Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Holy Hospitality


The holiday season conjures up images of family gathered around an artfully designed Thanksgiving table with turkey roasted to golden perfection and steaming bowls of side dishes. Carolers singing around the neighborhood, breath wafting into the cold night. Folks serving food at the local rescue mission. Wrapping gifts for the underprivileged. Purchasing that goat or chicken for the third-world impoverished family.

For many, the holidays are a time to focus on giving in one form or another. After all, isn’t that the example God left us when He gave us that first Christmas bundle in the form of a baby? The Lord Jesus Christ, God with us, inviting us to know Him. To welcome Him, make Him at home in our hearts.

As meaningful as holiday outreach can be, God’s been tweaking my thinking of late.

Since mid-summer the Holy Spirit’s turned up the heat specifically in regard to the expression of hospitality through our home. “An open heart, open hand, and open home will change your world,” writes Chuck and Kathie Crismier in their powerful book titled, The Power of Hospitality. They
contend that hospitality is so vital to the Church’s outreach that it may very well be the key to reaching a lost world for Christ. Yet, in our busy culture, few Christians practice what Paul taught in Romans 12:13. Some simply shrug it off by saying hospitality is a spiritual gift they don’t have. Others insist hospitality is the role of the pastors and leadership.

However, this is far from biblical admonition. In addition to Romans 12:13, consider 1 Peter 4:9 addressed to all believers: “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”

Throughout the pages of Scripture, God provides visual aids of His hospitality, beginning with the beautiful garden He fashioned for the first man and woman (Genesis, chapter two). Later, His servant, Noah, invited others into the ark of safety (Genesis, chapters 6-8). Then there’s Rahab who welcomed the Israelite spies (Joshua, chapter two) and the poor widow who opened her home to the prophet, Elijah (1 Kings, chapter 17).

Thousands of years later, God extended still another invitation for salvation through His Servant Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. While on earth, Jesus said He came to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). In order to accomplish this, He often ate with the publicans and sinners, broke bread with the disciples, took respite in the home of Mary and Martha, fed the 5000, and dined with Zaccheus, which was viewed as unthinkable by the Jewish population given his profession: tax-collector.

Furthermore, in John 14:2-3, Jesus assured His disciples: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also.”

All throughout Scripture, hospitality is the expression of God’s heart through His servants to others. It is the very heart of the gospel. God offers the invitation, and we either accept or reject His hospitality.

As a grateful recipient of His invitation, my heart skips a beat and my lips break out in a smile when I consider the future Marriage Supper of the Lamb hosted by Christ Himself for His beloved Bride, the Church (Revelation 19:6-9). Talk about hospitality! This is one meal that will outshine any church potluck or White House state dinner.

Yet, God does not mean for His people to merely receive. He wants us to extend His hospitality to others, so that He might draw them into His Kingdom for all eternity and encourage them in their spiritual journey once they receive Him. We love and reach out because God first loved and reached out to us. It’s that simple.

But in the midst of our busy lives . . . so difficult.

I suppose if I sift through all the excuses, practicing hospitality comes down to a matter of priorities.

What do I consider important and worth investing time in?

When I reflect on my past, I’m intrigued that my most meaningful memories, the ones that rise quickly to the surface, involve hospitality, either my own or that of someone else toward me.

Playing a game of Rook around an old Formica kitchen table with another young seminary couple in our newly-wed days. Receiving an encouraging card in the mail. Processing fresh strawberries at the kitchen sink with a friend. Extended family gathered around the picnic table, cousins splashing in a kiddie pool. Church friends laughing around a board game or working on an outreach project. Stirring a bubbling pot of chocolate as a teen with my friends as we whipped up batches of chocolate/peanut butter balls to send to servicemen stationed far away. Singing to the elderly in nursing homes. Tutoring a poverty-stricken boy in our tiny trailer. Discipling a young couple Chuck worked with at a metal factory.
Housing missionaries during annual mission conferences. Taking welcome baskets and tracts to new neighbors. Inviting a Vietnamese family to share a meal. Hosting Bible studies. Making a phone call to a discouraged believer. And yes, feeding the lonely at a holiday table.

Practicing hospitality can be exciting, invigorating even, since it can take so many forms as influenced by believers’ interests, personalities, resources, and giftedness. We simply become the “earthly carriers of a heavenly heart” as the Crismiers so beautifully state.

Our hearts, hands, and homes will only give to the degree we have first received God’s hospitality toward us. 
We give because He first gave. We were strangers to His love, yet He came to earth to invite us into His forever family.

This Christmas pay special attention to the stranger in your midst and purpose to practice holy hospitality. 

~~

Eileen Rife, multi-published author, speaks to women's groups, encouraging them to discover who they are in Christ and what part they play in His Kingdom story. Visit her Amazon Author Page here.





Monday, November 21, 2016

Love Getting my Hands Dirty, God loves it, too!

When God created man, Adam had one job…to tend the Garden.




 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” Genesis 2:8

Now I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands dirty gardening. I love making the yard around my home pleasing to look at. I heard that in China, because gardening space is at such a premium, people pay to rent spall places to beautify. And do you know that getting your hands dirty gardening actually is good for you? Getting your hands in the earth actually releases endorphins that help with pain!
But a neighbor and a Bible Study caused me to see that gardening is a divine purpose.

Once upon a time, we lived in the family home that had been somewhat neglected after MawMaw—my mother-in-love—went to Heaven to live. Due to Texas Heat, I liked to get out there early. I’d weed and plant, trying to beautify the landscape. The next door neighbor startled me one morning as my focus was on the ground in my fingers. What he said stayed with me all these years. I counted it as from the Lord…a message to me. He said something like, “Good people, wherever they go, take what is ugly around them and work hard to make it beautiful.” That was his missive. He mentioned being glad we’d moved in then left me to my work.

Another garden was very special for me. It started as my mother’s garden and I’d worked in it with her…at her side. Shortly after she went to live in Heaven, Daddy remarried, and we moved into the house—I wasn’t ready for strangers to live there. I loved working in the same dirt her hands had lovingly tended.
     Neighbors used to come up to that yard all the time. Ron built a round bench around the big tree, and we had curvy rock paths that joined the garden on one side of the yard to the garden on the other side, creating a small garden on the way. We had a waterfall and gold fish pond.

Sometimes they came to sit in my front yard even when we weren’t home because it had a special air and was so beautiful, peaceful, and quiet. That desire is in us. Ron and I won “Yard of the Month” when we lived in Mama’s house in Irving.

God only gave Adam one thing to do and one thing not to do. Both can be found in Genesis 2:15 “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Dress and keep—or tend—the Garden.

Have you ever thought that the world’s most quoted verse says? Church children learn it at an early age. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

Note that it does not say, ‘For God so loved man or mankind’, but the world. He loved the world so much. He wanted man to succeed…to tend His garden and make the world He so loved more and more beautiful.

Living in the woods now, husband wants "natural" (translation, no mowing except on tractor), so I've gone to the fields to find native flowers to dig up and transplant all around our house. I enlist all the help I can get! :) This is the garden I'm presently working on...just starting it :)


Husband Ron digging up native brown-eyed Susans to transplant at The Peaceable, our house in the woods!
Grandson Ben helping Grami dig prairie verbenias and planting them in an old farm implement (see above).


Grandson Christian digging for us to plant daffodil bulbs we got off the big ranch.

I love making God's heart happy by working to leave the world a more beautiful place. It makes my soul joyful and lessens my aches and pains!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Buried Treasure

by guest, Kelly Klepfer

I adore literary works of fiction. If someone can write a poignant paragraph that brings tears to my eyes and a longing to my soul and paint it so that I can smell the richness of oils and turpentine and see seven shades of blue in the ocean, I'm a fan for life. 

But, when it's all said and done, the words that mean most to me are simple.

First and foremost are the words that have kept me anchored in Christ even when the going gets really, really rough. When Jesus had put it out there that following Him cost something, He asked His disciples if they were going to leave Him, too. Peter answered for me when he said "Where can I go, You have the words of life." When I'm beaten but not destroyed these are the words I cling to. Because I believe with every fiber in my being that Jesus is the Word of Life no matter what circumstances buffet my little faith boat. 

Another series of words are in Hebrews where I found out that Jesus is the author and perfecter of my faith. My mistakes, my shortcomings, my fears have all been accounted for and are part of the story He's writing. Even the sorrows over being less of a godly mother when my children were so impressionable and young are lessened in light of His authorship. 

Finally, when I struggle with disappointment when people behave like broken humans in need of being filled and refilled with the Holy Spirit, God showed me that He is pure light and without shifting shadow in the book of James. No game-playing, no passive aggressive silence, no screwed up church lady sneer. God is who He claims to be and nothing is masked by shadow or smoke and mirrors. These words make me feel alive, they
quicken my heart and they make me want to worship this amazing God. 

Secondly, the words that are so simple and so important are from the pens or the lips of my near and dear ones. My son, who loves to write and read, crafts the absolutely most amazing statements in birthday and Mother's Day and thank you cards. A note from my son is a gift that just can't be assigned a value. My daughters come to me with fears and sorrows and questions and insecurities about being moms and women. What a gift to have my daughters trust me with their vulnerable hearts. And my husband. He tells me that he likes me and that is beyond a gift. Never, while living through sleepless nights and shedding gallons of tears did I expect to still be married to this man and know that he loves me now more than he ever has. 

If you are a writer don't ignore the power of the simple words that say so much. And if you are a reader, look for the sometimes even buried treasure in the words.

***

Out of the Frying Pan

When the chef of Sunset Paradise Retirement Village ends up dead, life for sisters Fern and Zula Hopkins is whipped into a froth. Their zany attempts to track down the killer land them in hot water with Detective Jared Flynn. Should he be concerned about their safety or the criminal's? 

But there are deadly ingredients none of them expect. Drugs. Extortion. International cartels. And worst of all...broken hearts--especially when the Hopkins sisters' niece KC arrives on the scene. 
Before the snooping pair gain any headway with the case, it becomes crystal clear that the sisters share a mysterious secret that takes life from the frying pan and into the line of fire.



***

Kelly Klepfer had ambitions to graduate from the school of life quite a while ago, but alas...she still attends and is tested regularly. Her co-authored cozy/quirky mystery, Out of the Frying Pan, is the culmination of several of the failed/passed tests. Kelly, though she lives with her husband, two Beagles, and two hedgehogs in Iowa, can be found at Novel Rocket, Novel Reviews, Scrambled Dregs, Modern Day Mishaps, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter with flashes of brilliance (usually quotes), radomocities, and learned life lessons. Zulu and Fern Hopkins and their shenanigans can be found at Zu-fer, where you always get more than you bargained for.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Blank Sheet

FreeImages.com/Ali Farid
Writers face this every day: a blank sheet. 

Often, this is followed by a blank stare.

Which is then followed by a robust cup of dark chocolate coffee. 

Advertisement aside, a blank sheet of paper seems like a small thing, yet that piece of parchment can bring a well-adjusted gal (well, fairly well-adjusted gal) to her knees in frustration and tears. 

And rightly so. The knees part, that is. Writing should bring me to my knees.

In prayer.

Not simply to seek God’s direction about writing a fresh article or story but to seek His direction for my day. 

My life is to be like a blank sheet of paper that I offer the Lord each morning. I simply sign my name at the bottom and hand the page over to Him to fill in whatever He wants. 

The optimal word here is surrender.

I choose to surrender to God’s plan for my day. This begins with a one-time commitment of my life to Him, but also involves a daily surrender to His leading. Instead of handing Him a page full of my plans, I hand Him a blank sheet so that He can fill in the details. 

This sacrificial offering is encouraged by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:1-2: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV). 

When I consider God’s tender mercy in providing His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to take what I rightfully deserve (eternal separation from Him in hell), I am drawn to my knees in gratitude. Clearly, it doesn’t make sense that a holy God would rescue a wretched sinner, yet in His mercy, grace, and love, He devised a rescue plan. As a result, I am saved, as are all who put their trust in God’s amazing provision—the Lord Jesus Christ (his death, burial, and resurrection—the gospel story that provides forgiveness of sin and eternal life. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

In light of God’s mercy, I gladly offer myself to Him. I immerse myself in the Word of God to renew my mind daily, to learn what to avoid, how to live in a world where Satan currently rules, how to grow up in Christ so that I can abandon my childish ways, how to minister to those around me, and how to hold fast to His promises until I see Him face to face. 

As I interact with Him daily through His Word and prayer, and bounce thoughts/questions off other godly believers, His will—the good, pleasing and perfect will—appears on the page.

The blank sheet I handed Him now fills with His assignments. 

I love it when this happens. Never a dull moment in God’s Kingdom!

Yet, this careful filling of the page does not come without megadoses of unhurried time in His presence.

Along with a willing heart and listening ear.

May my prayer always be, “Lord, I give You my life as a blank sheet. Fill it in as You desire.”

I pray this for you, too, dear reader.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Roadblocks, Brickwalls and Campfires

     by Carole Towriss
      Yesterday in church we had a guest speaker who was released from prison in January. He said that, at least where and when he went in, you were told exactly when you would be released with good behavior. Six weeks before he was to get out, he was given a letter stating there had been a clerical error and he had another seventeen months to serve.
     Obviously, he was devastated.
     God, however, had a plan. During those months, he was part a program that introduced him to Jesus. He surrendered his life, met his mentor, and when he got out had a purpose for his life.
     Things don't always go the way we want them to. We hit roadblocks--major roadblocks. Like Joseph-sold-to-Egypt roadblocks.
     But sometimes that's God working.
     The trick is to recognize God working in the midst of our pain. And that's not easy. I'm not sure Joseph recognized it that day, or the next, or that week. Maybe not until he saw his brothers asking for grain.
     But what he did do was continue to behave righteously, acting in accordance with God's law, in accordance with what had been revealed to him so far.
     That in and of itself can be a tall order sometimes, when the pain is great enough.
     I remember when we went to get Mira. What we (or at least I) expected to be a ten-day trip in-country turned out to be three weeks long.
     We were the first adoption in Kazakstan under the new laws. Ugly, ridiculous rumors abounded as to why Americans wanted their babies. We waited in our rented flat for days for her exit visa. Our facilitator, a beautiful woman named Svetlana, came back one day, again without it, asking for the pictures we had taken the day we met Mira, showing me crying. "I need happy-family pictures for the police chief."
     I wasn't exactly behaving like Joseph. After she left, I paced with Mira in my arms. "They're not going to let us leave with her. All this and they won't let us leave." I could only see a big, fat, brick wall.
     John just stared at me. "You're not going there, are you?"
     "Oh, I am already there. I have set up camp there. I have built a house there."
      Needless to say, Svetlana returned with the visa and we left two days later, and I don't believe anyone else had any trouble after that. Our next trip was over and done with in ten days, travel time included.
     The road blocks were necessary. They built up everyone's faith and trust. The officials', and definitely mine.
     The next time you see a brick wall, try instead to imagine what it is He might be protecting you from, or what better things He might be leading you to. I know it's hard, and I'm the least likely person to do just that. :)
     It's far easier to do that on the other side.


My novella The Other Brother is part of the #1 bestselling box set Falling for You, available now only on Amazon. Six brand-new, full-length heartwarming novellas for only 99¢. Join us on our Facebook party on October 25 from 5-9pm Eastern time, for lots of fun, chats with all six authors and giveaways!