Empty Halls

Empty Halls

I have found myself on more than one occasion meandering through empty halls and empty buildings.  When I was in high school, I had a summer job working at a public school that was preparing to open in the fall.  I assisted the principal by taking documents from other schools and rewriting them with the information for the new school.  I would walk with him among the empty corridors as he listed off notes for me to take.  His voice would echo in the emptiness of the school, void of students.  Not only did it feel cold and empty, but the school seemed enormous.  In just a few months it would be teeming with life, as middle school students filled these empty halls and classrooms with energy and excitement. 

A few years later, I was assigned to help open up a brand new flagship store for the company I worked for.  This massive building set in an vast empty parking lot, was a blank slate.  White walls, white floor tiles, white shelves.  It was new, clean, and almost antiseptic feeling.  You could smell the fumes of the fresh paint and the cleaners we used to wipe down the surfaces.   Voices carried across the building only stopped by the few walls that portioned off the management offices, restroom, and breakroom.  In a matter of weeks, this building was filled with color and movement.  New employees being trained and prepared for opening day, products filling the shelves, and boxes of employee shirts being distributed brought color and vibrancy to the static white walls.  Opening day would unleash a tidal wave of customers ready to undo all of our hard work as they filled their carts with merchandise.

When our second daughter was born, our church was in the midst of a building project.  We had outgrown the small chapel on the church grounds and it was time to build a new sanctuary.  As a member of the ministry leadership, I had the opportunity to tour the building throughout the process.  A brilliant new stage, gorgeous stadium seating, warm inviting colors, and an architecturally beautiful building were just the by-product of the building’s purpose.  For years we had broken our body into four services to fit everyone and yet we were still growing.  We needed the space.  But, even more so, it was the desire of the Pastors to bring the body back into ONE congregation.  Spanning four services in a single morning, we found that few people from the first service knew the people from fourth service.  We were a church family that could only know one fourth of it’s members.  It was time to unite the body.  As leadership, we would walk through that building filled with hope.

We hoped that the new children’s ministry rooms would be able to hold all of the babies that were being born into our church.  We prayed that the classrooms would serve our study groups well.  We talked about new ministry opportunities that the building would allow us to meet.  We dreamed about the future of this seventy five year old church, and the new generations that would call it home and family.  Our dreams were that of a church so indwelled in our community, that our church would be like a home to the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the stranger.  Providing more seats at the table, and doors that welcomed them in to become part of our church family. 

I remember lunches on the church lawn after service, fall festivals, Christmas musicals, and Easter egg hunts on the grounds.  We offered our old chapel to a local Haitian Church, and occasionally they would invite our church to fellowship meals after their services.  Family dinners, Women’s brunches, Men’s breakfasts, recovery groups, youth group nights, Awanas, etc. filled our church calendar.  We built a wonderful community that has left a pivotal mark on my mind and heart on what a church should be and should feel like.  In fact, when we moved it became the litmus to my heart. 

This is what church family is, this is what our hearts long for when we come together and corporately worship.  Not a fast food injection of a momentary handshake, quick side hug, or kind words shared at the coffee station.  Rather, deep conversations over a dinner table while breaking bread.  Laughter and tears shed, as we gathered for studies and fellowship with our family of faith.  There is something in our bodies that craves the community of the early church that has been lost as we pop in and out for our quick nibble off the Bread of Life.  We show up on Sunday morning, take in the Word, and head home for our football games and midday nap sessions.  Quick to rush home versus taking the time to linger and chat.  However, there are times were we attempt to linger but are ushered out of the doors as the lights are turned off and the doors locked.  You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

I’ve witnessed people standing in the heat of the Florida summer sun, talking in the parking lot long after the church doors have been locked.  They are having a conversation that should be able to happen in the safe space of the church.  Too fragile of a conversation to be moved to the local coffee shop or lunch spot.  Instead, when the heat finally overcomes them, they slip into a car and put on the air conditioner to finish out their thoughts.  Why is this so?  Why have we locked our doors so quickly?  Why do we flip over the welcome mat at the front doors, and put up the closed for business signs on our doors?

I’ve watched movies, where in big cities, people would pour into the neighborhood church at all hours.  It could be one in the morning, and the doors were open for the wayward and the lost.  Welcome.  You are safe here.  How can we serve you?  We don’t tend to our sheep like that anymore.  Sure, you can call the Pastor at his home, or someone from the prayer chain… but will they answer?  I remember once struggling in the middle the of the night, and I wanted nothing more than to walk into a church and just sit in the sanctuary… in His house.  But, the doors were locked.  No one was home.  Our churches have business hours, you’ll need to make an appointment.

I’ve been told to cancel a small group because enough participants didn’t sign up to make it worth opening up the church.  Jesus went out of his way for the one, and we can’t open the doors for the five.   I’ve been told that we can’t have “too many” activities on the calendar.  What is “too many” activities for a body that craves community, and desires to spend time with one another?  I’ve driven by churches that sit empty 4-5 days of the week, and wondered is this how we are supposed to be stewarding the House of the Lord?  Are the doors supposed to be locked?  We put so much money into huge beautiful buildings that are never used to their fullest capacity, and I admit I wrestle with why.

Should it not be erupting with the squeals and giggles of children?  Echoing with the sobs of the broken?  Shaking with the songs of those who praise Him?  Rooms filled with men and women studying the Scriptures?  Testimonies and healing in rooms full of those who are recovering?  The hushed murmuring from the prayers of our warriors going to battle on their knees?  A building full of life versus desolate, empty halls…

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Don’t Neglect the Bridges

Don't NeglectThe Bridges(1)

If you drive along the coastline, especially after a rather busy hurricane season, you will see docks that have been damaged by the storm or by time.  Keep driving that route and eventually some of the docks are repaired and yet others continue to fall apart.  I’ve never understood how someone would let their dock completely fall apart.  It seems easy enough to repair, and better to repair them fast before the damage grows.  There is one in particular that has been so forgotten about that the walkway is completely gone and the posts look like nothing more than stumps peeking over the water.

Why am I so bothered by these dilapidated docks?  Because they are bridges between the land and sea.  I can walk out to a depth that I couldn’t reach otherwise.  They allow me to take in the smell of the salt air, dip my toes in the water, gather with friends, or get into a boat and set sail.  Since I don’t live on the water, I have an outsiders perspective.  I don’t take the dock for granted, because I just know that if I could live there… I’d be out there every day.  I know this because I remember spending summers on a lake and doing just that.  In fact, any time I get a chance to walk a dock or boardwalk, I’ll take it.  There is such beauty to be found.

However, to the person that owns the property, there may be a difference of opinion.  Maybe they never cared about or used the dock in the first place.  Perhaps it came with the property, but since they didn’t own a boat and didn’t like to fish, the dock didn’t have much purpose or reason for them.  It could be that the cost of upkeep on the dock was just more than they could afford or not high on their priority list.   So the dock is left to rot, the bridge between land and see falls away.

If you spend any time speaking with me about ministries within the church, you will find that I often refer to them as bridges.  Ministries are the docks that are anchored to the church and reach out into the sea of our communities.  Our leaders, volunteers, and members can step out onto the dock and walk toward a sea where they can be fishers of men.  This bridge between church and community, is a pathway that connects the two in a very specific way.

Such ministries (or bridges) are recovery groups, youth groups, children’s ministries, food pantries, women’s ministries, and so on.   Imagine the church is a fortress on an island, a refuge from the storms in the world.  From this island fortress, are several docks that work as bridges to the sea of people who are in need of Christ, in need of a safe community.  There will be those who come running for help, hopping in boats and chartering their way to the docks, rushing in the doors.  But, what about the ones who are stranded on the distant shore?  They need someone who is willing to get in the boat and come for them.  What about the person who was tossed into the sea of circumstance, they can no longer see the shore and they are eyeing the horizon for something to grab onto?

There is a tension between those who are in the body and the leadership about “programs”.  A desire from the leadership to not have a church that is “program” driven, where the people come for the message and connect into small groups.  However, this concept really works best among those who already have a concept of what church is and how it works.  They know the protocol.  Visit the church.  Become a member.  Join a Small Group.  It doens’t work nearly as well for the person who comes from an unreached community, where the safe fortress looks overwhelming and intimidating. They are not ready to be swooped up by fishing nets and cast into the throws of the community.  Instead, they need a bridge to cross.

On the flip side, we can throw all of our money, time, and resources at programs just because that is what the people want.  That is not being a good steward.  What we need is balance between having the correct bridges that lead people in the right direction.  What good is a dock or a bridge that leads a person down a path that goes nowhere and serves no purpose?  Therefore, we can not afford to have programs for the sake of programs, to look busy, or meet every person’s request.  Instead, we have programs that serve as a bridge from the community to the church, and the church to the community.

Just as I am saddened to see broken down docks along the coastline, I am equally saddened to see the neglected bridges of the church.  Huge, beautiful buildings, where we under utilize the space that God has given us.  Rooms that are left to degrade because no one uses them, turned into storage, covered in dust.  Those are rooms that should be teeming with life.  Bible studies, men’s groups, women’s groups, support groups, etc.  What a terrible waste of the gift God has given us, a building, when we let it sit empty and unused. 

Then there are the leaders who have been given gifts and talents, but forgotten about and left to wane in the waters.  They feel the call to lead, they feel the need in the waters that surround them.  Instead of being bolstered up, they are forgotten about and discarded.  Eventually wearing down to a point where they are no longer of any use, given up to the sea.  Desperately wanting to reach those who are looking for a solid place to land, but lacking the support to do so.

We can not afford to neglect our bridges.

We can not afford to let our buildings go to waste, nor our leaders.  We are in a time where generations are falling away from the church.  It is a time where the “Dones” are leaving the church in mass exodus.  We are desperately seeking how to bring in new members and hold onto our existing ones, but relying on worshiptainment to be the answer.  And, completely unaware that as we throw our money and resources into the superficial draw, we are letting our bridges burn to the ground.  We create a single pathway into the door, and sadly it is only going to appeal to a certain type of person, with a certain type of need. 

When a church embraces the smaller ministries within it, seeing them for what they are… bridges to the community… then we create multiple pathways for different types of people, with different types of needs to cross. 

Today, we know that depression is on the rise.  People are reporting in startling numbers that they feel alone in this world, disconnected.  It seems so impossible, with social media and text messaging keeping us just a key stroke away.  Yet, the statistics support that despite our virtual connectedness… we feel alone, we feel lonely, we feel disconnected, and we desperately are seeking to fill that void.

The correct response for the church, in my opinion, is that we need to create more bridges that welcome in different people and meet their needs.  Which now, more than ever, includes a need of community and connection.  Stop neglecting the bridges and instead give them support, financial backing, and opportunity.  Use the buildings we have been blessed with, embrace the leaders that God has gifted with talents and placed in your pews.

Let’s face it, when it comes to Biblical knowledge, we have never had so many resources available to us.  I can sit in front of my computer at any time of day and queue up an infinite number of Pastors sermon’s to read or watch.  I can learn from the Pastor in my home town, and across the world.  I have unlimited access to praise and worship music, online lyrics to follow, and I can even pick and chose the rendition that I prefer.  I can customize my playlist to my hymnal preferences, contemporary leanings, or a peppering of the two.  Between printed books, ebooks, articles, and resources I can read the Bible, study it in depth, and find the answer to any question I have with just a few key strokes and Google.

However, what none of these things can provide for me is the community that comes with a congregational family.  A sense of belonging, community, and family.  A connection that has to be fostered beyond the Sunday morning “shake your neighbor’s hand”.  In the few minutes before and after service, I don’t have a chance to make real connections with people to turn a church building into my church home.  I need opportunities that allow me to get to know others better, and deeper.  Places where are not just learning together, but serving together. 

It is a hand and hand approach, ministries and the church.  So perhaps, it is time we take better care of them.

The Writing is on the Wall

The Writingis onthe Wall

It is Mental Health Awareness month, with a slew of Social Media posts sharing Suicide Prevention Hotline numbers, reminders to let people know you care, etc.  Then in a week’s time two celebrities died from suicide, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.  Coupled with the loss of Robin Williams last year, we have learned that depression and suicide reach over the barriers of influence, wealth, success, and the appearance of having it all. Depression, mental illness, mental health issues, addiction, and suicide do not discriminate.  They do not care about the amount of money in your bank account, your resume, the color of your skin, your history, your religion, your gender, your sexuality, or your age.

Just two weeks ago, I took my youngest daughter in for her middle school physical.  It’s been 4 years since our last appointment.  This time, not only was I handed a clipboard to verify all of our information was still accurate and note any changes since her last visit… but I was given a clipboard for her.  It was a survey to assess depression in my 11 year old.  Questioning if she ever felt like the world was better off with out her, if she ever felt alone despite having friends, if she slept too much, if she didn’t feel like playing or participating in activities, if she had ever thought about hurting herself or others, or if she had ever tried to harm or kill herself ever (and a follow up question asking if that was within the last year).  I was taken back by the addition of this survey.

We entered into the exam room, and as part of the physical we discussed the survey.  That was when I was hit with a bombshell.  Our pediatrician said:

“Suicide is the number two cause of death among children.”

I’ll wait while you let that sink in a moment, or google it to verify for yourself.   I know I was stunned to hear it.

We are a family marked by depression and suicide.  Depression runs on my husband’s side of our family.  He lost a sister when she was just a teenager.  I lost a friend in high school.  Another when I was in college.  I wish I could say that was the end of our experience with it, but it has not been the case. When you are the surviving friends and family of suicide, you see things differently and become more keenly aware.  I watch my children constantly looking for signs and clues in order to have early intervention.  This is part of our life.  We don’t allow our kids to make any sort of joke, off hand comment, or recite a quote/cliche phrase related to suicide.  It’s too real for us to ever take it lightly.

Despite our own experiences with it, I was still stunned to hear those words from the doctor.  NUMBER TWO for children ages 10+.

  1. Unintentional injury
  2. Suicide
  3. Malignant Neoplasm (cancerous tumors)
  4. Homicide
  5. Congenital Disease

It is absolutely beyond my comprehension that more children die by their own choice and volition than those who have been taken at the hands of others.  I can’t wrap my head around it.  It breaks my heart every time I hear about it on the news and yet I still didn’t grasp the scope of it.

It is #2 for children ages 10-14.

It is #2 for ages 15 – 23.

It is #2 for ages 24-34.

With that ranking, how can we even begin to think that suicide isn’t lurking around the corner hunting someone we love.  We can’t discount the reach of depression and mental illness.  Which is why we must be proactive about our mental health.  This means paying attention to our loved ones, so that we are not only aware that depression or anxiety is happening… but also to encourage the person to seek out help.  We must never create an environment where others do not feel that they must suffer alone vs. reaching out for help.  We must drop any stigma we hold or express about treating mental health.  Whether it is a judgement over people who are prioritizing “self care” or disparaging talk related to medication as a form of treatment, it needs to stop.

Especially for those of us who are among the community of faith believers.

I do believe in the power of prayer.  I have known people that have been miraculously cured of conditions that Doctors can’t explain. I’ve known people miraculously delivered from addictions.  I’ve known people who have been delivered from depression, anger, anxiety, past traumas, etc.  Miraculous stories full of hope and wonder.

I also know people of faith who have earnestly prayed for healing, and it has not come.  I know people who despite their prayers have continued a constant struggle with sobriety.  I watched a faithful church pray every Sunday for the miraculous healing of a severely handicapped girl, that 20 years later still has not happened.  I’ve heard people share how they were told that their prayers were not answered because they were not faithful enough.  My friend Jay, shared this on her Facebook page a few days ago…

“Stop telling people that they don’t know God if they’re having suicidal thoughts. Sometimes God is the ONLY thing they are holding on to.”Jay Sharpe

This is the harsh truth.  It is absolutely irresponsible of us to question or condemn someone’s faith because they struggle with mental health issues, mental illness, or contemplate suicide.  Irresponsible.

God has given us plants that have created medicines to combat these issues.  He has given scientists the education, tools, and resources to develop synthetic medications.  He as given doctors and counselors the wisdom to detect for early intervention, the ability to help someone get through the storms when they are in the midst of it, and the skills to teach them how to create coping mechanisms when they are in a stable state of mind.  These are GIFTS and CALLINGS that God has put on their lives to be tangible help in a world that seems so dark.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes how three times he cried out for the Lord to remove the thorn from his flesh, but the Lord did not.  Paul was a faithful believer, persecuted on behalf of his faith.  If the Lord sought not to remove that thorn from Paul’s flesh, even with his earnest prayers…  it is entirely possible for ANYONE to have a solid faith and yet the Lord will choose to let their thorn remain.  We may not understand His reason for doing so, but we know in the end He will be glorified through it.

It was eight years ago when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness.  In the beginning I was told that the medication I was prescribed would help me to feel better.  It didn’t.  I tried diet changes, supplements, hired a nutritionist, worked with a personal trainer, read all the books I could get my hands on.  I cried out for the Lord to heal me on more occasions than I could count.  He chose not to.   I kept feeling worse.  This illness was stealing away my life and my joy.  I remember sitting on my floor one night contemplating how I could continue to exist like this.  Was it fair to me?  Was it fair to my husband and children?  What good would I be?  It was only a few years ago, that the Lord provided a pathway for my healing.  Was I instantly cured?  No.  However each day I grow stronger, each day I am healthier, and I owe that the people and treatments God continually puts in my path.

I know people who have my condition where depression is one of their symptoms, for others the physical symptoms become so unbearable that they couldn’t take it anymore, men and women who suffered in silence because no one could understand the private hell they were suffering through because they “look ok” to the rest of the world.  I read posts in the support groups where many people shared they wished they had cancer because at least then people would believe them.  I can understand the desperation for the person battling mental illness, a storm raging inside that no one else can see, feeling alone, and desperate to make it stop.

Yes, there are those who suffer from depression and you can see it all over their lives.  They sleep all day, they struggle with every day life expectations, they are open and share about how down they feel… how lost… and how hopeless.  Many more suffer in silence.  They fear condemnation, judgement, and shaming… especially for those who appear to have it all.  The perfect body.  Perfect home.  Perfect marriage.  Stacked bank account.  Trips all over the world.  Celebrity status.

Do you know how hard it is to confess to the world that you feel like nothing when they think you have everything?

What do you have to be depressed about?  As if depression is defined by circumstance.  Or anxiety is something we can simply choose to turn on and off.  The thought that mental illness is something we can just get over or “walk it off”.  If climbing out of the pit was as easy as deciding to, don’t you think people would? 

It is as if the person has been blindfolded and placed in a pit with a ladder.  Everyone around watching sees the ladder, they know how easy it would be to just get out of that pit.  However, the blind fold of depression or mental illness makes it hard to see the ladder.  It clouds judgement.  It can change perception so that the pit feels like a canyon.  The voices from outside are shouting directions and encouragement, but the voices are muddled and indistinguishable, and it may feel they add to the chaos.  They need someone who is willing to walk into the pit with them and guide them out through counseling, medication to remove that blindfold.

And that is OK, and we need to stop telling the world that it’s not.

No more posting about how ADD and ADHD medication are just for lazy parents, unethical doctors, or big pharm trying to drug our children in to compliance.  Until you walk the shoes of an ADD/ADHD/OCD/ODD/et’al parent and child… you have no idea how these disorders impact our child and our family, or how often anxiety and depression accompany them.

No more chastising about how people use a diagnosis as an excuse for their weight gain, lack of motivation, fatigue, or other physical/mental/emotional ailments.  Until you walk in the shoes of a person with a chronic illness… you have no idea how they are struggling to stay afloat in a disease that is trying to pull them down.  Every day becomes a battle, and mentally it is exhausting and can lead to depression and anxiety.

No more assumptions that just because someone is blessed with wealth, physical health, or opportunity that they do not suffer in silence.  Just because a person doesn’t share their struggle publicly doesn’t mean that their life is easy and carefree… you have no idea the demons they battle every single day.

No more can we thrust our will or our opinions on how someone else needs to deal or cope with life.  We can not expect people to heal the way we heal, or cope the way we cope.  Instead, we become champions for their health.  Encouraging them to seek help, supporting them through diagnosis processes, medication dosing, and understanding that the more they try to push you away… the more they need you to stay (even if you are just lingering in their peripheral vision).

If you know someone who needs help, talk with them.  If it is a child or teen, talk with their parents.  Give them phone numbers to resources where they can get help, and let them know they are not alone in this.  Be there.  Be understanding.  Be helpful.  Be supportive.  Be encouraging.  Be present.  Do what you can.  And, recognize that you are not called to be their Savior.

The writing is on the wall when it comes to mental health in the US.  We can’t ignore it.  We have to fight it, for ourselves and the ones we love.  We need to stand in the gap and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Check on your friends.  The strong ones.  The single ones.  The parents.  The military vets.  The creative types.  The loners.  The wealthy ones.  The extroverts.  The happy ones.  The struggling ones.  Those with illnesses.  Those who seem to have it all.

If you’d like to read more about being Christian and suffering from depression and anxiety,  Brant Hansen and Carlos Whitaker have both written about their own struggles.  Just google search their name with the word depression added to the search, you will find plenty to read.

Local churches may have a list of Christian Counselors and Crisis Resource numbers that can help you get immediate help.

Or reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline that has a # you can call or people available to chat with you online.   https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Using Your Voice

Using YourVoice

I think we have all heard the adage:  “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.  If we were too look into the Scriptures for something similar, look no further than Ephesians.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

The meaning is pretty clear, the talk that comes out of our mouths should be helpful for building up others, benefiting those who are listening to us.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that there are a lot of people who are not using their words to build others up.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Words are tearing people apart every day.  We read harsh criticisms through social media and newspapers, we hear it on the news and radio.  Some would argue that even though these criticisms are not building someone up, it is for the benefit of those would listen to learn to steer clear of that person, organization, business, etc.  I would argue back that the language in the criticisms are not always “wholesome”, not always researched facts, exaggerated truths, etc.  
I do believe it is possible to give honest constructive criticism without using demeaning words, without tearing down those who believe differently than we do, and keeping the criticism down to the actual facts without exaggeration and hyperbole.  There is a line that you can cross where your honest constructive criticism has become a personal (and sometimes vicious attack).
My grandmother would often use a simple phrase in relation to a lot of different topics.  She’d say “use it or lose it”.  It was a reminder that whatever tangible thing you hold in your hand, gift you have been given, opportunity you have been presented with has an expiration date.  If you wait to long to eat that ice cream, it will melt.  If you don’t use that gift certificate, you’re going to misplace it.  If you don’t jump at this opportunity, it will pass you.  If you stop learning, you will lose knowledge.  If you don’t keep practicing at a skill, you will lose your proficiency.  Use it, or you are going to lose it.
In the world of web articles, bloggers, and social media accounts it appears many of us have grasped the idea of use it or lose it.  We know that if we don’t take full advantage of this opportunity, we lose the chance of success.  If we don’t add to our platforms regularly, we will lose our audience.  This has resulted in writers who beat certain topics to death because they keep bringing it up regularly for content needs, or who will write about just about anything just to publish on schedule.  We find chaos there.  This has resulted in youtubers, and live videos on social media accounts vying to be “viral” so they will speak on some of the most controversial topics.  They know when something hits a hot button with people that they can ride on the coattails.  Look at what happened when artists Childish Gambino released his new video “This is America” (warning, the video is graphic).  It is purposely and intentionally controversial to get people talking, and within hours of it’s release there were hundreds of youtube videos of people sharing their reactions and interpretation of the video.  Praises, shaming, and outright lack of comprehending anything about the video’s message were abound. 
In the realm of Christian authors, speakers, musicians, and artists there is no short supply of online criticism.  I will say that the majority of what I observe is found on twitter.  I’m not really sure why, to be honest.  I’d also go so far as to say in some cases the criticism of believers by other believers can outweigh just about every other topic outside of politics.  Spend a little time watching the Christian accounts and you can’t miss it.  Egalitarians tearing down complementarians.  Criticisms of mega churches and their Pastors.  Criticism of female Bible teachers and church leaders.  Let’s not even begin on the public criticism of women who are Pastors.  Once you start peppering in the criticisms from those who have been hurt by the church, left the church, and non-believers… it is actually overwhelming and heartbreaking.
A Pastor once said, and I’m sure many others have as well, that we should be known for what we are for more than we are known for what we are against.  John 13:35 encourages us to be know for our love.  What is love?  1 Corinthians 4-8 says that love is patience, kindness, it is not jealous, nor is it proud. Love doesn’t dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it doesn’t keep track of wrongs.  Love protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.  And in verse 8 we are told that love never fails, even though prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will cease.  In other words LOVE doesn’t cease even when these other things do.
I’d like to take my grandmother’s phrase and make it a little more specific by saying:
Use it wisely, before you lose it.
One day our writings will stop, our words will not be read and our voices will not be heard.  One day our knowledge will end, we won’t be able to teach others any longer.  One day our gifts will pass away, but our LOVE will endure.
It is possible that my writing and speaking could stop, because I have reached an age that I have nothing left to say or I don’t have the faculties to keep writing.  As a person with a chronic health condition, I do recognize that every day that I have to put pen to paper and move my cursor across this screen is a gift.  It could be that our abilities will gradually fade or could be suddenly taken away from us.  Someone close to me went to a doctors appointment yesterday only to find out she had a complication with her eyes and without warning could lose her vision.  Like instantly, snap of a finger.  She is being treated right now to prevent that from happening.  Our gifts and talents could literally be gone due to a tragic accident, a slowly debilitating disease.  Long will these blog posts be forgotten when we are navigating a new life, or when our presence fades into retirement.  What will be left?  The love I shared for those who knew me in life, those who I would lovingly encourage to go further than I ever did, and those people that I offered a shoulder to cry on.
It is possible that I might make a mistake that changes how people view me, damages my credibility, or sets me in opposition to others.  Or, that I may change my position on hot button issues that creates controversy.  We’ve seen authors who have done this, and it cost them dearly.  They were dropped from publishers, stores, speaking tours, endorsements, etc.  Not because of some illegal scandal, but simply stepping on the other side of an established line of belief.   Whether a mistake or an intentional shift, my audience may narrow even to the point where there is no one left.  I may have a lot more to say, but I will have lost the audience who was willing to listen.  If that happens?  What will be left?  My love for others.  That I served women well.  That I did my best to equip them in their leadership roles.  My genuine love and encouragement.  That will be left.
There is another consideration, which is that is possible that any one of use could begin to use our voice in a negative way, and it will cost us.  Where suddenly our writings take on a negative tone, tearing people down, accusatory and gossipy, without merit or evidence.  And this is where I lean into “use it wisely, before you lose it” as a warning.  I must use my voice, as a speaker and writer, wisely or I risk losing everything and everyone that I am trying to reach.  If everything I write is about how awful a person is, calling out false teachers, tearing down Pastors, ripping apart denominations, pitting one group against another, etc. then I become known not for my love but my hate and disdain.  I become known for my judgement, and I will begin to lose those who were once willing listeners.  What will be left?  A legacy of people whom I hurt, chastised, ran off, put down, labeled, and mistreated.  There will be no love there.  Just a wake of hurt.
If the Lord has trusted me with a platform, and I misuse that gift, I believe HE will take it from me.  If I am sinning, HE will expose that sin.  If I am not using it as HE wants, He will put me back on track or take it from me.  If I am to be known for my love, and yet all I write about is vile and accusation… I am not going to be known for my love.  The only people who are going to listen to me are going to be those who would use me to fit their narratives.  If I want to be known for my love, then I have to be intentional about how I approach everything.
I do not want to be known as the writer who tears others apart.   I do not want to be known as a woman who slings arrows from her mouth with wild abandon, careless and unrestrained.  I do not want to be known as the speaker who blasts out accusations without merit or evidence.  I do not want to be known as a person who can not be corrected, or unwilling to admit I was wrong.  I want to be known for my love.  Which bodes this question:
How do I speak or write about truth, if I can’t criticize when something or someone is in the wrong?
This is a great question, and I can only share my own methods.
1.  I would rather TEACH YOU how to use the Scripture to test that person for yourself vs. TELL YOU the answer and have you trust me at my word.  In other words, I recognize that I am a fallible person who is capable of being wrong.  I will point you to the scriptures to test the message of an author, speaker, teacher, Pastor, church, etc.  Every single time.  Not only is it good for you to come to those conclusions for yourself, but it teaches you a skill you can use in the future (when I’m not around to answer).
2.  I will never write (or speak) about a person/topic that have not at least attempted to speak to the person directly about.  Generally speaking I am not a fan of the “open letter” to specific people.  I think they can work really well when addressing an issue to the general public.  However, I’m not inclined to believe that an author of 30 books cares what I have to say about them in an open letter.  I will at least attempt to write the person directly, if I share the same level of influence a meeting could be possible.  If there is rejection, if the response is rude, or if the response affirms what I believe to be true… at that point I may consider sharing it.  Matthew 18 is pretty clear in it’s directions that first we go to the person. I will not skip that step.
3.  I must look at myself and my intentions and ask “is this being done out of love”.  If I am writing purely from a place of malice to malign that person’s character or ministry, that is not love.   If I am writing in anger, words that are slanderous, that is not love.  If I am writing a laundry list of wrongs going back until the day they were born, that is not love.  If I am writing to dishonor another person, or to lift myself up above another person, that is not love.  If I am unwilling to discuss any contrasting perspectives or look at any evidence presented that counters my belief, then I am being prideful, and that is not love either.  A Pastor once shared that in order to speak “truth in love” you are required to love the person so much that you have no choice but to speak the truth.  When I read criticisms of others, I rarely see it being from a position of love.
Now you may ask:  What if I love God so much that I can’t let another person be a false teacher?  Or, I love God and His church so much that I can’t not call out this behavior?
Let me leave you by employing my first point, TEACH vs. TELL.
First, you need to hit the Word and make sure that you are correct. What does the Bible say about false teachers?  How can we identify them?  How are we to respond to them?
Ezekiel 13:9 says that the Lord will have His hand against them.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 says that the people will find teachers who will tell them what their ears want to hear, not truth but myth.
Acts 20:29-30 does tell us that there will be wolves who come in to destroy us, but also that there will be those that rise up from our flock who will distort truth.
2 Peter 1:20-21 clarifies that the Word from any prophet will not be their own interpretation but directly from God.
Titus 1:1-11 describes what an anointed overseer’s character looks like vs. the actions of the false teacher (rebellious, deceptive, destructive, for their own gain).
… I could keep going on, but I want you to dig for yourself!
Keep in mind that 1 John 4:1-6 is specifically about testing the spirits, and Matthew 7:15-20 is also about False Teachers and False Prophets and how you can identify them.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t include a piece of scripture that is often, in my opinion, overlooked in this topic:
Luke 9:49-50
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not accompany us.” 50“Do not stop him, Jesus replied, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
In this particular instance, John is calling out someone who was acting in the spirit… specifically casting out demons.  He tells Jesus that they tried to stop him from doing it because this guy was not part of their particular group.  Jesus responds to John with the instruction to not stop the man.  This man was not a threat to the apostles, not a threat to the Kingdom.  And in fact, Jesus recognized the man as an ally. 
We need to be careful that we do bring accusation against someone that is not really a threat, where we are allowing doctrinal differences or our own personal interpretations cloud our ability to accurately test the person or belief against the Scripture.  It is really easy to find people who agree with us, to take Scripture out of context to support our views and opinions.  We can do the same when it comes to False Teachers.  We can examine everything about their life to find enough evidence (or twist evidences) to make ourselves feel justified in our accusation.  However, Proverbs 25:8 warns:
Do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?
This is a warning to us that if we are too quick to toss out those accusations, and we are wrong… guess who ends up looking bad in the end?
So, I would ask the following of you…
Please do not hit share, repost, or retweet on an accusing article without verifying the facts for yourself.  Do not take another writer, speaker, or teacher’s opinion as gospel truth (even if you think they are more spiritually mature or educated than you).  This includes myself, please don’t share anything I write without vetting it.  Once you do, you become an accuser … and that is not where you want to be.
Please do not write or speak about others or topics that you have not fully and responsibly researched.  Don’t just look for materials that support your opinion, but look at those that disagree with you.  Don’t rely on just extra-biblical resources either, take it to the Word.
Pray before you say anything.  Whether you are speaking to a single person or writing for an audience of thousands, bathe your words in prayer.  Even if everything you believe is true and accurate… is God asking YOU to be the messenger of this truth, NOW and in this way?  If there is a seed of doubt, better to wait for confirmation that let your tongue loose.
Start with love.  If there is no love in your heart for this person, or about this topic, there will be no love in your words.  With out love, you are just a clanging symbol… water dripping… noise.  You are not uplifting or edifying.  You are not loving a person when you focus on tearing them down vs. encouraging them in a manner that builds them up.
If we are to be known for our love, we must use our voices wisely.  Or, we risk losing it.

Gossip Veiled in Prayers

Pushingyourselfto thelimit isworth it.

If you have been a reader of mine for any length of time, today’s blog post is going to seem a bit harsh.  Generally speaking I don’t come at a topic full throttle.  My friend Aimee uses the term “velvet hammer” to describe a gentle approach to a hard truth.  I tend to lean toward yielding a velvet hammer.  I believe coming at a topic full throttle puts people on the defensive, and people who are on the defensive can very rarely hear truth… they are in fight or flight mode.  I do my best to lay things out in a way that prompts others to think for themselves, putting them in a position of willing to listen, and then letting God do the rest. 

However, there is a topic I’ve been wanting to write on for quite some time.  I’m not sure that I can bring out the velvet hammer on this one.  I also want to put the cards out on the table that I’m as much talking to myself as others.  I know I have in the past been guilty of this (even if I didn’t realize it at the time) and now that I’m aware of it… it sticks out like a sore thumb.  I catch myself.  And, I catch others.  To the point in which I will call them on it before they finish speaking.

We, as women, tend to be the worst at it… veiling gossip as a prayer request.  We, as women, also seem to be the most oblivious to it.  I think I know why.

First we have to set the parameters on gossip.  Many people assume that gossip is full of slander and lies.  Gossip can be 100% truth.  The definition of gossip is: casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people.   Casual.  Unconstrained. 

Second, we have to look at the fuzzy lines between GOSSIP, VENTING, and PRAYER REQUESTS.  

Gossip is about other people, and purposeful gossiping is about changing the way others see a particular person.  It can be an outright attack on their character in order to bring them down, or it can be a little more subtle with the intention of raising ourselves above.  Sometimes gossip makes us feel important because we have information that others do not have.  And, sometimes gossip is just a way to stay relevant to the conversation.  It gives us something to add when there is a lull in the conversation or we feel left out.  The one thing that is clear is that whatever we are speaking is about other people.  Gossip is also opposite to the Fruit of the Spirit of “self control”.  Note the definition used the word “unconstrained”, which means it has no boundaries.

An example of gossip:  “Did you hear that Margie’s husband is having an affair?  I can’t believe it!  She always seemed like everything was great in her life.”

Venting, is sometimes a good thing that can go really poorly.  Venting is where we are under so much weight from life that we are going to just explode unless we can talk about it with others.  The problem with venting is that it can very much turn into gossip, if we are not careful.  How does this happen?  One of two ways.  First, it can happen because we are trying to provide context for what happened or who hurt us in order to make the person we are confiding in understand why we are upset. 

Second, we are sharing information in order to justify why we are upset.  Venting becomes a mixture of reporting on another person and explaining how it affected us.  Venting can also become unconstrained, because it can be like turning on a faucet and the knob breaking off.  Once you get going, you almost can’t stop.  Before you know it you are accounting for all of the wrongs this person ever committed against you, or all the terrible things that have happened to you over the course of your life that have culminated to this one moment.  Unconstrained. 

An example of venting:  “I am so angry with my Mother in Law.  She’s never been nice to me. <insert 16 years worth of laundry list of wrongs>.  I finally had enough and I snapped at her by saying…. “

Venting can be coupled with a prayer request by starting off the vent with a prayer request.  Which is why we need to understand the difference between gossiping and a prayer request.

A genuine Prayer Request should be as simple as seeking our sisters and brothers to Christ to go before throne with us over an issue/person.  Prayer requests can also slip into the realm of gossip.  First, we can use a prayer request as a way to share information about a person that is out right gossip but sounds like a prayer request:

At small group, prayer request time:  “I think we should pray for Margie, she just found about her husband has been cheating on her.”

Second, we can set up the prayer request by providing context in order to justify the urgency or importance of the prayer request.  

Example:   “We need to pray for my neighbor’s son’s friend Christopher.  He has been in and out of trouble his whole life.  He’s been in jail.  Gone through rehab multiple times and failed. <insert sordid details> Now, his girlfriend who is also a drug user, is pregnant…”

In even our best of intentions, we are thinking that others will not take our prayer request seriously enough unless we describe all the gnarly details.  Then, we hope, they will see how dire the situations is and how much those prayers are needed.  Yet, they don’t realize they are actively gossiping.

Gossiping is a messy thing, and when you gossip about others (even in a prayer request) we become known as untrustworthy.  We learn who not to trust with our important stuff because of who we hear sharing news that they shouldn’t be.

Recently, I received a phone call from someone alerting me to a tragic scenario & a family in need of prayer.  I had not heard, because I really wasn’t in contact with that family any longer.  When I explained this to the woman, she still continued to speak out the horrifying details of what happened.  I went so far as to say to her “I really don’t need to know that information, and I don’t want to know that information”.  That didn’t stop her from continuing her train of thought… it didn’t stop her gossiping.  I had to call a spade, a spade.  That is always an awkward conversation.

James 1:26 is about as straight forward as it gets.  If you think you are a godly person, and you gossip in the guise of a prayer request, your religion is worthless.  You are not guarding your words, you are not reigning in your tongue.  You are sinning. 

So how do we do better?

In the first example, we just need to stop.  Just because we KNOW information doesn’t give us the right to SHARE information.  I use the following question as my guiding principle…

Have I been given permission by the person to share this information?  If I have not been given permission to speak about a situation by those whom are directly involved (not just one person, but all involved) then I need to keep my mouth shut.  It is not my story to tell, it is not my place to speak about it… even if it is 100% true.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say especially if it is true.  Without their permission to speak about it, it is gossip.  There is no debate our exception.  If you do not have expressed permission to share, you are gossiping. Period.  End of story.

In the second example, about venting, I’m learning that for it to be a true release… I do not need to share every gory detail.  In fact, the story should be less about the person and the situation and more about ME and how I am handling it.  I can speak in generalities (we don’t ever seem to agree, we rub each other the wrong way, etc.) without giving the laundry list of every slight.  But I need to focus more on how I am responding.  Even if the person hurt me and is totally wrong, I can be just as wrong in how I responded.  I use the following question as my guiding principle with venting…

Am I trying to find a solution or relief, or am I trying to justify my own feelings and behavior?  If I am venting with the intention of gaining people on my side by listing all the dirty details, I am gossiping.  If I am setting a general context, then focusing more on my own response and my desire to have a better relationship or better circumstance… I’m looking for restoration and reconciliation.  It also means, even thought I am venting, I have a willingness to hear that I am wrong and what I could do to make the situation better.

In the third example, it is much simpler.  I simply make a prayers request like, “Please pray for my friend Margie.”  Guess what?  God already knows what Margie is going through.  God doesn’t need me to inform Him of the details.  And, those who are praying with you, they don’t need to know the details in order to pray.   I’ve learned over the years that we never know who is in the room with us that may know the people we are praying about.  We may be speaking details related to a situation that is not public knowledge and unknowingly shared information to someone who was not to know or who may go back to our friend/family member about what we have shared.  For prayer requests, I use the following three questions as my guiding principle…

Have I asked permission to share this prayer request with my group?  Have I asked the person how much information I can share in the request?  Does this group of prayer warriors need to know the details in order to pray?  If the answer to any of these questions is no… then that is a prayer request that I need to either keep to myself, or keep in the most general terms.  This is why I am a HUGE fan of the “raise your hand if you have any unspoken requests” time in prayer groups.   It is the opportunity to corporately lift up what is on your heart without sharing the details with others.

I do believe in some situations the prayer requests are genuine, and that the heart behind sharing so many details is to establish the urgency of praying.  It isn’t uncommon to say we will pray for something and ultimately forget.  By creating urgency, we hope that it will cause the person to take the request seriously & not forget… perhaps even stop in the moment to pray about it, or keep praying about over a length of time.

However, if we do not have permission… we are gossiping.   We are not reigning in our tongue.  We are sharing information without constraint and without consideration.

It really is as simple as filtering your words through that first question… Have I asked permission to share this with others?

If you don’t have permission…

If you didn’t ask for permission…

Don’t say a word.  Stop gossiping.

Success =/= Wealth

engaged!

At the beginning of the year, we were hit with some startling news.  In the simplest explanation, my husband would either need to transfer to a new location or accept a layoff package.  We were given five days to research available positions in other areas and create a short list of places we’d be willing to transfer to.  Five days.  If it was just my husband and I, there were a lot more options available.  However, we had three children to consider and that narrowed the scope greatly. 

Having several friends and family members who also work for the same company, it wasn’t long before word got out and phone calls were being made.  We really didn’t talk much about it publicly, because the truth was we didn’t have much information and we didn’t have a lot of time to make decisions.  We needed to pull close as a family and talk about the options and really not allow the opinions of others to influence us.  Sometimes, you just have to keep it close and quiet. 

As we went through the list, there was nothing local that paid close to what we would need.  We were going to have to choose between moving or losing his job.  As a family, we recognized job security trumped our preference to stay in our home.  We embraced the move as an adventure and came to some agreements on the details.  We had accepted that if God was going to move us, we were ready to pick up our mat and go.

If you have been friends with me long enough, you will know that I firmly believe that some moments are just tests in obedience and that the Lord could still provide a ram in the bush.  When Abraham was asked by the Lord to sacrifice his only son, Abraham prepared to do as the Lord commanded, and at the last minute the Lord sent a ram to Abraham.  Abraham’s obedience was honored and his son was saved.  We walked in trust that the Lord was going to lead us to where ever we were meant to be.  At the last minute, the Lord brought us a ram in the bush.  A position that was not originally on the list of available locations popped up and by nothing short of a miracle he was placed there.  We wouldn’t have to move.  And, in fact, in some ways our life has improved by the change.

The time it took for the ram to show up, seemed like forever.  We had months between where we needed to prepare.  We knew that he would move up ahead of us, and we’d follow after school was out for summer.  We knew there would be travel back and forth to help settle him into a temporary place, searching for a home for us when the time came, and of course visiting each other between.  We also knew that we’d have to prepare our home for sale.  In the time of waiting, we began purging our home of the unnecessary things.  We couldn’t make commitments to invitations.  Everything was in limbo.

A friend called, her husband works for the same company, and she was so sad to hear about our situation. I’ll be honest I was sad too.  After so many years in the company, after so many years in this home, we actually thought we were safe and rooted.  We thought we were beyond the transfers that plagued our early years of marriage.  At this point, my friend wanted to know if we had other options should my husband decide to accept the lay off package.  I explained that it wasn’t financially possible.  Nothing available in our area could pay him what he was currently making, and I certainly couldn’t carry the weight of the finances.

That surprised her.  She had considered my ministry work successful and assumed that I was making a decent income.  I had to burst her bubble and explain that I made zero income.  I would have to get a job and I’d make no where near what we would need, compared to my husband who has 15 years in a company that still has a pension plan.  It wasn’t even comparing apples to oranges, but rather tomatoes to oranges. 

My friend, Jay Sharpe (author of the Chicken Lyrics and Pocket Book of Gratitude), once said “there are many kinds of rich”.  Readers, friends, let me assure you that the majority of the people you know working in ministry are fruitfully rich even if they don’t make a dime of pay.  There are some who do pull a wage, but it’s usually nothing to write home about.  Being successful, even the top of our field, isn’t defined by our pay scale.

We write because we love to write, we feel compelled to write, the Lord puts it on our heart.

We speak, because He has given us an audience to speak His words to.

We create, because it is in our DNA… how we were knitted in the womb… to express ourselves.

We serve, because we are called to serve others above ourselves… lights in the dark world. 

We share the Gospel, because we are commissioned to do so.  It is our calling, our privilege.

We do so not for the rewards we will see here on earth, but rather our treasures that are stored in Heaven.  Even there our treasures will not always be defined by gold and silver.  As Jay said, there are many ways to be rich.

I am rich because of the people I am serving, and those I am serving with.  I am rich, because each day is a new opportunity to make Kingdom impacts on the world.  I am rich, because I have family, friends, neighbors, and community.

I am rich.

Even when my pockets are empty.

Even when the fridge is bare.

Even when time seems to be running out.

Even when I have been called to stillness.

Even when illness robs me of my strength.

Even when I feel lost and confused.

I am rich, because I am the daughter of the King.  I am rich, because of the ransom that was paid for me by Christ.  I am rich, because I do not measure my wealth by dollars and cents.

There are different kinds of rich.


Jay Sharpe will be speaking at the LeadHer Conference in Hobe Sound, FL (Oct 6 2018)