sharing our faith is a beautiful thing #RealMenConnect

img_8032Here’s something fun I have to share today. This morning I was blessed to be able to do a guest spot with a #1 rated podcast; I enjoyed the experience, I really like the host, and I’m seriously stoked.

I’ll share a link to the content when it’s posted – most likely a few weeks from now. But for today I’ll write about my impressions.

The podcast – Real Men Connect – is hosted by Dr. Joe Martin. Joe is passionate about seeing men connect both as brothers and as disciples of Jesus. It’s the kind of enthusiasm that translates well to the podcast format, keeping both the guest and the audience engaged.

Dr. Martin’s approach obviously communicates well, because Real Men Connect is now the top-rated podcast on iTunes for Christian men. That’s exciting for me because I have often prayed for the opportunity to get into this conversation at a national level.

Authenticity:

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Dr. Joe Martin

I often say that authenticity is the best possible communication tool we have at our disposal, and Joe is very much a “what you see is what you get” kind of a guy. We connected well from the outset, and because of that it was easy for me to respond to his excellent questions.

Specifically – and based on a recent article I wrote for All-Pro-Dad – Dr. Joe wanted to talk about how parents can have patience with their children. My first thought was, “good luck with that!” but then I remembered what I’d written, and realized that – having taught exceptional education as well as raising two amazing young adults – I actually do have some insight to share.

If you want to read the article at All Pro Dad, here’s the link: How to Have Patience With Your Kids. But our conversation was much more wide ranging. In fact, the key idea is something that we all need to take to heart: “Patience provides a place where hope can take root and grow.” That’s a good word not just for Christian men, or for dads, but for every last one of us.

I don’t want to give too much away from the podcast, but I’ll share one more thought that came up during our conversation. We were talking about the inclination men tend to have toward impatience, knee-jerk reaction, yell now think later, and going on the offensive prematurely.

“As Christian men in North America,” I said, “we like to put on the Armor of God (and strut around in it), but too often we’re so-so when it comes to the Fruit of the Spirit.”

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23

God won’t magically give us patience we don’t have. But God will come alongside us, and equip us, and give us strength, and guide us, and back us up, as we make the decision to be the kind of people who put into practice the life that Christ teaches. That’s discipleship, and it’s something we can’t even begin to achieve on our own.

Under those conditions, Christ-like patience will be just the beginning of our witness.

We need the love of God, the friendship of Jesus, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – and we need one another too.

– DEREK 

our lives tell the story

our lives tell the story

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”

Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?”

Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.” – John 18:35-37

Every Wednesday evening, my men’s covenant group is always – without fail – a significant blessing. Our time is a great mixture of insightful Bible-study, great conversation, heart-level sharing, listening, support, encouragement, and – most importantly – simply being together.

I leave our church not only full, and inspired, but thoughtful. Stuff we talk about takes up residence in the “mulling” portion of my brain (btw, if your brain doesn’t have a designated mulling slot, then you should definitely get one), and percolates – usually for several days.

This week we talked about trouble, difficulty, challenge, and tragedy. We used the Old Testament story of Joseph as our scripture reference, and our conversation circled around what story we tell about the gospel via the way that we respond.

PASSION = INVITATION

unnamed (4)-001I used this image – from the pastors’ conference I spoke at a couple of weeks ago – because of what’s on the screen behind me. It’s not the most flattering photograph ever taken of yours truly, but I love the words, “Your passion is an invitation…”

What I was talking about was the fact that people can read between the lines, not only when we talk, but as we live – especially as we live. If we have no evident passion for the good news about Jesus, then it really doesn’t come across as good news, does it? Our lives tell the story. Our lives become the most eloquent invitation that we can offer.

Fact is, we don’t chose whether or not to be witnesses. “It’s not my spiritual gift; I’ll leave that up to those who feel called to be a witness…” Nope, sorry, that’s not how it works. We are living witnesses to the faith we profess. The question is not if we are communicating about Jesus, the question is what story is it that we are telling?

  • The question is not if we are communicating about Jesus, the question is what story is it that we are telling?

One question we talked about Wednesday was living with courage. But this is something we seem to have all backwards in our popular culture. Aggression, fighting back, responding in kind when we are berated, returning evil for evil… these are all advertised – and modeled in the shows and movies we watch – as acts of courage. Christians get sucked into this too: “believers” are often hostile to those they disagree with; lawsuits are filed within churches; there are multiple splits and schisms; bad behavior is parsed as defending truth (who’s truth?)….

Bullying, hate, vitriol, fighting… these are not acts of courage. Jesus said this, just before he allowed them to nail him to a wooden cross: “My kingdom doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king” (John 18:36).

Jesus – “I am not that kind of king.”

This is one of those “no-brainer” statements that I’ve used many times before, but I’m going yo say it anyway. Jesus is our model; following Jesus means being imitators of God. Yet, so much of the time, Christians do the opposite: Instead of remaking ourselves in the image of Christ, we try to reinvent Jesus in the image of us.

and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children… – Ephesians 4:31-5:1

Courageous men and women of the light follow Jesus. We do tell a story in the way that we live and how we respond to the challenges we face – so let’s get the story right! – DEREK

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talking about discipleship

So, how’s your walk?

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Your word is a lamp before my feet
    and a light for my journey. – Psalm 119:105

One of the questions that constantly comes up when I talk about faith is, “How do I transition from someone who checks in with God once in a while, to a disciple who quite literally walks with Jesus?”

It’s a challenge no matter who you are, or how you structure your life. Dads, moms, teens; preachers, teachers, construction workers; politicians, lawyers, musicians; engineers, army generals, pilots…. We’ve had the same conversation.

That’s why I always start with the very beginning of the day. It makes more sense to get on board with God and then remain there – going forward – than to leave the decision (and it’s always a decision, even when we don’t think about it) for another time.

It’s this idea of trajectory. That’s why I took the above photograph of the kitchen counter this morning before I poured the coffee. My Bible was already there. No matter where my journey takes me today, I know I have started it in the presence of God and with a portion of the scriptures.

Simply put, the only way to walk with Jesus is to invite him to be our guide. It’s an invitation that needs to be renewed daily, and it is an intention that requires a constant stream of incremental adjustments, not just day by day but moment by moment.

When I hiked five-hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail I was always looking for the white blaze on the tree that told me I was on the right path. A double blaze signaled a shift in direction.

We were always looking ahead for the next blaze; it didn’t stop us from enjoying the view, talking with other hikers, or taking a brief lateral trail to see something along the way. But the blaze was always our reference and constantly on our minds. If we had waited to check for the next marker around lunchtime – like saying grace before a meal -we’d have been hopelessly lost in no time at all.

That’s Jesus. His intention is to walk with us, not just meet up later for lunch, or wait to check in Wednesday evenings at church, or in response to a hurried request when things aren’t going our way.

Ten years ago this month my first book was released. GET REAL documents my understanding of this following-Jesus journey, and these few words still challenge me today:

img_8032“It’s about engaging the Spirit because we are hungry for God. It’s about becoming disciples so that Jesus can pour his life into us. It’s about learning to love God with our heart, mind, body, and soul. It’s about having the courage to actually follow Christ – to place one foot in front of the other, to dare to live a life of grace” (p. 30).

Every morning, every hour, every day, every opportunity – DEREK

 

Get RealA Spiritual Journey for Men
by Derek Maul
Get Real A Spiritual Journey for Men by Derek Maul

 

getting to the right kind of comfortable…

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 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14

This has been a busy week, full with:

So this morning I’m sharing two photographs that may or may not be related. But they do provide a window into where my spirit is today.

First, as our Labradoodle, Scout, approaches her eleventh birthday (early May), she is increasingly committed to finding just the right spot so she can be comfortable. Comfortable is pretty much job one at the moment, and she’ll go to great lengths – requisitioning the couch, rearranging the pillows, stretching, rolling over, lying down on top of an air vent if she’s too hot, ignoring the suggestion of a walk – to make sure she’s as snug and cozy as possible.

The Unmaking of a Part Time Christian

That could be me, too, much of the time! I do like my comfortable. But then Jesus gets involved and I’m challenged to go the extra mile, engage life with more gospel initiative, use my imagination, push the envelope…

That’s essentially the heart of the new study we started today in the Saturday morning Iron Sharpens Iron men’s group. The title is “The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian,” and it’s all about living as intentional disciples of Jesus; it’s about moving beyond the “part-time” practice of faith; it’s about following Jesus as the foundational commitment in our lives.

For me, the new study is a fun opportunity to share one of my favorite books with my friends. If you want to read along with us, I’ll be referencing the study probably once a week as we move through. Click here on the title if you want a copy, or find it on Amazon. I promise you won’t be disappointed. The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian.

In the here and now, our life as Christ followers primarily concerns capturing and engaging the rich meaning and the lavish possibilities of abundant life before death. God’s kingdom is already available; our opportunity is to live this kingdom life, and to live as if we really do mean it (page 11).

Peace, and more peace – DEREK

the secret to deep, sustainable, joy…

“So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, Abba, Father.” Romans 8:12-15

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this morning

Today is a perfect example of exactly why I love living here in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

  • At almost 10:00 in the morning, it’s just 55-degrees – one of those overcast days with just a small chance of rain.
  • I have a full schedule of interesting writing ahead of me, and the promise of church supper and meeting with my men’s Bible-study group this evening.
  • Then – while I’m posting this blog – Rebekah is over at City Hall, speaking to a group of student leaders from our local high school.

We are both doing exactly what we were called here to do. Essentially, understanding what it is that God is calling us to do, and then being able to follow through, makes life rewarding and meaningful more than absolutely anything else.

Many aspects of life bring pleasure, fun, and happiness; but there is a deep joy to engaging God’s purpose for our lives that is – I believe – unique to a life of discipleship.

We Have a Covenant with God:

Each time we meet, the men’s group reads the following as part of our covenant: “Knowing that Jesus Christ died to save me from sin and death, and knowing that he saved me for his great purpose, I pledge myself to be his disciple, holding nothing back….”

A covenant is something we agree on, an intention that we promise to one another. But I often wonder how clear we are about this great purpose? We have a common Great Purpose, as followers of Jesus, and that is – in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism – to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. I think we can all own that as a background initiative that is constantly in play. But what about my great purpose? What about your great purpose? I think it’s critically important that we consider this, that we give it some deliberate thought, that we reevaluate our conclusions on a day-to-day basis, and that we invite Jesus to help us to understand, to claim, and to live out his purpose for our lives.

But what about my great purpose? What about your great purpose? I think it’s critically important that we consider this, that we give it some deliberate thought, that we reevaluate our conclusions on a day-to-day basis, and that we invite Jesus to help us to understand, to claim, and to live out his purpose for our lives.

  • To understand my purpose as a  follower of Jesus;
  • To claim that understanding for myself;
  • To live out God’s purpose in my day-to-day life.

We can be “successful” in many ways, accumulate lots of the stuff advertising tells us will make us happy, hang around the cool people, look really good on social media… and so much more… But, dedicating ourselves to serve God by engaging our calling as disciples of Jesus, and living out God’s purposes in our day to day lives, now that is satisfaction, that is meaningful, that is rewarding.

“So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live.”

Peace, blessings, and promise – DEREK

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another beautiful cool morning in Wake Forest!

trusting providence, not prosperity

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)

There was a great story this week in the book I’m reading with my Wednesday evening men’s group (Seizing the Moments, by James Moore). A young mother tries and tries to force liquid medicine into her two-year-old’s mouth, but fails at every attempt. She gives up and goes to her room, defeated. Soon, she hears giggles from the kitchen, and returns to find grandma shooting a mixture of medicine and orange juice into the delighted child’s mouth, via a water-pistol.

The point of the story is what happens when frustration and self-pity become our focus instead of trust, creativity, and imagination. Challenges are a constant part of everyday life, and the author encourages his readers to trust God, as people who constantly move forward in a spirit of living victoriously. We are children of a God who has amazing plans… if only we believe.

In our discussion around the table, man after man shared experiences where God did not make our problems go away, but instead walked through difficult times as companion and guide. We talked about a God who equips and sustains us, a God who inspires us to engage challenges as people defined by faith rather than doubt.

We do not follow a God who makes our problems go away, but a God who does not go away, a God who walks with us when times are difficult.

In fact, one man said, life is often more challenging when we live as disciples. Following Jesus doesn’t make our journey easy so much as meaningful.

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Derek Maul writes in Wake Forest, North Carolina

Trusting God means we understand that God’s ways are not always our ways – and that’s okay. We rest in promise, not that God is going to give us the happy ending we want, but the promise that we are undergirded by providence rather than wishful thinking.

What we believe we want may be one thing, while what gives meaning, and produces the fruit of a faithful life, may well be more difficult than we would ever choose. Trust is no guarantor of landing on our feet – but it is the path to the Kingdom of God, and the wonder of following Jesus, and the opportunity to serve without holding back.

O fill me with Thy fullness, Lord,
Until my very heart overflow
In kindling thought and glowing word,
Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.

O use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
Until Thy blessèd face I see,
Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share. – (Francis Havergal, 1836-1879

 

more about living like we mean it (because God certainly meant something when we were created)

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Live like you mean it! Because God certainly meant something when we were created!

Wednesday my men’s Bible study enjoyed a discussion around the story Jesus told about the guy who buried his talent instead of putting it to work for God (Matthew 25:14-28).

We talked about the various gifts God has given us, about the trust God places in us to live the kind of lives we were created for, and about how much we have to trust – and believe – when we step out in faith to live without reservation.

Bottom line, it takes courage to live faith out loud, and it can be tempting sometimes to put all those possibilities and challenges in a box, bury it somewhere, and opt out of discipleship.

Once in a while when I’m speaking at a conference or retreat, I have an epiphany that takes me “off script.” Sometimes I actually remember to write the epiphany down before I forget what I said. It was a couple of years ago in Florida, I was talking about what is at stake when we decide to follow Jesus, and I wanted to say something that gave the guys pause, hopefully inspiring them to follow Jesus more closely.

DSC_0147“Imagine Jesus on the cross,” I said, “suffering and dying so that you – and so that I – might have this chance to be reconciled to God and to live an abundant life. Now imagine Christ looking at you, at your life, at the way you follow him from day to day…. Does Jesus nod his head in satisfaction, and say with conviction, ‘This is why I’m suffering, I’m glad I gave my life for him.’ Or does Jesus shake his head in frustration and disbelief, ‘This is what I’m dying for? I’m on the cross so he could live this pitiful excuse for a witness to me? Oh good grief….

I didn’t think about this Wednesday evening, and so I didn’t share it with the group. But it’s a great question to think about. What exactly it is that we’re burying? What are we sitting on, rather than investing in God’s Kingdom? Are we causing Jesus to shake his head in frustration and disbelief?

Jesus has given us all light – light and life. We can either shine, investing the light of Christ’s love and goodness in the lives of those around us, thereby increasing the light two-fold, ten-fold, a hundred-fold and more… or we can keep it under wraps, effectively buried for all the good it is doing the kingdom.

That’s why this passage finishes with the man left in darkness. Our imperative is to shine! The darkness is always our own decision. If we’re not willing to allow God to shine in and through us; if we don’t rekindle the fire; if we forget that being a disciple also involves making disciples; if we don’t believe enough to trust, trust enough to risk, risk enough to require courage….

If we don’t believe enough to trust, trust enough to risk, and risk enough to require courage, then we are likely not telling the world anything compelling about the gospel.

So shine already – DEREK   

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the problem with comfortable

 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” – John 14:27

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:29

Man Relaxing In Easy Chair - Retro Clipart IllustrationThis morning at men’s covenant group we talked about the problem with comfortable. It was a good discussion, especially so because the guys tend to talk openly and honestly about the challenges they face in their lives. It’s a small group (5-8 as opposed to the 12-15  who meet Wednesday evenings); and – in consequence – we typically have time to go a little deeper.

For me, the temptation to default to comfortable has been a lifelong challenge. Had I been a 1st Century fisherman in Galilee, singled out by Jesus for his life-changing invitation, I suspect my first response may well have been, “But I’m comfortable right here….”

But fortunately Jesus doesn’t give up that easily; he knows my heart and he’s ever so patient with me. “Follow me,” he calls – time and again; “you have not nearly begun to live.”

I came so they can have real and eternal life,” Jesus says in Peterson’s dynamic paraphrase, “more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10)

It’s an interesting situation. Jesus said on several occasions that he comes to bring peace; “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you,” and “you will find rest for your souls…” – but then he invites us to put everything on the line, to climb out of our easy chair, and to push the envelope.

Ironically, that is where (and when) true peace always tends to come. Not the bland, don’t ruffle my feathers, mellow all the way down to my toes, Sleep-Number-Tempurpedic, immune from the world kind of peace… but the deep satisfaction and purposeful experience of wellbeing that courses through us – and into others – when we are fully engaged in serving God. Now that’s not comfortable at all.

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Derek Maul

Wonderful, yes; life affirming, certainly; joyful, absolutely; invigorating, beyond our dreams; but comfortable? No, not in the least.

So here I am, wrestling with God once again, challenged to respond to Jesus in a way that engages life full on rather than toning it down to a manageable tempo.

Here I am.

proposing a gratitude initiative

Today I’ll be sharing two posts:

  1. This first is an invitation to participate in an initiative of gratitude that will change your life and the lives of those around you.
  2. The second (sometime this afternoon) comes in response to a question about divorce.

THE GRATITUDE INITIATIVE:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:12-15

There’s nothing like being part of a vibrant, faithful, encouraging, compassionate church community when it comes to looking forward with hope and promise into this coming year.

Spending Wednesday evenings at WFPC – when the campus is teeming with more than 200 people doing everything from eating supper together, to kids’ programs, to choir practice, to small group Bible studies, to discipleship initiatives, and much more – feeds my soul in so many nourishing ways.

In my men’s covenant group we spent more than an hour simply talking about what we have been thankful for during this past week. First we read the scripture from Colossians 3, and then I asked everyone to share something from the past few days that caused them to take pause and give thanks to God.

The phrase “from the past few days” is critically important – if we intend to engage this journey as faithful disciples with more than just lip-service. Owning a deliberate posture of thankfulness turns out to be a recurring theme in New Testament writing. In other words, it’s not enough for us to sit around and wait for something obvious to stir us into thankfulness! No, we are called to thankfulness as a state of being.

It’s not enough for us to sit around and wait for something obvious to stir us into thankfulness! No, we are called to thankfulness as a state of being.

I believe that God is inviting us to experience the blessing of a thankful heart many times a day. If you’re someone who has trouble sharing exactly how and where you encounter God in the ebb and flow of everyday life, then this is an exercise that should help.

Think of this in the same way that we notice (or don’t notice) stars in the night sky. I typically walk the dog late in the evening, and I usually get home without having seen any stars at all. Why? Because I’m not looking. Yesterday evening I did glance up and note how The Big Dipper stands on end at this time of the year. But if I was looking for the stars, if I started searching the heavens, then more and more would come into focus.

I’d like to recommend consciously searching – each day – for new testimonies of gratitude. Then, once you have identified something, take a moment to share it with someone else. Email a friend; call your spouse; tap the person next to you in line at lunch and say, “I am so grateful for _____;” keep a gratitude journal; save a handful of them and share a series of thankful thoughts at dinner this evening… every evening….

I’ll guarantee this: if you become identified as a consistently thankful person, then not only will you both see and experience more to be grateful for, but others will begin sharing their observations with you.

15697625_10100872121124572_5621620429416620099_nI’ll guarantee this: if you become identified as a consistently thankful person, then not only will you both see and experience more to be grateful for, but others will begin sharing their observations with you.

This passage from Colossians represents one of the most simple and practical discipleship initiatives we can practice. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

Clothe yourselves with gratitude – DEREK

 

honesty – plus self evaluation – is the only way we can move forward

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click to see

I find it fascinating how there are always so many overlapping elements in my ongoing journey as a pilgrim in progress (BTW – if you don’t already own the book – Pilgrim in Progress – I’d recommend getting a copy).

Yesterday’s post, for example – Put on the armor of God but walk humbly – dovetailed beautifully with this morning’s lesson in the Saturday men’s group I attend.

We were talking about “Blind Spots” that hold us back in our growth as whole people, and as committed followers of The New and Living Way of Jesus. Front and center is the importance of being honest when it comes to who we are. We can’t change, we can’t move forward, we can’t grow into the phenomenal potential we were designed for… unless we are willing to see ourselves as God sees us. God sees us as beloved children, yes, but also as people in need of the filling, the cleansing, the equipping, the guidance, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. – Psalm 139:23-24

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still love my Golf TDi

Then when I got home I found a “memory” our son, Andrew, had posted in my Facebook feed. It’s been five years, apparently, since he purchased the VW Golf TDi that’s now sitting in my driveway. And I thought about how dishonesty, deception, and cheating have not only cost Volkswagen billions of dollars in fines, but caused massive rifts in relationships, a huge loss of trust, and – in addition – effectively stalled forward progress for a corporation historically known as a leader in energy efficiency and clean power.

But The Truth Sets Us Free!

A lot of us are like that; we present the world… our friends… our colleagues… fellow church members… even our spouse… with one image of who we are, and we build carefully constructed walls around the very places where we need to be known. But the truth – Jesus said – will set us free; if only, that is, we have the courage to be humble, and to allow the healing love of God access to all that we are and all that we can be.

Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

We can’t move forward as individuals, in our relationships, or as disciples of Jesus unless we are willing to be honest – both with ourselves and with others.

I believe we would all benefit from becoming part of covenant communities where we have both the opportunity to be ourselves and the quality of supportive environment in which to heal and to grow.

Lord knows this nation needs more people committed to humble, constructive, open self-evaluation… It would certainly make a positive change from today’s incessant obsession with judging everyone else.

Peace – and I mean that in every way – DEREK