Tales from the Great Adventure

a journal of living-like-we-mean-it, by Derek Maul

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. -Colossians 3:15-16

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Our beautiful children – Naomi and Andrew

So this has certainly been one more full-to-the-brim weekend. Good, definitely, but overrun and busy, with no time to sit down to write even a sentence.

It turned out to be a “perfect storm” of family:

  • First, Andrew has been home from Uzbekistan (Alicia is in New England this week, taking a class).
  • Then, my cousin Peter (from England) flew in for a couple of days.
  • Next, Rebekah’s brother Jesse said he’d be stopping by on a road trip with our nephew Jared; by the time they got here our niece, Jordan, had jumped on board too.
  • Just a few days ago we heard from our former youth director in Brandon, Anne – so along she came, with her husband, Bob.
  • Finally, not one to miss out on a party, Naomi drove down from Richmond with the grandchildren (Craig had to work).
  • Add in my parents from next door, and we more than filled a pew at church, and more than filled our house for lunch.
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Youth mission team to Cuba

It was so good to see everyone, and better still to all be in worship together at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. This was one of our “mission emphasis” weekends, highlighting the work of the team who made the recent trip to Cuba. Our young people shared beautiful stories of faith and friendship, and powerful testimonies of God’s grace. They obviously learned so much, and grew significantly in their spiritual journeys.

For me, it was especially exciting to be able to share the beauty and the vibrancy of our faith community with my cousin Peter from England. It was impossible to miss the “buzz” of life and enthusiasm in the sanctuary, full with people and overflowing with love.

Later in the afternoon, when it was just Andrew and Naomi and the grandchildren remaining, I took the family onto our deck for a photograph. We missed Alicia and Craig, but but it’s not often Rebekah and I can post a photo with both of our children at the same time.

I have such a lot to be thankful for this morning, thinking back over the busy weekend. There’s much more I need to write about, but I’ll save it for another post.

In gratitude, and with love – DEREK

 

 

The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
    satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
    and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth. – Psalm 145:15-18

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Most of you are aware that I often refer to myself as “a work in progress.” Life is like that. Faith is like that too. Pretty much everything we’re involved in has that organic quality, where life, death, renewal, restoration, rebirth, setbacks, regrouping, and more seem to all be part of how we define being. Moving forward; taking a step back; stumbling, getting back on our feet, never ever quite standing still.

It helps a lot that we live in a more agricultural setting now. Evidences of the cycle of life are right in front of us, constantly.

Can’t Miss Example:

So Thursday evening, while Rebekah was at an elders’ meeting, challenging and encouraging our church to grab the future with two hands, and believe, and move forward with the confidence that we serve a God who expects nothing less of us, I opened the front door to check on something in the garden and tripped over two boxes of fresh vegetables.

IMG_0935Corn, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, bell peppers, and more – probably some potatoes and some onions too. At Christmas it’s Santa; around Easter there’s the bunny thing; then in the summertime something shows up on your doorstep and it’s Larry.

Fresh dirt clings to the edges of some of the produce. Essentially it’s all still alive – I think if I listen real close I can hear the tomatoes breathing. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But I do know – and this is with absolute certainty – that the impetus of life is strong here, it’s real, and it will have its way.

It’s good to be reminded of who holds the earth in its orbit, where the sun gets its light, how completely the harvest is out of our hands, the fact that God sets the seasons, how all growth and life, and possibility, and promise is held in the hands of the Creator.

IMG_0211And yet we strive, and we worry, and we push, and we forget to rest in the surety of the Maker, and the promise of the Good News.

But sometimes – constantly, really – it is far better to rest in the knowledge that God is not only good, and faithful, and gracious, and full with mercy, but up to something too – always up to something new….

Peace, and more peace – DEREK

So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:1-2

IMG_1047A couple of days ago my friend George and I spent the afternoon playing golf. I’m not a frequent golfer, but I do try to average somewhere in the neighborhood of one outing a month (this makes five in 2017 to date).

The course was North Carolina beautiful, but hot and humid enough this week to remind me of Florida. We had fun, scored the entire range of possibilities, donated a number of balls to the woods and water, and dropped impressively long putts while missing embarrassingly short ones.  I even managed one, spectacular, “made for the highlight reel” birdie.

So we were doing what friends do – enjoying one-another’s company, telling bad jokes, sharing stories, exploring theology – when a situation on the 18th tee-box caught my attention.

The Rules Clearly State…

IMG_1040The rules clearly state that golfers must tee off in between the tee markers. Failure to do this, or moving the markers in any fashion, incurs a two-stroke penalty (Rules 11-2, and 11-4b – see annotated photograph).

The markers on our tee-box made following this very specific law a bit of a challenge.

I asked George (left) to demonstrate what might be involved if we were to honor the rules of golf in this instance; obviously it would be impossible.

But I’m a firm believer in rules. Back when I was a teacher I had children actually say things like, “Mr. Maul, I want to thank you for ‘running a tight ship.'” Children without a solid moral grounding, or any kind of predictable life, found a lot of comfort and even freedom in knowing exactly where things stood.

At the same time it’s important to understand the greater purpose of these – or any – guidelines. The point of the rules in golf are to define fair and impartial conditions for play, where the skill and imagination of the player are consistently tested in relation to the design and the parameters of the course.

Trying to hit the ball from the tee-box George and I encountered on the 18th hole would have been contrary to the design and the intent of the spirit of golf. So we didn’t. And we didn’t assess a penalty, either.

Fundamentalism:

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I’m sure some golf fundamentalist with a legalistic heart would happily argue the point in favor of strict and unwavering adherence to the letter of the law. To which I say, Good luck with that. And I’m sure one day you will have your own tightly wound heavenly links, where you can “play” for eternity in the life to come.

As for me, I’ll be actually enjoying this amazing gift of life defined by grace. Sure, you can put an asterisk by the par I made on the 18th hole if you want. And you can put any number of asterisks by my name to be pointed out when I’m welcomed home at the pearly gates – if it makes you feel better. But I’m honestly not half so interested in the score as the experience.

One of my many faults, I’m sure.

Back on the links…

Oh, I see you’re reviewing the 18th Century edition of the rules, published by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, before you make a decision to move your ball (or not) from under the golf cart someone left in the rough when its battery died. Take your time and get it right… but if you don’t mind we’ll go ahead and play through.

– DEREK

 

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talking on Real Men Connect

This morning I’d like to promote the #1 rated Christian men’s Podcast RealMenConnect. I’d recommend the entire site – RealMenConnect.com – regardless, but today’s HUGE reason is the fact that yours truly happens to be this week’s podcast guest.

That’s right, one hour of Dr. Joe Martin interviewing Derek Maul. I just got through listening to the episode, and I’m relieved to tell you it’s actually pretty good!

The subject area is patience, and we enjoyed a lively, deep, meaningful, conversation around both spiritual principles and practical steps we can take as followers of Jesus.

So, please take a moment to do the following:

  1. Listen to the podcast – I know you will be blessed.
  2. Share the podcast with others.
  3. Go to iTunes and rate the podcast.
  4. Consider signing up as a regular listener to Dr. Joe Martin’s Real Men Connect.

I’ll leave you with one direct quote from our conversation –

“As Christian men we love to put on The Whole Armor of God – and strut around in it sometimes – but we’re so-so when it comes to the Fruit of the Spirit.”

Here’s the link again – Practicing Patience. Happy listening, and I’m praying for each one of you as we continue to move forward in faith – DEREK

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9

IMG_1036On this date in 1956, around the middle of the day, The Creator set into motion one of the most creative, and beautiful, and imaginative initiatives ever to grace the ongoing “Humanity Project.” There, in the small town of Waynesboro, Georgia, a child was born – Rebekah Perkins Alexander.

The moment surprised the parents, who were confidently expecting John Marshall (the next preacher in the family) to make his appearance. But God, who can always see far beyond the narrow strictures of both society and religion, had a specific purpose, and an expansive, ambitious plan.

I’ll bet there were excited whisperings in heaven that day – angels gathering for coffee or around the water cooler, saying, “Rebekah! You’d better write that name down and remember. I wonder what God is up to this time? Likely something remarkable! Mark my words, the Lord has some amazing plans for this one!”

Rebekah’s parents – Bob and Nelle Alexander – had literally been on their knees for months, praying over their third child. Long before the birth they dedicated this baby to God, set aside for, “The Gospel Ministry,” and they had the name – John Marshall – ready to go. So they looked at each other and they said (no kidding), “Well, we guess not this one.”

It was 1956, after all.

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the “Birthday with Scout” shot

BUT GOD IS SO MUCH MORE CREATIVE!

“But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are the Creator’s ways higher than our way…”

And I am so thankful for that truth, because it is a tale as old as time that we try to hem God into our way of thinking. And, rather than live as beings created in the image of God, we do pretty-much everything in our power to recreate God – significantly reduced – in the image of us.

So God reached into time and space in 1956 and said:

“I have some amazing plans for this my latest creation! The world may not nearly be ready, but I am surely ready for some radical change! I’m not in the business of validating the petty prejudices, the narrow thinking, the closed hearts, and the restrictions that stand as roadblocks to the flow of my love. Instead, I’m in the business of doing new things! I’m in the business of adding light to dark places! I’m in the business of liberation! I’m in the business of invitation! I’m in the business of using every means possible to bring my Kingdom to my children!”

Go God!!!!

So Rebekah was born; and today God is still re-imagining, and recreating, and restoring, and regenerating, and loving with such passion and purpose.

And I – just hanging on for the ride sometimes – am such a privileged man to be on this journey, together, exploring what it means to roar into our 60’s with this fresh head of steam, only too pleased that Robert and Nelle Alexander’s prayer took so well, all those years ago.

Peace, and more peace; light, and more light; love, and more love – DEREK

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” – Jesus, Matthew 13:23

IMG_1001-001Yesterday at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, guest preacher Allen Brimer shared what’s happening with “Farm Church,” his new church plant over in Durham. There’s nothing unusual about starting a new church, but Allen and his colleague – Ben Johnson-Krase – are building an entire ministry around responding to God’s call to feed the hungry.

We started with an intergenerational discipleship hour, first talking about food insecurity, and then moving out into our own church garden to harvest produce in support of the Farm Church initiative.

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Allen Brimer instructs WFPC youth

It was a lot of fun, and I was impressed at the way people enthusiastically dug into the soil – in their Sunday clothes – immediately immersed in their work.

We’re certainly no strangers to hunger ministries here at WFPC, and we’re involved in a number of highly effective local and international efforts. But the beauty of yesterday’s emphasis was to fold our entire education and worship experience into the same theme, effectively challenging absolutely everyone to take Christ’s words seriously, and to encourage one another to love in more practical ways… and to export that love into the world around us.

Worship:

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In that context, worship was – once again – a joyful explosion of light and love. I guess I could write about how Rebekah grabbed a wheelbarrow full of Swiss Chard and turned it into a remarkably interactive children’s message; and I could sing the praises of the wonderful bluegrass band that led the singing; or I could recommend listening to Allen’s message on our Facebook live-feed.

But instead I’ll leave you with this (paraphrased) story from Allen. Three years ago to the day (July 16, 2014) his colleague, Ben, woke up from a dream where he showed up for worship and found himself on a farm. That was it: “An embarrassingly short dream,” Allen said. At that time the two friends were preachers in traditional churches, several states and several hundred miles apart. It was 3:00 in the morning. Within 20 minutes Ben had purchased the domain name, “FarmChurch.org,” and the next day he shared the nascent vision with his friend.

MY POINT:

My point in this post is not just to say that God works in mysterious ways – mysterious… bizarre… odd… cryptic ways – but that God works. Let me say that again, but louder: GOD WORKS! GOD WORKS!

Our responsibility is to be attentive, to seek God, and to listen. Then it’s up to us to actually do something in response.

As a worshiping community, Wake Forest Presbyterian is doing so much – I’m often blown away by this amazing church body. But God’s message to us Sunday morning, through Allen Brimer, was to pay more attention, and to seek God constantly. So that, and because we follow Jesus, even more light, and life, and love will spill over into this community.

Peace, and more peace; in love, and because of love – DEREK

 

 

One of the things I’m enjoying most about this “Ten Summer Sundays” series at our church is the variety of creative worship experiences. Every week a different theme, but always growing out of our core mission statement: “Rooted in Christ; Growing together in Faith; Reaching out to others.”

July 2, Rebekah preached an amazing sermon on freedom; the next week Jesus stopped by to share his Sermon on the Mount; this week we have another guest preacher, focusing on hunger ministries; next week the Cuba team will share stories from their mission trip.

Everything we do as a body comes out of worship; and everything we are involved with leads back into worship.

Church here isn’t about keeping an institution running, it’s about gathering together to share our faith in God; celebrating Jesus in our worship and our study together; and then returning to our daily lives nourished, inspired, equipped, and full with God’s Spirit, to bring light, and love, and peace, and hope, and grace into this world.

It’s a simple equation, but such a powerful way to be and to live.

It’s another Sunday morning, I can’t wait to gather with the Body of Christ at WFPC!

– DEREK 

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last Sunday morning in worship at WFPC

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

DSC_0026My Saturday morning men’s Bible study group is – currently – reading The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian. If I had to choose, I’d say it was my favorite book.

Today’s conversation moved around the content of Chapter Ten, “A Collision of Worlds.” The main idea is that we are temporal beings, living limited lifespans on a small planet, hemmed in by the limitations of time and space; yet we worship an eternal Creator who reaches into our world to teach us how to live as beings of light and love, as new creations, and as ambassadors for God’s Kingdom.

So we experience dissonance, and we live beyond understanding, and we know in the deepest parts of ourselves that this world is not enough to explain the mystery and the magnificent, transcendent, beauty of life.

I enjoyed an excellent, insightful discussion with the guys – we always do. But sometimes it takes a visual, and that’s what I got in our garden Friday afternoon.

DSC_0035-002One of the hawks who has been hanging out in the woods behind the house swooped in to take a closer look at something, and he presented me with all the pent up beauty he had to offer – almost as if he was some other-worldly being prompted to display his true glory.

Sometimes I get that kind of glimpse of God, and it thrills me to the core of who I am. That’s what it means for followers of Jesus to live on the edge of eternity; sometimes we get a glimpse; sometimes God overwhelms us; mostly, though, we see through a glass dimly…

Peace, and more – DEREK

 

 

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth. – Psalm 139:13-15

IMG_0938Thursday was a fascinating day for me. In some respects it was a health marathon; then in others it was all spiritual insight. I’ll try to explain without making this a lengthy post.

First was an eye-opening consult with a diabetes educator. As of around 1:20 in the afternoon (that’s about the moment all the- information started dropping into receptive slots in my slow-on-the-uptake brain – you could almost hear it making contact, “ding-ding, ding-ding…”) the big picture started to come together for me.

Diabetes:

Some of you may not know the history, so let me – briefly – explain. Rebekah was first diagnosed with Type-I Diabetes thirty-two years ago. During the time it took to figure out what was going on, her pancreas packed up, she lost more than 20% of her weight, she declined rapidly, and her blood sugars went into orbit. Once the diagnosis was made, she was insulin dependent from the get-go.

Over the past three-plus decades Rebekah has worked with some remarkably good specialists, applied epic levels of self-discipline, and consistently impressed everyone both with her undaunted approach to health and the remarkably positive results.

However, despite everything we have done well, it’s not 1985 anymore; meanwhile, the medical community has continued to research, and to ask questions, and to experiment, and to reassess, and to learn, and to grow.

We’ve changed therapies, and approaches, and interventions, any number of times over the years. What was understood as “true” in 1985 wasn’t true at all by 1995.

Learning is a constant!

I guess we could have said, “The 1980’s were the good old days. Back then we just did what the doctor said and didn’t ask questions. We already know everything there is to know. The human body hasn’t changed. Truth is truth, isn’t it? I’m still the exact same way God created me, and that’s all there is to it.”

We could have said all that; we could have rooted ourselves where we were familiar and  comfortable, and we could have refused to acknowledge there is anything knew to learn – and in all likelihood Rebekah would have been dead years ago!

But when it came to nutrition, we really have been kind of stuck with the way we first learned. I cook all the time, and the principles just worked their way into the groundwater of my subconscious and – no matter how often I listened, or read, or promised – I would just slip back into the old ways. I may have become a much better cook over the years… but I never changed the way essential food management related to Rebekah’s diabetes.

IMG_0935Not until yesterday. Now I’m going to be thinking differently.

Now I’m reading labels and counting carbs. I’m not locked in yet, but I’m going to be researching my foods, planning around specific goals, measuring Rebekah’s portions, weighing meats and vegetables, pairing things appropriately, gathering information about units of insulin, carbs, protein, timing, and real-time glucose monitoring.

What I’m the most super-exited about is the real-time glucose monitoring! If insurance approves the new device, then – via an App on both our phones – blood sugar levels will be displayed constantly. Not just the number, but the trend.

If we made a reduction sauce of essentials, it all boils down to paying attention, accessing the best information, and then being willing to make changes in response to learning.

I believe there is a huge spiritual principle illustrated in that last paragraph. But I’ve run out of space for today’s post, and I haven’t even started to talk about yesterday afternoon’s visit with a friend who is recovering beautifully from a double transplant!

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still learning – every day

So I guess I’ll have to pick up this conversation tomorrow. So stay tuned; and, stay tuned in to what God wants to teach us as we move forward in our lives of faith. Because growing as a disciple is all about paying attention, accessing the best information, and then being willing to make changes…. 

In love, and because of love – DEREK

 

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in what you say, how you behave, in love, faith and holiness. – 1 Timothy 4:12

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some of my favorite Millennials

I have a pet peeve I want to air this morning. Here it is: I’m tired of all the Millennial-bashing. Personally, I have a lot of confidence in this generation of young adults. We don’t have to look far to see who screwed up the world so badly and – fact check – it’s not the Millennials, it’s the people doing the complaining!

“Growing Culture of Ignorance”

One recent post I read implicated young adults in “the dumbing down of America.” I countered with, “I’ll agree there’s a growing culture of ignorance in America… but I don’t think it’s the young so much as the rigid and the intolerant among us. There’s a resistance to scholarship, to honest inquiry, and to intelligent dialogue – especially in politics and matters of faith. I think there’s damaging ignorance in the celebration of nostalgia, in the knee-jerk rejection of social progress, and in rote adherence to ideals rooted more in 1950’s social norms than the open heart of Jesus.”

Then my friend Bryan – a Methodist minister – weighed in. It’s a long quote, but most definitely worth reading:

I think so much of the war on public education, higher education, and general disdain for Millennials is rooted in that idea you (Derek) put forward; namely that they are rejecting the societal norms that suggest Leave it to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show represented the apex of American culture and values. Millennials reject those notions, reject surface readings of the Bible, and are very skeptical of people who coming in yelling and screaming and demanding that all acquiesce.

Older generations have blamed public education and liberal colleges and liberal pastors and whatever else they can, because they often don’t want to recognize that they might actually have been wrong on a variety of things, and they might have participated in systematic injustices without even realizing it. It’s a hard pill to swallow and the older we get, the less likely we are to be willing to swallow it. But a lot of Millennials don’t care and don’t have time to pat our tender heads. They are moving on, embracing the things from the past that make sense, and rejecting most others. I’m all for it, but it’s scary to some.

What’s funny is that the word “snowflake” gets tossed around all the time, often at Millennials, but most older generations are the ones that cannot in any way stomach change, alternative viewpoints, or awareness of reality. Who are the real snowflakes? I will post things about racism or helping refugees and the people who push back the hardest and write angry things are older people. They tend to get agitated by anything that doesn’t fit in their limited worldview while younger generations are happy to discuss and debate. It’s never all or none, plenty of older folks are willing to talk and plenty of Millennials are jerks, but there are definitely trends there.

Here’s Bryan’s bottom line: “They tend to get agitated by anything that doesn’t fit in their limited worldview… while younger generations are happy to discuss and debate.”

Nostalgia is always stuck in the past…

IMG_0932The problem with nostalgia is its deep deceptions and its intrinsic falsehoods. Most “good old days” references are a hybrid of amnesia, selective memory, idealized yearnings for what never was, and a fear of responding to God’s call to live fully engaged lives today.

Rather than lambast the younger generations, those of us who are still willing to learn should be eager to engage them in meaningful conversation, encourage their enthusiasm, help them learn from our many mistakes, and then roll up our sleeves and join them in moving forward.

Because forward is the only direction we can possibly go as children of God and followers of Jesus.

Like I’ve been saying for a long time – I love this new generation! – DEREK

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