May 16, 2017
Dorothy was right: there really is no place like home.
Home is the place we long to retreat to after facing all the daily demands of adulthood; a place of refuge where we can finally rest, relax, and be restored. Having our homes be a place of refuge for ourselves and our families is an extraordinary blessing – and one we should never take for granted – however, as Christians there is far greater potential for our homes than mere personal refuge. When we open our homes and our lives to the people around us through biblically motivated hospitality, the potential for kingdom growth and personal sanctification is incredible.
I know that at times I have tended to view practicing hospitality more like an extra credit assignment alongside the requirements of church, family and work. If we get to it, great. If not, life goes on. I suspect I’m not alone.
When we look to scripture however, the hospitality-as-extra-credit way of thinking is deeply deficient. Biblical thinking about hospitality, on the other hand, is not only theologically rich but should also serve as strong encouragement and motivation for us to grow in our practice of hospitality.
First things first: Hospitality ≠ Entertaining
When we begin to think about hospitality, often we envision opening our homes to feed and entertain friends and family. This is indeed a good practice, especially among those within the church, as we are called to “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1). And if we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will naturally want to invite them into our homes.
However, the Greek word for “hospitality” used in Hebrews 13:2a “Do not neglect to show hospitality…” has a very different guest in mind. The word used here, philoxenia, combines the general term for love or affection (phileo), and the word for stranger (xenos). Hospitality has its origin, literally, in love for outsiders. In fact, some English translations take the less literal translation and include the phrase “to strangers” after the command to more fully capture the spirit of this instruction.
This is not just a New Testament concept either. In fact, care for the stranger, the sojourner, the foreigner has always been a hallmark of God’s people.
Hebrews 13:2 goes on to remind the reader that in practicing hospitality to strangers “…some have entertained angels unawares.” This statement is referring to one of the earliest accounts of God’s people practicing hospitality to strangers we have in scripture (Abraham, Sarah and the guests in Genesis 18). While the kind of hospitality demonstrated in this account was certainly far more common in the days before hotels and restaurants, this reference back to it in Hebrews begins to show that for God’s people hospitality can be so much more than merely providing food and shelter.
As we see the nation of Israel continue to develop in the Old Testament, God explicitly instructs them to provide for the poor and the sojourner among them (See Lev. 23:22). Again, in Leviticus 19:34 we see additional instruction regarding the treatment of strangers; however we also see at least part of God’s purpose in requiring hospitality of his people:
“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.” [Emphasis added] (Lev. 19:34)
In this verse God not only instructs His people to adopt a loving, generous posture towards those around them, but he roots their motivation to do so in the centuries of enslavement in Egypt, a time where their very survival depended on the hospitality of others.
God’s hospitality towards us
By invoking the Exodus, not only did Israel’s hospitality towards their neighbors serve to remind them of their time of great need in Egypt, but ultimately to God rescuing them and meeting their every need for protection and provision. In this way the hospitality commands to Israel also pointed forward to the cross of Christ: when a Holy God moved towards a rebellious people with grace and mercy, to rescue them out of sin. Christ’s atoning work on the cross was the single greatest demonstration of hospitality in human history.
The New Testament makes clear that as Christians, practicing hospitality ought to be a way of life (Rom. 12:13a, 1 Pet 4:9, Heb. 32:2a, 3 John 8, 1 Tim. 5:10c) so much so that being hospitable is a qualification for local church elders (1 Tim 3:2). One reason for this emphasis is that in practicing hospitality, moving towards those around us in love and generosity, Christians have an opportunity to both reflect on and model God’s love for us through Christ and the gospel.
Where to start?
A deeper biblical understanding of hospitality has broad implications for local churches as we seek to serve our communities and reach them with the Gospel – which can frankly seem overwhelming – so, where to start? I’d like to propose two places where we can all begin practicing biblically motivated hospitality immediately:
- At home - Where we live
- At church - Where we gather to worship as a body
Regarding hospitality and our neighbors, a very helpful read is ‘The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life’ by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements. In the book, the authors do a great job of presenting the potential of Christian hospitality, addressing common obstacles as well as offering genuinely helpfully ideas for connecting with neighbors and most importantly, infusing those interactions with the gospel (without pulling the ‘ol bait-and-switch).
Simpler still is practicing hospitality on Sunday morning, when we gather for worship. Make a conscious effort to be ‘others focused’ this Sunday. Worry less about finding your preferred seat before service or even reconnecting with friends after. Instead, try to be aware of the ‘strangers’ among you – people you don’t know – and seek to be attentive to their needs. “Don’t talk to strangers” might be helpful advice for our kids at a park but it’s terrible advice on Sunday morning.
For Further Study
Apr 04, 2017
What are your spiritual gifts and how are you putting them to use?
Two assumptions underlie this question. One, that you know what your spiritual gifts are, and two, that you are actively using them. The inability to answer either begs further reflection. What are your spiritual gifts? How should you use them and to what end?
The purpose of spiritual gifts
The apostle Paul shares several insights which get to the importance and practice of spiritual gifts:
- 1 Cor. 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
- 1 Cor. 12:11, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
- 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them"
Unique spiritual gifts are given universally by the Spirit to every believer for a divine purpose: to edify and enable the body to minister to each other and to the world. They are given so that we might participate in blessing others and so the world may see the love of Christ at work in the church. Using these gifts is essential for the church to be a complete picture of God’s kingdom on earth. Therefore, failure to use them for their intended purpose limits the church’s ability to minister effectively.
Paul, in 1 Cor. 12, uses the illustration of each gifted believer acting as a unique body part to highlight their importance to the whole body. A lack of engagement results in a loss of function and effectiveness. We have an obligation to use the abilities God has granted us for the common good. Further, we need the ministry of others that come through the practice of their gifts. Have you ever given a particularly thoughtful and fitting gift to a relative or friend only to never see them use that gift? The waste of that gift and lack of enjoyment from it is heart-breaking! We grieve God when we take our gifts for granted and we deprive ourselves of satisfaction when we fail to participate in them.
The process of discovering and practicing your gifts
Our gifts are varied in their manifestation, who receives which, and when they are revealed. These are not innate talents or skills, but God-given and God-powered (not self-powered) abilities granted to build others up. Scriptural examples, while not exhaustive, include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, discernment, prophecy, encouragement, teaching, and hospitality. That they are God-given means God directs our special function in the body. This is not a list of opportunities we enroll in, rather, we are called to unwrap, discover, and appreciate God's thoughtful and special assignments.
If we don’t know what gifts we’ve been given, we can’t put them into practice. At the Journey, we do encourage taking a few sociological tests to help identify areas of giftedness, but this isn’t the be-all and end-all. Assessments inquire of what we know and have experienced to date, confirming suspected strengths or areas of previously successful ministry. But qualities in which we’ve had little experience in or exposure to are often best discovered by trying out new opportunities. Trial and error can help guide our discovery process, just as we come to find new hobbies! While uncharted territory can be uncomfortable, what’s the worst that may come by serving in a ministry we come to find we're not gifted in? Besides, scripture does not indicate we are to only serve in areas of giftedness. Minimally, we'll receive joy and fellowship with other church members, while opening the door to the receipt of further gifts.
Patience to identify and, at times, to use our gifts is also important. Volunteering in a different capacity each week at church may give us knowledge of what help the church needs, but months spent serving with the same people and submitting yourself to what that role requires can bring deeper revelation. Time is a tool God can use to show us how He is growing a gift and place us in circumstances where others can observe and confirm His work in us.
The metric: good fruit in me, good fruit in others
Many years ago I was asked to help as a children’s teacher for an evening bible study and this request was far outside my comfort zone. I, in my 20’s, had no previous experience caring for children, yet alone teaching them, but I availed myself to the opportunity. Over several years I came to love engaging children and teaching them. I saw God working through me for their growth in a very powerful way that brought about an increase in my dependency and faith in the Lord. It may be through your service in new and different ministries that God gives you a clearer understanding of his gifts and how they can be used in different capacities to reach others. In addition, God’s giving of gifts may arrive at various times so we should be watchful, even if we know some of our gifts, for the granting of others in our future.
Another means of discovery can come from the guidance of other believers. Feedback from others within the church can give us a better understanding of the Spirit’s empowerment in our life. If you’re the only one who thinks you’re gifted in a particular manner, you’re probably not. Remember, these gifts are intended to edify others. They are not primarily meant to edify ourselves. We may hear of the God-given difference we're making in the lives of others through others. What encouragement or compliments have you received from others, and how might these reflect God-given qualities? What areas of ministry are you seeing success in by bringing glory to God or building others up?
Personal reflection for rightly using our gifts
Let's return to the original question: What are your spiritual gifts and how are you putting them to use? Once God has revealed these gifts to you, you have a responsibility to use them and use them for their intended purpose. What is your motivation for being hospitable, or teaching, or gaining knowledge, or any other gift? Is it to edify others and participate in the body of Christ? Are there times when your focus is on comfort, or recognition, or praise? Are you reliant on the Holy Spirit's power in your areas of giftedness, or are other forces in play?
Feb 06, 2017
“And who is my neighbor?” This question was asked of Jesus by a lawyer as recorded in Luke chapter 10. It sounds like a simple question, but in reality, we find that it reveals a deceived heart and skewed view of human dignity. It is this same question that fuels the pro-abortion movement and yet challenges Christians to restore stripped worth. Let’s take a closer look.
Self-justification and selective dignity
The lawyer started by asking, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And wisely, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with a question, ‘What is written in the law?’ Perhaps not surprisingly, this educated lawyer answers correctly, love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. To which Jesus affirmatively responds, ‘Do this and you will live’.
It is a remarkable exchange recorded for us. But then the conversation takes a dark turn as the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke adds some helpful commentary letting us know that the lawyer’s motivation was to justify himself, and we have to ask, justify himself for what?
Sadly, the lawyer was seeking to justify himself from treating everyone with equal dignity. He desired to treat some people as non-neighbors or worse.
A recipe for removing dignity
Desiring to treat someone as less than human sounds awful doesn’t it? Yet the same evil root lies beneath so much of the pro-abortion movement. And sadly, these assaults on human dignity follow an eerily familiar pattern that goes back as far as Egypt.
If you are going to justify treating someone as less than human – less than worthy of your love and help – then you must do at least two things:
First, create a deception about their identity.
And second, give them a new name.
This is exactly what happens in Exodus chapter 1. The Israelites were living as honored guests in Egypt as the family of Egypt’s national hero, Joseph. God’s blessings abounded on Israel and spilled over onto Egypt because of Israel’s presence there. But a new Pharaoh arises who did not acknowledge any gratitude to Joseph’s work and instead saw his peaceful, flourishing family as a threat. Suddenly he was filled with fear that his future would be in jeopardy because of these people. His fear produced anger, leading him to assault and enslave his neighbor.
No more was Israel a source of national blessing, but instead a threat to Egypt’s future happiness. Pharaoh successfully depersonalized Israel by referring to them not a nation but as lazy slaves. Pharaoh’s propaganda convinced an entire nation to turn against their neighbors.
From blessing to threat
Much like Pharaoh, pro-abortion advocates utilize a similar technique in justifying the killing of children in the womb. Instead of the woman being pregnant with a child or a boy or a girl, pro-abortion advocates are instead quick to refer to the child as a “clump of cells,” “tissue mass,” or embryo.
Every child is a gift from God. Yet, pro-abortion advocates do not see the child as a blessing but as a threat to the woman’s freedom and happiness. Seeking to justify their lack of obligation to their own progeny in their womb, they silently ask, “And who is my neighbor?” and horrifically conclude that the child is not their neighbor but a threat to their autonomy. Hence, they rob children of dignity by labeling them a threat, and then they enslave them to their will.
As Jewish philosopher Martin Buber rightly notes, they substitute an "I-Thou" relationship with an "I-It" relationship, which ends up relegating persons to the status of things. And once you do this, you can logically justify treating the person as less than a neighbor, less than human.
An example of dignity restored
Jesus answers the lawyer with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, Jesus chooses two men who should be of upstanding character, pleasing to God: a priest and a Levite. As each of them traveled to Jericho, they came upon a wounded man, his dignity and personhood assaulted, treated unjustly and left beaten half-dead and naked. Shockingly to Jesus’ audience, neither the priest nor the Levite helped the man. Perhaps they saw the man as a threat to themselves, their plans or their budget. But somehow they justified in their hearts that this man was less than worthy of their aid.
Yet it is a Samaritan in the parable who stops and – at great cost to himself – ministers to the man, seeking to save his life. The Samaritan did not see the beaten man as a threat, nor did he seek to identify whether he was a Samaritan or a Jew before he helped him. Instead, he saw a vulnerable human being in need of help and was predisposed to serve him and work to defend and restore his dignity.
Asking better questions
And that is what we are called to do for the most vulnerable among us, the unborn. We can start by asking ourselves more appropriate questions:
- How can I be a loving neighbor to my unborn neighbor, whose heart is beating yet whose voice is unheard?
- How can we minister to our neighbors who are convinced that the child within them is not a blessing but a threat?
Defending the dignity of children in the womb
We will tackle this topic and more at our next Forum. I encourage you to join us on February 17th at 6:30 p.m. for insightful teaching and helpful dialogue. In the meantime, you can prepare your mind by reading these articles on ways to live out a high view of human dignity:
Jan 09, 2017
“… what stirs your affections for Christ, truth and holiness? If we can fill our lives with the things that stir our affections and avoid and flee those things that rob us of inspiration, we have a better shot at dwelling deeply.” – Pastor Matt Chandler, The Village Church
What are you feeding your soul?
Let’s be honest, church family. We spend a disproportionate amount of time on things that rob us of affection for Christ. In the digital age we live in, even those who are surrendered to Jesus, engaged in regular Bible study, and have Christian community feed on words and images throughout the day (fitting conveniently in the palm of our hand, of course) that edify very little. And often, we regret our ill-spent time, yet return to the pattern another day. Our souls are weak.
As believers we know that our ultimate hunger is quenched by Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and that feeding on the Word of God is our daily bread that keeps our will aligned to His and truly satisfies our soul. I pray that each person who comes through the doors of Journey Church will know and enjoy Jesus in this way. But there is a battle being waged for your heart’s affections and for your attention, dear Christian, and as such, our church leadership hopes to equip you in 2017 with content that is:
- spiritually formative rather than deformative
- inspiring and challenging
- shaping your Christian worldview
- spurring you on toward an eternal mindset, and
- equipping you to feed on truth
Oh that our souls would be content, healthy and vibrant this year.
A starting place for soul food
On the first Monday of each month, we will publish a blog post right here on www.joininthejourney.com. Written by our staff pastors and elders, these posts are intended to help you grow into a rich personal devotional life and provide a Biblical worldview for engaging the culture.
Recommended articles and podcasts
On Tuesdays, we will send out a link to a recommended online article or podcast from a theologically sound resource. These links will come from church leaders who have a heart to encourage their brothers and sisters toward a spiritual mindset.
How to be in the loop
You can follow Journey Church on any of the social media below to be notified of new blog posts and shared recommendations.
It is an honor to spur you on, Journey Church.
Growing in Christ with you,