1 Peter 4:7-11 – Be Hospitable

One of the Family, Frederick George Cotman, 1880

The end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (New Revised Standard Version)

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 so, 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 my 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; it must not 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 the grace given 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 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. Over 35 million Americans now live alone (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.

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, was a way of communicating acceptance, care, and friendship. That’s why the religious leaders had such difficulty seeing Jesus eat with “sinners.” Jesus was unequivocally loving and accepting of such persons.

Looking at our world, it can often be a sad place. We may wonder:

  • 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 – 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.

“Table of Hope” by Joey Velasco

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.

Ephesians 4:7-16 – Be Mature

Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. As the Scriptures say,

“When he went up
    to the highest place,
he led away many prisoners
    and gave gifts to people.”

When it says, “he went up,” it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so he would fill the whole universe.

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so his people would learn to serve, and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.

We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. (Contemporary English Version)

The Body of Christ, without love as its skeletal structure, would be as ridiculous and silly as a boneless chicken ranch. 

The Apostle Paul, a concerned spiritual father, was encouraging the Church toward maturity, to act as adults in the faith and not like immature children.

Just as the physical body begins small, then grows and matures over time, so the spiritual body (the church) is to focus on incremental slow growth across the years so that it realizes maturity. And the consummate evidence of that spiritual development is strong bonds of love.

Ten days after the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, the Day of Pentecost occurred. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon the small band of believers and the church became a full-fledged phenomenon, growing and expanding. (Acts 2:1-47)

The gracious gifts of the Spirit are given to each and every Christian so that growth and strength will come to the Body of Christ through love. Each spiritual gift might be different from person to person, but every one of them is meant to be used in love for the benefit of the entire church.

Without any bones or skeleton, the church will be weak and ineffective. It might look like a church but will not be able to do anything in the world. 

For spiritual maturity to happen, it is necessary for every single Christian in the church to discover their spiritual gift, and then, use it in love to build up the entire Body. This is the God-ordained means of realizing a healthy functioning church. 

It may appear that you and I, as believers in and followers of Jesus, have the luxury of pursuing other interests rather than providing loving and gifted service to Christ’s Church. After all, church attendance, Christian mission and service are all voluntary, right? A volunteer can choose to sit out, right?

Uh-hem (clearing of throat). Wrong. That sort of thinking is based in the goofy notion that the Church is a voluntary society which we choose to become a part of, or not. It isn’t. The Body of Christ, the Church, the people for whom Christ died, was chosen by God – and not the other way around.

Before we chose God, God chose us. We can no more choose to decline Christian mission and service anymore than a physical heart or bodily organ can decide it needs to go do something else – as if they could simply leave the Body or just stop doing what they’re doing without consequence.

No, my friends, for the Body to function, it must work in concert, paying attention to the unique parts which keep it alive and thriving, while at the same time, maintaining the overall health of all the Bodily systems.

Bottom line: We need one another. Going off and continually doing my own thing or picking up my marbles and going home because I’m mad or frustrated, is what children do. When adults act like children, we rightly discern they are immature and need to grow up.

So, instead of lacking self-awareness or being pouty about my blog post, focus on the following questions:

What is your passion and desire for Christ’s church? 

What issues stir you emotionally? 

What group of people do you feel most attracted to reach? 

What area of Christian mission or church ministry would you most like to influence? 

Are there people whom you notice that others seem to ignore? 

Will you step out in faith and learn how God has wired you for ministry? 

Will you speak and serve in the name of Jesus through the enablement of the Spirit?

Loving God, I ask you to give me a heart of faith to trust the Spirit and the Spirit’s work in my life. I ask for a heart that desires the gifts of the Spirit for the common good of all persons. I ask you to help me be open to the gifts of the Spirit in others. I ask for jealousy of others’ gifts to be quieted in me. I pray that my gifts would build up the church. Most of all, I ask for the gift of love. Use me for the strengthening of Christ’s church, and for a positive influence in the world. Amen.

Ezekiel 2:8-3:11 – Use the Head-Butt

Rufus R. Jones (1933-1993)

Son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not join them in their rebellion. Open your mouth and eat what I give you.”

Then I looked and saw a hand reaching out to me. It held a scroll, which he unrolled. And I saw that both sides were covered with funeral songs, words of sorrow, and pronouncements of doom.

The voice said to me, “Son of man, eat what I am giving you—eat this scroll! Then go and give its message to the people of Israel.” So, I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. “Fill your stomach with this,” he said. And when I ate it, it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Then he said, “Son of man, go to the people of Israel and give them my messages. I am not sending you to a foreign people whose language you cannot understand. No, I am not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen! But the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn. But look, I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.”

Then he added, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” (New Living Translation)

When I was a kid, my brother and I watched “All-Star Wrestling” on television every Saturday. One of our favorite wrestlers was Rufus R. Jones. Like all wrestlers, he had a signature move, a lights-out-nobody-is-getting-up maneuver that always ended the match. 

Rufus’ move was the head-butt. Slamming his hard forehead into the head of his opponent always brought raucous behavior from me and my brother. Then, as the boys we were, we acted out the head-butt scene over and over. The hardest head always won…. I usually lost…. That probably explains a lot.

God gave a message to the prophet Ezekiel concerning the stubborn hearts and hard heads of the Israelites. The Lord was looking for repentance, for the people to turn their hearts and minds back to true worship and an authentic humble relationship with their God. 

The prospect of facing such a task, such an opponent, seemed daunting to Ezekiel. So, the Lord assured the prophet that his forehead would be harder than that of Rufus R. Jones. So, there is no need to be afraid of the opponent. They may be hard, but they’re no match for the rock-hard head of the prophet.

In essence, God told Ezekiel to pull-out the signature wrestling move and do the lights-out head-butt maneuver. And the promise from God that backed up Ezekiel was this: There’s absolutely no way you’re going to lose the match with the kind of head I’m giving you.

Like Ezekiel, we are to speak the Word of God with the promise of not losing. Prideful ungodly stubbornness will get us knocked-out. But conversely, gracious bold stubbornness, which determines to do the will of God, shall always win the day.

The only catch is: The Word needs to sink down deeply into our own hearts through listening well – before we can effectively speak to others.

God provides us with spiritual giftedness. Yet, that doesn’t mean we never need to develop that gift or engage in any spiritual practices to make it better. We are to use that which God gives us, no matter the response from others.

There is often a fine line between sinful obstinate stubbornness and godly persevering tenacity. We are never to use our abilities to slam people, obnoxiously and persistently, upside the head with an oversized King James Version of the Bible – in the wrongheaded notion that the Word doesn’t come back without effect.

That kind of effect, however, is harmful spiritual bruising that is devoid of grace. It’s really nothing more than an individual working out their own anger and frustration on somebody else.

Rather, we are to carefully, deliberately, consistently, and daily internalize God’s Word so that what comes out of us is helpful, not harmful. Only by a constant use of solitude and silence, in truly listening well for the voice of God, can we effect the sort of positive ministry which is needed for the present moment.

Put another way, whenever we head-butt an opponent, the grace and mercy ought to be uncompromising. It’s not our job to be the judge; our task is to communicate effectively and humbly without giving in or giving up. The message may be hard, but it should always be sweet.

Almighty and ever-living God, we pray that you would give us the Spirit of wisdom and discernment so that we may know you better and love you more. Give us an understanding heart so that we may be open in hearing your voice of grace and guidance.

Use us, your people, not to be unthinking and unfeeling tools of bludgeoning others, but to be your hands and feet – your voice and heart so that we may be a channel through which you pour out your grace to help others – may we decrease to nothing so that only Christ is seen in our lives – we ask this in the power of the Spirit and in the name of Jesus. Amen.

1 Corinthians 14:1-12 – Pursue Love and Service

Pursue love and use your ambition to try to get spiritual gifts but especially so that you might prophesy. This is because those who speak in a tongue don’t speak to people but to God; no one understands it—they speak mysteries by the Spirit. Those who prophesy speak to people, building them up, and giving them encouragement and comfort. People who speak in a tongue build up themselves; those who prophesy build up the church.I wish that all of you spoke in tongues, but I’d rather you could prophesy. Those who prophesy are more important than those who speak in tongues unless they are able to interpret them so that the church might be built up. 

After all, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation, some knowledge, a prophecy, or a teaching? Likewise, things that aren’t alive like a harp or a lyre can make a sound, but if there aren’t different notes in the sounds they make, how will the tune from the harp or the lyre be recognized? And if a trumpet call is unrecognizable, then who will prepare for battle? 

It’s the same way with you: If you don’t use language that is easy to understand when you speak in a tongue, then how will anyone understand what is said?It will be as if you are speaking into the air! There are probably many language families in the world, and none of them are without meaning. So, if I don’t know the meaning of the language, then I will be like a foreigner to those who speak it, and they will be like foreigners to me. The same holds true for you: since you are ambitious for spiritual gifts, use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at building up the church. (Common English Bible)

Sometimes we need to look at a section of Scripture and see its big picture message, not losing sight of the forest for the trees. At first glance, it might be tempting to question or delve into whether tongues (a private language of communicating with God) and prophecy (divinely inspired speech for a person or group based in Holy Scripture) are for today, or not. 

Please keep in mind that spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy were not the Apostle Paul’s driving concern when he wrote to the Corinthians. Paul wanted the Corinthian believers – who were puffing themselves up like peacocks so that others would admire their gifts and abilities – to grasp a basic important message: pursue love by striving to excel in building up people.

If we miss love, we have lost sight of God’s Word to us. A preoccupation with tongues and prophecy only makes us lose the forest for a few tress. Rather, we are to keep thinking about how we show love for all our brothers and sisters in Christ and put some significant effort into doing our part to encourage them. 

Spiritual gifts are given by God to Christians as a means of loving and encouraging the Church. They are not given in a vacuum, as if those gifts are only for an individual’s help. They’re meant to be directed toward helping and serving others.

For example, I am a teacher of God’s Word. It would be really weird if I jumped out of bed on a Sunday morning, got dressed, looked in the mirror and taught at myself. Then, went back to bed dreaming about what a great teacher I am. Spiritual gifts are meant to be unpacked and used for the community, not self.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

One of the great temptations of humanity is to finagle our efforts so that other people will notice and give props to our wonderful work. Indeed, we can write Facebook messages to garner as many “likes” as we can get, or post things on Twitter and our favorite blogs hoping to look smart and funny in the eyes of a community of people we may not even know personally. All the while we may be withholding love to actual people right in front our faces because they may not give to us the attention we crave.

Perhaps with Lent coming in another month, you might want to consider a fast from social media in order to better connect with people within your direct sphere of human touch and influence. Or maybe ask someone close to you what they believe your primary spiritual gifts are, with the expressed intention of using the information to explore fresh avenues of love and service to others. 

Whatever you do, pursue love and excel in building up the church.

Loving God, you have graciously gifted us all for love and service. May we continually see your love expressed to us through Jesus Christ so that we will be always inspired to pass on that same love to others for whom you also love. Amen.