Radical Hospitality

Monday, August 31, 2009

What usually comes you mind when you hear the word hospitality? In modern times we associate hospitality with etiquette and entertainment. Many years ago after a visit to Williamsburg, I began collecting pineapples. The exotic fruit was the centerpiece for the finest of meals in Colonial homes and became the symbol of hospitality and friendship. Colonial hostesses sought to outdo each other with elaborate displays of the sweet treat with expensive pineapple-topped food displays. I guess we could say they were practicing “radical hospitality.”

The image of a pineapple came to express affection and warmth throughout the colonies. Today the pineapple continues to be an international symbol of hospitality. Christian hospitality though is not about setting the perfect “Dolly Madison” table or creating a Southern Living décor. It’s about meeting needs and showing the love of Christ to fellow Christians and strangers.

In the New Testament period, hospitality was a practical issue because traveling believers relied on other believers for lodging. One of the Greek words for hospitality is philoxenio, combines phileo (love) and xenos (stranger). I love one of the English translations, guest-friendship.

Isn’t guest-friendship what we should practice in our congregations? In his book Cultivating Fruitfulness, Robert Schasne says radical hospitality “means we offer the absolute utmost of ourselves, our creativity, and our abilities to offer the gracious invitation and welcome of Christ to others.”

Romans 12:13 encourages us all to practice hospitality.
Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Hebrews 13:2 reminds us not to neglect strangers.
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Peter implies a sense of urgency when we show guest-friendship.
In The Message Bible translation, 1 Peter 4:8-10 says, “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless – cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you.”

Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35)
What would happen if people took Jesus’ words seriously and offered radical hospitality in all our worship services and small group settings?

My son works as a server in a restaurant. He tells me that periodically a “secret shopper” visits to rate their restaurant. One trait they look for is the treatment of the customer. Sounds a lot like guest-friendship to me. What would “secret visitors” find if they visited our churches looking for radical hospitality?

Maybe we should find a way to use the pineapple motif as a visible reminder to extend radical hospitality to all who enter our church doors.

Let’s welcome others to worship as if our life depended on it!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Serendipity: the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things unexpectedly

How often have you looked for one thing and found another? It happens to me all the time. I look for a favorite recipe and come across a long lost one. I search for a book in a storage box and come across a photo that brings to mind a pleasant memory. These are serendipities.

I was a teenager when my father introduced me to the word serendipity, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. It was only fitting that last Christmas when my parents, sister, and two nieces were in New York, we went to my favorite NY sandwich and sweet shop, Serendipity 3. Three men from different parts of the country descended on the Big Apple in the early 1950’s hoping to make their fame and fortune in the entertainment business. Instead, they established New York’s first coffee house boutique, which is still rated a favorite Manhattan eatery. My souvenir mug is inscribed with Horace Walpole’s definition of serendipity.

The art of making happy discoveries, or finding the unexpectedly pleasant by chance or sagacity

Walpole coined the word based on a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip, who during their travels constantly discovered things they did not seek. The word describes those unexpected things that happen when we are pursuing something else. For example, Columbus, looking for a direct route to Asia, found America. Edison, while looking for an electric light, found a phonograph. The Kellogg brothers accidentally discovered wheat flakes when they let cooked wheat sit for a day and then tried to roll it. They ended up with a flaky material instead of a sheet, and this became Wheaties. As a chocoholic, I’m partial to this next one. The founder of Toll House Cookies attempted to make chocolate drop cookies, but she didn’t have the required chocolate. Instead, she broke a candy bar and placed the chunks into the cookie mix. These became chocolate chips. Thank you very much!

Not only did Dad introduce me to the word serendipity, but also to the book Serendipity by J. Wallace Hamilton. Hamilton writes of its application throughout history, but my appreciation for this book goes beyond those facts. He suggests that Jesus gave us the greatest of all serendipities,
“Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
In other words, our aim, our goal, should be in seeking God’s Kingdom. We should seek God and his will for our lives. In doing so, “all these things will be added unto you.” “These things” are those unexpected, un-sought for, valuable things that God wants to bless us with. In this passage, Jesus is telling his disciples to trust God for all of our needs. He wants us to seek the higher calling and in doing so he’ll provide all of our needs and bless us in many ways.

We know that some of the most valuable gifts in life are not found by directly pursuing them. Think about the fruit of the spirit, the attributes of a Christian life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These come to us, not always by seeking them, but as the result of seeking God’s Kingdom. The results of trusting Jesus are joy and peace and lasting happiness.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).

Look for serendipities in you life but make your goal to seek first the Kingdom of God. Then let’s see what serendipities come our way!

Please share your own serendipities. Click on the title Serendipities and scroll to the bottom. Click on comment.

My Heart Christ's Home

Monday, August 17, 2009

What a summer of joy this has been leading a group of 40 women on Wednesday mornings in a study of Nell Mohney’s book, Just Choose Happiness. It was a special treat when Nell joined us for lunch after the last session so that we could fellowship and share with her what the book has meant to us.

Nell concludes her book with a chapter on the real source of joy, the Holy Spirit. She describes Wesley’s explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit through prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Nell uses the beautiful analogy of the inside and outside of a house to portray how the Holy Spirit pursues us.

Prevenient grace – This is the path leading to our spiritual house where God pursues us to bring us to faith.
Justifying grace – This is the porch of the house where we receive God’s forgiveness of sin and accept Christ as Lord.
Sanctifying grace – This is inside the house where we open every room of our lives to the Holy Spirit.

The essential struggle for believers is in giving our whole house to Christ. How much of our spiritual house are we willing to give to the complete direction of the Holy Spirit?

I’m reminded of the little booklet by Robert Munger, My Heart Christ’s Home. Munger conducts an open house tour as he invites Christ to enter his heart and then to become comfortable in every room. A spiritual inventory is taken as they go from room to room.

The library – the room of the mind; the control room of the house. Do we give our thoughts to the control of the Holy Spirit?
The dining room – the room of appetites and desires. What’s on our menu? Too much secular fare like fame, fortune, fashion, power, beauty?
The living room – the room of fellowship. This is the room where we spend time with our companion, our partner, our advocate. How much time do we spend there in fellowship with him?
The workroom – the room where we work and produce things. What are we producing for the Kingdom?
The rec room – the room for fun and fellowship. Are there certain associations and activities that we want to keep to ourselves? Is Christ invited to all our activities?
The hall closet – the room of secrets. The place where we hide things that we don’t want anyone to see. Are we willing to give Christ the key to the darkest place in our home?

When we are willing to open all of our rooms for Christ, we will have transformed lives. Are we willing to give him the rooms of the mind, desires, fellowship, work, fun, and secrets? The key to real peace and happiness is inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and guide us in all areas of our lives.

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23

Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36JOVeEnCGQ to enjoy a beautiful song, “My Heart, Your Home.”

Zapping Problems

Monday, August 10, 2009

One day last week I wanted to relax and watch a movie at my home. I do this so rarely that I couldn’t remember how to operate the DVD player, so I asked my son for directions. All day I looked forward to a quiet evening at home watching a “chick flick.” That night I loaded the DVD and clicked the buttons I thought would start the movie. When that didn’t work, I clicked some more buttons and some more and some more. The DVD player came on, but the TV turned off. Before long, not only was there no movie on the screen, there was nothing on the screen at all. I switched clickers and clicked some more. Click. Click. Click. Nothing. I moved close to the screen. Then I moved back. I twisted and turned that clicker trying desperately to see something, anything on that screen. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Eventually, I lost my focus. I couldn’t remember which clicker worked which device, nor could I tell how to turn any device on or off. What had seemed like such a simple idea had ended in frustration. I had worked myself into a dither blaming the TV, Comcast, the DVD player, 2 clickers, and my son for not properly supplying me with explicit instructions so that I could enjoy one silly little mindless movie! My energy was zapped! I eventually calmed myself down, turned off the power supply to all the media, and enjoyed my quiet evening reading a book.

This incident reminds me of the way we sometimes handle our problems when they begin to spiral out of control. Have you noticed how personal problems can zap your energy leaving you drained and discouraged? We can easily give in to that discouragement and lose our focus. We often forget to “click” into the real power source. The great inspirational minister and one of my favorite authors, Norman Vincent Peale, provided relevant advice for handling our personal problems in his book, The Power of Positive Thinking. He said to we have the power to solve our problems if we seek divine guidance, think of God as our partner, actualize a plan, and practice faith attitudes.

1. Divine Guidance – Take a few minutes of quiet time alone or with a trusted friend. Sit quietly together in an attitude of fellowship and prayer. Then pray fervently about the problem you are facing.

2. Think of God as a partner - One of the names for Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” Believe that God is very real in your life and practice talking matters over with him. Believe that he hears and considers your problem. Assume that he impresses on you the necessary insights to your problems. Know that the solutions will be without error and that God will guide you in all actions.

3. Actualize a plan – You have sought Divine Guidance. You have talked out your problems with your partner and listened for his direction. Now it’s time to make a plan. Write down the actions you will take to solve your problem. Peale describes a business executive who calls on the “emergency powers of the human brain” in times of chaos. Peale says that we all have extra powers that are utilized in emergencies. In ordinary day-to-day living these powers are dormant, but when we face a crisis, we tap into these extraordinary powers.

4. Practice faith attitudes – Peale said he read the Bible for many years before he really ever understood a reality about faith. He said the Bible tells us that if we have faith – really have it – we can overcome all of our difficulties, “meet every situation, rise above every defeat, and solve all of the perplexing problems” of our lives. “Faith, even as a grain of mustard seed,” will solve your problems. Jesus used the image of a mustard seed to teach his disciples to count on him.

"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?' He said to them, 'Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:19-20

Finally, let’s do as Peale suggests and zap our personal problems before they zap us!

Power Up

Monday, August 3, 2009

Do you live at “high speed?” I know I do. Do your days get so full of “comings” and “goings” that you fail to spend meaningful, quality time with God? I’m really good at those quick, flash prayers that I utter throughout the day. It’s often hard to make time to really pour out my heart to God in prayer and praise and meditation. I wrote this poem to describe my typical pace.

Power Down Power Up
I live at high speed.
Moving at 95 decibels like a Subway train
Speeding at the 19,000 RPMs of a Formula One racing car
Thriving on Megawatt energy at 1 million watts
Racing around 180 miles per hour at Nascar speeds
Hair drying on high speed
Wearing “Unstoppable” eyeliner
Brushing lashes with “Voluminous 4X extreme volume
Yes, my pace is powered up.

It is not until I power down, re-charge, and rest that I hear the voice of God.

Dial back to 0 decibels
Slow the rpms to the second hand on the clock
Move from a Megawatt to a microwatt
Idle my engine
Because that’s when I’m able to hear God, see Jesus, feel the Holy Spirit, smell the fragrance of his beauty, and taste the sweetness of his glory.
I power down to power up.

We need to slow our pace in order to get a power surge from God. I sometimes use the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, as my outline for a “power up” prayer. I break it down into eight lines and stop to meditate on each one.

"Our Father in heaven" – The first word tells us we are not alone. God is the Father of all of us. We address our prayer to God who is a father, our kin.

"Hallowed be your name" – We must acknowledge the holiness and awesomeness of God. We might call out to him names of adoration: Awesome God, King of Kings, Creator, Lord, Great Physician.
"Your kingdom come" – When we pray for his kingdom to come, we’re asking for God to reign on earth. We pray that until Christ’s return that we will feel his reign in our world today. We’re asking for a world that is run by God’s standards instead of man’s.

"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" – We pray for God’s will to become our will. We invite God to change us, to mold us, and to use it in whatever way he deems best.
"Give us today our daily bread" –We should ask God for daily provisions. It’s okay to say to God, “Bless me today. Give me what I need.” Notice the word daily. Just like the Israelites were to gather manna daily, we are to look to God daily for our needs. He sustains us one day at a time. We are to go to him daily for physical and spiritual nourishment. Notice the word us. He has provided us with the resources in creation to take care of our physical needs and it’s up to us to be good stewards of his creation and to share the abundance.

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”—Now he get really personal! Forgiveness of others and ourselves is difficult. This speaks about forgiveness of everyone we come in contact with. If we can’t forgive others, then how can we expect God to forgive us?

"Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" –God does not lead us into temptation, so this prayer is a plea for him to help us refrain from temptation. Jesus was teaching the disciples to ask God for help in their struggles. We are to ask God to help us steer clear of wrongdoing. Temptation always is a choice. We are to call on God in our moment of choice.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever" – Some commentators believe that this line was added by someone other than the original writer. Even if that’s true, this phrase emphasizes the honor and praise that we should give to God always.

Use the Lord’s Prayer to “power up!”

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