Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Psalm 117:1-2

Praise the Lord, all you nations!
    Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

I still remember being in the church one day when I was three years old. I'm not sure why I was there but I remember being alone in the sanctuary for some purpose and walking out the back door. On the wall was a picture of Jesus praying. I paused for just a second. Or maybe it was longer. And my three year old brain processed that this man was something special. This man was God. And this place was holy. I'm not sure why that memory is so strong for me but it shapes my thoughts about God and has given me encouragement to worship in a wide variety of places.

We often think of worship as going somewhere to pray, sing, and learn about God. And while those are some of the basics, worship is so much more.

Henri Nouwen states that:

Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude. Such a perspective puts God in view in all of life, not just in the moments we set aside for worship or spiritual disciplines. Not just in the moments when life seems easy.

Worship is exercise for the soul. It works both individually and communally. 

Individually we can connect with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer so that we can praise Him and thank Him for all the blessings in our lives. In our world today we are often bombarded with negative news that we often forget that good things are happening all around us. God invites us into those little miracles in big ways when we worship Him.

But we also worship God with others as well. We are not alone. By being together with other believers, we can see the intersections of the Holy Spirit and see the direction that God is moving us toward in order to transform the world.

Worship is essential to our mission. You wouldn't run a marathon without training first. Worship prepares us, challenges us, and encourages us to be the disciples we are called to be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Ahh... the cry of those who want to change the world by growing the numbers in their church but feel that evangelism is a dirty word enacted only by those "crazy" people that knock on your door in the middle of dinner (my apologies to the crazy people).

One thing that we need to realize is that evangelism is not about growing numbers. Its about growing hearts. Or growing love. Or spreading God love. Those things usually produce numbers but that's not the point. The point is to spread the good news!

In a sense, I understand the dilemma. How does one passionately follow Jesus without looking like a Jesus FREAK!!!!!!??

Well seeing that one of my responsibilities is to equip people to do spiritual things today is your lucky day! This short 4 step program will guarantee that you too can sow seeds of good news without feeling like the smelly kid in the class. So stay with me. It's just this easy...

Step 1: Know where you are.

Get a map or a compass if you have to but in reality 60% of the population has no strong affiliation with a church, mosque or synagogue so the excuse that "I don't know anyone looking for a church" is not really true. Very few people are "looking for a church" but many are searching for deeper meaning and a way to connect so that they may make the world a better place. Listen to people and hear what they mean (not just what they are saying) and try and help them find what they are looking for - EVEN IF IT MEANS SENDING THEM SOMEWHERE ELSE!

These people may not be your friends or close co-workers but they do exist and you can find them at the grocery store, library, car-pool line, subway stations, bus stops, schools, doctors office, etc... This leads me to...

Step 2: Pray for guidance

Well this seems obvious but I often forget the obvious so I thought I'd mention it here. Sometimes we desperately want to share our blessings with others but don't know where to start. Ask God to show you how to be the person you are created and called to be. I guarantee you'll get an answer BUT be careful. The answer may surprise you. If you are truly open to the work of the Spirit, God may introduce you to someone while you wait for your tires to be rotated that is looking for a church home OR God may show you a news article on foster children in your area that tugs at your heart so much you add on three rooms to your house and take them all in OR God may tell you to quit your lucrative job as a computer programmer and go to seminary to become a pastor. Crazy huh? It happens.

Step 3: Follow Through

Spiritual growth is not a check list (as much as I would LOVE for it to be so) that you just mark off each day. "Read Bible - check. Pray - check. Invite neighbor to church - check. Go to church - check. Give money - check." All good things and all important things for different reasons, but the main reason we are called to "make followers" is because of the follower and who we are following. It's not enough to just invite. It's not enough to just shake their hand at the door of church. It's not enough to just pray that the church will grow and do nothing else.

If you meet someone who is lost do you just buy them a map and hope it turns out okay? No! You get a map and look at it together and walk with them on their journey until they safely reach their destination. And - very important here - you usually don't just say "Oh I know where that is. I'll drop you there." (and then distract them so much they can't find their way back.) You help them find what they are looking for and make sure they understand where they are going and how to get there because sometimes they'll need to get back there again on their own.

If a spiritually lost person is searching and you want to help, help them with the entire journey. This will take more time. This will require you to build a relationship with someone you may not want a relationship with, but a butt in the seat is not the final goal - a life of abundance is.

Step 4: Believe

I know we are out of order here but usually we start out spreading the good news about who God is because of what we believe and along the way we end up spreading news more about what our church is doing and we tend to forget about the reason why.

Believing in what you are doing will show itself in all aspects of your life. If our mission as a church is "to make new and better followers for Jesus" then I not only have to reach out to make new ones but I also have to make sure that a) I am one and b) I'm working on the "better" part.

Step 5: Stop reading and start doing

Hah - I threw in an extra step. Why? Because there are no magic steps to grow your church and there are no magic steps for you to become evangelism leader of the year. DON'T focus on the numbers, the empty seats, the check list that I and many other wish life had but instead focus on God and people. Love God, love neighbor, love self and if you do this it will flow that way that God intends for it to go.

Until Everyone Hears,

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Social Justice

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
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and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

-Micah 6:8

From - The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Its members have often taken forthright positions on controversial issues involving Christian principles. Early Methodists expressed their opposition to the slave trade, to smuggling, and to the cruel treatment of prisoners.

So how do we seek justice?

We can start by looking around us. Do we see people or families who aren't able to live life to the fullest because they cannot get access to basic human needs? Forget your political agenda for a minute and think about actual people. Not statistics. Chances are you know someone who falls into this category. Perhaps they haven't made it known to you. Ask God to open your eyes. Today you might make a discovery. And when you do, start with them. It might not change the world but it will change their world.

Still can't think of anyone? Alright, lets think bigger. What really gets your blood steaming? Cruelty to children? Abused families? Abused pets? People living in poor housing conditions? People who are hungry?

Pick one. Just one for today. Research what is going on around you and then around the world with this particular problem and then find an organization that is helping to fix the problem. Not sure where to start? Do what every high school student does when writing a research paper...

From there the rest is up to you. You can donate. Volunteer your time. Or pray. The bigger the commitment the bigger the impact.

Until Everyone Hears,

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Making Disciples

My favorite toy when I was a little girl was my blocks. I would set up entire towns in our basement, complete with bridges, schools, and houses. We had no way to get groceries or places to work but sometimes we had castles and imaginary chocolate to eat.

I never put places to work or grocery stores in my town because those weren't important to me. My world was school and home. And my imaginary world was castles and chocolate.

I never thought to have much else because I didn't know much else. I never thought to build a church because at that time, I really didn't know much about church.

The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Most churches have similar mission statement based on Matthew 28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Making disciples sounds like some sort of output from a factory. "What you making there?" "Oh we're makin disciples today. Model #UMC2015" And if it were that easy, I'd be out of a job.

Making disciples is complicated, messy, interconnected, relational work. It is beautiful, ugly, easy, and hard all at the same time. But its not unlike building my block cities from childhood.

In order to make disciples, you have to be one first. You have to know God and know the church in order to know that it should go in your town (both fake ones and imaginary towns). Otherwise a disciple or church is the same as a made up Dr. Suess term.

Knowing God however is different from studying God. Studying God means I will read the Bible and look through history books. Perhaps take a class. But knowing God comes from being with God. God abides among us and asks us to abide in Him (John 15:4).

I put a school and a house in my block city because I knew those places. I abided in those places. I was comfortable and could be myself most of the time.

Get to know God. Spend time with God. Be in prayer and worship. Read the Bible. Serve others. Stand up for what is right. Then you will know God and God will make disciples through you.

Until Everyone Hears,

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Christmas Song for Our Youth Ministry

Away in a youth room no room for purple
And gluten free diets are such a hassle
Yet all the dear children in our tender care
Are thriving for Jesus is always there.

The kids are all lowing like Chick-fil-a cows
But dear Rusty Rivers no compassion he vows
And Joe with his eyebrow fixed high to the sky
Is spooning with Rusty til morning is nigh.

The stars in the sky look down on our youth
As they grow close to Jesus and learn the Truth
We love thee Lord Jesus but we always ask "why?"
The kids don't read emails and texts or reply.

Be near us Lord Jesus in 2015
As Red Bird and Eastgate we fit in between
A lot of good lessons we lead and we pray
Will fit us for heaven with Thee to stay.

Friday, November 28, 2014

I'm Full of It!

Romans 15:13 New International Version (NIV)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I'm full of it and you should be too! Perhaps by now you've guessed that I'm not talking about the turkey. Or shopping. Or Christmas movies. I'm talking about joy. Or JOY as I like to type it.

What am I so JOYFUL about? Advent. Preparing the way for Christmas. So what does that mean?

Watching Elf 25 times? Going on a sugar binge? Buying Bey Blades for the second time (who knew my daughter would want one?)? Decorating? Carols?

No. Even though some of those things bring me joy, there is so much more to this season than changing the radio station each time "The Christmas Shoes"comes on the air. 

I'm not limited to JOY during this time of year but it is helpful as I reflect on this season to list my JOYS. My list is of JOYS is exhaustive but here are my top three at this moment.

1) Abundant Life: I have life with a purpose. I love my family and love what I do. I'm blessed to be able to serve God the way that I do and I enjoy how much I constantly learn each day.
2) The Presence of God: I have been focusing on the presence of God this year and have been amazed at the ways in which God makes Himself known to me. 
3) Growth: You would think at some point you'd move beyond growth spurts but when you think of growth in spiritual and intellectual terms then growth spurts are a wonderful thing. I know that I have so much more to experience in terms of my faith and so much more to learn along the way and I'm thrilled at the possibilities.

So I'm full of JOY! If you are too, let someone know that you are full of it too!

Until Everyone Hears,

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Apart (but not really)

Philippians 1:3 - I thank my God every time I remember you.

This is our first Thanksgiving away from many people that we love. I've known all year that this would be my first Thanksgiving away from my step-mom. She passed away on Dec 1 last year. At this point last year she was in hospice care and was incoherent. I don't really count that holiday as my last with her. I prefer to remember the other holidays where she laughed at everything, cooked way too much, and made us all remember how abundant life can be. This whole year I've missed her presence in ways that surprised me. I knew that birthdays and holidays would be tough but other times would catch me off guard.  I would eat something with coconut and remember her extreme hatred of this wonderful misnomer of a fruit.  I know she'd be thrilled to see how tall both my sons are. And I hate that she will miss so many things that my kids are doing. So as I list the things for which I'm thankful, I'm thankful that I'm missing Debbie. Because her presence in my life made life more vibrant and for that I am thankful.

This is also our first Thanksgiving without my Father-in-law. He passed away on Wednesday, November 19. I remember my first Thanksgiving after getting married. It was an amazing experience. Mr. Karafanda commanded the kitchen as he and a few others cooked for around 30 people. Since I came from a small family this was overwhelming in a good way. As dinner started we were upgraded from the children's table to the head table as it was our first Thanksgiving together. As each of our children were born, Gigi (as he was known to the children) showed his true colors as a baby whisperer. He would walk our babies around and sing "You Are My Sunshine"to each of them. I'm not sure where he learned this amazing gift, but I am still amazed at this nurturing side of him that gave us all a bit of sanity from crying babies. So as I list the things for which I am thankful, I'm thankful for John (Gigi) Karafanda. There maybe one less John Karafanda in this world but I am thankful for my-big-fat-Ukrainian-family and for the love he showed to me and my children.

Finally this is my first Thanksgiving since being married away from He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Tagged. He is with his mom and sisters in New York. It is just days after his father's funeral. The kids and I couldn't get up there for the funeral for a reasonable cost. So we have been apart for a few days and will be for a few more. In many ways its only a few more days but in other ways this separation feels more empty than the others. But in all things we are thankful. I am thankful that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Tagged made it up to his father's side before he passed away. I'm thankful that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Tagged is able to be there with his mother for a bit longer.

And I am thankful that my Thanksgiving won't be one apart from all of these people. They are all a part of me. I believe in the communion of saints. I believe that we will meet again and I believe that because of their place in my heart, they are never far away.

May God be with us and know that we are thankful.

Until Everyone Hears,