Hospitality in the Natural and Supernatural

I figure if you are reading this then you have a heart to share God’s love everywhere you have influence, especially in your home for life group or when having guests. My friends would probably not call me a hospitality guru, but my husband and I have hosted life group for a while and have tried to watch and learn to pick up a few things (both natural and supernatural) along the way.  

I started paying attention at my mom’s house. It is decorated in the same exact things she put out in the 70’s, has a lot of clutter, and few places to sit, but everyone in my family wants to be there.  I figured out—apparently all that doesn’t matter.  Even if she isn’t consciously thinking about it, she is combining some supernatural and natural things to make people feel loved, valued, and RELAXED.   You can tell she values people above things, isn’t uptight about a single thing, is accepting and never, ever critical or judgmental of anyone.  I think because of that, the peace and love inside her house is palpable.  My sister-in-law even jokes that if she and my brother ever divorce that she gets visiting rights to Mama Jane!  Mom always has a variety of goodies out like nuts, M & M’s, and fruit slices, but she lays out from the beginning of an event what she wants people to do and how to serve themselves.  I think people feel comfortable because of it. 

At my own house, I always try to pray over our time together before life group.  If God’s Breath and Being isn’t on what we are doing, it is not worth doing!  I walk around my house and pray for God’s peace to be manifest, that people would feel God’s love, that His presence would be felt, and that our words will be sweet and led to accomplish His purposes for the night.  

The supernatural seamlessly blends with what we do in the natural.  It makes me think of a time a while back when I was asked to make dessert for a dinner where church leaders were serving a meal for a guest minister.  I made a strawberry cheesecake which is a complicated recipe (for me) and takes two days to make.  During that time while I baked, I determined to pray over the cake—that it would be refreshing and delightful to those who ate it, a blessing to them, and make them feel loved.  It was the weirdest thing because people kept talking and talking about that cake!  I just smiled because I knew it was the touch of God on it.  I am so grateful for his supernatural touch on my natural work.

A natural thing we try to do at life group is to be relaxed since it seems to help our friends be able to relax.  In our life group, if anything seems awkward, you can bet that we will just call it out as awkward and laugh about it.  I don’t want this to sound flippant, but we joke around about “Greeting people warmly” when we are at the front door.  Laughing about us awkwardly greeting someone seems to take the tension off us and also new friends coming in.    

We have a few other day-to-day things that we try to do as well.  We try to make sure the house is clean and doesn’t stink (hard while the dog was still alive), have all the things out that we will need for the meal, and turn on lots of lights throughout the house.  We want the temperature to be comfortable for everyone, so we have blankets everywhere and pass them around to (and joke about) our cold-natured friends.  When I see someone get cozy at life group with one of my blankets, I know we have made them feel at home (or frozen them out totally 😊).  I have a drink dispenser that we put water and slices of fruit in.  I promise it isn’t hard to slice a couple of limes or oranges and dump it in the water, but we have one member that jokes she keeps coming back because she loves our “fruity water”.  Whatever it takes! 

Life group is so important to my spiritual well-being.  I absolutely love how the church leaders have it set up and organized.  It is a low-pressure way to be spurred on to know my Father better and to help others, too.  Life group gives me an excuse to be blessed by the gifts and wisdom in others that I wouldn’t have any other way.  I know you, too, can find a group that you love! Check out the directory online or in a seat pocket at church!

We would like to thank Karen Earhart for writing this blog!

All Things Made New

Life group was a life changing experience for me. Although I am an extravert most of the time, I am very much an introvert when it comes to being around people I don’t know. 

Like most folks, we came to Harvest from a church that had literally beaten us to death! We were so broken and hurt, I wasn’t sure I’d ever open my heart again to another human being. My husband and I were in the process of restoration and rehabilitation in our marriage and desperately needed the support and love of others to help us stay on the right path, but I was terrified to open myself up again and let anyone else in. 

Our first Sunday at Harvest was amazing! We were only coming to visit, and 6 years later… (well, it didn’t take very long!) we joined and started attending life group. I was very quiet, and just listened as we met each Wednesday.  

Slowly, I began to enjoy the fellowship and prayer time with other women. I prayed with them but not out loud. I prayed silently.

As I learned to open my heart to God, I learned to open my heart to other women, and my life has literally changed before my own eyes. 

God healed the brokenness, healed the wounds, and led me to a place that I could love and trust other women again. He showed me that there are women who have a heart like His and want the best for His daughters! 

I cherish the relationships that God has provided through the women in life group, the women of Harvest! I became a life group leader because I want to pass on what God has blessed me with! I want other women to know the love of my Dad, Jesus! I want them to feel special and treasured like Jesus treasures me. We are daughters of the King, and I want other women to know what it means to be His princess!

Through the relationships that are born in life group, we learn how much we’re loved by Father, and can pass that love on to others. Life group is a life line and keeps us connected to the body of Christ!

We would like to thank Janie Keller for writing this post!

Life Group Hosting 101

Robert and I had been approached to lead a Life group and we prayed about this opportunity. But, we began to hear a small voice saying, “I have something else for you to do for me,” and He laid it on our hearts to open our home to those who needed a place to belong and feel safe. We were paired with leaders who were needing a new host home. 

Hosting a life group seemed natural to me. I love to cook and to love on people. So many people work, which makes it stressful to go home and fix a meal before going to a meeting, so it just seemed natural to fix a meal that they could enjoy. Through the wonderful world of social media I am able to let them know what the main course will be and they are welcome to bring side dishes (homemade or store bought). What better way to greet people than with the smells of food that have been prepared by the hands of people we cherish in our lives. And, of course, we always have dessert! I love the smiles and conversations we have over the meal.  

A home is a place to come together with family and friends. We were made to have a relationship with God. Bringing people together into our home to encourage each other was perfect. Our life group family has a special place in my heart and I want them to feel safe and loved as they approach our home and come through the door. So many times there will be a group of us standing in the foyer talking about how our week has gone since the last meeting and we give high fives and hugs as they arrive. Hopefully, we never scare anyone by standing there! Ha! There have been a few times that I felt stressed due to electricity being out for part of the day or no water due to the well being knocked out due to lightening, but my awesome God saw the need and used the people necessary to get the electricity on and running water before life group was to meet. God is always faithful to our prayers. Prayers from the Life Group leaders helps, also!  And at those times I was so thankful for the service people and  to have our life group people around me. We are family.

Each season of the year brings new opportunities for decorating a home. Each season and holiday brings out ways to remind us how God provides beauty for us. We want everyone to feel comfortable and at home when they arrive. What an awesome bonus of hosting a life group! 

For me, the most important part of hosting a life group is praying over my home. I pray for my family every day and ask that they be blessed and feel love when they come through the door. As I start to prepare for Life Group on Wednesday night which includes vacuuming, dusting, and all those things that have to be done…you know what I am talking about…I stop in each room and ask Holy Spirit to flood my home from top to bottom and wall to wall with His presence. I pray outside of my home that Holy Spirit will touch people as they drive up to our home and those that are driving by. I ask that each person that is here will laugh and cry as they need. I pray that my carpets will be stained with tears of joy and tears of healing. The Holy Spirit wants to move among His people and I have found that He does move in life group! 

If anyone reading this feels that tap on the shoulder or hears that voice telling you that He wants you to open your home for a Life Group I suggest you listen. It gives us such joy to be able to serve God and others in this way. Two of God’s greatest commandments are to love God and to love others.  Hosting a life group and loving people = hospitality.

Romans 12:13 “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

1 Peter 4:8-98 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

We would like to thank Sharon Biles for writing this post!

Connect. Grow. Serve.

Over time, I’ve grown to understand and appreciate the message within the Harvest life group logo. But isn’t it often the CONNECT part of the equation that trips us up in the very beginning?  It was for me! At that point in time, we had just begun attending Harvest and my emotions were raw. In truth, I was a mess! It was the spring semester of my first year as an instructional coach. My dad was dying of a fast-growing brain tumor, and after being away from home and taking three weeks off from work to be by his bedside, I was feeling overwhelmed to say the least. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was that our son and daughter-in-law were soon to give birth to a special needs child who might not survive, and it was taking every ounce of faith and sanity I could muster just to go through the daily motions. I was spent! I had nothing left to give.

Who could possibly want to connect with me?

(ENTER THE HOLY SPIRIT!!) The very weekend of my Dad’s diagnosis just happened to be the Harvest Men’s Retreat. David attended for the first time, and evidence of the difference it made to his faith was popping out everywhere, including his determination to attend life group. I literally slunck (is that even a word?) into Kim and Johnny Street’s home that first night of life group, with a determined, yet fake smile plastered to my face, knowing full well that if anyone asked me a single question I would dissolve into a puddle on the floor!

 I recognize now that it was a “small beginning” as prophesied in the Old Testament book of Zechariah :

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah 4:10 NLT

David and I not only stayed in life group that semester, but our faith began to GROW exponentially! Women prayed over me, spoke words of wisdom into me, and taught me how to declare God’s word over my circumstances to change the atmosphere around me! My dad was taken home to be with His Lord, our precious baby was born with a hole in his heart on Good Friday, and was miraculously healed and able to go home on Easter Sunday! 

Several semesters later, David and I were given the honor to SERVE as life group leaders. 

Since that fateful first night, the miraculous “small beginnings” we’ve experienced in life group read like the cover of a biblical National Inquirer magazine:

  • Boy recovering from massive brain surgery, befriended by his surgeon, chooses a medical career
  • Couple leaves divorce court, reunite after miraculous touch from Heaven
  • Couple’s son healed from years of addiction, now leads others to Christ
  • Answered prayers cross the country uniting Manhattan beauty and West Texas coach

(each example used by permission)

See, I had this unrealistic expectation of myself that I had to bring something TO the table in order to dine AT the table. But it’s the very act of accepting the Lord’s invitation to come to His table when we’ve nothing to bring that changes US. (EXIT PRIDE!)

I visualize the applause of heaven when we take that tremulous first step of faith to ring that stranger’s doorbell and  CONNECT to the body of Christ through life group. The Holy Spirit is free to GROW us, and as we grow we are then able to be used to SERVE others. We learn how to exercise our giftings to pray down His will on earth as it is in heaven. (ENTER MIRACLES!)

We would like to thank Susan Hurt for writing this blog post!

A New Chapter

Picture this, a 30-something-year-old woman, regretting ever mentioning trying something new. She’s terrified of the unknown. And to add to it, that little voice in her head kept whispering, “You don’t fit in. You’re not good enough.”  And then the worry sets in, “Am I going to have to speak in front of ALL those people??” Yep, that terrified woman was me and although I stayed calm and serene on the outside, under the surface I had totally lost my cool.

It turns out my inner monologues are overly dramatic and they almost convinced me to make yet another excuse as to why we are too busy and should wait another week.

End of story. Thankfully I did not allow that fear to control me and so my story began…

 I was determined! My husband and I had been discussing it for months. We were ready for more, ready to grow and really intrigued by all the talk about how awesome Life Group was. We had heard stories of the relationships created and the breakthroughs happening on Wednesdays and were hungry to get in on it. I browsed the catalog of friendly faces a 100 times looking for where we fit. It felt a little like I was shopping for friends online. I would add them to my cart only to remove them later because I wasn’t quite ready to invest.  But we finally bit the bullet and now we are walking to the door to meet our “new friends” for the first time.

What I found on the other side of that door was far greater than a couple of friends. I met real people. I mean, of course they were living, breathing humans, but they were REAL, down to earth, God loving people. And you could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit all around us. There were men and women of all ages and in different parts of their walk with Christ. I met some of the most loving, caring, Spirit-filled women. As the evening progressed I realized I was not alone in my fears. These women were strong in their faith and not afraid to admit they had failed and they have scars.

I figured out what it felt like to smash all of those lies that had been fed to me about who I am and I realized I AM accepted, I am not alone and I am worthy of our Fathers love. That breakthrough changed EVERYTHING. 

 I’m not going to say opening up and sharing was easy. I mean, it wasn’t like a switch that just automatically came on when I walked in the room. It took some effort and patience on the group’s part, and LOTS of prayer on mine. I remember the first time we paired up to pray for one another and I cried. Not like a couple of tears ran down my face, but flat out ugly cried. And you know what, she understood and helped me through it. The feeling of being able to just lay that down, and receive acceptance, was so freeing.

I had finally handed it over to God and instead of me cowering behind the walls I had built up for protection I was now out there fully believing that God was my refuge and the ultimate protector.

 As time passed I could not wait for Wednesday nights! I love to worship on Sundays and the messages we receive are always amazing. However there’s just something about sitting around a room with family, discussing how God is working miracles. We cry, we laugh, and we speak truth and life over one another. Proverbs 27:9 says, “The heartfelt council of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.” And that is so true! It warms you from the inside out when we trust that the words spoken from these ladies are guided by the Holy Spirit. 

Today my husband and I have the privilege of leading a Life Group. Honestly not something that scared woman only a few short years ago would have ever considered. I added a new chapter to my story called Life Group. The relationships I have created and the newfound love I have for myself has changed me. I grew as an individual and my relationship with Christ exploded! If your heart has been wrestling with the idea of wanting more, but like me, you are afraid of not fitting in, I highly recommend you stepping out of your comfort zone and give Life Groups a try. 

We would like to thank Misty Rowell for writing this blog post!

You Can’t Rush God’s Promises

During the month of January, we will be reposting some of the top posts from 2018. We hope these will encourage you and connect to your heart. Stay tuned for all new posts coming in February 2018!

Editor’s Note: This semester women from our three campuses have read Titus 2 and shared what God placed on their heart. May you be encouraged and challenged to connect with God and the power of His presence in this season of your life.

Ten months ago, Brent and I decided to try adoption again.  Our hearts were ready.  The timing was good.  Johnny would be 3 when Baby would arrive, so they could share a room.  The girls are the perfect age and would be so helpful.  He and Johnny would be best buds.  They’d play dinosaurs, giggle, and wrestle.  I had dreams.  After our first international adoption attempt, we said that we wanted to have the next one “handed over to us”.  This one was.  How could this not be God?  Doors kept opening, so we kept walking.

My husband was apprehensive the first three months.  We sought counsel from God, family, friends, attorneys, etc.  Over the next few months, I went to sonograms and grew a relationship with the birth mom.  After four months, Brent finally decided this baby boy was going to be our 4thchild.   Two days later, the birth mom started having complications.  We immediately texted our support system asking for prayers and wisdom.  Liam Jacob was born at 23 weeks and went to be with Jesus that same day.  I’ve never experienced pain like that before.

The joy I had was sucked right out of me.  How could this be God?  I felt angry at Him.  “We’ve been faithful.  We’ve done everything right.  Why are you taking this away from us?” I just didn’t understand.  I felt alone.

The devil knows when we are vulnerable, and his subtle deceiving whispers walked me into a season of fear, anxiety, and stress.  I didn’t notice it at first.  I just felt disappointed, confused, and embarrassed by another unsuccessful adoption.  “God, why do we feel called to adopt when it’s not working?”  When our birth mom was in the hospital contracting the night before Liam was born, I went up at ministry time during Core to receive prayer.  I tried to be strong, but I was disappointed.  That night God brought some healing and comfort through the prayers of my friends.

But after Liam passed away, unhealed emotional wounds became a stronghold in my life.  Ladies, we need to expose the devil when his lies feel true.  Find a few ladies that you trust, be honest and let His light shine into your situation. I couldn’t have done this alone. God has given us the gift of community. Throughout this process I received advice, wisdom, and guidance from friends.  I’ve been a recipient of what Titus 2 is supposed to look like because the ladies in my life have taken Titus 2 seriously.  What did that look like?

  • The book a friend gave me on miscarriages.
  • The hug another gave me.
  • The text to check on how I was doing.
  • The encouragement from another friend, “God wants you to know He hasn’t given up on this dream, so you don’t either.”
  • The prayer from another, “Allow disappointment to happen.  You don’t have to guard your heart.”
  • The spoken words of my Father to me, “I am faithful. Your plans pale in comparison to what I have for you.  Keep trusting deeper.”

Does it hurt? Yes.  Is it sad? Yes.  Did it bring Brent and me closer? Yes.  Is my relationship with my Father any different because my trust in His plan didn’t work out? Yes.  It’s actually stronger, because I’m certain He has a better plan for us.  

When we guard our heart and mind in truth, we won’t be shaken.  When we call upon the name of the Lord, we won’t be shaken.  Titus 2:13-14 reminds me that we can have hope.  We find peace, worth, and infinite value in our Lord.  You will endure hardships and the Lord WILL be with you.  Don’t lose hope, Friend. He’s got this!

We would like to thank JuLea Bouma for this post.

Where Can I Find Belonging?

Not long ago, I was eagerly anticipating spring, and now, as the dog days of summer come to an end, I find myself anticipating yet another change.  Not only in the seasons, but in the pace of life.  Kids go back to school, routines return, and the opportunity for relationship grows.  Something about the onset of fall encourages community.  There is no better way to experience community than in a small group of people who meet weekly to love, laugh, pray, and live life together.  It’s what we call Life Group.

My husband Danny and I have had the honor and privilege of leading a Life Group for almost 10 years and we have been blessed with a myriad of life-giving, spirit-filled relationships because of it.  People come and go, but each person makes a lasting impact on my heart.  Memories of shared experiences (both joyous and tragic), of laughter, of tears, of sweet fellowship, and great food will remain with me forever.

And yet, my natural tendency is still to withdraw to my safe place and live life from the confines of that space.  Being what the professionals call an introvert has its challenges.  BUT GOD, through His unending love and grace, has shown me the freedom that comes from stretching myself, opening myself up to others, and allowing myself to love and be loved.  God created you for community, and if you don’t believe that, you are believing a lie.  My prayer for us as women is that we will stop believing the lies and cling to God’s truth.  

God’s truth about each one of us is that we are all He says we are and we can confidently put ourselves out there and find love, acceptance, and joy.

A friend told me recently, “Find joy today.”  That made me realize that if we really look, we can always find joy—maybe even in a group full of people.  So, if you have yet to find a Life Group, may I encourage you to visit one?  If you already have one, I pray that you will find new and refreshing joy rising within you as you embrace your group and the people in it.

As we anticipate this new season, may we hold tight to God’s truth and begin to anticipate the abundant life that living in community brings.  Romans 12 instructs us to live in harmony with one another and in Christ, each of us belongs to the other.  I am needed, you are needed, and together we are all necessary, chosen members of God’s Kingdom.  May He give each of us the grace and courage to step out of our safe place and into a place of belonging, relationship, and joy.

We’d like to thank Melissa Hooks for writing this blog!