OPEN DOORS (Hospitality – Part 4)

I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent. [Luke 5:32 (NLT)]

Let’s go back to the sixties—a time of “turn on, tune in, drop out”—a counter-culture of “flower power,” anti-war sentiment, and discontented disillusioned youth. When Chuck Smith saw these “hippies” on the California beaches, he said they needed a bath but, when his wife Kay saw them, she said they needed the Lord! Moving their message onto the streets and beach, they opened the doors of their church to those kids and anyone else who wanted to come in. Regardless of faith, background, attire, length of hair, addictions, political views, cleanliness, or finances, the church unconditionally welcomed everyone. While still preaching the uncompromising truth of the Gospel, what began as a congregation of 25, within eight years had to conduct three Sunday services in a 2,200-seat auditorium!

Although we’re not looking for growth like that, my church recently embarked on an outreach campaign to better establish our presence in the community. One of the phrases used in our mailings, flyers, and Facebook ads is, “You don’t have to believe to belong.” Some local pastors berated our pastor for the campaign and even accused him of heresy. Perhaps their complaints stemmed from fear that we were trying to poach their congregations but the message implied just the opposite—we were looking for people who didn’t belong! After all, there are more than enough unbelievers to fill every churches’ pews.

Apparently, the “heresy” part of the accusation was because our ads said belief was not a requirement for belonging. Just to clarify—we clearly identified ourselves as a non-denominational Christian church and never said that people didn’t have to believe to be baptized or didn’t need faith in Jesus Christ to be saved. Nothing implied a universality of beliefs, the lack of a Christian creed, or that what one believes doesn’t matter to God. In fact, a quick view of our website clearly outlines our fundamental Christian beliefs! Adding that we love God, love others, and follow Jesus, the advertisements simply said that people didn’t need to believe to belong. Nevertheless, some pastors disagreed and said that belief should be a prerequisite for belonging! While Scripture does warn of unbelievers in the church, it also calls us to share the gospel and to let our lights shine before men.

Saying you have to be saved before you can belong to a church family seems like saying you have to be physically fit before you can join a gym. When most out-of-shape people join a gym, they’re not too sure about the whole exercise thing. Granted, after trying out the elliptical, free weights, leg press, or spinning classes, some will quit because they don’t like it there. On the other hand, some people may realize how much better their health is because of the gym and enthusiastically embrace fitness, invite others to join, or become trainers themselves! But, if they couldn’t come to the gym because they weren’t fit enough to join, that can’t happen!

How can unbelievers or seekers become believers if we don’t welcome them into our churches? How can people be transformed by God’s word if they don’t hear it? How can they call on His name without knowing who Jesus is? How can they know Him if they haven’t met His followers? How can we preach God’s love if we don’t practice it? Granted, not everyone who comes will stay or choose to believe—but unless we welcome them into our church family, they may never become part of the body of Christ! What we must never do, however, is preach a modified, revised, or tweaked version of the Gospel to accommodate unbelievers. They must understand that, eventually, a decision has to be made—there is only one way into the Kingdom!

Our churches shouldn’t be private clubs where only believers know the secret handshake or password to get in the door! Jesus didn’t divide people into the washed and unwashed when He taught, prayed, healed, or ate—neither should we. When our Lord said He came for sinners, not those who thought themselves righteous, Jesus defined the mission of the church.

A local gym here claims to have a “non-judgmental” philosophy when it comes to joining—perhaps some churches around here need to adopt it, as well!

The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together. [James H. Aughey]

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive[a] so that you will have the right response for everyone. [Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)]

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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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SALT OF THE EARTH (Salt – Part 2)

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. [Matthew 5:13 (NLT)]

saltToday, when someone is called the “salt of the earth,” the speaker probably means he or she is a dependable, unpretentious and honest person—someone of moral integrity. That is well and good as far as it goes, but Jesus meant more than that when He called us to be “the salt of the earth.”

Nowadays, salt is inexpensive and a 26-ounce box of generic table salt cost less than 2 cents an ounce. Even if you wanted to go gourmet with some pink Himalayan table salt, you’d only pay about 25 cents per ounce. In ancient times, however, salt was so precious that Roman soldiers received their pay in it. When that became cumbersome, they received an allowance for its purchase. Called salarium argentum and meaning salt money, salarium remains in the English language as the word “salary.” Slave traders often bartered salt for slaves which gave rise to the expression that someone useless isn’t “worth his salt.” It was the preciousness of salt that made it so meaningful when making covenants or treaties in the ancient world. When Jesus said we are the “salt of the earth,” He meant we were as valuable as this precious commodity of the 1st century. But, aside from being valuable, what other qualities could Jesus have had in mind with His metaphor?

Salt is a flavor enhancer and we, as Christ’s disciples can add flavor and meaning to the lives of others. Salt makes people thirsty and we, as the salt of the earth, can make people thirst for and desire Christ. In ancient times, salt water was considered a natural antiseptic. Used to clean wounds and prevent infection, newborns were bathed in salt water. As salt of the earth, we can do our part in preventing sin’s infection.

Salt can lessen the pain of bee stings and bug bites and we, as salt, can lessen sin’s sting. On the other hand, salt rubbed into a wound stings and we, as salt, can rebuke and admonish the world with words that may sting. Salt can remove stains and, as Christ’s salt, we can remove the stain of sin with news of repentance and God’s forgiveness.

A paste of salt, flour and vinegar can remove rust and polish brass and copper; as salt in God’s service, we can certainly polish up this tarnished world of ours. Salt is used to stop food decay and we, acting as messengers of the Gospel, have the ability to keep people from perishing and rotting in Hell. Salt also has destructive properties and the term “salting the earth” refers to the ancient military practice of plowing fields of enemies with salt so that no crops could be grown. In the same way, we want to sow Satan’s fields with our salt to make them barren.

In spite of warnings from our cardiologists, a certain amount of salt is essential for life. Without it, our bodies become chemically unbalanced, our muscles and nervous system cease to function, and eventually we’ll die. Without a doubt, the message of Christ’s saving grace is essential for eternal life. Even though our body fluids (blood, sweat, tears) are salty, we cannot produce salt on our own nor can we obtain salvation on our own! Salvation comes by God’s grace through faith!

Finally, salt is white, the color of purity, and, as salt of the earth we should be pure, which brings us full circle to salt that has lost its saltiness or has become tainted. The salt used in Jesus’ time was obtained from salt marshes and salt lakes. Because it wasn’t refined, it always contained other minerals. If the sodium chloride was leached away by dampness or became fouled by dirt, what remained was without flavor and contaminated. Good for nothing, it was strewn on the roads like gravel. Like salt without flavor, disciples who don’t live out the values of the Kingdom cannot fulfill their purpose.

Moreover, no matter how valuable, pure, flavorful, or essential it is for life, salt that is kept in a sealed package is useless. Jesus wants us to get out of the box and into the world so we can spread our saltiness around in words and deeds as we share His Good News.

Salt, when dissolved in water, may disappear, but it does not cease to exist. We can be sure of its presence by tasting the water. Likewise, the indwelling Christ, though unseen, will be made evident to others from the love which he imparts to us. [Sadhu Sundar Singh]

Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other. [Mark 9:50 (NLT)]

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And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:8-9 (ESV)]

brothersThe story is told of a Sunday school teacher who was teaching her class about the Ten Commandments. “What is the commandment about parents?” she asked. “Honor thy father and mother,” was the quick reply. “Is there a commandment about brothers and sisters?” the teacher queried. One little boy shouted, “Thou shalt not kill!” While we know we’re not supposed to kill them, how should we treat them?

When we look at sibling relationships in the Bible, we don’t see a lot of good examples. Starting with Cain and Abel, Cain’s anger over God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering led to the Bible’s first homicide. When Ishmael teased his younger half-brother Isaac, he and his mother were evicted from Abraham’s home. Then we have sisters Leah and Rachel who continually competed for Jacob’s attention. The twins Jacob and Esau were at odds from birth and, after stealing his brother’s birthright, Jacob had to flee for his life. Resentment and jealousy caused Miriam and Aaron to complain about Moses’ leadership, jealousy led Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, and after Jehoram became king, he killed all six of his brothers. David’s brothers didn’t respect him, Martha and Mary had disagreements about priorities, and Jesus’ brothers failed to believe in Him at first. Among the disciples, Peter and Andrew were brothers as were James and John, but we know that the disciples argued about which of them was the greatest! Clearly, sibling rivalry, jealousy, and conflict has a long history in mankind.

Siblings can be one of the greatest blessings in life but they also pose one of the greatest challenges of childhood. Even as adults, sibling relationships can be difficult to navigate. We know each other’s weaknesses and fears; we know what upset our siblings in the past and what buttons to push to annoy them now. We often know each other’s deepest secrets and most embarrassing moments and, unfortunately, can wield that information like a sword. Siblings easily can be tactless, rude, and cruel with one another in a way they’d never be with their friends. When we’re with siblings, we may even revert to old roles and behaviors from our childhood days.

While siblings share parentage and history, true brothers and sisters share far more than genetics and memories. If we want to have brothers and sisters, instead of just siblings, we might look to the example of Joseph who saved the lives of the same brothers who betrayed and abandoned him! He literally became his brothers’ keeper.

In spite of whatever happened in the past, if we want brothers and sisters, we need to relinquish any long-buried resentment and practice forgiveness (along with a fair amount of forgetfulness). When siblings disappoint as they inevitably will (as will we), our love will keep us from despairing in or giving up on them. An accident of birth may give us siblings but there’s nothing accidental about choosing to love and it is choosing to love that turns a sibling into a brother or sister.

When Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the Hebrew word was hashomer. From the root word shamar, it meant protector, guardian, defender, and caretaker. What do you think God’s answer was?

Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. [Leviticus 19:17a (NLT)]

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. … Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:10,18 (NLT)]

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