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…

Advertisements

Transformation

cat1cat2cat3

The transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is absolutely amazing.

Starting from an egg, the caterpillar grows, traveling on feet,  and feeding on the green leaves and early buds of flowers.  Then it eventually secures itself to a safe place and forms a chrysalis.  Eventually the chrysalis opens to reveal a butterfly, that now travels by flight and feeds off the nectar of the very same plants in which the caterpillar ate leaves off of.

The process that happens in the chrysalis is nothing short of miraculous.  The chrysalis is made up of the external skin of the caterpillar.  It shrinks itself up into this tiny pod and the skin hardens.  Inside, the rest of the caterpillar completely liquefies and it completely restructures into a butterfly, a new body.

This new body is completely different, it functions differently, it has a new purpose.  A new life is born.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ becomes a new person.  The old is life is gone, a new life has begun.

What is fascinating is that scientists have been able to confirm that despite this complete liquefaction of the caterpillar, the butterfly will retain all of the memories of the caterpillar it once was.  It hasn’t forgotten the old life, the lessons it learned, the experiences it had.  Scientists have even proven that some memories are passed through DNA to future generations.  It is why butterflies know what flowers to feed from, what path to migrate, etc.

However, in it’s new form the Butterfly will live a new life, a different life.

When we give our lives to Christ, we too become a new creation.  We shed the skin of our past, even though we remember those days and experiences.  But, like the butterfly, we have been given a new purpose.

Dry Bones

DRYBONES

I love going to women’s events, conferences, and brunches and listening to speakers.  Whether the speaker is a famous author, Pastor, or the woman who sits in the third pew.  For me, I never walk away from these experiences empty handed.  I learn something and gain from the gift of their words.

At the event from this weekend, there were two speakers.  I shared my thoughts/notes from the first speaker, Julie Mullins, last post.  The second speaker was Pastor Charlotte Gambill who Co-Pastors with her husband at Life Church across the pond in the UK.  I’ve never had an opportunity to hear Pastor Gambill before, and it was an absolute treat.

This is a mixture of direct words from her and my response to it written in my notes…

Do you feel like you are in the dry places? The desert of your life?

But you feel knocked down, worn out, planted into the stones and yet you want to uproot and run… but you can’t because you are breathless.

The sun is beating on your back, you are parched with thirst, your lungs feel as if there is no air left.

You feel like you are dying.
Your dreams are dying.
Your marriage is dying.
Your relationship with your child is dying.

… and God seems so far away…

God will put breath back into your lungs & resurrect the dry places, but first you must stop carrying the load that He doesn’t want you to bear in order to go to the place He is taking you.  ~Pastor Charlotte Gambill

You are carrying the dry bones of your past that you thought you buried away. Past pain and hurt, confusion and frustration, anger and guilt. The enemy wants us to bury these bones and hide them, so that we don’t face them and others can’t see. God says NO! In order to bring life to those dry old bones, we must face them head on.

He is the God who resurrects and restores.

—————————————————
Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
————————————————

God will drop you into the valley of dry bones because He has a question for you, because sometimes God’s answer to you is wrapped in your answer to Him.

~Pastor Charlotte Gambill

God asked Ezekiel “can these bones live” and Ezekiel avoided the question, he didn’t want to answer. When we avoid facing the questions we can’t find healing, have or joy restored, or our life returned. We are hiding in the desert places.

God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, giving power to the Word of God… not the words of friends, not the words of family members, not the words of people who do not care for you… that may cause you to lay down your life and dreams and hopes prematurely.

But, God can’t work if you are living in the past. Facing the bones is not the same as living with them. If you are choosing the live in the bones of the past (of what was, or what you longed for and gave up)… you will be stuck.

When Ezekiel prophesied over the bones, they rose and assembled themselves and flesh covered them… but there was no life in them. It’s not enough to just assemble the bones, but we must ask God to breathe new life into them. To breathe new life into our dreams, breath new life into our relationships, breath new life into our world.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, fast forward he’s now in charge of the Pharoah’s household and serves as his right hand man. Everything was seemingly perfect for Joseph, but he still had bones he was carrying.

You can still bloom in the desert places, but you must deal with the bones for the super bloom. God will bring them right to you, bumping you into them. The woman who hurt you, shows up at the same retreat you are at. The person you need to apologize to keeps showing up in the random places. You can’t seem to escape it, because He needs you to face it.

Joseph carried a lot of bones in his life, he had every reason to be angry and hurt. Yet we never see him protesting, trying to prove himself to others, etc. Instead he spent time trying to improve himself. He didn’t worry about others blessings or failures, he concerned himself with his own stuff. This allowed Joseph’s heart to be open for restoration verses revenge.

The emotional cost of carrying a heavy bag of bones is that you will be breathless.

In Gen 42, Joseph faces his brothers… the ones who began His plight. He had to face those bones.

1. His pain was revisited. We don’t have to pretend the pain didn’t happen. The pain is real, but if we hold it in … the pain becomes toxic. We must exhale the pain, and inhale His breathe of new life.

2. He had to remember. It will cost you a lot to keep replaying the past. Remember it, but do not linger, move forward.

3. He had to be a silent witness as they recalled the events. Sometimes we have to witness those who hurt us reckon with their actions before we can release it. But, these silent tears are not in vain they are washing away the past.

“You can use your tears to water weeds or to sprout new life.”

“You can not get back the years of your past, but God can replace them with better years to come.”  ~Pastor Charlotte Gambill

4. He had to grieve what was lost. Joseph’s youngest brother had nothing to do with what happened to him, he was just a child of 4 years. The actions of his brothers cost him years of relationship with his brother Benjamin. Joseph mourned what Benjamin didn’t even know about. Instead of bringing Benjamin into the pain, Joseph grieved this in private and then cleaned himself up and got a grip on himself.

“There is a time limit on tears. Stop crying about what was or was supposed to be. Exhale the past, it is gone. Inhale your purpose for now.”

5. He recognized God was behind it. The sorrow Joseph experienced due to his brothers was not wasted, God used it for purpose. A seed was removed from one place and planted for a greater future.

When Ezekiel followed the Lord’s instructions, the bones came together. It was better, but not full. Don’t just stop because things seem better… keep going. Because the fullness comes when God breathes new life into your dreams. New life into your marriage. New life into your relationships. New life into your prodigal. New life into your career.

New breath means you will not just stand but you will LIVE!

God didn’t just raise one set of bones in the desert that day with Ezekiel. He raised an army.

That God is calling to you… will you face your dry bones? Will you settle for better? Or will you command new life into the dry weary bones?

As each of us surrender to God our dry bones, and He breathes new life into our trials… and we are holding on for not just better but best… He is raising a King’s Army in us.

Chronicling 40: Heaping Ashes

HeapingAshes.png

One of the hardest things I have had to deal with in ministry was not a conflict, but instead the talk after the conflict was over.  I’m not minimizing that conflict itself is hard, because it is.  However when you are in conflict with another person there is a lot you can do.  You can pray that God would convict their heart… and your own.  You can forgive what needs to be forgiven, and repent when you need to repent and seek forgiveness.  You can work to rebuild the relationship, you learn from your mistakes, there is growth.

There are occasions where others were present for the conflict directly, or brought into it indirectly… and it is very hard to reign in the talk that can come from it.   Even when we have done our best to keep people out of the conflict, those who can sense the tension may make assumptions to fill in the gaps… and they don’t always keep those assumptions to themselves.

Several years ago there was a large conflict that I was a part of.  It took time, but we all came to terms with what happened.  There was forgiveness and reconciliation.  It was a beautiful thing to see relationships being repaired and restored.  Two years later, after all the dust had settled, someone came to me because there was gossip being spread about me.  First, I want to say that I appreciate the fact the person told me… but even more so that when the person began to gossip in front of her she shut it down quickly.  She made sure the person and those who were listening understood that she didn’t know all of the fact, had no business speaking about it with anyone.

THESE KINDS OF FRIENDS ARE GIFTS FROM GOD!

She came to me, because she felt that I should know that this issue was still being discussed by people… what was said about me specifically… and how she handled it.

I was far more hurt by those who were spreading rumors with incomplete information than I ever was by the actual conflict itself.  In part,  I believe, because this person was tarnishing my reputation with others who had no knowledge of the conflict in the first place.  Not to mention I had considered this person as a friend, and couldn’t believe she was being so careless.

Yes, I was angry.  Yes, I wanted to confront her.  Yes, I wanted to talk to everyone she spread this gossip to and set the story straight.   Before acting, I took it to the cross.

In order to clear up her misinformation, I would have had to throw others under the bus.  I’ve always agreed with the quote: “What you say about others says more about you than those you are gossiping about”.    There was no way to improve my standing without casting a negative shadow on others, and I refused to do that.  Instead I had to take the high road.  Yes, I can confront the gossiper directly.  As for the rest, I had to make a decision to let my character speak for itself.

I would continue to walk out my faith, live my life, in accordance to my character and integrity.  If she continued to speak ill of me, eventually she would feel conviction.  If others chose to believe her, as they get to know me they too will feel conviction.  If they choose to not bother to get to know me, that’s more on them than it is on me.

Sometimes, in our flesh, we want to repay evil for evil… hurt for hurt.  But, that is not what God would have us do…

Proverbs 25:21-22

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

When we respond this way, we let our character and integrity speak for us vs. trying to be defensive.  When we respond this way, we are walking in the Spirit and not in our flesh.  When we respond this way, we are separating ourselves from the way the world does things and instead showing how Kingdom dwellers do things.

Chronicling 40: 194-196

ALIGNMENT&pURPOSE

It is really hard to live each day when you feel out of alignment with God and His purpose for you life.  While I love Women’s Ministry, I have been disconnected from it directly for some time.  I equip other leaders, but I haven’t served in Women’s Ministry in a local church in several years.  There were reasons for that disconnection, and there was healing that needed to happen.  Knowing there were valid reasons didn’t help the ache of that void.

As I dip my toes cautiously back into the pool, my friend could see an expression or response that I didn’t even realize I was making.  It was so evident, or she is so perceptive, that she asked me what the reaction was about.  To really put towards how I was feeling seems impossible.

Joy and excitement about all of the things we discussed.

Relief that someone was willing to hear my heart, actually hear me.

Trepidation about getting too excited or my hopes up too much.

There is NO FEELING as good as when your are walking in obedience to His calling on your life, and living that purpose out.  Even when it’s baby steps, toes dipping in the water, taking our time to get acquainted and build momentum.  It’s like fresh breath in your lungs, a restart of your heart, and an energy charge to your mind.

I appreciated our openness with one another.  Making sure we understood the similarities in our personalities and our differences.  We were identifying potential obstacles before the presented themselves, so that we could understand each other better.  Owning our strengths and even our weaknesses.  We laid our hearts and desires, our truth (good and bad) out there to each other.

And we agreed to work with excellence in mind.

Thank you, Lord.  I will not forsake this opportunity to serve once again.  Whether little steps or by your leaps and bounds, I answered “here I am”.

Chronicling 40: Day 183 of 365

Increase

I actually struggled between the word “Intentional” and “Increase” for today.  I love the word intentional, because I believe in being far more intentional about things… like intentionally setting study time and prayer time, being intentional about spending time with important people, being intentional about setting good habits… being intentional is part of decision making… a choice.

But, I’ve written a lot about making positive choices.  So, I decided to hone in on the word “increase”.  Most often I see this word chosen due to its relation to career performance and outcomes.  I want to increase my reach.  I want to increase my income.  I want to increase my sales.  I want to increase my customer base.  I want to increase my product line.

Next, it will fall into our personal lives.  Increasing health.  Increasing time with loved ones.  Increasing our time spent resting, traveling, etc.

I’d like to suggest we consider the scriptures:

John 3:30

“He must become greater; I must become less.”

Perhaps the greatest increase is when I decrease.

Chronicling 40: Day 178 of 365

DETERMINED

Continuing the exploration of common “Word of the Year” choices…

In a spirit of full transparency, I have to admit that I don’t understand this as a goal for the year.  I can’t think of a time when being “determined” has not been part of who I am and how I operate.  As a kid, I was determined to do well in school.  My mother never had to fight with me about doing homework or finishing projects on time.  I was determined to finish college even when marriage and children put that on hold for a bit.  I was determined in my career, determined to master hobbies, etc.  I’ve never lacked determination only tools and time.  Both of which can be eventually remedied.

But, I would like to talk about the positive and negative of determination.  I remember once hearing a parent say:  “It’s like he is determined to get into as much trouble as possible.”

Just as I can’t comprehend not having determination in my life, I definitely can not understand having determination and using it in a negative way.  But isn’t that the case for some people?  They just seem bent on doing things the wrong way or the hard way every single time.  They have choices before them, and overwhelmingly (if not always) choose the wrong path.  So, I decided to hit the dictionary:

determined:  having made a firm decision and being resolved not to change it.

There it was, the explanation I needed.  Determination itself isn’t positive or negative, it’s just a decision… firm and unwavering.  Each of us can CHOOSE how we employ that decision into our lives.  Will we choose to make good decisions that will bring us love, joy, peace, community, a future, stability, etc.   Or, will we choose to make bad decisions that will be dangerous, bringing chaos, instability, loneliness, and struggle?

Recently, I was involved in a conversation with another woman who was in desperate need of advice.  Since I wasn’t directly involved and had no emotional ties to it, I was able to see things objectively and offer some solutions.  No matter what I offered, she countered a reason or excuse as to why that wouldn’t work.  She had resolved that this wasn’t going to go her way and unwilling to see any opportunity to change it.  She was determined that this bad thing was going to happen, end of story.

Being determined doesn’t always play out in a positive way, and I wonder if that makes it a good candidate for the “Word of the Year”?

Then again, it’s really not the word but rather what you make of it in your life.