22 September 2011

Out of the Overflow--A Theology of Hospitality Part 3

It's all well and good to talk about the need for hospitality in our culture, but the question is why does hospitality even matter? Can't we just all do our own thing?

There is a short, direct answer straight from God's Word found in 1 John 4:10-11.

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

God so loved us, meaning, in that way God loved us to the uttermost. He sent His only beloved Son to die in our place on the cross. How then can we not love one another, knowing the extent of God's great love for us? If we have been extended and received such magnanimous hospitality from the One who would have had every holy and justifiable right to let us, the human race, die in our sins with no rescue or remedy, then we would be rude, arrogant, selfish, fools to be anything but humbly gracious and welcoming to others. A lack of care and consideration for others would be the proverbial slap in the face to God who loved us while were still His enemies and demonstrated His love to us through Jesus' death while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:11-13 that before Christ reconciled us to God we were separate from Christ, strangers to the covenants and promises, without hope, and without God. Then Paul writes this glorious "But" statement: "BUT NOW in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ."

Isn't that amazing?!!? We were far off, distant, separate, estranged from God, but in Christ we are drawn near...so near that Paul says that God "predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself" (Ephesians 1:5). WOW! Did you catch that? We went from being completely alienated from God and His promises to being his SONS!!! What greater illustration of hospitality do we need to compel us to be hospitable to others? Out of the overflow of a thankful heart to God for lavishing loving hospitality on us through Christ, we should lavish hospitality both on those near to us as brothers and sisters in Christ and to those who are still far off.

If we need any more convincing or prodding to believe that extending hospitality should be our joy and delight, then we need only look as far as Ephesians 2:19 to motivate us.

"We are no longer aliens and strangers to Israel, God's people, but fellow citizens with the saints and of God's household".

Because of Christ and God's hospitality, we are now citizens of God's Kingdom, and so, like Israel, have the responsibility and privilege of showing the same hospitality to others that God demonstrated to us. Out of the overflow of a thankful heart that we are no longer foreigners, but a part of God's Kingdom and out of empathy to those who are, we should offer God's kindness and and hospitality.

"So I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy...Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality" (Romans 12:9-13)

17 August 2011

A Baby Story--NOT of the TLC Variety

**Please allow this interruption of our hospitality series for me to share what the Lord showed me in His Word today. I will post the next part of our series ASAP!**

Romans 8:18-23
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

My son, Zachary, took his sweet time to join us in the world last September. I remember thinking that the day would never come. (In all fairness, it was an EXTREMELY HOT summer and I was HUGE!) But then, one Tuesday in mid-September, contractions began in earnest (I'd been experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions for a while at that point) and were coming fairly reguarly, though far apart. My husband and I were so excited and a little nervous about what the evening would bring. We had been invited over to some friends' house for dinner and rather than just sitting at home waiting for a little one to arrive, we decided to go on to dinner. We packed our hospital bags in the car, sure we wouldn't be back to our home until a few days later when we returned with our new little bundle of joy!

We had a great dinner and visit with our friends--they were pretty pumped that I was "in labor" at their house and ready to follow us to the hospital at any moment. We got in the car that night...and headed back home. The contractions had slowed and were suddenly irregular again.

As we went to bed that night, we thought FOR SURE we'd be getting up in the middle of the night to go to the hospital. (Good thing we left our bags in the car!!) Little did we know that it would be a FULL TWO weeks before the doctors finally induced labor and our son was born.

While the contractions I experienced in the two weeks prior to Zachary's birth were real, they were just prepartory birth pains--contractions that were helping my body get ready for the actual birthing process.

That's the personal illustration the Lord brought to my mind as I read Paul's words in Romans 8:18-23 this morning. Paul is comparing the suffering and trials of our life on earth and the turmoil of the world to the prepartory contractions that ready a woman's body for her baby's birthday. Paul is not saying that our suffering and trials in this life are inconsequential any more than someone would dare to suggest that the pre-labor contractions a woman experiences before active labor begins are insignificant. What Paul is saying is that our suffering in this life is part of the pangs of waiting and preparation for the fulfillment of the restoration and redemption that will come when Jesus returns to bring His Bride to Himself and make all things new.

We anxiously awaited and eagerly anticipated the birth of our son. We endured pain and hardship in the process, but the joy that was ours when the doctor announced his arrival and Zachary's first cry filled the room so far outweighed whatever pain there had been that it wasn't even worth comparing them. (In fact, so great was my joy that I can only vaguely remember the discomfort and pain of pregnancy and labor.)

That's what Paul is communicating here. Whatever hardship, disappointment, suffering, or trial you are experiencing right now, isn't even worth comparing to the glory that is to come. Instead of focusing on the financial difficulty, the struggling marriage, the loneliness of singlehood, the anxiety of a strained relationship, the disappointment of a wayward child,the burden of a long-term illness, the loss of a job, etc., we should allow God, through the power of His Word and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit to use it in our lives to increase the hope we have in the promise of Christ's return to make all things new and to compel us to anxiously await and eagerly anticipate the completion of our adoption and redemption in Him. What an incredible birth story THAT will be!

16 August 2011

Sidewalk Talk

Stories of everyday expressions of hospitality from sidewalks around the world.

Not My Home

I have moved yet again...I think this makes move number 5 in the last 8 months, and I am still not to my final destination. Another house became available that is a little bigger and allows my roommate and I to have our own space, which I am very thankful for. As of now, however, there is no water and we will have to fill up our water tanks over the next few days. This will be a whole new learning experience for me, but will be good practice for when I get to my city.

I have not been too excited about packing again, moving, and unpacking and knowing in about 56 days I will be doing it all over again. I was talking to the Father this week and expressing my desire to just be settled in a home again. While I miss my home in the states, I do not necessarily want to be there. I just want to be at home...any home...my home. I do not want to sift through boxes or suitcases anymore. I am tired of feeling so temporary. As I have talked to the Father this week, He has faithfully reminded no home on this earth is permanent. It is all temporary. My home is not here. As I long to be settled and at home, I am really longing to be in my eternal home. He never meant for me to be settled here. While I am definitely OVER moving for a while I am so thankful for the tangible reminder that I am only passing through on my way to a better place. It makes me long all the more for our Lord's return. Maranatha!!

...having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. ~ Hebrews 11.13 - 16

03 August 2011

As Ancient as Sweet Iced Tea: A Theology of Hospitality Part 2

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33-34

Hospitality is not an inherently "Southern American" ideal (although iced tea on the veranda does sound lovely about now--thank you for offering). Actually, there are plenty of countries around the world, especially in Central Asia and the Middle East, whose generous hospitality far exceeds anything we've ever come close to experiencing or offering in the U.S, but then again, the roots for their hospitality go much deeper and there is actually a very rich history behind why they do what they do. God's people, the Israelites, were the ones who brought many of the ideas about hospitality and how to treat others kindly to the ancient world.

Believe it or not , hospitality or kindness to others is God's idea. We see that borne out in Scripture over and over again as God demonstrates His lovingkindness toward us by setting into motion the greatest rescue plan and love story ever. We see His hospitality displayed through the lives of the people in the Bible: Abraham, Joseph, Rahab, Boaz, King David, the widow and Elijah, and on and on!

In short, God's people have always been a hospitable people. In fact, protection for and proper treatment of foreigners, strangers, and travelers was built into the fabric of their laws for right living right from the very beginning(Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:18; 33-34). Israel's empathy for outsiders stems from their former status as foreigners and even slaves when they were in the land of Egypt. God instructs them to allow their history as strangers in a foreign land to inform their compassion for others. In other words, it takes one to know one. Who better to extend hospitality than someone who knows what it is like to have been treated inhospitably? This is pretty much where the idea of the "Golden Rule" is born--the Israelites were commanded and encouraged to display kindness to others in light of the fact that they would like to be treated that way themselves.

It is also interesting to note that God's instruction to Israel about the treatment of strangers comes in the midst of His instructions to them regarding their relationships with each other. Leviticus 19:18 says, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD." So not only does their hospitality flow from their history as outsiders themselves, but it is an overflow and an extension of the love they are to be displaying toward each other.

28 July 2011

Sidewalk Talk

Stories of everyday expressions of hospitality from sidewalks around the world.

I met Polly* at a local "department store" (I use the term loosely) in my new city in South Asia. I went in to buy towels but for some strange reason (we will call it jet lag) I only bought one. Polly assisted me  and was so kind. She was very patient with my poor language skills and just did everything she could to help. As I said, I only bought one towel and of course I needed more. I returned to the store a few days later to get another. As I walked to the store I asked the Father for a chance to just say hi to Polly again.  I went in the store and sure enough she was there. She and the other workers were having a break time and enjoying a snack together. I felt so bad to interrupt and was sure I was not going to be able to talk with Polly. But, as I was looking at the towels, Polly came up behind me with some of her snack to share with me! I was stunned and, being the polite American I am, I refused. Polly was persistent and offered again. I realized she was showing me a great kindness and to refuse would be extremely rude.  I could not believe it! Here is this precious girl offering a complete stranger, new to her country, and obviously not very culturally savvy, some of her snack at work. It was such a simple act of hospitality but the Father used it to lift my spirits. The whole way home I was in awe of the Father's sweet provision and of this girls generosity and hospitality to me. I hope that when given the chance I will extend the same simple hospitality to a stranger and open the doors for potential friendship.

~Please lift up further meetings with Polly(I still need more towels:) and boldness on my part to share the Truth with her.

HOSPITALITY: noun. the gracious, generous, friendly treatment of others

Hebrews 10:23-25
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

5 Hospitable Spurs for Sunday Mornings (or Saturday Evenings):

1. Take a deep breath. That's right...in through your nose, out through your mouth. In the car. Before you step into the parking lot or set foot on the church sidewalk. Just take a deep breath. The moments leading up to arrival at church can be and often are stressful. It's rush, rush, rush to get everyone ready and out-the-door on time. I think the enemy would like nothing more than to use our Sunday-morning fluster to keep us from being able to display God's kindness to others. So, I'm trying to practice leaving it in the car. I'm not promoting hypocrisy here or encouraging you to put on a fake "church face", but I think all the mess and stress of the week should pale in comparison to the joy of our salvation and that should be what we strive to pour out on others and not our flustered exasperation with our wardrobe or with our spouse or with the super-slow Sunday driver in front of us. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that any struggles, though very real and valid, we have on this earth are both "light and momentary" compared to the glory waiting for us in eternity. It's the anticipation of our hopeful future that should put a spring in our steps and bring a smile to our faces.

2. Make eye contact with and smile at the people you pass on the sidewalk and in the halls. Maybe this should go without saying, but in our current culture, it seems that this small hospitable gesture has been lost. We should find the courage, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to step outside of ourselves for a few brief moments to seek the better interests of others rather than ourselves. Okay, enough said.

3.Seek out someone who looks alone or "lost". They're in the lobby, in the restroom, at the coffee bar, in the line at the check-in desk in the kids' department, sitting in the back of the auditorium, in the parking lot, in the youth room, etc. They church is full of lonely people who either feel invisible or displaced. And besides, before Christ found us, that's what we were. What better way to display the gospel than to acknowledge the existence of and take an interest in those people? Invite him to sit with you and your family or friends. Ask her if she is involved in a small group. Invite her to yours if she doesn't. Exchange email addresses so you can send him a brief message mid-week. The only personal risk at stake here is a little rejection. I think we can all risk a little rejection from time to time to be a living display of the gospel. You never know what a difference a simple "How are you, today?" can make in a person's life.

4. Greet the people sitting near you in the auditorium. If you are seated in enough time before the worship service begins, then take a couple of minutes to greet the people seated near you. It doesn't have to lead to a long, drawn-out conversation, but should at least be a step toward taking an interest in those around you.

5. Stick around for a few minutes after the service to chat with people. I know this is a challenge for those of us who have kids in Sunday School or the nursery or after church plans, but it really is a vital thing for healthy-relationship building to take place within the Body of believers. So, if you've got kids, go get them and then chat with the other families that are picking up kids too. If you don't have kids, hang around the lobby or sidewalk to engage those you've just met or those you've known for awhile in conversation. Both groups should even consider inviting people to join them for dinner after church--either out or at your home--from time to time.

The thing is we have to be the ones to take the initiative sometimes. If we all just wait for the other person to speak first, move first, invite first, etc., then we may miss out on MANY opportunities to display the love of Christ to others and to develop new friendships. We have to fight against our current culture by being friendly and considerate to others in order to demonstrate that "We love because He loved us first" (1 John 4:19).

20 July 2011

Looking Up From the Cracks in My Sidewalk: A Theology of Hospitality Part I

2 Corinthians 5:17-21Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately: HOSPITALITY. I want to know what it really means and what God’s Word has to say about it. I want to know what it looks like in our culture and how to live it out in our context.

I really started chewing on this topic when I read Luke 7:37-50, the story of the Sinful Woman, for a study I’ve been doing with a friend, but it’s also something I’ve been fired up about lately. I’ve noticed a disheartening lack of hospitality among people in our culture (including myself)—not just our culture at large, but our church culture too—a lack of hospitality among brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not even really referring (yet, although we will get there in this blog series) to the fact that it is a RARE thing for people to invite others into their homes or that it’s no longer a regular practice for church-attendees to greet one another in the service (this has become taboo in our more seeker-friendly church culture because someone might get scared-off if you say hello to them or act glad that they are there).

What I’m super-disturbed about and want to focus this discussion to is the fact that people rarely even bother to speak a generic “Good Morning! How are you?” to each other as they pass on the sidewalks or in the hallways at church. We hide behind sunglasses and smart phones or become suddenly interested in the cracks of the sidewalks or we’re so busy trying to get kids to their places or doing our Sunday-morning “ministry” tasks that we fail to remember to make eye-contact, smile, and greet one another. We seem to have forgotten that the people we’ve just ignored or blown past are just that—people, image-bearing creations of the Creator God who formed man out of the dust of the earth, gave him a helper named woman when God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and commanded the man and the woman to fill the earth with their offspring (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18; 21-25). See, God Himself is all about relationship. He desires fellowship and relationship with us and because He imprinted us with Himself, we also desire fellowship and relationship with Him and with other people.

So why then, if God created us with a desire to be relational beings do we sabotage and suppress that desire by trying to be invisible or treat others as if they are invisible?

I think the answer is fairly simple. Like our need to be relational, the origin of our dysfunction in that arena goes back to the beginning of human history. When sin entered God’s perfect world and His perfect people through Adam and Eve, one of the first things it wreaked havoc with was relationships—both man and woman’s relationship with God and with each other (Genesis 3). And since then, our relationships on every level have been pretty messed up.

We’re separated by our sin from our righteous, holy God and from each other by the wicked, self-seeking nature that reigns in us. It’s just pure self-absorption that keeps us from being able to step outside of ourselves for one brief moment to make eye contact and smile at the person walking by us. That’s the bad news.

The good news is there’s a remedy for our relational mess and our serious sin-sickness that blinds us to the needs and desires of others. His name is Jesus and He’s God’s rescue-plan for humankind. Through Jesus, God reconciles people to Himself and restores them to relationship with Himself. In this restoration, we not only gain reconciliation to God but to each other (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)! When God reconciled us to Himself through His Son, Jesus, He erased our old, selfish, sinful nature and gave us a new one. In Christ, we are brand new creations—set free from the slavery of sin and self-absorption to live a life that is pleasing to God and hospitable toward others (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:1).

As a result of Christ’s redeeming work in our lives, our desire to be in relationship with God is fulfilled and our desire to grow deeper in that relationship should mount the more we get to know our Savior and God. In the same way, we should desire to be connected to those who’ve also been brought near to God in Christ—our fellow brothers and sisters (Ephesians 2:14-19). Our relationships with other believers should deepen and grow as we grow in Christ and the Bible is filled to overflowing with instructions on how we should be treating each other.

The other relational desire that should grow to exponential dimensions as a result of our reconciliation to God is our love for lost people and a desire for them to be reconciled to God, too. Our connectedness to the rest of the world what has yet to hear of God’s rescue-plan should increase as we learn to live out our reconciliation in Christ. We are God’s ambassadors to the rest of the world of what it means to live in restored relationship to Him through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). It’s out of this reconciliation to Christ that our ability to demonstrate hospitality flows.

So without further ado, I’d like to invite you to look up from the cracks in the sidewalks and join me in learning just what gospel-centered hospitality means and looks like for us as believers in the 21st century. My hope and earnest prayer for us as we embark on this study is that we will fall more in love with our Savior and His Word, overflow with thankfulness for the hospitality shown to us in Christ, and develop a rich theological framework for biblical, gospel-centered hospitality which will enable us to practice hospitality to both believers and non-believers in simple, practical ways.