Missing Ministry

So pretty close to a year ago, the entire world came to a screeching halt. No school, no social events and no church. We made our way as a family through this unbelievable journey and like many of you reading this, we are ready to move forward to the future. Please notice I did not say “back to normal,” because I am pretty sure there were parts of our normal around the village that we needed to say goodbye to! We were able to enjoy more family time, beach time, bike riding, camping and making memories, and the phrase uttered many times a day “get your mask”!!

We survived all the mask mandates, the social distancing and the safer at home orders, but to be honest for me the one thing I have struggled with the most is missing the ministry God has allowed me to be part of for 37 years. I was blessed to become a musician years ago and never dreamed that when I picked up that saxophone back in middle school it would become one of the most incredible blessings of my life! I enjoyed learning to play years ago and that passion has continued throughout my life, right up until last year when a virus stopped everything. I have continued to practice but my den is just not the same as my orchestra chair!! The cat is not impressed!!

I made the comment to a friend one time that it was so nice to be able to worship while I was playing and she asked me if that was really possible. My reply was “absolutely!” Music speaks to a part of the soul that sometimes even the best message can’t reach. I can tell you countless times that God has spoken directly to the deepest part of my soul through a line in a song or a phrase that might describe where I am in my life and the need for His words to just speak life.

My favorite song of all time is “Alabaster Box” by CeCe Winans. One small simple line in that song almost at the very end says ‘You don’t know the cost of my praise.” This past year has been hard, not the kind of hard that you just take a deep breath and walk away from but the kind of hard that just wrecks you. There has been so much loss in our world, our nation, our state, our city and yes, our church. I have seen so many stories from my orchestra chair before the virus hit as I looked out into the congregation that bring this line to life. We can look around our church and see dressed up folks who may be totally broken on the inside from life and circumstances and especially the circumstances of this last year. We don’t know the cost of their praise, we have no idea what it took for them to make it to the seat in the sanctuary and worship.

I have been there. I have had days where in my mind I would think if I could just get to my seat in the orchestra without having to talk to anyone, I will be ok. There is something so special to me about that chair. I have seen God move from that chair and I have felt the presence of God as I played notes to lift His name up. There is nothing “magical” or particularly special about that chair but to me it represents ministry and passion and appreciation for blessings and I have a sense of purpose when I am sitting there using the gift that God has given me to give back the praise He deserves. I have missed that over this last year. My heart has missed that chair and the music and being a part of worship. That chair is where I am supposed to be!!

This weekend our church, my church, will be gathering to worship and celebrate the resurrection of our precious Lord and I am so thankful to say that the worship ministry, the choir and orchestra, will be together again for the first time in a year! I could use a thousand exclamation points and I’m not sure it would accurately describe how happy my heart is!!! When God speaks He stirs our hearts for worship! Each time the Bible tells of a battle there were always musicians that went out ahead and prepared the field and the people for battle. If this last year has taught us anything at all it is that we need to prepare for battle!! I hope this weekend will find you in a seat in the sanctuary lifting praise to God for His grace and mercy and love. I know where I will be… in that orchestra playing with all my heart to the One who gave me breath to play!!! Blessings to you!!!!

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Ps. 150

He’s the God of Wide Open Spaces

I recently found myself on a field trip with my first grader. Quite honestly, a field trip I had been dreading every since the paperwork came home with the details. The trip was to Rickwood Caverns to explore the cave, do some gem mining and eat lunch. Sounds easy enough, right? Well let me tell you a bit about the writer of the blog post you are reading. I am EXTREMELY claustrophobic, like really extremely.

photo-1536883968402-cb7250da4a8d.jpegThe day was beautiful and the kids were super excited! I was a terrified mom looking for a way to avoid going in the cave! We made our way to gem mining and talked with the guide about the things we would see inside the cave. The guides were very detailed in their list of rock formations we would see and then came the talk about bats and what to do should we encounter one of these little creatures. We began our walk up a hill to the entrance of the cavern. I will have to admit that I was lagging behind on purpose! I was hoping my sweet little girl would ease in the cavern with her friends and her teacher and forget that mom was there for a little while. Not so lucky. Just as the group was making their way in, my little one spotted me and motioned for me to come with her. We had talked at home about how mom might have to stay outside so she was somewhat prepared for me to wait for her and then it came… the puppy dogs eyes, the soft voice… “Mom please come with me, it will be fine.” Who can say no to that? Not this mom!

nature-france-rocks-cavesWe entered the cavern and it was just as I had anticipated… TIGHT and dark. I made my way to the back of the group and left a substantial amount of space between myself and the pack of curious little people. There was a very kind gentleman named Hank that was the rear guide who was so kind to accompany me step for step along our journey. He was kind enough to tell me when we were about to enter an especially tight spot and he gave me plenty of space as we made our way through. He kept saying, “Ma’am you are doing great, you are almost there.”

Hank was very encouraging and had given me a piece of advice “Don’t look up, focus on the space where you are.” What Hank did not know was that I had scripture rolling through my head the entire way! The scripture that I kept repeating was from Ps. 23 “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” I will be honest at that moment THAT was it, green pastures… WIDE OPEN SPACES!! Do you know what claustrophobic people need… WIDE OPEN SPACES! The rest of our journey through the cavern led to walking 175 feet down (a tidbit of information they could have pexels-photo-803106kept to themselves!!!) We made our way to the steps to the exit and we were informed that there were 110 steps to the exit. Hank looked at me and asked me if I was going to be ok to make the steps to get out. Um, yes!!! My reply was “Hank, if it’s your job to keep up with me, I am going to be taking those steps two at a time so hang on!!”

You are reading this blog so you obviously know that I made it out alive (barely)! So whats the take away? I put myself in a place that I really should not have been, but God met me there in His faithfulness and grace and literally walked me out of darkness. I kept repeating over and over again as I navigated my way through “You are the God of wide open spaces.” I said it over and over again until I could breathe and focus on the steps I needed to take. I could feel peace wash over me. I could feel HIS peace wash over me. God is faithful even when we are not. He is good even when we don’t deserve it. His word does not return void and there is power in scripture, MUCH power. He is the God of yesterday, today, tomorrow… and yes, He is the God of wide open spaces!!!

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Incompatible with Life

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

 

I have been following the blog of a little girl named Lavendar for about and year and a half now. Lavendar was born with a condition called Trisomy 13. I have read posts written by her mom as she chronicles life with this little blessing. One of the first posts I read detailed the first meetings with the doctors as they discussed the baby’s life and what her prognosis would be. Lavendar’s mom and dad were told that she was “incompatible with life.” Imagine hearing those words describing your baby.

I have read many posts but for some reason those words “incompatible with life” have stayed with me. God has used these words to show me that this is exactly what satan seeks to render each and every believer as we seek to follow God. For every step forward we take, satan schemes to pull us backward and tries to convince us that we are not worthy of the life God has given us. God has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives and gave His son freely so that we might not only have life but that we might have abundant life. Christ came so that you and I could live our lives in the freedom that salvation brings. No condemnation for past mistakes, no condemnation for future mistakes, but freedom. If satan can convince you and I that we are “incompatible” with this life, this abundant life, he has paralyzed us in our Christian walk.

The blog posts chronicling Lavendar’s life are so encouraging. Her mom is a constant source of joy and is so quick to see each obstacle they have faced as an opportunity to move forward, to seek the joy in her situation and even though her little girl may not be free of the tubes and monitors that her condition brings, she is content. She speaks frequently of the struggles they face but there is an undertone of gratitude in each post. It reminds each time I read them to find the joy, the contentment in knowing that this life and all the struggles we face is just a vapor compared to the peace that is to come. True peace comes when our hearts and minds are stayed on him and He is our joy. Circumstances change but God never does. He is constant even when I waver, He is faithful even when I am not. One day sin and sorrow will give way to worship and praise and the thought of shedding a tear will not even enter our minds!

I am thankful for a God who saw me for what I could be and not what I was. He looked beyond the scars and the hurt and said “this one is worth saving”. He saw my heart as a place He could reside! He looks at you and me and sees a life that He can use! Life that is in tune with His heart and ready to be used for His glory!!

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5

The Main Thing…

I have the privilege of helping coach my little girl’s softball team over the next few weeks! We had our first game of the season last night. We are the Lilies!! For the last couple of weeks we have practiced and prepared fielding the ball, batting and learning the process of how the game works! We end each practice with a devotion and prayer and talk about encouraging each other on the field and off! We talk about loving Jesus and how that is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing. Softball is fun and we want to do our best but the main reason we are there is to lift up Jesus!

One of the traditions of the Upward games is that at the end of the game, a player gets the game ball. Last night for our team, it was an easy choice! I was coaching on the first base side when our team was on the field. One of our precious little girls (they are 5 and 6) caught the ball and got an incredible out on first base! It was a classic stretching catch softball-1577610_1280that would have made the ESPN highlights had the camera crew been there! After the dust settled, the little girl from the other team took her helmet off and headed back toward her dugout. As she left first base, our sweet little player grabbed her and gave her a big hug and said “sorry for getting you out!” I was a mess!! Needless to say, this precious little soul was the recipient of last night’s game ball!!

We met together after the game and had the honor of giving out the game ball and talking over how well the game went! We looked into those little faces and told them that softball is “good” but that JESUS is the main reason we are there! We talked about how proud we were of this little girl for her great play at first, but the hug and her encouragement was the most important thing. Sharing JESUS with the player from the other team was what was on her little heart! She was there to play softball but she did not forget the most important thing!

As I got ready for bed last night, I was thinking back about the game and that precious little girl’s face and her sweet little arms as she hugged the other player and encouraged her! I thought what a beautiful picture that was of her heart and how she was doing her “job” on the field but how JESUS was where he heart was! She used a regular opportunity in what she was doing to reflect the love of GOD. In that brief moment, the face of Jesus was a little brown-eyed blonde softball player standing on first base! The question floods my mind “Where am I?” Where am I sharing and encouraging and lifting up and praising? Where am I standing and sharing the gospel? Can people talk to me and hear the “good news” or do I get so wrapped up in my “job” that I forget “the main thing”?

passion-3111303_1280God gives us breath and life to be able to share the gospel through our everyday lives. We do not need a stage with lights and a crowd, sometimes a dusty softball field will do. He sets divine appointments in our path, and all He needs us to do is take them. I love the words in the praise song that says, “Your praise will ever be on my lips.” If we lived our lives with His praise on our lips each day, what a testimony we could share when we have a captive audience! The gospel is good news and God is matchless and powerful and gracious and we live in a world that is in desperate need of these things.

Someone in your path today needs to hear that God SO loved them that HE gave His Son for them and for their salvation. Someone needs to know that HE is the lover of their soul and the lifter of their head. There is a soul today searching for their purpose and their place and the world wants to make sure they do not find it. We have an urgency to share what HE has done in our heart with the folks around us! That’s the most important thing!!!

“For GOD so loved and dearly prized the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes and trusts in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16

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One Size Fits…ALL

When you read the words “one size fits all” you may think first of an article of clothing. One size fits all means that no matter your size, height or stature this garment should work for you. I am personally thankful for such garments around bathing suit season!!!

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“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!”

I was preparing a devotion a few days ago and thinking about these “one size fits all” tags, just thinking of those words and how broad they are and how they really can speak to us as Christians about “covering”. The one thing we all are in need of as sinners who fall short of God’s glory is grace. Grace to cover us, protect us and shield us from the enemy who seeks to destroy us and our lives. I thought of how God’s grace is offered to all in the way of salvation and how no matter where you have been or what you have done HE is enough to cover you and shield you and protect you from all who seek to harm you, no matter what you have done or where you have been. We can never sin so far that HIS grace cannot cover us.

As I began to write down a few thoughts, I thought of things I had done and maybe places I had been that were not uplifting to the call He had placed on my life years ago and GRACE just kept coming back around. I remembered words I have spoken that were unkind and choices I had made that caused me to miss opportunities to share about God’s love. The enemy would have loved for my mind to stay right there BUT GOD’S GRACE covers me. You see, as a 15 year old, I gave my heart and life to God and promised to follow and serve Him for the rest of my life. There, at that moment, I received salvation, grace, forgiveness and a promise that I belonged to Him. His grace covers me. His grace “fits” over my  sin. The times I have been so bold in the choices I have made and the sins that committed, even in those times, HE has prepared a way for all of those to be washed away, to be covered. Grace is for all of us, offered freely and with the promise that HE will never leave us.

“One size fits all” may be just a simple tag in a garment, but those words to us as believers mean that we are covered by our Heavenly Father and that His love for us is immeasurable. We can never sin bigger than His grace can cover. Our choices could never take us so far that His grace cannot reach us. Our faith can be and should be strengthened knowing that without a doubt we are covered and loved so much that GOD gave His Son to die on a cross as the covering for our sin. This covering, this salvation is offered to ALL, no exception. In a society where size and beauty and social status seem to be the measure of all (according to the magazines and news stories), what an incredible blessing to know that no matter who you are this grace, this covering from GOD will fit. Grace is “one size fits ALL!!

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In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished upon us. Eph. 1:7-8

 

A Gift

So a new year is here. Are you a resolution writer? Do you do the customary list of things you wish to accomplish for the coming months? I must confess, I am not! I have in the past and would be so defeated in the first few days when I had missed the mark!!! I am a day by day goal setter (if that is even a thing!!!) Satan has a way of paralyzing us when we do not feel like we have accomplished “enough.” I am writing this today to challenge you to let go in 2017 and trust HIM daily to carry you through, give you direction and hold your heart to His plan.

One of my favorite songs by Chris Rice says this “Every day is a journal page, every man holds a quill and ink. There’s plenty of room for writing in, all you ask and believe and think. Will you clock-pocket-watch-gold-valuable-39817compose a curse or will today bring you blessing.” When God opens our eyes each morning and we have a chance to lift up or tear down. Life or death. Blessing or cursing. Twenty-four – 24 hours – no more no less. Money or fame cannot buy you more time. This sweet song goes on to say “Teach us to count the days, teach us to make the days count. Lead us in better ways cause somehow our souls’ forgot Life Means So Much.” 

These words are as much for the writer as the reader!! GOD brings us to the very moment where we have a choice to walk boldly in His plan or be held captive by what we can see and what seems to hold us. God gave His only Son that you and I could live and breathe and share this good news with people in need and without hope.

So, the choice is yours and mine my friend! God breathes life into your soul. The day is yours!! Life is precious and what a gift!!

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Resolve

by Tracy Hacker

Two years ago, our pastor asked our congregation to petition God for a word for our families for the year. I did as he requested, and my word came. I was hoping for a word like “boldness” or “wisdom” or “change,” maybe even “joy,” instead, my word was “resolve.” Webster’s Dictionary defines resolve “to make a definite and serious decision to do something.” My favorite definition is one I heard a pastor give several years ago “stick-to-it-ness.” This has proven to be a much better definition!!

Over the past two years, I kept thinking this word might change or maybe God would speak another word, but the word He kept giving was “resolve.” To be honest, I had a hard time understanding what I could do with this word. Would God give me a platform or a circumstance for this word to come alive? Instead of a platform, He has given me a daily stage for this word to show up in my life and has given me plenty of opportunity to learn to live it out! I have found myself at times asking God for guidance and praying for the pexels-photo-131979meaning of this word “resolve” to sometimes just get me through the day. You may be like me in that the everyday tasks seem to be overwhelming some days. The mundane tasks that seem so unimportant. The laundry that never seems to stop. The dishes that seem to “always” be in the sink. (Did I mention that 8 people live in my house?!) Fingerprints  seem to be on everything, smudges on my front door, and toys on the floor. God has used these things each day to show me exactly how my “resolve” would be used. Those tasks that seem to be insignificant in the big scheme of things are sometimes where our “resolve” is tested the most.

“Resolve” is what keeps a heart going in the midst of chaos, in the middle of a storm. When the world would say “give up,” “let someone else do it,” resolve says, “God called you to this, He will keep you.” “Resolve” or “stick to it-ness” says, “I am tired, I am overwhelmed, but God has a plan.” Satan would like nothing more than to see us stop living our purpose because of how we feel, because of our circumstances. The “resolve” that God has placed within each of us gives us the strength to keep moving, to press on, to go forward even though we don’t “feel” like it, even when there is no grand stage. You may be reading this blog post right now from the sofa next to a huge pile of clothes that need folding, or maybe sitting at your kitchen table looking at a sink full of dirty dishes just over the top of your computer and the defeat has already set in for the day. GET UP!! God is too good and His purpose for you is too important for you to let the enemy’s schemes hold you back today.

God has been so faithful to show me over the past two years that part of His purpose for my life in this season is to care for the people in my home and that my “resolve” is to do it DAILY with all I have. There is no grand stage, no huge crowd to share with, just a few little faces that fill my table. Small hands and hearts that fill our house with laughter and love and are evidence to me that He sees each soul as priceless, redeemable and worth dying for. Somewhere in His grand plan is a place for me.  I GET TO serve Him. There is a place for the talents He has given me and a place for my soul to find rest and He delights in me. Resolve counts when is gets hard, when it’s not fun, when we would rather be somewhere else that does not require work, or at a movie or just sitting somewhere quiet. Resolve says, “When I don’t feel like living out my purpose today, I will move forward.” Resolve means that at the end of a long day, I can lay my head down at night and ask God for the strength to do it all again tomorrow, not the option to give up. Resolve means no retreat, no opting out. To quote one of my favorites, Beth Moore, “Let’s do the thing!!”

God, give us vision for our future, and place within us the RESOLVE to move when You call!!

“Jehovah is my strength and song; And he is become my salvation” Isaiah 12:2

 

 

 

The Dash

by Tracy Hacker

You may have read the title and are thinking you are about to read a story about running or a race, quite the opposite. This post is about life and how we choose to live day to day. The things we focus our time and energy on are eternal.

I had the opportunity recently to visit the gravesite where my grandparents are buried. Lots of emotions ran through my mind as we stood for a few minutes talking over memories and sharing funny stories about my grandmother and the joy that she brought here on earth. So many fond memories of spending time with her. Like many loved ones, she left this earth way too soon.

Standing in the middle of the small cemetery looking at all the headstones, names are different and the dates vary but one thing was the same on all of them… the dash. I had the opportunity when my grandmother passed away several years ago to be part of planning her memorial service. I remember sitting at a long conference table with my mom and several other family members as we began to put into a mere two or three paragraphs the life of this precious 92-year-old lady. We listed children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, those who went before her, the usual bits of information. I just kept thinking, “How do you put 92 years of a full life into a few paragraphs?” The days following were full of much laughter, remembering her personality, and joy. There was sadness as well, but her life was truly one of joy and definitely one to be celebrated!

James 4;14The reality of this life on earth is that if Jesus tarries, death is a reality. So the question comes … What will you and I do with the dash? That little line between the year you came into this world and the year you passed into eternity. How will we spend the time God has given us here on earth? The Bible refers to life as a vapor, fleeting and brief. The way we spend our days really does matter. The people that we invest in on this earth are  heavenly treasures. The car you drive, the house you live in, the money (or lack of) in your bank account has no heavenly value.  Jesus died that we might have life, not just any old life, but abundant life. The cross was a tremendous price for you and for me, for salvation and eternal life. The tragedy of the cross comes when we waste the opportunity He has given us to be a blessing.  We were created to worship Him with every part of our being, created to praise Him with our whole heart, anything less is wasted.

God wakes us up every morning with new mercies, precious breath and hours ahead to be a blessing. We are given a clean slate, a fresh start, a blank page every morning. He extends grace and mercy for us to walk through each day and to bless those we come in contact with and most importantly to share His love and grace with those around us. You and I can memorize scripture but if we do not walk out the love in those words with those around us, it is just words. His word is powerful and can change lives. You and I get to be a part of that by the way we carry ourselves and His message. My hope as you are reading this post is that you will be challenged to share Him more and testify to the hope that is within you. As a Christian, you and I have a story, we have been changed, redeemed, set free. Grace is real and forgiveness is lasting. So, what will you do with your dash?

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Changed for the Better

by Tracy Hacker

“Of one thing I am perfectly certain, God’s story never ends in ashes.”

I read this quote by Elizabeth Elliott years ago and it has been forever etched into my mind and heart. Over the past 9 years I have witnessed God breathe life into an empty soul and redeem lives from the pit of despair. I have seen the God of this universe do exactly what HIS word proclaims and have been in absolute awe at the wonder of it. My story is one of change, hope, restoration and redemption and watching God change a heart… MINE!

pexels-photo-60252We became a foster family a little over nine years ago with the thought and hope that we might be a blessing to a child in need. God used a verse in Matthew “Keep open house, be generous with your lives” (The Message) to confirm that this was indeed the path He had chosen for our family, and so we followed. We learned very quickly that “we” were the recipients of the blessings when we met our first placement. And not much has changed in nine years. God called us out of our comfort zone, our security, into a world of much brokenness and sadness. He called us into work in a system that, on it’s best day, is very broken. This system is full of social workers, judges and team members who work countless hours to search for the best solutions for the child’s  benefit. We have learned firsthand that this is an incredible mission field. We have been given opportunities to speak life and encouragement into the days of workers who visit the kids in our home.

Now, here’s where the title comes from, “Changed for the Better.” I had a much different plan in mind as we started this journey! I envisioned helping a child and then possibly adopting and then we would be finished, but God had other plans! I did not factor in the birth moms and the family members that we meet and the needs they would have as a result of their little one being removed from his or her home. I did not factor in the stories of the moms and the dads and the heart ache that they had felt and were feeling as a result of the circumstances. I did not have a grasp of the pain nor the depth of the despair that the consequences of choices made would have on these people I would meet, but God did. I thought we would love a little one, adopt them and then we would move on to our next adventure, not so!!

The kids that have come through our home have been the easy part! The laughter and the giggles have made the hard times seem not quite so hard and the sad times not quite so sad. I have discovered how to love God’s way through this journey and that despite differences in lifestyles and choices, He loves us all and the cross declares that every life matters. God has impressed on my heart an urgency to love people and love them well and to move when He says move. I have been challenged to “love the sinner and hate the sin” and have come face to face with “the least of these” and have learned that love is deeper than skin color. My house stays a wreck most of the time, but happy healthy little people live here! My family has grown physically by three precious additions through adoption and it takes my breath away that He chose me to be their mom. Life around here is loud and chaotic, but oh how He has blessed us! Life changed… for the BETTER!!!

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God’s story never ends in ashes. ~ Elizabeth Elliott