"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! (...as 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 turkey...you 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 homegirls...like 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 does...it's pretty complicated.)

Josh Garrels.  He is my latest discovery, and I have to admit he's better than Audible.com 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 audible.com.  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 you....church 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 compulsion....men who are selfless and who have not sought a position....men 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 post...my "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!