Practice, Practice, Practice

When I was a teacher of Public Speaking at a community college, I had students stay through the entire course, only to drop out rather than make their final speech. The assigned speech was short and was before the same class in which they had spent the entire semester. Such is the fear of public speaking. In the Christian community, this same level of dread also attaches to evangelism – and, for some – hospitality.

Christian hospitality, however, is a duty for us. It is also a very effective tool for the building of the Christian community. In Hebrews 13:1-2 we read, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Show hospitality to Strangers. A literal translation of the word translated hospitality (filozenia)  means love of strangers. Why does the Bible tell us to love strangers? A little background on the Epistle to the Hebrews might help us understand. It was food-and-drinks-barbecue-479218written in a time of turbulence and tribulation for Christians. (Probably late 60s). There are a lot of parallels between that time and this. The world was in turmoil. Even the church was filled with infighting. At times like these, Christian charity is often in danger of being forgotten, as people struggle to make it through. So it was important for the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to remind them – and us about hospitality.

OK, first question: Who Do We Entertain? In Romans (12:13), the Apostle Paul tells us to “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Might seem like a contradiction God’s people vs. Strangers. Matthew Henry explains it this way: entertain “both those that are strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to our persons.” Some of God’s people are strangers to us. So, do we do background checks on people before we invite them to lunch? No, Christians are supposed to be pretty liberal about who they entertain – remember the example of Jesus who got all sorts of grief for lunching with a tax collector.

Now we know who. The question becomes “How Do We Entertain?” People come up with many (sometimes creative) reasons why thy cannot show hospitality. “The house isn’t nice (or clean)”; “I don’t have fancy dishes”; “I can’t afford to serve a real meal” are among the most common. All of those things may be true, but they do not rule out the possibility of hospitality. We do not have to wait until we can afford a good roast or steak before we invite someone in for a time of fellowship. Look at some of the simple meals mentioned in the Bible – especially that all-important one, the LORD’s Supper. The menu is NOT the point… Obedience and charity are the points.

We should entertain expectantly. Remember Hebrews 13:2? No? Here’s a reminder: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Does this mean that we should expect angels to show up every time we invite someone over for coffee? Not necessarily. We cannot rule it out, however! There are other things we can expect, too, like enjoyable company that we didn’t know before; fellowship with other brothers and sisters who think at least somewhat like us; and/or a bond with people which was not there before.

We can easily break up Christian hospitality into two kinds: entertaining those we know; and those we don’t.

Offer hospitality to one another. 1 Peter 4:9 tells us to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” [We won’t even deal with the “without grumbling” part of that instruction.] Peter was writing to Christians. He wants us to know one another, to enjoy one another’s company. If we don’t get to know one another, how can we carry one another’s burdens? (Galatians 6:2).

Secondly, we are to entertain strangers. This, in essence, is the greatest tool we have for church growth. Inviting neighbors, or church visitors home for a simple meal, or dessert is a simple way to offer hospitality in the name of Christ, and invite them to church – or to become Christians!

Some suggestions. Most congregations have some public events – concerts, barbecues, men’s and women’s breakfasts, etc. We invite people via the internet, newspapers, mailings, and other means. Why can’t we also invite people to smaller events, like coffee on my porch or dessert. One congregation I served had something called Spaghetti Suppers. One didn’t need to serve spaghetti, but we had a roster of people who would invite any Sunday visitors to their home after the morning service. The menu was totally up to the hosts. The idea was simply that people would get invited home; that someone showed an interest in them.

Some congregations organize an occasional coffee time for small groups of newcomers.

Summer BBQs, of course, are a big hit (especially in the southern US). It can simply be hot dogs or hamburgers – or it can be more elaborate. It’s up to you!

 There are, of course, rules. Here they are:

  • Don’t put on the dog. Be yourself.
  • Relax – it’s your turf.
  • Hospitality is not a show – it’s showing love.

Remember: we’re told to practice hospitality. That means to keep doing it ‘til we get it Right!

The Church Will Survive, Part Two

09112cprWe Are Responsible to Make Efforts at Resuscitation 

Christians have responsibilities for the care of the church. There is work to be done. When Jesus was taken up into heaven, the apostles evidently stood around looking up at the sky where they had last seen Him. Angels addressed them saying, “Men of Galilee … why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11).  This scene took place immediately after Jesus had told the disciples that they needed to be witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).

We will not help to revitalize the church by staring into the sky and arguing with one another about the timing and manner of Christ’s return. No amount of analyzing, theologizing, polemicizing, or ostracizing will bring new life to the Bride of Christ. What is required is commitment to obedience. In order for commitment to be effective, it must have a focus (Christ) and a specific content (God’s word). The commitment must have purpose (spiritual service to God),  and it must be lived out in the lives of the followers of Christ.  This attitude of commitment is beautifully summarized in 1 Peter 4:1-11, where we read:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do — living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

This is what commitment to Christ and His cause looks like. When Christians act like this, the church will take care of itself.

We Must Learn to Educate for the Kingdom 
The revival of the church will involve some rethinking of what we often call “Christian Education.” What is required is not “C. E.” in the parochial sense, the current mode that teaches us that we must have Sunday school and Vacation Bible School because everyone else does. Rather, what is necessary is Christian Education purposefully perpetrated by Christian minds. The church needs to claim the world of knowledge. We need to raise up a generation of well-educated, analytical, Christian thinkers — not just reciters of creeds. We need to bring into the church people who think. Each Christian should think in terms of claiming his profession for Christ.

Too often, when the local church discovers a bright young mind, the first thought is, “Let’s get this young person off to the right seminary.” Certainly we need bright pastors and seminary professors who profess faith in the Christ. We also need articulate Christian plumbers, electricians, journalists, and civil servants. We need to understand the problems within our society and be in the forefront of attacking those problems from a Christian worldview.

We Must Rely upon God 
Christians cannot “straighten out” the church in our own power. “Our own power” is how it got to be the way it is. We need to rely upon the power of God and cling to His many promises. It is He who will maintain His remnant. It is Him to whom the glory is due — and will be due at the last day.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.(Ephesians 3:20–21).