtedly the most important decision they need to be (or are in the process of) making.
DSC_0211This “spirituality” thing is a journey. It’s not cookie-cutter and it’s not ever formulaic. But the journey is critically important. And, no matter where you are in the process this Monday morning, then there is a positive step forward, or two, that you can make today.
Always reading, always praying, always learning - DEREK
  • Comment Policy: ”Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general [rear-end], troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

faith = choice

IMG_3096This brochure (image to right) has been staring me in the face at my writing desk for the past couple of days. I’m preparing to head into the mountains between Nashville and Knoxville, for a weekend focused on the idea of this “Life-charged life,” talking with a group of United Methodist men about what it means to be a Follower of Jesus in the reality of our often messy day-go-day lives.
For me, Jesus is God’s best plan for restoring the relationship between humankind and our creator. I love the story of promise and possibility, and in Jesus the news is always encouraging, always invitational, and always about moving forward.
IT’S A CHOICE: That’s one reason some of the negative responses (to the Good News) I’ve been fielding lately fail to ring true. I’m convinced that absolutely one-hundred percent of everyone who makes the choice to be a disciple, and who follows through in terms of commitment, and prayer, and study, and faithful worship, and placing themselves in supportive Christian community, and giving of themselves in generosity and love, will know beyond a shadow of a doubt the assurance and the peace that comes with living faith.
  • Choice
  • Commitment
  • Follow-through
  • Prayer
  • Study
  • Faithful worship
  • Supportive Christian Community
  • Self-giving generosity and love
But faith is a process, and it requires, well, faith to get the ball rolling. Not just faith, though, but faithfulness. There’s nothing instant, or freeze-dried, or pre-prepared, or “just add water” about the life-charged life.
Faith is a process, and it requires, well, faith to get the ball rolling. Not just faith, though, but faithfulness.
ISN’T THAT A LOT TO ASK? Oh, I understand how that might sound unreasonable in this culture. But that doesn’t change the facts. Make the decision to follow Jesus today, renew that commitment daily, deliberately practice the presence of God each and every day, commit yourself to self-giving sacrificial service in the name of Jesus, love with enthusiasm, be faithful in worship… and do this consistently for days, for months, for years.
file photo
Then, looking back, your knowing will be as natural as breathing. And the habit of criticism, negativity, doubt, cynicism, and willful unbelief will melt into the habit of creative questions, positivity, faith, optimism, and the daily choice to believe.
That’s the choice. It’s always ours to make - DEREK
  • Comment Policy: (borrowed almost exactly from the most excellent blog of fellow commentator Rachel Held Evans). I’m implementing this as of today: ”Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general [rear-end], troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

reading the Bible without prejudice

IMG_3731I had planned to begin today by apologizing for yesterday’s “quick and easy” trick of pasting in a passage of scripture instead of actually writing a post.
However, and in re-reading the passage I used, I’m blown away once again by how directly God speaks into my life through The Word, and how transformational scripture can be when we let it be “a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path” (Psalm 119:105).
The way God continues to guide me via God’s Word is an ongoing journey, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how that works out in my experience:
  • Is the Bible a series of short, self-contained, bullet-points of specific instruction?
  • Or is the Bible an integrated, beautiful, complex guidebook that serves as a companion on the journey?
I really like what C.S. Lewis wrote about this when he was talking about Jesus in his epic Mere Christianity. “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw [people] into Christ… If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
RELATIONSHIP: The whole reason that God created people (men and women) was for deep relationship with God and with one-another. Jesus came to earth to facilitate the restoration of that relationship. The Bible is the story of how that struggle worked out over several hundreds of years. It is The Greatest Story Ever Told.
We make a mistake, then, when we use the Bible in ways other than – as Lewis puts it – to draw [people] into Christ.
I believe we’re missing the point when – for example – we use scripture to prop up cultural contexts that were in play when particular parts of the Bible were written. The story of the early church, then, is the story of First Century believers working out what it means to follow Jesus, not a rationalization for maintaining institutions (in existence at the time) such as slavery, or a social hierarchy that places men in domination over women.
300px-Hands_of_God_and_AdamThe Bible is the story of God’s authority, not a rubber stamp for the abuse of ours; and it’s the story of God’s reaching into human history to restore broken relationships.
That’s some of the background for the following words I wrote this morning in response to one reader’s question regarding Rebekah’s role as pastor (and women in ministry in general); he said he was curious, and not trying to start an in-house debate:
No need to worry about an in-house debate – those are no fun and usually don’t achieve anything anyway!
- But, yes, Rebekah is the senior pastor at our church (we have three on staff), and God has used her powerfully and consistently as a preacher. Isn’t that the way with God, doing things “other” than what we’d expect? Just as God used Deborah as a Judge and leader of Israel, gifted Philip’s four daughters as prophets/preachers, and had Paul break out of the bounds of social convention by counting women as colleagues…. (and so much more).
- We’re always asking the question, “What else does the Bible say?” Should women keep quiet, or should they keep their heads covered when they speak in church (the New Testament says both)? Should Christians free their slaves? or treat them as brothers? or (in later letters) slip back into the slave-master relationship? There are many examples of specific instructions that are different in different places/circumstances.
- Generally there seems to be a movement from the early letters (definitely by Paul) where his Christianity was radical… to later letters (such as Timothy – consensus is that they were not written by Paul) where the practice of Christianity seems to be drawn back toward and into social convention (slavery, male hierarchy etc).
- Anyway (since you did ask), it’s clear to us that God does call both men and women into leadership, that the scriptures support this, and that God gifts whosoever God chooses in preaching/teaching.
- As a family, we’re grateful and humbled by all God continues to do. God’s creativity and imagination are so much more liberating than the tendency we all have to try and make our faith look like the culture we live in, and conform to its norms. I love this from Colossians: “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules?”
- I like to say, along with Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Always reading, always praying, always learning - DEREK

Saturday, April 20, 2013

photographs and thoughts on "family"

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
IMG_3049Well it’s one of those weekends with too much going on and not enough time. Yard work; people coming to work on the house; more people coming by the house; prepping for a quick hop out of town; details and more details.
Consequently I may be somewhat behind on the blog posts and way behind on my work. If you’re an editor, expecting something, then all I can say is I’m sorry!
TODAY: Today – Saturday – dawned breezy and deliciously cool. It was a perfect 66-degrees when I walked Scoutie and I felt a breath of reprieve from this past week’s onslaught of early summer. The photograph (above) was taken Thursday morning, but it illustrates the constant and invitational promise of every new day.
IMG_3057At the monthly FPCBrandon Saturday men’s breakfast, pastor Tim Black shared a thoughtful message designed to set the stage for table-discussion around the topic of family. I left the church both inspired and anxious to spend some time putting my thoughts “on paper.”
FAMILY: I wish I could remember exactly how the conversation went at our table. I said something along the lines of “God’s intention for family is to be a place where we learn to live in the context of community, where we can be accountable to one-another in love, and to be the place where we can develop the skills of self-giving love, serving and encouraging one-another….” I also affirmed the commonly held belief that family is a key building block for community.
…I also made a comment about the fact that some religious institutions have co-opted the conversation about family by taking the idea of “strong, loving families” and narrowing the definition. But I find myself wondering if it’s appropriate to strive only for “strong, loving families that look exactly like the 1950′s prime-time television version?” Or should we be striving for “strong, loving families,” period; families that come in all shapes, and sizes, and configurations?
And what about single persons? They are the fastest-growing adult demographic in the USA. Don’t they need the opportunity to grow in love, and mutual service, and accountability, and encouragement. What are we doing to help facilitate community with those who don’t live in a traditional structure?
In the garden this morning
In the garden this morning
QUESTIONS: I believe these are important questions. And I also believe the “family of God” has room for every single individual in our culture. Not just room to show up, but room to grow; to love and to be loved; to encourage and to be an encouragement; to learn and also to teach.
This is a conversation I trust that we can continue - DEREK

Friday, April 19, 2013

Open the Floodgates of Heaven

May he be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth (Psalm 72:6)
“You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the LORD, have created it.” (Isaiah 45:8)
Wet morning flowers
Wet morning flowers
This morning, after another good rain, the garden is dripping wet and full with anticipation. It’s been a dry year to date, and this is maybe the third time in the past couple of weeks we’ve been blessed with a prolonged downpour.
Ironically, I had our sprinkler system fixed earlier this week. The guys came out and worked hard for a few hours so that, on our designated morning one day per week, we can apply the equivalent of a few watering cans to the parched plants and grass.
Our watering day is Friday, and this morning I couldn’t help but compare the splendid deep drenching of Thursday evening with the “squirt-gun on a swivel” running 20-minutes in each of the four “zones.”
OPEN THE FLOODGATES OF HEAVEN: Then, as the above words came through my fingers and on to the screen, I immediately thought about the difference between a brief, perfunctory “nod” to God one morning a week and the day-to-day thorough soaking of a Jesus-drenched life.
@[696483709:2048:Derek Maul] - the precipiceSunday worship with my community of faith becomes a full-on God-immersion only when I allow myself to stand in the daily downpour of his love and presence on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday too.
Forget the “squirt-gun on a swivel” approach to faith. Try a daily immersion in God. Starting now. Let it rain!
“Soaked” – DEREK

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My New App

Hear, O Israel (O Derek, O Reader, O Listener): The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
DSC_0001(Here’s today’s video – forgot to post earlier) A few days ago I downloaded a new walking App on my iPhone. I’ve had inconsistent results with my clip-on pedometer, so thought I’d see what new miracle my smart-phone could conjure up.
First off I was amazed at the available choices, but it helped some that my go-to requirement for an App is it has to be “free.”
I finally settled on something that I thought simply counted steps. However, at the end of the first day it presented me with a time-line of my activities from the moment I got up in the morning.
  • “Walk 46 minutes…”
  • “Home, two hours two minutes…”
  • “Transport 24 minutes…”
  • “Unknown Place in Valrico…”
  • Walk 12 minutes…”
DSC_0005INSTANT FEEDBACK: The thing even knew when I was driving rather than actually walking!
I have to admit it’s fascinating to scroll back through the past few days and see exactly what I’ve been doing in terms of movement, and patterns of movement, where I’ve been (yes, there are maps involved) and where I need to pay special attention because – as a writer – I tend to be sedentary for sometimes hours at a time.
We’ve talked about the power of timely feedback before. I can easily manipulate my pulse, for example, when given a real-time accurate display. Being constantly aware of my step count invariably means I walk more. Information is power; ignorance is an indirect but very real form of bondage; education increases freedom of choice; knowledge experienced in real-time is one of the most powerful learning tools and agents of change available.
HEADS-UP DEVOTIONAL DISPLAY? I’m wondering this morning (especially in light of the content of my The Upper Room Devotional scripture for the day) about how might I increase my real-time awareness of my spiritual walk… growth… path… direction…? Listen to these words from Deuteronomy:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
cropped-dsc_0080.jpg“Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
I’m wondering, if I had an App for that, what the little “line and bubble” graph might look like?
Peace – DEREK