1 Peter 4:7-11 – Practicing Hospitality

hospitality
“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” –Acts 2:46

The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)

One of the most practical and biblical ways of demonstrating love is through hospitality. Hospitality, at its heart, is an invitation to come into my home and into my life. It is a ministry of acceptance, encouragement, restoration, and healing.  The loving work of hospitality “covers a multitude of sins” through the power of influence. When we have face-to-face conversations around the table, it prevents us from engaging in sins that would otherwise be committed if left to ourselves.

Because the end of all things is near, we need our wits about us through a determined focus on prayer, love, and hospitality. The word “hospitality” literally means, “love of the stranger.” I invite someone whom I do not know very well into my home and befriend them. This is what Jesus did for us. Although we were all estranged from God and on the outside, Jesus came to eat with us.

“Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with me.” (Revelation 3:20, GNT)

Jesus invites us into the life of God; and, we are to invite others into our lives. Jesus has so closely identified with his people that when we practice hospitality, we are inviting Jesus in. In fact, we may not realize that some people we host are angels:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2, NIV). 

Inviting another person into my home and heart takes time and effort. Doing it without grumbling is a necessity. In an ideal world we always receive something back for our work of hospitality – an invitation from the other person, or, at least, a simple thank you. That does not always happen and cannot be the driving reason why we are generous. Hospitality is a work of love which originates from a heart that has been touched by the hospitality of God. Our earthly hospitality is a form of saying “thank you” to God for his grace to us. Complaints break into the house like unwanted burglars when we expect to receive, and do not. If you receive another person as though they were Christ himself, grumbling will likely be far from you. Instead, there will be rejoicing over the opportunity to serve Jesus.

Jesus said, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40, CEV).

In the New Testament world, a concrete expression of love to other believers in Jesus was providing food and shelter for Christians traveling throughout the Roman Empire. Often, the traveling strangers were itinerant evangelists spreading the message of the gospel from place to place.

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth. (3 John 5-8, NIV)

At other times, believers were deprived of necessities due to occasional waves of persecution. The people Peter addressed were mostly Jewish Christians. As they faced persecution in Jerusalem, they fled to geographical places dominated by pagan Gentiles. As refugees, they were often poor and needy; and, the townspeople where they went were not hospitable. So, they had to rely on the love and hospitality of those believers they could connect with who had the means to help.

Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. (Romans 12:13, CEB) 

There is a great need for hospitality in our world.  Many American’s circle of friends is shrinking. According to one study the number of people who said they had no one to talk to about important matters has more than doubled in the past 10 years. 35 million Americans now live alone (which is 28% of all households).  Hospitality cuts both ways for us.  We are to invite the lonely into our hearts and homes; and, the lonely are to invite others into their hearts and homes, instead of waiting for somebody to just show up.

Matthew 25.35

Food is to hospitality what weightlifting is to bodybuilders; you really need food, meals, and the sharing that goes with it to make a difference in another’s life. In biblical times, eating a meal together was a sacred affair.  To have another person in your house, sitting around your table, communicated acceptance, care, and friendship. That is why the religious leaders had such difficulty with Jesus eating with “sinners.” Jesus was unequivocally loving and accepting of such persons.

When we think about our world, it can be a sad place. Can people of different races live in peace?  Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans?  Can a Christian family carry on a civil friendship with neighbors down the street far from Christianity?  Can people worlds apart from each other get along?  The early church did. And they did it without all the stuff we have.  The early believers did it through the simplest tool of the home. No matter our gifts and abilities, each one of us can be hospitable. Something mystical happens at a dinner table that does not happen anywhere else – it opens the door to true community.

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28, NRSV)

For the Christian, eating and ingesting bread and wine serves as a tangible way of understanding what life is to be like. We take Jesus into the depths of our lives. We ingest him, that is, we engage in an intimate relationship whereby the two of us can never be separated.

We are meant for life together, to enjoy eating and drinking together. True life is sharing both our resources and our hearts with one another.

Loving God, thank you for your generosity. I am a stranger in this world, yet, you invite me to be your guest. You lavishly offer me your hospitality and welcome me into your family. You invite me to share in the abundance of your kingdom. Help me remember that when I offer hospitality to others, I am receiving Christ into my home. Gracious God, I open my heart to those who are wounded; those who have wounded me; those who are outcasts; and to all who are searching. I want my everyday ordinary life to please you. I am grateful that there is always room at your Table; through Jesus, my Lord. Amen.

Isaiah 25:6-9 – Celebrate!

village in front of the mountains
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. 

In that day they will say, 

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” (NIV) 

Mountains are a prominent and symbolic part of Holy Scripture. Abraham sojourned to a mountain where the pinnacle of faith was exhibited. The Law was given on a mountain. Elijah met God on a mountain. Jesus preached the most famous sermon ever on a mountain. From such references, and more, we routinely refer to extraordinary events as “mountaintop experiences.”  

The mountain is a great contrast and antithesis to the valley of death below. It signifies God’s power and reign over all earthly rulersOn the mountain we enjoy a great feast of the soul, not to mention an actual meal full of celebration. After all, food and celebration always go together in God’s kingdom. 

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Whenever healing and/or emancipation happen, it is time for celebration. To celebrate significant events, and even to ritualize them so we remember them, is not only wise – it is much needed and vital to how we are wired as humans. The lack of celebration creates spiritual amnesia. When we need support in the future, we don’t recall the mighty acts of God. Yet, if we consistently practice celebration, the redemption experienced in the past is constantly fresh, like a sumptuous meal which is always before us. We can eat of it anytime we want. 

Banquets are rightly associated with hospitality, generosity, and fellowship. Meals in the ancient Near East culture were much more than utilitarian; eating together was (and, frankly, still is in most parts of the world) a deeply spiritual event which communicates acceptance, encouragement, and love to one another.  

God is the ultimate host. He throws the best parties. God ensures that there is plenty of food, fellowship, and fun. God’s joy knows no bounds. In the middle of a world beset with sadness, loss, and grief, God’s boundless generosity swallows up people’s disgrace and mourning. At God’s Table, no one cries alone; everyone is comforted; nobody walks away hungry; and, every person is waited upon, no matter who they are or where they have come from. Indeed, there is always room at the Table. 

Through Christ’s resurrection, “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Death no longer has any power to control, humiliate, or shame us into submission. Death’s threats are emptyThe Grim Reaper’s teeth have been pulled and his scythe has been broken. He is the party-pooper who is barred from entry. Conversely, there is life and abundance for all who ascend the mountain and feast with God at his Table. The invitation has gone out. The Table is spread. We need only to come. 

In the joy of your Son, Jesus Christ, through his mighty resurrection and in expectation of his coming again, we offer ourselves to you, Almighty God, as holy and living sacrifices. Together with all your people everywhere and in every age, we proclaim the mystery of the faith: 

Christ has died! 

Christ is risen! 

Christ will come again! 

Send your Holy Spirit upon us, we pray, that the bread which we break and the cup which we bless may be to us a sacred communion, a holy celebration of Christ’s body, blood, and victory over death. We declare: 

God has spoken! 

God has acted! 

God has provided! 

May you gather all into your hospitable and abundant kingdom; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy SpiritOne benevolent God, now and forever. Amen. 

Click Celebrate Jesus to keep the Easter songs coming in this season of celebrating new life.

Seven Christian Virtues

            The Christian life is a struggle, a wrestling match of putting off bad behavior, and putting on good behavior.  Like a set of dirty clothes, we take them off and put on new clothes (Ephesians 4:14-5:20).  We must do both, putting off and putting on.  It does no good to take off dirty clothes and stand there naked.  Neither does it make any sense to just put clean clothes on over your dirty ones.
The seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride are bad habits of vice which darken the heart.  From them springs the evil behavior of the world. We must put them aside.  In their place we are to put on the seven heavenly virtues of purity, self-control, generosity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness, and humility.
1.      Purity
 
The insatiable habit of committing mental adultery needs to be replaced with purity of heart.  The pure of heart seek to better themselves through confession, repentance, and accountability.  One reason many people do not experience victory over their lust is that they confess and repent without allowing themselves to be held accountable by a wise spiritual mentor or a safe small group of people.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, NIV)
 
“Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV)
 
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)
 
2.     Self-Control
 
The glutton overindulges to the point of addiction.  He needs self-control.  Self-control is to engage in the good things of life in moderation, learning to say “no” before it’s too late.  Notice this is self-control, not others-control.  The way to gain mastery over yourself is not through controlling other people.  It’s tempting to blame others for our gluttony, but the path forward is through taking small steps of personal courage and faith.  Lent is the perfect season to intentionally plan to put aside one vice or besetting sin in your life.
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NIV)
 
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)
 
“Control yourselves and be careful! The devil, your enemy, goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat.” (1 Peter 5:8, NCV)
 
 
 
3.     Generosity
 
The greedy person only thinks about money and how to get more.  Greed can only be overcome with generosity toward others.  Not only are we to liberally give money away to those in need, we are to be generous with encouraging words, go out of our way to do humble service, and be effusive in spending time with those who need it.
But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.  Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, NLT)
 
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17, ESV)
 
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18, NIV)
 
4.    Diligence
 
A lazy and indifferent attitude doesn’t want to get involved.  It needs to be replaced with a diligent hard-working spirit.  Diligent people seek to make a difference in the world.  They roll their sleeves up, jump-in and get to work on the great problems of the day.
“The lazy have strong desires but receive nothing; the appetite of the diligent is satisfied.” (Proverbs 13:4, CEB)
 
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5, ESV)
 
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV)
 
“Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23, AMP)
 
 
 
5.     Forgiveness
 
Maybe it goes without saying that anger and forgiveness are mutually exclusive terms.  An angry person doesn’t forgive – she just wants to get even.  Putting off those angry clothes means putting on the clean clothes of extending forgiveness.  Forgiveness is neither cheap, nor easy. It can’t be done quickly or hastily.  It’s the difference between throwing on a few sweats – and getting dressed up in a tuxedo.  Forgiveness takes care and time.
“Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil.  Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, CEB)
 
“As holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.  Put up with each other and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13, GW)
 
6.    Kindness
 
Envy is the evil rot that separates people.  The antidote is kindness.  To be kind is to celebrate what another has achieved that you haven’t.  Kindness extends friendship instead of trying to knock another person down a peg so that you can try and have what they have.  Kindness creates connection and heals division.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV)
 
“And to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love.” (2 Peter 1:7, NCV)
 
7.     Humility
 
If pride is the root from which all other sinful attitudes break ground, humility is the herbicide that kills that root.  To be humble is to know that others have a valuable contribution to give.  Humility listens because it doesn’t think it has all the answers.  The humble among us quietly serve others without caring if it draws attention to themselves.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)
 
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10, NKJV)
 
“God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NASB)
 
 
 
            Developing Christian character is more than identifying the vices and bad habits of life; it is replacing them with these seven virtues.  Cultivating true Christian virtue is in the struggle to be better, and not in the notion that one can achieve perfection.  It is the continual wrestling with one’s own shadow-self that allows the virtues to gain a foothold in the soul.
            Therefore, church ministry needs to be a place where people are free to struggle, doubt, and wrestle with their inner demons.  Genuine ministry is a hospital for the soul, resembling more of the messy triage work of the emergency room, than the sanitized antiseptic room on the top floor who hasn’t seen a patient in days.

 

            Try using these Christian virtues as a way of having a conversation about the nature, direction, and goals of your ministry.  Are these virtues evident in your context? Why, or why not? Which one needs the most attention? How will you address it?

Generosity as a Way of Life

generosity - John Wesley

Generosity is at the heart of any good family, neighborhood, workplace, organization, church, and individual.  To be generous is to reflect the image of God, who gave of himself on our behalf.

We often associate being generous with giving a handout or money to someone or some organization in need.  It is that, but much more.  Generosity doesn’t have to do with the size of our check or the amount of our contribution.  We can be generous with our time, abilities, words, and with what little or much we have of money, as well.  Generosity means to go above expectations – to give with magnanimity, or to go out of your way to do good when no one is looking – and experience giving as its own reward.

Jesus with outstretched arms

Jesus embraced generosity as a way of life while he was here on this earth.  No one expected him to go out of his way to call the least, the lowly, the lost, and the last of society.  The people on the margins of respectable culture had no expectations that the Messiah would head their way.  But he did.  Christ the Lord even went so far as to hang out with the despised tax collectors, and freely talk with sexual deviants.  The high brows of society couldn’t raise their eyebrows high enough for Jesus.  It was just too much for them.  Not only was Jesus making them look bad with his generosity as a way of life, he was, in their minds, giving to the wrong sort of people.

The generous person follows the Master by surveying the landscape of human need and giving to people in places where no one expects a handout.  Let’s keep in mind an interesting tidbit of Gospel trivia: we don’t have the Lord Jesus giving money to anyone except his taxes to the hated Roman Empire.  The Lord lived a simple life with little to no money.  He largely depended on the generosity of others.  Yes, my friend, generosity is a two-way street.  Being generous to others is the easy part for many people; receiving the generosity of other people is often much harder.  Yet, Jesus did both – give and receive.

Jesus gave in ways which were according to his Father’s will.  He gave of his time, his divine ability to heal and forgive, and he was perhaps the most magnanimous person of all-time in his generosity of compassion, kindness, love, and humble service to others.  The height of Christ’s generosity was in giving his life so that you and I could live a life free from the power of sin.  Such deliverance through the cross is offered and given, free of charge.  That’s over-the-top generous.

You don’t need to be rich to be generous.  A large and expansive heart always finds ways to have a generosity of spirit wherever it goes.

Think about some ways you can embrace, like Jesus, generosity as the true path of living your life.  Waiting for someone to ask you to serve or be generous betrays a heart that still needs some softening.  Jesus warned against being generous to be noticed:

“When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off. If you do, you won’t get a reward from your Father in heaven.  When you give to the poor, don’t blow a loud horn. That’s what show-offs do in the meeting places and on the street corners, because they are always looking for praise. I can assure you that they already have their reward.  When you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know about it. Then your gift will be given in secret. Your Father knows what is done in secret, and he will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4, CEV)

Instead, take some initiative and give because that’s what genuine generosity is about.

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To get you started and take some steps, here are some suggestions that might resonate with you:

  • Offer to babysit (for free) so that a young couple can have a date night. If you really want to be generous, give them money for dinner.
  • Donate a service or product, and don’t mind alerting the media about it.
  • Next time it snows, shovel or snow-blow your neighbor’s sidewalk and driveway.
  • With Lent almost here, commit to giving one possession away each day of the 40 days leading up to Easter.
  • Make small packets containing water, a protein bar, dry shampoo, and other food or products for the homeless. Keep them in your car, and hand them out when needed (got this one from my daughter).
  • Look for ways to help your struggling co-worker with his/her responsibilities.
  • Instead of looking for your boss to give you an “at-a-boy,” give a generous word of encouragement to him/her.
  • Walk across the room and meet a new person and spend time in conversation, instead of looking to shmooz with someone well-known and/or respected.
  • Make a meal for the most unpleasant person on your street. Go above and beyond with several courses of food.
  • During the 40 days of Lent, write a note of gratitude to a different person each day. Be generous with your words.
  • Find a person you think has lots of potential but few resources. Get to know them better and be generous with your experience and help.
  • Volunteer at the local hospital or nursing home in whatever capacity they need.
  • Yes, tip your server! Give just as much or more to the person who gave you poor service; you don’t know what kind of day they had (you could ask!?).
  • Read a book on simplicity this year.

You get the idea.  There are dozens of ways to live a generous life and bless others with your unique combination of gifts, abilities, time, and money.  Generosity usually doesn’t just happen by chance; it’s an intentional giving to another based on the disposition of your heart, which seeks to go above human expectations to glorifying God with everything you have.