I'll never forget the first time I heard the Lord say, "Name this." It hadn't dawned on me yet that to name a thing was our original mandate, dating back to the beginning of man and time. Ever since Adam named the animals, if we are wise, we too have assigned specific meaning to the various things that are significant in our lives.
There have been times, when I've been on my way to participate in something that feels meaningless to me, the Holy Spirit has whispered to me to "name it" - to assign it a meaning and purpose. When I have been obedient, that very outcome, or meaning I assigned to the activity comes to pass without fail. Not because "my" words have power....no. Rather, I believe this is because I searched out the purposes and plan and heart of God, then agreed with it by faith, then named accordingly.
At the beginning of 2010, I again heard the Lord say, "Name the year." So I did. My word for 2010 was "Create". And create I did. Things and events, big and small, flowed out of my life that year, from concept to completion. The word gave me a focus, and so I taught myself new skills that are still with me today, and will always be with me. Did I accomplish everything I wanted to create? No, of course not. But I created a whole lot more than I ever would have without a focus.
Same for 2011. The word I heard in my spirit for the year 2011 was "Sow!" With the exclamation point (!). There was an urgency to it.
Sow I have. In the past year, I've planted seed in myself and others. I've sown "beside all waters", in all circumstances. I sowed in places and people I didn't expect, and not in expected places or people who expected me to. There were places in my life that didn't seem ready for seed - but I scattered it anyway. In the morning, I sowed my seed, in the evening I did not withhold my hand, because the Lord had said that there was no way for my finite brain to know whether this patch or that patch, or both alike would flourish. Have I sown everything I'd hoped to sow? Nah. But I've sowed far, far more than I ever would have without that focused effort.
I have to say - as big as the results from my 2010 focus were, the results from 2011's "Sow!" have been even greater. Let me choose my description carefully, without overstating or understating:
Life changing. That's what focusing on the one word "Sow!" was for me in 2011.
The word "sow" denotes the very beginning stages of any enterprise, be it a plant or a person. The seed first has to be planted. In 2011, I planted seeds for the future. Who knows which seed will flourish? I planted for my own health. I sowed into my own destiny first. God said to do it that way. At the same time, I began a fresh and different process of planting into others - and this will continue into 2012 and beyond.
Every year that I assign to it a name, there ends up a fulfillment of the name. The year lives up to its name. There is always a harvest at the end of it - a "gathering in" that carries over into the following year, and even into the rest of my life.
And so, as I say goodbye to 2011, still holding my tools for creation, and my bags of seed (I get to keep what I name, you see) I have prayerfully asked the Lord what the word for my life for 2012 should be...and faithfully, He has answered:
Now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense. First you sow, and then you....yeah. Cultivate. And I'm beyond excited at the prospects for the coming year. I know I will be working even harder than last year, because I will be creating the environment for the growth of what ever else sprouts from 2011. What if every bit of it sprouts? Oh. Mah. Werd. I'll be working twelve hour days. Cultivation is a bit more involved than sowing, but the rewards are...
Part of why this is for me, is I dislike the headlong, breathless rush of one thing into the next thing, with no room in between to pause and reflect. In the liturgical church, there is found within the comforting (and yes, some would say "mind numbing") continuity and ritual, a built-in opportunity to pause and prepare.
I'm not at all an advocate of liturgical church. But I do believe there are truths to be gleaned and gained from liturgy - centuries of spiritual practices cannot be glibly dismissed as having nothing to say to us.
Here is what I am getting at, and it really is as pragmatic as this: Are there any loose ends in your celebration of Christmas? Have you, like me, gotten to the evening of December 25 with something (or some things) undone?
I have. And since I love you, and since I'm wired that way, here's a bit of full disclosure:
I haven't yet watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
I never did truly decorate my fireplace mantel. I stacked prettily wrapped presents on it, and pretended I did it all on purpose. No, wait. Actually, Hannah arranged the presents on the mantel for me, I didn't even do that part.
Christmas cards never made it out this year. Never even bought 'em.
There are significant things I've left (as yet) unsaid - letters of encouragement to be written, verbal expressions of thanks, words of love not yet communicated. I've felt these things, oh-so-deeply, but two or three people still don't know how I feel, and this is the perfect season to let them know.
I haven't stopped to feel the quiet mystery. Not yet.
I still have a Christmas package to put in the mail.
I only made one batch of Ginger Snap cookies. And I never even iced them.
And I still have not gone back to that department store, to pray with the cashier who tearfully told me that she'd buried her grown daughter shortly after Thanksgiving. (Three times in the past month, total strangers have swung wide the door of their heart to me in ways I knew were supernatural. I need to go back to the one door I didn't walk through. And I will. I know right where to find her.)
If you are anything like me, you don't feel like this Christmas is ready to be packed away, just yet. It isn't quite "one for the history books". It feels not finished.
Maybe its as simple as you haven't sat down to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" yet. Maybe its as complicated as you haven't let someone know that you are sorry and you miss their smile.
There is still time.
In the liturgical church, the Christmas season is sort of just beginning. You have twelve more days, between sundown December 25th, and sundown January 6th, to bake cookies, reconcile relationships, watch that movie, or knit that scarf.
Let's lengthen the time we celebrate. Let's not try to cram it all in precisely between the first Sunday of Advent (late November) and December 25th.
Breathe deeply. Find the mystery of life lived at perfect peace between being okay with the girl you are, and reaching for the girl you want to be. (Hint: GRACE.)
Remember - even the days themselves are now lengthening. Ever since December 21st, you have been getting moments more daylight, followed by moments more - with each passing day, your days are lengthening.
There's yet time for the important things. There's always time for the important things. Begin your celebration of Christmas tonight. Though I am not liturgical myself (except privately) I - and centuries of church tradition - give you permission.
I've always wanted to greet people I care about in this way at Christmas time: "God rest ye merry, my friend."
For many years, I never understood that old carol, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen". It originates all the way back to the middle ages, and was written in old English. In those days, "merry" didn't mean "happy" as it does now. In those days, "merry" meant "mighty". A great and powerful king was a "merry" king, and a great and terrible army was a "merry" army.
"Rest" didn't mean to put your feet up, nor did it mean that you took a nap. "Rest" meant, in old English, "to keep in a continual state of".
"God keep you in a continual state of might and strength, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, to save us all from satan's power when we had gone astray.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy! Oh tidings of comfort and joy!"
This Christmas, I've been smitten over and over with the simple statement of a great heavenly host. There...filling the heavens...Jehovah Sabaoth, Lord of the Hosts, sent His great host to break centuries and centuries of silence between God and men. God could have commissioned them to say anything. These ministers of His, this great, innumerable host, are as flames of fire, carrying out His Word, down to the smallest detail. They've declared war before, down throughout human history - lots of times.
Would this be that sort of message?
God could have instructed His hosts to give only the facts: "Messiah is here."
He could have sent a message of judgement.
God dropped a bomb, to be sure. He dropped a bomb that would forever make that field in Bethlehem the greatest, most utterly meaningful, most famous "ground zero" of all time. But it was an explosion of joy.
The Grace Message was finally detonated.
A blast of mercy, engulfing the planet. Into the black of the night, into the darkness of our human spirit, came the bright light of Good News. It was tidings of comfort and joy. Jehovah Sabaoth utilized His great host, He sent the mightiest, "merriest" troops in the universe to tell us, "YEAY!" and to promptly throw a party amongst the stars, in full view of a few shepherds.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, Peace....Goodwill....to men."
Let it sink in. Let those two words be the good news they were meant to be. Your very own tidings of comfort and joy.
Hide your kids, hide your wife. Because I am a bad, bad example.
I am completely overdosing on Red Band Peppermint Sugar Sticks. Crack Sticks, I tell ya, they are Crack! People, you canNOT eat just one. Take it from me. Don't ever eat (or smoke) the first one. It ain't worth it.
I need some 12-Step Program that hasn't been invented yet. God, grant me the serenity! Help me, Rhonda! Jesus take the wheel! I'm so jacked up on The Sticks I don't know what I will do if I ever run out of them.
Get. Out. Of. My. Dreams. Get. Into. My. Mouth.
Save yourselves, friends. Leave me. Run...run for your lives and never look back. I've fallen, and I can't get up.
Red Band Sugar Sticks done gone and made me a crack-stick-head.
Hannah and I were experimenting with my fisheye lens today...can you see the slight distortion in the center of this picture? (Can you even stand those blue eyes - unretouched, unphotoshopped! All I did was crop out some ugly background stuff, and bump up the contrast in this pic...since it is purely experimental, we let the flash do its thing. Ordinarily, I find any and every possible way to never, never, never use a flash.)
And Timothy's "fishy-face" here, was totally by chance - hilarious!
You can't tell by this shot, since it is cropped, but fisheye lenses capture 180 degree, wide-angle field of vision, with anywhere from slight to very exaggerated distortion in the center. They are fun for slightly whacky family or group portraits, great for shooting flowers in macro, and photographers more skilled than I use fisheye lenses so they can capture close-up sports/action shots while also capturing context with that 180 degree field.
Here is a silly shot, but it will give you an idea of the wide angle of this lens:
Me, in my jogging pants. Sitting on my bed. In my very messy bedroom, with guitar amps, guitar, my treadmill, all sorts of stuff that needs to be put away. Unfortunately, it has been a busy week last week, and you can see the whole mess, left to right, top to bottom...you can even see my ugly jogging pants.
It was a lovely wedding. The wedding itself was held at the bride and groom's church...a beautiful venue, beautiful saints...but I gotta say...
...Harvest Church, you rock. You did it AGAIN. Your hard work behind the scenes has pulled off yet another once-in-a-lifetime event for a young bride, and you helped make her special day magical...from directing the whole event, to photography, from decorating the entire huuuuuuge ceremony and reception space, to food, from serving the food to cleaning up afterward...Harvest Church members embodied servant-leadership. I know Emily's parents (who are part of Harvest Church) are blessed and proud to be connected with such a giving, loving church family.
I so love my church. I am so very proud of my Harvest family.
Congratulations, Jin and Emily. Thanks for allowing Tim and I to be a part of your lives, past, present, and future.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Matt and Kelly, who are expecting the arrival of their fifth child, as well as looking to buy their first house, have made the decision to tend to those enormous life-responsibilities, and step back from pastoring our teenagers. They did an incredible job, with years and years of faithfulness. They are still very much an integral part of Harvest Church - aren't leaving Harvest and wouldn't dream of leaving unless God was sending them into ministry somewhere else. I have a feeling this isn't the end of anything, but a continuation of their story, and even a new ministry-chapter, once they get to the other side of transition...
....and now, we at Harvest Church covet your prayers for this next couple, as they, along with a team of two other strong, single women, take over the leadership of our teenagers:
Yeah, not only are they expecting our next grandson or granddaughter, our son-in-law and daughter have taken on the profound responsibility of pastoring young people. Harvest's single super-mom Angel Ewing, and our television producer Liz Overton will be working right alongside them..."the dream team".
Tim and I have been grace teachers and preachers for many years - probably a decade or so. But it was just over three years ago when the Holy Spirit led my Preacher to preach it straight up, hard, and exclusively. Golly. Is there another way to preach the Gospel? (I know...Paul was so sweet and professional about it, and he mixed it with law like crazy, right??)
Out went the mini behavior modification seminars. Performance based Christian living was dealt a death blow in our church. Mixture of any sort was put on a shelf. We took a chance, baby! After all, people might throw sin parties, or become do-nothings.
Oh well. It was pure grace, pure New Covenant, or it didn't get taught. A few literally didn't know what had hit them. Therein lies the sad truth: they didn't know. As in, had not heard it preached quite that way. As a church we were told, week in and week out, that our salvation was a Holy Thing, an act of the grace of God...plus nothing. The writings of dead moralists were examined respectfully. (Gasp! I know, right? "Who has the courage to touch the 'holy Oswald'?!", as a dear Jewish friend of ours joked this past week...)
Yeah. "Oswald chapter 7 verses 11 through 15", Wesley 3:16, and Bonhoeffer 1:1 was challenged, held up to the light of Scripture, and parts of it found to be slightly less than the inspired word of God. That messes with the juju of some people's universe. And make no mistake - Oswald is one of our very favorite dead guys. We read him daily - but read him with a firm New Covenant foundation built under us.
We were accused of seeing things in Scripture that were "fringe" at best. After all, the ones upset were not familiar with the big picture, or even with a lot of historic Bible teachers that fell outside their doctrinal performance confines. I do not fault them for that, whatsoever. Such is the case with most of the modern church. We did our best to defend the Gospel and not ourselves, not always succeeding, but refusing to name-drop in some misguided effort to convince the critics, who by that point were even hurling words like "cultish" around. (Whew...a word I would tremble before using against a church. I fear God and love the Bride too much...) But we knew we could name drop.
Fast forward. Harvest is still not a mega church. Or even a big church. But we have been a faithful church. And we are a joyful church...a relating church...a healthy church. Tim is still preaching the Gospel. I think he preaches it with even more bliss and passion than ever. A young man approached him in a Starbucks recently, and asked him to sit in on a men's small group (in another church) which he is facilitating, one that is exploring the issues of New Covenant grace. He asked because, in his words, "You are kind of becoming known as one of the foremost grace teachers in the city." My Tim said he would do it if he could clear his schedule, and have the blessing and permission of that church's pastor. Permission was given - we'll see what comes of it.
Which brings me to my next point. Why do I re-tell our story from time to time, here on this blog? Why not let it lay where it is...in the dusty annals of history, long since moved on from? Because I get new visitors to this blog every week, and based on their search words, they are just now becoming clued in on issues of law versus grace. Some are coming out of Jewish mysticism. A few email me. They visit this blog, and some weep as they read. Some of them could be in the exact same place in their respective churches as Harvest was a few years back - feeling a bit persecuted, needing someone to come alongside and encourage them. (Thank God for our Master Builders oversight!)
Encouragement is a profound thing. I plan on encouraging you, and every visitor to this blog, in the grace of God. Sometimes, that will involve some context...some background...some personal "war stories"...and the resulting "victory stories".
Fringe movement? Are you kidding me? I went to my local Christian bookstore last week, and spent a mere five minutes snapping pictures with my smart phone...I didn't even dig! Here is what I saw:
New book. "Freedom From Performing - Grace in an Applause-Driven World"
new book, "...the tired supergirl's search for grace". Wow. This girl might be my BFF.
new-ish book - note the author. Mmmmmm-hmmmmm. Not quite your "cult" material.
Still not convinced? Still worried your grace-preaching pastor, in your small midwestern or east coast or west coast church might be dabbling in dorky doctrine? Well. I saved the best for last:
Yeah. Good old Chuck. "Believing in Grace is One Thing, Living it is Another". When Tim and I said the exact same thing, a few years back, there was talk of burning us at the stake. (Just kidding....but I'm not far from the truth.)
There is another great book Tim and I have been discipling people out of for over ten years, "Grace Plus Nothing". (The title of which was scorned and excoriated and darn near spat upon by a very, very few...perhaps it would have been better received if it had been titled "Jesus Plus Nothing", but that is an exercise in word semantics. The law was given....Grace came. Grace is a person, and His name is Jesus. Search this blog - been saying it for years.)
One time, years ago, it was either Tim or me who remarked how many times the word "grace" is written in the New Testament. I remember a worried someone astutely pointed out that, though "grace" was mentioned "X" amount of times in the New Testament, "Jesus" was mentioned "X" amount of times more.
Yeah. It really happened. (Like grace is something SO DIFFERENT from the person of Christ) That's the sort of thing that makes a Bible teacher want to drop an anvil on his own foot, or smack his own head against a brick wall.
Friends, this New Covenant, Jesus-centric Grace-Gospel is well on its way to being preached with a purity we have not seen in over a hundred years. I am excited to be part of a REAL move of God.
I wrote a short piece recently, about how a woman who delights in luxury for the sake of luxury is dead while she lives. Have you ever seen a woman who lives in the lap of luxury, yet does not open her heart or hands to the needy, does not have healthy relationships, does not have an agenda beyond negativity and acquisition. A life so small and narrow in scope, its impact cannot be felt. Hmmmm..."The Real Housewives of _________ " comes to mind.
There's another way to be dead while you live. That way is simply...to be silent.
The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence. (Ps. 115:17)
I remember a time, about three years ago, when I began to write with clarity and courage on the doctrines of grace, the temptation became strong to be intimidated into silence. Note: I was not writing as a renegade. I was following the lead of my Preacher (who happens to be my husband, if you are new to my blog). I was celebrating in, and yes, sometimes even developing on his teaching and preaching. He was proud of me for doing so. I was doing so in the full context of flowing with the direction of my local church, and supporting its leadership - a character trait which has defined me since the days of my youth. What's more, I often solicited Tim's permission before sending an email, or hitting "publish" to my blog.
Like a lioness, I began to roar and proclaim and defend and protect what was the embryonic beginning of what has become a real move of God in our church....and in the world. (More on that in a few days...I have proof - even visual proof - of this world-wide tsunami of New Covenant preaching that has developed in just the last year to two years.)
It was this very Psalm 115:17, along with several prophetic words to my spirit, that kept me from becoming a woman who was dead while she lived. It truly would have been a fatal mistake for me.
I was designed for declaration, and positioned for proclamation. If I am alive, I will be heard praising Him.
Here is what I want you to hear, beautiful girlfriend: proclamation is not gender exclusive.
Do not allow anyone to intimidate you into silence, or label you as insubordinate or manipulative or somehow "wrong" simply because you lift up your voice to declare the wonders of the Finished Work of Christ. To "lift up" your voice is indeed even to shout!
O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard. (Ps. 66:8)
Incidentally, I would not be part of a church where shouting "just isn't done". You don't hear shouting in my church every single Sunday, but you do hear it often enough. Aaaaand my tangent alert is going off....telling me this is another blog post for another day. Suffice it to say, our voices matter. We don't praise Him in prim and proper silence, sisters! That is not our heritage as women.
It is not our history. It should not be our legacy.
Around the glorious throne, the words "Holy...holy...holy" are not telepathically communicated. No, the words are cried out, night and day. Um...as in, you can hear them. And it is loud.
If ever there was a reason to speak up, this precious gospel, this thoroughly New Covenant good news we have been entrusted with is the reason. Proclaiming the grace of God is not the sole domain of the men, it is our job as well. Church government is, in my opinion, a man-thing, though vibrant churches all throughout Africa and the Far East could be proving my opinions to be a bit Fundamentalist-Western. History will tell the tale, and I am content to have it so.
To hold a governing position is one thing. But to lift up your woman-voice with courage and strength? To support and verify New Covenant truth with your voices, pens, keyboards, emails, blogs, and tweets? To roar and proclaim that the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing of a Better Hope did?
Girls, if you are alive, you must proclaim. The dead can no longer do it. And those who don't do it might as well be dead.
She who dies, having truly cared for the most people (wisely and well, not resorting to cheap sentimentality or crossing legitimate boundaries)....wins. Can I provoke you to love and good deeds with me?
Long before our grandson was a twinkle in any one's eye, The Preacher and I have dreamed of watching one of the Christmas stop-action animated movies with a grandchild snuggled between us. (The first dream was taking a grandchild to Cracker Barrel, but the stop-action animated Christmas movie was a very, very close second.)
As fate would have it, tonight was the night. The rest of the family had worship practice, and after a long day (that included a basketball tournament game) we were home, exhausted, just the two of us, with Little Britches.
We tried putting him to bed at his usual bedtime, which is about 7pm. He flat-out would have none of it. So Pop-pop got him back up, and we sat in the living room and turned on the TV.
There it was. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town!
We looked at each other, and I said, "I'm so glad he doesn't want to go to bed!"
And so it was. We passed him back and forth between us, took turns rocking him and bouncing him, through the whole show. He watched a remarkable amount of it...truly watched....usually while sitting on Pop-pop's lap. We were in sequel-parenting-heaven.
Then, towards the very end of the movie, Timothy turned to face his Poppy, snuggled in to be rocked to sleep....and murmured, "Pop Pop Pop"....
"Better trust all, and be deceived, And weep that trust, and that deceiving; Than doubt one heart, that, if believed, Had blessed one's life with true believing."
The Preacher and I have had friends whom we chose to love and trust, in spite of our "better judgement". In spite of their track record of broken relationships. In spite of the sense that our trust would be violated, that we would not be loved in return - not for the long haul.
We don't regret it.
Because we have many more friends who have blessed our lives, by proving that our trust is valid, that continuity of years...decades...of relationship is possible...and beautiful.
We still will trust all. We still will believe. We've been blessed far more than we've been deceived.
The Preacher and I are going to be grandparents again!
Our Sarah and her Jonathan are expecting their very first!
There are no words...truly, there are no words to adequately convey our complete delight and sense of blessedness and wealth and undeniable prosperity. Another wee one on its way!
We don't know any of this yet. Stay tuned. I ask ahead of time - please forgive and indulge the more-than-occasional post with grandmotherly musings and ramblings and ultrasound pictures and such. I'm ga-ga again. Useless. Hopelessly in love with this child, for whom I have waited (it seems to me) almost all my life.
Unless you are a grandmother, or long to be, you can't begin to know the depth of the truth of what I am about to say:
I do not think about teaching this Gospel...I just teach it. Everyone else can decide if they agree or disagree, like or dislike me. While they are deciding...while they shake their head or wag their tongue...
...I teach it again.
Don't think for a moment that forces have not arrayed themselves in opposition against me, in years past, to shut me up. They almost succeeded. If I'd only kept quiet...just kept it to myself. Kept a lower profile. If only I were not so convinced. If only I were not so persuaded, that I could not help but persuade.
But I know Him. I know in Whom I have believed.
Oh, the glory of the New Covenant. Oh, the finished work of Christ!
( I know, right? This pic should be a stock photo that you have to pay to use...but this is my grandson and his model-handsome father. My daughter took this pic with a Nikon - don't have the numbers on the stop-down or the shutter speed or ISO...)
For those of you who are twenty-something, and having a baby isn't even on your radar...get busy. You want to get to my season of life as soon as possible. Children are wonderful...yet grandchildren are heart-enlargingly and alarmingly precious. You love your children with your whole heart.
You love your grandchildren with your whole, enlarged heart.
Trust me - by the time you've done the years of livin' I've done, raising four of your own, personally seeing them through absolutely each and every stage of their young lives, joyful and painful - your heart will be stretched even larger than your womb. Your womb returns to normal (or a semblance of it) but your heart? It never goes back. It never recovers. It was meant to be enlarged.
Just in time for the next generation to tumble into your heart-space and fill it with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
To all who are, and ever will be grandmothers - I congratulate you with the largest bouquet of whatever flower is your very favorite. Most women either are, or will be mothers someday. Therefore, most women are, or will be grandmothers one day. I hope you begin to look forward to grandchildren the day your first child is born. I did. I can't explain it, but I did. I have lived to hold and love grand-ones, by holding and loving their parents, and teaching them as well as I knew how. Somehow, I knew every thing I'd sacrificed would be worth it if my grandchildren could be well loved.
And when your enlarged heart holds that very first grandchild for the very first time, and that big, womanly, motherly heart of yours begins to wring itself out, raining down torrents of love through your happy tears -
Remember me. Remember I told you that it would be all this, and more.
Come here, always, and leave inspired to live your legacy one day at a time, whether you are twenty-five, or fifty-two. The day of your crowning glory will come...those grandbabies will come. The days are long, but the years are startlingly short.