Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter with "The Preacher"

Sunday's third service at
I've already said what needs to be said about Easter with "The Preacher" over at my daily blog. 

Here's an excerpt. Click HERE to read the entire post.

And, yes, there was a buzz of electricity around the sanctuary as people greeted one another, worshipped together, sang their hearts out and shared life... But that's the way our Sunday mornings always are! First Presbyterian Church of Brandon has a buzz that just won't quit. The Spirit is active in this place, and God's people are doing God's good work with conviction and enthusiasm and love, and you can feel it before you even walk in through the doors....
  • We get together whenever we can;
  • we share our stories;
  • we worship God with enthusiasm and joy;
  • we study the scriptures;
  • we sing from the deepest places that we know;
  • we listen to thoughtful messages that make us laugh, sometimes make us cry, and always encourage us on our way;
  • we invest ourselves in one-another;
  • we talk about what we can do to make the Good News more evident in the way that we live;
  • we reach out into the world with love and compassion.... 
And we do all this in the spirit of a love that never condemns, always listens, believes with a passion, and is motivated to share the Gospel because - well - the good news really is that good!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Death of Jesus and the Witness of Being

Rebekah at Marcia's memorial Friday morning
Summoning the centurion, Pilate asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15)

Yesterday morning - Good Friday - our church was literally packed with people gathered to celebrate the life of a dear friend who had died early Palm Sunday. Marcia was just 65 but has been fighting cancer for 14 years. She once told Rebekah she'd like to pass on during Holy Week. Good Friday was also Earth Day this year and that must have made the keen gardener in her smile.

Rebekah's message could well have been the perfect sermon for Easter Sunday. She encapsulated the message of hope and promise in such a way that it was obvious how and why Marcia's life had been such a vibrant witness to the compelling nature of Christ's Good News.

What Marica had been doing over that past couple of decades was, to borrow a phrase from my new book, "Drawing attention to the truth about God, simply by being."

But Thursday and Friday were a long couple of days. Twenty-four hours, three services.

Someone took the lid off!
Typically, our Maundy-Thursday event at fpcBrandon comprises a church family supper in the fellowship hall that morphs into a worship service with communion around the tables. It's a "Love Feast" really, with laughter and sharing and elders stationed at each table to serve the bread and the wine. I have always enjoyed the powerful intimacy of the occasion.

But this year someone removed the lid from the building and the kitchen has been reduced to rubble. So we had to get creative. To my mind, that's where this church and its pastors really shine.

Forget the spiritualization of tradition, or applying the sanction of "too holy to change" to practice or habit; I enjoy the sanctification of a creative innovation that's rooted in biblical truth. And I love to watch us move forward as the Spirit takes up residence in new practices.

Transformed sanctuary Maundy Thursday
So we moved all the pews and placed a banquet table down the center aisle of the sanctuary. Rebekah put together a PowerPoint slide show that included a few written phrases along with twelve minutes of pictures. Mark and I played hymns on piano and guitar while the unspoken message was "preached". We then were seated at the table in groups of 24 - twelve on each side - taking common communion as collections of disciples then leaving silently into the night.

We served the entire congregation while Mark and I played. Then, in what was to me the most powerful moment of the evening, those of us who had led and served and ushered sat around the table in the empty, darkened sanctuary and served one-another. This is my body, broken for you; this is my blood, poured out...

Holy Friday is the day "The Preacher" is always a little antsy. Or - more accurately - she feels a deep sense of dark solemnity, as the fact of crucifixion reaches into her soul. Marcia's memorial service actually helped, because it was an opportunity to articulate the monumental achievement of Calvary and, then, Easter morning (See yesterday's short post, "I Know Beyond a Shadow" at my regular blog site).

The rooster bears witness
So Friday evening's "Service of Shadows" was especially meaningful and redemptive. It concluded with twelve leaders from our church making statements such as "We denied Him again", extinguishing a candle, and leaving the sanctuary with one of the symbols; the communion cup, a crown of thorns, a candle, the shroud.... Until the last voice called, "And we denied Him" one last time and extinguished the remaining light before we all - in silence, in darkness - emptied the building.

As I write, this morning, scores of our children are hunting eggs that have been hidden by our youth. It's a moment of sunshine in a day that is still loaded with the shocking fact of Christ's death, a day that is redolent with the promise of Easter Morning!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Good News - as honestly as I know how

fpcBrandon - choir rehearsal 
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12)

I think my favorite thing about Palm Sunday is how it sets the stage for Holy Week. It's this big slam-dunk of praise and positive energy before slipping into the more contemplative mode of reflection through Good Friday.

Sunday morning our choir completely blew me away with some magnificent singing. They were accompanied by probably the best string quintet in the metro area, and the sound just washed over the church as if we'd all been offered a brief glimpse into the music of heaven.

I do not consider myself a soloist, but Mark (our music director) asked me to sing a simple arrangement of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" as part of the program. I accompanied myself on acoustic guitar and by all accounts the rendition seemed to work.

Our Praise Band director offered an observation about my song that I want to share this morning as a Holy Week devotional moment. The difficulty for me - as I write - is to convey the essence of what Don said accurately, yet without having it come across as "Look at Derek", or "Derek thinks he's so cool he has to write about himself in his blog"...!

Of course it's impossible to blog without being self-referential. This is, after all, an on-line journal, a log of personal reflections that several hundred of you just happen to check in with on a regular basis. But I'm also conscious of the fact something else is going on here, that God is consistently using this space as a conduit for God's story. I want to always honor God's trust with content that tells the truth about the Good News.

Segue. "Telling the truth about the Good News" is exactly what I had intended to say about how my song apparently worked Sunday in church. 

Don told me that my rendition of the song was "Honest". He told me that I sung the song as an honest offering. He said that he enjoyed it because it wasn't a performance. He said it was pure, that I had delivered the message of the song without getting in the way of it.

I joked that such an effect is not difficult to achieve when you don't have any talent! But I actually knew exactly what Don was talking about. I thought of the horrible mess some "artists" make of our national anthem at ball games when they try to make the occasion all about them instead of all about America. At church yesterday I simply wanted to tell the story... 
  • "Were the whole realm of nature mine; That were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine; Demands my soul, my life, my all."
My prayer - and this blog is conceived in and surrounded by prayer - is always that I can get out of the way enough that The Greatest Story Ever Told will find a voice here. I pray that my observations about what's going on in my life (as a man, a husband, a clergy-hubby, a father, a leader, a writer, a Pilgrim-in-Progress) will serve as a conduit for the truth about the Good News.

That's why the image of me singing - simply - along with my acoustic guitar, and Don's observation that it was "An honest offering" is hopefully also a reasonable description of what's going on here in this blog space.

I want you to click off from reading this page having experienced something of the truth. Something authentic. Good News uncontaminated by performance. Hope and promise and grace and blessing that rings true, uncontrived.

It's the correct posture to begin this most meditative of weeks. Holy Week.
Honestly - DEREK

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Love With Actions and in Truth

"Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. When we love others, we know that we belong to the truth, and we feel at ease in the presence of God." (1 John 3:18-19)

I've been involved in some discussion, recently, regarding the role of the "Preacher's Husband." At its heart, the job is exactly the same as that of any minister's spouse. And that means, fundamentally, a commitment to love and serve God, to lovingly support and encourage the preacher, and to love the church where you serve with imagination and joy. Let's bullet point those, just to make the idea clear:
  • To love and serve God
  • To lovingly support and encourage the preacher
  • To love the church where you serve with imagination and joy.
Or, "Love the Lord; Love the Preacher; Love the Church."

What the preacher's husband's role does NOT offer is an excuse to duck out of stuff (stuff typically associated with preacher's wives) because you're a man. If you do that, Mr. Clergy Hubby, then that makes you a male chauvinist of the first order.

What is true, however, is that it's easier for the pastor's husband to avoid being hemmed in by restrictive gender-based cultural stereotypes. And that's very good news, because being unhitched from traditional roles leaves us free to simply follow Jesus. But the caution here is to remember that Jesus tends to lead us into humble service... and Jesus leads in that direction a little more often than many men care to follow!

My point is this - I may have felt the freedom and the urgency of some unique callings over the years... but I still took my turn working in the nursery, teaching Sunday school, cooking in the church kitchen, baking casseroles for grieving families, hosting extra people for meals, playing piano or guitar for the children's choir and even (this is The Big One) organizing the entire Vacation Bible School one year.

One day - and I suspect I may be the only man in America to have ever done this - I even hosted a very proper "Bridesmaids Brunch" the weekend of Naomi and Craig's wedding. It went so well that Emily Post herself would doubtless have awarded me an A-plus score in the annals of high etiquette!

Putting on the Bridesmaid's Brunch with Kelly
And this leads to part two of this post. It is critically important that the preacher's husband cultivate and protect positive collegial relationships with the church staff, and most especially the other pastors and their spouses. Our associate pastor, Tim Black, has a most awesome wife, Kelly. Kelly offered to co-host my Bridesmaid's Brunch, and we had a blast.

The brunch was so good, in fact, that several people asked if we'd be interested in setting up a catering business - a kind of Preacher's Spouse Incorporated. We laughed. Definitely "LOL". Don't get me wrong: I love Kelly, I love cooking, and I love serving. But professional catering? You can forget it!

I guess what I'm writing about here is immersion in the church culture. When you're married to the preacher then the only thing to do is to get involved up to the eyeballs. Not because it's expected but because it's the only way to love convincingly; and love is primarily - at least at first - always a decision.

I honestly believe the reason I love this church so much is a result of renewing that decision every day.

"Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. When we love others, we know that we belong to the truth, and we feel at ease in the presence of God." (1 John 3:18-19) 

In Love - The Preacher's Husband

Friday, April 8, 2011

I love that this life is a work in progress...

Here's a short story from my "Derek Maul" blog; it should play well in this "Clergy-Hubby" venue (click the link for the entire piece):

Several years ago Rebekah (The Preacher) and I met two couples who both lived in very nice homes in the same neighborhood. 
  • In one house the floor-plan rambled, involved at least five different flooring surfaces, and the design was constantly subject to tweaking. Decorating evolved around wildly varied styles, obscure pieces of art collected while traveling, antique family pieces and photographs etc. There were books everywhere, and there was no way to predict what the next room might look like based on the one you were in. Change was ubiquitous and there was always a drop-cloth and a tool-box in play somewhere.
  • The other home had been recently gutted in response to a divorce. The man remarried, remodeled, and then went to a huge furniture store with his new wife. They purchased complete rooms of furnishings, including pictures for the walls and designer-coordinated home accents. The house was gorgeous; everything matched; it was a showcase... It had no soul.
Bottom line - and this is today's word for preachers husbands - if you want everything ready done and pre-finished... if you want to wake up each new day day with no problems to solve and no mess to clean up... if you want sterility and predictability and no bumps in the road to distract you from, well, whatever it is that you'd do in such a life... Then you're welcome to it. 

But such a life won't have much to do with the dynamic, creative, challenging interactive dance we're caught up in. And I don't think you'd like it all that much after a few days.

I love my clergy-hubby life. 
I love the "on-the-fly" art of it. 
I love the constant remodeling. 
I love the learn and grow quality. 
I love having to rely on the creativity of the Creator and our ongoing relationship to God through Jesus.
I love that we're never done...


Friday, April 1, 2011

Introducing Tim Pennington-Russell: Baptist preacher's husband, guest blogger and esteemed poet

Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, First Baptist of Decatur
Last Fall, right between my two epic trips with Rebekah for study leave and vacation, I spent a most excellent weekend in the Atlanta area with the men's ministry at First Baptist Church of Decatur.

The church was already familiar to me from the news. One newspaper headline (The Christian Post, 2007) proclaimed: "Baptist Megachurch Makes History Electing Woman to Pulpit". Later, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Southern Baptist Convention moved to "disfellowship" the 2,700 member congregation. I remember wondering - being married to an exceptional "outside-the-box" preacher myself - if I'd ever get to meet the notorious celebrity cleric! 

So it was serendipitous when Julie Pennington-Russell's church invited me to speak. I liked her right away (I wasn't surprised), but I was doubly blessed that weekend because, for pretty much the first time ever, I also met a fellow preacher's husband who immediately seemed like the type of man I could be great friends with. Tim and Julie - along with their teens, Taylor and Lucy - make a wonderful family.

Tim, Taylor, Willieboy (woof), Lucy, Julie
Tim Pennington-Russell and I have corresponded a lot since then, and this past week he agreed to write some guest-spots for this blog. He's been a little busy lately, distracted by a boatload of what comes with the package when you're a clergy-hubby who's also committed to faithful discipleship. But I bugged him repeatedly, leaned on him without mercy, and then twisted his arm until he cried "uncle!" at last and threw me the bone of the remarkable poem featured below.

And so, without further ado (with the exception of the cheesy introduction, below), let's proceed to this historic first step toward blog immortality:
  • Introducing (drum roll, please...) 
  • for the very first time (bring in the low, "anticipatory", roar from the crowd...)
  • fresh from his long-standing engagement in Atlanta (cue the spotlights...)
  • this site's very first (adjust the crowd roar to a fever pitch...) 
  • "GUEST-BLOGGER" (the crowd goes wild...)
  • our very own (well, not really) 
  • Baptist Preacher-spouse/Clergy-hubby extraordinaire.... (wait for it...)
  • TIM PENNINGTON-RUSSELL (Woo-hoo! Yippee! Ra-ra-ra! Super-duper!)!!!
Julie and Tim
the pastor comes home
- by Tim Pennington-Russell

She sits in the bedroom
low spring sun striping the closed door
taking a call
that followed her in from the car

patiently she listens
lifting the dragging weight
pulling with another
a yoke of grief

at last
shifting the load in prayer
to stronger shoulders
she says good bye

the remnants
belong to us
each rehearsing our day
sibling skirmishes and laughter
blessed mundane joy