Circa 1650's

The following text originates from a fictional dialogue between a pastor, a legalist, an antinomian, and a young Christian, as written by Edward Fisher in his 1650 book The Marrow of Modern Divinity. This is one of the most beautiful explanations of the gospel of grace that I have read.


"I tell you from Christ,
and under the hand of the Spirit,
that your person is accepted,
your sins are done away,
and you shall be saved;
and if an angel from heaven should tell you otherwise,
let him be accursed.
Therefore, you may (without doubt) conclude
that you are a happy man;
for by means of this your matching with Christ,
you are become one with him,
and one in him,
you ‘dwell in him, and he in you’ (1 John 4:13).
He is ‘your well beloved, and you are his’ (S. of S. 2:16).
So that the marriage union betwixt Christ and you
is more than a bare notion or apprehension of your mind;
for it is a
special,
spiritual, and
real union:
it is an union betwixt the nature of Christ,
God and man,
and you;
it is a knitting and closing,
not only of your apprehension with a Saviour,
but also of your soul with a Saviour.
Whence it must needs follow that you cannot be condemned,
except Christ be condemned with you;
neither can Christ be saved,
except you be saved with him.
And as by means of corporeal marriage all things become common betwixt man and wife;
even so, by means of this spiritual marriage,
all things become common betwixt Christ and you;
for when Christ hath married his spouse unto himself,
he passeth over all his estate unto her;
so that whatsoever Christ is or hath,
you may boldly challenge as your own.
‘He is made unto you, of God,
wisdom,
righteousness,
sanctification,
and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30).
And surely,
by virtue of this near union it is,
that as Christ is called ‘the Lord our righteousness’ (Jer. 23:6),
even so is the church called, ‘the Lord our righteousness’ (33:16).
I tell you,
you may,
by virtue of this union,
boldly take upon yourself,
as your own,
Christ’s watching,
abstinence,
travails,
prayers,
persecutions,
and slanders;
yea,
his tears,
his sweat,
his blood,
and all that ever he did
and suffered
in the space of three and thirty years,
with his
passion,
death,
burial,
resurrection,
and ascension;
for they are all yours.
And as Christ passes over all his estate unto his spouse,
so does he require that she should pass over all unto him.
Wherefore,
you being now married unto Christ,
you must give all that you have of your own unto him;
and truly you have nothing of your own
but sin,
and, therefore, you must give him that.
I beseech you, then,
say unto Christ with bold confidence,
I give unto thee, my dear husband,
my unbelief,
my mistrust,
my pride,
my arrogancy,
my ambition,
my wrath,
and anger,
my envy,
my covetousness,
my evil thoughts,
affections,
and desires;
I make one bundle of these and all my other offences,
and give them unto thee.
And thus was Christ made ‘sin for us, that knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5:21).
‘Now then,’
says Luther,
‘let us compare these things together,
and we shall find inestimable treasure.
Christ is full of
grace,
life,
and saving health;
and the soul is freight-full of all
sin,
death,
and damnation;
but let faith come betwixt these two,
and it shall come to pass,
that Christ shall be laden with
sin,
death,
and hell;
and unto the soul shall be imputed
grace,
life,
and salvation.
Who then is able to value the royalty of this marriage accordingly?
Who is able to comprehend the glorious riches of his grace,
where this rich and righteous husband,
Christ,
doth take unto wife this poor and wicked harlot,
redeeming her from all devils,
and garnishing her with all his own jewels?
So that you,
through the assuredness of your faith in Christ, your husband,
are delivered from all sins,
made safe from death,
guarded from hell,
and endowed with the
everlasting righteousness,
life,
and saving health
of this your husband Christ.’”
—Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Focus, 2009), pp. 166–167.

I very much want this book. I am presently on a quest...

Sheila: (shē-lə), n. 1. Saint 2. Poet 3. Lover of home and church life. synonyms: simple, happy, free. antonymns: cynical, religious, legalist

(please do excuse the pearls with the jeans. I left my top half exactly as I had dressed it before church, and switched just the bottom half for the picnic, after church. Before the jeans and slip on shoes, I was wearing the cutest pair of woolen, menswear style, navy blue, cuffed-hem trousers, with a wide leg ~ accessorized with navy blue and burgundy leather spectator pumps. See how the sweater-and-pearls then comprised a classic outfit? I rocked it) ::perky sniff::

"The hearth is the heart of the home...(there are those who have) lost the sense of the sacredness of the home (and I would say also "the church"). They still believe in the respectability of the home (and church); but that is only another way of saying that they want to be respected by other people for reverencing what they do not really reverence...there is/was never any flame upon their altar...(thus) a generation in revolt flee from a cold hearth (and church)...

...but a family (or church) will really do without rules exactly in proportion as it is a successful family (church)...

...in order that life should be a story of romance to us, it is necessary that a great part of it should be settled for us without our permission. If we wish life to be a system, this may be a nuisance; but if we wish it to be a drama, it is an essential...

...A man has control over enough things in his life to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. And the reason why the lives of the wealthy are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can choose the events. They are dull because they are omnipotent. They fail to feel the adventures because they can make the adventures. The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect...

...To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings...

...our fathers believed in the links of kinship and also in the links of logic. Today, our logic consists mostly of missing links; and our family largely of absent members...

Today, there are fewer places to discover. The real adventure is to stay home (both to stay home-home, and to stay with your church home)."

~G.K. Chesterton (parenthetical associations are my own. Robert Frost said that an idea is a feat of association. I believe it! )

I Cannot Choose!

Today has been one of those days (they happen to me pretty often) where I have contemplated a thousand thoughts of beauty. Which one to choose? What to send out, to take its place in the trillions of words and billions of ideas sloshing around the internet this day?

My (so far) 18 month obsession with 3X5 index cards as an organizational tool? The thought of a Blackberry is tempting but unnecessary, PDA's DOA, and even my Outlook cannot outshine the simple, earthy, physical act of putting pen to paper - paper that happens to be the perfect size and intensely portable. Many more ideas have been captured, to be examined at my leisure, rather than sneaking away.

The autumn colors? I could write about them. I nearly run off the road every year, about this time. October 2009 is no exception.

The way I have discovered that I have to shield the eyes of my tiny parrotlet, when I walk with him, to keep him from getting too nervous and flighty? Oh, how the Lord would gather you under His wing, dear one! He would shield your furtive eyes from the unsafe terrain of human wisdom, but "you would not". We insist on our own understanding, we insist on walking in the light of our own eyes. Consequently, we become flighty and impulsive. We fly away when it would be safer to sit still until the feeling of confusion or unrest or boredom or anxiety passes. We move too fast, with too little wisdom. "Like a bird who wanders from his nest, is a man who wanders away from his place." (Proverbs 27:8)

We think we know where we belong, we think we know where to "go", when it is safest and sanest to sit still, and not try to see All Things.

What about this comment, left by someone I do not know, about grace? "Grace is a funny thing to talk about because it’s often thrown into conversations or sermons and I have no idea what it means. It seems very “airy” with no real content." I wish this man John could come to my church! His thoughts mirror what the majority of Christians perceive about grace, were they only honest enough to admit it.

Grace is a loaded concept. It is more than a concept. It is a Person, it is a Plan, it is beautiful and scandalous, it is a way of living, it is a way of seeing, it is utterly foundational. It RE-news your mind, over and over and over again, as you grow in it. Grace is the gospel, and the gospel is the grace of God. John's words, typed into the seeming-nothingness of his computer monitor, echo the condition of the whole church, and I find my heart tenderly breaking.

I know my life's mission. No heartbreak, no mission. Find where your heart breaks, and you'll know.

What about the joys of lobster bisque soup? Had some today. It could be an entire blog post. I could make it work.

Or the fact that, at the gentle, persistent urging of Ann Voskamp's blog "A Holy Experience", I have joined the many, many who are keeping a gratitude journal, and journaling our way to 1,000 gifts of God to be thankful for? You should see my list, begun only recently:

1. Coffee, with white chocolate macadamia cream and a touch of sugar
2. A quiet Saturday afternoon, watching football with my Tim.
3. A busy Sunday with saints who happen to be my best friends - all of them!
4. The warmth of a pocket parrot on the back of my neck.
5. The effect of Comet on stainless steel sinks.
6. The canary's song.
7. The flickering of a candle beside my bed.
8. Neckrubs from my youngest son.

That's just a few - there's more, and I only started this past week.

Or, I could blog on and on today, regarding the one phrase in Scripture: "This man Jesus...went about doing good..." It has inspired me, day after day, for about a week to ten days, now. I have fresh context for doing good - a context I didn't have before. I see in my spirit a brand new zeal to simply find someone, and do good. Good, for its own sake, is so....so good....so God-like.

Maybe I could share about my own personal version of Lauds and Vespers? Lovely thoughts, those.

Blast it, I can't choose.

We Don't Have It All Together...

...but together we have it all.


You are looking at a mother and her sons (Isaac, me, and Josiah)...three people who are full of faults, foibles, quirks, sins, thoughtless deeds, deep thoughts, and in some areas we each one possess more than a fair share of talent.

As parents, mine and Tim's relationship with our boys has been tested and tried this past year, and all while dealing with profound challenges and transition in our lives, while planning our daughter's wedding, while pouring out our hearts in the gospel, while swimming around the fishbowl of being a ministry family. It doesn't matter whether the fishbowl is small or large, a fishbowl is a fishbowl, and we live in one.


Tim and I have had to put up with criticism from one or two regarding our parenting, our personality, our words, and probably even our animals. (!!) I would not be a bit surprised if even our poodle's misbehavior was attributed to our emphasis on the gospel of grace. The scrutinization has been excruciatingly petty at times, and at other times it has been used by God to bring adjustment.
Bottom line? We just can't seem to be able to force anyone or any creature behave as it ought. How utterly inept, no?

Well, my answer to that, and the real point of this blog post, is that "those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel." Now I realize the original context of this verse quoted was to validate the idea that some men will make their living by serving the church. Still yet, the logic holds up - those who preach the sufficiency of Christ will be challenged to live it out in the secret place of relationship. Those who preach the finished work of Christ better be ready to deal with the "togetherness" of that finished work's reality.


Don't preach the gospel until you are willing to walk it out in in very real and sacrificial ways. Your opinion can be your version of the perfect world, and there are no real relationships in a perfect world. The gospel itself has no context outside relationships. God wanted relationship with us, and went to the ultimate length to make it possible. We, in turn, do the same in each and every significant relationship we have.


People can be so inappropriate. I could very well be the princess of inappropriate. No matter. The worst inappropriate-ness there is, is to imagine yourself to be superior.


At the most basic level, a Christian is to be an imitator of God, and thus we most certainly can give something akin to divine grace to others. We can be a conduit of a small amount of undeserved blessing, if you will. I call it "manifesting the faithful love of Christ to the ones we care about." Nothing in this world will mature you and perfect you like living the gospel out in relationship will do in you.


"The Kingdom offends our sense of propriety because it's filled with inappropriate people. But, that's its greatest Gospel glory." ~Thomas Chalmers~














Sunday Afternoon

A Harvest Church covered dish dinner, today - great food, sweet fellowship, and adorable babies.


It was a crowd. I could not believe the line at the food tables!



This is about half the line....and a bunch had already been through.


Our youth pastor and his son...



To know this girl is to love her!




In line for ham, pulled pork BBQ, casseroles, salads, desserts galore...





These sisters take their NFL football sort of seriously.






Harvest men take their yard-football totally seriously. Jeff Kear is in big trouble for ruining an entire outfit this afternoon. Does he care? Nah...







A mother's love. (Our Angel and her son Jordan...)




Our much-loved motorcycling couple (Phillip was the national champion vintage bike racer a few years back!)





The tall guy in the dark sweater and glasses is our very first "home grown" missionary. We will be sending him on his first long-term stint to Cambodia in January. (see http://www.lightincambodia.org/)




The farmhouse...






goat pen...





Pre-shus!




beautiful fall colors - one of the many pastoral views on the farm this afternoon.




Practicing His Presence

I have had in my possession for many years, an unequaled classic by Brother Lawrence, "The Practice of the Presence of God" written over 300 years ago as a compilation of his personal letters to close friends.

Brother Lawrence left the presumed stillness and serenity of the countryside to join a Carmelite monastery. He came to deeply doubt the effectiveness of the whole "alone with God all the time" lifestyle, wishing instead to live with a brotherhood. He felt, and I quote, "Life within such a group is based on the firm rock of Jesus Christ, rather than on the shifting sands of individual devotion. Also the members of the group could edify and exhort one another, thus protecting themselves against the changeableness of their individual whims."

Brother Lawrence was known as a hard worker, and one for whom no job was too small. He said, "To think we must abandon conversation with God in order to deal with the world is erroneous."

One of Brother Lawrence's close friends wrote this about him, "He thought it was a shame that some people pursued certain activities, mistaking the means for the end. " In one of his letters, Lawrence himself wrote, "The only requirement is that we place our confidence entirely on God. Abandon any other concerns, including any special devotions you have undertaken simply as a means to an end. God is our end. If we are diligently practicing His presence, we won't need our former means."

"The King, who is full of goodness and mercy, does not punish me. Rather, He embraces me lovingly, and invites me to eat at His table. He serves me Himself, and gives me the keys to His treasury...He converses with me without mentioning my sins or His forgiveness. My former habits are seemingly forgotten."

"The most intimate union with God is the practice of His presence. The actual presence of God. Although this relationships with God is totally spiritual, it is quite dynamic, because the soul is not asleep, rather, it is powerfully excited! In this state, the soul is livelier than fire, and brighter than the unclouded sun, yet at the same time, it is tender and devout."

Because God led Brother Lawrence more by love than by the fear of His judgement, his counsel tended to inspire the same kind of love. He encouraged other Christians to rely on God's love to lead them, rather than the knowledge of learned men. He used to tell his brothers, "It is the Creator who teaches truth, who in one moment instructs the heart of the humble and makes him understand more about faith and even about Himself, than if he had studied them for a long term of years.

It was for this reason Brother Lawrence carefully avoided answering those curious questions that lead nowhere, and only served to burden the spirit and dry up the heart.

He walked in deep revelation of grace, and I close with this quote, which I also embrace as my own. Brother Lawrence said it first, but hear it being said in my own voice, those of you who know what my voice sounds like:

"If you think of me, remember the grace with which God has blessed me rather than my typically human ineptitude."

I'll be here, practicing the presence of God the way Br. Lawrence taught me, the way some practice music or speaking a language or practice yoga. I'll be here, busy but refreshed, bustling but calm, praying to God and hearing from God as I go about the business of my day, as well as setting aside "quiet time". Both setting aside time to pray, and praying without ceasing, with full and equal awareness of God's presence is the secret. A full life and full schedule is something to be delighted in, and I want to thank Brother Lawrence, when I see him someday, for teaching me the secret of practicing God's presence, even when I am in the midst of the most busy, stressful, or tedious event. There is an art to it...I almost dare to say you'd have difficulty learning it apart from this great work, "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence.

He was a man of great grace revelation.

Tired For All the Right Reasons

So much being written these days about "quiet stillness" and "slowing down" and "taking time to just be". I've been the source of some of it in recent months and years! How boring. How overdone.

And here I go ("again", my grumpy critics would say - all critics are grumpy)

Fine. Here I go again...contradicting my own self.

I am so comfortable with that. First of all, life is full of paradox and replete with contradiction. I can have a good day and a bad day, all in the same day! I want to live a simplified-sort of life, yet I want to accomplish a thousand worthy goals. I can love someone and sometimes not like them. The only thing I can't do is care and not care enough to take responsibility at the same time. But I hear that some folks manage to do it. If that is you, please tell me your secret. Because when I don't take responsibility, I would have to admit that it is because I don't care.


But in general, I am on good terms with contradiction. I understand it. Rainbows cannot exist without two seeming opposites (sun, rain) coming together.


Think of me as the personification of a rainbow. I am colorful. I am a study in contrasts. Get over it. I don't care, and therefore refuse to be responsible. It's my blog. If it bothers you, go read someone boringly bored-in on one perspective. Go read the stilted paragraphs of an intellectual knot-on-a-log, who just happens to be really trying hard to think pretty, happy thoughts, to compensate for being innately grumpy about everyone else's salvation. Go read an Arminian. Me? I happen to own it all! (see blog post from August entitled "I Own That")

Contradiction, contrast, paradox, mystery...it all belongs to me, and it all fills me with unjaded - and some tell me contagious - delight.



So. I'm completely worn out, and it is wonderful. My life is anything BUT quiet and sweet and still-ly serene, and that's something to be jealous of. I've learned that all that "simple, quiet" stuff is all so much bull, anyway. Two types of people carry on about being quiet and serene, as if it were better than being beautiful and busy: people who are bored with too much time on their hands, or people who have not yet mastered the art of inner stillness, regardless of outer circumstances.


No one has the authority to talk to you about the stillness of God unless they are currently in the middle of the busiest, most complicated season of their life. No one has the authority to talk to you about scheduling unless they don't have the time to talk to you about scheduling, but they fit it into their schedule anyway. No one has the authority to talk to you about joy unless they are always smiling, after having to fight for their joy. No one has the authority to talk to you about mending fences unless they have mended most of theirs, and no one has the authority to talk to you about relationships unless they are busy loving a whole lot of people.

No one has the authority to talk to you about authority unless they themselves are under authority.



Yeah - Biblical logic trumps everything.

I've been too busy on one side, and I've been too still on the other side. Being too busy is better.

See...being too still makes you feel exhausted. Being too busy makes you feel exhausted, but for all the right reasons.


And that kind of exhaustion is both appropriate and curable. All it takes to cure that kind of fatigue is a bath or a nap. I find myself awakening early in this season of my life, feeling rested and ready most days. I typically lay in bed for awhile longer, savoring the start of a new day, and that is about all the "quiet time" I ever see.



I have recently decided that...honestly, now...I love it. I'm tired, and I'm delighted! I'm worn out from doing the work of tending relationships, and diving into new friendships, sink or swim! I'm tired from the creative outflow of writing, planting, harvesting, helping others, growing, mastering new skills, making new intellectual connections and maintaining all I've studied so far. It takes a whole lot of effort to do what you know!



Next year, I might prattle on about the simple, still life again. If I do, I hope I find a way to make it interesting. For now, I'm burning the candle at both ends, and it feels like a party.

It is both healthy and desirable to burn the candle at both ends, when you can afford another box of candles anytime you want them. An empty schedule equals an empty life. My daytimer is crammed full of names and events.

Such a full life. Makes me tired, just writing about it.

"These Are the Precious Times..."

Our college-career small group. (Well, the man standing is in his 50's, but he's a nurse-anesthetist, and that is a career, after all! He also sort of owns the house. L-R Chris, Matthew, Bruce, Jillian)

Our Emily...incredibly dear...highly gifted musician...intelligent college student, University of Tennessee..."helping the kitty down from the roof." (Hint: Kitty was perfectly happy right where she was.)





It was starting to get chilly...




A time of sweet worship...(L-R, Josiah, Johnathan, Sarah, Emily, Kate...more students were there, not in the frame.)




That's Tim, in the Old Navy hoodie...and me...worshipping while getting a neck-rub from my youngest, Isaac. (small disclaimer: our college group is not typically open to high schoolers, but since Tim and I lead it, we sometimes bring our youngest with us. If we left him home alone for every responsibility we had to fulfill, he would truly be home alone raising himself much of the time. Can't do that, now, can we?)






Extraordinarily Happy Ordinary Days

Here I sit, blogging away, I hear the sound of the NFL football game floating in from the livingroom (my youngest son and my husband have this Monday night man-ritual), the voices of my newly married daughter and her husband (who are spending the night here tonight, just for kicks, in her old room) and the laughter of my other daughter Sarah, as she doubtless is on the phone with her beloved.

Josiah (oldest son) called me today just to tell me that he loves me and to thank me - a simple thank you for sticking by him, keeping him near to my heart, and for being his mom. Does life get any sweeter?

He also wanted to tell me that a friend of his that he brought to our college-age small group yesterday, a young man who doesn't yet know Christ, thinks that I'm a really, really great mom. I think I must have also won the lottery and just don't know it yet, because...well, because life is just that good today.

This kid, Josiah's friend, wants to come to Harvest - and this is after hearing the gospel, through various college kids and Tim and me, all evening long last night.

All twenty of us sat around our friends' built-in firepit, on their gorgeous, huge new undulating back porch, all made of flagstone. Picture if you can, a postcard-perfect Federal Blue painted, slate roofed, post and beam home, without a single television inside that home anywhere, as you walk through...no TV exists in this historic home - just the sound of a wood burning stove, and soft instrumental music playing. You continue out to the back porch. There is a large blue barn, also post and beam constructed, behind us. To the side is a horse barn with two horses, and down from there, you see goats frolicking, and one by one the stars began to come out...shining incredibly brightly, there in the country where there is no city light whatsoever.

Yeah. That mental image is a metaphor for my life these days. Completely. Good.

If you tramp the acreage that is part of this property, you will find a creek - more like a small river. Spring-fed, and refreshingly cool in the summer, or so all the teenage boys of Harvest tell me.

Tim and I were graciously and sincerely told to schedule anything, at any time on their property...to make use of this very sought after space anytime we needed it. We won't be taking unfair advantage of such generosity, though this family is part of our church, but we couldn't help but tearily smile. Well, I tearily smiled. Tim just grinned.

When God closes a window, He opens a barn door, apparently.

(...members of Very Large Churches in our city regularly ask to schedule their events here, to be near this quaint setting, to make use of the post and beam barn...we get first dibs.)

We were full of baked beans, home made potato salad, and chili dogs, all graciously prepared by Lynn, and one by one three guitars popped out, and we began to sing. The owners of this property were glowing with joy, absolutely loving having this group meet at their home. We sang in the freezing cold, sitting close to the fire, for a long time. It was worship. Josiah's friend thought it a bit strange, I'm sure, but he enjoyed it so much he is coming back. I don't blame him.

The goodness of God was in quiet evidence in the people and the place - a pervasive peace blankets the Bower's property. I hope they realize that they are very much a part of the sowing that took place in that young man's life. When he gets saved, they will share in that reward. That is how hospitality works.

On another note (and an oh-so-random note at that) here is a picture of "my new baby". Yup. There's a brand new baby at the Atchley house. He is an early birthday present from Tim for me, and he is named after Cary Grant:



Grant, the pocket parrot. (Also known as a "parrotlet")


Grant, sitting on Isaac's shoulder...

Last but not least, I made something called "40 Clove Garlic Chicken" today:




I had to take a picture of forty cloves of garlic, piled on my cutting board!
(later note: I promise, I didn't realize the card was back there when I snapped the picture. I'm not flaunting it on purpose. ACK! I clicked on this picture, after posting it, and realized that you can see this card, plain as plain. Oh well. I'm leaving this picture here, just the way it is. That card sits where I've had it since I got it in the mail four days ago...it puts a smile on my face all the time.)



You place some celery, onions, and a large roasting chicken in the crockpot. Sprinkle the chicken generously with coarse salt, fresh cracked pepper, paprika, rosemary and thyme. Pile forty...you read right: forty. cloves. of. garlic. all around the chicken and switch on the crockpot.

After awhile, you will be treated to the tenderest, best chicken you have had in a long time. Guaranteed. Just don't eat the garlic...it is there to flavor the chicken, or maybe just to smell startlingly good for hours and hours.
In short, this blog is about church life. Which also happens to be my life. Harvest Church isn't a "place" as much as it is a way of living. You have to experience it to understand it. It is abundant living, challenging living....purposeful and passionate living. It is community. It is all things ordinary and exquisite and frustrating and tedious and glorious.
If you don't have a church home, come experience this life. If you have a church home - please....stick and stay there. The rewards are stunning.

Interesting Bits from Other Places

Grace Vs. Deliverance

By: Preston Gillham

Proverbs 3:34b says, “…He (God) gives grace to the afflicted.”

I read that and wondered why God would give grace and not deliverance.

...Many times grace is a training ground run through tear-blurred eyes and which in the end leaves your heart strong, your spiritual muscles toned, and your head clear and organized.

Proverbs 3:34 is repeated in the New Testament in 1 Peter 5:5. It is interesting to note the context that Peter chose in writing this passage under the inspiration of the Spirit. Much of chapter five discusses hard times: Anxiety (vs. 9 and 10). After having defined the world of grace Peter closes the chapter and book by saying that he has spoken of the true grace of God… “Stand firm in it (grace of God)!”

Unless you live in the world of grace you will not get to know it. Grace cannot be learned apart from hardship.

At points in my journey I plead for an easier road and the Lord exhorts me that I have asked to hope only in Him. I would like to learn the ways of the Lord while seated by a mountain stream, but He faithfully encourages me that His way is the wilderness and only there will I really be able to trust Him.

Take courage in your hardship, trial, affliction, discouragement, etc. The Lord Jesus has given you His peace.

For Lifetime Guarantee, that’s our Lifetime Weekly.

"My Own" Friend

"Ripe age gives tone to violins, wine, and good friends."
~James Townsend Trowbridge


I would add "good Godly friends".

I attended the wedding of a daughter of dear friends last night. My Tim and I drove two hours in the rain to get there, arriving just in time. The church sanctuary was beautiful, but more than that, there was this sweet, sweet atmosphere in the air, the sort that doesn't come from decor, regardless of how elegant the look. That sweetness came from the people who filled the room - they all came out of love, and each person brought a unique and joyful energy. We couldn't wait to see this young couple say their "I Do's".

Tim and I were there when this young couple's parents got married. Back then, we all were young twenty-somethings together, and I remember Tim sang for them, during their ceremony. Fast forward, many many days....there we were last night...about two decades later, attending their daughter's wedding.

God means for relationships to be that good. Generational love.

As I sat, looking at faces we have known, loved, and worked with to some degree or another in Master Builders, some for twenty years, I was deeply content to simply be there. As I breathed in the fragrance of friendship, I thought to myself: This is the sort of continuity that can only come with the passing of years upon years. I would not trade this continuity of relationship for anything. I would not leave these co-laborers in the Kingdom for anything short of someone denying Jesus Christ.

Oh, dear ones! Good, gospel-loving friends are not a dime a dozen. To have a good, old friend is a piece of crazy-fortunate fortune, a priceless gift, a treasure beyond all reason. Look around you....who is "still there"? Who manifests the faithful love of Christ to you? Tell them how much you value them - do it today, please, because I assure you this, with all my heart: most men will each proclaim his own goodness, but a faithful man (or woman), who can find? (Proverbs 20:6)

Vows were spoken, as our dear friends (father and mother of the bride) looked on, misty eyed. The father both gave his daughter away, and then officiated her wedding. Tim and I remarked at his poise and sense of humor, and the great job he did for his daughter - he certainly did her proud. As the wedding party and bride and groom skipped back down the center aisle to the fun song "I Feel Good", everyone was smiling. I think there were as many people there for the sake of the parents, as were there for the bride and groom - I know how this feels, and it is absolutely a humbling sense of affection and relationship.

Tim and I ran back out into the rain, jumped in our vehicle, and started for home. Though invited to stay for the dinner reception, we had to get back to town for several important reasons. We left a lot of irons in the fire just to make the trip - two hours there and two hours back...all for 45 minutes of ceremony, if not less.

So worth it. We'd have traveled longer, were it necessary.

The words of a poem come to mind ~

"From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There's nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter
And the love of friends."
~Hilaire Belloc

I have only a few things that are "my own". My house is not even yet "my own". My wedding ring is my own. My husband is my own. Of the very few things that are my own, even fewer - two, in fact - are eternal: family and Godly friends.

Treasure both. If you are insanely blessed, you will find yourself laboring in the Kingdom alongside both family and friends. Make almost any concession to preserve that kind of continuity. God loves it, He smiles on it. There is no other way to establish a generational Kingdom work, but to stick and stay and care about the continuity. No. Other. Way.

It is never God's will that you "build houses, but not inhabit them, plant vineyards, but not eat the fruit of them." (Isaiah 65:21, contrasted with Zephaniah 1:13)

If you find yourself building relationships but not "inhabiting" them for very long, planting family bonds, sowing into friendships, but not harvesting the fruit of them (many many years later)...I will say this as gently as I can, but someone needs to tell you: you are under some sort of judgement. That is not God's version of normalcy. You need to find out why and fix it.

Don't leave those relationships. Nothing else is worth the wear of winning.

Proverbs 27:10 ~ "Do not forsake your own friend..."

The Adventure of Orienteering

Imagine you are plunked down into the middle of a forest wilderness, and given two choices as to how you will navigate it: you could be given a map and a compass....plus a row of little red flags to follow, each one marking your every step. Or you can be given a compass, and a map with a few significant points marked on it...and that is all. Which would you choose?

Most choose the map and compass and little red flags. And so it is with our relationship to God. What was intended to be the adventure of a lifetime, gets turned into boring, relentless do's and don't's dotting mile after mile a path that we are sure leads us to our destination, but takes no thought, no relationship, no real risk. But we follow those little red flags faithfully, consulting the map and compass without understanding either of them - all while keeping our eyes peeled for the next red flag. We feel so smug about our progress, mistaking our lack of imagination to be personal discipline.

Give me the way of the orienteer, any day. Give me the compass of grace, and the map of the gospel, plus nothing. This is the journey of a lifetime, this one life I have been given! I don't want to be looking for the next red flag, I want to be truly engaging the map and compass...

...and I want to need the others who travel with me.

The way of the red flag requires no effort towards true community. In fact, those little markers encourage dis-unity. If someone offends you, if anyone dare disregard one of the red flags, particularly one you deem important, or should anyone leave the way of the red flags and ask you to continue with them, using only your map and compass - regardless of how much you love them, it is an easy decision, requiring only a few weeks or months to make. You simply part company with them. After all, you have those red flags - who actually needs relationships? You can make this journey on your own if you have to.

All red flaggers are in the powerful position of being able to patronize each other, relying on one another's strength and giftedness only when it suits them, and avoiding the discomfort of setting aside their personal peace and preference. Those who journey with naught but compass and map realize their need for each other, and find themselves setting the individualism of ideals aside in favor of the real, hard-won wisdom that is found in a multitude of counselors, particularly those who have been in this part of the wilderness before and found their way out without the red flags.

There is safety in numbers. Safety is of paramount importance when there is actual adventure, versus simulated adventure.

For the orienteer, it isn't enough to follow the red flags. The orienteer wants to "orient" his whole being towards the destination. He will re-work and re-direct over and over again if necessary. He will get lost along the way, yet he is the truly disciplined one. And he discovers at adventure's end that his entire self - mind, heart, will, body and strength - has been integrated into a healthy whole. The way of the grace-compass and gospel-map absorbed him fully and challenged him relentlessly and changed him completely.

So as various believers come up out of the wilderness, how do you know who is who? How can you tell the red-flaggers from the orienteers?

The orienteers are dirtier. Messier. The red-flaggers are merely a bit bedraggled.

The red flaggers emerge either alone or quarrelling or walking in large-but-tolerably- compatible groupings.

The orienteers emerge together...triumphant, smiling...each one leaning on the arm of another.

Obedient or Absurd?

Absurd. Of course, the word means "ridiculous". What I didn't know, is the word comes from a Latin etymology that means "deaf".


There can be no obedience without listening. There is no real listening without relationship. Obedience is not taking the letter of the law and applying it with literal exactitude. Such inflexible "obedience" is actually a manifestation of not listening...it is absurd. Obedience is to hear, in the moment, the heart of the One who is in charge.

Sure, many rules never change. But the way we apply them, the way we engage them, is a huge issue of obedience. And there can be no obedience without being willing to hear. Not just hear words...hear heart.


At no time are we in more danger of defaulting into a deaf-absurdity, than in mid-life. After all, we've earned our many merit badges, like good life-scouts. We can now chart our own course, and do not have to listen. In our flesh, we can even become "hard of hearing" beginning in mid-life. My husband (who is a mere 46, and a tad hard of hearing, having been a drummer all his life) asked me, awhile back, with a baffled expression, "What is it about mid-life, for some people??"



He's right. At this turning point in time, we choose a certain perspective, and thus set the course for the rest of our lives. We either summon the courage to take the creative, relational path of grace and truth, or we, often precisely at mid-point, begin our descent into a rule-keeping, opinionated absurdity. Rigid in our inflexible opinions, we lose hearing, sight, smell, and we lose touch with people who used to matter to us. There is no fruit, no sweet smelling-tasting-beautiful harvest to be had in absurdity. Rigidity is simply a way to justify not hearing. This unyielding deafness does not deserve to be called obedience.



Mid-life can bring insensibility, or it can set us free to experience God and relationships with eyes wide open, ears attuned, head doused, dripping in the oil of gladness, and plowing straight into what God intends to be the harvest-time of our lives.



How do we know if we are living the life of obedient listening, or the disobedience of not hearing? Look for any signs of the ridiculous. Look for the extreme, absurd reaction - which is actually the cool, intellectual rigidity of the quid pro quo ethos: tit for tat. You are this way, I respond that way. You offend me, I withdraw. Your worth has been measured, your "work" evaluated, and I "pay" with excruciating exactitude. I do not listen for anything more, I hear nothing more as to your value beyond what I can quantifiably evaluate.



Absurdity. Deafness. Disobedience. Mercy triumphs over judgment, I want to adjust my perspective to be able to hear the sound of it. It is a sound of joyful shouting, coming from the family tent. After all, I shall be 50 years old in a few years...regardless of the lateness of the hour, I need the revelation of grace to make me soft and winsome....and able to hear.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! ...You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
~St. Augustine

My Full, Graced Life

I am a "daughter of God" and a "daughter of Abraham". I share certain spiritual likenesses that come from my spiritual heritage. Coming into this by faith has revolutionized my whole life. Consider Romans 4, beginning with verse 20 ~

"Abraham didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. (And, by God, neither will I!) He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, "Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right." But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us (me...Sheila Atchley)! The same thing gets said about us (Sheila) when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God. By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. "

Capturing Those Moments...

"Tim Atchley's Restaurant" (our back porch and fire pit)

Ribeye and swordfish - prepared last night by chef husband...

Flowers...table by the outdoor fire...yep. He did it all. For me.


On another note, this is my front porch, on any given day. Please note the three balls...



Flowers for me, from Jonathan and Sarah - perfect in that pitcher!




The table set last weekend, awaiting the arrival of our dear, esteemed Pete Beck.






Our guest room...we found a beautiful antique bed last week, and bought a new mattress for it. I had fun decorating the room for Pete's arrival...Pete, who is an Alabama fan. Ahem.





Lastly, my husband's filing cabinet. That's a card he received from the owner of an area business, thanking him for his steady, friendly ways, and his unrelenting Christian witness. The owner said in this card that several of her employees are considering coming to Harvest as a direct result of Tim's unassuming manner, together with his constant sharing of the gospel. Trust me, you can go many, many years and never get a card quite like this. How very encouraging! I'm proud of him - there is no one I respect more. He is consistent, no matter who he is with, his word is his bond, and he will always be honest with people. He refuses all church politics, and expects those who lead with him to be down to earth and honest as well.







Acts 13

"Be it known to you, men and brethren, that through Jesus Christ is preached to you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest that come on you which is spoken of in the prophets; 'Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which you will in no wise believe, though a man declare it to you!"

Truly, Lord, "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord." (Luke 1)


Fulfilling God's Law?

Are you fulfilling God's Law?

- by David Ord

A great many Christians believe that the law has been "done away." All that God requires today, they tell us, is that we show love. But what is love?Would it be love, for instance, for a counselor to leap into bed with his client in order to demonstrate genuine acceptance of a woman who feels rejected?Love can be very subjective. What one person considers an expression of love may seem like gross immorality to another.

Because of the risk of whitewashing sin by labeling it "love," one branch of the church insists on varying degrees of obedience to moral law. Not only the ten commandments, but other moral "ought-to's" concerning Christian dress, smoking, worldliness, and so on. Another sector of the church reminds us, as one put it, that "love is to fulfill the law."One thing is sure: Paul was no advocate of sin. Whatever he taught with regard to the law, it was not to encourage license.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

We are all agreed that sin is a "no-no," but are we agreed on what is sin?I noticed years ago that Christians rarely come out with a clear biblical definition of sin. To one it is card-playing, drinking, dancing; to another these things are fine, but wearing a bikini swimming suit, or dress that is more than an inch above the knees, or smoking a cigarette would constitute sin. It seems that sin is usually defined according to the particular church tradition you have been exposed to.

Since sin is a biblical term, we might expect to find it defined in the pages of the Bible. And though it isn't often quoted, the apostle John does clearly state that "sin is lawlessness." Not, as the King James version inaccurately renders it, "sin is the trans gression of the law"; but as more modern translations rightly put it, "sin is lawlessness."What law are we talking about here? Few of us would argue that John had in mind the law of Moses. We recognize that we are dead to that law.

If a person wishes to take up with the law of Moses, he ought to make sure that he performs it in its entirety, because the rule-of-thumb for law-keepers is, "Cursed is every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them."

And yet - many of us still want to retain something of law in our Christian lives. We are not prepared to capitulate to the total subjectivity of "love." We have heard of the terrible abuses of the "love" way, and it seems to be a very dangerous doctrine. So we find ourselves hovering between the moral "ought to" of the law, and the complete freedom of the "love" concept. What is the answer?

When a young ruler asked Jesus how he might inherit the kingdom he was proclaiming, Jesus pointed to the command ments. Of course, the young man felt he had kept these from his earliest days. He was technically righteous by the law's standard. However, Jesus went on to illustrate the much more stringent standard that was required for entrance into the heavenly king dom and eternal life. By this standard, it would have been easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the young man to enter the kingdom.So difficult did Jesus make the "ought to" seem that He provoked consternation in His disciples:And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" And looking upon them Jesus said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible"

Jesus had explained that the gate into life was extremely narrow and difficult to find; few had so far entered. Out of the millions who had lived from Adam until His coming, just a handful of Old Testament characters had really come to know God and enjoy an intimate relationship with Him. Men such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and the prophets were few and far between.The "ought to" route is a hard way indeed!

No wonder it seemed to the disciples that no one would ever make it into the kingdom! But the impossible for man becomes the possible for God, and so for those who were tired of striving to please God and constantly failing, Jesus' announcement of "good news" was like a breath of fresh air. The narrow, difficult way was about to be opened into a broad highway:Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and 1 will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and My load is light.

What did Jesus mean by "learn from Me"? Why did He point to the fact that He was "gentle" and "humble in heart"? Though Jesus was the Son of God, He freely confessed: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Him self... I can do nothing on My own initiative." He was humble in heart because He recognized that no human being can accomplish the will of God. God Himself must indwell a person and perform His will through the person as a vessel.

It was the Father in Him who did the mighty works, and that is how it must be with us if we are ever to please Him. We must "learn of Him" -be indwelt as He was indwelt.Jesus was also "gentle." He refused to strive in His own strength.

He was one with the Father, so that the Father's life and power coursed through Him. "The Father is in me, and I in the Father," He told His critics. "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." "My Father and I are one." He did not try to do the will of His Father, He simply allowed Himself to be in-dwelt as a vessel so that the Father could manifest His life through Him. Though great work was accomplished, it was all from a state of spiritual rest.This was the "rest" hinted at in creation week, in Israel's weekly keeping of a Sabbath day, and in the rest of the earthly Promised Land.

All of these Old Testament shadows pictured the time when Christ Jesus would come to this earth to demonstrate how God can live in human beings and fulfill His will in them without their own effort or striving.Once we recognize that we can do nothing righteous of our selves - that all our righteousnesses, before and after con version, are like filthy rags - we are ready to allow Christ to live through us. "There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God." Not a day, not a physical place on this earth, but a rest which comes from being yoked in union with Christ. The fulfillment of the Sabbath type:For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His (Heb. 4:10).

The external "ought to," whether it be of the ten command ment law or of our own making according to our church tradition, shows us our inability to please God. It convicts us of fail­ure and weakness. When we are about to drown, after we have wallowed in our own self-effort and failed miserably, we can finally cease from our own works and enter into rest in Christ.

This "rest" is not a rest of laziness. We have been set free from the law of "ought to," but it is not a freedom to live as we please in the flesh.

Rather, we have been joined - yoked - to Christ and "the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him." Not two, but one; just as Jesus and his Father were one, so that for Him to live was really the Father. And for us to live is Christ! When He indwells us, He lives His life of tremendous works through us. The proof of His oneness with the Father, He said, was the works that were being accomplished.

If we are one with Him, He will live that same fruitful life through us today! Collectively, we will do even "greater" works than He did while on earth, because then He was limited to one human body, whereas now He lives in many.In John 17 Jesus prayed that we might enjoy that same one ness He enjoyed with His Father. He manifested the Father, and we manifest Him. No one ever saw the Father, but in seeing Him they saw the Father; so also the world does not see Christ, but it does see Him through us.

Now, see how this fulfills the law, even though we do not try to keep it! The evangelical friend I quoted earlier said that love "is to fulfill the law." But that is not what Paul actually wrote. He wrote that "love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10). He did not say that if we do certain things, that is love; he said that if we have love, we have fulfilled the law.What is love? A Person. "God is love." Love is not doing something, it is a Person expressing Himself.

When God gave the law to Israel, He gave them a set of rules, for children as it were, that embodied some of the essential traits of His nature. But you could perform all of these things and still not love. Striving to do these things, trying to live up to the standard, is a long way short of the One who is love indwelling you and ful filling all that the external code pointed toward in outline, shadow form.God does not function by a set of rules. He simply is. And He is love.

Any code of rules can only be a shadow of the reality. Not to murder, steal, commit adultery, nor covet is wonderful. But it is a long way short of being one who by nature is the very opposite of all of these evils!

When you were a child, your parents and schoolteachers placed you under rules. You lived an externally regulated life. You were told when to go to bed, when to get up, how to dress, what to eat, what to study, and plenty of other instructions. That is how the law functioned:Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world (Gal. 4:1-3).A child learns the elementary principles of life. Getting sufficient sleep; eating a balanced diet, instead of only sweet things; washing behind his ears, and cleaning his teeth regularly; the discipline of study and work, instead of all play.

These qualities are instilled into him from outside, enforced through a system of reward and punishment.When we are young, we are restricted to the playpen. We learn the ABC's, just the elementaries of living. But when we mature and come of age, we begin to function as adult sons. Though we were under orders and no better than a slave, now we become lords of all - masters of our own lives - no longer requiring the restrictions of the playpen.And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

The external has become internalized. Only instead of a set of rules, it is the spontaneous outflow of a mature life. So the adult doesn't have to have a set bedtime; he is free to go to bed early when tired, or to stay up into the early hours of the morning, perhaps even working a night-shift and sleeping through the day. Yet he fulfills the external law that he was under as a child. Though free to live spontaneously, he gets enough sleep to stay healthy: and that is what the aim of the external law was.

A child can never become an adult by doing the things he is told to do. Going to bed at a fixed time, making sure he washes behind his ears, or studying when assignments are given, do not make him into an adult. But when the child matures into an adult, he will naturally fulfill all that the external regulations of childhood pointed toward, without actually performing those regulations.

In like manner, trying to be loving will never produce a loving person. Trying to please God will never fulfill His will. But when God lives through us, because He is love He will fulfill in us all that the "ought to" attempted to inculcate. Thus, "what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did" - and this was "in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4).

We do not try to live by "ought to's" - that is walking according to the flesh. But when we recognize that we are indwelt by Love, the inner voice of the Spirit prompts us in a thousand ways daily and we find ourselves living out the life of God, spontaneously fulfilling all that the "ought to" sought to bring about.

God is a specialist in simply being. He does not live by a set of rules. He just lives, spontaneously. He is the "I Am." He is - functions as - what He is. If we live as one with Him, we will be Him in this world. We will live the resurrected life of Jesus - not a life of do's and don'ts, but a life that is righteous because He is righteousness. "As He is, so are we in this world."We will do righteousness because we are righteous - yet "not I, but Christ."

John shows in his letters that it cannot be other wise. If He indwells us, living through us, the outward manifestation in the flesh must come forth. We are known by our fruits. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, even as a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Though the manifestation may be a little while in coming, it must come.

This life of love is not lawless. It is not a self-pleasing life. It is not anarchistic. It is the most lawful life conceivable. It is the One who is the law - who is love - expressing Himself through the human vessel. We do not walk in the outer desires of the flesh, nor follow the whims and fancies of the material world. We walk the ascended life of the Christ, receiving His commandments in our innermost hearts and minds from mo ment to moment. Thus we are the will of God in every situation that faces us from day to day. And so the law is fulfilled in us.

Therefore cast out the "ought to," for it cannot inherit with the freedom of this spontaneous life of Christ (Gal. 4:21-31). It was just to lead you into the box-canyon of "I can of my own self do nothing," that you might come to Christ. The external "ought to" can never impart life; life is a Person. And when that Person indwells us and lives as us, in our human form, we do not "void" the law but establish it and fill it up full, living at a level far and above what the commandment could ever verbalize.

Instead of a written code we have the inner voice of the One who is our life - the constant flow of commandments that are He thinking His thoughts through us in every situation, for "we have the mind of Christ."

And whereas we did by nature the things of the evil one, according to the course of this world, now we do by nature the fruit of the Spirit.So it is not the "ought to" of the external law, and neither is it the wishy-washy external concept of trying to "love" everybody. Instead, it is the living Person expressing Himself through us, living as us. And that is safe! We can count on Him.

There is just one barrier to this flow of heavenly life: unbelief, That is all that can stop the reality becoming manifest.

We must come into "the obedience of faith." If God says it, though I can not see it, I believe it against all odds. I "fight the good fight of faith." I affirm that I am the righteousness of Christ, and that He is my life. I refuse to take condemnation while I await the manifestation in action. I say that what God says is true even when my soulish feelings tell me something different. And the life comes forth!

What is sin? Lawlessness. To fail to live as God Himself lives, for He is the law personified (Rom. 3:23). But thank God, we do not have to try to keep the law, He fulfills it in us. So we are freed from the "ought to," and freed from the license of just trying to "love," in order that we might be what we are - the righteousness of God in Christ.

A Few Personal Rules

Tim has been preaching foundational grace-gospel for ten months straight now. It has brought, and is bringing, a revolution into the lives of those who have ears to hear.

He has, in the last ten months, touched on terms such as "rules" and "lists", and there were some few who took him literally, taking offense as if Tim was aiming his entire emphasis on the fact that they personally loved to make lists for themselves.

Little did they know that what was being preached was not all about "their" lists or "their" rules, actually. What was being taught wasn't about making lists in some literal, letter-of-the-law, Pharisaical sense.

(The Pharisees complained, "This man Jesus said 'Tear down the temple, and I will raise it up in three days!' " Those religious ones were forever misunderstanding Jesus' words, because they were open to being offended.)

Little did these few know (nor did they truly seek to understand) that the idea of "your list" or "my list"....whomever's "list"...actually dates back to Harvest Church messages from ten or more years ago. In a defining set of messages, the concept of "the list" was forever fixed in the minds of Harvest Church saints:

"And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements (i.e. "THE LIST") that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."

We learned, a decade ago, that we are to be imitators of God, and take our personal "lists" that we secretly hold over our relationships, and (in order to have sweet, continuous, right relationships) do the same thing to our personal lists that Christ did to "the" list: move it out of the way, and nail it to the cross.

The text was out of Colossians 2, and those messages became part of the DNA of a whole church. It saddens me, all the quiet, zealous but misguided lists we have, full of good-seeming personal preference ordinances, that get in the way of love and friendship.

This is where the term "the list" came from - any old-timer at Harvest will be able to explain that to you, if you care enough to ask them.

Having said that, I love to make lists. I live by them. I solidly believe that without a list, no one can be productive. I believe that an empty schedule equals an empty life, and a full schedule demands that we make lots of lists, because no one can keep all those details in his or her head. I have a list of potential Christmas gift ideas, lists of household chores, a grocery list, a phone list, lists of my lists, and a list called my "front-end list".

A "front end list" is a list of a zillion appealing things that I'd like to get done. Right now, this includes things like planting some pansies, painting a shelf, a few sewing projects, some new recipes I have not yet tried, and finishing my first watercolor painting. I keep a front-end list so as not to let myself get stuck and unhappy. When I begin to feel dull or peckish, I can pull out this list, and jump into a brand new happy project, big or small, and get the creative juices flowing instantly. Sometimes we don't need a nap, so much as we just need a new something to do.

I also have a few rules...personal rules. I don't hold you to them, I hold myself to them, as much as any flawed human being can hold herself accountable to her own unique, personalized standard. In this sense, "rules" and "lists" are not at all opposed to grace!

My rules?

1) Honor my father and my mother. Old fashioned stuff, timeless, Biblical, and necessary. We all have baggage where it concerns our parents, some more than others. But I have never...never...seen a man or woman lightly esteem their mother or father and wholly prosper. They may make money, but they don't prosper. A lack of honor towards parents, to hold parents up to criticism, is to ultimately hold all legitimate authority in light esteem, and you will become seriously self deceived in all things spiritual.

The eye that mocks his father, And scorns obedience to his mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it.

The light of the soul is the eyes...no honoring of parents equals no light, no understanding, no sure direction. I don't care how old you are, or (short of extreme abuse) what your parents have done, please consider finding ways to honor them. Love them. Include them in all the details of your life. You don't have to - you get to. One of my rules is that I honor my parents. (I happen to have incredible parents, but we had our share of dysfunctional moments early on. I was not an easy child to raise.) This rule has served me well, prospering me at every turn.

2) Value continuity. There is something to be said for the continuity of staying with the same traditions at Christmas, staying with the same spouse, staying with a best friend through thick and thin, staying with a morning or evening routine, staying with the same great perfume, staying with the same church....just staying in general. Sticking and staying. It alarms me deeply, how willing some people are to utterly destroy continuity in their lives.

Continuity is costly, but its rewards are comforting and profound. God created our souls to depend on continuity in some areas, not resorting to change for the sake of change. It is generally unhealthy to jump marriages, jobs, relationships, churches, or ships. Ride it out. Things always get better, and where else can you look back over years and years of memories, memories both good and bad, but from that place of faithful continuity?

Proverbs 24:21 "My son, respect the LORD and the leader; Do not associate with those given to change."

Putting confidence in a man or woman who does not value continuity ("an unfaithful man") is like having a bad tooth, or a foot out of joint, Proverbs says. When you most need that foot to work, or when you most need to chew that bite down, you will suddenly be in intense pain. It is most important for parents and leaders to value continuity. Sheep and children need to know that some things will never change - things like the love of a parent or shepherd.

3) Never own more than you can use, and can consistently care for. This is one I need to revisit, but it is a maxim I have lived by. I have gotten rid of as much "stuff" as I have bought or received. We have given away a car (it was old, but still a favorite of my husband's), truckloads of clothing and shoes, dishes, pots, pans, a puppy, school supplies, books, and to a lesser extent, money itself. (I could still use more money, but that is to be the lot in life of the wife of a pastor who isn't on television.) We typically don't re-sell it - we just give it.

I try not to own anything I don't know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. Ahem. Time to clean house again.

I live by a few more "yea, verilies", but this post is way too long now. Silly rules, some of them, but they define me, and they have been most healthy for my life, and have actually energized and enabled my growth in grace.

Never, ever keep some kinds of lists and rules. But always, always keep the right kinds of lists and rules. And know which kind your pastor is referring to, and if you don't know, ask him. That way you don't spend your time being unnecessarily offended.

Make sense?

Good Words From Other Places

WHEN I AM VILIFIED

Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. Psalm 119:23

David had been slandered by Saul. He had been slandered even by his own sons. The true disciple who lives like Jesus will be vilified at some point during his life. Those who are most offended by the Gospel will be the ones who rise up to wage war against him with words. Fear fuels their energy; fear of the truth.

What can make this experience so painful and debilitating is who it is that vilifies. When the unfair criticism comes from someone I don't know, it's easier to shrug it off. When it comes from a well respected member of the community, it can feel debilitating. Jesus drew harsh words from religious leaders and heads of state. Their influence on the people was pervasive yet because He was grounded in His mission and lived in uninterrupted communication with His Father, He never lost His way because of it. Nor, it appears, did His disciples.

Even John the Baptist invited the hatred of Herod and his wife but that didn't dilute his message. He knew his own heart and he understood kingdom clashes.

To be the subject of scorn and not lose my way, I must have my head and heart in the scriptures. To be a successful Christian does not mean that I will always be popular and well thought of. In fact, just the opposite. I will be vilified.

Jesus prepared his disciples to be street smart. "The world hates me and they will hate you too," He said. I am a foreigner here and the alien's culture is at the very least, peculiar. For Jesus, living by the laws of the kingdom paved the road to Calvary.

~Christine Wyrtzen www.daughtersofpromise.org