Tag Archives: relationships

The power of hospitality

Most Christians, if asked to list five of the attributes of God, would probably come up with words like loving, powerful, forgiving,  just, holy, and so forth.

These are all important descriptors of God’s character as it is revealed to us in the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ.  But today I am thinking of another word that powerfully sums up how God deals with sinful, weak, needy people.

The word is hospitality.  I was reminded of this attribute of God’s character by a recent post on Richard Long’s excellent blog at Together Canada.  Hospitality is a trait that I would normally associate with people, not with God.  Yet, when we understand Him as He is described in Scripture and portrayed by Jesus, we see that our God is amazingly hospitable.

Looking at the gospels, we see that in one of his parables, Jesus depicted God as a concerned father welcoming his runaway son home to his household and throwing a party for him.  Jesus tells us elsewhere that in his Father’s household there is room for all his children to find a home.  Jesus himself is depicted in Scripture as the coming Bridegroom who welcomes all who place their hope in Him to His wedding banquet.  Our God longs to welcome people in, that they may find their home in Him.

When we look at the qualifications for elders in the New Testament, we discover that the New Testament church placed high value on hospitality as a trait for leaders.   Evidently, the first century apostles understood that Jesus’ sheep need leaders who reflect His generous, hospitable heart.

Last night Marion and I watched Harvey, a movie from an earlier era of cinematography.  Harvey was originally filmed in 1950, and I found it interesting to see how movie making has changed in 60 years.  But beyond the technical aspects, what struck me most in this movie was the generous and hospitable nature of the film’s lead character, Elwood P. Dowd, played by Jimmy Stewart.  Dowd is portrayed as a middle-aged eccentric who has inherited a fortune and does not have to work for a living.   Rather than pursuing the business opportunities that would have been wide open to someone of his means, Dowd goes through life talking to an invisible 6 foot 3 inch rabbit.  He spends most of his time at the local bar (where his invisible friend is quite welcome), listening to people that no-one else except the bartender has time for, and frequently inviting them to his home for dinner.  This exasperates his sister and niece, who share his home.  To be truthful, almost any normal person would find it difficult to live with someone as impractical, unpredictable and eccentric as Elwood P.  Dowd.  That said, he is an uncommonly likeable character, who excels in kindness and generosity.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that God was speaking to me through this aspect of the film.  He showed me again the power of a hospitable life to communicate the good news of Jesus to people who are hungry for spiritual reality.

When we open our homes and our lives to people who are hungry and thirsty for true life, and become their friends, our understanding of what it means to share the gospel of Jesus undergoes a radical transformation.  Instead of being a project, evangelism truly becomes a way of life.  It is no longer just a matter of verbally communicating spiritual truth, or even praying with people for them to receive Jesus or for the Holy Spirit to touch their lives – although both of these aspects remain important.  When we open our homes and our hearts to people, trust is fostered in the people we befriend, and over time, God uses this atmosphere of acceptance and friendship to prepare their hearts for genuine conversion.  This, of course, requires that we be transparent with those we are reaching out to, so that they can see us as we really are.  That’s how disciples are made – through relationships of honesty and trust, in which the good news of Jesus is communicated on many levels.

Marion and I have been rediscovering the transforming power of hospitality over the past several weeks as the Holy Spirit has opened the door to a friendship with our next-door neighbours.  It all started this past summer when Orlando Suarez, a church-planter from Cuba, visited our life group on several occasions this past summer.  Orlando spoke to us of his passion for sharing the good news of Jesus with the people in his neighbourhood.  As I listened to him, I realized that the Spirit of God was speaking to me and telling me to become more active in reaching out to our neighbourhood.  Marion and I invited several people to our home to watch the Alpha videos and talk about the true meaning of life.  The couple next door accepted our invitation, and it has been a delightful experience getting to know them better.  We had already been on good terms before beginning this process.  But now, the relationship is changing from cordial to intimate.  As we talk about the Alpha videos and their growing realization that Jesus is alive, we are becoming spiritual friends.  In this atmosphere of friendship, lives are being changed.

This, it seems to me, is what happened over and over again in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.  I once did a survey of pivotal or life-changing events in the gospels and the Book of Acts, and discovered that a great many of them took place in someone’s home.   When Jesus dropped in to Zaccheus’ house for dinner, someone’s life was changed because Jesus took time to accept hospitality from a man that any self-respecting religious teacher wouldn’t go near.  Jesus knew Zaccheus needed to repent.  By inviting himself to Zaccheus’ home for a meal, Jesus honoured this man whom others rejected, and offered an atmosphere of acceptance that made it easy for Zaccheus to turn away from his self-focussed life and make things right with God.

So – how are you doing with hospitality?  It’s not really about how nice a home you have.  That doesn’t matter.  Your home doesn’t have to be spotless or elegant.  Hospitality is not entertainment.   And you don’t have to be limited to offering hospitality in your home.  You can also offer hospitality in a friend’s house or apartment, a restaurant, a bar, a hospital, a workplace, a prison, or even on a street corner.  It’s really about making time for relationship and having an open heart.

To be truthful, I’m not very good at this.  I’m still learning.  But Jesus is very good at it, and he is teaching me how to let my life be a vehicle for His ministry of hospitality.  It’s all about learning to rest in the Father’s goodness, and invite others to come into His household and discover His delightfully generous love.


Reflections from Minnesota – Day 5

Today we went to the Mall of America to shop.  It is the second-largest mall in the world, surpassed in size only by the West Edmonton Mall.  You can get pretty much anything here.  The whole point of the mall is consumption – buying, selling, getting, spending.  So we did our bit to stimulate the economy.

I don’t seem to to be able to go through life without reflecting on my experiences.  It’s just the way I’m wired.  I’ve heard it said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  I believe that if we are truly disciples of Jesus, every aspect of life should be under His Lordship.  So today I was reflecting on the experience of shopping, and whether our shopping choices are significant to God.

This may seem like  a weird question.  Does God care if you buy a particular shirt or pair of shoes or electronic gadget or tasty treat?  Aren’t those trivial matters – not that important?

Actually, it’s the stuff of everyday living that reveals to what extent Jesus is really Lord of our lives.   Going to the mall of America may be a real spiritual test for someone who is inclined to be self-indulgent.  The Holy Spirit may be giving you an opportunity to recognize and resist temptation.  If you were to listen to that inner voice before buying, you might get a gentle nudge to say “No” to your most recent whim – both to lead you into the freedom of self-control, and so that you have more left to give to others.

On the other hand, if you are someone who feels guilty about spending, there could be a different kind of challenge.  The Holy Spirit may want to teach you something about God’s desire to bless you.  Or He may want you set you free to give a generous gift to someone you love.

One thing is for sure – from reading the Gospels it is very clear to me that if we want to live as Kingdom people, every detail of our lives matters.  How we handle finances is a reflection of the condition of our hearts, and that matters a great deal to God.

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Marion and I have also been spending quite a bit of time this week at fairly close quarters with our son Simeon and daughter-in-law Heather and their new baby, who have graciously opened up their apartment to us for the week.  Add in our daughter Bethany and son Joe (who came with us), plus various members of Heather’s family who live next door and are frequently in and out of their apartment, and you are looking at a fairly constant stream of family interactions.

As wonderful as family is, living at close quarters like this can be a strain at times, especially for new parents like Simeon and Heather who are dealing with an adorable but sometimes-fussy baby, and new grandparents like Marion and myself who are still learning how to operate with grace in our new role.  So we have had to work a few things out over the past couple of days.  This is not always easy, and our human weaknesses – mine, anyway – sometimes come to the surface.  This is humbling, but also good for us.   Little conflicts give us an opportunity to grow in grace.  I’m learning that the secret to healthy and redemptive relationships is not avoiding all conflict, but handling it with grace.  The effort to understand one another is well worth the cost.  I am so grateful for the Lord’s mercy and grace.  God, teach me to place my heart and my tongue under your control daily.


What is the #1 goal of small groups?

Why do we do small groups in church?   There are many reasons, but most often people will say that small groups are important to meet the need for fellowship.

I both agree and disagree with this statement.

I agree because it is so obviously important to focus on building strong relational connections.  I love the weekly Sunday service at my church, with its dynamic worship, powerful and relevant preaching, and top-quality children’s ministry.   But over the years too many people have attended for a few weeks or even a number of years, and then drifted away.  While people leave churches for many reasons, I am convinced that most will only stay if they form strong relational connections with at least a few people.   Besides, didn’t Jesus command us to love one another?  It’s hard to love people that you barely know!   It’s no accident that most of the churches in the New Testament met primarily in homes.   As small group life spreads, and we place more emphasis on building loving relationships, our church is gradually becoming a little more like the church of the New Testament, which was a household of faith, not just a collection of people who met in a building once a week to sing songs and listen to a message.

But in spite of all these compelling arguments for the importance of building relational connections, I can’t really agree that fellowship is the primary purpose of small groups.  I believe that the healhiest small groups will be those that focus on making disciples – in other words, helping one another follow Jesus.  Small groups that focus on fellowship as their highest goal are likely to end up being self-centred and shallow.  Groups that focus on  making disciples have the potential to be exciting, dynamic and always challenging as well as supportive.

The biggest single weakness of the North American church is that there are many attenders but very few disciples.  Disciples are people who are learning to trust and obey God in their daily lives, people who are choosing – as best they are able, with God’s help – to pattern their lives after Jesus.  We all need help with this, and a small group that sees its goal as making disciples is a great place to get support.  There you will be loved and accepted but also challenged to grow into the image of Christ.

A small group that is focussed on making disciples will also reach out to others to bring them into God’s family – because that’s what disciples do!  It will engage with the Word and apply the Word to daily life – because that’s what disciples do!  It will spend time in prayer and worship – because that’s what disciples do!   It will focus on serving – because that’s what disciples do!  It will help its members discover their spiritual gifts and apply them – because that’s what disciples do!

A group with this kind of atmosphere is lots of fun and leads to awesome fellowship.   In a healthy small group, people feel included, they feel they belong, they feel they have something to contribute and that they are making a difference, they feel that they are growing in their faith – because they are!  Great fellowship is like the matrix – the atmosphere in which disciples can be made.  You can’t become like Christ on your own.  It’ s not possible, because the Christian life is meant to be lived in community.  But if you make fellowship the primary goal, your group will be shallow.  If you aim at helping one another in the journey of discipleship, you get everything else as a bonus.  In small group life as well as finances, it really is true that if we seek God’s kingdom first, we get everything else thrown in!


Choose your friends wisely

Last night  my wife and I  spent the evening with friends.   That’s not so unusual, I guess, but the things we talked about sparked some reflection on why we need friendship.

We humans are made for relationship.   When God made the first human being he declared that it was not good for the man to be alone, so he gave Adam a wife.  From the beginning we have been social beings.   I consider myself an introvert; I have a high need for solitude and love to spend time alone with God.  But while I love to be alone, I also need time with friends.

It’s a little weird that an introvert like me is responsible for promoting small group ministry at our church!   But even introverts need relationships.  So, Marion and I encourage others to be part of a small group, and of course we are involved in home groups ourselves as well.

Last night we spent the evening with our friends in one of these home groups.   It was a bitterly cold night and with the OC Transpo strike, our days are more complicated and getting around is difficult.  On top of that we have a long to-do list at home.   So all in all,  it would have been easier to stay home.  But we decided to go to Dan’s place anyway, and I came home realizing just how much we need these relationships.

Pretty well everyone enjoys hanging out with friends.   Friendships can be a lot of fun!  But while joy and laughter are important aspects of friendship, friendships are for more than just fun.  Good friendships are also a tool for growth.   In our home groups we spend time encouraging each other, challenging each other, discussing topics that help us understand God’s plan for our lives, praying for each other, and reaching out to others.

Your friends can can drag you down or they can build you up.   Long ago a wise man said that those who spend time with wise people become wise, and those who hang out with fools pay a price.

We become like those we spend time with.   I want to spend time with people who are hungry for God, people who are looking for honest, accountable, loving relationships, people who will encourage me to be better than I am.  I want to walk in the light of God and help others find His light and walk in it, so I choose friends who are either seeking the light or already walking in it.