Wordless (Almost) Wednesday

My daughter Sarah, maid of honor (in the background) and her twin sister, Hannah, who is now Mrs. McConnell.

At least a half dozen people, besides the family, have emailed, called, or told me face to face that it was the most beautiful wedding, and most delightful reception they had ever seen or been part of. There might be more who have told me this, but I can tic off a half dozen names off the top of my head. The presence of the Lord, and the fellowship of the saints, was most manifest and precious.

My Jesus. My church. Both, the best.

We, the Atchleys, could have never pulled this once-in-a-lifetime event off properly by ourselves. Truly, it is "not him who wills or him who runs", not by might nor by power, the race is not to the swift...some trust in chariots some in horses but we will remember the name of our God.

We, by our own efforts and our own resources, could not have made Hannah's wedding day what it was! Had we had the "average" $25,000 budget, we could not have made it what it was. Jesus was there, figuratively turning water to wine, making the sweetness that was in the atmosphere.

He, alone, is Maker.

Identity Issues...

No, I cannot "make myself" as God. I cannot make anything, in fact. I can only imitate, never originate. If there is anything good in me, anything good in my life, it originated from the only Maker there is.

Yet I can claim, with total confidence, that God is my Father. This means, through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, I share certain characteristics with Dad. And I want to be like Him.

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” I Peter 1

What was this former ignorance? I believe we can be ignorant of the gospel, either having never heard it, or having been indoctrinated with works-based churchianity instead. I believe we can be ignorant of who we are, in Christ. Passions can only change with a change in identity. Identity determines conformity.

This is proven, end over end, in areas such as our sexual identity, or our identity with a socio-economic group. From homosexual to heterosexual, from gangster to street person to social snob, we act like what or who we identify with. We never rise above what or who we identify with.

All the self-sown fig leaves in the world can't cover me (see previous post), if all I can identify with is my sin. I can work hard to be holy till the cows come home, yet I will never be able to "make myself".

But I can imitate what God originates. I can identify with His fatherhood, and my sonship.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as (in the same way) God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as (in the same way) Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (end of Eph. 3, beginning of 4)

Identity matters. To closely imitate someone, we must first closely identify with them. You identify first, then imitate next....not attempt to imitate first, then identify next.

Yes, it matters. The order matters. The relationship between first and second things matters.

The Lord, Our Maker

"In the beginning, God made..."

And He is still making today, and in fact is the only One who can make. God was the only one in the business of making, all the way back before time began. The first couple of chapters in Genesis are full of the phrase, "God made."

We find the first instance of anything "man made" in Genesis 3:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And look who else tried to "make himself":

"(Lucifer said) I will make myself like the most High." (Isaiah 14:14)

Friends, there is only one Maker. The moment you and I try to make ourselves anything, we are fallen. Just as Adam and Eve fell, just as Lucifer was seen falling from heaven. My righteousness is that of Another. God has made for me a final covering for every sin, past, present and future. I no longer need to make a covering for myself. And I certainly cannot, by any sort of sheer willpower, make myself holy...as holy as God. How satanic!

You cannot make yourself successful. You cannot make yourself acceptable. You cannot make yourself righteous. You cannot make yourself a living. You cannot make yourself safe. You cannot make yourself strong. You cannot make yourself wise or "educated". You have nothing you were not given by THE Maker. There are no self made men or women in God's house. Of yourself, you can do nothing. He, Himself, and by Himself makes all things.

Let I Corinthians 1:30 permeate your thinking, as you ponder the Lord, who is the only Maker:

"but of God are you in Christ Jesus, who is made for us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord!"

The Prince of Preachers...

C. H. Spurgeon has been called the "prince of preachers". When you read this, you might see why:

Let us think of his greatness; it will be really praising him if we thus think of him. You need not speak, but just ponder, weigh, consider, contemplate, meditate on the character of the Most High.

Begin with his mercy if you cannot begin with his holiness, but take his attributes one by one and think about them. As you think of any one of them, it will delight you and carry you away.
You will be lost in wonder, love, and praise as you consider it; you will be astonished and amazed as you plunge into its wondrous depths, and everything else will vanish from your vision.

That is one way of making God great—by often thinking about him.

The next way to make God great is by often drinking him into yourself. The lilies stand and worship God simply by being beautiful – by drinking in the sunlight and dewdrops. Stand before the Lord and drink him in; you understand what I mean by this expression?

You go down to the seaside when you are sickly; there is a delightful breeze coming up from the sea; you feel as it came in at every pore of your body and you seem to be drinking in health at every breath you breathe.

Do just like that in a spiritual sense with God; go down to the great sea of Godhead; magnify it by thinking how great it is, and then take it into your very soul.

God cannot be greater than he is, but he can be greater in you than he is at present. He cannot increase; there cannot be more of God than there is, but there may be more of God in you.
Therefore, make him great in that respect.

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon

When It's All Been Said and Done...

A ballet dance, to the song "When It's All Been Said and Done", in honor of the bride and groom, at the wedding reception. These Harvest girls are gifted dancers....

When it's all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it's all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I have done
For love's reward
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
That you found purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and in heaven after
For you've joined me at my true home
When it's all been said and done
You're my life when life is gone...

One Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

There simply are no words to describe. Yet.

It was a fairy tale sort of evening....

Of Friends and Memories

Hannah, getting her hair done...

We held the wedding rehearsal tonight, and due to the prayers of my online community, and the saints of Harvest Church, it went stunningly well. We were in and out in about an hour and a half, and after the rehearsal, all twenty-something of us had delicious meals at the Macaroni Grill, a local Italian restaurant. I am so grateful to Mark and Beverly McConnell for their generous gift. It was a lovely evening.

Tim and I left the restaurant, only to discover that I'd left my purse at the church. So we drove all the way back to the church, and in the stillness, I snapped a few pictures.

The sanctuary, quietly waits for the big day...

A Picture Within a Picture

Decorating the porch rails....

And now, this mom will fall into bed, dreaming of those evenings when my girls would snuggle up beside me as I read them poems and stories. This is our Hannah's last night at home ~ her final evening spent as an Atchley. This time tomorrow, she will be a McConnell.

Thoughts, the Day Before My Daughter's Wedding

I don’t know how many of you have come to the kind of watershed moment, when you realize, “My life’s work is in front of me. Here. Right here, right now.”

Last night, I left the barn, where the wedding reception will be held, and went by the church to drop minutiae off and load yet more minutiae back into my van to take back to the barn tomorrow.

All was still, dark, and quiet. When I finished the tasks, it was about 10 PM, and I realized: I will not have another quiet, alone moment until after the wedding. This was it.

This was my time.

I turned out all the lights, and lit the candles in the sanctuary and laid on the floor at the altar. Quiet. Still. Absorbing all that is about to happen to our family. Then I turned over on my back and, arms laid wide on the floor, stared up at the ceiling….vanilla sweetly scenting the air. It was then, I realized…I was looking at the beginning of the culmination of the first half of my LIFE’S WORK….and it is GOOD!


Let me tell you, it does not get sweeter than this.

There I was, lying on the floor of the church. I remembered when we bought that little building. I remembered all the labor and tears and laughter that has gone into planting this church called Harvest. My oldest (by 30 seconds) daughter is about to get married in that little sanctuary, to a man of God, with an apostolic calling. (He’ll be a lifetime coming into something that profound. Ask me how I know. ) The wedding will take place in less than two days, at the very altar where I lay. Holy ground! Many Harvest members remember getting married there!

I thought of all the work everyone has put into ALL the weddings that have taken place in Harvest….Hannah’s included. And I began to weep aloud. A spirit of prayer and thanksgiving came upon me and my inner being just mightily magnified the Lord. I asked Him fervently to bless each Harvester with HIS BEST. This is community…this is church family….at its sweetest and finest.

Prophetically, Sarah is “30 seconds away” from her sister. There will be one more wedding. Then one more. Then one more.

I know that someday I will hold grandchildren, and will begin to get a glimpse of the second half of my life’s work. It will seem stunningly wonderful and impossibly daunting, all at the same time, I am sure. I will plant whole households, as each of my children marries….and plant whole churches. Spiritual children, coming of age. Spiritual grandchildren will be next.

All of it rolled over me last night. “Deep calls to deep, all Your waves and breakers have gone over me…” the Psalmist declared. For the first time, I know…I mean, I really know….what he meant. They are refreshing, these waves, in this season of my life. Tingly and sweet and perfumey and misty and mellow. The Lord is good.

Quotable Quotes

For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts,blessed is the man that trusteth in thee. Psalm 84:11-12

Jehovah is bounteous in His nature--to give is His delight. His gifts are precious beyond measure, and are as freely given as the light of the sun!

...The little conjunction "and" in this verse is the diamond rivet binding the present with the future! Grace and glory always go together. God has married them--and none can divorce them! The Lord will never deny a soul eternal glory--to whom He has freely given His saving grace.

Indeed, glory is nothing more than grace in its heavenly dress; grace in full bloom; grace like autumn fruit--mellow and perfected....

...Oh, rare promise of a faithful God! Two golden links of one celestial chain! Whoever has grace--shall surely gain glory!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

"I'll Show You My Faith By My Works"

"Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2)

I have proof that preaching grace doesn't produce passive Christianity. Two words: Harvest Church.

Nope, neither Harvest's pastor, nor his wife worry that the message of "Sola Gracia" (the "Grace Alone", history-rending cry of Martin Luther) will cause people to be without evidence of their faith. The people of Harvest Church, though they are told Sunday in and Sunday out that they have no righteousness of their own, persist and insist on abounding in righteous works. Go figure!

In my church, I cannot think of a single member who is not actively involved in the lives of others. I mean that. Not. One.

Those are darn good statistics for "one of those grace churches."

Every single day, the saints are caring for the sick, serving little children, repairing each other's automobiles, counseling the confused, pulling off whole weddings and funerals, cooking meals for others, paying bills for those out of work, giving gifts, babysitting each other's children, clothing the poor and homeless, and preaching the gospel without regard to reward or fear of man. The people of Harvest are ever about the business of life: playing their music, painting their paintings, producing their television broadcasts, practicing their medicine, dancing their dances, singing their songs....and yeah....answering e-mails with an enthusiasm that is sincere, and writing blog entries with grace infused passion. All of it "works of righteousness".

People in whom there is no guile. That's my church, for the most part. They don't treat relationships like a game of chess - always analyzing the other person, attempting to stay "one move ahead". Their love is sincere. They won't try to impress you. They don't try to be righteous. They don't try to do righteous things. They've been taught better than that. They simply are righteous.

Tim and I do not even conceive of a life that does not abound in what Eugene Peterson paraphrases, in James, "...a seamless unity of believing and doing." Um...to us, in our personal lives, the "doing" literally often goes without saying. Our finest doings happen when we are unconscious of them. And the members of Harvest out-do us all the time.

We love to have it so. They are our letters of commendation - commending not us, but the gospel of Christ, and the message of grace.

You see, Paul said it like this: "Not by works of righteousness which I have done, but according to His mercy He saved me."

Righteous works? Paul says, "Been there. Done that. Still doing." And the big deal is....? The big deal is the mercy of God. What Paul accomplished, through grace, meant not near as much to Paul as the grace that enabled him. The works themselves really are not the big deal. They are the evidence of a reality far, far greater.

Here is another thing Tim and I cannot conceive of: Not being Tim. Not being Sheila. Tim can't be Barack Obama or John Travolta. I can't work the works of Laura Bush or Angelina Jolie.

So...when we say we are the righteousness of God in Christ, and that it is "not I, but Christ who lives in me"...we mean that the things we do, every day, become acts of righteousness. Tim and I have been made righteous. We can't be anything but righteous, just like John Travolta can't be anything but.....you know. John.

My home, its atmosphere and hospitality, is an ongoing act of righteousness. I can't help it. I am righteous. The cookies I bake are an act of righteousness, because a righteous woman created them. Our old cars...the repairs Tim makes to them are acts of righteousness, done by a righteous man, for the good of his family. When he takes his boy canoeing, it is an act of righteousness.

No one needs a mandate to just "be" who they are, in Christ.

The grace of God sets us free to abound in all the good works we were created new creatures in Christ to do. That might mean organizing an entire wedding reception for someone else, or that might mean traveling to Cambodia.

I can find you lots of people in my church who do either one or both, every chance they get, and all of it is as natural to them as breathing.

They know who they are, in Christ. They can't help but act like who they are.

Really! To them, it is no big deal.

This Is My Righteousness

Contrast these words spoken by God's people, who were under the law...

"And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us." (Deut. 6)

...with these words, penned by a saint with a revelation of Christ and the New Covenant...

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Now by this I’ll overcome
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
Now by this I’ll reach my home
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Glory! Glory! This I sing
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
All my praise for this I bring
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

That Darn Veil

For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.
Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.
But when (and only when) one (Greek: he) turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
And we, now with unveiled face (having turned to Christ as our only righteousness), beholding the glory of the Lord, (or "reflecting His glory") are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

II Cor. 3

You cannot experience true transformation without the veil being removed. The veil is only removed by letting go of self righteousness. Self effort is/was the essence of the law....read Deuteronomy chapter 6! The children of Israel said, in direct reference to the moral code, "And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us."

And to this day, the same veil remains...clouding the understanding of all who cling to self righteousness by the law. They truly do not see the big deal about grace, they do not see what others are so excited about, and can even become suspicious of the preaching of the true gospel! (Which illustrates how seldom the pure gospel is preached. The larger percentage of believers have not been grounded in it. Their foundation is either a Catholic or denominational or charismatic system of works...a code of behavioral modification, justified by Scripture often taken out of context.)

That darn veil.

It is only removed one way! And only by the removal of the veil do we experience real, inner change. Everything, all my perceived "righteousness" up to the point of the removal of the veil was, in reality, a mere exercise in self modification. And some are better at the modification of the flesh than others. I was pretty good at it, which made me live a veiled life for longer than I might otherwise have had to.

After the removal of the veil, everything becomes an exercise of wonder, love and praise....an exercise of the Spirit, who is a far more potent change-agent. He produces His fruit in my life.

That is, once the veil is finally lifted, and I see Christ in His all-sufficient glory...