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Like blazing wild fire singing your name

February 22nd, 2019 . by maria

Multiplied by NeedtoBreathe is one of the songs we sing at Ponce Church, and it’s in my set list this week. There’s a line in the song:

His love will surely come find us
Like blazing wild fire singing your name

Multiplied by NeedToBreathe

As I practiced this, I thought, what does that mean? I know God’s love will come find us. I know the verses about leaving the 99 sheep to find the one, so I understand “surely come find us”. But “like blazing wild fire singing your name”? What does that mean? What does that look like?

“Blazing wild fire” would be something you cannot ignore, right? It is bright, and loud, and hot. It might be scary. It burns a path, unwavering, taking down obstacles. Woah! That sounds like God. OK. But, living here in Florida, we also know that wildfires bring new growth. Without them, all the underbrush and vines begin to choke out the solid trees, and they cannot bear fruit. That sounds like God, too – wanting us to let go of things that are choking our lives and keeping us from bearing fruit.

What about “Singing your name”? First of all, this says He knows your name. And your name is more than a word we call you. In her book A Wind in the Door , Madeleine L’Engle calls the enemy of peace “the Ecthroi”, and says:

“I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming – making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.”

So your name, your true name, is more than a word. It’s your identity and your calling and your purpose and your value, all wrapped up in one. When you were named, there were all sorts of hopes for your future and beliefs about what you would do in the world wrapped up in giving you that name.
Chances are your parents thought your name sounded pretty, or strong. You might have a family name, or a name from your family’s country of origin, or a name from the Bible. Maybe you were named after someone, and your parents hoped you would be like that person, or wanted to keep part of that person in the world. It’s more than a collection of letters, isn’t it?

When someone is calling your name, they want you or need you. And not just a generic person, but the specific you – with whatever it is you mean to them. Probably someone willing to help with what they need, maybe someone with a specific skill they need.

But singing your name is even more special. (And I think we can agree we’re not talking about creepy chanting like a horror movie villain. Nor are we talking about when someone recalls that your name is part of a song they know, and they sing the song.) Singing your name would be an act of love, like a mother singing to their child, or a someone in love singing the name of their beloved.

So if we put that all together, “like blazing wild fire singing your name” is an amazing picture. This is our powerful God, unable to be ignored, bringing renewal, and banishing darkness, by lovingly calling out to exactly who you are and are meant to be. Wow, what a powerful image.

Homemade Gifts and Gift Cards

February 19th, 2019 . by maria
My mother was a 1st grade teacher in the 70’s and 80’s. We had a enough apple themed ornaments to decorate our whole Christmas tree, and quite a collection of mugs. I’ve seen several articles telling people what gifts they should or shouldn’t give their teachers (or other service providers). Most fall on the practical side. While we definitely could have used the cash, she NEVER would have been critical of someone’s choice of gift. (Besides, homemade gifts usually cost less than even the most modest gift card.)
A gift reflects both the giver and the recipient, and their relationship, and is not based on need. The gift is a token of the relationship, and the time or thought put into it is reflective of time spent thinking of the recipient. This is why cash/gift cards have often been maligned as impersonal. Recipients also play a role in this, being thankful for the recognition, for the time/work in the handmade gift, or for the giver’s taste or thoughtfulness.
Need-based gifts are called “charity”, and there is certainly room for that, but not necessarily as a replacement for the gifts we give out of love/appreciation. Certainly if you are in a position of great wealth relative to others, who depend solely on you (i.e. the corporate magnate in a small town Hallmark movie), then you should be wafting $100 bills at all and sundry. But this says much more about your power over them than it does about your good will toward them. Don’t be ashamed to give a thoughtful homemade gift as a token of appreciation. And if you happen to receive a “useless trinket” instead of a gift card, remember that it took time and planning to pull off, and be gracious to the giver.

A Thought, a Wish, a Prayer

February 18th, 2019 . by maria

I recently heard someone complain that their coworker said “I’ll be praying for you”, after they shared a personal struggle. The complaint was that they felt it was slightly invasive – assuming they’d want to be prayed about. What?

Consider if you shared your personal struggle with me – something you’re going through right now. Assume I have listened thoughtfully and you feel I genuinely care for you. What does it mean if I say then “I wish you well”? Or “my thoughts will be with you”? Or “I’ll be praying for you”?

To me, “I wish you well” ends there. Sure, the good will in my heart for you doesn’t end. But the response to your problem ends with that wish, thrown out into the air. There is no further action on my part. Solving the problem is left to you and to luck.

“My thoughts will be with you” is slightly better. At least it implies ongoing action. If a friend tells you their problems, you are likely to occasionally remember what they told you. But it is hardly intentional, and again I am doing nothing to solve your problem.

Wishes and thoughts are what a stranger will do even without trying. Anyone who drives past the scene of an accident is likely to hope (wishes) that everyone is ok, and may even think (thoughts) about the scene later. Those are hardly the actions of a friend.

A prayer is a little different. It is intentional action. Not only will I recall your problem, but I will ask for assistance from someone who I believe can help you.

Of course, if I can actually help you myself, that’s what I should do. Offer advice, lend a hand, share a meal or clothes or a place to stay.

James 2:16 New International Version (NIV)

16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Turn my lament into a love song

October 25th, 2018 . by maria

A few days ago, I heard a radio program tell a story about a woman who walked into a bakery to buy a “First Birthday” cake. The baker asked her what kind of cake she wanted, and she quickly explained that she didn’t want to order a cake herself, she wanted to pay for one for someone else, in honor of the baby her daughter had miscarried a year ago. I thought this was such a beautiful way to acknowledge the loss, yet create something good. Later that day, the station played the song “Blessings” by Laura Story. If you’re not familiar with the song, it is full of both sorrow and hope, asking “what if…the hardest nights are your mercies in disguise”. (Video Link https://youtu.be/0xRNrnh__SE )

Somehow, the combination of this story and this song made me think of a friend of the family, who had a miscarriage many years ago but still struggles with the loss. She and her husband have had several children since, and by all appearances have a full life, but she still very openly grieves the loss of this child. Having never experienced a miscarriage, I won’t pretend to know her loss. But I have experienced grief, loss of a loved one, and the loss of your vision of your future family. It is a loss that returns with so many life events, when you realize it would have been different with that person present. So I have some understanding of it. Still, I wondered what the difference was, that she was so enveloped by the loss years later…and that, even in my more recent grief I found room for joy. As a Christian, my immediate answer to that is that I know Christ. But many Christians struggle with grief and depression. The world will tell us there is a chemical imbalance, and that drugs or natural remedies or yoga would help. I do think those things sometimes help with the physical aspects, but I am asking more about the internal understanding.

How can we come to a place where we have sorrow for the loss, and yet still have joy for life, because we recognize that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”(Romans 8:28)?

Give Yourself Permission: Give yourself permission to grieve and to feel what you are feeling. But also, give yourself permission to grow and to feel  your grief differently over time. Growing to a place of new understanding does not mean you give up your old grief, or you give up the person you lost, or you somehow lessen their importance. But their impact should be “net positive”. In other words, you don’t want their loss to change you in negative ways, so that other people question if that person’s impact was even a good thing. While loss certainly leaves us with scars and holes, we should not allow it to diminish our place in the world; it should not make us less of a person, but only make us a person with more depth of character.  It should allow us to see the nature of life and love more clearly, not keep us stuck. It should teach us to treasure the loved ones we DO have even more, knowing how precious a gift they are – not turn us inward and away from them.

Honor, not Mourn: One thing that always helps me in a time of grief is to think about what the beloved would have  liked,wanted, or appreciated. When a campfire friend passed, we capped off his memorial service by meeting at a local brewery and ordering a round of his favorite beer. When we had to put down a dog, we realized the best way to honor her life was to give a home to another dog in need – since we had the space, budget, and supplies. When my family gathered for my mother’s memorial service, my sister and I spent much of our down time doing things my mother loved. We put together a puzzle, shopped together, and made a wreath of felt and beads. We displayed the wreath at the service, and gave away flowers made like those on the wreath to anyone who wanted them. In doing these things, we often feel their presence is still in our lives, and that we are continuing their legacy.

Recount Your Blessings: Notice I said “recount”, not count. So often when we “count” our blessings, we’ve fallen into the bad habit of being very shallow about it. It’s like when I ask my dad how he’s doing today, and he says something like “I’m upright and ambulatory”. Great, that’s the bare minimum and it’s better than the opposite. Counting our blessings of “shelter” and “food” and “companions”…is kind of the bare minimum. Like, we’re starting at “zero” and going up from there.  That’s kind of embarrassing. As Christians, we don’t need to start at zero! I’ve noticed something that happened in the Old Testament a lot: the Jews would tell about all the ways God had saved them in the past. Often, this happened when they were meeting to discuss how to deal with a current crisis. Now, the word recount means to tell a story that has been told before, and I believe THAT is what we need to be doing. We need to keep track of the things that God has done in our lives, tell those stories, and in times of trouble recount our blessings to remind us that God is working for our good. That He has taken us through hard times before, that He has saved us and strengthened us before, and that He will do it again.

Get to Know your God: If you want to know why God allowed something to happen, and how God will use it for good, it helps to know God. The more you know of Him, the better your understanding becomes. You can be at a place of “I don’t get it, but I choose to trust”, and that’s fine. But sometimes, we just need more. If you think about a graph, you can have one point here, and one point there, and you can use those two points to draw a line. If you’re saying “last year my business made X and this year it made more”, then that line expresses it just fine. But if we get that “business wasn’t good in January” data point, and we focus on it, and stop adding more points, we might conclude that our business is tanking. No! We need more data points to have an accurate line! We need to know that the seasonal lows happen, and the seasonal highs happen, but overall it is trending up. To know that God’s plan for us is “trending up”, we need to get more data points about God’s plan. Just saying “read your Bible, pray, and go to church” is, again, like stating the bare minimum…and actually, you might not get anything out of those. If you’re just showing up out of a sense of duty, you probably aren’t – at least, not as much as you could. Because what you need to be doing is “researching the data points”; looking for the evidence of how God works. If you are reading, praying, and going to church because you are trying to understand God, then those things are more likely to help you understand God. As Matthew 7:7 says, “seek and you will find”. You will also find data points in music and movies and friendships and nature and science and…  Yes, the whole world is full of data points about how God works, because the whole thing is a work of God. The key is to be actively looking for the movement of God in your life, and in the world around you, and to cultivate those sources which bring you closer to that understanding.

I don’t begrudge anyone the chance to mourn the loss of a loved one…or the loss of a pet, or a job, or a dream. But don’t get stuck there. That one data point, that one loss, does not accurately describe your whole life. If you don’t yet feel ready to go forward, then at least look back – start with “recounting” the stories of how God has worked for you…and if you can’t see them yet, then start with how God has worked for others. But start somewhere…seek out His ways and ask Him to give you insights, and you will find that your grief doesn’t have to stay ugly and stiff and swollen. Instead, it is a point on that line – meaningful and important, but not the end point – on that line trending up to God.

P.S. If you’re wondering where the title of this post same from, it is from this wonderful song “Weep With Me” by Rend Collective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAGqvq4N_zQ . Another great song to listen to when you are processing grief is “Even If” from Mercy Me. https://youtu.be/B6fA35Ved-Y

Call to Action

September 7th, 2017 . by maria

A friend shared an article about hate groups, and someone asked her what she’s doing about it. She answered that she’s praying about it. But she doesn’t have time in her life to go fight every battle.

Another friend shares Facebook posts against dog abuse. But these are only seen by her friends – who already agree with her. She does rescue and rehome dogs, but she’d like to get others to do more.

My employer started a new initiative about the Opioid Epidemic. They are focused on education, de-stigmatization, and on donating to sources that fund awareness campaigns. But this information will be directed mainly towards employees and their families.  Employees of our company, while not immune to this stuff, do already live a privileged life.

Awareness. Education. Engagement. A Voice. Rallies. An environment. Support. Conversation. A Cause. Petitions. De-stigmatization. Spreading information. Fundraisers. Donations. Bracelets and flags and bumper stickers.

All these things are great for reaching people in functioning families with reasonable and responsible lifestyles. People who watch TV, go to work, read flyers at the grocery store. And it does help some people. But the people who suffer the most, and the most often, don’t come from those backgrounds, or have been removed from them by death, divorce, disease, etc. They are in foster homes, abusive relationships, shelters, or just bouncing around. These people are so busy surviving – seriously, just figuring out when they’ll eat next, where to sleep, and how not to get beaten up. They are the ones most at risk for everything, but they aren’t in any position to hear what you’re spreading. And if they are engaging in risky activity, it’s most likely because everything in their life is at risk right now, and this thing – this thing that seems so bad to you – made one moment in their life easier. They fell into it because they finally felt accepted, or protected, or relieved.

If you are among the privileged group that has time in your life to complain, post, petition, etc. then please do more. Volunteer, donate, rescue, give, show up. Even $5. Even 30 minutes. Don’t just TALK about the problems – do something. Pick ONE thing that you CAN do something about and DO it. We can’t all fix everything, but we can all do something.  I know it’s easy to say that, so I put my money where my mouth is…not to brag, but to give some examples and go beyond talk. Below is a list of things I actually do. These may not be your favorites; you might even have criticisms about them. But these are the things I have chosen for me. You do you! But do something!

What I do (currently):

  • Protect Animals – Adopt from Shelters & Rescues, and Foster. None of our pets have been gotten from stores or breeders. We’ve fostered and rehomed a few pets over the years. We rescued and rehabilitated an abandoned and sick dog. Vet bills for rescues can get expensive, but it was the right thing to do.
  • Visit the Sick – Because I have a dog with lots of training, we got certified for Pet Therapy. We go to a local long-term care facility 30 minutes twice a week. The residents there miss their own pets, and love to see my dog. The Pet Therapy training was important to keep my dog safe, and I highly recommend it – there are a surprising number of hidden dangers in pet therapy.
  • Fight Homelessness – I have given diapers to Halifax Urban Ministries ($12), volunteered feeding the homeless (60 minutes on Sat afternoon), and even invited a homeless friend to live with us. (I wouldn’t necessarily make that offer to a homeless stranger, and even taking in a friend/family might be a stretch for some people, or even at some points in your life. But we were in a position where we could do it.)
  • Donate When Needed – Don’t just “Pray for X” when X happens. Research and find a charity that you believe operates with the values and integrity you require. Then, when something happens, donate to THAT charity. For me, this is Samaritan’s Purse (www.samaritanspurse.org). (Not getting into how or why to choose here – just choose one!) So now, when something happens, I don’t just post “Pray for X” on Facebook, I click the donate button and give what I can! Even if it is $5, or $15, or $50, it is something. And if I had $5 for every “Pray for X” I had ever seen…wow, I’d be SO rich.
  • Raise Responsible Children – that’s a whole series of essays right there, but it may be the MOST important thing you do…and the most rewarding. If you can give the world ONE LESS person who is addicted, or homeless, or mean…and instead ONE MORE person who is kind and safe and giving…that’s powerful!
  • Make it a Habit – We ALWAYS give Shoeboxes to Operation Christmas Child EVERY year. It’s become so much a part of the holiday tradition that it is celebratory to give this way.

There are SO many ways to volunteer, give, and share. And if you are reading this, guess what? You are better off than SO many people, and you have a RESPONSIBILITY to share.  But here’s something even better…God is asking you to share. It is more important to him than Not Sinning. Yes, really.  But don’t take my word for it. Read Matthew 25:31-46. Then, if you think that’s a fluke, look at all those postscripts in the verse – the ones that point to other verses – and read those. Even the Old Testament ones. It’s pretty consistent. Go. Do it. Give.

 

 

Sharing Fear on Facebook

June 5th, 2017 . by maria

Preface: I’m putting this over here on the blog instead of answering these posts directly on FaceBook because I have tried that before, and I don’t want those friends thinking I am picking on them constantly. But I need to get this off my chest:

GOD DOES NOT WANT US PARANOID AND AFRAID. He does not want us spending all our time looking for the boogeyman, checking under the bed, and leaving a light on in the closet. When you share or forward warnings, you THINK you are saving your friends. But if those warnings are outdated or false, you are planting fear where it doesn’t need to be. There are enough things to fear in this world, and we certainly should be fighting against all the ugliness and evil. But if you are spending more time, and more fb posts, on the negative, you are only amplifying the voice of fear!

2 Tim 1:7

So, what should I do when I want to share a warning on FaceBook ? I would like you to consider these key thoughts:

  1. Is it my calling to share this?
  2. Is it true?
  3. What do I ask of my audience?
  4. Can I make this positive instead?

You are thinking: “But wait – this sounds like a lot of work!” Informing people is a great responsibility, and it should only be undertaken if you are willing to do the work to be sure that what you are sharing is TRUTH. Because if it is not truth, what is it? So, let’s dig into these ideas and hopefully you’ll see that they are actually reasonable expectations.

Is it my calling to share this?

Don’t just think “people should know”, but ask if YOU specifically have a calling around this topic and a voice of authority in this area. Example: When my dog trainer shares an article about how flexy leashes are dangerous, I can trust that she has read it and understands the issues. She isn’t just trusting the headline. She has some knowledge and experience to back this up. On the flip side, she is not a computer expert, and would not be the best person to decide if the latest virus warning deserves my attention. (It might, or she could be wasting my time…I’d rather hear about malware from Bruce Schneier, because he’s only going to address the bad ones that my antivirus can’t stop, which are the only ones I need to worry about.)

Is it true?

Some internet warnings started out life based on a joke, a satirical article, a single incident from 5 years ago, or a personal vendetta – and have long since outlived their usefulness. Some are based on half-truths, or on something that is true only for X brand of product, or only an issue for people with Y condition. These are important things to note! Example: “fidget spinners can kill your child” is completely different than “some toys have lead in them”. Your friend whose child has benefitted from the spinner will be glad to know they don’t have to give them up completely, and all parents – even those who could care less about fidget spinners – need to be aware of lead poisoning potential in any toys from China.

It is helpful to do a web search on the key phrase from a warning, such as “gas pumps hiv needles”. See if a website you trust for news has covered the topic, and look for the important take-away on the subject. (That one was a hoax in June of 2000, but it is still in circulation.) Look for scientific research, personal experience stories (more than just one), etc.

Also check sites that specifically debunk articles. They often declare something a hoax long before it hits the media – if it ever does. Yes, many of these sites have particular political leanings. Even if the site’s editors are biased, if they include links to outside sources to prove/refute a claim, those sources can be valuable for getting more information.

So check news, hoax sites, and research-based articles. The more data you get, the more variety in your sources, the more accurate your conclusion will be. (Remember: one occurrence is not data, it’s an anecdote/anomaly.)

What do I ask of my audience?

Yes, you have an audience! And that should change the way you think about sharing stuff! Who is your audience on FaceBook? All your friends/followers.  Example: If you have toddlers, and most of your friends have kids that age, then “toddler parents” are your audience. So, it is easy to decide to share a post about defective sippy cups. And buying a different sippy cup isn’t much to ask. But it can be trickier to decide if you should share about hunger in Uganda. Yes, it’s happening…But what, exactly, do you want your friends to do about it, when they are trying to feed their own children? Is it something you have done? Is it realistic to expect your friends to pray/donate/protest/change their habits about ALL the things they see on FaceBook each week? Wouldn’t more focus create more impact?

Can I make this positive instead?

Knowledge about a problem is good, but knowledge about a solution is better. Sharing about a study showing that X creates autisim? Why not share a study that shows that Y is an effective learning tool for kids with autism. Don’t just share the “supplement is bad” headline article – tell your friends how easy it has been for YOU to grow the herb, and why that’s better than the supplement. If you want to call attention to a cause, you can’t just do it with negative information.

The constant negative posts only make it seem like a huge problem that can’t be solved. Eventually, your friends will think there’s no way THEY can make an impact, and begin to see your posts as paranoid and negative. But sharing positive research, realistic calls to action, and your OWN active involvement in the problem, helps to cultivate your authority on a subject. And that’s something your friends will listen to.

SUMMARY

If the claim passes ALL those tests, choose the most reliable and informed source and share that ALONG WITH your thoughts and actions on the subject. Sharing a NEW link is better than sharing the original facebook post, because your friends likely saw that one, and adding this one shows them there are multiple sources warning about this. They are more likely to pay attention. Adding your thoughts shows that you put some effort into the post, which should touch the heart of your friends. But if you can show them an action you have taken, they will see it as an action THEY could take as well, and THAT’s a way to share IMPACT, and not fear.

 

 

P.S. Debunking site links:

Below are some links to ‘debunking’ websites. Some of these sites have more of a tech focus (viruses and scam emails), some more of an urban legend focus (spider bites and slender man), and some have particular political leanings, so “pick your poison” as they say. But political bias is not a reason to rule out all fact checking. (i.e. “snopes has ties to…” does NOT equal “all fact checking is bad”) Having more information on a topic allows you to have more authority to prove or refute a claim.

Use the search function on one of these sites to find what you’re looking for. Also, check the homepage to see if the site is still being updated. (Some good hoax sites go dormant after a few years, when the editor burns out.)

Hoax-slayer.net, straightdope.com, truthorfiction.com, hoaxorfact.com, factcheck.org, urbanlegendsonline.com, thoughtco.com, and the ever-unpopular ‘because it is run by liberals nothing on it could possibly be accurate’ snopes.com .

 

My Songs on YouTube

May 12th, 2017 . by maria

Hey, If you’re bothering to check out my website, then you might be interested enough in this: I posted a few of my songs on YouTube. Check them out!

“Just Like Him” is about how any kind of church can be God’s people.

“It’s Time to Praise the Lord” is a fun praise song

“Said Job” is taken directly from Job 12 starting in verse 7

“What Do You Want” is a song about stages of life

The older videos on this YouTube belong to my dog, but she’s awesome, so you might like those too. 😉

Being a Follower Requires Action

April 27th, 2017 . by maria

Being a follower requires action. You can’t follow someone by standing still, and staying where you are. In fact, following is a continual action. But following is an act of trust – that who you are following is going where you want to go, and has chosen the best path. How do you get to that place with God where you fully trust all He is doing? Where your prayers become “your will God” without reservation? This is the place I am at (most days) now. It has been a journey of single steps. Each small step laying a foundation for another. I’ve learned that when I am faithful to take a step, it is always honored by God. You can’t go from zero to hero. Each of these steps builds on the other. But you do have to actually start by taking a step.

1. Accept and acknowledge. This could be the moment you ask Christ into your heart, or a later moment of personal enlightenment. But at some point you really take into your being the belief that God orders your steps, and that you are better off following Him than trying to do it all yourself. All the other steps will fail without this. Sure, you can show up and do all the right things, but it will be empty for you. Better to take small steps with meaning, than large ones leading nowhere.

I want to be really clear – many people believe in Christ the way I believe in the Eiffel Tower…it exists, has a neat story, and is a pretty picture…I’d like to visit someday. That’s not what I am talking about here. I’m talking life changing, soul saving, relationship. The kind of thing where you respond because you want to, not because you should.

2. Prayer. Once you’ve accepted God, speak to Him. It doesn’t need to be formal. Prayer is the simplest, most basic thing we can do: It doesn’t require any materials, we don’t have to go somewhere to do it, and nobody else knows if we’re doing it or not. Except us and God. But it is one step beyond acknowledging, and begins to teach us to listen and hear God’s voice.

Did you ever wonder why we pray at meals and bedtime? I’ll tell you a secret – it isn’t really to make our food better and our sleep safer. It’s so we will remember to pray! Eating and sleeping are two things we can’t live long without, and we should treat prayer the same way. So don’t just say “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub. Amen.” (You know you’ve done that. Some of you even used those words.) But be reminded to converse with God, and invite Him to join you. It’s also no coincidence that these are two times of day when we have to stop talking, at least a little.

3. The Word. Biblical teaching is the next step in hearing God’s voice. When we know what He’s said and done, over and over in the past, we are better equipped to hear Him. We can see what He’s doing now, what He wants us to do, and how He views the world, because He’s already told us. Biblical teaching can be at church, in Christian music, and other Christian teaching. (Conferences, magazines, blogs, YouTube.) But don’t forget to read the Bible yourself. (Thank you, God, for Gutenburg!) That’s how you’ll learn if the teaching you are getting is sound – it will match up with what you read, over and over. Others can only give you what God has given them, and some only give you what they want to hear. So if you really want to hear God speak, pick a chapter and read it as if He is telling you something.

4. Private Commitment. If you are praying and reading in private, you are already taking an action in response to your faith. Build on that in the ways God puts in front of you, in your life. Only you know what that is. Maybe He is asking you to complain less, to be more generous, or to step away from an addiction.

5. Public Participation. Showing up at church is an action of public commitment. It doesn’t take a Christian to show up, but showing up does improve your Christian life. Showing up is just the start. The Bible says to sing, shout for joy, and dance. To raise our hands to Him and praise Him. But I might look silly…or pretentious! But doing these simple things for God here makes it easier to work for Him out there. I am not afraid to say “can I pray with you about that” , because I’ve done it here. I won’t care how it looks, because I’ve looked sillier than that here.

6. Service. This is the level where you are joining others in serving. It can start here, but it shouldn’t stay here. Here is practice; here is baseline. We should branch out. We should be getting out of the church building and getting out of our own heads. The Bible says we are like salt, but salt does no good sitting in the shaker! Get out there with the other salt, and change the flavor of our world! Now, don’t just go out and do “random acts of kindness” to the world. I’m sorry…that’s just silly. That guy has enough money to buy coffee, or he wouldn’t be in line behind you! Learn how to recognize where God wants you to serve. Join in serving somewhere with someone else who is already serving. This is where we learn what a calling looks like, what hard work is, and where we practice doing. When we join, we start from a place of humility, so we are ready to learn and in a mindset to follow.

7. Your mission. It will come to you. Don’t worry – I am not saying that this path leads to being a missionary overseas, or even being a pastor or other leader. But God built you a certain way for a reason. When you have been stepping out, He will start to reveal that to you, and open doors for you to use that. Maybe it will be speaking His truth in simplicity, or connecting with the broken. But maybe some of you have a gift with finance and project planning, and you’ll learn when God is calling you to make something happen. Maybe your mission starts at home with your kids, or when you walk your dog and get to know your neighbors and take the time to speak hope into their hardships. Seriously, a dog is a great icebreaker!

Each of these steps loops back to reinforce the others. You accept. You pray, and your acceptance of God grows. You get into the Word, and you get to know Him and accept Him more, and speak to Him more. You join other Christians, and hear what He’s done or is doing for them, and you love God more and see how He works. You step out with the tiniest action, and He honors your effort, and you start to know Him better and hear Him speak more clearly in your life. And He shows you the next step, and you take it. And it builds – it is a snowball effect. Seriously, if you want to sense God in your life, step out of the church and do His work. You will be changed.

But it all starts with a response. With you being willing to act – needing to act – in response to what God has given to you. Whether you’ve come from a broken place and found healing, or if you’ve just looked around and realized how blessed you have always been. And it doesn’t matter if you are 2 or 12 or 47 or 70 – God wants to speak to you and work with you. When you feel it, when you understand His love, there is a response that goes beyond just showing up for an hour on Sunday morning. That’s kinda scary, right? What will I have to do? What will I have to give up? But oh, my dear heart, what will you gain? Just…go for it. It’s ok if you Start small. It’s ok if you screw up. But act. Take steps. Move.

Use What You’ve Got

April 26th, 2017 . by maria

So, I ended my last post with “Well, when God wants you to lead worship with a Ukulele, He will make it happen!” That couldn’t be more true. I played Ukulele on 1-2 songs each Sunday after that, including the Christmas Eve service. But around that time, I also was getting a message that God had plans for me away from TLC Church. (To be clear: I love TLC Church, and the people there, and the music team. I didn’t want to leave, and nobody did anything to make me want to leave.) But I’ve learned that when God is pushing you, it is best to follow before He has to get stern with you. So I let my leaders know, and laid out a timeline ending in March. I visited a lot of church websites, and then took a Sunday off here and there to visit a couple churches. They were OK, but not a good fit. March came along, and I still didn’t know where I was going, and I was like “um, God? Open door?” But while I was out one Sunday, the leaders told the team I was leaving, so…well…it was happening, and I trusted God had a plan.

March 5, 2017 I visited Ponce Church, liked what I saw and heard, and spoke with the worship leader (Buddy Reaves) briefly. I put my email in their offering to help with their feeding the homeless project. Wednesday I got an email from the pastor, Rick Tidwell. They had just done a church plant and lost their worship leader. Buddy is a fill-in, but can only do a couple days a month, and his other contacts are unavailable. Would I be interested in leading worship?  DOOR OPEN.

I made sure Pastor Rick knew that I play an electric Ukulele, and he was cool with that. (Hmm…I didn’t even have to tell him how that was God’s fault.) I arranged to visit one more Sunday, with my Dad in tow, because I respect his experience and judgement. And because he had been feeling a similar pull, and I was hoping we’d end up together. We did, for now at least. We started leading worship there March 19 (taking turns with Buddy). And it is working. God prepared it, and me, and it is beautiful to feel like you’re in the exact place doing the exact thing that you were built for. Make no mistake, my stubby little fingers weren’t built for playing anything but the Ukulele. But that’s OK, because I was also built to worship my God.

Practicing Ukulele Worship at my Aunt Nana’s house

Surprise! Ukulele Worship Service

November 13th, 2016 . by maria

God has some crazy plans, and He sure surprises us. You know He gave me the Ukulele at the end of July, and I have been wanting to play it in church ever since. I really feel like God is wanting me using the Ukulele for worship, even though it is kind of an odd duck instrument. I’m like “God, the guitar would’ve been nice…I don’t know anyone looking for a Ukulele player for their worship team!” So…

This week, Jackie (our worship leader/keyboardist) was going to have me try to play along with one of the songs, and I had practiced it all week. But Jackie came down with bronchitis, so we didn’t have rehearsal Wed. Well, come Sat she was still sick, so Pastor Ramona texted us  and said we are doing the set list from Oct 9 with the CD. This is Sat at 3:45! I am feeling like I should still play. So I look it over, and it has “Days of Elijah” and “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” and the CD version was in a good key for me for both those, so I practiced them 3x last night AND once Sun morning before going to church.

Get to church. Pastor Ramona is fine with me playing along. But Jackie was going to do the special for offertory, and she isn’t here and we don’t have a CD for anyone else to sing.. So, I said I would do  “Your Love Oh Lord” with the Ukulele; I was practicing it for December anyway.

Scott was running the sound booth, Paul is out. We practice, it is good. Uke is fine on those 2 songs, and the special. Last song, Scott has gone to the bathroom so we practiced it acapella. This is important because…

Worship service. We start Days of Elijah, and halfway thru the first verse, the CD cuts out. Mics are OK, Uke is OK, but no CD. We continue the song with the Ukulele and we keep singing. They try 2 more times, and a different CD, but the CD is not working. We end up doing 2 songs Ukulele and 3 acapella, and I do the special, and it is all good, and The Spirit was there, and people loved it.

Well, when God wants you to lead worship with a Ukulele, He will make it happen!

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