Sunday, June 30, 2013

why I'm going to church today

loading up boxes
loading up boxes
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.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
I have to admit, it can be a constant struggle to stay grounded when you’re in the process of turning your life upside down!
This weekend we’ve been working on packing up the books from Rebekah’s office; we also finished off the “punch-list” of house repairs, and are attempting to get all our ducks in a row for the trip to Michigan for Andrew and Alicia’s wedding celebration.
What kind of blindsided both of us was the sharp stab of grief, even in the midst of all the anticipation and excitement (not to mention the sharp stabs of pain in my back, from moving over 30 boxes of books!). I guess we’re going to be experiencing a lot of this kind of dissonance over the next few weeks.
GROUNDED: So back to the idea of staying grounded. The grounding I’m talking about is really the heart of the central mission that has always guided our life together. It’s the sense of purpose that first took Rebekah and I to Columbia Seminary in Atlanta in 1980, that steered us to Pensacola in 1982, that moved us to Brandon in 1996, and that is now leading us to Wake Forest, North Carolina. It’s the message that Jesus is the answer to life’s most essential questions, that the most important decision any of us can ever make is to follow him, and that Rebekah and I – as a family – have been called to serve as guideposts along the way.
You will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life (Philippians 2).
So I am especially glad that today is another Sunday, because the context of worship never fails to anchor me back into the heart of what really matters, and guides us from day to day.
Rebekah’s office now…
I’m going to stand on the stage, at the back of our most excellent praise orchestra, and play my heart out on the guitar while we sing contemporary worship songs; I’m going to let the music wash over me, the word of God nurture me, and the message uplift me; I’m going to rest in the knowledge that God loves me; I’m going to revel in the presence of God; I’m going to settle, comfortably, in the cumulative reassurance of the living witness of the community of faith known as First Presbyterian Church of Brandon; I’m going to breathe in the resurrection power of the Spirit of God; and I’m going to be grounded in the heart of the very reason God has called us to move away.
So I will still be a little sad; we both will. But we will also – because of this amazing church – be more thoroughly equipped for the next leg of the journey, living like we mean it, all for Jesus.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The real enemy of marriage is our pervasive failure to engage/practice/value/honor our primary relationships from the context of faith, and of placing God at the epicenter of our lives.
bg_woodstock2-810-7390LET-B-Sack in the 60′s and the 70′s, the so-called “Free Love” movement, and the “Sexual Revolution” were often discussed as a way of freeing human sexuality from prudish and restrictive mores that built a puritanical wall around the subject. The mantra was, essentially, “Too many rules are unhealthy, so ‘anything goes‘ must necessarily lead to freedom, and better relationships, and peace, and happiness.”
History, of course, tells us that “Free Love” didn’t exactly deliver as advertised! History also tells us that this is not a new conversation. Listen to the following words from C.S. Lewis, written in the early 1940′s:
They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last 20 years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it straight… (Mere Christianity)
I love the phrase, “ventilation would have set it straight.” Well, by the year 2013, the subject has been well and truly ventilated, along with visual aids to sear every conceivable image into our consciousness. Yet the evidence suggests that the world of human sexuality is as dysfunctional today as it ever was, if not much, much more.
BACKLASH: Some have reacted with a backlash against anyone, or any practice, outside their own, narrowly defined, norms. However, rather than help, such responses serve to exacerbate polarization and come across as defensive rather than productive. Too many churches, for example, consistently and loudly trumpet what they are against with more conviction than sharing the good news about what they are for.
Enter the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA, 1996), the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by states. To me it has stood as another classic example of backlash, of trying to blame what’s wrong with sexuality in America by pointing away from ourselves (and the sickness of the majority), and by shifting the focus of attention anywhere other than the root problems that compromise all relationships.
MARRIAGE IS UNDER ATTACK! Yes, marriage in America is under attack, that’s for sure; but it’s not gay marriage that’s the problem, and it’s not an open conversation about sex. The real enemy of marriage is our pervasive failure to engage/practice/value/honor our primary relationships from the context of faith, and of placing God at the epicenter of our lives.
The malfunction resides in our failure to love one-another with a mutually self-sacrificial love. Marriage in America is under attack inasmuch as men and women (many of whom fly the flag of “Christian”) relate to one-another absent the principles outlined in Galatians 5:22-23: “God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways.”
So you say you want marriages to be strong, and you want sexuality in America to experience healing? Then start in your own home, renew your commitment to represent the self-giving love of God in every relationship, and tell the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply and eloquently via the way that you live.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

consider the lilies...

early this morning
early this morning
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)
Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! (The Message) – Matthew 6:19-23
CHILDREN & FLOWERS: What do children and flowers have in common? I’m not exactly sure, at this precise moment, but that’s the phrase that has come to mind as I sit down to write today’s morning post.
DSC_0024I just came inside from shooting a few photographs of this morning’s crop of rain lilies. I saved the images on my hard drive, then checked out the latest pictures of our grandchildren on Naomi’s facebook page. That’s when the question came to mind: “What do children and flowers have in common?”
There’s a freshness and a “new every morning” quality to flowers – and especially the rain lilies – that always speaks directly into my soul. Yesterday, most of them were nothing but stems. Then, in the evening, we had a nice gentle rain. So this morning, there they are, all perky and all “so pleased to see you,” and just bursting with praise.
proud daddy with his babies
proud daddy with his babies
REBEKAH MAE: Today, Rebekah Mae is exactly one week old. She passed yesterday’s check-up with flying colors. “She’s perfect,” was about as clinical as the pediatrician’s office could get with their assessment.
Rebekah Mae is a rain lily of sorts, suddenly blooming and just about bursting with thanksgiving and praise. A new baby like Rebekah doesn’t give me much intellectual ammunition for a debate about the reality of the love of God; instead, she simply shines as a grateful testimony to life and light; she is a prayer; she is an evidence of grace; she is a vibrant offering of light and life and praise.
  • She shines as a grateful testimony to light and life
  • She is a prayer
  • She is an evidence of grace
  • She is a vibrant offering of light and life and praise
laughing uproariously
laughing uproariously
DAVID: David – all of 20-months, all joy and tears and laughter and fun, all “experience the moment” – is fascinated by his new sister. He likes to sit in front of Rebekah’s swing and poke her foot every time she comes forward, laughing outrageously and uproariously at the game. He pats her, he watches intently, and he gets down as close as possible to look into her little face and to see the world from the new baby’s point of view.
David is still very much a baby. He is fresh and vibrant and literally bursting with light and life. He shines. He experiences. He opens up each day like a rain lily turning its delicate face to the early morning light. His wide open spirit is at once an invitation and an offering of praise.
We, my friends and readers, are no less witnesses to the imperative of light and life. The day lily; the infant; the toddler; the 57-year-old writer; the ________ (you fill in your own information). We all confront the choice to engage this and every day with either cynicism or with joy.
I honestly don’t believe we are required to reserve judgement each day until we see how things go. I believe we can decide now, and then choose to live – to bloom – into what becomes possible once we acknowledge what the lily, the baby, and the toddler already seem to know.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Be strong in grace!

photo_2Church yesterday was, as per usual, a beautiful experience of worship, fellowship, grace, hope and promise. It was our first Sunday since the news about Rebekah’s move became public, so there was also a lot of emotion and more than a few tears
Rebekah’s message was – again, as per usual – spot on. She spoke about the Community of Faith, opening up the questions, “What are we here for? What is our purpose? What is the church?”
The current podcast should be available sometime this morning; just click on First Presbyterian Church of Brandon 2013 Sermon Podcasts. I really recommend taking the time to listen.
Sunday was a day full with great conversation, from the worship hour, to Sunday school, to lunch with Tim and Kelly, to our wonderful small-group in the evening. But interestingly – and this is “par for the course” too – it turned out there was a unifying theme that ran deeper than the sum of all the individual parts, and that’s where Second Timothy comes in.
2 TIMOTHY: I read the New Testament book of Second Timothy in preparation for my morning class, and I was captured by the sense of personal communication that came through. The writing commented with unerring relevance at every turn during the day, culminating in our evening meeting, where the text seemed to offer specific wisdom that spoke into our lives and our prayer concerns time and again.
“I know the one in whom I have put my trust,” Paul writes, “and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” And then, like a clarion call to proactive Christian living, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
photoThe letter goes on to encourage readers to “Be strong in the grace that is in Jesus,” and refers to the good news not just as the gospel, but as my gospel.
And I believe I’ve just discovered, or uncovered, my point of inspiration for this Monday morning post. What God is looking for is disciples of Jesus who don’t just think about the Good News as for everyone (which it is), or for the church (which it is), or for their family (which it is), or for their friends (which it is)… but to intentionally engage the amazing message of love and reconciliation and salvation as MY GOSPEL!
MY GOSPEL: This is the good news that is so clear in my heart and mind this morning. God loves me; God sent Jesus to break down all the barriers that have been erected between humankind and God (personal barriers, cultural religious barriers and more…); God invites me to become a Follower of the Way of Jesus; the Holy Spirit fills me with the grace to live a life of love; I have been given the community of faith as a mutual strength and encouragement…
  1. @[696483709:2048:Derek Maul] - the precipiceGod loves me;
  2. God sent Jesus to break down all the barriers that have been erected between humankind and God;
  3. God invites me to become a Follower of the Way of Jesus;
  4. the Holy Spirit fills me with the grace to live a life of love;
  5. I have been given the community of faith as a mutual strength and encouragement…
… and THIS DAY, Monday June 24, just happens to be my latest opportunity (our latest opportunity) to live into the truth of such a good treasure, that has been entrusted to me.
In hope and in promise – DEREK

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Turn, turn, turn...

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (I Corinthians 3:6-7)
letter-r-300x291ebekah loves to garden (Here’s a picture from yesterday afternoon as she gave away her prize giant bromeliad to our good friend Steve).
Occasionally, gardening will cost Rebekah in terms of back pain, but she persists because the whole cycle of planting, nurturing, fertilizing, watering, pruning, re-imagining, tearing out, rebuilding, visioning, and sometimes just plain starting over again from scratch is such a beautiful progression, and so theologically apropos.
GARDENING/MINISTRY: Gardening, like ministry, is about recognizing and then cultivating unique microclimates. No two gardens are the same, and the rule holds true for communities of faith. When we moved here from Pensacola in 1996 we pretty-much had to learn all over, both at the Presbyterian church and in the back yard.
The “garden” on Laurel Oak Drive was a veritable wilderness. With the exception of our three big oak trees, absolutely everything has been imagined and grown since we rolled in 17 years ago. There’s a lot going on, from the tiered patio to every imaginable variety of vegetation. But if Rebekah’s garden has been any one thing, it’s been the amazing display of bromeliads.
IMG_3364PRINCIPLES: She had a few bromeliads in Pensacola, but they were all potted, and they had to be invited in during cold weather. Here, we have literally hundreds of specimens, representing scores of distinct varieties. But they are uniquely tropical, and we’ll be forced to reinvent our entire approach the moment we roll into Wake Forest.
All differences aside, however, there are a few key principles at the heart of a “Rebekah” garden that hold true no matter where we put down roots. Doesn’t matter if we’re in Pensacola, Brandon, Wake Forest, or some desert climate in New Mexico, the gardens may look radically different but they all stem from the same foundational truths that never shift, and always lead to maturity and growth.
PARALLEL: I guess I really don’t need to write the balance of this post. Our new church in Wake Forest is going to be another faith-community micro-climate, just as the amazing Body of Christ in Brandon has been and will continue to be. The ministry in Wake Forest is going to be beautiful, and it’s going to thrive.
DSC_0013It’s going to thrive even though it’s going to look nothing like First Presbyterian Church in Brandon. Why? Because the new garden is going to be built on the same essential principles, the timeless message that God invites each one of us to move beyond church membership and into discipleship, to live as committed Followers of the Way of Jesus.
The bromeliads have been amazing, full and rich and proliferate and colorful, and we’re so happy some of them are going to a good home with Steve. But now it’s going to be a time and a season for day-lilies, hydrangea, dogwoods, azaleas and more….
Fact is, I don’t even know the half of what’s going to grow and bloom around Wake Forest. But I do know that God will bless the garden.
In the hope of promise – DEREK
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
     a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
     a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
     a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
     a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
     a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.  That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.  I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. (Ecclesiastes 3)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Moving to NC!

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)
THE FACTS: First, the short version; after almost 17 years in Brandon, Florida, Rebekah and I are moving to North Carolina.
Sunday morning (June 16), following an enthusiastic report from their “Pastor Nominating Committee,” the congregation of Wake Forest Presbyterian Church voted, unanimously, to extend a call to Rebekah to be their new senior pastor/head of staff; she will begin her ministry there in mid-August.
THE STORY: The whole story – of course – turns out to involve much more. It starts in Pensacola, back in 1982, where “ACT I” comprised a rich and exciting 14-year ministry with Trinity Presbyterian Church. The story has grown and continued (“ACT II”) here in Brandon, where we have enjoyed almost 17-years of a shared faith-journey that has been startling in the scope of its blessings, but quite impossible to summarize in a few words (so I’ll save that for another post).
ACT II has been such a positive affirmation that – a few months ago – it became clear to both of us that we should be open to talking about the possibility of pairing Rebekah’s passion for discipleship with one more community of faith.
But it had to be a church that both needs to take a fresh look at those “R” words we’ve been talking about, and is ready to take a fresh look at those “R” words (reconciliation, redemption, restoration, reaffirmation, rekindling, renewal, rebirth, resurrection, reawakening, reanimation…). These “R” words can be – and will be – remarkable.
So, in due course, and according to the mysteries of providence, Wake Forest Presbyterian Church and Rebekah Maul found one-another, and fell into an increasingly deep conversation about the possibilities. There were telephone conversations, emails, a Skype interview, more conversation, the trip we both took to visit the community, and then one more Skype conversation where the seven-member team asked, beautifully, “Rebekah, would you come to Wake Forest and be our pastor?”
IMG_3088ACT III: This has been a journey that could only have been orchestrated by God. Both of us feel excited, motivated, and specifically called to move to North Carolina and to begin “ACT III” in the context of the hope and promise-laden challenge that is the faith community known as WFPC.
I promise to write more about this wonder and joy in posts to come, but for today I want all of you to pray for the following:
  • Wake Forest Presbyterian Church; that they will be open to the moving of the Spirit as they renew their commitment as Followers of the Way of Jesus.
  • First Presbyterian Church of Brandon; that they will enthusiastically embrace the possibilities and the promise of a new direction in the near future.
  • Rebekah and Derek Maul; that we will continue to be sensitive to God’s leading as we negotiate the myriad details involved in relocating after 17 amazing years here in Brandon with this faithful church family we love so deeply.
IMG_3084I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)