Monday, August 31, 2015

How to...Hospitality

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:8-11

When I was a child, my mother had this incredibly annoying habit of knowing someone everywhere we went. Every department store, every restaurant, anywhere we went. And it wasn’t just in our little township—she ran into acquaintances everywhere within a 100-mile radius of home. That woman was always talking when it was time to check out, give our order, or leave. I found it irritating and inconvenient because I wanted to be somewhere else doing something else and instead I had no choice but grow impatient waiting for her to say “goodbye” to them and “let’s go” to us.

What I didn’t see then that I recognize now is that my mother was practicing the gift of hospitality that God gave her. I used to think, maybe like you, that hospitality meant inviting someone into my home and giving them good dinner and dessert while we discuss trivial things or gossip about the neighborhood kids. But that’s not what it really means. Hospitality is about receiving friends and strangers into your life and heart and treating them in a warm and generous way wherever you are. What does true hospitality look like? Let me give you a couple of examples.

Mom and I both understand how important it is to intentionally connect with our loved ones regularly so for the last twelve years she and I have met for lunch at the same restaurant every Tuesday. She gets to the restaurant early to get a table since I am on my lunch break from work and my time is limited. While she’s waited for me over the years, she’s engaged in friendly conversation with a waitress who, now, always waits on us. Mom invited this woman into her life and her heart by genuinely caring for and about her. As time went on, we both became friendly with our waitress and now the three of us are friends, even meeting for lunch on occasion somewhere else so that the three of us can catch up uninterrupted or seeing plays together.

My family gets together every Friday evening for dinner at a restaurant that is close to my parents’ home. My parents will also stop there for lunch during the week as well. Again, over the years, she has become friendly with the whole wait staff but most especially with one particular woman who again is now their waitress every time they eat there. By extension, I have had the privilege of getting to know this woman. Last week, my mother asked our Friday night friend to join us for lunch on Tuesdays. I think it is going to be great to get to know her away from her workplace. Maybe our Tuesday friend and our Friday night friend will become friends too.

Hospitality is about opening your heart and your life to others, friends and strangers, getting to know them, and letting them get to know you. It’s about making someone else more important than you and your schedule. It’s about genuinely caring for and about someone else. Hospitality isn’t easy as it is a conscious effort to make yourself less important to you than others, even and especially strangers. But it is possible and even enjoyable when it is done in the love and grace of our Lord Jesus. Welcoming someone in his name and power is a profound experience for the receiver and giver. I never realized until now that all those years ago, when mom was forever making me wait because she was talking with someone else, that she was in fact teaching me something beautiful and holy—God’s precious gift of hospitality.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Don't Do the Things" Gospel

A friend of mine share this little bible lesson he found posted on Facebook:

God: All right, you two, don't do the one thing. Other than that, have fun.
Adam & Eve: Okay.
Satan: You should do the thing.
Adam & Eve: Okay.
God: What happened!?
Adam & Eve: We did the thing.
God: Guys!!
God: You are my people, and you should not do the things.
People: We won't do the things.
God: Good.
People: We did the things.
God: Guys!!
Jesus: I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live. Don't do the things anymore.
Healed people: Okay! Thank you!
Other people: We've never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking.
Jesus: I have never done the things.
Other people: We're going to put you on trial for doing the things.
Pilate: Did you do the things?
Jesus: No.
Pilate: He didn't do the things.
Other people: Kill him anyway.
Pilate: Okay.
Jesus: Guys!!
People: We did the things.
Paul: Jesus still loves you, and because you love Him, you have to stop doing the things.
People: Okay.
People: We did the things again.
Paul: Guys!!
John: When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things. In the meantime, stop doing the things.

We laughed as he read it out loud and then we moved on to the next thing. But then it came back to me later in a less funny way. This is what too many people think the bible is all about:  Don’t do the things; We did the things; Stop doing the things!!! That’s what they believe religion and God is all about and that makes me a little sad. I used to think that this God thing was all about rules—the 10 big ones and all the ones the individual religious institutions add to them. But then something happened to change all that. I met Jesus and learned that it’s not about keeping rules, but the relationship I have with my Creator. It’s not about how pure or how much suffering I endure or even how many people I convince to come to church. It’s about loving God and wanting to be with him and share my life with him.

Many years ago, my mother’s entire family (all nine brothers and sisters and their children) decided to gather for what we thought then was going to be the last chance we were all going to be able to get together with Grandma. We had a whole day celebrating Grandma planned and I was excited to see some my cousins whom I hadn’t seen in years. But my husband was not as thrilled as I. In fact, he was being a sour puss about it. He didn’t really want to go and he was making sure I knew how big of a sacrifice it was for him to attend my family gathering. Before we left I told him to stay home because I didn’t want him to go out of obligation. I didn’t want him to “suffer” through it. I wanted him to want to be there and involved.

That’s the way it is with God. That’s why he gave us free will to choose. He doesn’t want us in a relationship with him because we have to be. He wants us to want to be in relationship with him and enjoy the time we have together. We are going to make some wrong choices, some accidentally and some deliberately. We are going to be flawed because sin is human nature since the fall. He is a holy God. Our sinfulness cannot exist in the presence of his holiness. So to make it possible for us to be together at all, his Son took our sinfulness in exchange for his holiness. This was a once for all time exchange which give us immediate welcome into the arms of our God always no matter how holy we feel we are or aren’t. Our holiness doesn’t matter as much as his does. He isn’t looking at what rules we are keeping –he is looking into our hearts to see our desire to be in relationship with him. That’s what God sees when he looks at us.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Be Still and Know

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God. I’ve heard this many times over the past week in song and in prayer. I was trolling through my music library when I ran across a song I haven’t listened to in years called “Please Be Still” sung by Rush of Fools. It’s a beautifully haunting melody that stuck with me all week. Then during worship our pastor led us through a wonderful prayer experience where he said out loud “Be still and know that I am God” each time leaving off the last word like this:

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Be still and
Be still

He left time in between these statements to allow God to speak to us as we listened for the Spirit’s voice. It was truly a moving prayer practice that I will likely do again myself. Although I have to admit that for the first half of our prayer time all I could hear was the lyrics of the song that had settled in my subconscious.

Come empty cup, let Me fill you up
I'll descend on you like a dove tonight
Lift your head, let your eyes fall into Mine
Let your fear subside tonight
Peace be still
Peace be still
Please be still
and know that I a God
Please know that I am God

The second half of this prayer experience, I was realizing how each new phrase seemed to be a whole new idea within the boundaries of the original sentence. Be still and know how deeply I love you. Be still and rest in my strong protective arms. Be still as I show you my glory. Be the loving, beautiful woman I created you to be. This got me to wondering—what does it really mean to “be still and know that I am God.” I think we could spend a lifetime learning what that means and yet we say it all the time like: been there, done that, next. Let’s not move so quickly from this yearning of God to show us his majesty and shower us in his grace and love, as his Spirit stirs within us. Enjoy these precious moments with God being still and knowing him. Let him speak to your heart, “Be still and know that I am God” in a new and personal way. It’s why he created us.

Monday, August 10, 2015

I Am Becoming

Last week I celebrated a kind of anniversary with my birthday. As of this last birthday, I have lived 30 years longer than I ever thought I would. While I don’t let it identify me anymore, I don’t keep secret the fact that I struggle with depression and have done so all of my life. I’ve already shared with you a couple of times over the years that I had planned to take my own life on my 18th birthday but God stepped in and saved my life. (Yes, if you do the math you now know I’m 48 years old. I’m proud of my age because I worked hard and earned every one of those years!) As I look back at all the struggles in my life and the challenges I’ve had to overcome just to survive sometimes, I feel tired, not old but not young, and so very blessed.

Yesterday in church I heard prayers being offered for the family of a 20-year old woman who committed suicide and for a young mother who is slowly and miraculously recovering from a devastating stroke and I guess the timing was right because unashamed tears of gratitude began to fall from my face for the precious gift of life I almost squandered so many years ago. I started to think about what I’ve done in those years. Have I lived my life in a manner worthy of the amazing gift that it is? By human standards, maybe not. I’m not, nor am I ever likely to be, a famous celebrity or entrepreneur. I didn’t and won’t discover a cure for cancer or some other terminal disease. I’m not saving the planet by any extraordinary means. I don’t even have a secret recipe for making those pounds fall off or wrinkles fade. To the world I’m just one of the insignificant masses. But finally I feel I can say without hesitation that I really don’t place any value on how others may assess my success in life. 99.99% of the people in the world don’t know me well enough to have an informed opinion of how well I am or am not living my life.

Someday I am going to meet Jesus face to face and there is going to be a whole lot of joy and celebration in that moment. And then he’s going to ask me what I did with the precious gift of life he gave me. Did I really live? Did I love? Did I encourage others? Did I use the time to share his love and grace with the person next door and across the grocery store conveyor belt? I’ve thought a lot about this—He already knows the answer so why is he going to be asking the question?
Then it came to me: Jesus asks the question so I will finally be able to see myself the way he has all along. I’m going see how all the moments of my life, the good and the bad, the successes and the failures, molded me into a woman after his own heart—the kind of woman I’ve always admired and wanted to be. The kind of woman I am becoming. That is a life well-lived and worth presenting to my Savior.


If you are suffering with depression and wonder if the world wouldn’t be a little better without you, think again. Tomorrow without you is such a sad thought. I promise that it gets better. Lean into Jesus—give him your pain and your tears. Call the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) or go to the nearest hospital emergency room right now if you think you are going to hurt yourself. Get counseling. Talk to someone. Talk to me. Please hear me when I tell you that you are special—in the entire world, throughout all time, there is only one of you and I would miss you if you weren’t in my tomorrow.

For those of you not suffering from depression, chances are that you know someone who is. Depression is a dark and scary thing—don’t let your loved one go through it alone. Talk to them. Let them know they matter. Let them know it’s okay to be sad for a while, but that you want to celebrate the joy of life with them too. Show them how to not give up on themselves by not giving up on them. There are no guarantees. All you can do is love them and pray.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Small Things that Change the World

“I’m not doing anything that’s changing the world. It’s not like anyone is going to know I was here, but I help my coworkers do important work and I’m there to do what needs done and I love what I do. I know I’m right where God wants me, doing what he’s gifted me to do.” I said this Friday night to a family member during our dinner conversation. Those words played over and over again in my head all weekend. Then a thought came to me—maybe I’m not affecting the whole world with what I do on a daily basis, but maybe I do have something to do with blessing the whole world of an individual. 

The three people I work with rely on me doing my job so they can do theirs. I help make their ministries vibrant with my creativity and run smoothly thanks to my organizational skills.
Last week, a woman told me that I made a difference in her life. How you may ask? I’m not sure. She said I gave her comfort and good advice when she borrowed some medical equipment from the lending library we operate out of my office. That got me thinking—how many other times have I made a difference in someone’s life, maybe even changed their whole world and I never knew it.

I was reading about Abraham being the father of all God's children, circumcised and uncircumcised in Romans 4 last night. The Jews can trace their physical heritage and the rest of us (Gentiles) our spiritual heritage back to this same Abraham. It doesn’t take a great theologian to know that when Abraham made the decision to believe God (which God credited to him as righteousness) he had no idea how much that one decision to put his faith in God would affect the rest of history. Even at the end of his life, he could have had no idea how much that one decision would change the world to come.

This brought me back to thinking about that little girl in Nebraska I wrote about last week who sent a bible across the ocean to a pen pal. That young man read that bible and believed. He grew up to be a pastor and because of that, met his lovely mission-oriented wife and now the two of them are spreading the Gospel in a predominately Muslim community in Central Asia.

Little things are only little things when they start. With God’s power and Spirit, those little things grow. I’m likely never to be famous or noted in the history books for changing the world, but that doesn’t mean I’m not changing the world or what I do isn’t important in God plan to reach out to those around me with his love, compassion and grace.