Don’t Shove Jesus Back in the Tomb! (Just Say No to Your pre-Resurrection Life)

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25

Chrome Legacy Window 4222017 90419 PMI know, it seems like an eternity since Easter Sunday, but it was just seven days ago. Thinking about it, logic would suggest every church in America should be full again – especially given the fact that last week was so overwhelmingly wonderful, charged with life, and saturated with joy. But instead the opposite happens, and worship services this weekend typically yield the lowest attendance numbers of the year.

That’s why I was so pleased to overhear the following conversation at our church one Easter Sunday:

Church member to visiting family: “Happy Easter! It was great to see you this morning.”

Visitor: “Thanks. The whole family really enjoyed it. If church was always like this we’d come every week!”

Another young family overheard the conversation and chimed in: “But church here is like this every week! It’s not just Easter, we’re excited about following Jesus all the time!”

Yet off we go, shoving Jesus back inside the tomb so he won’t cramp our style too much. And we persist in our pre-resurrection lives:

  • As if the priorities the world tells us to value are somehow more compelling than gathering with other believers to worship the risen Christ!
  • As if setting aside an hour for worship couldn’t possibly compete with that other stuff we have going on.
  • As if the opportunity to cultivate a restored relationship with Creator God is a casual, take-it or leave-it proposition – like wondering if our lifestyle has room for a new puppy, or deciding whether or not to commit to family membership at the club!

And the crowds who – for a moment – came so close to it all drift away from this amazing invitation to become resurrection people. Yet still, curious, they wonder why this empty feeling gnaws away at their souls?

This is the life you’ve always wanted!

I can’t tell you how many people ask me and Rebekah about our rich, meaningful journey, about the fact that we enjoy our life together so much, and about how we are always so positive when it comes to doing ministry and doing church – and the answer is simple: “This is the life you’ve always wanted! It’s all about living faith out loud, about following Jesus, about moving forward with commitment and passion and purpose.”

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With Rebekah at WPC

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19

True life. Real life. The life you’ve always wanted. That’s what we’re up to at WFPC this Sunday morning. – DEREK

when death and resurrection are essentially the same idea

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The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy! – Psalm 65:8

Sunset and resurrection:

Yesterday evening, walking back to my car after meeting with the Wednesday evening men’s covenant group, I glanced up to see this peaceful scene (above) playing out over the CLC. I thought about my friend Sandee, who would pass peacefully into her own sunset a little over an hour later (probably around sundown in Minnesota), and I thanked God for the continuous witness to the resurrection that we enjoy every single day.

IMG_9108A little earlier – just before dinner – I had grabbed a few images from the garden. The dogwoods are done, the azalea bushes are close to the end of their display, and the trees are all busting out with the light-green leaves of springtime. Now – as if to pick up where the dogwoods left off – we have four different colors of iris (and more) vying for attention in the back garden.

Simply put, the whole earth is involved in telling the story. And what a story it is!

It’s a story of birth, of new life, of spring, and growth, of maturity, of autumn, and – eventually – winter, and death. But then Easter plays in to the equation, and we have to realize that what we understand as death is really nothing more (or less) than rebirth into something new.

This past Sunday (yes, it seems a long, long time ago) Jesus set the new standard by reinventing the idea of resurrection. Resurrection – and I get into this in detail in my lenten book, Reaching Towards Easter – is a movement forward, not a return to the status quo. If we are indeed an Easter People, then death and birth are very much the same event.

IMG_9110It’s not just that we have a lot to look forward to in life beyond life; it’s more that we have much to celebrate now. This life as followers of Jesus is full with life-charged opportunities, invitations to live into our Easter faith.

So here is a sunset, and also some new flowers. Both tell the same story, and that is the story of life, of renewal, of celebration, and of new creation.

– We are so consummately blessed, in all that we are and all that will be – 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!

“Your Renewal is Enclosed”

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When I first started writing (it was short meditations for our young families class in Pensacola), I focused a lot on how God speaks through the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, normal stuff of everyday life. It seemed as if God was present and active all the time, and all we had to do was to open our eyes.

I still think about – experience – my faith in the same way. In fact, that’s the beautiful outcome of yesterday’s Jesus story from Matthew 20: the Master touches our eyes, and then we are able to see.

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they were able to see, and they followed him. – Matthew 20:34

We all need to learn how to see.

Last week Rebekah told a story about a man who applied the principles of his faith to an overwhelmingly difficult situation; he was able to let God use him, and speak through his life as a witness to the light. “Jesus would say he had good eyes,” she said.

So this morning I was sorting through some mail and one particular envelope jumped out at me. “Your Renewal is Enclosed,” it said. And I thought, “Well, that’s convenient.”

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Maybe those words should be embossed on the cover of my Bible… or chiseled in stone next to the entry to the church… or inscribed on a sign next to the chair where I sit to read my daily devotional and to pray… or better yet posted over the front door to our home (both coming in and leaving) as a reminder that today, every day, and in every circumstance, God is evident in the details, the seemingly unimportant stuff of our moment by moment, offering renewal, and hope, and promise, and life.

Your Renewal is Enclosed.

– DEREK

 

Not just generosity, but generosity of spirit…

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“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.'” – Matthew 25:31-46

This morning I have a three year old and a five year old running rampant in the house, plus two dry-wall guys (also running rampant). So my concentration level is seriously compromised!

However, while I may not be able to write the stories I wanted to this morning, I do have some amazing photographs that tell a story themselves.

dsc_0003North Georgia – specifically Habersham County – offers stunning views and is beautiful any time of the year. This week it is showing off some unusually early spring colors. Most of the photographs are from the sprawling estate where we stayed with our gracious hosts. Then I have the series of images from the funeral, from the old Presbyterian church in Homer to the burial deep in the country.

(Some of the photographs feature people I do not know and I cannot name, but they are included so Uncle Charlie’s family can enjoy them.)

Uncle Charlie lived with one purpose, and that was to serve Jesus by serving those who live in circumstances most of us cannot even imagine. Check yesterday’s post – Living the Good News – for more of his story, but Presbyterian missionary Charles Alexander lived a Matthew 25 response to discipleship all the way through.

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What an amazing place!

Not just generosity, but generosity of spirit. The world suggests we should be open-minded, and that’s a good start; but Jesus calls us to be open-spirited, and we can’t begin to do that without the kind of faith that might – possibly – take you all the way to Brazil and back.

The world suggests we should be open-minded, and that’s a good start; but Jesus calls us to be open-spirited….

Peace – and more peace – DEREK

Light (that’s us) for this new week!

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“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” – John 13:34-35

I understand this isn’t the first time I’ve written something like this… but yesterday was a wonderful day with the disciples who worship at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

I share these stories to be an encouragement. There is so much negativity floating around the Internet, with so many ready to pour scorn and criticism on other people (and churches) – so I’m always going be the guy who reminds everyone how much good news there is to share.

Rebekah preached about light (Here, I’ll link the message for you: ( “Light Even in Darkness – she starts speaking around the 9:30 mark), children’s church was full at both services; both the praise band and the sanctuary choir were inspirational, love and worship filled the space, and I had my largest crowd of the year in my discipleship class.

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Tim, Derek, and Dan

Then – and I always enjoy the opportunity to do this – a couple of the guys from my Saturday morning men’s group joined me for what turned out to be a fairly tuneful rendition of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in the early service (you can listen to that right after the sermon in the video).

But the highlight of the morning for me was the baptism at 11:15. There were two girls, part of a family that recently joined the church; love, emotion, and spiritual gravitas literally filled up the sanctuary.

So my Monday morning post today is a word of simple encouragement. We are called to be God’s light and love in this often dark and broken world. Our ministry is not criticism, or judgment – but reconciliation, healing, and grace.

Enjoy these images from Sunday. Then take a few minutes to listen to Rebekah’s message. Be inspired, be blessed, and be the presence of Christ in this world – DEREK

Rebekah’s healing (when freedom works hand in hand with law) #Romans8

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” – Romans 8:1-3

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Rebekah leaving surgeon’s office with Betty in hand

It’s been a few days shy of three months since Rebekah woke up from surgery wearing her neck brace, and we started to wrestle with the challenges of a difficult recovery. During that time the brace – Rebekah named it “Betty” – has been a feature pretty much twenty-four seven. Rebekah and Betty developed this love-hate relationship; she needed Betty, but Betty was as much committed to irritation and slow strangulation as she was healing.

“Well what did you expect?” the surgeon said in a line I’m sure I’ve shared before; “After all, I did slit your throat and then break your neck. This is going to take some time.”

Well yesterday, in a kind of Romans 8:1-3 moment, Rebekah was released from the law of Betty Brace. She is no longer required to wear Betty 24-7: “You will know when you need your brace,” the surgeon said; “the healing will make it clear.”

Healing and The Law:

Wow. What a moment of beautiful relief! It’s not the bracing that imposes itself on Rebekah’s healing anymore, but the healing itself. She’s not throwing Betty away – much as she’d enjoy a few moments in the back garden with Betty, some lighter fluid, and a couple of matches – because she knows there will be moments (though few and far between) when the rigidity of “the law” will be necessary in order to facilitate continued healing.

Now this is nowhere near a perfect metaphor, nor an exact match by any means, but this whole Betty Brace situation has caused me to think about the relationship between my ongoing healing as a disciple of Jesus… and the important role the structure of religious practice plays in providing a directive framework where my relationship with Jesus can grow.

The structure of religious practice plays an important role in providing a directive framework where my relationship with Jesus can grow.

I am free in Christ Jesus! But I am free not for my own selfish desires, I am free to enter into the kind of relationship with God we were all created to enjoy. My ongoing healing as a redeemed person is going to make it clear – if I’m paying attention – when and where I need to put the brace back on.

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Rebekah driving to work

Why? Because complete healing takes faithfulness, and time, and practice, and patience, and listening, and commitment, and regeneration, and – yes – sometimes a directive framework.

So Rebekah is driving again – for the first time since the pain stopped her sometime in September. And we are so very grateful. Grateful for healing, yes, but grateful for Betty Brace too.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

it’s not a journey if we’re not moving forward…

Brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more… – 1 Thessalonians 4:1

Get RealA Spiritual Journey for Men by Derek Maul
I took some liberties with the cover of GET REAL: a spiritual journey

I have always appreciated the idea of our faith as a journey. We walk with Jesus; we are followers of The Way; we are living this Great Adventure.

Maybe that’s why scriptures such as the passage from First Thessalonians always resonate and ring true. “We’re glad you’re doing this,” Paul writes; “good job y’all. Now do this a lot more!”

It’s so evident from New Testament teaching that there’s nothing “one and done” about being a disciple. We can’t check off a box: “Saved? – check” – then return to business as usual. It’s not that we’re constantly tinkering with the idea of following Jesus and improving the model, so much as it is that the road we’re on takes us through real life, that our faith always challenges us to respond, and that Jesus is constantly tinkering with us.

This road may be referred to as “the straight and narrow,” but it’s also varied, winding, challenging, liberating, restrictive, wide open, lonely, crowded, safe, fraught with danger, well-signposted, off the beaten track, isolated, populated, uncomfortable, comforting, even, bumpy….

This road may be referred to as “the straight and narrow,” but it’s also varied, winding, challenging, liberating, restrictive, wide open, lonely, crowded, safe, fraught with danger, well-signposted, off the beaten track, isolated, populated, uncomfortable, comforting, even, bumpy…

We can’t engage a journey like this without continual reevaluation, adjustment, pause, inspiration, encouragement, repair, and more.

Jesus has offered to be our guide; the Holy Spirit lives in us as “another counselor;” The Church provides inspiration, teaching, resources, encouragement, accountability, and the grounding of a worshipping community.

Faith that takes us somewhere is anything but static. So, as Paul writes in his letter to his friends in Thessaloniki, Yes, we understand that you have learned a lot about how to live and to please God, and you’re doing well. However, this is not a codified religion but a forward moving, vibrant, living faith, and that means there is always adaptation and growth.

img_7384So, thinking like this is what happened to me when I read the scripture (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3), then looked up to see a crew of guys back outside again, working on our house. Like this home we love so much, I am a work in progress, constantly on a journey, always challenged to adapt and grow.

It’s not only true to say that, “God hasn’t finished with me yet,” but also, “God is leading me on a journey, and I think I’d better take the blinders off, move forward, and put my hand in the hand of Jesus.”

– Peace, always: DEREK

Jesus doesn’t decorate – he recreates

dsc_0313“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”Jeremiah 29:11

Today’s post comes with a headache. We’re now two days into a new roof here at Maul-Hall, and the pounding just won’t stop.

Yesterday was all about tearing out of the old (1986) roof, including removal of compromised and rotted plywood, fascia, soffiting, and even some siding; then today is focused on getting in the new roof before this evening’s rain and then snowstorm. The garage, guttering, and more will have to wait for after the deep freeze.

NO LEAKS!

img_7267Here’s what’s interesting: our roof wasn’t leaking; we didn’t have any water coming into the attic; where were no tell-tale stains on the ceilings. Sure, we could see some rot on the fascia, but – to the casual observer – it looked like we should have managed to squeeze another few years of life from the existing shingles.

Underneath, however, it was another story. When the first layer came off I could see the rot. So far we’ve had to replace an additional six sheets of plywood. Some of the fascia was so soft you could stick a finger right through.

Yet, still, some roofers offered less costly quotes by saying, “We can save you money by laying your new roof right on top of this old one.” In other words, “I can make this look good from the street, cover up, and ignore the rot entirely…” Thanks but no thanks.

DEVOTIONAL:

dsc_0315The spiritual parallels here are impossible to ignore. This is why Jesus is in the re-creation, renovation, restoration, and rehabilitation business – not decorating. If we want to build – and maintain – an ongoing relationship with God that tells the world a worthwhile story, then we must be willing to let God enter our story, strip us down to the studs sometimes, and remodel us from the ground up.

Then – and this is a huge point at the beginning of a New Year – it’s critically important that we understand just how costly re-creation can be. Not just showing up at church with our shiny, happy faces on (although that’s certainly what attending church can do for our faces), but completely investing ourselves – time, talent, resources – in an ongoing commitment to following Jesus as intentional disciples.

We are called to renovation to the core. That’s where God begins the rest of the work. That’s why I am so optimistic that 2017 will be filled with more than promise, and adventure, but also with a future defined by hope.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

In love, and because of love – DEREK

 

Life is a Great Adventure!

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

cropped-dsc_0204-002.jpgToday is Thursday, January 5, and it’s officially the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas. That makes this as good a time as any to talk about the new title for my blog: “Tales from the Great Adventure!”

I’ve used several titles over the five-year life of this space: First, The Life-Charged Life; then, Life, Gratitude, Faith, & Passion; and – most recently – Faith and Thinkology. The move to rename the blog now, at the beginning of another New Year, fits with my intention to approach all of 2017 – writing and living – through the consistency of this particular prism.

Approaching life as an adventure – a Great Adventure – is not a new theme for me. Fact is, Rebekah and I have always engaged our life together as an ongoing story, and the word “Adventure” has fit beautifully much of the time. Sometimes the life story is a drama; often it can be comedy; on rare occasions the best descriptor has been tragedy; then there has also been a lot of poetry, much inspiration, some mystery, barely any science-fiction, and absolutely no true crime! But always, as a consistent undercurrent, this life is a Great Adventure.

You see we all live in some kind of a story, even if we’ve never thought of life that way, and the constant invitation of Jesus is to live a better story. And here’s the kicker – I believe we can chose the kind of story we want to live, or at least chose how we think about it, how we frame the conversation.

I like the way that God instructed Joshua when he was looking forward into an uncertain future.

“Be very brave and strong as you carefully obey all of the Instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. Don’t deviate even a bit from it, either to the right or left. Then you will have success wherever you go. Never stop speaking about this Instruction scroll. Recite it day and night so you can carefully obey everything written in it. Then you will accomplish your objectives and you will succeed. I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:7-9

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hiking in the mountains

These verses from Joshua are good words for today: encouraging, inspiring, challenging, elevating, sometimes a little unnerving. But that’s God for you, especially in the context of active discipleship; the adventure is on!

DEREK