Monday, July 30, 2012

Happy Hospitality: Being a Wholly Happy Hostess

God's Words: 

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
~1 Peter 4:9

I love to host people in my home.  I find much enjoyment in planning for a party, play date ("hang out" as my teens prefer to call it), or meal with guests.  Deciding on favorite recipes to make.  Shopping for and making the food to serve.  Using my "fancy" dishes.  Organizing what activities and other forms of entertainment we'll offer our visitors.  Cherishing quality time with friends and family in the comfort of our home.

And call me crazy, but I really, really enjoy hosting out-of-town guests overnight.  Serving them refreshments once they arrive from their long trip.  Making up their beds with fresh linens and warm, cozy blankets.  Setting out my best wash clothes and towels (you know, the ones that aren't full of holes and fraying edges).  Letting them use the expensive soap and shampoo (no generic brand products for my guests!).  Making a huge breakfast of homemade pancakes with all the fixings in the morning. 

But I have to say that one thing I do not really enjoy about hosting is the before and after cleaning that often needs to be done, which typically includes having to enlist the help of my children and poor husband.  We all get a little grumpy about this part of being hosts.  But I am, by far, the worst.  I sometimes find myself grumbling about having to clean the guest bathroom toilet.  I complain about how long it will take for the kids to pick up all their stuff (aka: "junk") before I can even begin to vacuum the floors.  And it's not like I can get away with not vacuuming.  My two dogs shed enough fur in one week to make a coat big enough for a petite-sized woman.  Well that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but still - all that soft, pretty, black and white fur can fill up my vacuum's dirt cup twice each time I sweep!  So needless to say, I gotta do it! 

Then all too often, once our guests leave, I gripe to myself about how many crumbs and spills there are on my just-cleaned floors.  How it seems like every single toy my children own has been taken out and not put away before their friends leave.  Let me just make a note at this point:  My children know full well that I expect them to either ask their friends to help them pick up the toys they all got out, or else they will have to pick up by themselves once their friends go home.  So it's just very frustrating to me when we have a mess to clean up once everyone is gone. 

My son somewhat lovingly refers to me as the "Drill Sergeant" when it's time to clean the house.  I would say probably more like another name and all I need is a broom.  Oh, wait.  I do sometimes use a broom when I clean.  Ugh.  But you get the point.  I am not the happiest of homemakers when it comes to cleaning time.  At all.  Regardless of whether we're having visitors over or not.  I just simply detest house cleaning at any time.

I'm not really sure anyone really enjoys cleaning.  If you do, I'm very sorry, I just don't see the appeal.  Bending over until my back aches to scrub soap scum, bath crayon marks and - what is that?! - from the bathtub is not my idea of a good time.  I don't savor dusting each and every picture frame, knickknack, and piece of furniture we own.  And I absolutely loathe cleaning toilets.  Don't even get me started on that repulsive task.

Now I have to say that those amazing Swiffer products and my ever tried and true Clorox Disinfecting Wipes have significantly helped diminish my cleaning mania.  They might be pricey, but they sure do make quick clean-ups a whole lot easier.  Plus, my dear children are at that absolutely splendid age when they are finally able to significantly help out around the house.  My daughters actually argue over who gets to mop first.  And my son tackles the chore of vacuuming in much same way as he plays cornerback on the defensive line of his football team.  Look out dirt, you're a goner! 

I'm not telling you all this to terrify you of ever coming over to my house for fear of causing my family to go into a cleaning frenzy!  I just want to share with you what God has been working on in me concerning my bad habit of allowing myself to have a grumpy attitude about cleaning the house period, but especially when we are expecting company. 

I am sharing this about myself because maybe there are other women out there like me who are often tempted to grumble about hosting guests.  It must be a problem for plenty of people throughout the ages, otherwise I don't see why God would have addressed it in the Bible.  Our key verse for today couldn't be any clearer on the matter!  We all should be willing to offer hospitality to each other without grumbling.  I guess there must have been some grumbling going on in the early church!  Well guess what?  There's some grumbling going on at my house (mostly by me, which definitely doesn't help my family's attitude about it) and I know it displeases God, so that means it's got to stop. 

Maybe you don't really mind the cleaning up part like I do, but instead you don't like the cooking and food service aspect of hospitality.  Or perhaps you'd rather not have over certain people whose company you don't really enjoy all that much (FYI:  I will be dealing with this whole issue in another post soon).  Or maybe you worry that your house is too small, or you think your furniture is too shabby, or you don't have it in your grocery budget to afford extra food for guests, or any other number of reasons that make you grumble about having guests in your home.  For me it's the whole cleaning thing.  But for you, it might be a totally different complaint. 

So how can we overcome our reasons to complain in order that we can look at hosting in a completely new and positive way?  How can each one of us become a wholly happy hostess instead of a grouchy grumbling one? 

Well, whenever God commands something of us, He is always faithful to provide us with the strength and help through His Word and Holy Spirit to be able to obey Him.  And when it comes to being a happy hostess, I need a total change in my attitude about the aspects of hosting that make me grumble.  Everyone gets to choose their attitude.  You may not be able to choose your circumstances, but you are 100% in control of your choice of attitude.  You may not like your shabby furniture, or cooking skills, or small house, or having to have your husband's annoying cousin visit (I'm just totally making that up as an example!  All of my husband's cousins are very lovable!!).  But you can still choose to make the best of the situation you find yourself in and choose a happy attitude. 

For me, it helps to look to God's Word for advice on having the right attitude, as well as pray for His Spirit to work in my heart to enable me to obey what I read.  Here are a couple of my "attitude change go-to verses": 

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be make new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  ~Ephesians 4:22-24

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being make in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross.  ~ Philippians 2:3-8 

So even though my selfish human nature hates cleaning, I can choose to have a happy attitude about it (with God's help of course!) because I know I am putting my guests' best interests before my own.  And yes, I may sometimes feel like a servant in my own home, making tons of food and cleaning toilets and picking up the "party aftermath", but I can do all this having a joyful mood because I am showing love and concern for my visitors by taking care of their needs and making sure they have a pleasant, comfortable time.

And don't forget that showing hospitality to others, including strangers and people that get on your nerves, is just one more way to demonstrate Christ's love.  Christ Himself washed all 12 of His disciples' feet to show how we are to serve others (John 13:1-17).  I think the least I can do when people come over is make sure my toilets are clean! 

Now it's your turn to "come clean"!  What part of offering hospitality do you dread?  What advice can you share with my readers about how you overcome grumbling about it and instead choose to be a wholly happy hostess?

In Christ,


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Forgive Like God Does

God's Words:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
~Colossians 3:13

To forgive. One of the hardest things to do in life.  To willingly let go of the bitterness and resentment we feel towards someone who has hurt or offended us.

I think it's especially hard to forgive someone when they haven't even apologized (and probably never will). Or maybe they have, but you can still tell they aren't truly sorry for what they did.  Has this ever happened to you?
Or turning the tables a bit, what if it's you who has wronged someone and you are truly sorry so you apologize and ask for their forgiveness?  But although they might say they've accepted your apology and forgiven you, they definitely don't act like they've forgiven you.  You can tell that they are still holding what you did against you.

I don't know which situation is worse.  Having to forgive someone who doesn't seem to "deserve" it?  Or knowing you aren't truly forgiven by someone who is still holding a grudge?  Both situations feel pretty awful.

But let's dig a little deeper here.  What if you are the one who is holding onto bitterness or resentment by not forgiving someone (whether they've asked for it or not)?  In our key verse, Colossians 3:13, God says we are to bear with others (which means to be patient and control ourselves when provoked), forgiving whatever grievances (complaints; causes of distress) we have against them.  And that we are not only to forgive them, but to forgive them as God forgave us.  Whoa.  Now that's a tall order.  And what exactly does it mean?  How does God forgive us?  We need to know this if we are to be able to forgive as He forgives.  So let's just take a little look into God's Word to find out how He forgives.  And why.  And when.

First of all, let's start with the how - how does God forgive us?  It's not by anything we can do; it's a completely free gift of grace and mercy from a loving Father who wants us to be reconciled to Himself forever. 

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. ~Romans 3:22-24. 

We are forgiven by God the Father through the perfect sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.  God forgives our sins because, in dying on the cross, Christ took away the punishment for sin that was ours and put it all on Himself. 

Next we come to the why question.  Why does He forgive us like this - so freely, so undeserved on our part?  Amazingly, He says He does so for His own sake.  Wow. 

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." ~Isaiah 43:25.

And also because He loves us so much, that's why!  This most famous verse puts it very simply: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  ~John 3:16 

Now we get to the final question on God's forgiveness.  When does He forgive us?  Well the how of forgiveness is already complete, once and for all - Jesus' death on the cross.  But before we are able to receive God's forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice for us, we must first acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a Savior and accept His sacrifice for our sins.  Only then are we forgiven by and reconciled to God the Father.  As it says in 1 John 1:9: 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

We are forgiven forever once we confess our sins to God and ask for His forgiveness to wipe out each and every sin (even future sins!) from our record, never to be held against us again.

And remember, God planned to give His perfect Son Jesus to die in our place before we ever realized we need to come to Him for salvation from our sins.  Actually, even way before we were ever born!  For His first promise of a Savior was right after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (see God's first prophecy of Christ in Genesis 3:15).

So Christ carried out His forgiving work on the cross before we were sorry for our sins.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  ~ Romans 5:8

Now here is one more facet of God's forgiveness that never fails to completely blow my mind.  Did you know that He not only doesn't hold our sins against us when He forgives us, but He also forgets them forever?!  That the Almightly God, whose intelligence and ways are so far above ours, is actually able to forget our sins, never to remember them ever again.  As far as east is from west, and as deep as the ocean - that's how far He removes our sins from us.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  ~ Psalm 103:12

Do east and west ever meet?  No.  Once God has forgiven you of your sins, He will never remember them again.  They're blotted out, like you never did them (see Isaiah 43:25 above).  Again, wow.

But why is He willing to go the the extreme of forgetting our sins against Him?  Because He doesn't want to stay angry at our sins forever, but delights in showing mercy - so much so that it's as if He hurls our sins into the depths of the sea, never to be looked for or found ever again.  I'm telling you, this stuff is just mind-blowing!

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. ~ Micah 7:18-19 

So there you have it.  If that is how God forgave us, then that is 
how He calls us to forgive each other.  But we can't do this on our own strength.  It is impossible to truly forgive others as God forgave us without His Spirit's grace and power working in and through us.

It will take a supernatural, holy power at work in us to forgive someone who we feel might not really "deserve" it; someone who doesn't seem sorry for how they hurt us.  We didn't deserve for Christ to die in our place in order to bring about God's forgiveness.  So we also should forgive those who may be undeserving.  Not merely because they have "earned" it by apologizing or acting sorry.

We should also be willing to forgive those who've wronged us because it is just one more way to show Christ's love to them.  After all, He does call us to love others.

Love your neighbor as yourself.  ~Mark 12:31b

So just as God has forgiven us because of His love for us, so we should also forgive others out of love for them.

And now comes the hardest part!  In order to truly forgive someone as God forgave us, we have to actively strive to not hold anything against them.  As hard as it may be, we must allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to let go of any feelings of hurt, resentment and bitterness.  Ugh.  I don't know about you, but this is where I really need God's supernatural help!  Once I forgive someone, I desperately need God's power at work in me to not keep bringing up the past offenses and hurts in my mind, or keep a record of wrongs against them. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. 

Oh, if only we humans could really forget once we've forgiveness someone!  According to 1 Corinthians 13:5 (see above), when you love someone (as God calls us to do), you are not to keep a record of their wrongs.  You are not to hold anything bad they have ever done against them.  Argh.  That's so stinkin' hard!  How many times have you forgiven someone, only to still hold onto the memories of how they've hurt you in the past?  So because of those memories, it's harder to trust and have anything to do with that person again.

Yet - and here's the amazing hope in all this, my dear friends - because of the grace and power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through us, we are enabled to show others the forgiveness that God has given to us.  No, we cannot do it perfectly like He does.  No, we can't really ever forget how they've hurt us.  But we can ask the Lord to remove the remaining burdens of bitterness and painful memories that are still trying to cling to us.  So that we can move on in our relationship with them, working to not hold grudges and give them (and ourselves) a chance to start fresh.  We can still show unconditional love to them, in spite of what they've ever done to us.  With God as our Help and Strength we can do the "impossible" and forgive as God forgives us!

In Christ,


Monday, July 9, 2012

Planting Little Seeds

 God's Words: 

He told them another parable:  "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

~ Matthew 13:31-32

While reading Matthew chapter 13 in my personal devotions the other day, I came upon Jesus' Parable of the Mustard Seed, which struck me differently this time than it ever has before.  And I wanted to share with my readers the big truth I feel God speaking to me through these 2 short verses.

Do you ever get discouraged in your role as a mother that the little, seemingly insignificant things you do for your children each day really don't matter a whole lot in the big scheme of things?  You know, little things like comforting and praying with your child when he has a bad dream in the middle of the night, cancelling all your day's plans when he's sick and needs you to stay home to care for him, or giving him your full attention when he needs to talk about something that's important to him (even though the subject at hand may bore you to no end).  Or how about helping your child memorize a Bible verse for Sunday School, reading an inspirational story to her, or giving her wise advice about a difficult situation she's facing with one of her friends?

Each little thing you do to nurture and develop your child's character and health is like the little mustard seed which the farmer planted that grew into a large garden tree so big and sturdy that birds could perch in its branches.  These little things we are frequently called to do as mothers add up to have a huge impact on the character and well-being of our children as they grow into adulthood.  If we have been careful to take the time to teach and nurture them, then they will grow up to be healthy, strong, wise adults of noble character.   

Just as the tree in Jesus' parable grew to be so large and strong that it became a safe home for birds to live in, I hope and pray that my children will grow up to be morally and spiritually strong adults who are a blessing and a help to others.  Because of the selfless love and godly training we as parents have poured into their lives, they will be better enabled to have a greater impact on those whose lives they touch.

But this will take time.  Many years of time!  This time will fly by and our children will be grown and ready to "leave the nest" before we know it (as elderly people at the grocery store often tell me as I pass by with my cart packed full of food and my 3 kids in tow).  So let us prayerfully make the most of the time we have with our little ones to mold and train, nurture and teach them in every way that the Lord provides.

Then, when they are all grown up and living lives on their own, we will be able to sit back and see the fruit of all our years of loving labor that we poured into their lives while they were home with us.  I can't wait to see how God uses my children for His kingdom and glory!  But for now, it is my all-important responsibility as their mother to keep planting those little seeds of love into their lives, watering them with the Living Water (John 4:10-14), and nurturing them with the Living Bread (John 6:51).

Some days are hard and I just can't see much progress, but that is because they are still growing!  They are like baby plants who are just beginning to bud and grow fruit.  So with God's help and strength and wisdom, I will keep on watering, nurturing and caring for my little plants each day.  And I will keep my goal for them in mind - that they will grow into strong, mature, capable, wise adults who bring God glory in who they've become and all that they do.   

In Christ,


Monday, July 2, 2012

Persecution: A Blessing in Disguise!

God's Words:

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
~2 Timothy 3:12-15

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
~Matthew 5:10-12

A while back one of my children had an issue with a friend in which my child felt persecuted by this friend for something she believes.  Well, it wasn't actually her little friend that made her feel bad for what she believed, but more accurately the friend's parents.  These parents where upset that our child was sharing her belief about the truth of Christ with their child.

This incident left our entire family feeling sad and even a bit angry at first.  How dare they ask us not to allow our children to talk about the truth of Jesus with their child!  What is so wrong about that?  Would they really rather that their child never know about who Christ really is?  If we respect their way of life (even though we may not agree with some of what they do and believe) and keep our thoughts about it to ourselves, why do they feel free to openly criticize our beliefs and way of life?

It goes without saying that this family isn't currently serious about Christ and having a real relationship with Him as Savior and Lord.  We are fully aware of this and are always hoping and praying to be able to plant seeds of truth and faith in their lives as we interact with them from time to time.  After all, we as believers are called to be active in the world, sharing the love and truth of Christ with everyone we meet.  But it just hurts so much when this most important part of our lives is ridiculed and we are made to feel like we are the ones in the wrong.

After we talked about this issue as a family and prayed about it together, we all calmed down and began to look at things from God's perspective.  Jesus often talked about persecution.  He spoke of how He continually faced it, how righteous people before our time faced it, how all believers must also face it, and why we are persecuted. But Jesus also, and most importantly, told us about the blessing of being persecuted and how we should truly feel when it happens to us.

Jesus said we are to rejoice and be glad when we are persecuted because of our belief and faith in Him.  We should feel blessed when we are persecuted for wanting and trying to live godly lives.  Wait...  What??  How can we possibly feel good in any way when we are mistreated, criticized, made fun of or worse for believing in Christ and living for Him? 

Well I think it's only natural to feel hurt and sad (and maybe even a little mad) at first when someone treats you this way.  Those are just our natural human emotions coming into play.  But if you pray about it and try to focus on how God sees things, you will start to see the blessings in disguise!  Once you peel away the initial layers of hurt and sadness, you'll be able to more clearly see how it is actually a blessing and a reason to rejoice and be glad when someone persecutes us.

Rejoice why?  Exactly what kind of blessings are we talking about here?  Well, we can rejoice in the reasons we are being persecuted for, which are really the most wonderful blessings a person can be given in life! 

First of all, we're being persecuted for living godly lives.  That's a good thing!  That means that people are seeing Jesus in us as we live our lives; we're being an effective light and witness for Him in this dark world (Matthew 5:14-16).  We're being "the only Bible some people may ever read", as one of my favorite sayings goes.  It means you're doing things right, my friend.  We want people to see that we are different because someday they just might ask us why and then we'll have the blessed opportunity to share the good news of Christ with them (1 Peter 3:14-16)!

Yes, we might often be persecuted for our belief in the truth of God and His Word.  Well praise the Lord that He opened our eyes to see and understand this truth!!

And sure, we may be persecuted because we believe and trust in Jesus Christ, who saved us from all our sins by His perfect sacrifice and now have an eternal home awaiting us in heaven with Him forever.  Hello!  Thanks be to God the Father for this most precious gift of His Son as our Savior, and to top it all off, heaven!!!  Need I say more about the blessings?  I think not.

But now, how do we pick ourselves back up and keep on going in life, knowing it probably won't be long before we're faced with another form of persecution again?  Just look at what God's Word says in our Bible reading for today.  In 2 Timothy 3:12-15 it says to keep on living a godly life in Christ, continuing to live according to what we know to be true, which is God's Word, and which is also the one and only source of true happiness and wisdom and meaning for this life.  Not to mention the life to come!  So keep on being a witness for Christ.  The way is hard and sometimes lonely, but we have God who goes before and with us and keeps us always in His loving, all-powerful care.  Let Him comfort and build you up with His Word and get back out there and shine that Light!

The lost people of the world may ridicule us for what we believe.  Jesus told us to expect it.  So don't be surprised whenever it happens to you.  But also don't forget to remember the glorious, wonderful reasons you have to rejoice, be glad, and feel blessed!!!

A few more Scripture passages on persecution:
1 Peter 4:12-19
1 John 3:13
Acts 5:40-42
Matthew 5:44
Romans 12:14

In Christ,