The Greatest Is

And now abides faith, hope and love, these three. But the greatest of these is love.

There are really only three change-agents in the lives of people. Only three abiding motivators, only three forces at work of any effectiveness.

Faith can move mountains. It shall be (or not be) to you according to your faith.

Hope is what enables us to persevere. Michael Card sang it thusly, "Hope is the helmet of each noble soldier, for only a warrior who hopes can be brave. Hope you in the Lord and renew your strength! Soar you up on eagle's wings! Tirelessly run the long race that's set before you - your life's a song the Father sings!"

Oh, but the Lord would say: the greatest of these is loving relationships. "Love" is a moot point, without relationships. Without a person to be kind to, without a person to believe the best in, love is just a word.

Love never fails.

Keeping relationships right is always right.

Love never fails.

Love. Gifts of the Spirit will be done away with, and the law already has been. Love never fails.

Be Strong

Finally, my sisters and brothers, be being strong in the Lord (be in an ever present state of depending on His strength) and always be operating entirely in the exceeding might of His ability. (Eph. 6:10)

I was talking to a dear one today about the liberating truth of "Christ in me."

Forget about "my personal best". That is limited thinking, fraught with attaining one good thing, at the terrible expense of two better things. When the exceeding might of His ability moves me, a certain level of personal "performance" (for lack of a better word) is attained in perfect peace,and without my hurting the people I live with. Jesus Christ is made unto me a never ending source of wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

And I don't have to wait to feel emotionally whole to depend on His strength, because His strength shows up in my weakness. And I don't have to wait until I feel able, to love others and be about the business of the kingdom of God, because I am complete in Him already.

He'll do His job through me, "as me". Christ loves to express His strength and lovely nature through my rather unique vessel.

A Cup of Coffee and a Friend

A cup of toffee coffee, and a friend. A soulful, comforting, blessed combination! Kim-from-Texas and I finally met face to face today, after knowing one another for a decade. She is camping with her family, coming through Knoxville to Boston.
We've home schooled children "together", she's got graduates and I've got graduates, and we've both used the same philosophy and methodology to get the job done. That's how we met - on an online home education forum.

But the common ground goes deeper than that. So much deeper.

She's beautiful, intelligent, funny. The best conversationalist you'll ever meet. We rambled over verbal fields of flowers, ranging on every topic from adolescence to Zen. And something about motorcycles. And grace. And church. And Boticelli and the Burning of the Vanities. Um, coffee and coffee gadgetry, too, of course. (After all, her blog IS "Books and Coffee"!) We spoke of BBQ and salsa, antiphonal singing and Ikea furniture. We shared about things light and easy, and things heart-rending.

Typical home schooling mother-conversation.

We plan on lunch, two years from now.


I was talking to my oldest boy yesterday, after church. He was telling me about how he went fishing one night this past week. He went night fishing, so it was dark, and he didn't have a lantern. He cast his hook, and sat down to fish and pray.

Soon, the Lord spoke to him and said, "Reel in. I've given you a fish." He replied, "I can't see the float." The Lord said to him, "Don't be moved by what you see." He then said, "I don't feel a thing on the line...I have not felt a nibble or a tug...nothing!" God said, "Don't be moved by what you feel."

He reeled in his hook, feeling foolish.

On the end of that line, was a small mouth bass.

When a boy's relationship with God is the emphasis, God is so much more able to train a boy than even his parents are. May he respond to the voice of God, more and more! There is always that turn aside and "see this thing", as did Moses, or to blindly continue walking in your own way.

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen."

Two Brags Today

Two blogs yesterday, two brags today. Here is the first brag -a picture I took, just now:

Yesterday, the sliding door on this van fell off. I mean, it just dropped off! I was in a panic. I bragging because we drive an older model car, with about 250,000 miles on it? That it was side doorless yesterday? No, of course not. Unless the discipline of frugality is something to cheer for.

The "brag" here is that my man (already stressed, with his patience severely tested and tried in many other areas) got out there, scratched his head, and patiently began the long process of taking the whole back quarter panel off the van, and with a hammer and some sockets and other tools I don't know the names of, he pounded this and that back into shape, fabricated a necessary small part, then manhandled the door back into place, put it all back together, and it works better than it ever did.

Not only that! This make and model of van was notorious for losing every stitch of paint on the front hood. Ours somehow survived a long time, but this past did. Oh. It did. The paint suddenly bubbled, blistered, and every square inch of paint flaked off the hood, down to the gray, flat, discolored underside.

Then, last March, the whole van broke down. Price to have the mechanic repair it? Over $300. So we let it sit, while I drove our equally old Previa.

Because we also had a wedding to pay for. Once the wedding was behind us, we also priced "cheap" paint jobs. Price to paint? Cheaply? $400. (That's a good deal, I know.)

My hero...finally had a little time, post-wedding, to crawl under the van. He said the magic words, "Maybe I can fix it." He has managed to keep every other older car we've driven on the road, almost singlehandedly, with only a few trips to the mechanic.

He. Did. It. Price to fix it? $70

Then, he pulled the codes for the color of paint, and he painted it. He. Did. It. Price to paint it? $40 for the paint, another $20 for a few supplies he can use again. It is not a perfect paint job, but for a van as old as this one, it was the frugal, creative, and utterly talented manly thing to do to "do it himself." I am so stinkin' proud of the guy. He can also play the guitar, the drums, he sings like a dream, preaches, pastors, and he builds me whole additions to my house. I'm unsufferably and startlingly in love with him. I love a man who can do way more than one or two things.

Here's the other brag:

See the brunette beauty on the right? That's one of my twin daughters, Sarah. She's the one I spoke of in yesterday's blog. The man on the left? That's her birthday present for 2009. That's Jonathan. Precious man of God, summa cum laude graduate, artist, and her new best friend, other than her twin sister and me.

Goodness and mercy follow me. My life is a trophy of grace, a testimony to what only God can do. These two small "brags" are actually just the harvest....the result...of my Great Foundational Boast: Christ alone. Neither Tim nor Sarah nor I possess a single gift we have not been first given.

Two Blogs Today

Hmmm. Something I nearly never do: type two blogs in a day. But this is irresistable, and I have to share it.

I've been sitting here in my robe, lolling around my own blog this night. My blog is a digital journal of sorts, full of my heart in words and pictures. I marvel at the prophetic nature of a bunch of my posts, and I do not consider myself a "prophetess"!

Get this entry, around New Year's Eve:

"...first of all, a happy and prosperous New Year to my church family - of whom my own dear parents are now, as of one month ago, new members. My life can't get much more blessed and full and complete. I can die a happy woman.Well, I can die happy after we find my other twin daughter a fi - i - ne (hear the southern drawl) man of God.

Of course, her heavenly Father will do the finding. I'm just kidding when I say "we'll have to find him".

I do know this: nothing short of an on-fire, brutally handsome, leader-of-a-man, who is already about the business of the Kingdom of God, who knows exactly what he wants and pursues it, will make that daughter of mine happy. She deserves nothing short of the best...he's out there somewhere! How exciting! Will 2009 be the year? (She's so gonna kill me.)

She's in no hurry; she's fiesty and happy and picky and can afford to be picky. I'm the one who needs to know that I can die happy...just in case. Nobody is guaranteed to be on planet earth, this time next year.

And no one should get married until they find the one whom they can fulfill their divine destiny better WITH that person, than without them. No one should get married until the time is right - when what needs to be done in God's kingdom requires the talents and gifts of BOTH to accomplish. Marriage is so much more than sanctified sex, or a comfortable, expected, and socially acceptable arrangement.

No one should get married until they find the one who can make them laugh; until they find the one who is so very easy to be with. The one who leaves happiness in his or her wake. Few things are more important.

But that's another blog for another day. I'll let this one be about soup and the New Year

Gentle Reader, I sit here in a heavy, fluffy robe with chill bumps on my arms. I am venturing to say that 2009 is INDEED the year. Aw man, has this been the acceptable year of the Lord, so far, or what?? One daughter married a fiiiiiiiine man of God in May: unbearably handsome, loves my daughter unselfishly and unconditionally, a man soon to have his Master's degree, but more importantly, a man with a pastor's heart and an apostle's call on his life.

And ya' other girl most likely has her man as well, and honey...he too is "all that." Sarah is dating an accomplished artist. Recognized leader in the church he comes from. College graduate. But more importantly, a man with a missions call, and a pastor's heart and a burden for....guess where? Cambodia and China. A man who walks around this house unconsciously singing God's praises, when he visits my daughter. A man who unabashedly pursues and loves my daughter. A man who makes her laugh. No....howl. Well. Laugh really loud and long.

goodgrief, I hope this does not mean I'm gonna die soon!

New Bowl...

The bowl is a gift from one of my daughters, last week, and then she created the cute arrangement of flowers and vegetables and herbs from our garden.

To me, sunflowers will always speak to me of my girls. In the language of flowers, the sunflower means "I am so proud of you..." . The sunflowers we plant each year always bloom right around their birthday, which is the end of July.

(Sunflowers remind me of my boys, too, but don't tell them that. They would not appreciate it just yet. Too feminine.)

When I get still enough to listen, I hear the Lord singing over my children. My boys, particularly, are a spectacular spectacle of a "work in progress". A work in progress will deeply challenge your patience and optimism, every time. So? So, how in the world can I be patient and optimistic....and even proud of this startlingly, decidedly unfinished construction site? I don't depend on my own resources of patience and faith, wisdom or strength, that's how. When I run out of every bit of all of it, Someone else takes over, who has unlimited supply. Suddenly, when I am weak, He gets to reveal how strong He is.

God will complete the good work He began, even if that means He uses time consuming methods, even if that means He must first wound, and then heal.

A happy father whistles while he works. A supremely mighty, completely confident, and utterly joyful father sings while he works. Since God sings over my children, so do I. All I am doing is joining with Him in what He is already singing...I didn't start the song, He did. Joining Him in what He is doing is the right thing to do. Sing and work. Work and sing. Keep working. Keep singing.

Whether girls, boys, oldest to youngest, in the good times and the bad, promising seasons, and dark days, I hope you find me tightly grasping my sunflowers, seeing the obvious reasons to be proud, and finding a few reasons to be proud when reasons are hard to find...

...and singing. Because we all need to be delighted in.

I'm a Lucky Girl!

See that pretty face? That is my antique book restorer friend (and fellow believer in "amazing grace") from Texas. She also sings and teaches Spanish. See her blog, "Books and Coffee". Look around, when you get there. She is talented, and you will find pictures of her meticulous book restoring work.

We've never met. Ahem. But we've known each other for years.

I get to meet her next week! She is coming through Knoxville, and she and I are going to have....what else....a cup of java together.

Can't wait.

"Here I Stand. I Can Do No Other. God Help Me."

Martin Luther, on trial for grace-through- faith, said this: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."

And in this fishbowl-of-a-life, a life of full time ministry, I declare the same. In Christ alone my hope is found. I cannot look to the works of my hands and say, "You are my gods." (Is. 2: 7,8) Either the gospel is true, Christ is sufficient, and my righteousness is imputed, or nothing is true and we really ARE a gob of random molecules, the product of random chance, with no purpose or rhyme or reason to this string of days we call "life".

My world is small, but it is a watching world. I don't have a national platform, but my home, my life, my church, my street where I live, my blog, and my Facebook are my "housetop", and here I declare, at the top of my lungs, what God has shown me in secret: "His Word cannot return to Him void. That Word became flesh. The law was given, but grace came. The gospel of New Covenant, and only the gospel of New Covenant, is transformative. Grace will accomplish what law never could."

I shout it from my little "housetop", declaring before-the-fact, before the outcome can be seen, that what God has promised, He (not me, not anyone else) is also able to perform...

...and my small world watches.

Ps 31:19 Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!

So What's the Big Deal?

I swear, it is when you think you know that you really don't know. I do not think it is true, that the older you get, the less you think you have a handle on. I think the real truth is that the wiser you get, the less you think you know.

I was practically bottle-fed and burped on the Roman's Road, John 3:16, the Wordless Book, Jacob's Ladder, Onward Christian Soldiers, and the books of the Bible. I had the books of the Bible memorized, Old and New Testaments, well before the third grade. I was born again at six years old, and baptized in the Spirit (a very real "second experience") at eleven years old.

So you can imagine how that, in my adult life, I thought I had knowlege of the gospel of God and manifold grace. Meanwhile, my consistent default mode was lawlawlawlawlaw. What's the big deal about grace? It's a doctrine.

I. Did. Not. Know. Jack.

::she says, laughing::

And I still don't know...not as I will come to know as I grow ever older and hopefully ever wiser. All I know now, is that this gospel of Jesus is all there is to know, and I will be a lifetime understanding it, applying it to my life, and ministering it into the lives of others. Oh, happy calling!

The great hymn writer Isaac Watts said this: "Acquaint yourself with your own ignorance. Impress your mind with a deep and painful sense of the low and imperfect degrees of your present knowledge."

Deep. Painful. A deep and painful sense. Oh, Mr. Watts! Been there, done that recently. I've decided I prefer to stay "down here", though. I want to live my days out in the low posture of a student...only then can I truly teach with bold confidence. And teach I will. I will not be silent. I read today that there are two things the devil will always, always capitalize on: unhealthy solitude and self conscious silence. I do not learn wisdom in a vacuum, I do not gain wisdom by myself, in solitude. I learn it from God, and very often through others.

What He shows me in secret, in that deep and painful place, that I will shout from the housetops, all silence and self absorbed propriety, be gone!

The Beauty of the Gospel

For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (II Cor. 4:6)

Sin is ugly. The gospel is beautiful. The reality of sin does not alter the beauty of the finished work of Christ.

Hear me when I say - I know what I am talking about. For almost sixteen years of pastoral ministry, my husband and I have been exposed to the worst in human nature - you name it, we've had to deal with it directly, everything from adultery to pornography to pedophilia to lying, self righteous pride, and gossip.

And it used to rock my world. I would mourn, for those trapped in sin, as though there were no light in the darkness.

Then, along came deeper revelation into the grace of God. Now, I mourn for those trapped in sin, while believing God that "joy cometh in the morning." Today, I am intimately acquainted with the reality of these words, "Where sin abounds, the grace of God much more abounds."

So do we wink at sin, that grace might abound? God forbid.

Do we wink at the grace of God, so that sin might abate? God forbid, because that won't work anyway. If, in a reaction to some awful sin, I attempt to de-emphasize the unbelievable, unfathomable grace of God, well, that would be utter unbelief and foolishness on my part.

It would be akin to allowing soot, dirt, and ashes to pile up in my fireplace, and then turning out the family room light. Suppose, hours later, I return to the fireplace and turn on the light of revelation, and exclaim, "Look what turning on the light did! It encouraged my fireplace to be more dirty! If I dim these lights, the fireplace will be cleaner."

Nah, the light exposed what was already exposed the reality I was hoping to ignore. The grace of God is no different. It never encourages sin - it rather exposes it as being exceedingly hideous in the light of divine and sacrificial love.

Christ gave his life to justify the sinner....never the sin. "Sin" is not justified, in any way, shape, form, or fashion. But I have been justified, because I have put my trust in the finished work of Christ, because I have cast all my hope onto the grace of God.

The real result of true grace-illumination, is the power of God to clean the fireplace. A well-laid, crackling, happy fire feels far more natural than letting ashes pile up. The light of grace is not a pretext for pretending the toxic mess doesn't really exist, and no spiritually sane person blames the light for all the mess, soot, and ashes. Rather, the light helps you see what damage the dirt has done, and then it helps you take joy in participating with God, as He creates beauty for ashes. You can finally have a good fire.

Grace gives beauty for ashes. It justifies the sinner. It is a fire - the very power of God unto salvation. It is still the gospel of God that by grace I am saved through faith, and nothing else. And, as I have received Christ Jesus, I will continually walk in Him. Sin, in my life or the life of someone exceedingly dear to me, will never....never....diminish the light of God's glory and grace.

Again. I know whereof I speak. I am walking this out in the most painful of ways, in this season of my life. Everything I know about the grace of God is being put to the test, is being walked out, as Jacob limping. I've wrestled this one out, in the dark night of my soul, and God has come away glorified, and His great grace magnified, and I am beautified in vials and vials of the oil of joy, the oil of joy He gives to replace my mourning.

It is well with my soul. The gospel is most beautiful. I can never allow what may be going on in the life of a dear son or a near friend's daughter, or a precious woman's husband, or a precious man's wife....I can never allow any of it to diminish the beauty of grace, or make me run back to law. Rather,this battle, difficult and heartbreaking, will one day bring about sweet victory, as the grace of God teaches everyone who is His, to deny ungodliness.

Lord, let your light shine!

This N' That, July in My World

Our "baby" practicing his drums. (Note the cleaner in the windowsill. We do make him do his chores.)

part of tonight's dinner ~ tomato and cucumber salad from the garden, in a creamy blend of mayonaisse and sour cream (2 to 1 ratio of mayo to sour cream), with lots of chopped dill.

Told you I'd take you with me, on our trip to the mountains, day before yesterday. This was our brief brush with danger. This bear was as big as the Barbie Jeep! He stood his ground for awhile!

Oh...what a view.

Up through the top-down "Barbie Jeep" (red Geo Tracker)

One of many tiny waterfalls - this one went all the way up the steep ridge.

"Run river, run." (Anyone else, like me, love old Bread songs?)

A Walk Through the Garden

A few pictures from the gardens, just this morning. I never "style" my photos, so everything you see is as it is. I want to post pictures of my rosemary and foxglove, but I'm out of time. My beloved and I are planning a trip to the mountains (in the Barbie Jeep) late this afternoon, and I have much to do in the meantime. I'll try to remember to take my camera when we leave, so that I can "bring you along" for the ride - top down. Won't you come? Bring a bit of cash for a snack at Dead Beat Pete's. Maybe bring a hat to avoid what I call "crazy convertible hair"....I never wear a hat, though. I don't mind the windblown look. Nothing more relaxing, in my simple version of the world.

tealights along the back deck...

peppers - got 5 coming in, and a bunch of blossoms!

the sunflower patch - nothing blooming yet...

Kentucky Wonder pole beans in the back, and basil in the front. (There's thyme in the middle, but you can't see it.)

Our old, broken chimnea, now a planter. My gardening apron and back brace (ahem) hanging where I always reach for them, each day.
(Told you I don't style my pictures. Don't they look hideous, hanging there?)

Rudbeckia and salvia. I want tons more rudbeckia! Masses of it! Billows of it!

The hydrangea I planted this spring has finally bloomed.

The butterfly garden...

Roma tomatoes

a small variety of patio tomato - we've a total of 32 tomatoes coming in.
They'll all ripen at about the same time. Want some?

Of Books, and Words Underlined

excerpt from "Seeking the Face of God" by Gary Thomas...

"...'We do not keep ourselves by our own power', Pascal wrote, (in our own strength), 'we have only the counterbalance of two opposing vices, just as we stay upright between two contrary winds. Take one of these vices away, and' (in our own strength), 'we fall into the other.'

What did Pascal mean by this? A man or woman who works very hard may simply be avoiding the sin of laziness by being filled with selfish ambition or greed. Remove his or her hunger for more money and this person will immediately become as lazy as any of us.

Others might be very disciplined around food. They would be the last persons on earth you would label as gluttons. Yet they are disciplined around food because they want to have a physique that will draw attention to themselves, not because they don't want food to have a hold on their hearts and steal their affection for God. They may be free from gluttony only because they are slaves to vanity.

Do you see how we play vice against vice - using vanity to destroy gluttony, for instance - and are upheld by the struggle of two sins? This is a much different holiness than the ancients' view of a transforming passion that gives birth to virtue. On and on we could go, showing how 90 percent of our virtue is a sham, a vice wearing a coat and tie. That is why Jesus constantly pointed us to the heart..."

Reading this yet again today, I found myself rejoicing over the grace of God. In the gospel, I have been made the righteousness of God in Christ. No longer do I have to lean on my own understanding, depend on my own human performance, or compare myself to anyone else. I am certain that I am quite imperfect in the estimation of a friend or spouse or child or employer, but none of those people are God. In the estimation of God, I am fully accepted in the Beloved Son.

The gospel of this radical, divine love, as displayed in the finished work of Jesus, is the transforming passion that gives birth to true virtue....grace alone gives birth to accomplishments of any eternal value. He only is "Maker". I can not make of myself anything resembling true virtue. I have set a trumpet to my mouth in this regard, and intend to use it to make a clear and certain sound...trumpeting New Covenant glory...until I leave this earth for heaven, where I will take it up again for the same reason.

90 percent of "my" virtue is a sham. Thank God for the gift of the righteousness of God through Christ.

Powerful Hymn

My latest, most favorite song. I cannot hear this without tears. Oh, the riches of His glorious grace!

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great high Priest whose Name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart,
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free,
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me,
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there, the risen Lamb,
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace.
One with Himself, I cannot die,
My soul is purchased by His blood.
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God!

One with Himself, I cannot die,
My soul is purchased by His blood.
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God!

Can We Articulate It?

Grace. There is a "grace speak" that can only come after long acquaintence with the gospel of Christ. For example, I can hear a phrase in Spanish and I can make those sounds ,while not understanding a word I am saying. But those who speak the language can tell the difference.

On the other hand, if I immerse myself in Spanish culture....ah, that is entirely different. Fluency in the language comes. I can begin to pick up on inflection, nuance, and cadence.

There was a time in my life when I could make grace-sounds. After all...I had heard about grace, through some messages here and there in my short life. "By grace I am saved through faith, and that not of myself. It is the gift of God."

I had to have been not more than ten years old when I memorized that Bible verse. Therefore, as a grown woman, I thought I understood grace, and could speak about grace...what was there not to understand? I'd heard the "song" enough times before, I felt sure I could sing it.

Here is how I may have sounded:

English sounds, in a way, but no real words, and obviously no understanding. Likewise, I used to make grace- sounds...I could speak gospel syllables...but with no immersion in the truth, there was no clarity, no real personal impact beyond my own assurance of heaven, and behavioral modification.

Gentle reader, I am no Mariah Carey, but let me tell you. Today ~ I can sing the wonderous love of Jesus. I can sing His mercy and His grace. My language is effortless, passionate, and clear. I've been immersed in the gospel of Jesus - grace besotted, fluent and confident in all Christ has done...and consequently the old dialect of law, which distorts the language of grace whenever you try to mix them together, that old dialect of law has nearly disappeared altogether.

I speak native grace.

Now, when I speak about grace, the words and the phrases and the stories I tell all reveal immersion in the concept. I'm living it, not just repeating sermons I may have heard about it. Not just parroting doctrine. Not just singing songs that have no passionate and personal meaning to me.

No more "Ken leeeeeeee tulibu dibu douchoo."