Tales from the Great Adventure

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

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

IMG_9979Sometimes getting ready to go on vacation can involve so much hard work that we’re exhausted before we even leave. Good thing the first week is going to be a cruise!

In consequence, my brain has requested the morning off. So today’s post will be driven by a few “slice of life” photos.

First, the “featured” image at the top of this post. My parents’ house – directly next door – is in the middle of some renovations, plus there’s been a lot going on in the garden. Trees may be a mess to deal with sometimes, but I love the way both our homes (see slideshow below) nestle into the woods at the end of our cul-de-sac. They didn’t come up with the name Wake Forest for our town for nothing!

Then, the grandkids are finishing off a fun week at Disney with Naomi and Craig. I’m not sure if there’s one particular “perfect age” for the experience, but it would be hard to argue with three and four.

IMG_9993Naomi has a photograph of Beks with just about every Disney princess imaginable. But this one – with Beks wearing her Elsa dress – is beyond priceless.

Then, splashing in the water, exuberant glee, life embraced with nothing held back, the images remind me how we are called to follow Jesus with a childlike (not childish) spirit. Thanks, kids, for the reminder.

So, this is my prayer today, for each one of us: I pray that everything we do will be couched in childlike wonder and joy, and proceed from there with both an appreciation for our blessings and a maturing, invitational, life of intentional discipleship.

Peace, and more peace – DEREK

Lord, through all the generations
    you have been our home!
 Before the mountains were born,
    before you gave birth to the earth and the world,
    from beginning to end, you are God.

 You turn people back to dust, saying,
    “Return to dust, you mortals!”
 For you, a thousand years are as a passing day,
    as brief as a few night hours. – Psalm 90

I think the concepts of time, and eternity, and immortality are endlessly fascinating. I especially like ideas that are difficult to wrap my head around.

Many people dismiss the idea of God because they feel that everything either has a rational explanation, or that it will just as soon as we master that next part of scientific inquiry. God, they reason, only exists as an explanation for what we don’t understand; understanding, therefore, eliminates the need for God.

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wonder of the human brain

For me, however, there is just as much wonder in discovery as there is in mystery. Everything I learn about this amazing world, and the unfathomable universe, gives me a larger and more spectacular appreciation for the Creator. Then looking in the other direction, understanding the human body, and in particular the science of the brain, also increases my appreciation for the scope and the limitless imagination of God’s work in and through the tiniest details of creation.

I have been thinking about time, and how what we understand as days, and months, and seasons, and years are all dependent on the rotation of the Earth, the movement of our moon in orbit, the tilt of the Earth in relation to its movement around the Sun, and the journey the Earth takes in relation to the Sun, as the entire solar system is caught up in its own dance relative to other systems, galaxies, and unknown elements.

Limited vocabulary:

And then I thought about the fact that all of this can only be discussed using the words of a language that is completely rooted in terra firma. All of our reference points, metaphors, analogies etc. come from experiences that have never escaped the pull of earth’s gravity.

Not only that, but my language – American-English – evolved without the rich linguistic and experiential heritage of the majority of this world’s colorful culture and diverse anthropological history. There is so much even here on earth that is outside the scope of my vocabulary and my understanding.

One of the evidences that the Bible is such a literary and spiritual masterpiece is how it succeeds in inviting us (beings of such limited perspective) into the narrative of God’s ongoing story.

You see, God has already sown the seeds of eternity into the innate nature of each one of us, and the scriptures call to that essential understanding, as deep calls to deep. When we read God’s word, when we hear the voice of Jesus calling us to follow, and when we begin to live as intentional disciples, then we are lifted from the limitation that is mortality into the limitless possibility that is immortality.

Paul describes this as “becoming a new creation” in Christ (2 Corinth 5:17). He also talks in terms of – “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50-55).

I understand this as an exiting invitation to engage everything – known and unknown – with more wonder and an open spirit.

more knowledge, more clarity:

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The Hubble telescope getting a tune up

There is nothing that we can learn about this spectacular and amazing universe that will not point with more clarity toward faith, and assurance, and the beautifully unfolding story of creation and our place in eternity.

As the Psalmist says, “Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!

– DEREK

More Disturbing News:

This morning – sitting in the kitchen with a mug of coffee and watching the light pour over the horizon – I’ve been thinking about writing a more topical column in response to the world news stage, where layer upon layer of disturbing events and dysfunctional personalities make me reticent to scan the headlines some days.

There’s so much to write about and talk about, but – even though I believe I have a lot to say – I really don’t want to be just another one of those “talking heads” on cable television, or one more cynic with a blog.

Then I remembered the conversation we had in my “Practical Christianity” class at WFPC Sunday morning. We are reading through Matthew’s gospel, and just started chapter 26, this week.

The scene was a dinner party, where a woman poured an alabaster jar of expensive perfume on Jesus. The disciples got bent out of shape about it and criticized the woman for her extravagant gesture.

Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste? This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”

But Jesus knew what they were thinking. He said, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She’s done a good thing for me.” – Matthew 26:8-10

My friend Gayle pointed out that it doesn’t matter what’s going on, who’s commenting, or what subject is being covered, there’s always going to be a critic.

“You could even post a picture of a rescued puppy on Facebook,” she said, “and someone’s going to say, ‘Stop interfering! Why didn’t you let nature take its course?'”

She’s so right! Some people – many people – seem to live for the opportunity to criticize, or complain, or put other people down. I read an article about the Manchester bombings today where someone was referenced as ‘a professional troll.’ That’s right, there are people who make their livings at this!

We all agreed it’s a good thing the disciples didn’t have social media 2,000 years ago. They wouldn’t have been able to get off the comments section long enough to actually get on with the business of sharing the good news!

I love the way The Message paraphrases the Matthew 7 passage where Jesus addresses this very problem:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” – Matthew 7:1-5

Yes, the world is a mess right now. Yes, I am deeply troubled by the moral bankruptcy of so much of the leadership in Washington. Yes, I see the hypocrisy. Yes, I worry about the way violence has become the de facto language of dissent in so many parts of the world. And, yes, I am mystified by the tone and the quality of much of the rhetoric I hear from those who seem to like to fan the flames.

But that doesn’t mean those of who know the power of light, and love, and peace, and grace should set all that aside and compromise our commitment to be the presence of Christ in all situations.

Instead, shouldn’t we simply carry light into the dark places, offer love where hate has taken hold, be peace in the midst of conflict, and cover the wrong with grace, mercy, hope, and promise?

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author Derek Maul

Shouldn’t we simply carry light into the dark places, offer love where hate has taken hold, be peace in the midst of conflict, and cover the wrong with grace, mercy, hope, and promise?

Well, that’s what Jesus would do, and there’s no disputing the fact that we – as practicing Christians – are clearly called to follow in his way….

– DEREK

We have been made right with God because of our faith. So we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through our faith, Christ has brought us into that blessing of God’s grace that we now enjoy. And we are very happy because of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory. And we are also happy with the troubles we have. Why are we happy with troubles? Because we know that these troubles make us more patient. And this patience is proof that we are strong. And this proof gives us hope. And this hope will never disappoint us. We know this because God has poured out his love to fill our hearts through the Holy Spirit he gave us. – Romans 5:1-5

Love Poured out!

IMG_9941Yesterday – Sunday June 4 – was Pentecost. One of the reasons I appreciate the ebb and flow of the church calendar (Advent, Epiphany, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, Pentecost etc…) is the implicit reminder that our faith is not one dimensional, that there is a rich texture to ecclesiology, that there is always something new to learn, something more, something from outside our comfortable routine expressions.

Pentecost celebrates the power and the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was not invented in Acts Two, but the work of the Spirit became – as Rebekah pointed out in her message – more personal.

We had been encouraged to wear something red to church, and probably two-thirds of the congregation remembered. My only red shirt is too well worn by golf, and the day was too warm for my red sweater, so I pulled out the loudest red tie that I own. In consequence, “Bob the Tomato” made quite a splash at WFPC! And I found out – sadly – just how many people have had little or no exposure to Veggie-Tales.

The Power of the Spirit:

IMG_9942So here were are (if you’re following the ecclesiastical calendar), in the Season of Pentecost. Claiming the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as disciples is not about becoming a tongues-speaking “Charismatic,” nor does it mean you are obligated to raise your hands during worship! What it does mean, however, is recognizing that God is with you, and in you, and ready to work through you via the power of his Spirit.

Charismatic, means “grace-gifted (we all are). But a lot of Christians are reticent when it comes to Holy Spirit language, because yielding control to God makes us nervous. God is not interested in embarrassing us so much as equipping us, empowering us, emboldening us, and employing us to do the work of ministry Jesus has called us to do.

Sometimes, that overwhelm of love, and belonging, and God’s presence will suggest something as radical as raising a hand or two during worship… or praying in ways that stretch our ability to articulate, and we shouldn’t close ourselves off to that. But – more likely – the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is simply the indwelling of God’s presence in and through all that we do as believers.

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“Bob the Tomato” goes to church

The bottom line here is that it is one thing to believe in God, and to say that we have accepted Jesus… but it is another to live into that faith as a purposeful disciple, as a follower of the Living Way of Jesus; to do that we need the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me,
Mold me, fill me,
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me
.

Don’t hold back now – Jesus certainly didn’t.

– DEREK

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. – Colossians 3:17

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Rebekah with graduate Jack Fuller

One of my “top ten” bucket-list items would be fielding an invitation to give a graduation address. High school, or college, I’d love to speak to either one. I think it’s because I’m so committed to and so animated by the concept of promise.

Promise is a central theme in my life. Even now, well into my early 60’s, I can see so much potential in the upcoming years, and I remain more than enthusiastic about what is possible.

It’s not just the fact that these graduates have a blank slate on which to make their mark, it’s the limitlessness of the promise. They have so much time ahead, and so many potential directions they can take. That’s why one of the first things I’d offer would be some encouragement to deep dive into a classical or liberal arts education.

It doesn’t matter if they’re headed into the arts, the sciences, or something previously unimagined, I’d encourage young people to broaden their exposure to literature, and philosophy, and history, and religion – to learn how to think critically, to respect other people’s points of view, to problem-solve, to write, and to ask challenging questions.

Rebekah and I were happy, then, Saturday lunchtime, to stop by the graduation party for one of our church youth, Jack Fuller. Most of our grads are celebrating next weekend, when we’re already on vacation, so – for us – Jack had to represent them all. And I believe – especially in terms of what he has achieved over the past few years – he can carry that banner with pride.

Dinner Party:

IMG_9913Another highlight of the weekend was the dinner we enjoyed with our WFPC koinonia group, Friday evening. It was – as always – a wonderful gathering, featuring amazing food, great conversation, and a delightful group of people. But just about everything else was upstaged by the four Australian Shepherd mix puppies our hosts are fostering for a rescue group. Talk about unrivaled cuteness!

We also had the pleasure of a lightening fast visit from Naomi, Craig, and the grandchildren. They’re on their way to Disney for a week-long family vacation, so they arrived in Wake Forest Friday evening, then took off down the road again before 6:30 Saturday morning. But what a joy to see them all!

Come-at-you-fast life!

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first official Campbell family vacation photo!

The point of all this – on a Sunday morning – is that life comprises a constant series of come-at-you-fast events. There’s always something going on, always something with the potential to nudge us along our journey. The question – just like the one I’d love to unpack with a graduating class – is this: “Do we engage these moments with a sense of promise, and wonder, and creativity?”

“Do we engage these moments with a sense of promise, and wonder, and creativity?”

That’s what our faith in God encourages us – and equips us – to do. Every day is another chapter in this beautiful story.

That fact – this promise – amounts to one more in a long list of reasons I’ll be in church this morning… to celebrate, to give thanks, and to walk more deliberately in the light.

– DEREK

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” – Matthew 6:22-23

So Rebekah’s been preaching this sermon series about perspective. Her messages have featured titles such as, “Push Back, Move Forward,” and last Sunday’s exceptional, “A Different View.” She’s been talking a lot about how God constantly challenges us to take the blinders off and to embrace imagination, and creativity, and Christ’s insistent call to move forward rather than mark time or – worse – look over our shoulders at the past and insist that our answers reside there.

This is why I couldn’t fail to see the irony in her appointment with the ophthalmologist Friday morning. Too much of the world has been looking dark, out of focus, and impossible to read. Essentially, she needs to look at things through a new lens.

Not just new lenses, it turns out, but new frames as well. Because it’s not only important to make sure we can see clearly, and take steps to let enough light in, it’s a good idea to make sure we’re framing things appropriately too. My first photograph of the scene was too close to see clearly – then I looked out at the mirror on the wall and took an entirely different photograph… without even moving.

Good photography is just as much about framing as it is focus and clarity, and the same is true when it comes to our spiritual eyes, and how we look out into God’s world. We have to ask God to flood us with light, and give us clarity, and keep things in perspective – but we also need to make sure we’re framing up the view in the right way, and the right way is most often laid out in God’s word.

In the Gospels Jesus tells us, time and again, to frame our view in love. If we ask God to give us the eyes of Jesus, when we open them we see our outlook is framed up around people and situations where God’s love is desperately needed: the confused, the poor, the sick, the broken, the vulnerable, the outcasts, the “least” of these.

So we have some new frames on order for Rebekah, and some new lenses too. They’re not cheap, you know… but neither is grace, or mercy, or love, or discipleship, or new eyes – and most especially not the Jesus quality of seeing.

– Always committed to letting in more light – DEREK

I’m starting with a less than flattering self portrait – but it tells a lot about my work in recent weeks. An editor I enjoyed writing for several years ago (in Florida) contacted me recently to see if I was available for some freelance work.

“But I’m in North Carolina now,” I said.

“Not a problem,” she responded. “You can do the interviews by phone and get the subjects to send you photographs.”

NIMG_9893ow I love sitting down and chatting with people to learn their stories, and I enjoy taking photographs to support the articles… but I’m not a fan of talking On the phone. I am, however, a huge fan of paid work, and it must be going well because this week I’m in the middle of my third article. I got the high-fidelity headset for the “RealMenConnect” podcast interview last month, and it works wonderfully for hands-free conversations where I can talk and take notes at the same time.

The next picture is from our garden. The late freeze may have spoiled the hydrangea blooms, but it’s June now and the day-lilies are beginning to take off. Our plan is to have some color all summer long, rather than one big splash and then done.

Of course, with the garden there’s no telling what’s going to happen from day to day. I was feeling great about my oregano, for example, until I looked out on the deck one morning to see a fat squirrel sitting in the middle of the pot, pulling out the last of a healthy crop!

IMG_9896Then there’s the ongoing adventure of great food! I haven’t done a classic “foodie post” in a while, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still committed to amazing food experiences several times a week. It doesn’t take much extra effort to make dinner memorable – especially with my customized herb garden on the deck.

Fact is, eating out has become increasingly disappointing, right along with the escalating cost. I enjoy cooking, I love to serve Rebekah good stuff, and I’m grateful we have such a wonderful kitchen in our home.

Finally, our daughter, Naomi, captured this fun image (first in gallery) of our grandchildren yesterday. I’m not sure how much of their ebullience translates via this post, but believe me it’s something special.

This week in my men’s Bible study we spent a long time talking about the spiritual quality of childlikeness that Jesus encouraged in his followers. This image of David and Beks helps me to connect the dots.

My prayer today is that the day by day experience of each of our lives will be a continuous devotional excercise, where every experience, every image, will teach us more about the length, the breadth, and the depth of God’s creative and faithful love.

  • Derek

 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

IMG_9880I’m not much of a one for “signs” in the heavens (although there is considerable biblical precedent); but looking out into the sky over our church Wednesday evening, walking to my car after my men’s covenant group Bible study, I couldn’t help but be inspired and encouraged.

Rebekah and I have closed the door on an extremely busy May, and we’re looking forward to the summer months, a change of pace, and the prospect of what God has in store going forward.

We’re not under any misapprehension that this summer will involve slowing down, but involve more of a re-pacing, recalibration, restoration, and renewal. Four years ago at this time we were preparing to leave Florida, beginning to get ready for the move to North Carolina. So, by the time this summer wraps up and morphs into the fall, we will be launching Year Five in Wake Forest. That’s a prospect we want to be ready for – excited, motivated, equipped, and renewed.

But isn’t that the beauty of our faith? We enjoy a relationship with the Living God initiated in faithfulness, defined by promise, and backed up by grace. It’s not just the anniversaries that come soaked in hope, but every beginning – like today, June the first, or another new week, and the constant blessing of waking up every morning, anticipation flowing over the horizon with the dawning of today.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor. – Isaiah 61:3

This morning I’m experiencing a contrasting set of emotions:

  1. Numbed by more horrific violence – bombs targeting the most vulnerable and innocent in Bagdad and then Kabul…
  2. At the same time I feel the opposite, not numb but called to action; action in response to the obvious beauty and joy of life and light, a truth that must win out in face of such darkness.

We all know the sad details of the carefully calibrated brutality; it sickens us and it makes us both sad and angry. At the same time I believe it’s critically important that we call into consciousness the light and the beauty too. Light and beauty came to me “accidentally” this morning.

Here’s what happened:

I seldom see any of my first cousins; eleven live in England, two live in France, and Europe is a long way away! Not only that but we’re not the best at staying in touch. Once in a while, however, a deep and important message is shared and real conversation emerges.

Such was the case with my cousin Alison (on my dad’s side). So this morning, in order to do a better job with my message to her, I perused her Facebook page to see what she’s been posting and to get a feel for where she is. That’s where I ran across the following “Flashmob” video and why I’m writing today’s post.

ode-to-joy

The video, filmed in Spain, features a lone tuxedo-clad man standing behind a hat; he has his double bass at the ready. A small child puts a coin in the hat and the man begins to play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” After a few measures, two violinists join in, then a bassoon player emerges and – in a beautifully constructed choreography – layer after layer of orchestral accompaniment swells the sound, until the addition of a full chorus of voices brings the performance to its dramatic and overwhelmingly joyful crescendo.

To me, the ancient town square full with people – people from all over the world – speaks of life, of light, of goodness, and of the unique beauty that is human community. Such a living witness to freedom, and relationships, and culture, and art, and expression is an eloquent testimony to the core reason for our creation.

We were created to experience community; we were created to live as creative and relational beings; we were created to offer praise to God through the expression of our gifts; and we were created to serve one another with generous hearts and open spirits.

maxresdefaultThen, halfway through the video, a dark image seeped into my mind, of a bomb going off in the middle of that square; and I saw with complete clarity what the darkness is afraid of, and what evil is committed to eradicating. The darkness is all about ending freedom, annihilating relationships, destroying culture, blotting out art, and stamping out free expression.

That kind of darkness represents everything Jesus stood against, and still stands against today. Christ came so that we could enjoy life in all of its fullness, and celebrate relationships in all of their joy.

So I can only conclude that, yes, this is a war – but that it is a war we can only win via the deployment of light, and love, and promise, and joy, and generosity, and beauty.

Yes, beauty. Click on this link – Ode to Joy Flash Mob – and you will understand what I mean.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

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But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
  I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me? – Psalm 56:3-4

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? – Romans 8:31

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author Derek Maul

May 2017 has been unusually busy. There has been a lot going on, a lot to write about, a lot to photograph, a lot to reflect on. By the time this month comes to a close Wednesday evening, this blog will have been viewed well over 17,000 times.

If you scroll back through my posts over the past thirty days you will see some stunning photography, and be able to read about everything from a glamorous wedding, to a spiritual retreat, to baptisms, to a 65th wedding anniversary, to a preschool graduation, and – most importantly – the day-to-day experiences of grace and grateful hearts that define our life here in North Carolina.

This Broken World

At the same time, and while I am enjoying myself so immensely here in Wake Forest, we live in a world that seems to be increasingly troubled, dissonant, broken, violent, confused, compromised, and distressed.

Is it reasonable, then, for me to write so positively and hopefully in the face of such genuine pain and constant grief?

I’d argue “Yes”, for many reasons. The scriptures are clear regarding our responsibility to look at the big picture – God’s picture – and to place the challenges of our regular lives into the context of God’s great love, purposes, sovereignty, and – reassuringly – ultimate victory.

Not “pie in the sky when we die” victory, but “a very present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46).

We talked yesterday about how salvation is NOW, and how we are called to participate in God’s initiatives. Well, God’s victory is also now (as well as in the future), and our salvation (our positive response to God’s invitation) is a key part of God’s plan.

Jesus is very clear that he has already overcome the world! To a large extent, then, we are evidence of God’s victory. Our best response to this troubled, dissonant, broken, violent, confused, compromised, distressed world is to live into that victory – walking tall, living as active disciples of Jesus, a spring in our step, assurance in our hearts!

Last week in my Wednesday Bible study we talked about Jesus’ interrogation by the authorities the night before he was crucified. Rome held the power, wielded the brutality, owned the legal mechanism, judged and condemned, kept the keys to the jail, carried out the execution, held all the control… But Jesus was the one who stood with confidence, responded without fear, demonstrated authority.

That’s the quality of victory that is ours if we respond to Christ’s invitation to enter the Kingdom.

Do we dare to embrace it?

 

 

 

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