rethinking judgment and salvation (oh, why not!)

rethinking judgment and salvation (oh, why not!)

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’”

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:12, 23, 40

Much of the way I live my life is a reaction, a response, or even sometimes an act of rebellion against, the often unreasonable pace – and glib “tweet this” mentality – of the world we inhabit.

There is a startlingly evident lack of deep, well considered thought – it’s a deficit that can be mirrored in the way that we live, the way that we speak, the way that we study, the way that we react to challenge.

So I’m glad that my Sunday morning study group is taking such a long time to move through the Gospel of Matthew. Rather than selected pericopes, favorite verses, or bullet-point summaries, we have been digesting the entire book, often doubling back to re-read, reminding ourselves of the overall trajectory of the story.

Matthew 25:

Now we have arrived at chapter 25, a section we have taken in three bites. Typically, we think of the famous “Sheep and Goats” narrative Jesus shared, but there are three stories in the chapter and they have worked together for me this week to suggest a new way of thinking about judgment and salvation. If you’re up for it, continue reading and I’ll try to share.

The three subheadings read: “The Parable of the Ten Virgins”; “The Parable of the Bags of Gold”; “The Sheep and the Goats.”

In the first story, everything hinges on the following statement by Jesus in verse 12: “But [the bridegroom] replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’”

The bags of gold – talents – parable is not about multiplication, but about imagination. What I mean is I believe the “master” is less interested in making bank than in seeing people invest themselves in the world around them. It’s not about doubling the money so much as jumping in. Jesus wants to see each one of us get out of the boat and at least try to walk on the water; sink or swim it’s better than standing on the sidelines to watch.

Then – and this is especially difficult for those who own a “Jesus punched my ticket for heaven” mentality – the story about the sheep and the goats all comes down to this: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

This chapter is a great example of the following truths:

  1. Much of what we say when we try to pigeonhole Jesus falls apart when we actually read the Bible;
  2. Jesus is much more complex than our soundbite proclamations;
  3. Literalism always fails to hold water when we take the time to listen to Jesus.

Portfolio Assessment:

“I have a question for you all,” I said during our discussion. “There are many ways to give assessments, final exams, tests, and evaluations. If you were preparing for the kind of Last Judgment Jesus references in Matthew 25, would it be an exam? Would it be, ‘I’m exempting the final because I accepted Jesus?’ Or wold it be a portfolio assessment”?

After reading those three stories/parables in Matthew 25, I really don’t see any evidence that Jesus offers any kind of a free pass. But then I also understand that Jesus rejects legalism, “works”, judgmentalism, and slavery to the law.

So I’m inclined to see this final judgment more along the lines of a portfolio assessment. At some point, it’s imperative that we shift our orientation from law to grace, and that is only possible when we respond to Christ’s invitation to this new life, this New Creation. Then – and I believe this is the position Jesus is staking out in his story about the sheep and the goats – the evidence is always going to be there when we live this new life in Christ.

So we don’t address the social ills, the pain, and the brokenness of this world in order to curry favor with the Almighty. Instead, we love this way as a natural and grateful response to the generous and transformational love of God.

It’s critically important that we know the bridegroom (verse 12) – nothing else is possible outside of that relationship; then, it’s on us to take the gifts and the blessings we’ve been entrusted with and to put ourselves out there, as hardworking, creative ambassadors of grace (verse 23); finally, it’s going to be more than obvious if we have been living into our salvation (verse 40).

Salvation means participating in the work God is up to; it means aligning ourselves with God’s initiatives. If we are saved, then we are by definition teaming up with God and involved in God’s work. It’s only because of grace that we have the invitation – but it’s still up to us to show up.

Today’s photos are from the “laying on of hands” portion of the ordination service during worship at WFPC yesterday. Several men and women were ordained and installed as elders and deacons. If we know Jesus, and if we are following his Way, then we are doing the work of the Kingdom.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

 

do we dare to enter the Promised Land?

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 For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. – Ephesians 3:14-17

If you read this space often you know that occasionally (around every six weeks) I feature a link to a message from Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. Sometimes it’s because the sermon is so inspiring I just had to share; sometimes it’s because – even though we never collaborate – the content adds perfectly to the conversation I’m having on this page; sometimes it’s because the preaching communicates far beyond what I could manage here, no matter how well I might write.

Then, sometimes (and this was the case Sunday May 14) it’s all three, and I am simply doing a public service by encouraging you to take a few minutes to listen!

Looking into the Promised Land!

Chrome Legacy Window 5152017 31136 PMThe title of Sunday’s sermon was “A Prayer for Wake Forest Presbyterian Church” – but the content is timely, and applicable, and crucial to absolutely any faith community, anywhere, at any time.

The theme paralleled the main idea from the blog I had posted that very morning (“The Leaves of the Tree are for the Healing of the Nations“); the setting was Moses looking out over the Promised Land (I had just shared some slides of that very view at church Friday evening); then Rebekah’s level of vitality and engagement while preaching this week, as well as her storytelling, was at its very best.

If you’re someone who has lost enthusiasm for church, or who subscribes to the false narrative that Presbyterians don’t have any passion for Jesus, or who isn’t exposed to great preaching very often, then you owe it to yourself – and your faith – to check out this message (it starts around time stamp 10:00 on the link).

How Wide and How Deep:

Chrome Legacy Window 5162017 90122 AMUsually I can do a fair job of keeping the lid on my emotions at church (I really don’t like to have to dab my eyes or to deal with wet cheeks in public); but Rebekah’s story about “The Young Mothers’ Class” was so poignant, and the way it all came together at the end of the sermon so breathtakingly inspiring, that I had to work hard not to leak any more than just a little.

But it’s okay, God is continually challenging me to get over myself, and I am always moved by the power of a great story. Fact is, we all need to take a few bricks out of the walls we build around ourselves, and especially to dismantle the barriers we place between the deeper parts of our emotional core and the reach of God’s love. Sometimes conviction can leave us vulnerable, and feeling less in control.

But we belong to God, and this important truth sets up the second part of the reading from Ephesians: 

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (18-19).

How can we possibly grasp how wide and long and high and deep Christ’s love is if we don’t let God in? How can we be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God if we keep ourselves closed so tightly?

Do we really want to be the kind of disciples Jesus invites us to be? Do we really want to be the kind of churches Jesus is calling us to be? Do we really want to be filled to the measure of all fullness? Do we have any interest in entering the Promised Land?

If so, then we’re going to have to disassemble our defenses and trust God; we’re going to have to believe; we’re going to have to live our faith like we mean it…

(If you’d like to listen to the message, click here)

more of the good stuff!

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[The Lord of the feast] said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” – John 2:10

This morning I’ll share a slice of Rebekah’s message from Saturday’s marriage ceremony. The wedding was – as I already explained in yesterday’s post – full with positive energy and the kind of encouragement this world needs, going forward. So when the homily so nicely dovetailed with all the goodwill I wasn’t surprised in the least.

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Kaitlyn and Jacob

Rebekah told the story of Jesus blessing the wedding – it’s the first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John. If you remember, the wedding host ran out of wine and Jesus came to the rescue by turning water into the best vintage they’d ever tasted.

With Jesus, everything is always the best ever. So it’s really no surprise that’s how things go down at the wedding. Anything we’re involved with – relationships, work, art, church, mission, serving others  – no matter what, is going to be over-the-top good if we invite Jesus to be involved.

Rebekah said she likes to imagine that the couple who were married at the wedding Jesus attended and blessed took some of the wine home, and had some every year thereafter, to remind themselves not only of what a fabulous wedding they’d enjoyed, but how Jesus continues to make their life together sweeter and more precious.

IMG_9443Of course the real miracle is how Jesus brings new life, and a new flavor to our lives, each and every day. That’s not just a nice story, or a look back into history – it’s a present reality that we can continue to celebrate.

This morning our church will share the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Wide open doors, everyone welcome, grace abounds. Don’t miss this opportunity to share some of the good stuff, the Jesus quality of celebration, and get the ball rolling in terms the very best.

This is what it means to follow Jesus.

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

“I made you; I redeemed you; I called you; you’re mine! Any questions?” – God

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It’s another outrageously beautiful morning here in Wake Forest. I got up fairly early, walked (or should I say “sauntered”) Scout Labradoodle, then took my first cup of coffee out onto the deck so Rebekah could sleep in. It’s a quiet neighborhood, so the only sounds were the birds, and the occasional dull slam of a car door as people head out to work.

I love beginning my day in the context of this kind of peace. Clearing my head, reading the scripture, chatting with God. It’s not all that long, but including my walk it amounts to a good forty-five minutes of focused calm before the various responsibilities of the day begin to crowd in.

I doesn’t matter what the day looks like; the responsibilities can be as serious as back-to back meetings, putting out fires, and crisis intervention… as routine as making travel plans, doing research for a project, and organizing a retreat… or as mundane as packing lunches, paying bills, and cleaning. Regardless, we can either move into it all from the context of a few quiet minutes with God – or we can stumble into the fray already anxious and a little lost before we even begin.

  • Be still,” the psalmist writes, “and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46)
  • “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads,” Jesus reassures us, “and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • And again, from Jesus – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27

When I know that, come what may, I have started my day in intentional communion with Jesus, then it sets a trajectory that is – quite frankly – the only reasonable option we have if we really do want to live as Children of God in the way our Creator intended from the very beginning.

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morning coffee on the deck…

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    (he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel):
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine. – Isaiah 43:1

“I made you; I redeemed you; I called you; you’re mine! Any questions?” – God

if life was easy, would it be this good?

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Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. – Luke 9:23-24

Sometimes it’s a challenge to explain just how beautiful this part of North Carolina is in the springtime. This is our fourth April in Wake Forest, and Rebekah and I still pinch ourselves once in a while – sitting on the deck drinking coffee after breakfast – wondering just how it is that we ended up here.

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Azaleas coming out at Maul Hall

It’s not that life is easy – far from it – but that this journey we are on together is wonderful. Ministry is always demanding, frequently difficult, and often overwhelming; but the challenge is exactly what makes the experience so meaningful and rewarding. It’s just extra… dressing… gravy… to be doing it in such a beautiful place as North Carolina.

STORY: I tell a story in one of my books (I think it was “The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian”) of hiking out of a valley on the Appalachian Trail. Our path cut through the parking area at a scenic overlook a few hundred feet up, and I watched two carloads of people drive in, edge their vehicles as close as they could to the view, and peer out of their windows. One person jumped out for maybe thirty seconds to grab a quick photo on her phone, the rest stayed put.

The view was lovely.

Several hours later – having climbed a long, steep incline, forded a couple of rapid streams, stopped at a few more scenic outlooks, negotiated some recently toppled trees, detoured around a nest of copperheads, readjusted our heavy backpacks numerous times, and lost a couple of extra pounds in sweat – we cut through a seldom travelled side trail, emerging onto a rock outcrop where we found a ledge offering a spectacular panoramic view that would have been unimaginable from the comforts of the car back in the parking area.

We unpacked our lunches and took in the wonder of it all, resting and recharging before laying down another five miles or so before supper.

It struck me that this story illustrates the difference between showing up at church a couple of Sundays a month, and actually making the decision to follow Jesus as a disciple.

This is the journey that has brought us to Wake Forest, North Carolina. Sometimes we can sit out on the deck and breathe it all in, reenergized and grateful. But reenergized for what? Certainly not so we can coast our way in from here.

img_7706-001No, life is too wonderful, and too messy for that. Regardless, we are grateful… and challenged… and full… and journeying… and covered in goodness, mercy, grace, peace, and unquenchable love.

May God challenge each one of us, day by day, to see Jesus more clearly, love Jesus more dearly, and follow Jesus more nearly, day by day.

Day by day, oh, dear Lord, three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly, day by day

– DEREK

(a few random photos from this week)

learning more about faith – on another visit to the hospital

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Morning in Wake Forest, NC

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling…” – 2 Corinthians 5

IMG_8836This morning I’m back with my familiar friend, Wake Med! This time it’s with my mum. We went into the ER yesterday lunchtime, and spent the afternoon being evaluated; they decided they wanted to admit her and take a closer look. Her vascular system has been pumping steadily and generously for eighty-five and a half years, and it may be time for a tune up.

This is why it’s so good that my parents live next door, and that I have the flexibility of working from home – or wherever I happen to be. I always write about real life, and there certainly is a lot of real life happening here in this hospital. Medical centers are essentially crucibles, points of tension (and possible transformation) physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

So for my mum, this crisis was precipitated by suspicion we might be heading toward a stroke. I paid attention, got her to the ER, and now we’re consulting with a team of neurologists and cardiologists. Early intervention, and then follow up over the next week or so should add up to a positive outcome.

I’m not sharing this in order to plaster my mother’s medical history all over the Internet, but to illustrate how our entire lives are a series of challenges, points of tension, crises, interventions, and consequent outcomes.

None of us live in a bubble; not physically, not spiritually. The way we move forward is to pay attention and to respond accordingly.

I believe that this time of the year, the weeks leading up to Easter, are critically important to our spiritual prognosis. We are given this unique opportunity to walk the dusty path to Jerusalem, to invite Jesus to walk alongside us, to respond to what we learn about ourselves, and to move forward into our tomorrows with a more focused, productive, healthy, spiritual identity.

We are given this unique opportunity to walk the dusty path to Jerusalem, to invite Jesus to walk alongside us, to respond to what we learn about ourselves, and to move forward into our tomorrows with a more focused, productive, healthy, spiritual identity.

Today is Wednesday. This coming weekend, Holy Week launches with the dramatic and enthusiastic celebration of Palm Sunday. Wherever you are as regards your spiritual health, I urge you to show up at your local church, wave a palm branch, and engage the opportunity afforded with the serious intention of a disciple.

Physical; Mental; Spiritual:

The more years I have under my belt (and there are quite a lot by now), the more I realize that my spiritual life is the most important aspect of my profile. Physically I am aging; mentally I won’t be this sharp for more than another couple of decades; spiritually there is always the potential for renewal, more growth, reinvention, and moving into a more vibrant future.

Physically I am aging; mentally I won’t be this sharp for more than another couple of decades; spiritually there is always the potential for renewal, more growth, reinvention, and moving into a more vibrant future.

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author Derek Maul

It’s certainly something to think about, whatever your chronological age – and especially as we approach the celebration of Easter.

– DEREK

“Go light your world” – youth Sunday at WFPC

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sharing light with the congregation

What came into being
    through the Word was life,
    and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light
 – John 1:4-5

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youth leading singing

This morning I have the impossible task of reducing yesterday’s “Youth Sunday at WFPC” (two full worship services) to a manageable number of anecdotes and photographs. I promise to back off on the words, but there’s a distinct possibility I’ll put as many as 50 pictures in the slide show.

(note: if you’re a youth, a parent, or a youth leader, let me know the images you want, and I’ll email you full-sized versions.)

The thing about Youth Sunday is not so much the eloquence of the messages shared (all of our young people were inspirational), or the quality of the music (the band and the singers are most excellent), or the creativity of how all the elements worked together (they did a great job); but who they are. What’s really wonderful, and what works, is youth being youth….

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signing the Lord’s Prayer

What made yesterday’s Youth Sunday such a powerful experience for everyone involved, is the simple fact of the presence of so many young people who love God and who are committed to following Jesus.

the simple fact of the presence of so many young people who love God and who are committed to following Jesus.

Simply put, kids who grow up in WFPC grow up with the kind of excitement and passion for their faith that also encourages the rest of us to grow with more intention, to believe with more joy, to serve with more love, and to move forward with more hope.

  • to grow with more intention,
  • to believe with more joy,
  • to serve with more love,
  • to move forward with more hope…
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Time with young disciples

The theme for the morning was, “Go Light Your World!” The testimonies – from five of our graduating seniors – weren’t about blind, unquestioning faith, but of a growing relationship with Jesus that isn’t afraid to ask hard questions – a faith that thrives in the light.

Rebekah and I are so thrilled to be part of a church family that represents such a broad demographic, a place where we not only teach our young people, but a place where they also teach us.

So, good friends, go light your world!

DSC_0025What came into being
    through the Word was life,
    and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light
. – John 1:4-5

Peace and love – DEREK

Here is the complete photo selection!

 

Will you be called, “Repairer of the Breach”?

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The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in. – Isaiah 58:11-12

Monday afternoon, and for the first time in 2017, I got outside for a few hours of serious yard work. I didn’t accomplish all that much in the great scheme of what needs to be done, but it sure felt good to make some forward progress. Usually – and very much in line with yesterday’s post (Good Questions and an Invitation to Live) – it’s less important to have finished than to (at least) have started.

First spring gardening....
It must be springtime…

Because, in the garden especially, there is no such thing as done. But that’s okay, because it really is all about being out there, getting my hands dirty, making a noticeable difference, and understanding how much a part of it all that I am. I’m not an outside person imposing order so much as a participant, as if I’m a part of the garden myself.

It’s a lot like that with my writing. I know a lot of authors who talk about how they like to “have written” more than actually “writing.” But that’s not my experience at all. I love being immersed in the process: the research; the prayer; the waiting for inspiration; the “uh-huh” moments; the magic of a powerful phrase or idea working its way from my soul, to my consciousness, into my fingers, through the keyboard, and onto the screen. I even enjoy editing, re-writing, reprocessing, nuancing, and – sometimes – starting over.

This is my spiritual life too. The psalmist writes about God satisfying my needs in parched places, watering me like a garden, rebuilding my life… and then – awesomely – turning right around and using me to the extent that I will be known as “The repairer of the breach.”

I like that a lot. What a wonderful descriptive phrase to live by: “Repairer of the Breach.”

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author Derek Maul

Because there is this chasm, this break, this separation, this breach between the Creator and the creation. But Jesus has stepped in and made reconciliation possible. We could have all these arguments about doctrine, about which church gets it right and who gets it wrong, about all the divisions, and “isms” in our culture… or we could simply trust Jesus, thank God for the repair work Jesus made to close the breach, and live as grateful people.

I may go back into the garden again this afternoon. And I certainly intend to live forward as a repairer of the breach.

Peace – in every way – DEREK