You Can Fail a Test

The Scripture, both old covenant and new, is full of references to waging war and being tested, both of which imply you can lose, and you can fail. It is not at all antithetical to grace to come to a realization that you have either fought and lost, or been tested and failed. In fact, it is in the light of loss or failure that the grace of God will begin, maybe for the first time, to make sense to you!

Where can you wage war and lose? In the battle for the mind. When you choose to believe the lie of the enemy; when you choose to believe your own understanding - you lose. Please allow me to emphasize that, because the gravity of it needs to be grasped: You. Lose.

If the truth, and only the truth sets you free, then non-truth is precisely what puts you in bondage. There is no middle ground. I know believers who to this moment are in bondage to their own understanding. Renewing the mind is a life long process, but having the humility to own up to that is half the battle. (There's that word again....battle.) My old Sunday school teacher, Len Sisson, was dead-on when he taught all us teenagers about "the battleground of the mind."

Where can you be tested and fail? You can fail in holding unswervingly to the prophetic word of the Lord, through confirmed prophetically gifted brothers and sisters in the church, words publicly ministered, not "a voice in your head."

(I emphasize the prophetic word because, for the purposes of this blog entry, to hold unswervingly to Scripture is, to use an old geometry proof term, a "given".  It is the prophetic word we often struggle with.)

There are times and seasons when God speaks a "now word" into our lives...a word of destiny, a word of hope, in short - a word of prophecy. Yes, we take these words and we hold them up to the bright light of Scripture, and make sure they do not violate God's character and nature. In that way, we do test prophetic words.

But ultimately, the prophetic word tests us. And tests imply that it is possible to fail.

Ps 105:19 Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him.

There are things Tim and I have heard the Lord on - planting Harvest Church was one of them. We've also received direction from the Lord, clear prophetic direction, in other areas.

One thing you do not do is shrink back, once the word of the Lord comes. Never, never, never question "hath God said?" once you have committed yourself to what you knew to be the word of the Lord - to do that will set for you the mother of all traps. If you are in any level of spiritual leadership (a new covenant form of a "vow" - you bear a certain level of responsibility to and for others), that is a holy, precious calling, not to be entered into lightly, and you dare not lose faith in what God has said. You persevere.

I'm not being flippant with my term for Deity when I say, "By God, you stick and stay with it."

Pr 20:25 It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, And afterward to reconsider his vows.
Oh sure, circumstances will scream at you that you "missed it". People will act in ways that seem to contradict what God said. Your mind will attempt to assert its own understanding, and you will be sorely, sorely tempted to lean on it, because the word of the Lord (now a memory) does not feel as solid as it once felt to you.

Can I implore you? I will gladly be reduced to shameless begging if I must: don't shrink back from the prophetic word of the Lord. Paul told Timothy that it is by those very words he was to wage war. Once God speaks in this special way, that very word exists as your test.

I call to your memory Abraham, Joseph, David, Peter, Paul, John....all these and more who received a word that tested them, not them testing the word.

Even under grace, not everyone passes their test. Some do fail. Even then, if they but acknowledge that they didn't pass the test, they can be sooner rather than later healed and restored - in order to be tested once more. God will bring His word to them again - often the same word that tested them before - God will require that they return to it, as though it were the lost axe head, and recover it and labor with it.

To deny that we can be tested is to deny both the Scripture, and the prophetic word of the Lord.

Have you received a clear word, a few months or a few years ago, as to God's will and destiny for your life? That is the very word that has tested you.

Pass or fail?

In the battleground of the mind, your enemy's agenda is to convince you of his lies, and to get you leaning to your own understanding. Only the truth sets free, and only by truth can you wage war - not your opinion of the truth, but rather truth itself.

Win or lose?

A Typical Day - In Pictures

Actually, this is a typical half-day, in pictures.

Life is sweet these days, albeit busy and noisy. Temperatures here are dipping down into the 40's for the first time since early April...which means we Atchleys make some smokin' chili. We stop eating chili when springs starts, and we don't have it again until the the first evening that forecasted lows are predicted to be in the 40's. Our particular version of chili simmers on the stove even now. What is your family's favorite version of chili? I'm truly interested in hearing it!

Ordinary days are but encores of the miraculous. I can find a thousand things to be thankful for, in one typical, ordinary day. Knowing the grace of God, functioning in the revelation of the gift of righteousness, I cannot help but walk in newness of life!

Bocelli wakes me up, singing...

Coffee, tea, scones, and sausage for breakfast (my favorite meal of the day!)

Classes at home...

A nook, in my kitchen, where I read my cookbooks...

Set out the ingredients to make a home made apple pie...

The "baking drawer"...(that is whole nutmeg, in the little steel "pinch" cup)

Isaac, who is actually a good cook, made the apple pie all by himself!

The pie, assembled and almost ready to bake - waiting for the crumble topping.

Sarah, in her brother's room, getting a drum lesson. Cute!

My Current Motto ~

Live in Such a Way as to Intrigue....

(to intrigue: to be challenging; disturbingly provocative.)

Yyyyyyyep. ::Big Barney Fife Sniff::

...I am living up to my current motto quite nicely these days.

"Practitioner of Contentment" ~ OR, "How Sheila Got Her Groove Back"

I guess if there were to be any initials after my name, it would be "PC" ~ Practitioner of Contentment.

There really is no other phrase that has so consistently, over decades, defined my essence. I am typically happy, and cannot abide the cynical person. When life hands me dirt, I'll make a mud mask and come out with a better complexion than ever. When life hands me lemons, I'll stick 'em in my bra. Ahem. (Nah...)

So you can imagine when, quite suddenly, in the past three years or so, I discovered in my own thinking all the dreaded cynicism I have always disliked in others. Upon a brief but very prayerful investigation, I had a massive revelation: I was a compensatory optimist.


Good for me, for all the mud masks and lemon enhancement. It was far better for me than giving into the pessimism that was forever sitting there, lurking and sulking in the corner of my soul, bound and gagged while I worked so very hard to compensate for its existence. But no one...can compensate forever. At some point, things have to get painfully honest.

I first thought it was hormones. No...hormones only have the power to unmask a woman's inner demons. They bring just enough physical vulnerability to render you unable to hide what's really there. When, oh when, will we understand as His beautiful women, that this isn't a bad thing? We finally get to deal with our stuff - if we are wise.

I thought it was emptying nest, and all that. No. Transition happens.

I thought it was the stress of raising teenage boys. That was a red herring, for sure.

I had been working all these years to be optimistic, to compensate for that innate pessimist, sitting all tied up and fuming in her chair in the corner of my consciousness. Simple as that. And a pessimist's image of herself and her world is completely connected to her image of her God. My concept of God, with all my book learning, was off. All it took was an overwhelming dose of real life, and the influence of a few cynics, to reveal the weakness in my own understanding.  That sulky pessimist wriggled out of her ropes, tore off the gag I'd so carefully kept on her mouth, and she got up out of her chair and wreaked havoc in my head.

I tried to ignore her. She wouldn't go away. I wrestled her to the floor, and put her in a headlock, but she never tapped out. I sent her back to her chair, and quoted Scripture at her, but still she was there...larger than life.

She represented a belief structure. She is what I thought about God. "See, God has this low-level frustration towards you", she would say. And I'd send her back to her chair, and put the gag back on her. She'd always get loose, now and then. When others would testify in church of the work of God in their life, she'd sniff, "Wonder how long that'll last??" I'd stuff a lemon down her throat to shut her up. When I'd get caught up in wonder at anything, when my faith would begin to take flight, she was quick to pull the wings off the butterfly, and remind me of all things Real.

Worms. Never. Change.

She assured me that when I sinned, I was opening up myself to all sorts of Bad Things - nevermind the finished work of Christ. She swore that when I behaved, and only when I behaved, I was in His favor. She implied that it all depended on me, and how well I could compensate for my flaws. She withdrew from anyone and anything that challenged her control.

She smiled primly, all tied up in her chair, when I chose all the Right Things. She flexed her firm muscles in high self esteem when I jogged, did all my crunches, and ate organic food. She whispered to me that my body is a temple, after all. She particularly enjoyed it when I studied the doctrines of grace from her perspective. Man, did she know her Bible. Problem was, every time she showed me a passage, every time she quoted a verse, she was wearing this silly veil on her head. Consequently, in seeing I didn't perceive, and for all my hearing I didn't understand.

This arrangement worked for a very long time. Until I became too weary to compensate for her existence, and too tired to always be fighting with her, repeatedly returning her to the chair in the corner of my mind. It was either kill her or let her reign, with all her cynicism and unbelief.

I am happy to say that the word of God is alive and powerful, and sharper than any sword. It is able to divide and discern, and it discerned me. It discerned me openly. All things were suddenly naked and open in the eyes of Him with Whom I had to do.

And it was....allright. God....loves me. He turned His back on Christ at the cross so that I could look straight into His glory all the days of my life. Jesus bore my sins, He carried my sickness, and the punishment to obtain my peace was all...all...upon Jesus.

That chair, in the corner of my consciousness? Empty. That innate pessimist? Gone.

I'm yet a Practitioner of Contentment. I'm still making mud masks and playing with lemons. The only difference is that I'm not compensating for anything anymore. I am what and who I am, and "by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me is not in vain."

Stella got her groove back one way, Sheila got her groove back by grace through faith.

I Sing, Because I'm Happy!

There is no denying...we serve a "happy God". I want you to take a deep breath, right now. Let your neck and shoulders relax. Your God is in a good mood.

Most of us know what it feels like to be in a somewhat manipulative relationship. There are people who try to use their emotions to control the emotional atmosphere of others. Have you ever known someone who, if they feel unhappy, they seem to radiate a soul-curdling negativity into the very air around them? I'm able to overlook this in anyone once in awhile...we all become hurt or angry now and then, and sometimes we simply can't hide our heartbreak, or un-invite a guest who happens to be arriving at a bad time. But when I encounter someone who, time and again, shrouds the people around her with her own gray, depressive cloak...well, I know I have encountered someone who does not understand the grace of God.

I'm one who is very sensitive to the spiritual condition of others. I can detect the emotional "temperature" of a room and of a person, usually within moments. In the past I have unwisely accepted the responsibility for it. If there was tension in a room full of people, I felt responsible to say something funny to deflect it. If someone felt angry or depressed, I took up the job of improving their mood. This is fine, as I said, once in awhile. It is part of our ministry, one to another, in the body of Christ.

But now if, more than a few times, I walk in a door, or get around someone, and sense manipulative despair....I have no option but to speak of the gospel of the grace of God with that person. I can be patient for as long as necessary, if the gospel is willingly heard, received, and the dear one takes it and applies it not just to her destiny, but to her day. I will walk with her, because I understand that some things are a long process...renewing the mind with the good news of the grace of God in Christ Jesus is absolutely a process, and no one can skip it or short circuit it.

But if the good news of grace is not received, if it is in fact rejected (some reject it, if you can believe it!) I am bound to ignore the manipulation from that point on. I will not wear any one's shroud. I will not have my soul infected by any one's need, consciously or unconsciously, to have emotional power over others. I have spent far too long dealing with symptoms that were in fact not my own, but that of the sickness of another. No more. It is great to be discerning and sensitive and walk with others in their pain, if one is also wise and walking with prepared feet, ready to share good news. I hope to become wiser as I get older.

This is why it is so comforting and empowering and utterly blessed to be a friend of God. I am telling you, He is always in a good mood - always confident that what He has promised or begun, He is able to perform and complete. I come into His presence, and unlike a friendship with an emotionally controlling person, I leave with a full heart-tank. His good mood rubs off on me every time. There are such pleasures and rivers of joy that come with just being with the Lord. I long, with every part of me, to be a carrier of Him. I want Christ in me to minister to you, so that when you are around me, if you can at all receive grace, you feel hopeful and happy, filled and whole.

How do I know that an emotionally unstable and manipulative person needs grace? Because grace says I have been given the gift of righteousness, and the Scripture is clear:

The work of righteousness will be peace, And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. (Is. 32)

The gospel of grace gives me a hope that is an anchor to my soul, keeping me from being blown about by every wind of doctrine. Emotions that run all over the map are a sure indication that somewhere I am not submitting my reality to the reality of the finished work of Christ. (We all experience being a bit blown about...we just don't all impart our unbelief and negativity to those around us, hindering their appropriation of the power of God unto salvation that is available only to those who believe.)

Relax, dear one. God has been in a good mood for a long time, and His equilibrium is unaffected by your issues. What a friend...consistent and faithful and full of grace!

The Refreshing Signs of a Gracious Woman

Pr 11:16 "A gracious woman gets honor, as violent men get riches."

This sentence draws an analogy that should stop you in your tracks.

Grace-ious: full of grace. A woman of grace gets a well-deserved respect, as violent men get riches!
Not too many generations ago, "gracious" was literally defined as "godly". The word has since been watered down to mean something more akin to "mousy", in my opinion. Today, most define the concept of "gracious" as being sort of Southern Genteel, and even secretly condescending. In our time, a person who considers herself to be above others, a person who thinks she is better (better looking, better educated, better manners, better breeding, better income, better everything) is thought to be gracious if she is nevertheless nice to all the peasants of the planet.

Such a diluted definition, and nothing that could ever be analogous to violent men getting riches. Violent men are a force to be reckoned with. So is the woman of true grace.

A gracious woman obtains respect because her very grace-filled nature is such a transforming force, everyone in her wake cannot help but hold her in high esteem. She not only obtains their respect...she keeps it. This is beyond difficult, this preserving of respect. Most beauty decreases upon further examination. Only true beauty increases, the more you get to know it. I have met lots of women who seemed Godly, but the more I got to know them, the greater their net negative affect on my life.

With long exposure to one particular woman years ago, for example, I found myself treating my husband with the same coolness and critical spirit with which she treated her husband. I had to pull back from the relationship for a season, to re-orient my heart to grace. Some women have influenced me to be more and more focused on petty physical ailments, because that is what they were focused on - petty things like normal fatigue, dizziness, or aches and pains. I had to consciously deal with this, and choose for myself a more dismissive attitude towards the small stuff. Some women exude unhappiness, and the depression that haunts the un-gracious woman begins to rub off on me.

I have known some women, however, who the more I got to know them, the more I myself began to become (or at least wanted to become!) almost as gracious as they. These are the women who are stunning. They are refreshing to know. They are forces to be reckoned with. They "gain my respect, as violent men gain riches".

Here are a few of the symptoms of a grace-filled person:

Intelligent: as opposed to merely educated or just clever. The legalist is clever, in a cold sort of way. The sparkling intelligence of a woman of grace is entirely different. The gracious woman has studied hard, studied long, and she does the necessary work to be able to communicate what she has learned. She sets her table, figuratively speaking. She has "killed her beasts, mingled her wine", and she invites you and I to "come to the feast". She then treats us as honored guests, as friends having much to contribute, not putting emphasis on her own considerable intellectual work.

Warm: a woman of grace has undeniable warmth. Her emotions are governed by a passionate God, as opposed to the legalist who is "cool, calm, and collected" only because she is too proud to let her hair down. The gracious woman runs warm, and even white hot, but not out of control, and she is never cold. The opposite of love is not is cool indifference. A gracious woman stands out like an inviting hearth-fire amongst her self-aware, emotionally cold peers.

Generous: such generosity of spirit! A grace-girl has open hands and open heart. She gives the gift of her smile, the gift of her approval, the gift of her friendship, the gift of her money, the gift of sharing her possessions with you with not one string attached. You do not feel as if you are weighed in her balances and found wanting. You don't have to agree with her. You don't have to admire her for it. You don't have to walk on eggshells in exchange for her favor. You won't be expected to meet an unspoken obligation to her in the future. You see, the grace-girl is filthy rich in spirit. She can afford to lavish you with gifts and gifts and gifts that flow from her wealthy heart, and she is not the least bit poorer for the giving. Because her identity is that of undiminished resource in the gospel. The grace of Christ Jesus causes her to abound in every good word and work.

Wit: this is an unexpected symptom of a gracious person. It is the unintended consequence of the joy of the Lord that permeates the day of a grace-girl. A gracious woman can be hilarious. I've known a few who crack me up so bad, I feel good, and all healed-up on the inside.

Others: a gracious woman thinks of others. When you are with her, she doesn't talk only about herself. The topic of conversation is usually either about you, or ideas that have the potential to be incredibly interesting. The conversation is not stilted or strained, rather it flows from a sincere interest in others, and an unquenchable enthusiasm for God Himself. Some gracious women are natural introverts. Yet they have managed, somehow, to not make an idol of their personality. They can and do get outside themselves, and they will often make you feel as though you are the most important person in the room, when you talk to them.

Imperfect: this is perhaps the biggest trait of a gracious woman. She has flaws...physical flaws, personality quirks, and even big, honking spiritual imperfection. She takes it all in stride, and her world is not rocked when she discovers she has been wrong. After all, she was born wrong, born in sin, and it comes as no surprise to her that she will be wrong a time or two again at some point in her life. Or at some point in the next five minutes. Big deal. She'll fix it, and move on.

Consistent: a gracious woman stays in relationship. She can be depended on to be there, at least in spirit, and to love you to the end. You have to be the one to leave a gracious woman's friendship behind - a gracious woman will not leave you. She won't run after you if you leave, and thereby force herself on you, she won't compromise her deepest convictions, but she is committed to unity in the midst of diversity and she will stick with you often to her own hurt. She will receive you back in an instant, should you wish to resume a right relationship, and you won't have to meet a long checklist of qualifications to be reinstated. In fact, she will treat you as though you never left her to start with. Its rather humbling to be thus loved, though she isn't trying to humble you.

Christian: a gracious woman is one who has trusted entirely in the grace of God, and not in her own performance. Strangely, she usually out-performs everyone else. Her hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and gift of righteousness. The message of the gospel motivates her and perfumes her thoughts, and infuses her relationships.

There is no other way to be grace-ious.

A toast..."To all the gracious women in my life!"

We Are Family...

"I got all my sisters with me!
We are family!
Get up everybody - SING"

A snapshot from our women's meeting this morning....I am telling you, no lie, there is not a better group of women you could ever get to know and love than this bunch right here. I am crazy about every single one of them, each one for a different reason.

There's a bunch more, not in this photo...I wish all our Harvest women could have been there today - if you couldn't be there, know that you were missed greatly.

Oh, how we laughed. (Could it have been the CAKE??)