A Little Bit of Hospitality

yhst-38174537758215_2209_81634324

The Paraclete Book of Hospitality is a wonderful, little gem of a book. It’s short 117-page exposition regarding the Christian virtue of hospitality is littered with insights from Scripture, saints, and a host of experiences. While not a theological diatribe about the doctrinal status of being a hospitable person, the editors over at Paraclete Press have none the less put together a brilliant introduction to what it means to exhibit this oft overlooked spiritual discipline.

Perhaps my favorite element of this book was the frequent connections made between Christians of the past, and those living in the world today. The theme of being welcoming is clearly woven throughout Church history, and this little tome does a marvelous job of highlighting that without inundating you with dates and places and hard to pronounce names. If you’ve ever wondered it means to have an open home, or if your curious as to how monastic practices can still serve as relevant tools in this technologically addicted society we call home, this is undoubtedly the book for you!

Of all the portions in the book, there was one chapter which stood out to me.

“Everyday there are occasions, simple moments when we can show hospitality to another person by giving ourselves away. But like every valuable spiritual lesson, this one takes practice and focused attention on our part,” (p. 38).

I had always thought of hospitality as “one of those things,” which if you had a natural inclination towards, could serve God’s purposes. I did not see it something to cultivate, a habit that needed to be formed. However, after reading this book, I am convinced that this practice is essential to living the Christian faith. One does not have to join a monastery to carry about the kind of things mentioned in this book, and I think that is exactly why Jesus talked about it as often as He did. There are no geographical limits on being hospitable.

Advertisements

When? Tonight!

I heard TobyMac’sCity On Our Knees” for the first time tonight. I’ve listened to it several times now, trying to let the words soak into my mind and my heart.

If you gotta start somewhere why not here, If you gotta start sometime why not now, If we gotta start somewhere I say here, If we gotta start sometime I say now…

It’s a pop song. It’s sugar coated, and simplistic. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally listen to. Still…something about this song calls out to me.

Through the fog there is hope in the distance, From cathedrals to third world missions, Love will fall to the earth like a crashing wave…

A pastor said recently, there is often great truth in even the simplest of songs (my paraphrase). He’s right. In fact, I’d say he’s directly on target.

Tonight’s the night, For the sinners and the saints, Two worlds collide in a beautiful display

This song is not just a call for action. It’s not only a plea to God to work in His people. It is definitely those things, but it is so much more as well. It is a standard. It is a conviction. In this song, we are reminded of the hope of Christianity.

It’s all love tonight, When we step across the line, We can sail across the sea, To a city with one king, A city on our knees

Forget for a second, if you can, all the silly rhetoric you hear in church about love. Ignore the impulse to lump this song into the category of “isn’t that ideal” like so many other Christian songs. Try, concentrate on the words, and absorb what is really behind this song.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:12-14)

It’s there. Imbedded in this sugary tune, Jesus’ heart can be seen. Not only is this song calling Christians to prove the apostle right when he wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” This song is a call for Christians to love God, to love the broken in this world, and to definitely love one another.

It’s probably that last one that trips us up the most. I think that’s why Jesus didn’t talk about it amongst His more casual disciples. He saved it for Gethsemane. He saved it for His friends. Jesus understood (among everything else in the universe) that it is sometimes hardest to love those who see us the clearest. I can give $20 to the homeless man downtown, and he will never know the depths of my selfishness and sin. God knows, but He forgives and sanctifies.

My brother in Christ? That’s a different story. We tell ourselves all kinds of little consolations to avoid really loving our brothers and sisters. “They should know better by now than to act like that.” Or maybe, “they’ll just judge me if they know what’s really going on.” There’s a million more excuses out there. We get frustrated with each other. We make each other crazy, but still, Jesus doesn’t leave us any outs: “This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:17).

No matter the issue, great or small, we have been given a spirit of unity. When are we supposed to live this calling out? Well, if we gotta start sometime I say now.

CPR

My life group had an interesting discussion this past Sunday. We’ve been going through John, and we were looking at the Bread of Life discourse during this particular meeting. We observed how simple the message of Christ is: “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” In the course of talking about the different ways we add to this Gospel, we began discussing the whole “works versus faith” issue that often arises in Christian circles. Theologians have been dealing with this for  a long time (St. James, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Francis Schaeffer, James W. Sire, N.T. Wright, to name a few) and there are still a variety of opinions.

In my life group, there seemed to be two main thoughts (well, two were voiced anyways): 1) When you’re saved, you desire to have the character of Christ, and this desire produces the works James wrote about. 2) Works that are forced are bad, because works should come naturally from our salvation.

This sums up the perspective of many Christians that I have met over the years. They often cite amazing transformations (like those of Paul, or the brother of Jesus, or even Constantine) as examples of how the power of the Holy Spirit comes down and just changes a person overnight. While there is some truth to these examples, this kind of thought offers an incomplete picture for a few reasons.

1) Powerful transformation does not happen overnight. The few (and I stress the word, few) examples of this kind of thing that we find in Scripture should serve as a stark warning. For most people in the New Testament, change is difficult and slow. The Disciples are perhaps one of the most prime examples of this, and Christians should keep in mind that while the Spirit does indeed give us a new nature, that does not mean we will be sinless from that point on.

2) The Christ-like character of people like Paul came with effort. Immediately, people will want to point out errors in this thought. So perhaps an example will help. As a Christian, it is our business to help point people to God, in effect saving their life. A person trained in CPR is very similar. Both desire the best for those in need, and have a sincere desire in their heart to help people. However, if I am choking, I would rather have the CPR-trained individual nearby than the Christian with well-meaning intentions. In order to be of any use in the business of saving lives, we must practice the habits that will be used in this process. This leads into the next point.

3) Being kind by nature is not the same as being transformed. The person who was gentle before they were saved will continue being gentle. So when this individual reads that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, they think to themselves, “look at how easy this comes!” This is a deception though. Some people will have gentle natures, while others have the nature of a thief. And yet, no one is exempt from needing God. We have to understand that in some aspect, we will fall short of God’s standards. If kindness comes natural, perhaps honesty does not. Of maybe we fail in our sexual ethics, but stand strong in our generosity. Regardless, in order to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, we will have to practice some of them.

C.S. Lewis often spoke of the importance of doing something in order to really feel a certain way (he touches on this in Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, and The Weight of Glory, which are all books I recommend). The idea is this: if we treat someone like we love them, because we desire to love them as Christ does, our hearts will be transformed. Eventually we will find ourselves loving this person without effort. It becomes natural because we made it a habit.

In the end, the Christian who does not live the Christ-like life is not fulfilling their purpose. And that, sadly, seems to be the case in much of the American Church. Perhaps, we are just out of practice.

Lord, as we seek to really be Your body here on this earth, soften our hearts to the wounds around us. Open our minds to the truth found in Your Word. And give us the hands to carry out Your will, just as You would have it done. May Grace and Peace characterize Your people. Amen.

Priorities

I have mixed feeling on Shuttle Atlantis’ mission to repair the Hubble telescope.

On one hand, I think it’s amazing what we’ve seen through the photographs taken by the satellite. You want to talk about God’s awesome creation? Browse some Hubble images on Yahoo! or Google, and you will see just how creative God is. I think there’s still a lot we can learn through these pictures, and I think that eventually we’ll have a more accurate grasp on time and space through this (the present conceptions are fine for now, but I think they fall short in many ways and will need some major overhauls in the next 50 years). Through things like this, we not only advance human knowledge, but we come closer to God. The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t truly understand (regardless of what the Associated Press says). But as awesome as all this is, is it worth it? The estimated cost of the Hubble telescope in total is $10 billion. That’s a lot of dough.

And here is why my feelings are so mixed. To provide everyone on this planet with clean drinking water is estimated to cost, can you guess?, $10 billion. That’s it. One satellite gone and the water problem would be solved. Of course, I don’t think it’s NASA’s job to fix the world’s issues. But it puts things in perspective a bit. We’re eager to point out the obvious mistakes (like spending $450 billion on Christmas every year or the automakers taking massive bonuses at the expense of the country), but its not as easy to ask if we’re being good stewards of this life. Let’s say we put the Hubble off for 20 years, we had never launched it in 1990, and put that money to solve the water issue? What would we lose? Could we not launch the Hubble now? Would we be behind in any real significant way?

Its not easy to convince the world that people come before knowledge, particularly when we still so clearly value “stuff” and material possessions over people. Its sad that our priorities are out of whack in so many ways. Its sad that my priorities are messed up too. In the end, I appreciate the Hubble for what it is. But I wonder why we expect one area of our lives to be lived more responsibly when other areas of our lives aren’t? Consumerism in the individual will be more likely to change if those whom we take are cues from change the way they spend money. Change in government is usually top down. But revolutions start at the bottom I guess. So who will make the first move?

Sympathy, or Compassion?

I’ve been thinking today a lot about the differences between sympathy and compassion. I’m not sure what started me on this, probably something I read in Job today, but I’ve been wrapping my brain around it for the last several hours and have come to some interesting ideas.

1) The short and simple definition of these two are as follows: sympathy is being affected by the suffering of others, while compassion is willingly partaking in the suffering of others.

2) Sympathy comes very easy. Compassion does not.

3) There are very few movies that illustrate true compassion.

The Four Feathers is one of the few examples, but it gets lost in-between the machismo of war and the reverence of romance. But the plight of Harry is a good picture of compassion: moved by the ill news he receives of his friends, he changes his entire life in order to be there to protect and help them. And in this process, he truly suffers with them in battles that are not his to fight.

The thing is, I do not have compassion. Sometimes, I can muster up enough of it to be of some use, but not very often. Its so much easier to sit back and say, “That is just such a shame. You know what? I’ll do [insert meaningful yet ultimately low key action] so that that’ll help them out. I wouldn’t want them to think no one cares.” This is what I do. All the time. Of course, what should say is this, “That’s awful. Is there anything I can do to help you bear this burden?” I should be willing to sacrifice so much more from my own life in order to help those who are without or who are in need.

This isn’t so much about being a good steward with what God has given me. Its about being an instrument of God’s blessing to everyone else. Its not about some arrogant idea of social justice. Its about genuinely feeling something for the person next door because they need someone to care. Ultimately, its about true and sincere and honest religion. The way it was always meant to be.

Do I have this? If not, am I willing to seek it?