“I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. The two choirs began at the Southern part of the wall (at the Dung gate.), one went to the left, one went to the right, they surrounded the city of Jerusalem in praise as they marched toward the temple.” (Nehemiah 12:31)
I find it interesting that Nehemiah, who is sent on assignment to repair the broken down walls of Jerusalem, assigns first, two choirs of praise beginning at the “Dung Gate”. The Dung gate was where the city’s trash and animal waste was dumped. Figuratively, it was a place of worthlessness and disgust. A place of refuse.
At various times in our lives and for a variety of reasons we too can find ourselves at the Dung gate ; the deep doo-doo of life. The last thing we even think of doing or even feel like doing is praise or finding something positive to think about. We may be feeling such a sense of unworthiness internally or with our situation that it is next to difficult to find any positive in the midst of it all. It is here where we may be given into complaining or sheer defeat and despair.
My foster mom gave me a gem of a story, when I was growing up and going through “stuff”, that has stuck with me all my life. I have used this story time and again to encourage myself and others. Whether it is true or made up I do not know nor do I care. It’s purpose far outweighs all that.
It’s a story of an experiment with two boys… One who was placed in a room full of candy and the other in a room full of horse manure and left in their said rooms for a day. At the end of the day they found the boy in the room full of candy crying and very unhappy. Very little of the candy had been eaten. The boy was asked, “Why are you so sad? This is a kid’s dream to have a room full of candy!” In which the boy replied, “I’m sad because I know if I eat all this candy I will get sick and have a horrible stomach ache.” ….. Fair enough.
So then they checked on the boy in the room full of horse manure, and he was singing and slinging horse manure all over the place just having himself a big ol’ party. The boy was asked,” How can you be so happy? It smells horrible in this room and this is just disgusting.” In which the boy replied, “Because I know with this much manure, there has got to be a pony somewhere!”
I watched the movie “War Room” with my family the other night. An elderly lady “Miss Clara” was trying to help a younger woman save her crumbling marriage and decaying family. She was listening to the younger lady rant on and on. The younger woman was obviously hurting and angry. After some time Miss Clara cuts in and says, “ How much of the one hour we have today are we going to spend whining about your husband or learning what God can do about it?” Earlier on in the movie the younger lady states, “I don’t have time to pray that much every day. In which Miss Clara replies, “But you apparently have time to fight losing battles with your husband?”
Being in the dung of life is hard and it is here where we tend to whine and complain or get too focused on the dung instead of praying and thanking God for what He can do about it. Prayer and praise gets us focused on the solution and it is an act of Faith in God that He can clean up our dung mess, because in all honesty, even with our best efforts we can’t…. at least not as great and complete as God can.
Why praise God? Especially when that is not our natural inclination when the walls of our Jerusalem have crumbled?Because praise helps to drown out the real enemy. Our enemy is not in people or situations. Our enemy is in that little mealy-mouthed “Gollum” who whispers “dungy” thoughts into our spirits. Who delights in seeing us sinking down so low that we have no strength or joy left. (Ephesians 6:12)
Faith is believing in the unseen and not the seen. (2 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 11:1). Praise is our way of showing God that we are trusting in Him for the solutions and the answers and in His perfect timing. Even in those times where we see absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel. Praise enables us to see beyond the muck, releasing spiritual endorphins for that second wind we have so desperately been gasping for. When we praise we are showing God that we believe that His fixing of our problem is a “done deal”.
Praise doesn’t just have to mean in just the spiritual sense either. God’s ways are all encompassing. I believe that finding something good, anything good, in situations or people can also be an act of Faith. Praise towards others or even in encouraging ourselves has also been known to inspire us all to raise the bar in our lives and do better as well, which can also directly affect our situation. In our family, praise can often come in the form of finding the humor in even the darkest of situations.
I also find it interesting that Nehemiah has the choirs of praise surround the entire broken down city of Jerusalem. Praise is saturated with God’s Presence (Psalm 22:3) Praise can surround and protect the walls of our broken down spirits releasing the healing power of God to wash over us with His warm, healing salve.
Does this mean that we are to just ignore or lump the “dung” times in our lives? To just swallow our feelings and act like Spiritual Super Susies or Spiritual Pollyannas, ignoring reality and acting like it is just “well with my soul”? Absolutely not! God created those feelings and understands completely when we are hurting and feeling defeated in the “dung”. He just wants to encourage us to not stay there. It is healthy for us to have our “moments”. It is not healthy for us to just stay in those moments, however, bringing on more and more tummy aches rather than finding our pony. “ There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. ….. a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4). Life is so, so short! He wants us to move from the “Dung gate” and let Him surround our brokenness so the walls of our lives can be restored and repaired. Like the boy who knew there had to be a pony in all that manure somewhere, we should trust God for the pony in the manure of our lives. Victory begins at the Dung gate. It’s “A Dung deal”!
My husband and I lead a small group in our house. Small group is one of the terms that churchs use to describe a group of people who get together routinely to study the bible and generally support each other through life. Our particular group has been together for over ten years. Some of the members have come and gone as happens and our group has grown too big and split off daughter groups twice. I love small group. I think the secret to success is involved with a few basic tips.
Show up consistently
Don’t trash talk anyone
Read good curriculum
Be brave enough to tell the truth
One of my favorite small group go-to-authors is Andy Stanley. Andy is pastor of mega-church North Point Community Church in Nashville, TN. He says that people worship in rows but grow in circles. Small groups are circles. He’s funny and engaging and thought provoking. Andy has the way of saying difficult things with compassion. He calls people to honest questions and thinking through how faith intersects with life. My favorite study was called The Best Question Ever. He’s come out with a new book version of this study in an updated format called “Ask It” The question that will revolutionize how you make decisions.
Here are my favorite quotations from the book.
“One of the primary reasons we don't seek counsel from the wise people around us is that we already know what we are going to hear--and we just don't want to hear it.”
"None of us plan --or intend--to get into trouble. The problem is, we don't plan not to."
"Our greatest moral regrets are always preceded by a series of unwise choices."
This study has stuck with me. If you struggle with how to move forward in your life you need to read this book. Andy Stanley and his team at North Point gave me a copy to give out to a reader. I’m drawing a winner from the Quirk-Email list tomorrow morning. If you haven’t joined yet and want a shot at the book enter here.
You can buy your own copy below.
God the Conductor
April 2014, at my daughter’s bidding, I attended Bow the Knee. I thought I was attending a little church play, but was astounded and deeply moved by the performance. The previous night, my daughter had deeply felt the message of the play and she begged me to take her again. She desperately needed me to film the moment that Jesus told the thief on the cross that He would see him in paradise. She watched that moment over and over on film.
We noticed during the play that my girls knew some of the kids who were walking with the choir. Then, when the “dead girl” sat up we saw it was a close friend. How fun was that! After the play my girls wanted to meet all the characters and see their friends from the play. It was while I waited in the foyer that I met Mindy. I know now that introduction was divinely orchestrated.
The next day we decided to visit this church that had put together something so phenomenal. My girls had an immediate connection to the church because they knew both kids from school and camp.
The minute I walked into the building, this church of the Nazarene, that I knew nothing about, and even secretly wondered if they were some sort of cult, I was welcomed with open arms. Mindy made sure that I was taken care of. She had to teach so she handed me to Nicole who walked me to my seat. I enjoyed the service and decided to visit a few more times, or my children decided that we would visit a few more times.
I filled out one of the visitor forms and within a couple days Fletch showed up at my doorstep. First know that I am never home. To catch me at my house was divinely orchestrated. We talked, I told him my story, that my husband was an unbeliever, and he said he would pray. I thought that was the end of that.
We continued to attend weekly for another month or so. Pastor Larry introduced himself to me and he made sure that Michelle chatted with me and got to know me so I wasn't left alone in the pew. Mindy continued to befriend me and made sure I felt comfortable in this new environment.
After this everything is a bit of a blur. July 1, 2014 my husband left me. In summary, the reason he left God makes clear in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “…what fellowship can light have with darkness?” He was not a believer. He didn’t like what I was becoming, a stronger dedicated follower of Christ. Becoming more like Christ changed the activities I was willing to engage in and expose my children to, so we ultimately grew apart.
After he left I was crushed. I was afraid. My mind raced. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to feel. Do I feel sad, angry or terrified or all of them all at the same time. My savior was my only solace and Matthew 11:28-30 became my focus. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That verse became my anchor over the next two years. Any time I felt lost, afraid, alone, or I would think, “what about Christmas, what about family vacations, what about me being alone at 50, this is not the way it is supposed to be. I didn’t live 20 years with your non-belief to have it end this way.” I had to stop these thoughts. I grabbed my thoughts, stuck them on the metaphorical yoke that was wrapped around my neck and physically tossed it the Lord and I took His. This was the string that connected us. I had to continually anchor a part of my mind heavenward or my thoughts would drift. He held my thoughts and my worries and I held His yoke. “And take the helmet of salvation (His words in my mind), and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying always...” Ephesians 6:17-18.
One afternoon, shortly after Ken left, I was lost and didn't know what to do and I didn’t want to be alone, so I headed to the church to find Pastor Larry. When I arrived, I was disheartened. Pastor Larry had just started his 3 month sabbatical. I was crushed. But God is good. Kobi was the only one who was free and his sweet compassionate innocent youth was what I needed. Another God orchestrated moment. Kobi didn't know what to do with this person whom he had never met and was sitting before him blubbering. When I look back now it makes me smile. But, in spite of him not knowing what to do with me, he was wonderful. I sat in his office on his rocking chair and just talked. He sat and listened, I’m sure searching in his mind for some wise words. I didn’t need words I just needed to sit there in his presence and know someone cared.
In the days that followed our meeting fletch called me. I never imagined he would remember who I was, but as he was talking to me he said to me, "Heather I made a covenant with you that day I met you on your front doorstep. I said I would pray for you and your husband and I have done that every day." I knew he wasn't just giving me empty words and I was deeply touched. Still today when I see Fletch from time to time he reminds me that he has prayed for me that day. Another God orchestrated connection for the prayer power that I desperately needed.
Then there's Myrtle. Myrtle is my little human angel that again God orchestrated a connection with. Myrtle sat at the end of my row. I remember watching her with her joyful eyes and youthful spirit. She reminded me of my grandmother who passed the previous year. Seeing her joy made me feel a little sad and alone. Each time the music played during this troubled time I would cry. Tears uncontrollably streamed down my face; there was no stopping them. I had lost control. Rather than shy away and try to not make eye contact my angel Myrtle came to me and said, "you look like you need a hug.” She saw me cry so often that she started making sure she had Kleenexes available for me. I don’t see Myrtle as much since that time, but when I do she gives me a huge hug, and I rest in her comforting arms.
Then there’s was Ron. I always sat in the second row. He was on stage singing so I was visible to him. He witnessed the many tears I shed, week after week. Once again, instead of turning the other cheek because it was uncomfortable he frequently checked on me and offered kind words for my broken heart.
During the months following Ken’s departure I was vulnerable and I truly needed connection and I needed to be lifted up. I felt truly alone in the world. All of the “friends” or social interactions I had were with Ken’s friends, so I was suddenly friendless. My mom and grandma had died the previous 2 years and my father had died many years prior. My sister and cousin, the only two living relatives, lived 3000 miles away. My world was my kids, but I had to keep it together with them. Once again God stepped in. He gave me Mindy. Now that I know Mindy, I know why he put her there. She has a true gift of encouragement. I clung to her when I could, always worried I was going to be a burden. I felt like the blubbering girl who was always falling apart, but she was always there for me.
Mindy was never short on what to say, and imparted many biblical truths into my heart during that hard time. Because of her, I decided to attend her home group. I remember my first day when I was debating as to whether I should share my story with all these people. Well my uncontrollable tears spilled forth and I spilled my heart to the room full of strangers. I was welcomed and supported with open arms. I have developed many growing connections in this group since that time and know again God orchestrated His plan.
God’s plans always seem to be more clear in hind sight. Looking back, I was never alone. God the conductor was there every step of the way. He placed me where I would have people. A place where I would develop connections. A place where my children would be fed (Janna, Kristi and now Ryan and Amber). A place where my children could grow up and have lifelong connections with others that love Jesus Christ. I am still walking through this world, challenged by my new life, but I know God is walking with me. I am like clay, He is the potter, I am the work of His hand (Isaiah 64:8). He continues to shape me daily in my new trials, but I can rest my heart and know that “God isn’t finished with me yet.” Philipians 1:6.
As I sit here and ponder how to end my story I think of all of these people and smile. They are still encouraging me and God is still orchestrating moments and lessons in my life. Because of this I am writing this story down on paper. I want to be included in the Wall of Faith world and to do that I have to submit something in writing. LOL. But today as I wrote my story I saw more clearly than ever the places where God waved his conductor hands and placed a new notes in my story. This makes my heart fly.
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will sore on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31
That's the Book: Joel
I help with the preschool every Sunday morning. The littlest members of our church crack me up. They also cause me to really think about why I believe what I do and why in the world they should care. This morning, one of the other teachers and I were talking about discussing issues in our culture with our kids. What and when should we talk about some of the more sensitive matters of faith? It's tempting to shelter and hide and shush tough questions.
The little three chapter book of Joel has some advice.
"Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation." Joel 1:2-3
So. Questions for you. Has anything like this ever happened in your days? Have people been this lonely? This angry? This hopeless? Have children been sold into slavery for perverse pleasure? Have thousands starved? Have holy things been treated with such disdain? Do you think perhaps we might want to have some important talks with our children?
Maybe this sort of talk?
Even now, declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:12-13
Such gorgeous words of hope. The Lord wants our hearts. He is gracious. He is abounding in love. This morning we talked to the preschoolers about how God is their shepherd. How he can supply all their needs. How he wants them to follow his voice. How when they are afraid they can run to his arms. Important conversations.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls. Joel 2:32
Are there things you should be telling your kids? Take courage and start the conversation.
Three chapters of powerful words. As always, so much better in context. The Bible Project again provides a useful overview of how this little book's structure helps explain its significance. Watch and learn.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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