From the Genesis of the sun, moon, earth, and human kind, God set it in place that each day is to begin at sundown. We think of a day as beginning each morning, just before or as the sun comes up. How very human of us...to believe that the day starts with our own conscious effort, and must needs end when we fall asleep. Not so, in God's schedule. On His clock (and accurately believed by practicing Jews), the day begins when we reach the end of our human energy, the sun goes down, and we stop to rest.
I watched the sun sink behind the trees this night. The sky was a water color masterpiece of pastel softness. Puffs of clouds dotted the horizon, and a natural sense of peace began to settle across my heart. I have always been drawn to this, my very favorite time of day. I try not to miss a sunset. I like to believe that my love for "the golden hour" of sunset has both spiritual and philosophical implications. Grace is put on vivid display, every single day at sundown. When my work is done, when I am finished, God is just getting started.
The day begins just as "I" end. Through no effort of my own, and in fact when I go to sleep, the Father is unfolding His plan for the next 24 hours, going before me into the already-new day, accomplishing His objective. God gives to His beloved, even in her sleep, the Psalm says.
Dear one! Go to sleep tonight. Rest. Lay your head upon your pillow, knowing that it is a new day, and all of heaven is going into motion on your behalf, and you needn't do a thing but close your eyes.
Now the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening... (Ez. 33: 22)
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.
Merry Christmas, dear ones. God rest ye merry...
My husband finds that whole idea thrilling. He lives for spring, and relishes the thought of lengthening days.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is "In The Bleak Midwinter". I find the melody to be hauntingly beautiful, and the whole song is a refreshing departure from some of the saccharine-sweet ditties of this season. Of all the artists who have contributed their renditions of this old song, I love James Taylor's and Amy Grant's the best. If you know of a better remake of "In The Bleak Midwinter", do pass it on to me, I'd love to give it a listen.
Many parts of our country are experiencing "snow on snow on snow"...not us here in Tennessee. I'd love to see a white Christmas, but alas, again this year it is not to be.
But enfolded and tucked deeply into this day, implied in this, the longest night of the year, is impending spring. Things really do get darkest just before dawn. There is so much hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it truly is written into nature itself.
Worship God Incarnate with me this week!
Your last statement so beautifully summed up what I know to be true and long to be a part of.I too desire to live out New Testement Christianity and definetly see the relevance of a local graceful community to enable this end. I don't know why it is so difficult to find both but I am too stubborn, too broken and too visionary to settle for one or the other.So how do you find these covenant relationships that are BOTH healthy and local? For most of my life I have been part of church bodies that are local but not entirely healthy in structure or belief. More recently,I have connected with many people that are healthy and/or growing in grace, but are simply too far away for the highly effective nature of close community. What does one do in this case?Perhaps my expectations are too high? Perhaps my creativity too low?
December 18, 2008 8:46 PM
First of all - thank you so much for opening up and being transparent. I will do my very best not to violate your trust...you are safe here. Safe. That is a wonderful concept and an even better feeling.
As to your questions, my first thought is that you be very secure in who you are in Christ. We all bring our quirks and imperfections to the local church, but it is best, overall, that we don't show up with yawning caverns in our soul because we have not yet understood that we are accepted in the Beloved.
So you show up, knowing that no group of people will ever meet your needs or your expectations, nor will they ever love you like God does. Look for a local church whose fundamental doctrines line up with what you believe - mainly that you agree on what I call "the essentials" - and whose worship cracks open your heart, where the Word is preached uncompromisingly, yet with grace, and whose children's/teen/college ministry has leaders who DO NOT give you a check in your spirit. (Very important, no??)
Look for hospitality. I'll grant you - it is hard as heck to find. And it won't be expressed perfectly. But you want to sense a general openness in the hearts of the people.
When you find the above - - you commit. Pure and simple.
You join hands and hearts and you go the distance, come hell or high water, and both will come. ACK! Church life is hard. It just is. Just like being married is sometimes maddening, and raising children can break your heart - but the rewards, however few and far between they might be, make every sacrifice worth it...so it is in the family of God. Don't expect it to be any different than your own family...full of skeletons in various closets, occasional conflict, boredom, or chaos. But OH HOW YOU HAVE COME TO LOVE THESE PEOPLE!
Show up ready to adapt. There is an Old Testament principle - - when the children of Israel encountered "the stranger in their midst" they were to love them, YES. But they were not to adapt themselves to the "stranger", the stranger was to adapt to the people. And so it is when settling into a new church home. "When in Rome, do as those Romans do". You probably won't be able to change a thing - so don't show up with an agenda. Accept these folks as they are, and find out, over time, how they do things.
Expect to offend and be offended, to forgive and be forgiven. Expect to be loved and cared for. Expect the word preached to challenge your sensibilities, and know that you will never get a full sense of a man's ministry until you are a year or more sitting under it. So if a message or two or five are preached that do not sit right with you, don't panic.
Maybe that pastor is "swinging a pendulum", using hyperbole, or generally hitting something hard to make the point. When a "hard right" or a "hard left" is preached...the outcome and result is rarely that radical - the outcome usually ends up being a gentle curve in the proper direction for the people as a whole - so do not worry. Sometimes if a pastor isn't on fire, no one listens. So let him blaze away, and rejoice over the idea that you are not getting watered down stuff.
Look for mothers in Zion - a healthy church will have a few. It takes time to find them, but they are waiting for you, I promise!
This is a start, and I hope and pray it helps you on your journey to finding a healthy local church. You are necessary to the body of Christ, dear one!!! We need your gifts and your love.
by Francis Frangipane
We sing Amazing Grace, but I don't think we realize how amazing grace actually is. Grace is God's power, motivated by His mercy, working to fulfill His compassion.
We are saved by grace, but what culminates in a "day of salvation" experience is actually months and even years of God quietly, yet powerfully, working in our hearts. Recall: Jesus said, "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44a). Do you remember that drawing power? Before we knew God, divine power was working invisibly within our hearts, drawing and wooing us to Christ.
Yet let me take this miracle of grace further, for after Jesus spoke of the Father's drawing power, He then said, "and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44b). This is the power and commitment of our Father's love: from the days of our sin and rebellion even to the days long after we die, grace continues working to unite our hearts with God's. From our utterly helpless beginnings to our utterly helpless end, from being dead in sin to being dead in the grave, grace carries us to the arms of God.
Unlocking the Power of Grace"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that, in the ages to come, He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:4-8).
Paul says that grace saved us "through faith." Faith unlocks the power of grace and releases it to function in our world-and faith itself is another gift of God. The difference between both gifts is, the grace-gift must be activated by the faith-gift. We must believe that God is "rich in mercy." We must accept as true that God loves us with "great love." We must not doubt He atoned for "our transgressions." We must be confident we are "alive together with Christ."
Grace works through faith. Believing the words of grace unlocks the power of grace; the power of grace to fully transform us comes through faith. As it is written, "For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace" (John 1:16). The true stride of a Christian's walk is "grace upon grace." The same grace that turned our hearts toward Christ continues to work in us, transforming even our sufferings and trials into virtue and power. Are you in a battle? Are you struggling with finances, health, righteousness or relationships? Your grace-miracle has already been created. But you must believe that not only has God created a grace-provision for you, but Christ is motivated by love and actually desires to show you favor.
You may feel like a loser, a sinner, a person others routinely reject---and perhaps you are! The purpose of redemption was so that, in the ages to come, God might display through us "the surpassing riches of His grace." You may be poor in this world, but you can become rich in the transforming grace of God. Believe Him. A day will come in the future world of God when He will point to you and I, once fallen and depraved, filthy and isolated creatures, and display us before heaven and earth as radiant, transformed beings---a glory to His workmanship and love. And it will come to pass because we believed in the grace of God to change us.
Who cares what other people think of you? God says He loves you! Indeed, His grace is working to set you free. God knows you have been struggling with desperate issues; that's one reason why He has inspired this message. His grace is reaching to you to deliver you. The means to your victory is not more prayer or more Bible study, but faith-activated grace. Of course, I strongly believe in both prayer and study, but the power to release each of us is a free gift of grace. Don't postpone your breakthrough. Believe that God's grace is here to release you!
What We Cannot Do On Our OwnWe've been taught that grace is God's unmerited favor, which of course, it is. Yet unmerited favor is only one aspect of grace. In reality, grace is God's promise to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
The Bible says that "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom. 4:3). It doesn't mean that Abraham believe there was a God. No. Demons believe in one God and tremble! When Abraham "believed God" it meant that he believed what God had promised would come to pass. God promised to do for Abraham what Abraham and Sarah could not fulfill on their own. The Lord had promised Abraham he'd be a father of many nations. This is the glory of God's grace: it accomplishes what is otherwise impossible for us. You see, grace not only chooses me, saves me eternally and blankets my life with mercy, but grace also works in me realities unattainable without divine help.
Consider Zechariah and the story about Zerubbabel, who was governor of Israel. The Jews had been held in Babylonian captivity for seventy years. Now, they were being restored to Jerusalem. It was Zerubbabel's task to oversee the restoration of the city. In the struggle of the battle, weariness settled on the governor. So, the Lord gave Zechariah a promise for Zerubbabel. He said, "‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6).
God was saying, in effect, "You have labored, your enemies are many and they are strong, but this work I've set before you isn't about your abilities; it's about what I can do working through you." Likewise, our salvation isn't about our works or power. It's about believing in the Holy Spirit's power and the grace of God.
Then the Lord gave Zerubbabel an important word. He said, "What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!'" (Zech. 4:7).
Zerubbabel had mountains in his life that were too much for him. He had a task that was beyond his abilities. Yet God promised His Spirit would help, and when it was done, multitudes would be shouting "Grace, grace" at the finished work.
Listen, my friends, don't run from the mountains in your life; face them with faith---and then shout "Grace, grace" to them. Let God make your mountains into "a plain."
Let's not mutter an unbelieving whisper about grace, but shout it out loud. It doesn't say, think about grace, but release your faith and shout "Grace, grace!" God's unmerited favor has been poured out upon you; now speak to that mountain of discouragement, sickness or financial need---GRACE, GRACE!
Blessed God, You have drawn me to Yourself and have sheltered my life in the impenetrable stronghold of Your grace. Forgive me for drifting back into trusting in my works or abilities. Lord, I believe in Your grace! I shout "Grace, grace!" to the mountains that stand before me! In Jesus' name!
Someone else's livingroom...(Post edit done by the author of this blog, editing unnecessary details that are now - and 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.
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 many 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, 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 house churches did.
Um....not necessarily. In fact, we are still considered a "small church", fifteen 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. The only sort of church I had ever known, really, was "big church" - I grew up in Trinity Chapel. 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 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, without any developing of the ideas. 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 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 sent and affirmed 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 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 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 small 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 heretical 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 be restored, 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. Their pastor has oversight.
And 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. They aren't just a "Bible study". They have more than just 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.
I'm all into loving my brother, until "my brother" is someone in my church who bugs me. I'm all about grace, until grace must be extended to someone who is so deeply under law they wouldn't know grace if it kissed them on the cheek...
Let's take New Testament Living to the next level (maybe even to "the third level", to borrow from the delightfully rambling and thought provoking blog of the dear Chris and Christine Welch) - that of actually living it past the point of our pain. Can we take it the extra mile, into loving others all the way past our doctrinal differences, sacrificing the sacred cows of our deepest hurts sustained in church life, dismounting our Holy High Horses? Whatever made us think that church life was warm and fuzzy? It never has been, and it never will be, not this side of eternity anyhow. In the words of one of the Great Dead Guys, Matthew Henry (I think it was) who said, "We do not yet live amongst just men made perfect...we live amongst 'just men' ", I'm thinking it is time that we get on with the program. No one is saying "get over it", I'm saying get ON with it, in spite of it. God's program, His "plan A" is still the local church.
Sure, there is a church universal. She's awesome. She's as terrible as an army with banners. She embodies all that God is about in this hour - which is to demonstrate His Great Goodness to a watching world, through what seems to be uninspired vessels - thereby bringing many sons into glory. Just as the God who dwells in unapproachable light came down from His greatness, into the womb of a woman....the church universal in all her splendor must become an approachable, human entity. The church universal is expressed and defined by each church local.
In church, tomorrow morning, I will tell myself, "This is the church. This is what 'church life' looks like." It may or may not be splendid to the naked eye.
That's called "bringing it home". That's called making our theology affect our biography. We all love the church universal. But try "having all things in common" with the universal church. Try imitating the faith of "those over you" in the universal church. (I suppose you could wear Kim Clement's hairstyle, or attempt Benny Hinn's wonderful accent, or try to preach like your favorite Christian Superstar...)
But try forgiving the universal church, bearing the burdens of it, and speaking only that which is good to the use of edifying....with the ethereal "church universal". How about simply "putting up" with the church universal? It can't be done. Much of Christianity gets lost in the translation without the church local.
And a group of people have to have more than a creed and a livingroom and their own insecurities in common to actually BE a local church. We may begin with nothing but a creed and a livingroom and our own insecurities, but we don't remain that way for years...not and be a healthy expression of the local church.
Most of New Testament Christianity cannot be actually lived, without the covenant relationships inherent in a healthy local church.
There. I said it. Let the games begin.
June Cleaver in embroidered hip huggers and wearing a daisy chain in her hair, making certain her foyer was Feng Shui-ed properly.
The Beav smoking a doobie, listening to...ah...the Doobie Brothers.
Then, there was that Aromatherapy List of Scents, and what each scent supposedly "evokes" in a person's emotions. Reminds me of my blog post, "A New Kind of Legalism". Apparently, there are some serious RULES that apply, if one is to do anything "the natural way".
According to the aromatherapy list, if we are all angry with one another (and just a few nights ago, we were....oh, we were!) someone simply squirts a certain Essential Oil into the air, and everyone feels happy again. Not in my house. When we're arguing, if anyone dared try to splash scented oil on us, or into the air we are breathing, we'd take 'em out at the knees.
We were alternately giggling and rolling our eyes as my youngest, Isaac, read aloud from this list. Then he got to "ginger" - and the chart said "promotes sexual desire".
Josiah yelled in his best hillbilly accent, "Maw, git that book away from hee-yum," (him) "h'it's a-junkin' up his HEAD!!" Then, one of the girls piped up, in mock stricken-sadness, and said "No more ginger snap cookies for daddy..."
I'm surrounded by budding comics. And all the so called "back to nature people" are giving them lots of material.
There was a time when music was what you did. There was no recorded music. You played it or you sung it best you could. It was physical, in the way that only things immediate can be. There was a time when, if you couldn't play an instrument, or sing with any ability, you at least listened actively to others who could play and sing. It was all folk music, then.
Music wasn't remote. In most cases, you'd have known your musicians well. They would be members of your own family or church family, and you'd wait days on end just to hear your friend or collegue play your favorite song. The night of that festive gathering, as you tapped your toe or danced or hummed along, you could watch the very eyes of the ones making the music. You could feel their delight. You knew that the fiddle player was creating such magic after a long, hard, hot day on the farm. Or the lead vocalist had a colicky baby, and you heard from the pianist that she had been up all night with it. Poor woman. No wonder her voice cracks now and then - but no matter. You love to hear her sing! You took the music home with you, in your very bones. Music was soul nourishing, and very much a product of community.
To this day, that is what music is, in Harvest Church. It is completely a product of community, and worship is played and sung by the people we know and love. It is not professional. There is excellence, but professionalism for the sake of stage performance is frowned upon. Keep it real - even when it hurts. Sometimes it does hurt!
Occasionally, at our home, we have what are known as celidhs. (pronounced "Kay-lees"). The word is Gaelic/Scottish, and means "gatherings where there is great food, music, and story telling."
It is not an evening where you have a chain restaurant cater the food, and a hired DJ play the popular tunes and talk to the crowd to "warm them up". That is a soul-less, misshapen facimile of a real party, I don't care if you try to call it a "Wedding Reception" or a "Retirement Party"...it isn't celebration as God envisions for His people.
We have evenings where we are the entertainment. We whip up a few simple, hearty dishes of food, we tell hilarious stories from our beginnings as a church, and my husband sits down with his Maton guitar, my daughter at the piano, my son with his guitar, and my other daughter with her guitar, and, though my youngest son can sing quite well, he's reached his "I'm Too Cool To Sing" stage, so you won't hear from him for a couple more years.
If you come to my house on one of these evenings, you'll find none of it scripted. Some songs will be begun, but tossed quickly because someone isn't sure how to play it. Other songs will be lingered over...as the presence of God sweetly envelops each person in the living room, or outside on our back deck. We had one of our best celidhs on our front porch, one evening this past year, with a pastor-friend from Virginia. That man, Bo Stewart, sang in his very booming voice, and played the guitar with animated gusto - all our neighbors could hear him, and we didn't give a darn. They were welcome to join the small crowd on the porch.
But no....though invited, they didn't come join us. They preferred to pull one earbud out of their ear, while washing their SUV's and listening to their i-pods, to stare at us for a moment, in shock and awe. Music as something people do?! Do people really just sit down together to sing anymore? Why do that, when everyone can retreat to the isolation of his or her favorite music and earbuds?
I mentioned the book "Delight" by J.B. Priestly on last night's blog. (Among other things. Ahem. Percocet does make one speak in strange tongues...) Here's a snippet from another chapter. He calls any sort of live music-making "chamber music". So wherever you read those words "chamber music", substitute "jam session", and it will make all the sense in the world to you!
"Chamber music (read: "jam sessions") at home are delightful. Not for everybody of course; mere listeners, passive guest-types, may have a hell of a time with it. (Let them go somewhere else, and switch on their automated music). No, this kind of music is delightful for actual performers, and for those who are loitering round the edge of performance, waiting to be asked to join in, and for those women - and a few wise men - who enjoy seeing the persons dear to them happy, let the notes fall where they may. There has always been to me a sort of cozy magic about it. You are at home, all safe and snug, and yet are also wandering in spirit, through lost kingdoms, with the music. Even the best string quartets and trios will not always survive the atmosphere, chilly with determined culture, of those horrible little concert halls given up to chamber music. (read: "professional concerts"). We forget that a lot of music has been written for fun.
What a difference when you bring in firelight, armchairs, tobacco, and a tray of drinks! The execution - as it often is with us - may be sketchy and even downright murderous, but you can catch the mood of the masters, whether they are looking for the Holy Grail, or a pint of wine and a helping of roast goose. You wish you could do it better, but you are delighted to be doing it at all.
But I need not perform myself, nor be in my own home, to know this delight. As I write this, many rooms come flickering back, in Bradford and Cambridge, a Lakeland cottage, a studio in Chelsea; half-forgotten, mysterious apartments abroad; and firelight and candlelight play tenderly among the instruments; and Mozart and Haydn, Brahms and Debussy, move among us again; and within the ring of friendly faces, ghosts these many years, the little worlds of sound shine and revolve like enchanted moons. Why - bless our bewildered souls! - every time a violin is taken up to the attic, or a piano is carted away, and in their place is a gadget that turns music on and off like tap water, we move another step away from sanity and take to snarling harder than ever."
Live music, played and sung by ourselves or those we know and care about, has such persuasive influence. When music becomes entertainment, rather than an active part of our lives, a passive amusement, rather than something we do, we indeed become more petulant and victimized and angry. When we move away from Anything As It Was Created To Be - whether that be sexuality, church-life, or music - we supress our own human-ness, and joy leaks out.
"...we take to snarling harder than ever..."
SING, people! SING, this Christmas time. Don't let Bing Crosby or even James Taylor do it all for you. (Though James Taylor has indeed made my all time favorite Christmas CD!)
Music should also be "DIY"...for fun....for delight. Please, make your very own joyful noise this season.
Here I sit, in pajamas, and eyeglasses, alternately listening to A Scottish Christmas (soulful, fantastic CD), popping a pain pill, sipping a chocolate milk shake, and reading Various and Sundry Things. I'm not in near as much pain as yesterday...the hours immediately post surgery are Not To Be Written About. I wish to expunge them from memory.
Just what does a Percocet-befuzzed brain read, on the Day After Surgery? Everything and nothing at all. Things great, and things quotidian. I've chosen to share with you bits from This, bits from That, and the recipe for the best chocolate milkshake in this world - which obviously qualifies as being The Other Thing.
There's the book "Delight" by J.B. Priestly, first published in 1949. He wrote it, chapter by chapter, as a list of the only things in this world that bring him delight. He also wrote it as proof that he was not so melancholy as folks supposed.
From the Preface:
"...I have always held that a fine grumble makes things better. If, for example, a hotel gives me a bad breakfast, I have only to grumble away for a few minutes to feel that some reasonable balance has been restored: the grumble has been subtracted from the badness of the breakfast. If I have not had a good breakfast, at least I have had a good grumble.
Another point for my defence is that I have always looked and sounded much worse than I felt. Often when I am feeling merely annoyed, a little put out, I appear to be blazingly angry or lost in the deepest sulks. The appearance is larger than the reality. I may not have been enjoying myself, but at least I have not been suffering as intensely as the rest of the company imagined."
(I delight in...) "Lying in a hot bath, smoking a pipe. People still say to me, "The way you work!" and behind the modest smirk, I laugh secretly, knowing myself to be one of the laziest and most self indulgent men alive. Long after they have caught the 8:20, opened the morning mail, telephoned to the managing directore of the Company, dictated yet another appeal to the Board of Trade, I am lying in my hot bath, smoking a pipe. I am not even soaping and scrubbing, but simply lying there...
...in a neighboring room, thrown on the floor, are the morning papers, loud with more urgent demands for increased production, clamouring for every man and woman to save the country. And there I am, lost in steam and the fumes of Latkia (a sort of tobacco) and the vaguest of dreams. Just beyond the bolted door, where the temperature drops to nearly freezing, are delicate women, who have already been up for hours, toiling away. Do I care? Not a rap...."
Isn't that hilarious? I was told by a dear friend that, for this brief time of recovery, I should learn how to be a "bystander in my own life" and just rest. I think I have managed to do just that, for all of 24 hours so far. I could do without the pain, but the experience of "letting go" has been lovely, I do admit. I don't think I've been this disengaged, ever. Not even when having children (via C-section, three times). I always came home ready for work, and wanting everything to just be normal again. I have always had intense dislike for the concept of "recuperation". I want to skip it. Takes too long.
I can't claim to have mastered the Art of Zen after a mere 24 hours, but it has been a start...and Priestly's amusing prose has put a smile on my swollen face. Makes me want to smoke something.
Then, there has been this lovely new book "Seeking the Face of God", recommended by Lynne Bruce, of the "Beehive" blog. (http://beehive5.blogspot.com/) What a jewel. What a treasure. It finally came in the mail, not long ago:
"In a very real sense, then, Christian spirituality talks about what we receive, more than what we achieve. Our potential and activity are entirely dependent on God's prior work in our lives. If we set out to be achievers, rather than receivers, we have not begun to follow God. Achievers call attention to themselves, whereas receivers lead others to appreciate the Giver.
If we insist on being achievers, seeking God so that others may admire our faith, our committment, or our dedication, we become God's competitors..."
So much for those with a competitive spirit. I never could relate to that attitude anyhow. Now I see why. I've always seen myself as a receiver. Who can boast in that?
I've also been perusing a couple of Christmas magazines - my favorite being "Cottages and Bungalows" - full of sumptuous pictures of halls decked with boughs of holly, in the Craftsman Tradition. I love no other home design better than a Craftsman Bungalow. I don't live in one, and might never. But I've always been content to sincerely admire what I don't possess, whether that be a Craftsman home, or some lovely trait of personality, or a half way decent car. (My dream car is either a vintage VW Beetle convertible, or an older-but-pristine black or white Volvo wagon. Psychoanalyze that, why don't you!)
And don't go out and buy one of those, now that you know. I'll know that you're copying me.
Never have been one to want an "image car" - or, worse yet, some expensive red vehicle (won't name a make or model) that screams, "I'm Over Forty, but I Want You to Think I am Still Hot". Or, "I Bought This Because I Can." Gah. Spare me.
I may regret blogging whilst on pain medication.
Last, but not least, my husband's own recipe for His Wife's Favorite Milkshake, as dictated to me by said husband:
a bit of milk
a bit of ice
a lot of Hershey's syrup
a few scoops of Breyer's Vanilla ice cream
...all in the blender.
I will be fat as a house, and won't have eaten a solid bite of anything. Oh well - he has taken the grandest care of me. I hope he still loves me when I am wearing on my hips, all his Convalescent Milkshakes.
So much for both the competitive personality, and surgery helping me to shed a few pounds...
I covet prayers that the surgery will go smoothly, and recovery will be quick and easy. I am an absolute weenie when it comes to things like this...it doesn't bother me in the least to admit to that!
Thank you so much, and I'll "see" you soon!
Each year, I make several loaves of cranberry orange bread. Each year, I’ve never been quite satisfied with the results…until this year. (In previous years, the bread was always either too dry, or not orangey enough to suit me, or not sweet, or always something that wasn’t quite right.)
I finally tweaked all the various recipes I’ve used over the years, and came up with what is truly the best cranberry orange bread. Um - in my ever so humble opinion.
This one is worth making just for the smell of it, when you are mixing it all together. The freshly grated orange peel, combined with the fresh cranberries (I’d always used dried cranberries until this year) is an intoxicant. The orange peel is the biggest hassle to grate – you have to be careful not to get the white “pith” part, just the surface orange part – but so well worth it. Have fun with this one, and feel free to tweak THIS recipe….make it "yours"....but, if you have not made cranberry orange bread before, I recommend that you make it exactly as follows first…then, make notes as to your opinion of the results, and if it needs something different, you then tweak it to your taste the next time you bake it.
I upped the sugar, upped the salt, changing it to coarse salt, which I vastly prefer. When you use coarse salt, you need more…if you use regular table salt, reduce the amount listed by half, to about ½ a tsp.
Also, I could have said something like "1/4 cup vegetable oil" instead of 5 T. But I just added the oil, by tablespoons, until it all "looked right". The count was 5. So sue me. I went with it.
2 cups all purpose flour
1. In a large bowl, stir together the flours, the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2. In another bowl, whisk together the oil, orange peel, mandarin orange “juice”, and egg. Add this mixture to the flour mixture, stirring the two mixtures just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.
3. Fold in the cranberries and nuts, and pour the batter into a greased 9 X 5 X 3 inch loaf pan, or several mini loaf pans, filling half-way.
4. Bake the bread in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour (about 45 minutes if you're using mini loaf pans). Cool before slicing.
I could chapter-and-verse this blog entry. I could approach it all from a very scholarly bent, but I'm too tired. The hour is late, and Sunday morning comes early. I absolutely have to finish this post before the eleven o'clock news, because I am feeling quite sure my energies will vanish in a matter of a half an hour.
So. To sum it all up....love is all about delight. God delights in His creation. He delights in you!
I've been brushing up on my Augustinian doctrine lately, and let me tell you, the man had it going on. He taught that you and I cannot possess full knowlege of anything until we love it. And we do not love it until we delight in it.
Delight is both the cause and the effect of real love. In fact, Augustine said, "There is no enjoyment where there is no love." And, "Who can know how good a thing is if he does not enjoy it?"
Dear reader, God is good, and God is love. Therefore, He is the very essence of contemplative delight. He delights in you and I with a full, contemplated knowlege of precisely what we are like. In the words of the contemporary worship song we sing often at Harvest Church:
"...You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same! You are amazing, God!"
Love begins and ends in enjoyment. That's how we can conceivably give our body to be burned, and have no love. It is possible to go through the motions of martyrdom, and miss the whole point of relationship with God and man: which is to simply enjoy them both, God supremely so. We are patient and kind and not easily provoked, we are not jealous with those in whom we take unbridled delight.
Who and what do you enjoy? Who delights you? What delights you? There you will find your heart.
He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, ][I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]
Could it be more clear? Is He ever going to not be there when I call? Will I find that He has stepped away, even if for but a moment? A spllllllllit second? (...the first draft, I wrote "spit second" - and that is almost the same amount of chronological time...)
He will not! He will not! He will not! Assuredly not. He cannot in any degree back down, step away, or be slack in his immediate nearness and complete committment to my soul restoration. He is fully available, forever at work but never "busy", having all the time in this world and the next for me, as though I were His favorite and only child. Every day. Every moment. God Himself.
Yeah, you could say I'm pretty secure. I am possessed of Security Amplified. Security squared...or cubed...or something. All I know, is I can rest.
I’m starting Christmas early.
It’s so out of character. I was the one who always wondered at anyone who decorated before Thanksgiving. In my mind, Christmas should not begin until after Thanksgiving…don’t let my favorite holiday (Thanksgiving) be obscured by Santa and reindeer…or even a nativity scene. Let Christmas have its own time, and let “Harvest Thanksgiving” have its own time.
Noooot this year. I’ve found myself playing Christmas music, and I am going to begin decorating today. (Well, if I can feel better – I’ve caught Tim’s germs – plus we have a basketball jamboree today with our boys, who are playing in a league this winter.) If I can gather energies, I will be decking the halls late into the night, tonight. We don’t decorate the tree itself until the night of Thanksgiving, or the day after….but that tree will be up, lights twinkling, and all other holiday home decorations will be out by mid-week, and Christmas music will be gently wafting into the kitchen, and down through the hallway, and into each bedroom.
I rarely analyze myself – I just go with “it”, whatever “it” is. I live intuitively, and that is far different from living impulsively. It is deeper, and more poetic. I feel around in my soul, and what is found there, I don't analyze….I just go with it. I do not trust myself, per se, but I do trust the strong and vibrant life of Christ in me. I'm not characterized by censoring my every thought or deed.
But this one needed analyzing. In 22 years of marriage, I’ve never rushed Christmas. Why this year? It was then I realized…
This will be the last Christmas with just us six….together. Yeah, Justin will still be here among us – often, if not all the time. But he does go home at night. And he is forever welcome - truly a part of the family.
Something inside me – the deep that calls to deep – is urging me to linger around the manger and the tree this year. Once May gets here (yes….May!) things will never be the same. She won’t come home for summer break, as other girls often do. She will drop by, this summer. She won’t be home for Christmas next year…she will visit on Christmas day. Then she’ll have to visit his family. By then, she'll belong to them too. I will have another son, they an only daughter. That's how this thing called "Godly marriage" works. What is his will be hers, what is hers will be his.
That’s the reality. And it both breaks my heart and thrills my soul, because my Hannah is marrying a man of God, and that is what every mother dreams of for her daughter. This blessing, I will wallow in. I will talk about it, revel in it, and rejoice.
So I am asking you ahead of time to please bear with me as I start the roller coaster ride of “time-between-now-and-May”. Bear with me as I hum carols and bake cookies and clean house like a woman possessed with the notion that time is running out.
Last, but not least:
EXCERPT: “…the ministry is one of the most perilous of professions. The devil hates the Spirit-filled minister with an intensity second only to that which he feels for Christ Himself. The source of this hatred is not difficult to discover. An effective, Christ-like minister is a constant embarrassment to the devil, a threat to his dominion, a rebuttal of his best arguments and a dogged reminder of his coming overthrow. No wonder he hates him….”
Spiritual Warfare and Sin
To be entirely safe from the devil's snares the man of God must be completely obedient to the Word of the Lord. The driver on the highway is safe, not when he reads the signs but when he obeys them. ~A. W. Tozer - That Incredible Christian, 51.
Spiritual Warfare and Sin: Don't Suffer Shipwreck
This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck.... --1 Timothy 1:18-19
Yet the ministry is one of the most perilous of professions. The devil hates the Spirit-filled minister with an intensity second only to that which he feels for Christ Himself. The source of this hatred is not difficult to discover. An effective, Christ-like minister is a constant embarrassment to the devil, a threat to his dominion, a rebuttal of his best arguments and a dogged reminder of his coming overthrow. No wonder he hates him.
Satan knows that the downfall of a prophet of God is a strategic victory for him, so he rests not day or night devising hidden snares and deadfalls for the ministry. Perhaps a better figure would be the poison dart that only paralyzes its victim, for I think that Satan has little interest in killing the preacher outright. An ineffective, half-alive minister is a better advertisement for hell than a good man dead. So the preacher's dangers are likely to be spiritual rather than physical, though sometimes the enemy works through bodily weaknesses to get to the preacher's soul. ~A.W. Tozer - God Tells the Man Who Cares, 90-91.
Whenever the Lord brings Tim or Sheila Atchley to your mind, please do pray for us! We never want to be only "half-alive"... and there have been times and seasons where we have come perilously close!
I have been soaking in some old, familiar passages lately. They come to life for me, repeatedly, and bring me great hope and consolation. One of these familiar mainstays is Psalm 23:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
I have been smitten by the phrase, "He restoreth my soul". The concept of stillness has been overtaking my thoughts these days - this whole idea of being still before God, and being still before my circumstances.
You cannot be still without a fully restored soul. A less-than-restored soul is a soul that frets, fears, fumes and flails about for a solution, and panics when no solution is in sight. An unrestored soul is anything BUT still.
You cannot restore your own soul. Such a dilemma...
I bring you good tidings - good news! GOD is fully committed to the full time job of soul restoration. If you look up that precious Hebrew word "restore", you will find a connotation that of "over and over again and again". In fact, I counted up the number of times, in the mere definition of the Hebrew word "restore", that the word "again" is utilized: twenty times.
Again and again and again and again and again and....you get the idea. God restores my soul as often as necessary. This "restoring my soul" thing is a Self-designated focus of the Lord of the universe. He considers it His ongoing, daily avocation...the thing He delights to do for me. This Lord is my shepherd....oh, I shall not want!
Over and over, every day, again and again, twenty times a day and more, the Lord wants to refresh and revive you. He will, time and again, pick up your disheveled soul, dust it off, and set it to rights. He longs to breathe new life into you - right now. And then again. And then again.
Oh saint, do you hear me?
It is his avocation (not by constraint, but willingly He shepherds you, dear one!) to cheer you, enliven you, prod and quicken your spirit. He enjoys rejuvenating you, invigorating you, healing and rebuilding you, and He considers it His good pleasure to do it over and over and again and again and again.
Consider yourself rebuilt and reinstated, oh crumbled soul! Be strengthened, twenty times over, by the very hand of the Good Shepherd.
He restoreth my soul!
Justin McConnell, and our daughter Hannah ~ engaged 11-08-2008!
Proud Papa...relieved Papa...(that Justin's a good man!)