Tales from the Great Adventure

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

For we live by faith, not by sight. – 2 Corinthians 5:7

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

DSC_0113My big job over the next couple of days is that of creating the slide show that documents yesterday’s day-long meeting of the Presbytery of New Hope, the local association of Presbyterian congregations.

For this post, however, I’m going to include just a handful of images as I try to convey the rich tapestry of experiences that made the gathering such a powerful testimony to love and grace and enthusiasm for the Gospel.

The bottom line is this (and I’m especially addressing those people who love to traffic in fake news concerning our denomination): The Presbyterian Church is alive, strong, blessed by God, full with the Holy Spirit, passionate about following Jesus, rooted in scripture, and joyful about proclaiming the good news to the world!

The Presbyterian Church is alive, strong, blessed by God, full with the Holy Spirit, passionate about following Jesus, rooted in scripture, and joyful about proclaiming the good news to the world!

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Wake Forest Presbyterian Church hosted the gathering, and the people of our congregation went all out with extravagant hospitality. Everything went smoothly – from registration, to breakfast, to workshops, to the amazing lunch, to every detail involved in moving more than 250 visitors around the campus from 8:00 in the morning through 3:00 in the afternoon.

We started the day in worship, and our sanctuary at WFPC was filled with prayer and praise. Rebekah had the privilege of preaching; and – not a surprise – she didn’t let the opportunity pass without giving it everything she had and then some! She pointed out how easy it is for us get stuck, and to resist God’s invitation to move forward. We trust our traditions and we fail to trust Jesus, we are fearful, and we want to walk by sight rather than faith.

DSC_0203Then we shared communion. It is so powerful to be in the sanctuary when the bread and the wine is offered, and people wait in line to be served, and the background noise is a murmur of repetition of phrases such as, “Christ’s body, broken for you;” “Thank you;” “The blood, of Jesus, shed for you;” “Peace be with you;” “Thank you;” “Peace to you;” “And also with you…”

And all are welcome. And all are equally forgiven. And all are free because of Jesus…

The balance of the morning included workshops on prayer, and study, and pilgrimage. Lunch was a long celebration of fellowship and gratitude. Then the business session in the afternoon was a series of reports on what God is up to, and commissioning of people called to serve in specific places, and testimonies about exciting ministry initiatives, and the coming under care of those called into ministry.

By the time the meeting ended we were all filled with hope, and gratitude, and more of Jesus.

This is the work of the Presbyterian Church, and we are doing it with joy, and I am so blessed to be a part of this body – DEREK

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Rebekah preaching

 

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. – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

IMG_1108Right now I’m basking in the glory of an unsolicited endorsement that has warmed my heart. No, not one of my books, but my cooking. Either way, I’ll take it.

What makes it special is the source. You see, our son – Andrew – is a bonafide food snob. He’s always been kind of a foodie; then he got a degree in hospitality management; then he turned into a world traveler; then he lived in Italy. Add it all up and you’ve got a well-educated, opinionated, deeply knowledgeable, sophisticated yet grounded, food snob.

“I’m savoring the moment,” he said towards the end of the meal. “This is really, really, good. You could easily charge $100 for something like this. You need to blog about this meal, and you can quote me.”

IMG_1115-001And he kind of went on like that for a little while. Granted, he’s been kind of seafood deprived in Central Asia. And – granted – I asked him what he wanted to eat, and  then built my recipe around that. But I’ll take kudos like that any time they’re offered!

YOU CAN DO THIS!! So, and seeing as you all are just dying to find out exactly what I cooked, as well as how I prepared it, here it is:

I’ll call it, shrimp and baked asparagus with pasta, topped with a crab sauce. And I’ll agree it was delicious.

Here’s the blow by blow:

  1. I made pasta from scratch. Simple, a cup of SR-Flour, an egg, and a couple of teaspoons of water. Mix, fold, knead, roll, cut, dry.
  2. Toss asparagus in olive oil, lightly salt, then bake at 400 degrees.
  3. Chop 1 medium Vidalia Onion, then caramelize in large pan.
  4. Begin white sauce. Melt three teaspoons of butter, stir in two tablespoons flour until smooth, add a cup and a half of milk, slowly heat until mixture thickens. add quarter cup of cheese, salt and pepper to taste, stir in a cup of crab meat (real), stir in a few chopped fresh basil leaves, season to taste.
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    our favorite foodie with his beautiful wife, Alicia

    Add one pound of large shrimp to the caramelized onions, stir frequently until cooked, season to taste.

  6. Cook pasta (two minutes on rapid boil) at the very last minute. Drain well.
  7. Plate, including fresh sliced tomato from the garden. Enjoy.
  8. We paired this with Cashmere Black Magic red blend, and served with a freshly heated croissant.

Not only really good, but highly recommended by our own, personal, food snob!

Peace and more – DEREK

See this slide show for the steps…

 

 

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

 

 

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