Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. … Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same. [Matthew 26:31,33-35 (NLT)]

prairie false indigoApparently, coffee was not served after dinner in the upper room that Thursday night. Granted, a nap is welcome after a big meal but that evening’s Passover meal was like no other and Jesus had predicted that the disciples would desert Him. After such a warning, you’d think the men would have been extra cautious. Scripture tells us Jesus was troubled and grief-stricken when He asked Peter, James, and John to keep watch with Him. Surely, that should have motivated His closest friends to keep awake, but it didn’t. Three times Jesus went to pray and three times he returned to find the men asleep. It was Jewish custom on Passover night to stay up late and talk of God’s acts of redemption so staying awake this night was something they’d all done on other Passover nights. Nevertheless, even after Peter specifically was cautioned to stay awake while praying to stand strong against temptation, the men slumbered. Shouldn’t the warning that he’d deny Jesus three times before morning been enough at least to keep Peter alert and deep in prayer? While the Lord was in anguish and prayed so intently that He sweat drops of blood, His most trusted friends took an after-dinner snooze. They were asleep on the job.

Perhaps the disciples’ biggest mistake was in their self-confidence. When told they’d abandon their beloved leader, they all protested that could never happen. Unfortunately, not one of them took the possibility of their deserting Jesus to God in prayer. Instead, they slept! They didn’t set out to deliberately desert Him but, by not praying, they failed the test before it began. Even the best of intentions won’t protect us in time of trial; for that we need prayer. Moreover, they failed a friend in need. Had the disciples stayed awake with Jesus, while they couldn’t have taken away the bitter cup He’d been given, they could have shared His pain. Sharing our prayers and strength with those in distress is what the community of faith is supposed to do.

The Jewish custom in Jesus’ day was to forgive someone for the same sin only three times. How fortunate for Peter that Jesus said we should forgive seventy times seven. Otherwise, with his three naps and three denials, he would have used his forgiveness allotment twice in just one night. Following Jesus’ resurrection, He didn’t berate the disciples for deserting Him, chastise Thomas for doubting, or rebuke Peter for his denials. In fact, He reinstated Peter and told the man to feed His sheep! From Jesus’ example we learn to love and forgive the human failings of those who disappoint us.

Like Jesus, we’ve all had friends fail us at one time or another and probably more than three times. Perhaps, like Jesus, we should come to expect them to disappoint us from time to time. After all, in spite of our good intentions, we flawed beings can be selfish, self-centered, inconsiderate, callous, inattentive, and worse. Thinking we’re invulnerable to the enemy’s attack is one of his favorite tactics and, like the disciples, we’ve been overly confident in our own abilities and self-control and, like the disciples, we frequently fail our Christian brothers and sisters. When comfortable, content, and well fed, like the disciples that night, we often become oblivious to the needs of others and stop being vigilant and prayerful. Do we pray with and keep watch over our friends during their times of suffering and difficulty or are we asleep on the job?

Why grow we weary when asked to watch with our Lord? Up, sluggish heart, Jesus calls thee! Rise and go forth to meet the Heavenly Friend in the place where He manifests Himself. [E.M. Bounds]

Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” [Mark 14:38 (NLT)]

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But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous. It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy and good deeds. It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. [James 3:17 (TLB)]

tiger swallowtail - butterflyWe were having lunch at a local sports bar filled with televisions airing football, soccer, BMX, skiing, and hockey all at the same time. I find the restaurant’s many glaring screens disconcerting and were it not for the gyro my husband claims is the best one in town, we wouldn’t have been there. While sitting across from him, I looked up and saw two fighters viciously pounding one another in an MMA bout. Evoking images of Roman gladiators in battle and combining combat techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, and the back alley, this sport seems to allow just about everything short of eye gouging and biting! With neither fighter wanting to be the loser, no matter how battered or bloody, they continue until someone is knocked out, a fighter submits, or the referee stops it because of severe injury.

Unfortunately, most fights aren’t limited to a cage or boxing ring and, while they may be less violent, they are no less damaging. Rather than punching, twisting arms, kicking, or choking our opponent, we use our words, voices, and even social media in an attempt to pummel him or her into submission! With neither party willing to submit, both are determined to keep going until the other person yields to their viewpoint or simply surrenders. Instead of conceding that we might learn something from those with whom we disagree, our sole goal is to convince them of the correctness of our way of thinking and the idiocy of theirs. Wanting to win the bout, we’re unwilling to hear one another or admit that our opposition could have a valid viewpoint. It rarely occurs to us that our differences are something to be respected or that there’s a possibility (however remote) we actually could be wrong.

Rarely, in a disagreement, do we even consider the option of yielding to the other person. Yet, if both people expect the other person to concede and are unwilling to make any concessions themselves, how can our disagreements ever be resolved? Unlike an MMA match, we don’t have a referee to stop the fight, judges to decide the victor, or even a corner man who will “throw in the towel” to stop the bout! Sadly, what often begins as a difference of opinion ends up becoming an argument of huge proportions. At least there’s a time limit for an MMA match; there’s none for arguments and I’ve known some people who have remained in fight mode for decades.

I’ve never been in an MMA bout but I do remember being in a tug-of-war and, from my experience, neither side ever really wins and victory comes at a cost. One side may end up with bragging rights but both sides end up with rope burns, sore muscles, bruises, and muddy clothing! The easiest way to end a tug of war is to drop the rope and the easiest way to end an argument is to stop arguing!

The wisdom from above doesn’t escalate conflicts or contribute to discord. It respects, listens, and knows how to get out of “no-win” situations. God’s wisdom doesn’t let pride take over when peace should reign. It is willing to step back and let the other side “win,” knowing that it hasn’t lost a thing. Wisdom is willing to negotiate and, if necessary, to concede. True wisdom remembers that nobody wins if someone ends up feeling humiliated, besmirched, or defeated.

A Christian has no right being in a fight unless it’s a spiritual fight. [Charles Stanley]

And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness. [James 3:18 (TLB)]

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Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get. [Matthew 7:12 (MSG)]

gardeniaWhen the Academy Awards were held recently, Oscars were presented for things like best director, best lead and supporting actors and actresses, and even best make-up and hair styling. If it’s true (as my theater teachers claimed) that, “There are no small parts, only small actors!” how is it that no awards were given to the best small part players? Regardless of the perfection with which they may have fulfilled their “bit parts”, their screen time was too short to be nominated for anything. To add insult to injury, they may have been known only as Dog Walker or Nurse #2! The small role, however, doesn’t mean the character played an insignificant part in the story. Nevertheless, after moving the story forward, the bit part players just fade into the background. Even so, while their names may be forgotten, the story wouldn’t have been the same had they not played their roles.

When thinking of the people who passed through our lives, we know who the major players are but what of the others, the ones who left a small but indelible mark on us—the people with the bit parts in the scripts of our lives? We may have forgotten their names or never have known them at all. Perhaps it was a neighbor who always waved and smiled when you passed by, the teacher who said you weren’t “dumb,” the trucker who changed your flat tire, or the nurse who let you hold your stillborn baby until you were ready to let him go. It may have been the stranger on the plane who prayed with you as tears rolled down your cheeks, the woman who said “You’re beautiful!” when the scarf slipped off your bald chemo-head, or the stranger who listened when you desperately needed to talk. Whether it was a small kindness, words of encouragement, a little unasked-for (but much needed) help, prayers, a chat over coffee, or just a hug, the bit players in our lives played fleeting but pivotal roles and our interactions, while short-lived, changed us in unexpected ways. They listened, challenged, suggested, assisted, shared, taught, and demonstrated God’s love. They had only a few lines of dialogue in the script but the movie of our lives would be incomplete had their scenes been cut by the film editor.

Granted, there probably are a few unpleasant, painful, or upsetting encounters with bit part players we might prefer having been edited out of our lives, but we don’t need to dwell on those. Let’s remember, however, that we are the small part players in other people’s lives—whether it’s the bagger at the grocery, the receptionist at the doctor’s, the busser at the restaurant, the lonely widow down the street, the kid trying to sell over-priced candy or popcorn for his team, the person giving us technical assistance on the phone, the mom with the crying baby on the plane, or the annoying telemarketer. How will we play our role? Will it be worthy of a heavenly award?

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. [Augustine]

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith. [Galatians 6:9-10 (MSG)]

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THE SACRED KISS (Hospitality – Part 3)

All the brothers and sisters here send greetings to you. Greet each other with a sacred kiss. [1 Corinthians 16:20 (NLT)]

Greet each other with a kiss of love. Peace be with all of you who are in Christ. [1 Peter 5:14 (NLT)]

mallard - american black duckIn four of Paul’s epistles, he instructs his readers to greet one another with a sacred kiss. The word he used was philéma which meant a kiss of respect or affection between friends rather than one of romance. It seems odd to us today but, when greeting or saying farewell in the ancient world, people frequently kissed one another on the cheek, forehead, beard or hands. In the Old Testament, for example, both Laban and Esau kissed Jacob, Joseph kissed his brothers, Moses kissed Aaron and Jethro, Samuel kissed Saul, David kissed Barzillai and Jonathon, and Absalom curried favor by kissing just about everyone who approached him!

Apparently, the Jewish converts in the early church carried on the practice of greeting one another with a kiss and it grew to have a special significance for them. Peter made mention of it in one of his letters and the elders from the church at Ephesus all embraced and kissed Paul before he left for Jerusalem. This “sacred” kiss expressed union and fellowship and signified a spiritual kinship with other followers of Christ. A kiss from a Jewish Christian to a Gentile convert would have indicated the convert’s full acceptance into the church family. This kiss would have been especially meaningful to new Christians who frequently became outcasts from their own families when they converted. The kiss also may have been a sign of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation that was shared before celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Neither Peter nor Paul were making this kiss mandatory, which is good since greeting one another with a kiss nowadays could lead to a slap, rumors, or a charge of sexual harassment. What they were commanding was that we greet one another warmly and enthusiastically. The word often translated as hospitality in the New Testament was philoxenias which literally meant the love of stranger. Hospitality simply is the generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests. Sad to say, most flight attendants seem to be better at greeting and saying farewell to strangers than many of today’s churches.

When a friend was visiting a local church, she found an empty pew in which to sit. A few minutes later, she was told to move by a group of women who said she was in “their” pew! We’ve attended church events where none of the empty chairs were available because they were saved for other people’s “friends.” I think of a troubled teen who, after being introduced to Jesus in the church youth group, ventured into the church sanctuary for the first time one Sunday morning. He was immediately greeted by a woman who angrily told him to walk right out and only return once he’d taken off his baseball cap and pulled up his saggy pants! Sadly, these are not isolated events. What happened to the “spiritual kinship” of the early church?

In any church, we all begin as strangers, but we shouldn’t remain that way. As members of God’s large and diverse family, we should become a community of former strangers. Our community, however, must be open to new people and that, sadly, often is where we fail. Christian hospitality begins with acknowledging everyone—not just the people in our own circle—both when they arrive and as they depart. Although most churches have designated greeters, welcoming is everyone’s responsibility. Whether or not we know our fellow worshippers, we should greet them as warmly as we would a guest in our own home. Sometimes, hospitality is as simple as a smile, an introduction, or an extended hand.

I’m the first to admit that, at least for me, speaking to strangers doesn’t come naturally and it isn’t easy. Nevertheless, it is where we must begin. After all, a stranger simply is a friend we haven’t yet met! If Jesus walked into your church, would He be welcomed with Christian hospitality or told to take off his baseball cap and pull up His pants or find another place to sit?

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.” [Matthew 25:34-35 (NLT)]

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IT’S NOT ENTERTAINING (Hospitality – Part 2)

Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. [1 Peter 4:9 (NLT)]

welcomeFor a Christian, being hospitable should be second nature but, for many, the thought of entertaining is terrifying. Entertaining, however, has nothing to do with hospitality. One has to do with cuisine, attire, atmosphere, and possessions, and says “Look what I have,” while the other has to do with love, respect, sharing, refreshment, and comfort and says, “What I have is yours!” One is meant to impress and the other is meant to bless.

The difference between entertaining and hospitality can be seen in a family friend whose Christmas dinners always consisted of a house full of friends and family who ate buckets of fried chicken and the trimmings using paper plates and plastic utensils all of which came from the Kentucky Colonel’s kitchen. While Martha Stewart may not have approved, this woman’s friends and family certainly did because it was about the people not the party! There may not have been Lenox china and linen napkins but there was plenty of love and laughter! We can be entertained lavishly and never feel welcome as happened to Jesus at the Simon the Pharisee’s or, like Elijah at the widow’s, we can be given the smallest morsel from a welcoming host and know faith and love.

Back in 2016, when the east coast of Florida was threatened by Hurricane Matthew, people fled to the Gulf side to escape the storm. Every hotel room here was occupied and the shelters were full. While working over coffee at Starbucks, our new pastor overheard a family of four talking. Evacuees from Miami, they’d arrived at their hotel only to discover that it was overbooked. The pastor tried to continue his work while they anxiously called around in search of a vacancy; there were no rooms anywhere. With all their belongings stuffed tightly in the car and barely enough space to sit (let alone sleep), they wondered what they’d do for lodging. The young pastor was less than a week in town and his small condo still was filled with boxes not yet emptied. He had a sermon to write and a long list of things that needed to get done. Nevertheless, he listened to the Holy Spirit’s voice and introduced himself to the family. Explaining that he and his wife didn’t have much room, he offered what little they did have. The mother’s first response was, “Thank God. Our prayers have been answered!”

God has a delightful sense of humor, proven by the fact that the pastor’s guests turned out to be a rabbi and his family! That family got more than just a carry-out pizza and a place to rest their weary heads—they got an evening filled with Christian hospitality, spirited conversation, and prayer. United by their love of God and a shared belief in what we call the Old Testament and they call the Hebrew Bible, the two families had much in common. When the storm passed and they departed, the Jewish rabbi invited the evangelical Christian minister to visit his family and join him at temple.

Welcoming family, friends, and even strangers in our homes and to our tables is far more important than where they sleep, whatever is put on their plates, or the kind of plates that are used. Anything prepared and shared with love is a worthy gift for all who enter our homes. If an angel comes to the door, we don’t want to turn him or her away just because the house isn’t tidy or we don’t have the makings of a gourmet meal. After all, there’s always the Colonel with his barrel of chicken!

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! [Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT)]

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When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. [Romans 12:13 (NLT)]

As far back as you want to go in the history of God’s people, one of the duties of the righteous was hospitality—by which I mean the willingness to welcome people into your home who don’t ordinarily belong there. [John Piper]                                    

red-bellied-woodpeckerIn the ancient world, travel was dangerous and the nomadic people of Israel took hospitality seriously. It was the way to transform an unknown person (who might pose a future threat) into a guest and a friend. Hospitality was an integral part to many of the Old Testament’s stories. Both Abraham and Lot welcomed strangers into their home. Rebekah gave water to Abraham’s servant, watered his camels, and then offered food for the animals and rooms for the night. Rahab gave lodging and protection to the Israelite spies, Manoah and his wife fed the stranger who visited them, the widow of Zarephath gave her last morsel of food to Elijah, and the Shunammite woman provided food and a room for the prophet Elisha whenever he passed through Shunem. Abigail generously provided food for David and his band of men and David welcomed Jonathon’s crippled son Mephibosheth at his table as a way of showing God’s kindness.

The tradition of hospitality extended into the 1st Century. Matthew welcomed Jesus, the disciples, and his tax collector friends at his table. When Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 9, he deliberately sent them out with no provisions and told them to depend on the hospitality of others as they travelled from town to town. Jesus probably stayed with Peter’s family when he was in Capernaum, both Zacchaeus and Martha welcomed Jesus into their homes, and a nameless man provided the upper room of his home to Jesus and the disciples for their Passover supper. Christian hospitality continued as the new church expanded. Paul and his companions stayed with Publius in Malta and Lydia in Philippi, Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner in Joppa, and John commended Gaius for his hospitality to Christian teachers.

Simon the Pharisee probably had a nicer home, more servants, richer food, and better wine than any of those other hosts but, when he invited Jesus to dinner, he was anything but hospitable. Although guests traditionally were greeted with a kiss, given a bowl of water with which to wash the dust off their feet, and offered some perfumed oil for their hair, Simon failed to extend any of these customary courtesies to Jesus. He may have addressed Jesus as “Teacher,” but the narrative makes it clear Jesus was there to be questioned rather than welcomed. There may have been a meal but there was no hospitality that night at Simon’s.

Unbeknown to Abraham, Lot, and Manoah, the strangers they welcomed into their homes were angels of the Lord. But, even if we never welcome angels in our homes, we may have men and women whose very presence is a blessing. Who knows? We may even turn a potential enemy into a friend!

We always treat guests as angels…just in case. [Jeremiah of Wallachia (1556 – 1625)]

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! [Hebrews 13:2 (NLT)]

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