Met with a friend to pray today...

...made myself a cuppa coffee, and went... further than my own front porch! This friend gives me the sheer gift of coming to my house, but yet not coming to my house. Let me explain: We've never once gone inside, though I wouldn't mind it one bit if we did.

We've prayed in her car and on my porch, and she has never stayed more than a half an hour. We're both busy, and are not trying to get all up in one another's grill and force some sort of intense "BFF" thing.
There's been a few little tears shed - and I'm not against them. Most of them have been mine! But no one is out to vent and emote and drain the other person dry and pretend to call that "prayer"

It has actually just been simple....prayer. Thirty minutes, before the Throne, with someone to agree with me, and I with her. And it is rocking my world. In a good way.

Other than my mentoring/discipleship meetings, this has been the most refreshing thing to hit my agenda!

An Ordinary Day

In my Photoshop class, my assignment was to take pictures of my ordinary day today. Then, Thursday, my instructor is going to show us how to go into Photoshop and make a collage out of our "ordinary day" shots.

So. I thought, "Why not torture everyone with pictures of the mundane?"

Indeed. Why not?

So here you go. Never say you aren't my homies. I'm letting you into my oh-so-exciting ordinary day.

::as she stifles a yawn::

It was a thrill a minute. It started something like this:

Yup. Me in my jammies.

I felt thankful for bright morning sun. And by the way? I always. always. make my bed.

Then I went to visit Monkey. Sometimes I beat his momma to the punch, and I get the fun of getting him out of bed first thing in the morning. Not today...his momma was right behind me. You just can't see her, because she isn't a fan of having her picture made early in the morning. Especially when it will hit my blog by that night.

Monkey, eating his breakfast of toast with apple butter and some cut up bits of banana.

...preparing to go on my walk. In my blinding white tennis shoes and yoga pants. I told dungarees and boots for me, thankyouverymuch. I should live in Texas, because even when up in a ponytail, my hair insists on being big.

My hair and I had words this morning. It told me in no uncertain terms, "Go big or go home."

Since I really wanted to get my walk in, I went big.

...what was next in line on music helps me get my walking mojo going...

...later in the afternoon... kitchen windowsill. And no, I have not cleaned my windows since the week of Thanksgiving. When I accidentally sprayed oven cleaner all over them.

bought these at the Fresh Market today...along with some white beans and onions.
I made white bean chicken chili for dinner.

...the Preacher came home, after a long day spent helping with our Big Renovation downstairs at our church building. (It's BIG...the kitchen is being gutted out and moved to another room, we are putting in a fellowship/coffee room, an outdoor gathering area, new nurseries...everything is changing down there. God is good - all the funds are there to "git 'er done".) He comes home, and immediately gets to work on his laptop. After kissing me "hello". Then, he kissed me "goodbye" and had to go back to the church to help finish up leveling a floor.

...I light candles all over the house, most nights. It helps me unwind and relax.

Monkey's nite-nite bottle...

And then I took a bath, watched the last 30 minutes of a John Wayne movie with the fam, and now I will watch the 11 o'clock news and hit the hay myself. But I shan't bore you with those images. Oh - and there was laundry folding and cooking and cleaning and a semi-long counseling phone call, and some research, sprinkled all throughout the day. Put it this way - I stayed very busy.

Ordinary days. Is there such a thing?

I ran across a poem today by Mary Oliver. It is entitled "The Journey", and oh how it resonated with me, but likely in a completely different way than the author intended when she wrote it. (That, by the way, is the essence of all good is open to interpretation in a way that Scripture cannot be.)

Had I written this (which I did not) I would have entitled it, "My Grace Journey". This poem is very, very close to describing what I went through, a few years back, in persevering out of law and into applying the real, true Gospel to my everyday life.

And, I have to say, it continues to describe my journey - only now, unlike then, the bad advice comes more from my unrenewed mind than from people. But the net effect is the same: I have to obey God. I have to be a Jesus Freak. I have to be a New Covenant Warrior Woman.

There is such joy in this journey!

"The Journey"
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

My Bad wasn't Friday evening that Pete was coming to Knoxville, and to dinner at our home.

It was tonight.  Somehow, I thought last Thursday was Friday.  I was a day ahead.  After the week I've had, I am surprised I even know my name.

Funny how that, the moment I begin to find my peace in performance (mine or others) the Holy Spirit launches a frontal assault on the stronghold of law in my life.  I'm telling you, that thing (stronghold of law) came down awhile back, and the God of all grace seems intent that "I not rebuild what has been torn down".

Wait.  I've read something like that before.  Paul's words to the Galatians.

There was even a point this week when the enemy blantantly leered past hurts and heartbreak - flaunting it in my face all over again until the backs of my eyes burned hot from tears that threatened to spill.  The very tears that, a couple of years ago, I was convinced that if allowed to flow unchecked, they would never stop....ever.  I told my Closest Friends, very frankly, that I didn't want to discuss things pertaining to Prodigals, or get in touch with my emotions, because if I ever did that, the weeping might never end.  And you know what?  They understood.  Not one person tried to psycho-babble me into wearing my emotions on my sleeve.  They simply surrounded me with songs of deliverance.

I should have remembered my source of joy, this week.  Weeping endures for a night, but joy does come.  However, joy can only come when we learn it independently of ours or others' performance, and independently of our circumstances.  If we derive peace from performance or circumstances, the nights become twice as long as the days, and there is weeping upon weeping.

My peace comes from the Prince of it.  Peace is only found in the Finished Work of Christ, as applied to my present situation.

Which brings me to something our good friend Pete said tonight.  (The Pete who came to dinner tonight, not last night...)

After dinner, over cake, he simply said, "I have only one problem with the Grace Teachers and Preachers."

Of course, I sat up a little straighter in my chair.  I almost expected him to say, like so many others, " grace, blah blah blah."  and since he is quite seasoned in the faith and the gospel,  I was prepared to hear him out.

(well, I didn't expect him to say exactly that, but you know what I mean.)

But not Pete.  I should have known.  He said, from the depths of his heart, " problem isn't with their doctrine.  Their doctrine is right on.  My problem is with the fact that they don't apply grace in real life.  When called upon to live what they preach, they retreat into law.  Whatever you preach, you better be ready to become."

Ah, so true.  The law is a way, way easier functional belief system.   It is every Christian's default, always.  Without a renewal of our mind, a relentless renewal, we will begin finding our satisfaction coming from things that are, in fact, anti-Christ.  "Anti-Christ" simply means "instead of" Christ.  In Christ alone is found my sense of well being.  In Christ alone is my righteousness.

Pete, my wise and seasoned friend, you encouraged my heart tonight.  Because my life is consistently challenged to live out the grace of God, and you reminded me that that is the whole point.

PS.  And not that it matters, but so far, it looks like all the enemy tried to flaunt before me, every reminder of my broken-and-now-mostly-healed heart, was a mirage.  It was "False Evidence Appearing Real."  (FEAR).  But here's the thing:  even if it wasn't a mirage, it would still be well with me and my soul.  Because I am dead-set on dying to self, (self effort, self esteem, self in all its subtle forms) and determined to find my life hid with Christ in God.  I do this by applying the Finished Work of Christ to my present situation.

I just wanted you to know that this is an occupation, friends.  I have taken ground that is rightfully God's, and I am occupying, and sometimes that means fighting the "same battles" again.

But I won.  Again.  Thanks be to God who always causes me to triumph.... 

Looking Forward

Love this couple.  "Adore" might not even be an understatement.  Pete and Jane Beck.  Pete will be - even at his age - getting into his car tomorrow and making the drive to Knoxville.  He'll be dining in my home tomorrow evening, and ministering at Harvest Church this Sunday.

I'm looking forward to it all.   Though our Pete is an Alabama fan, we still love him.

Kindle Fire Happiness

It isn't mine.  The Kindle Fire isn't mine.  It was a gift that came this past Monday to The Preacher.

But I wish it were mine.  Because I'm on my second episode of the original Julia Child cooking show, The French Chef. Streaming free via The Preacher's Kindle Fire.
He's letting me play with his new Fire tonight, and I'm impressed, both with the Kindle and Julia. I learned more basic cooking tips in one episode with black-and-white old school Julia Child than in two or three episodes of any modern Food Network show. I would not lie to you.

In other news, my master bedroom is getting a huge makeover. It may take till summer to complete, but we got some furniture moved today.

 I've come to a very difficult conclusion: I am sick. Or rather, I have a sickness.

I have way, way, way too many books. And I have to dispense with more than a few. More like a hundred, no lie. They lay stacked on top of the painted wardrobe - the one that belonged to my grandma.  Books are stuffed in two large sets of floor to ceiling shelves, they stack on my bedside table, in my bedside table, stuffed in a small reading table purchased as a Levenger knock off, and there are even books in my bathroom.

I also have a few furniture items that will have to go to new homes, or perhaps I can find some kind soul who can store them for me until I get the luxury of a guest room and a studio back. I'm in no hurry for said guest room or studio, but I want to be ready when the time comes, and I have some right fine pieces that it would be better to keep than to donate to Goodwill.

But for this new design and color palette to work, I must spare, spare, and spare back again. Ah, what the hey? I'll go through everything while watching Julia do her thing, and all will be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Can you tell it stresses me...just a little? I have too-few days to conceive of what this space needs to become, now that seasons have changed and grandchildren are such a part of our daily living here at the Cottage, and our Monkey toddles back here every day to visit us and snuggle and "wrestle" and sit by the fire and be rocked in the antique rocking chair, and be loved and chased and read to.

And our next monkey will be here in July and we want her (he?) to have a lovely antique wood cradle at the foot of our bed. When my brain needs a break from coming up with fresh design ideas, I'll watch Julia do her Masterful Thing on that gorgeous Kindle Fire.

Did I tell you? It's my Preacher's. I wish so much it was mine. I would use it more, I'm just sure of it!

A Peek - My Email

I didn't send this little note...I checked my email via my Droid just now, and read this.  It was written by a lady who is a part of our ladies only email group we lovingly call "The Cafe".  It made me smile.  Because I very much agreed with her.

Had to share it with you.  Had to.  Local church life really does.  And it rocks to be me.

Just sayin'. 

Instructional Video For My Trip to France

PS. I'm not really going to France. That I know of. Serving God is a wild adventure however, and He could send me this year!

I'd so go. Armed with this instructional video, I feel prepared.

On This Cloudy Day

...the results of my second Photoshop class...playing with "adding" white, black, and neutral pixels to a picture.

This shot is a classic "through the window" snap of an antique wooden toolbox, a gift from my neighbor Earl. I planted pansies in it last November, for the holidays, hoping they last into spring.

Took this picture just yesterday - lighting was a challenge.   We're having quite a stretch of gray days here in east Tennessee!

"One of These Things Is Not Like The Others..."

Guess which one is our son?

::sigh::  Yeah. The one covering the "Amb" and then the "adors" in the team name "Ambassadors".

I don't know where he gets it.

Help me, Rhonda. Jesus, take the wheel. God, grant me the serenity.

Another Grace-Song

Here is the sort of music a woman writes when the Gospel gets deep down into her bones...these lyrics resonate with me, so much. If you'll indulge me, please turn up your speakers, because it's the first song.


These lyrics wonderfully describe the journey of my own heart out of law, and into grace - a choice I made deliberately and consistently and with abandon and not without alienating a few.

And I'd do it again. And again.

Because when lives are at stake, see, I can't play patty-cake or politics or pretend. And in many ways, the life at stake was... own.

I truly have, in recent years, shown up for my own life. And I have to admit - as a result, a few more have shown up for their own. Once I have a key...any key...I will be found unlocking more prison doors than just my own. Be sure of it. That could be why the devil has it in for me.

Showed Up For My Own Life

~Sara Groves

Spending my time sleep walking
Moving my mouth but not saying a thing
Hoping the changes would take by working their way from the outside in
I was in love with an idea
Preoccupied with how a life should appear
Spending my time at the surface repairing the holes in the shiny veneer

There are so many ways to hide
There are so many ways not to feel
There are so many ways to deny what is real

And I just showed up for my own life
And I'm standing here taking it in and it sure looks bright
I'm going to live my life inspired
Look for the holy in the common place
Open the windows and feel all that's honest and real until I'm truly amazed
I'm going to feel all my emotions
I'm going to look you in the eyes
I'm going to listen and hear until it's finally clear and it changes our lives

There are so many ways to hide
There are so many ways not to feel
There are so many ways to deny what is real

And I just showed up for my own life
And I'm standing here taking it in and it sure looks bright

Oh the glory of God is man fully alive!
Oh the glory of God is man fully alive!

There are so many ways to hide
There are so many ways not to feel
There are so many ways to deny what is real

And I just showed up for my own life
And I'm standing here taking it in and it sure looks bright...

2012 Focus - "Cultivate"

I'm taking a Photoshop class. Because, in this year of 2012, I have determined to cultivate the seeds planted in 2011.

...the results of my first class...

Sweet Friend

I am so blessed to love and be loved by this beautiful she is, dancing with her husband. She is a fellow Jesus Freak, a lover of Jesus and a lover of children....and she has a definite flair for the dramatic. (She leads our church's drama team, along with her assistant Lisa Privetts.)

The the close of an incredible group-dance!

She and her husband and two daughters also minister to our school-aged children as children's pastors. Is there a higher calling? A more difficult, yet rewarding job?

...her daughter Kate...(these pictures were taken the night of our church's Christmas Play - which Cheryl wrote!)

...her other daughter Christina...

...Kate and Christina...

If children are the heritage of the Lord (and they are!) this sweet friend of mine has a fine, fine, fine inheritance, a great reward in heaven - she, and her husband and family. I'm privileged to call her friend.

Just wanted to give you a glimpse into what is my sweet friend, and even sweeter church life. People's lives in Harvest are so intertwined, and this family have touched each and every person in meaningful and sacrificial ways.


"My" Baby...

It is with great pride and pleasure I introduce you to either baby girl Howe, or baby boy Howe - we don't know which one yet:

I'm already smitten.  I warned you that these sorts of posts would be coming.  There is no blessing like the blessing of grandbabies (as my friend Cyndy R. can also attest - her granddaughter Molly was born yesterday!) ...

...nothing compares.  Go on!  TRY to make me jealous of your Hummer/castle in Spain/baubles/seven figure income/vacation plans/Nubian goats/Arabian steeds/fill-in-the-blank.  You'll see a flicker of interest, if you are an interesting person.  But after too much of it...I yawn, and then I yawn.  Then I yawn again.  I mean, if it blows your skirt up, I get that. I will always track with you, up to a certain point.

I mean, I find a measure of whoopity-do in things that money can buy, too.  I can enjoy your hobby with you, and my interests vary far and wide.  And I love it when you share with me.  But I can't bring myself to admire you for it...I'm impressed by the likes of Amy Carmichael and missionaries to Cambodia.  I'm a Jesus Freak, what can I say?

Just sayin'.  I like stuff, too...but you won't find me dedicating a whole blog to My Fabulous Estate, nor will you find me going out of my way to, through any means possible, oh-so-obviously make sure you hear about my latest purchases - even when I pay cash on the barrel for every bit of it! ( opposed to leveraging assets for the tax break that gives me...)

I find it to be bad manners to flaunt stuff, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral.  You can safely flaunt your man and you can always flaunt your grandbaby.  That's really about all you can happily flaunt, and still be in good taste.  Other than that, no one really cares or wants to hear about it, unless she's your Bestest Friend Forever. Certainly not if they haven't spoken to you in years.  I can't tell you how often it happens, when someone (who imagines that I will be slightly impressed) will stretch to find any means possible to insure that I know what is their latest "thing"...their newest, non-human acquisition in which they find joy.

All the power-planning in the world can't insure you snuggle up tonight with a man you are crazy about.  My hobbies don't give good backrubs and they sure as heck won't slow dance with me.  Money can't buy you one single healthy relationship. 

I can't take my Nikon out for breakfast at Mimi's Cafe and talk about its day.  I've tried.  My poodle is a decent snuggler, but he can't call and check in on me.  My diamond ring never sends me one email telling me how much I've blessed it.  But my girlfriends do, and I do the same for them.

And I can't take out a loan to finance a single kiss from a grandbaby.  Those are priceless.

I know.  I'm so old-school.  I sound like a granny.    

Think With Me

Think with me.

To refuse - even to the smallest degree -  the message of the Gospel of the Finished Work of Christ is to refuse God. To try to add anything of our own performance (or "righteousness") to the revelation of Jesus is to be under a curse, so says Galatians and Revelations.

The Gospel really is that radical.  You are either all in, or all out.  If you want to rely on trying to keep less than one percent of the Law (10 Commandments) to merit God's blessing, you must keep the whole She-Bang.  To choose to rely on Christ's obedience to said law as being the only thing that merits God's smile of favor towards you, is to refuse to trust in anything else. Nothing of yourself you bring, only to His Word you cling.

Funny thing.  Once you are "all in", and you kick your law addiction cold will find yourself living in such a way that "against such there is no law". 

I know, right?  God is so weird and powerful like that.

Don't add to the message (Revelation) of Jesus by adding Jewish law or religious ritual or the arm of the flesh. ("Sacrifice and offering You refuse.  Rather, a body You have prepared...")  Don't take away from the Revelation of Jesus by diminishing the grandeur of grace. For from Him and through Him and to Him is everything.  God, at this very moment in time, right now, watches over His Word (the Person and message of Christ) to perform it.

Today, if you hear His voice, don't harden your heart.  Your one choice?  Choose to live entirely, with abandon, under the New Covenant - Jesus plus nothing. You can't have it both ways - Jesus, plus Everything I Can Muster.  On your best days, your own efforts to earn and deserve the blessings of God are like so many dirty tampons in a gas station trash can.

Why would you refuse to let God wreak His limitless power to do you and your family good? Why would you refuse to let God wreak His limitless overflow of ability to meet you in any and every area where you have fallen short?

For fallen short you have. Today. Oh sure, you have.

That's why today is the time to receive The Message of the Gospel, and submit yourself to the gift of righteousness which is completely and only and singularly by faith, not by works...

Not. By. Your. Effort. 

...just in case you're ever tempted to boast.  Which you would never be tempted to do, right??

Yeah, right.  Me neither.  (And if you can believe that, I have some swamp land to sell you...)

Random Firing of Neurons

Well, I've come down with a headcold. And you know what that means. It means I get random. And I use flowery unnecessary adjectives On Purpose, which is Not Good Writing At All.

And I capitalize all the Terribly Important Words. It's an A.A. Milne thing.

Go Tim Tebow.

Revelations 3:20 could not have been written to the lost man or woman. It had to have been written to those of us who are alive in Christ Jesus. Dead guys don't answer the door. But oh, what a powerful promise we are given! "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and will intimately fellowship with him, and he with me."

Present tense - ongoing, present tense. God is standing at my heart's door. He is knocking...right now...on my heart's door. And if I answer His knock and open that door, I get to hear and be heard by the God of the Universe.

I lovelovelove the local church. I love the concept, and I love the flesh-and-blood reality of people with names and histories with me and I with them. I love the Merry Madness, the tedious sameness, the fresh newness of koininia with people with whom I share the gift of forgiveness and a timeline. I love the continuity of fellowshipping with one local church.

Notice I didn't say "one local church at a time" - I said "one local church".

Nothing like it. Nothing in this earth like it. I love My People. They'd have to kill me to get rid of me. Some have clearly considered it. But all I have to do is holla for my Jame...or Angel...or Vickie...or Wendy...or Maria...or Cheryl...but especially Jame and Angel. Nobody kills me without Jame and Angel raising me from the dead, and then hunting my killer down.

Like a dog.

I'm telling you, do not mess with me. I have People. I've stuck and stayed, and as my Harvest and Reward, God has given me people. I feel sorry for church hoppers. They got no people to kill people for them.

Nobody's a church hopper when they hop a church. Have you noticed that? It's funny - even as they do it (hop like the Easter Bunny), even as they hop right up the front steps and in the front door of a church, they say, "I'm. not. a. church. hopper. ya. know."

But. It. is. so. hard. to. focus. on. their. face....all that bouncing up and down. Oh the power of our own mind to conceal the Very Truth from ourselves. If we knew we were being deceived, we would no longer be deceived.

Last but not least, my "baby" ~

Yeah. We were the guests.

Mad Skillz. The child hoops. Where that exists in his DNA, I do not know.

Sometimes he's a downright Fancy Pants about it. That is, when he's not unselfishly dishing the ball to his team mates, which, as Point Guard, is often. He eats The Press for breakfast...when he's not helping up a fallen player from the opposing team, after breaking his ankles. (read: homeboy crosses them over in a split second. And he has good sportsmanship. #lovemyboy) He has been contacted by several small colleges. We have no idea what will happen, but we will never regret giving him the extra year. Exciting times!

Josh Garrels

Friends, I am sitting in a gym in Nashville Tennessee, even as we speak.  (It's about 3 PM central time, on this cloudy Saturday).  I am waiting to see my youngest son play in a basketball tournament, but I had to go to lots of trouble to log onto the World Wide Web, to tell you something important.

(my man is being my hot spot, and that might not mean what you think it's pretty complicated.)

Josh Garrels.  He is my latest discovery, and I have to admit he's better than poetry.

Read about him here, in Christianity Today. 

Then run.  I repeat, run, do not walk.  Run here, to download his newest album...for free. 
Then burn it to CD, and give it to every teen and college kid you know.

This guy is the real deal.  Trust me, I wouldn't go to all this trouble of getting a hot spot from my Preacher, if it weren't going to rock your world.  (And if you don't understand what I just said, give it time and get a smart phone.)  Listen to each song.  Really listen to the lyrics.

A voice to this generation.  A man who has sacrificed his own personal finances for the Kingdom of God, to get the message of the Kingdom out there.

Do what we did, and after downloading the free album, purchase his old stuff.  It is excellent too!

A New Love

I've long loved  So why has it never occurred to me that I could purchase (and very cheaply I might add) my favorite poets and poetry...and listen to them, whilst walking in the woods or sitting in my jammies, tucked up in bed with a hot cuppa - and guess which one I am doing right now?? 

Oh, bliss!  Oh, heaven shall be somewhat like this!  Words, words, beautiful words!  For a mere five dollars and change, I have, at my fingertips, one hour and nine minutes of art for my ears and stuff for my thoughts to longlinger over. 

Don't worry.  I won't start assaulting you with made-up words just because they tumble tipsydrunk off the tongue.  I would never.

I.  can't.  stand.  it.  It makes me so stinkin' happy, I can't stand it.

Poor Tim.  He came rushing into our bedroom to see what all the vocalizing was about, and found me jumping violently up and down on the bed in my jammies, pumping my fist, gleefully yelling at the top of my lungs:

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
        And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
        Funeral marches to the grave.

    In the world's broad field of battle,
        In the bivouac of Life,
    Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
        Be a hero in the strife !

    Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant !
        Let the dead Past bury its dead !
    Act,— act in the living Present !
        Heart within, and God o'erhead !

Just kiddin'.  But I wanted to.


And now, I'm jacked up on Audible-poetry-crack.

(I don't have an addictive personality.)

Re-Post from 2008, 'The Four "Sights" of a Local Church'

This is a re-post from 2008, with some very, very light post-editing.  This post is about the question: what constitutes a "Local Church"?  What takes a group of people beyond a creed, a livingroom, and their own insecurities?  What takes them to the next level?

I think God gave me a few answers, one day back in 2008 - and in a climate where autonomous "house churches" are flourishing, and many of them trouble me - the ones who are "anti established church"...the ones who get wild-eyed when you say the words "organized church".  Yet these very people would intelligently expect any other establishment they frequent to be organized and established.  Could you imagine a disorganized, unestablished Pediatric office?  Medicine is ministry, too.  We want what is important to be organized and functioning well, and within a visible chain of authority.  

Here are my 2008 thoughts on this issue:

Immediately after hitting "publish post" on my last blog, the Spirit of God spoke to me. I was thinking about our beginnings as a church. My husband and I were an integral part of a large interdenominational church, Trinity Chapel.

But our church, Harvest Church, began in a livingroom.

Someone else's livingroom...(Post edit, by the author of this blog, editing unnecessary details that are sadly obsolete)... That small group grew to the point that we needed to divide it and create another, and so we did just that. Then that group also grew so large it needed to divide, and that is when we ended up with a church in our livingroom. Then that group also divided...or multiplied. However you want to look at it.  We were over four groups.

About a year later, we were approached by the leadership of Trinity Chapel, and asked to plant a church. A handful of families went out with us, and then some of them went right back - we all quickly discovered that church planting is the hardest thing you will ever do. The few families who have gone the distance with us can tell planting ain't for sissies.

 And you absolutely have to be in relationship with the Father and with each other. If you don't love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and then love each other as you love yourself, if you cannot commit to continuity in relationships, you will never make it in a new church plant.

There were many Sundays in which our peak attendance was 10 or 15 people. Tim and I were stunned. It was as if that "gathering gift" we'd enjoyed while members of our parent church....was gone. We truly thought that if we planted a church, it would grow just like our small groups did.

 Um....not necessarily. In fact, we are still considered a "small church",years later. Trust me, if we are "small" in number today, we were minuscule when we began - and we stayed minuscule in size for years. Up to the day we began Harvest Church, the only sort of church I had ever known, really, was "big church".   I grew up in our parent church Trinity Chapel, in the days when attendance topped 600+.

I was used to worship with a full band, complete with percussion and a piece of brass or two, and a grand piano, with a salaried worship leader. Suddenly, our worship was reduced to one acoustic guitar. Suddenly, my husband was trouble shooting sound equipment each Sunday, playing worship, preaching, counseling, and doing construction work on our facilities - all while working overtime on his "day job".

So at what point did we become a valid "local church"? Was it when we reached a membership of 20? 30? When we finally put together a worship band?

We were a valid local church from day one. Because, from day one, we already had the "four sights of a local church" in place and functioning.

That is what the Lord spoke to me, after publishing my last blog. He said to me, "A local church of any number of people can function as the church, if they have Insight, Hindsight, Foresight, and Oversight." That bowled me over.

I knew it didn't come from me - not all at once like that. When good things come to you, full blown, it is a God-thing. I hope to elaborate on each of the four "sights" of the local church in future blogs - I find them fascinating. For now, here is an overview:

Insight - into the plan of salvation and the mystery of grace. A group of people, particularly their leader or leaders, must have a firm insight into the gospel, and be able to simply and easily share their insight with anyone and everyone.

Hindsight - a people must be sent. There are those few exceptions, but they are not, and should not be the norm. Biblically, church planting is all about being sent or ordained or affirmed by another established spiritual leader or leaders. This gives every local church, even the one meeting in a livingroom, a history. On the first day they meet as a newly planted church, there is hindsight - a story of ministry that came before them, and is even now sending and affirming their efforts to plant another church. (God is way into church planting, in case no one else has told you.)

Foresight - a people must have a vision, and it needs to be as simple and specific as possible. A group of people, meeting as a newly planted church, need to know where they are going. Our vision is, "Love God, Love Each Other, Love Your Neighbor". That's it. But it is a vision so compelling and consuming that it keeps the entire church body very busy - not with programs, but with people. Love is our vision. Love is our direction. Every church needs foresight, to be able to "see" where they are headed.

Oversight - both in-house, and out-of-house general oversight. In other words, our church members have oversight in the form of my husband, their pastor. We also have a leadership team of gifted men (post edit - we now have two elders and several deacons) who look after the flock of God, willingly, and not by who are selfless and who have not sought a who simply "are" leaders, they don't have to try to be. They have good marriages, and good reputations outside our church.

Then we have oversight to whom the pastor can turn. This is our Masterbuilder's network of churches. Masterbuilder's is led by a group of men, all of whom have recognized apostolic, teaching, and pastoral anointings, and these men oversee the churches in our network. They have never one time been heavy handed or domineering, and they don't make a salary for doing it.

 I have never seen a more selfless group of men, always nursing and tending to the various churches who are blessed enough to be part of our network. (And no - my husband is not on this team. He gladly answers to these men, has turned to them during times of crisis and trouble, and they have never failed to come through for us, often at their own expense. We are deeply indebted to them.)

However. As selfless and low-key as they are in their leadership of the churches, if my husband became some sort of renegade, we could count on them to step in. First, they would try to restore us, if we have gotten off-message. If we refused to hear, they would prayerfully take whatever steps necessary after that. It is such a precious safety net for the flock of God. Their pastor oversees them. And their pastor has oversight.

It is all based on relationships. Tim is in consistent, ongoing relationship with the Masterbuilder's oversight team. He welcomes it.

Any group of people, to be a viable expression of the church, needs to have oversight.

Any group of people, when they have functioning within them, all four "sights" ~ Insight, Hindsight, Foresight, and Oversight ~ they are a local church, no matter how small or large or where they gather. Without these four "sights", they are  just a "Bible study". Without these four "sights", a group may have only a creed and a livingroom and their own insecurities to build on.

With all four "sights", keenly and clearly operating in their midst, they are the church...the local church.

My 2011 Top Three

Here's the requisite blog "top three for 2011" in books,apps, products, and whatever else I feel like talking about. 'Cause I can. My top three books, here in no particular order:

"Give Them Grace" by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Next time a mother asks me, "I am learning to let go of law and performance in my spiritual life. But how do I apply these truths to my parenting without being permissive?" I'll hand her this book.

"One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp.  This book should come with a warning: "Read at the risk of losing your jaded cynicism."

This book is a classic.  "Sundial of the Seasons" by Hal Borland.  I just re- discovered it this past year, and what a treasure!  A day by day almanac of luminous nature-writing.

In late 2010, I inherited my husband's old smart phone - a Droid.  Since then, I've become a junkie. Have a sweet new one, now. Cannot quit the crack-Droid.  Here are my top three apps:

Twitter.  Of course.  And here's a category within a category - my top three people I follow via Twitter:  Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond), Lynn Bruce, and journalizmgirl (Liz Overton). These three always give me something to deeply consider or they make me smile.

Astrid.  It's a task manager.  A list-junkie's dream come true.  I'm in love!  I think I might date Astrid.

Evernote.  Obviously.  I can save everything and its mother and its poodle to the cloud, baby!  Every image, every note, every-everything, even voice reminders or audio files can be stored, filed, and retrieved at a moment's notice.  A writer's Nirvana.  Caveat:  I'm still learning how to use it.  I'm checking out a "how to" book I've recently discovered for Evernote - I'll let you know what book it is and who wrote it -  if it makes me grow in my Evernote Wisdom by leaps and bounds.  Jury's still out on the book.  No time to read it much, yet.

Top three products:

L'Oreal's Eversleek products.  2011 has been a good hair year, thanks to this line of sulfate-free products.  Seriously.  You have no idea what a big deal this is.  My whole hair mojo has been set free. 

Hands down, the best product for cleaning and polishing wood furniture.  Method's "Wood for Good".  Get some.  Everybody won't do it, but everybody should.

I got this Jeanne Oliver dress in 2011.  Only I wear it as a top, with boot cut jeans.  Love!  Her designs absolutely rock. 

Next, my personal top three "New Blog Discoveries" - blogs I've stumbled upon in 2011, and have added to my list of all time favorites:

Modern Country Style - such a great design blog!

Flower Patch Farmgirl - Shannan, Shannan, Shannan.  I heart you.  I discovered you in January of 2011.

The "Flower Patch Farmgirl" has done the very reverse of so many others - she and her family moved AWAY from the country and from the idea of "farm life", TO a small house in the city, and in the midst of it all they have great peace..because she and her husband want to make their lives count.  They want to be about the business of loving God by loving people, not just, or merely or even mostly livery and livestock and acreage.  She writes movingly about adoption, and about their coming out of law and into grace.  She writes about being ambushed by God, who has pulled her out of her  Country House/Anthro-Shopping/Self Sufficiency quasi-life, and thrust her into true abundant living. All this, AND she's hilarious.  A permanent favorite.

Kudos, Shannan for going against the current tide of saccharine  pseudo-farmy "I Heart the Country" blogs.  

Michael Hyatt's Intentional Leadership - has impacted me in measurable ways in 2011.

Last but not least, these are my top three most visited/requested/read posts of 2011:

Mountain Moving Faith - this one has suddenly taken off in the last three or four months, passing up my previous top post by just a few hits, but doing it very quickly -  nearly two thousand views!

A Wedding Designer's Challenge - From Concept to Completion

The Refreshing Signs of a Gracious Woman - still hanging in there near the top of the list!