when death and resurrection are essentially the same idea

IMG_9115

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

 

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

IMG_9042
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.

IMG_9090
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:

IMG_9080
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

if life was easy, would it be this good?

IMG_8858

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.

IMG_8865
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)

spring beauty in Wake Forest

IMG_8803-001

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. – Isaiah 61:3

DSC_0347It’s not only the children who are singing praises this week (“Sweet Hosannas“), it’s all of creation. Springtime here around Wake Forest is continuing to be this picture-perfect combination of 60-degrees, exploding color, sunshine, light rains, and promise. I honestly couldn’t make this any more wonderful if I tried!

So Monday, still aching from gardening Friday and Saturday, we spent a few more hours outside, finishing up a screening project to visually improve the underside of the deck. Rebekah did most of the work, while I walked around to capture some images of North Carolina in early April.

If you live around here, you already know how fortunate we are; you can just poke your head outside your own house to see something similar; but the rest of you may want to peruse these photographs. Then you’re probably going to want to move here; all this beauty, plus WFPC every Sunday – it’s win-win!

This past week we’ve seen an explosion of color, and I’ve been completely blown away by the power and the intensity of the seasonal transformation. This is our fourth Wake Forest April, so I thought by now it would be routine; but it turns out that – just like the way each new chapter of my life renews me – the seasonal shifts invigorate my spirit too.

It’s our fourth April in North Carolina, and this past week we’ve seen an explosion of color – I’ve been completely blown away by the power and the intensity of the seasonal transformation.

DSC_0334I’m thinking this is maybe an extension of the spiritual growth I’ve been experiencing during Lent. Self examination has been a more natural extension of my identity as a disciple this time around. So, you never know, maybe – just like the garden here at Maul Hall – I’m finally beginning to grow into some kind of maturity.

Wherever you find yourself today, take the time between now and Sunday – Palm Sunday – getting yourself ready for Holy Week and Easter. Beauty for ashes; new life all around us; the promise of resurrection; the constant invitation to grow.

– DEREK

All things bright and beautiful

IMG_8680

God said, “Let the earth grow plant life: plants yielding seeds and fruit trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind throughout the earth.” And that’s what happened. The earth produced plant life: plants yielding seeds, each according to its kind, and trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind. God saw how good it was. There was evening and there was morning: the third day. – Genesis 1:11-13

God saw how good it was:

IMG_8663This is one of those North Carolina spring weekends where it’s almost criminal not to be outside at least for a few hours. Not to the extent that you can’t fit church in – more that we’re so grateful for this amazing weekend that spending an hour in worship seems to be the very least we can do.

Rebekah, of course, was attracted to our garden (and a long visit to the Lowe’s garden center) like a bee to honey. 2016 was essentially a wash when it came to planting – the pain was simply too unbearable; but this year, if she’s careful, she’s been able to play in the dirt just enough to see some progress and feel at least a little bit connected to the soil.

Friday it was my kitchen herbs (see “No substitutions – only the best“); Saturday it was hanging baskets. I love to see Rebekah’s joy in the garden.

By the time my parents walked over from next door for supper, the front stoop was blooming, Rebekah had finished hanging fresh baskets off the deck, and North Carolina was still beckoning for us to stay outside and breathe the good air.

IMG_8689It’s spring in Wake Forest; the dogwoods are in full bloom, the azaleas are beginning to come out, the daffodils aren’t quite done, and the trees are beginning to push out those fresh, vibrant, light green, leaves. Fact is, all the color in the garden is fixing to bust out in celebration.

As for us, the least we can do is let our voices be heard in thanksgiving and praise to God. Life is good, promise is abundant, and hope is always ours to claim.

Life is good, promise is abundant, and hope is always ours to claim.

Happy Sunday, friends, I’ll see you in church – DEREK

 

Bad golf and a good spiritual life

IMG_8337

  • Note: (Rainbows will fall from the sky, unicorns will die, puppy-dogs will be sad, and the bad guys will win if you don’t read this post, share it with all of your friends, visit my author page at Amazon, and purchase all of my books. Just saying…)

In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear. – 1 Peter 3:13-17

IMG_8335-002First off, this post is not about golf. Don’t let the picture fool you. If what George and I were doing Thursday came anywhere near to resembling golf, then we would have noticed. Believe me, the attempt degenerated into a farce of epic proportions.

Here’s what’s interesting, and what makes this a worthwhile topic for my constant intention to share spiritual truth via this space: I actually hit some great shots yesterday, but none of them did anything to help my score in the actual game.

You see, the online coupon George found included a bucket of balls to hit on the driving range. So I took out a pitching wedge, a seven iron, a four hybrid, and my driver. I hit six balls with each club, for a total of 24. Then I stepped away, shaking my head.

  • “What? Can’t hit ’em today?”
  • “No; quite the opposite,” I said. “I hit every ball perfectly, with an easy swing. 24 swings, 24 perfect shots.”

So we went on down to the first tee box, where I grabbed my driver, picked my line, and hit the ball with beautiful precision, exactly where I wanted it. My next shot, just a pitching wedge into an inviting green, barely made it halfway there. And so, just like that, the instant I was about to pat myself on the back, reality t-boned my game and it was downhill from there!

My Life… and my Spiritual Life:

img_0398I could just as easily be writing about the way so many of us handle the transition between our spiritual lives at church, in Bible-study, sitting around the table in my men’s group… and the day to day reality of living at home, in relationships, at work, and every stumbling block – from tee to green – in between.

What happened to me playing golf was that I engaged the driving range and the course as two distinct experiences. We make the same error as spiritual beings: we live as if we have A) a spiritual life, and B) a regular life. But that kind of compartmentalization is not true. We have a life – this amazing gift that we have been given – and it’s either a life where faith is ascendant, or it is not.

I make a mistake when I think, “Oh, I need to make this experience outside of church feel like it does when I’m in church…” That notion sets up a false duality. What I need to do is to say, “This is where I am, right here and right now. Jesus, I want to invite you to live in and through me today.”

“This is where I am, right here and right now. Jesus, I want to invite you to live in and through me today.”

It doesn’t make any difference if I say that prayer while I’m in church, at work, or in traffic. The same imperative is true across the board – I need to invite Jesus in; I need to surrender myself to God; I need to be inhabited by the Holy Spirit.

There is no spiritual life that stands distinct from life itself. There is only life, and we only engage it at capacity when we live it for Jesus – DEREK

 

 

10-photo Thursday

img_7843
Early morning walk in Wake Forest

I’ve been struck this week by how complex and varied North Carolina is this time of the year. Sunday afternoon the temps reached 81-degrees, Monday night featured a good freeze, Wednesday was the more typical wintery 45 and rainy, then – today at 10:00 in the morning – it’s a picture perfect 41-degrees with brilliant sunshine.

It’s easy to forget that “average” regional temperatures are nothing more than a statistical construct, with little or no bearing on what any actual moment in time might look like.

img_7832
morning around Ashvillle (Kim Altman)

One of the great themes of my writing is that of constantly inspiring anyone willing to listen to be anything but average in the way they live. However, and a lot like believing a climate model should be able to predict today’s weather, we allow ourselves to become consistently conformed to the expected, to the extent that “the way things are” unreasonably limits us, dulls our imaginations, and often holds more sway than our commitment to live as followers of the living way of Jesus.

We allow ourselves to become consistently conformed to the expected, to the extent that “the way things are” unreasonably limits us, dulls our imaginations, and often holds more sway than our commitment to live as followers of the living way of Jesus.

So I’ll wrap this short post by quoting Paul in his letter to the Colossians. He, too, was concerned that his friends were forgetting their primary commitment to follow Jesus. “If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, then why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” (Colossians 2:20-23)

Our opportunity – as disciples – is to move out of the restrictive, constrictive realm of “normal,” and to live truly extraordinary lives as followers of Jesus. Our calling is to be subversive for Jesus.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

(So here are a few fun photos from this week – enjoy!)

 

applause lines, and the good people of “already great” North Carolina

img_7523-001

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” – (The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, revised, 1954)

I’ve probably said this before, but I seriously love every opportunity I’m given to share my life and my passion via invitations to speak. Irrespective of the venue – keynoting a conference or retreat, sharing the message at a church, lunch or dinner speaker, leading a seminar or workshop, doing a radio interview, teaching a class – I always enjoy the unique exchange that happens when there’s a live audience in play.

img_7539Yesterday I drove round and beyond the south side of Raleigh (it was a beautiful drive) to speak at a “senior luncheon” that brings together retirees from several rural churches. The fellowship hall was full of good people, the food was wonderful, and the atmosphere was warm and inviting.

My topic was a mixture of “How I got to be an American” and “Why I love America.” Then, as I got to know the audience, and gauge their response, it became a little more, “How and why I have fallen in love with North Carolina.”

They were a very gracious audience, and surprised me with several outbursts of applause – which is always extremely gratifying to a speaker. And that nudged me toward what turned out to be the big applause line, a thought I hadn’t prepared ahead of time, but simply presented itself to me at the right moment.

“I want you to know I’m not being political,” I said (which I’m not sure was one hundred percent true!) – “but, having lived here now for three and a half years, I’ve got to say that nobody needs to make North Carolina great again – because you most undoubtedly already are!”

Like I said, BIG applause line, HUGE.

img_7532Of course I went on to say that there’s not a single one of us, let alone a state, that wouldn’t benefit from some improvement. Because we’re all moving forward, we’re all on a journey, we’re all better when we accept the proposition that we are works in progress, and that God hasn’t nearly finished with us yet.

But at the same time we need to celebrate the goodness, and the faithfulness, and the hard work of so many Americans, and to embrace the foundational understanding that we are a free people, and that our freedom necessarily involves commensurate responsibility.

They are so many good, fine, already-making-American-great folk out there, and it was a great privilege for me to be in a church hall that was full of them, and to share from my heart.

Our Common Heart:

I believe that all these restrictive and constrictive labels – “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “reactionary,” etc., labels so glibly applied to whole groups of people – say very little about our hearts, our dreams, and our common love for living life in freedom and joy.

Yesterday I hung out with good, freedom-loving, faith-filled people from rural North Carolina; this evening I’m going to be with a couple of hundred good, freedom-loving, faith-filled folk from Wake Forest; on another day I may be hanging with some good, freedom-loving, faith-filled social activists from the inner city.

img_7529The point is we are a great nation, filled with millions of people from a variety of disparate ideological frames of reference. But we all want more progress toward the realization of “Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” and it doesn’t do any good to label any of us anything other than freedom-loving, faith-filled, and good.

So that’s what I learned yesterday lunch time, and it’s something I pray more of us learn… instead of constantly tearing one another apart.

In love, because of love, and in the truth of promise – DEREK

 

do you have a reputation for joy?

img_7424-001

Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord. – Philippians 4:4-7

Here’s the question: What can be done on a winter’s Saturday in North Carolina, when it’s barely fifty degrees, wet and muddy underfoot, and misty with the promise of rain? The answer – of course – is to get out there in the fresh air and play some golf.

img_7428While the little white ball only cooperated marginally, the day itself was perfect. There’s a stark beauty to the winterscape of bare trees on rolling hills, the grass mostly brown other than up on the greens.

I had to hit the ball high because it wasn’t going to roll in the soft, muddy ground. But the greens were running fast and pure, and the putts simply wouldn’t stop rolling. I hit the ball better than ever, then had no finesse around the greens and – consequently -scored poorly. But the game was all kinds of fun, the fellowship of good friends enjoyable, and the brisk air invigorating.

In my men’s Bible-study group Saturday morning we talked about the difference it would make to this world if all Christians lived their faith out loud, if people of faith freely embraced the deep joy of knowing God, and if followers of Jesus let the Good News spill out and all over, without being preachy but just letting love have its way.

What if all Christians lived their faith out loud? if people of faith freely embraced the deep joy of knowing God? and if followers of Jesus let the Good News spill out and all over, without being preachy but just letting love have its way?

img_7427I thought about that later that morning, as I drank in the goodness and celebrated creation. I hope my joy is evident, and I pray that some of it bubbles over and into the lives of others.

So enjoy these few pictures of a North Carolina winter’s day. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to be living in this beautiful place, surrounded by such good people.

Peace, blessings, and the promise of more tomorrow – DEREK

 

 

a post to make you smile on this snowy Sunday…

dsc_0413It is an absolutely beautiful Sunday morning here in Wake Forest. The sun is shining, the snow is glistening white, and the temperature (14-degrees when I walked the dog) is a bracing 18! The neighborhood has turned into one solid sheet of ice, topped with a couple of inches of powdery snow.

Consequently, worship services at WFPC (and every other congregation in the area) are canceled for today. Rebekah was more than ready to preach for the first time since October, so she is extremely disappointed.

But, here at the end of our quiet cul-de-sac, we are snug and warm, and enjoying the magical beauty of this day.

I have a more serious piece of writing I’m working on that I’ll likely share later today. But in the meanwhile, enjoy some of these snow photographs. For more birds, just click on this link to yesterday’s post – Not Snowpocalypse.

Happy snowcation, everyone, enjoy every minute! – DEREK