Grandkids: packing a full week of action into twenty-four hours!

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This is how we were awoken Monday morning!

But the Lord’s faithful love is from forever ago to forever from now
        for those who honor him.
    And God’s righteousness reaches to the grandchildren. – Psalm 103:17

Rebekah and I enjoyed a full Easter weekend here in Wake Forest. Church, of course, was amazing; then Naomi drove down with the grandchildren Sunday afternoon and we went full-tilt for another twenty-four hours.

  • David: “Grandaddy! Let’s play hide and seek!”
  • Beks: “Grandaddy! Can we go to the park… please?”
  • “Sorry, bud, I’m making lasagna from scratch here and the kitchen requires my full attention!”

IMG_9082So out they go with Rebekah to “water the plants” in the back garden. And there is joy multiplied, mixed in with squeals of delight, and the house lights up with exuberance much the same way the church lit up earlier in the day when we celebrated the amazing life and vitality of Jesus – so strong that even death could not hold it in.

There were four particular elements of the visit that made it extra special this time. Watering with grandmama; storytelling by grandmama; the children’s love of books; and simply walking around Wake Forest’s downtown together.

Half today’s images were captured by Naomi – who has a wonderful eye for a story; you can see her name in the bottom right of the pictures she took.

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listening to Rebekah’s stories

The children (David is five, and Beks is well on the way to four in a couple more months) love nothing more than to sit with their grandmama Rebekah and listen to stories. Right now they’re in the middle of an epic saga where the main character – “The Old Woman” – and her dog – “George” – are making their way across the United States to visit the Golden Gate Bridge. So far, after five or six adventures, they’re still well east of the Mississippi.

The children are rapt with attention, remember everything, and ask great questions. They’re constantly curious, inventive, independent minded, opinionated, and on the go – balancing the tightrope between exuberant discovery and remembering to listen and behave.

Wake Forest:

IMG_9045So I took them into Wake Forest’s marvelous little town center Monday morning. We walked to the bank, made our way down White Street, and ended up at Page 158 Books, where I let them both pick out a story to bring home.

Other than church, bookstores are pretty much their favorite places on earth. Beks gravitated to the puppets, princesses, and anything about cats. David – the budding engineer – immediately got busy at the wooden train table, then found a Lego reference book as well as something on trains.

Then, when we got home, they both immediately got comfortable in the big chairs for some serious reading time. It makes my heart sing.

Age and more age:

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Downtown Wake Forest

When our children – Andrew and Naomi – were this age, Rebekah and I were just thirty-one. In some respects, looking over our shoulders, 1987 seems like it was just yesterday. Then in others, looking over our shoulders hurts too much because our necks are over sixty years old!

I have to admit it, I simply don’t have that level of durability anymore. Mentally, I feel as young as I ever have; spiritually, I’m actually adding capacity, flexibility, and facility; but physically I simply can’t grandparent at the speed I’d like to.

But maybe that’s the point; maybe it’s part of the balance and the design of it all. My job as Grandaddy Derek is to love David and Beks with the cumulative love of all these decades, to nurture them spiritually in ways I’m only now beginning to grow into, and to share with them the stories I couldn’t possibly have known thirty years ago because I had yet to live them.

My job as Grandaddy Derek is to love David and Beks with the cumulative love of all these decades, to nurture them spiritually in ways I’m only now beginning to grow into, and to share with them the stories I couldn’t possibly have known thirty years ago because I had yet to live them.

IMG_9054It’s all good. And though it won’t be too long before I have to say, “I believe you’re a little big for me to carry up the stairs to bed,” my aching back managed it again this time, and – just as soon as I’m recovered – I’ll more than likely do it again…

…. And by then maybe Rebekah’s Old Woman Stories will have to expand a little to accommodate an old man.

– DEREK

it’s still the 8th day of creation!

IMG_1228-001One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.Psalm 27:4, NIV

If you are one of those people who really enjoyed Easter Sunday last week but don’t plan on attending church again until Christmas Eve, then let me share a little secret with you… Church is that wonderful every week.

Seriously. The amazing, palpable, charged full with life presence of God so many people packed into so many churches to experience – just one week ago – is not unusual at all. That’s what worship in the context of community is all about; that’s why our church (WFPC) is growing, why new members are joining, and why the place literally hums with anticipation as hundreds of people make their way to 9:00 praise in the CLC, or 11:15 worship in the sanctuary.

IMG_1074 (1)-001COMMUNION: Additionally, this is the first Sunday of the month, and we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. You don’t have to be a member to be served, and you don’t have to be Presbyterian – you just need to follow Jesus.

There’s a reason so many people show up for church on Easter Sunday, and there’s no reason any other Sunday should be any different. It’s the same God, the same great and generous love, the same powerful message of redemption, the same invitation to live a life-charged faith every day, and the same joy that floods every heart.

A couple of years ago I was talking with a young family after Easter services. It was the first time they had visited our church, and they weren’t involved anywhere else. “This was wonderful,” the woman said, as her husband nodded agreement. “If church was always like this we’d be here every week!”

Before I had a chance to respond, one of the young couples in our church turned around. “Oh, it is like this every week,” the husband said. “This place is full of life, and overflowing with the Spirit of God.”

IMG_5338DON’T MISS OUT! Seriously, folks; don’t miss the opportunity for vibrant worship, dynamic fellowship, beautiful community, and the opportunity to serve God. This is Jesus we’re talking about, the one who not only defeated death but still invites each one of us to participate in a new kind of life!

  • Me: “He is risen!”
  • Every last one of you: “He is risen indeed!”

I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. – Psalm 27:4, MSG

I’ll see you in church! – DEREK

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click here to listen to Rebekah’s Easter message.

 

Images of Resurrection – Easter 2016

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Easter 2016 turned out to be yet another amazing celebration of resurrection here in Wake Forest! I’m with my grandchildren in Richmond this morning for extended birthday fun, so today’s post will simply comprise a collection of images from Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

There is no greater testimony to new life in and through Jesus than the witness of hundreds of transformed, enthusiastic, faithful disciples.

Peace and blessings this Easter Monday! The tomb is still empty, so let’s live like it!

DEREK

planting resurrection trees for Easter morning

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 “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Blessed Resurrection Morning!

IMG_1142-001Rebekah and I have a tradition over the Easter weekend. We started this back in Pensacola, and we’ve found it’s a beautiful way to deal with the angst of the crucifixion while at the same time preparing our hearts for Easter morning.

Every Good Friday, or Holy Saturday, we plant something in our garden in honor of someone who has died during the previous year. Consequently, Maul-Hall Pensacola, Maul-Hall Brandon, and now Maul-Hall Wake Forest, have beautiful trees, shrubs, and other plantings that were lovingly chosen, planted, and nurtured in memory of loved ones.

This year we worked hard on a number of projects – and what a wonderful way to spend my 60th birthday! Saturday was a beautiful, cool, North Carolina spring day, and – among the more than 25 holes that were dug, prepped, and filled with plants and trees – Rebekah and I put in three beautiful Japanese Maples, two of which came from Larry and Robin Roper.

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Myrt’s tree

TREES FOR PARENTS: The first, placed amidst the azaleas and pines that crowd our front garden, was planted for Myrt Hubbard Alexander, who passed away this past summer after living an amazing witness (you can read about Rebekah’s step-mom at The Grace of a Great Story). Myrt bloomed her heart out her entire life, gracing the community of Apopka in Central Florida with her signal talents and unique charms.

Then, in our “secret garden” behind the house, we planted gorgeous Japanese Maple trees for Rebekah’s mama, Nelle (who died in 1999), and her dad, Bob (who passed away in 2007). One tree has an unusual “corkscrew” trunk, with cascading “waterfall” branches. The other has a distinctive purple-ish hue, and a perfectly balanced profile. It’s going to fill in the corner of the garden beautifully.

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The Bob Alexander maple

PLANTING IS GOOD THEOLOGY: We worked really hard, and for most of the day. But the result of all that effort is – maybe for the first time since we arrived here – a clear beginning in terms of creating a garden that reflects both our personalities and what’s possible in a state that is still somewhat of a mystery when it comes to understanding exactly how we should tend our garden.

Easter morning is all about the explosion of new life and fresh growth that is possible only in the context of Christ’s resurrection story – a fact that launched not only a revolution, but what I like to call, “The Second Week of Creation.”

You see, when Jesus defeated death he didn’t come “back” to life… he was born “forward” into a new kind of life. Paul refers to Jesus as “the second Adam,” because – in resurrection – he was the firstborn of the new creation.

 “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

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The front garden

Brand new life. Life that was first revealed to Christ’s friends in a garden. Life that is ours. Life that is something far more revolutionary than the “coming back to life” miracle that happened to Lazarus.

So we plant; we honor and remember those we love and have loved; and we will spend this Easter morning with our friends at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, celebrating the amazing reality of what Christ has done… what Christ is doing.

Amen, and Amen! – DEREK

 

“ME-2.0” – Surrender: not an easy lenten idea to embrace!

IMG_0307Somewhere around 4:00 in the morning, well before the majority of people get up and start their day, an email from the church lands in my “In-box,” and it’s ready for our morning devotions over breakfast. Today I’d like to highlight the series of “Lenten Surrender” devotions my faith community – Wake Forest Presbyterian Church – is sending out every morning.

I love this series because each devotional thought is simple, direct, short, and memorable. The overall theme – from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday – is surrender. And it is surrender because if there’s one consistent impediment that gets in the way of the committed Christian life, then it’s the false idea that – at the core of who we are – we don’t really need God, that we can handle life by ourselves, that we call the shots, that faith is just one more “Ap” that sits on the desktop of an operating system that could well be named, “ME-2.0”.

But I surrender. I surrender; I let go; I  concede, yield, back down, relent, crumble; Lord, I raise the white flag; Jesus, I submit to your love.

Submit. Now there’s a good one.

But this idea is so against the grain of our culture.

JOSHUA CHAMBERLAIN: There’s a great story from the Civil War. It happened during one of the series of engagements around Petersburg, Virginia. Union officer Joshua Chamberlain’s brigade was under intense fire, lost its bearing, and began to fall back; Chamberlain rallied his troops, and they turned the tide. Chamberlain found himself behind Confederate lines, wounded, and without his horse. Somehow he took control of the situation and personally captured a group of confused Rebels. Disheveled, hatless, and covered with blood from his wounds, Chamberlain then mounted a borrowed horse to ride across the lines. The action stopped, and he heard cheering from the Union troops. Then, through the haze of smoke from musket and artillery fire, he sensed movement on the Confederate front. Rebel soldiers were standing on the barricades, waving their hats and cheering too. Even the enemy were cheering Joshua Chamberlain.

DSC_0130We don’t like surrender; everything we understand pushes against the word submit; we even stand on our own defenses and cheer for an opponent who refuses to back down.

Yet here, during the season of Lent, surrender is exactly what God is asking of us.

– DEREK

 

 

freedom! so why do we hesitate?

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Today’s highlight from the Lenten devotional focuses on the idea of freedom, and the spectacular discrepancy between the magnitude of the gift and the evident lack of esteem in which we hold the opportunity that is ours; our hesitancy to claim that liberty of spirit, our failure to shine, our reluctance to live like we really mean it.

All the evidence points to the sad truth that, too often, we fail to embrace life with the level of passion Christ’s complete, unreserved commitment to us would anticipate.

I wonder sometimes if Jesus is not so much disappointed as flabbergasted at our predilection to halfheartedness as believers? We look all shiny on the outside, but what’s the point in polishing our surface when there’s so much serious work to be done underneath?

In Matthew 23, Jesus unleashed one of his best one-liners on the religious leaders of his day. They were all about “following the law,” and making a show of religiosity, but they completely missed the heart of God. Listen to this; but then imagine how Jesus must feel about our own modern day surface-level faithfulness:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” – Matthew 23:27

Time for a gut-check, huh?

“Jesus didn’t come to work on my facade. Jesus lived, and taught, and suffered, and addressed death head-on in order to set me free. Freedom goes a lot deeper than appearance.” – Reaching Toward Easter (p. 27)

So now we are free, and the way is clear for us to embrace all the possibilities inherent in our creation as children of God. Why, then, do we hesitate?

It’s a good question – DEREK

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Aligning ourselves with the light #Ash Wednesday

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Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. – John 12:1-2

ASH WEDNESDAY: Today marks the first few hours of a forty-seven day journey to Easter. Over the next month and a half it is my intention to be a faithful pilgrim and a diligent disciple, and to share some insights along the way.

Yesterday the skies were dark and angry, but today all is clarity and light. I see this time of preparation for Easter as a constant, deliberate realignment, where we place ourselves more consciously in the proximity of Jesus as a discipline of love.

Each day I plan to feature one quote from my Lenten Devotional, REACHING TOWARD EASTER. Sometimes in a meme – above – and other times pasted into the text.

I pray that we will all experience a renaissance of faith, and faithfulness, over the coming weeks.

“Our journey through Lent serves as an invitation to align the heart of our spiritual nature with the regenerative heart of God, the Sustainer and Deliverer, to set our intention toward life and to align ourselves with the light.” (REACHING TOWARD EASTER, page 16)

– DEREK

 

Communion, and the Spectacular Initiative of New Life

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 – Matthew 6:16-21

Reaching-Toward-Easter-001This coming Wednesday – February 10 – is “Ash Wednesday” in the Christian calendar.

Ash Wednesday is the official “kick-off” for the season of Lent, the 40 days plus six Sundays leading up to Holy Week and the celebration of Easter.

If you want to experience all the fullness of the Lent experience, taking your own personal “Road to Jerusalem;” and if you want to engage the meaning of Easter in all of its passion, tragedy, and beauty; then I’d recommend a careful reading of Reaching Toward Easter: Devotions for Lent (Upper Room Books).

There’s a study guide in the back, so you can take the journey either as an individual, or in a class or small group.

The book follows the disciple John’s telling of The Last Supper, taking an in-depth look at the “let’s go over the details one more time” conversation Jesus had with his best friends before heading to Gethsemane, arrest, “trial”, crucifixion, suffering, and death; then the garden tomb, victory, new life, and “The Second Week of Creation.”

Sermon on the Mount:

But for today, around the table in conversation with my Sunday morning discipleship class, we’ll be talking about a few verses in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16-21) that I believe have a lot to say about Lent, about Holy Week, and about the new life Jesus makes possible via Resurrection, Forgiveness, Grace, and Redemption.

Lent can be a kind of a fast, a turning aside from distractions and setting our face toward the Passion of Christ. And our relationship with Jesus is a treasure that we can store up – not by setting aside but by embracing; because Jesus is a treasure that grows when we celebrate him, and new life is a miracle that multiplies when we give it away.

In both cases the critical question is this, “Where is your heart?”

IMG_0092I’d like to challenge each one of us to show up at our local faith community, to take communion (as we will at Wake Forest Presbyterian – you are more than welcome at our church), and to turn your heart toward the spectacular initiative of New Life that we celebrate, and that we strive to live into with creativity, with faithfulness, and with joy.

In love, and because of the Jesus initiative of grace – DEREK

Happy Glorious Easter Morning!

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Signs of life! Beks, David, and Rebekah in the garden

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25-26

NEW LIFE! There really is nothing that testifies to Easter life more eloquently than springtime. That’s why I had to borrow one more of my daughter Naomi’s excellent photographs for the lead picture this morning.

Daffodils from the garden
Daffodils from the garden

Children and flowers beautifully illustrate what God is up to in creation, and they do it with purity and verve, redolent with freshness and new life.

Remember what Jesus said in his Sermon the Mount? “Look at the flowers in the field, and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.” – Matthew 6:28-29

The children, and the flowers, are more than beautiful – they are charged with a special kind of life. Not just fresh, but vibrant. Ebullient.

Easter morning is ebullience magnified, loaded with exploding life and extra pizzazz.

RESURRECTION: The resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact, and his triumph over death is the critical moment in the birth of The Church. But now, two thousand years later, there’s an even more awesome reality, a tour de force that can’t be contained this or any morning: Jesus is alive today!

out by the mailbox
out by the mailbox

Not merely someone who came “back” to life, but someone who was – who is – the firstborn of a new creation, a new kind of life, a reality that holds the promise of eternity and invites us to enter the Kingdom of God right now!

Here’s how I phrased this amazing truth in the last part of my Wake Forest Today column this weekend:

Easter Sunday, then, is nothing so pedestrian, so run-of-the-mill, so yesterday’s-news as Jesus “coming back” to life. What Jesus did was far more important. Jesus was resurrected “forward” into something brand new; he shattered the entire equation of life and death, and ushered in a new kind of life, one that he immediately turned around and offered to the entire world.

Here’s my challenge this weekend. If you plan on coming to church to celebrate the news that some guy came back to life 2,000 years ago… then I urge you to rethink the whole story.

IMG_9017Instead, think about the fact that Easter represents an open invitation to join Jesus in a new kind of life, one that will never, ever come to an end.

This is far and away better than what happened to Lazarus! This is why I wake up motivated, and excited, and grateful every single day of my life.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? John 11: 25-26

IMG_9032I’ll see you in church! – DEREK

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Cool photos from Palm Sunday

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The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
    the King of Israel!” – John 12

I’m enjoying grandkids today – so no writing! Instead, enjoy these photographs from Palm Sunday at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church!