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Show hospitality to one another without grumbling I Peter 4:9


This Scriptural command is an easy one to obey.


At least for us Southerners, right?


Doesn't this evoke images of a tastefully decorated home, an exquisite menu, and a beautifully dressed woman with manicured nails?


In a word - NO.


I don't think that's what Scripture means. At all.



When Scripture exhorts us to "practice hospitality" (Romans 12:13) what does it mean? If it doesn't mean knocking yourself out to present a perfect picture, what, then, is it?


Just look at the word - "hospitality". It's closely related to the words "hospital", "hotel", as well as "hostel". What is the connection between these? Simply put, I think it's the idea of receiving strangers/outsiders and caring for them in such a way that they are changed from strangers into friends. The emphasis is relationship.


This is very different from entertaining, where the focus can often be on eliciting compliments for the host.....not on meeting the needs of the strangers.


Hospitality means making others feel like they "belong", like they are no longer an outsider, an alien. It has little to do with the table decorations and instead everything to do with being cared for.


And hospitality doesn't need a showcase of a home to transpire. In fact, it doesn't even need a home at all. It can be at the ball field, where the family of a new kid is hoping they can fit in. It can be in an adult Sunday School class, where a new couple visits and looks for a place to sit. It can be at the crowded Chick-fil-A, where an elderly man sits alone, trying to adjust to his new status as a widower.


Hospitality can be anywhere. In fact, we are not to simply wait for an opportunity to present itself - we are actually to be on the lookout for an outlet for our hospitable spirit! The verse in Romans that tells us to "practice hospitality" literally means "pursue hospitality". We are to seek out people to encourage, to care for, to transform from being a "hostile" into a friend.


No, this isn't an easy command to obey. We tend to prefer socializing with our friends and entertaining those we enjoy (or at least those who can benefit us). If we aren't intentional about hospitality, all those strangers remain outsiders. They miss the blessings of connection and we miss the joy of the transformation. Instead of meeting needs, we are often seeking favor.


God help us. Help us to be hospitable.


Oh, and if He does lead us to create a stunning centerpiece, to prepare a gourmet tray of goodies, and to sport a stunning new haircut, may we especially heed the last part of that verse....."without grumbling."


Ouch.




Defining moments

I knew from my knee jerk reaction to the email that my struggle wasn't over. That from time to time I would experience setbacks in my quest for wholeness and soul health.


I clung to the hope that, at the very least, some progress had been made.


It was a sweet email. Sent for the pure reason of encouragement.


The email wasn't the problem.


My acceptance of it was.


This dear friend, in thanking me for being a listening ear said "You are one of the kindest people I know. I am so glad we are friends".


How could that do anything but bless me?


Because deep in my soul the response came - "She doesn't really know me. If she did, she wouldn't feel that way"


Because of a defining moment from many years ago.

A moment that I let define me as "unacceptable". The term they used was "wrong chemistry". They assured me they were "speaking the truth in love", of course, but I assure you that, while the truth part may be debatable, there was not one smidgen of love that came through that day.


I must be candid and share that I've never had a problem with confidence. Graced with a completely loving family, I grew into adulthood secure and happy. I was able to navigate the letdowns and disappointments and, even failures, that a normal life experiences. Not that things were always easy nor that I was always joyful, but overall, I was characterized by others and my own estimation as happy, secure, and confident.


Until then.


I don't really know how this particular rejection undid me. But it did. And it re-defined me. The searing hot brand of their words and actions left their imprint deep into my soul.


It was a defining moment, all right.


I spiraled down into a place where the only definition of myself I could read was theirs. And since that's all I could read, that's what I believed.


Since that's what I believed, I adjusted my actions accordingly. Don't let anyone get close enough to see my unacceptability. My "wrong chemistry".


It was lonely, being at arm's length from people. But at least it felt safe.


I stayed in that place for a long time. I don't know what triggered my break from there but I do know I eventually realized that I was not defined by that moment.


That was only a distracting moment. I should not have let it become a defining moment. Rather it should instead have been a directing moment.


I learned (and am still learning to apply the truth...) that life is made of moments. Moments that distract us from the path we are on. Those can be either successes or failures. Moments of success distract us into thinking we are always going to succeed. Even that we deserve to. Moments of failure can distract us into thinking that we are always going to fail. And that we deserve to.


When moments happen, we must recognize them as just that. Moments. Distracting moments.


The problem with moments is that they tend to want to linger longer....into defining us. Defining moments that deceive us with their masquerades of success or of failure. The imposters of acceptance or of rejection. The shams of superiority or of deficiency.


Moments don't define us.


Instead, they should direct us.


When I was distracted by the assault of that rejection, I shouldn't have let it define me. Rather, I should have let it direct me into seeking truth.


What is it that truly defines me? If neither the moments of pain nor of triumph, what does?


I am defined by who loves me and whom I love.


Certainly my family. And my friends.


But even those have potential for distracting moments. That beg to be defining moments.


Rather, I am defined exclusively by Christ's love for me. Period. The only moment that has the power to define me is the moment I became His.


All other moments are just distractions. No matter if they seem good or bad. They do not define me. They just direct me into His arms. To give praise or receive comfort. To celebrate or to learn. To gain wisdom or forgiveness. Directly.







Criticism

I was blessed to grow up in a home where criticism was not part of our vernacular. We simply did not criticize. Or complain. Not even when it was "merited". How my parents achieved that, I do not know!

I became a quick learner, though, let me assure you. On my own, I managed to master the art, even falling prey to the idea that criticism was "helpful" to others. How would they ever change their ways, I reasoned, unless I told them where they were wrong? This "skill" grows exponentially when practiced even a bit, I soon learned. The more I criticized, the more things I saw that "needed" criticizing. Once put into motion, criticism can quickly become a way of life, a lens through which all persons and activities are filtered.

A lens which turns toxic. Towards those on the receiving end. But also on the viewer. A critical spirit is difficult to live with as well as to house inside one's own soul.

One day I stumbled on a verse. James 4:11. Pretty simple. It says Do not speak against another.

We can try and "adjust" it to say something else but it translates very clearly -- do not criticize. The verse doesn't have parentheses to include exceptions for poor service or irritating people or trampled rights. It just says not to criticize. I decided I needed to change. It's hard going sometimes but by God's grace, I am learning not to criticize. It's hard to balance times of needed parental correction against criticism. I am constantly in need of wisdom.

Sometimes these blog posts are hard to write. I often falter. I don't get it right. A lot. But I want to share my journey with you. In hopes that you will find some grace and encouragement alongside me.

Take, for instance, today.

I received some really awful customer service today. And with my past corporate background, I am tuned in to know that customer service is an important aspect of training and expectations. When I don't get it, I am disappointed. Today, I was disappointed and then some. After all, I had been a loyal customer of this business for many years. I had given this place a bunch of money. And I was treated poorly by an employee that clearly didn't give a rip. I was tempted to post something on FB just to vent. So that other people could take my side, weigh in, maybe even share their own lousy experiences at this place. Then I decided I'd do the more mature thing and complain to the home office. In fact, I concluded, it was the right thing to do. After all, this place had their website posted and invited customers to contact them so they could provide better service. Yep, I would be doing them a favor.

I pulled up their site, clicked on "customer service" and started my email. I would be polite, but firm. Just state the facts. And convey the error of their ways. My words poured out.

Then that verse above came to mind. And one in the next chapter of James - vs. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another.

I chatted with myself for a couple of minutes. Wouldn't it be helpful to let the higher ups know what a terrible experience I had today? I had already realized it wouldn't be right to vent on FB, where readers were neither part of the problem nor part of the solution but couldn't I at least complain to, I mean, share with, the home office? This would be helpful..........I was justified......It's the truth......

Heart check. What did I want as resolution? Did I really want this to help those employees to become better people? Or did I hope, even just a little bit, that somebody would get in hot water for what they did? Did I even hope that I would benefit in some way, a discount or freebie or even just an accolade?

I am not saying there is never a time to report bad service. Or to share an unfortunate experience. I do suggest a heart check first. And a prayer for wisdom. And a longing to err on the side of being TOO UNcritical and UNcomplaining.

I didn't send the email.

And I won't tell you who the company was. :)