Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lifting my eyes up to the hills...

This week I've been involved in a "study retreat" with my wife, Rebekah. We headed to the Appalachian Mountains to do some restoration work, spiritually and mentally (although I'm not sure any more where one ends and the other begins!).

It's been a great week, and we capped it off today by driving the Blue Ridge Parkway for 75 miles. The experience was a wonder overload! We enjoyed sunshine, rain, misty views, clear views, and everything in between.

At first I was disappointed by the rain and clouds. But then, stopping at our first overlook, I realized I was able to see things in the muted light that I would have missed in the stark contrast of bright sun and shadow. A clear day can erase definition off the face of the mountain, so all you can see is a wash of light.

I could see layers and depth through the light drizzle. I could appreciate the "blue" of the blue ridge. I was able to witness a more nuanced Appalachia than I ever had before.

I was, to be honest, blessed by what I had not wanted to see.

Once again, God used my eyes and my ability to observe, to teach me something about the spiritual life. My retreat wasn't over today - it has really just got going.

Peace - always - DEREK

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Monday replete with Glory and Light

This is not the best example of photography I've ever produced - but often the picture that supports a story is better than one that's, well, just a pretty picture. Besides, I don't walk the dog with my Nikon hanging around my neck - so the cell phone camera has to make do.

But God provided an awesome light show this morning. I got up before the sun, and Scout and I had made it to an adjacent neighborhood by the time the first rays crept over the top of the trees to the east. At that precise moment, I felt a light rain and also a faint glow, as if I was inside something translucent. So I looked around and there, in the southwest, a beautiful rainbow appeared as if to say, "Good morning, this is going to be a day full with glory and light."

Of course, every day has that illuminating potential, but the idea certainly gains a little more traction when it is spoken by a rainbow.

Look at the picture, and you can see that it is still very dark in the west. But - and this is a theological truth too - it's always light somewhere, and the first trickle of it spilled over the curve of the earth to simply dance with the early morning rain.

This morning it's easy to imagine being a rainbow. When I allow the penetrating light of the eternal to penetrate my spirit, then there's always the possibility that I may present like a rainbow.

The original promise of the rainbow, spoken by God after Noah and his Ark finally made it back to dry land, was a promise to NOT DO something.

The promise of the rainbow I witnessed this morning, spoken into my life with great clarity, is God's promise to be proactive, to actually DO something beautiful through me. I have been called to live as if what I prayed and sung and taught in church yesterday is actually true. I have been called to shimmer, as that light passes through me. I have been called to live.

Love and blessings, always - DEREK

Friday, August 13, 2010

An Invitation to Radical Potentiality

I don't, typically, post duplicate messages in this space. But today my regular blog entry is exactly appropriate for the ongoing "Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian" discussion.

Here it is. If you've already read this on my other sites, sorry to waste your click! But if you're new to my blog and want something along these lines every day, then stop by again, or go to A Life Examined on a daily basis.

God's Peace - DEREK

"An Invitation to Radical Potentiality"

I've always liked gates... doors... roads that wind... pathways that meander... windows big enough to climb through. I have photographed "openings" - almost unconsciously - for years, never really thinking about why.

I was reminded of this the other day, going through some photographs with Rebekah's sister, Rachel. Last year our "Italy Adventure" had overlapped with Rachel and Tom's trip for a few hours and we'd enjoyed lunch together in Pisa. Rachel was looking at the powerpoint presentation I'd shared with some friends at church.

Two photographs grabbed my attention. The first is pasted above, at the opening to this post. The medieval town of Monteriggioni sits on a Tuscan hillside a few miles north of Sienna. Looking up, from the road, the traveler can see one of the arched entrances to the town - a pinhole view into the city.

Later, exploring the walled settlement, I took this view, looking out and across the Tuscan vista. It's the same aperture, but a radically different view.

Then, and this is my divergency for you, my inability - or maybe unwillingness - to think exclusively according to a linear model, one of my favorite scriptures about what it means to be "saved" jumped into my mind. Here it is, then I'll try to discuss why I think it's profound!

"I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:9-10 - read the whole chapter, it's awesome!)

I love the image of Jesus as a transitional platform: "I am the gate." Jesus moves, so comfortably, beyond the role of simply drawn person and into the more abstract function of catalyst. Jesus is describing himself as a kind of portal through which people can pass - and it seems as though they can come and go at will.

I believe this is an important concept when we think about what Jesus is really getting at when he uses the word "saved." The biblical uses of the word are much deeper, richer and more multi-layered than the one-dimensional, flat invitation... threat... ticket-to-heaven... say-the-magic-words mantras chanted by so many modern-day practitioners of my-way-or-the-highway religion.

The invitation of Jesus is to step into a new world. Faith in those terms is like moving from the walled-city and into the amazing landscape of unlimited possibility - of abundance; or, as in one of my favorite translations, "The life that is really life." and "More and better life than they ever dreamed of" (The Message).

Maybe that's where this fascination for windows and doors and gates and winding paths comes from. I believe God is speaking to me, constantly reminding me that being a disciple - a pilgrim - is more than a window of possibility; that - through Jesus - faith is an invitation to radical potentiality.

It's Friday. And, as always, this is a great day to be alive!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Jesus Followers Shimmer

"Full-time Christians don't sit on their hands; they shine. Disciples don't turn people way from following Jesus; they naturally invite others to join the party by virtue of the luminous manner in which they live. Pilgrims in progress don't just walk in the light, they reflect it. Jesus followers shimmer..."

This quote - from page 132 - really grabbed me today. "Christians" spend so much time and effort staking out positions... and standing against people we believe are wrong... and making sure the world knows exactly what we're against - that we forget to simply shimmer in the light.

Jesus followers shimmer!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Video series to support book

NASHVILLE - Upper Room Books marketing division took a big step into new territory recently when they commissioned a series of five short videos to support Derek Maul's third book, "The Unmaking of a Part Time Christian". The videos, shot in Maul's home town of Brandon, Florida, are designed to introduce five key concepts from the 2009 work.

The 90-second videos were shot in high Definition by former Channel 10 news cameraman John Barlow, a member of First Presbyterian Church. While acting is not Maul's most fluid forte, the messages are well staged and to the point.

The first video is "Who is in control of the words and images that flood your mind every day". Click here to view, take a look, and then pass the link around to friends, family, and church members.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Answers to real questions. Q & A with the author...

Today's blog is actually an "in real time" answer to some questions that have come out of a small group from the Trinity Christian Church, meeting in Mechanicsville, Virginia. The group has formed in order to support and encourage one-another in their journey as faithful followers of Jesus. They chose "The unmaking of a Part-Time Christian" as a resource to help the group get going.

I'll post their questions and then my answers, one at a time:

Opening from the group leader: "This past Thursday we had our 2nd group discussion on The Unmaking of a Part-time Christian. Had several attending that were not able to attend the first go round. Had a great time of fellowship and discussion.... We even had a neighbor from across the street... We invited him to join us next time.

Question # 1: "PILGRIMAGE"... One couple has the vision of the actualPilgrims when discussing the word and thoughts of pilgrimage; it's a negative connotation. What other word or suggestion can you give regarding your thoughts behind pilgrimage and its meaning and perhaps use another word to get across your thoughts?

Answer: My working title for the book was "Pilgrim in Progress." I still believe it's better than "The Unmaking...."! It's a reminder of the famous "Pilgrim's Progress" - the book by John Bunyan that detailed the faith journey of one man, "Christian." I see myself as a pilgrim, a pilgrim making tentative progress; I'm a guy on a journey through life and I'm constantly constantly working on my relationship with God. So another good word is "journey". Jesus is my guide, so in a sense I'm already home. But - as I say in the book - I'm a long way east of Eden and I'm traveling forward, back to the Garden.

Question # 2: "Prayer w/o ceasing... This was a big topic and was troubling for several to grasp hold of. The main question was how in todays world do we do that? We talked and I offered how prayer can look different for everyone and that for me its actively being aware of striving to be Christ like in your daily life.

Answer: for me, this is all about initial trajectory. First thing in the morning, being deliberate about seeking God's presence - just inviting God to be part of the day. Or, as I said in one of the new Upper room videos, "Inviting Jesus to a seat at the table of our consciousness." This sets the table, as it were, for the rest of the day. With practice (practicing the presence of God), God begins to occupy a sub-strata of our conscious selves. If we are deliberate for - say - seven days, talking time to pray once an hour, or every thirty minutes... then God begins to be more of a natural reflex than an awkward afterthought. We won't find ourselves "praying without ceasing" unless we're first prepared to invest some concentrated effort to establish new patterns. God won't force the issue - but my experience is that God is more than willing to hang around once the door has been opened, with intention... Praying without ceasing is a posture, an open door, an invitation - it's a learned response where sensing God's presence is more natural and turning to God is more reflexive. Prayer without ceasing means that God is invited, always...present, constantly... in our minds, as a matter of course... in our thoughts... more often than before.

Question # 3: Page 31: Thoughts on renewal were talked about. SoI wonder if you might comment on any of this and Ill share with the group?

Answer: I believe that renewal is also well defined as "sprucing up", "renovation", "remodeling." We've been in this house now for 14 years. We cleaned the kitchen pretty-much every day. Once every week or so it got a more serious scouring. Then, after 3 years and then again after 10 years, we did things like paint the cabinets, replace the counter top, put new knobs and handles, add bead-board to the wall, install a new oven... etc. All that was great - restoration, remodeling, cleaning, freshening up. But then, this time last year, it was time for some radical intervention. We removed the cabinets, tore down the walls, raised the ceiling, pulled up the floor, and started from scratch.

For my spiritual journey, there's a need of daily work, weekly scouring, seasonal sprucing up, occasional remodeling, and - like it or not - even (maybe once a decade or so) some demolition and reconstruction.

Here's a picture of the new kitchen. Just for a visual!