When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. [Romans 12:13 (NLT)]

As far back as you want to go in the history of God’s people, one of the duties of the righteous was hospitality—by which I mean the willingness to welcome people into your home who don’t ordinarily belong there. [John Piper]                                    

red-bellied-woodpeckerIn the ancient world, travel was dangerous and the nomadic people of Israel took hospitality seriously. It was the way to transform an unknown person (who might pose a future threat) into a guest and a friend. Hospitality was an integral part to many of the Old Testament’s stories. Both Abraham and Lot welcomed strangers into their home. Rebekah gave water to Abraham’s servant, watered his camels, and then offered food for the animals and rooms for the night. Rahab gave lodging and protection to the Israelite spies, Manoah and his wife fed the stranger who visited them, the widow of Zarephath gave her last morsel of food to Elijah, and the Shunammite woman provided food and a room for the prophet Elisha whenever he passed through Shunem. Abigail generously provided food for David and his band of men and David welcomed Jonathon’s crippled son Mephibosheth at his table as a way of showing God’s kindness.

The tradition of hospitality extended into the 1st Century. Matthew welcomed Jesus, the disciples, and his tax collector friends at his table. When Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 9, he deliberately sent them out with no provisions and told them to depend on the hospitality of others as they travelled from town to town. Jesus probably stayed with Peter’s family when he was in Capernaum, both Zacchaeus and Martha welcomed Jesus into their homes, and a nameless man provided the upper room of his home to Jesus and the disciples for their Passover supper. Christian hospitality continued as the new church expanded. Paul and his companions stayed with Publius in Malta and Lydia in Philippi, Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner in Joppa, and John commended Gaius for his hospitality to Christian teachers.

Simon the Pharisee probably had a nicer home, more servants, richer food, and better wine than any of those other hosts but, when he invited Jesus to dinner, he was anything but hospitable. Although guests traditionally were greeted with a kiss, given a bowl of water with which to wash the dust off their feet, and offered some perfumed oil for their hair, Simon failed to extend any of these customary courtesies to Jesus. He may have addressed Jesus as “Teacher,” but the narrative makes it clear Jesus was there to be questioned rather than welcomed. There may have been a meal but there was no hospitality that night at Simon’s.

Unbeknown to Abraham, Lot, and Manoah, the strangers they welcomed into their homes were angels of the Lord. But, even if we never welcome angels in our homes, we may have men and women whose very presence is a blessing. Who knows? We may even turn a potential enemy into a friend!

We always treat guests as angels…just in case. [Jeremiah of Wallachia (1556 – 1625)]

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! [Hebrews 13:2 (NLT)]

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This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

My biggest fear is waking up to find what matters
Is miles away from what I spent my life chasing after.
Is my story gonna have the same two words in every chapter?
What if, what if? …
What if today’s the only day I got?
I don’t wanna waste it if it’s my last shot.
No regrets, in the end
I wanna know I got no what ifs! [Matthew West]

While enjoying discounted drinks and small plates during a local “happy hour” with our old skiing buddies, we reminisced about the many happy hours we spent together in Colorado. One of our favorite lunch (and “happy hour”) spots used to publicize their “happy hour” by spelling out the words in the snow on their rooftop. Since the pub was located right beneath the gondola, skiers couldn’t avoid seeing the message as they rode up the mountain. Tourists would speculate how the words got there and most assumed there were specially placed heat tapes beneath the letters. The letters, however, were carefully stomped out after every major snowfall by a friend who had more enthusiasm than common sense as he jumped from letter to letter on the sloped roof.

For many of us, “happy hour” probably means discounted, beer, wine and cocktails, half-price appetizers, and maybe some entertainment between the hours of 4 and 7. But, is a happy hour really about three hours of discounted drinks and food or a great band?

Today, while listening to Matthew West sing, “What if today’s the only day I got? I don’t wanna waste it if it’s my last shot!” I pondered what makes any of our hours truly happy ones.  It certainly isn’t cheap drinks and food! What kinds of things would an hour of happiness encompass? If you had only a few hours remaining in life, how would you spend them? What would you do to make that hour a happy one? I doubt you would spend them eating and drinking in a bar.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.” I have to agree. When I think about happiness, my happy hour includes things like God, family, friends, peace, service, generosity, love, hope, faith, worship, salvation, smiles, hugs, laughter, a few silly games with the grands, and maybe a butterfly or two. There are no discounted drinks, chicken wings, peanuts, popcorn, guacamole, salsa, or chips in the scenario because they have nothing to do with true happiness and joy. Also missing from that picture are things like wealth, success, and fame along with quarrels, resentment, conflict, anger, regret, guilt, heartache, disdain, bitterness, fear, hatred, and animosity. In short, a happy hour is one spent in gratitude. It was gratitude for all that God gave us, not the discounted drinks, appies, or sunshine and powdery snow, that made those hours so enjoyable back in Colorado and continue to do so in Florida!

The man who stomped out those letters on the rooftop? When in his mid-forties, his hours were unexpectedly cut short by a freak accident. I’m sure his family would agree that happy hours should never be limited to a few hours at the end of the day. How will we choose to spend whatever is left of our hours to make them happy ones—the kind of hours truly worth having and remembering? After all, today could be our “last shot!”

Do not look back on happiness, or dream of it in the future. You are only sure of today; do not let yourself be cheated out of it. [Henry Ward Beecher]

Now look here, you people who say, “Today, or tomorrow, we will go to such-and-such a town and spend a year there, and trade, and make some money.” You have no idea what the next day will bring. What is your life? You are a mist which appears for a little while and then disappears again. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live, and we shall do this, or that.” [James 4:13-15 (NTE)]

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A cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day. … A miserable heart means a miserable life; a cheerful heart fills the day with song. [Proverbs 15:13,15 (MSG)]

A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired. [Proverbs 17:22 (MSG)]

steamboat springs CORecently, long-time friends visited for a few days. They used to live across the street from us when we wintered in Colorado but, like us, their skis are long gone. The memories, however, are still fresh. As happens with old friends, we started reminiscing about blue bird days on the mountain, making first tracks down a slope of fresh powder, our favorite runs (for one person it was the “lunch run”), winter carnivals, and the people who made our mountain town so special.

Nearly every morning, we’d meet our friends at the bus stop for a short ride to the mountain. As we recalled packing like sardines onto the bus so one more skier could fit, we remembered the various bus drivers we had over the years. Without a doubt, our favorite was George. While he could have been the goodwill ambassador for our town, another driver I’ll call Grumpy did his best to make the ride miserable for everyone.

Grumpy never had a smile or a nice word to say to anyone. In fact, other than occasionally telling us to move back, we never heard him say a word. Believe me, we tried and made a point of greeting him by name, commenting on the weather, wishing him a good day, and thanking him when we got off. Determined to get him to respond, we’d ask him how he was doing that day, if he had a good weekend, or managed to get in any skiing. In the several years we were his passengers, we never got an answer or even a smile. The closest we ever got to seeing a grin was when Grumpy would take off from a stop even though he could see skiers running to catch the bus.

Both George and Grumpy were city bus drivers but their similarity ended with their occupation. No matter how crowded the bus, challenging the weather, or difficult his passengers, George always had a friendly greeting and a pleasant word. Whenever possible, he waited for any skiers hurrying to the bus and, when passengers got off the bus, he was sure to offer a cheery farewell and explain which bus to take back and where to board it. He exhibited great patience in a variety of challenging circumstances (and tourists can be very challenging) and showed true concern for his passengers. He wasn’t merely polite; George went out of way to be cordial and accommodating to everyone.

Both men had the same job and did what was required of them. One, however, clearly enjoyed both his job and life and the other, sad to say, just seemed determined to be miserable. From our conversations with George, we knew his life hadn’t been easy. As a single father, he struggled to make ends meet. We also knew that George was a man of faith and, as a man of faith, he was an ambassador for more than our ski town—he was one of Christ’s ambassadors! As for Grumpy—who knows? It’s hard to believe someone so disagreeable and grouchy knew Jesus. Perhaps, it was not knowing how much God loved him that made Grumpy unable to love his fellow travelers on this planet. He certainly couldn’t give away something he didn’t even know he had! Grumpy, however, seemed determined to stay in a desolate dull world of his own making.

One day while chatting with George on our way home, I mentioned the friendly demeanor, good humor, kindness, patience, and joy we saw whenever we rode with him. He responded, “Well, every morning I have a choice. I can rise and whine or rise and shine; I choose to shine!” George had a good point! We each have that same choice every morning with which God blesses us. What will you choose today?

There’s a decision we all have to make, and it seems perfectly captured in the Winnie-the-Pooh characters created by A.A. Milne. Each of us must decide: Am I a fun-loving Tigger or am I a sad-sack Eeyore? Pick a camp. [From “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow]

Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. [Philippians 2:14-15 (MSG)]

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And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:8-9 (ESV)]

brothersThe story is told of a Sunday school teacher who was teaching her class about the Ten Commandments. “What is the commandment about parents?” she asked. “Honor thy father and mother,” was the quick reply. “Is there a commandment about brothers and sisters?” the teacher queried. One little boy shouted, “Thou shalt not kill!” While we know we’re not supposed to kill them, how should we treat them?

When we look at sibling relationships in the Bible, we don’t see a lot of good examples. Starting with Cain and Abel, Cain’s anger over God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering led to the Bible’s first homicide. When Ishmael teased his younger half-brother Isaac, he and his mother were evicted from Abraham’s home. Then we have sisters Leah and Rachel who continually competed for Jacob’s attention. The twins Jacob and Esau were at odds from birth and, after stealing his brother’s birthright, Jacob had to flee for his life. Resentment and jealousy caused Miriam and Aaron to complain about Moses’ leadership, jealousy led Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, and after Jehoram became king, he killed all six of his brothers. David’s brothers didn’t respect him, Martha and Mary had disagreements about priorities, and Jesus’ brothers failed to believe in Him at first. Among the disciples, Peter and Andrew were brothers as were James and John, but we know that the disciples argued about which of them was the greatest! Clearly, sibling rivalry, jealousy, and conflict has a long history in mankind.

Siblings can be one of the greatest blessings in life but they also pose one of the greatest challenges of childhood. Even as adults, sibling relationships can be difficult to navigate. We know each other’s weaknesses and fears; we know what upset our siblings in the past and what buttons to push to annoy them now. We often know each other’s deepest secrets and most embarrassing moments and, unfortunately, can wield that information like a sword. Siblings easily can be tactless, rude, and cruel with one another in a way they’d never be with their friends. When we’re with siblings, we may even revert to old roles and behaviors from our childhood days.

While siblings share parentage and history, true brothers and sisters share far more than genetics and memories. If we want to have brothers and sisters, instead of just siblings, we might look to the example of Joseph who saved the lives of the same brothers who betrayed and abandoned him! He literally became his brothers’ keeper.

In spite of whatever happened in the past, if we want brothers and sisters, we need to relinquish any long-buried resentment and practice forgiveness (along with a fair amount of forgetfulness). When siblings disappoint as they inevitably will (as will we), our love will keep us from despairing in or giving up on them. An accident of birth may give us siblings but there’s nothing accidental about choosing to love and it is choosing to love that turns a sibling into a brother or sister.

When Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the Hebrew word was hashomer. From the root word shamar, it meant protector, guardian, defender, and caretaker. What do you think God’s answer was?

Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. [Leviticus 19:17a (NLT)]

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. … Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:10,18 (NLT)]

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DARE TO LOVE – Valentine’s Day 2022

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. … Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7,13 (NLT)]

Back in 2008, my husband and I joined others from our church to see Fireproof, a movie by Alex and Stephen Kendrick. It was about Caleb Holt, a firefighter, who’s urged by a friend and his father to hold off on getting the divorce to which he and his wife have agreed. Counseling him to fight for his crumbling marriage, his father gives him a Christian self-help book called The Love Dare and urges him to go on its forty-day challenge. Having nothing to do with the game “Truth or Dare,” the book dares Caleb to improve his marriage, not by changing his wife, but by changing the way he treats her. After completing the forty day challenge, Caleb continues changing his behavior and he and his wife eventually reconcile. As I remember, the movie ends with them renewing their marriage vows. Several months after seeing the movie, I spotted The Love Dare book while browsing through a bookstore. Whether the movie gave birth to the book or the book gave birth to the movie, I don’t know. In any case, I purchased it and, without my husband knowing, took on its 40-day challenge.

With 1 Corinthians as its foundation, each chapter of the book was a quick and easy read; the challenges, however, often were not so quick or easy! Even though love “does not demand its own way,” I recall that my willingly yielding in an area of disagreement between my husband and me was especially difficult. Since my husband knew nothing of my challenges, the hardest part was not pointing out every time I conceded to his viewpoint, did him a special kindness, eased his burden, or made it through the day without saying anything negative to or about him. But, knowing that love is not “boastful or proud,” I did my best!

When my daughter happened to see The Love Dare in my office, she seemed surprised (and a little concerned) by its presence. Although our 42-year marriage didn’t appear troubled, did the book indicate otherwise? I reassured her that the book’s presence did not mean her father and I were on the verge of divorce. It simply meant that no marriage is so secure that it can’t grow stronger or so good that it can’t become better.

While The Love Dare is no longer on my bookshelf and Fireproof is a distant memory, their lesson remains. Love isn’t determined by the one being loved; it is determined by the one who chooses to love! Although my husband and I promised unconditional love for one another nearly 55 years ago, we were young and in the throes of passion and neither of us had any idea what unconditional love actually demands. Older and wiser, now we do.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day supposedly dedicated to romance and love. Love, however, takes more than sexy lingerie, silk boxers, candlelit dinners, boxes of candy, jewelry, red roses, a bottle of wine, a romantic movie, or a weekend getaway. Love makes sacrifices, tries to understand, and even lets the other guy win (at least once in a while). It is patient, considerate, and unselfish. Love forgives, prays for, protects, respects, defends, encourages, and endures. Love admits when it’s wrong, won’t gloat when it’s right, doesn’t keep score, refuses to bring up past wrongs, makes allowances, isn’t affected by time or circumstances, and is unconditional and absolute. Rather than date nights or bouquets of flowers, these are the things of love. They are the glue that holds a marriage together.

How will you express your love for that someone special in your life today?

In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage. [Sir Robert Anderson]

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. [Ephesians 4:2-3 (NLT)]

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Let him have all your worries and cares, for he is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you. [1 Peter 5:7 (TLB)]

For the Lord is watching his children, listening to their prayers. [1 Peter 3:12a (TLB)]

beachEvery Thursday, my next-door neighbor has a standing two-hour appointment at the beach with a friend who lives about an hour north of here. Although marked on her calendar like a Bible study, committee meeting, doctor’s appointment, or book club, there’s nothing purposeful or especially important about their meeting. As she explained, the two simply meet to “catch up.” Unlike my neighbor, I’m more of a “let’s get down to business” than “let’s chat” type and, when I call or meet with someone, there’s usually a specific purpose for the contact. A few days ago, however, an old friend from our home town called for no reason other than to “catch up.” Neither of us had any important news; we just shared a little of what is going on in our lives. While the conversation accomplished nothing (and took me from my work), it was a much-appreciated blessing.

My friend’s call also caused me to reconsider the way I approach prayer. My daily prayer time tends to be structured and purpose-driven rather than as unplanned and spontaneous as a casual conversation with an old friend. Treating prayer a bit like a meeting with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I have my prayer list and an order of business; praise, thanks, confession, and intercession before finishing up with any of my personal concerns. While I may give thanks or offer a spur-of-the moment prayer during the day, I don’t “catch up” with God the way my neighbor does with her friend at the beach.

Prayer doesn’t require an appointment, objective, or plan; simply put, prayer is no more than talking to and fellowshipping with God. Today, I took a break from my work, sat out on the lanai, and caught up with God the way my neighbor does with her friend. As we spoke about some recent guests, I thanked God for the amazing way He brought us together nearly 50 years ago and shared my concerns about their health. We talked about the grands which led to prayers about the eldest one’s travel plans, her younger brother’s college applications, and a third one’s SATs. After we chatted about a devotion I’d been writing, I received some helpful insights that brought my scattered thoughts to a conclusion. I hadn’t really thought of any of those things as significant enough for prayer and it was only by doing some “catching up” with God that I found they were!

Maybe there is someone with whom you haven’t spoken in a while; if so, give them a call and do some catching up. While you’re at it, spend some quiet time with God and “catch up” with Him. Granted, as the one who orchestrates our lives, God knows everything that’s happening to us but that doesn’t mean He isn’t interested in catching up with us about the seemingly inconsequential matters anyway. We are told to give God all of our worries and cares, not just the ones we deem essential or of great consequence. We’re God’s children and there is nothing about a child’s life that a loving parent finds trivial or unimportant. If it’s important to us, it’s important to Him.

Prayer is simply talking to God like a friend and should be the easiest thing we do each day. [Joyce Meyer]

For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. [Saint Teresa of Avila]

And in the same way—by our faith—the Holy Spirit helps us with our daily problems and in our praying. For we don’t even know what we should pray for nor how to pray as we should, but the Holy Spirit prays for us with such feeling that it cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows, of course, what the Spirit is saying as he pleads for us in harmony with God’s own will. [Romans 8:26-27 (TLB)]

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