Tag Archives: Hospitality

Violent Times

Violent Times (CaD Jud 19) Wayfarer

In those days Israel had no king.
Judges 19:1 (NIV)

I observe of late that I live in violent times. Violent crime is on the rise in cities along with snatch-and-grab gang robberies. Political extremists on both sides call for violence against their enemies on social media, and political protests on both sides have turned violent. We are all aware of the latest in a long string of mass school shootings that occurred just a few weeks ago. A few months ago, in Green Bay Wisconsin of all places, a woman high on meth strangled her lover during sex, then dismembered the man and hid the pieces throughout his mother’s basement, leaving his head in a bucket. The murderer appears to have found pleasure in the act. She asked the police officers who took her into custody if they “knew what it was like to love something so much that you kill it.” The first time I read about it, I found the details so disturbing that it was hard to stomach.

That gruesome event was brought to mind as I read today’s chapter. This chapter is another one of the more difficult ones to stomach in all of the Great Story. An unnamed Levite finds himself and his concubine the guests of a fellow Hebrew in the town of Gibeah. In an act that is a direct parallel to what happened to Lot in the city of Sodom in Genesis 19, a bunch of men of the town beat on the door of the host and demand that the Levite be sent out to take part in their ancient version of a rave. The Levite sends his concubine out to appease them. After being gang-raped through the night, he finds her dead on the threshold of the host’s door the next morning. Appalled by what has happened, he cuts her body into twelve pieces and disperses the parts to the twelve Hebrew tribes to shock the nation and explain what had happened.

So, why is this even in the Great Story, and what am I supposed to glean from this? Meditating on this question, I came to a couple of conclusions in the quiet this morning.

First, the author includes this horrific story for a reason and he gives me the clue in the first line of the story: “In those days Israel had no king.” This is a line the author has repeated in each of the last two chapters. This is the theme of his book’s epilogue. He is sharing with his readers the social breakdown that occurred when there was no strong civic or religious authority.

Second, the entire story is about hospitality in the ancient Near East, which was a social expectation of such magnitude in that culture that we can’t really relate to it today. The Levites’ father-in-law in the first half of the chapter exemplifies “go the extra mile” hospitality to his guest. This stands out in stark contrast to his host in Gibeah in the gruesome second half of the chapter who should have protected his guest and not allowed the concubine’s rape to happen.

Finally, the bloody act of the Levite in dismembering his concubine’s body and sending it to the tribes was a call to action. It was meant to shock the nation into doing something about what was happening in their society.

This brings me back to my own times, in which I don’t have to look very hard to find acts of violence not that much different than the ones in today’s chapter. And, in the Levite’s call to action, I hear echoes of what our society is proclaiming right now: “We have to do something!”

So what do I take away from this?

Personally, I’m reminded of the human need for authority in both my social and spiritual life. Being a follower of Jesus means that Jesus and His teachings are my spiritual compass. As I submit to doing my best to follow His example and His teaching, I find myself with spiritual and moral guardrails on my thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. This even includes honoring, and being subject to, my civic authorities. Without those moral guardrails, I can only imagine how my life might cycle out of control.

But also, as a citizen of this representative republic, I play a part in this society and I need to do my part to participate in the civic and social process by speaking out, letting my voice be heard, and voting for strong leaders who will lead by action and example.

By the way, I voted yesterday.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Divine Hospitality

Divine Hospitality (CaD Gen 18) Wayfarer

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

Genesis 18:1-5 (NIV)

I walked into the small hut. There was no door that I recall, nor was there more than opening for a window. I was in a remote, mountainous region on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. My interpreter, Victorino, explained that the hut belonged to the local pastor who ministered to villages in the area. We were guests in their home, the local parsonage.

The pastor and his wife were so excited to host us for lunch, and they went out of their way to be so very hospitable. They wanted us to see the large piece of linoleum that had been placed over the dirt floor. Victorino explained that it was likely a scrap that had been salvaged from a landfill near the city, but to our hosts it was a meaningful upgrade to their normal living conditions.

Our lunch consisted of pulled chicken freshly butchered, rice, fresh fruit harvested by hand nearby, and simple sandwiches comprising of white bread onto which butter had been spread and sugar sprinkled over it. The humble meal, Victorino explained, was a lavish feast in our hosts personal economy. They were sacrificing themselves to give us the very best they could afford.

I will never forget that experience. It was humbling. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus pointing out that the poor widow offering her only pennies at the temple was a far greater divine gift than the tithe of abundant riches offered by the wealthy. The meal in that hut was divine hospitality.

Today’s chapter tells of Abraham experiencing what scholars call a theophany, an experience in which God appears to a human in human form. Abraham greets them with gracious hospitality. Abraham makes sure his guests have shade from the sun and water to wash their sandaled feet. Sarah uses enough flour to make 60 loaves of bread, and a calf is slaughtered for the feast (a rare treat in that time).

As I read the chapter, I couldn’t help but recall memories of the incredible hospitality I’ve experienced in other cultures. The Philippine parsonage was just one example. There’s the Arab restaurant owner in Bethlehem during the intifada who, while his fellow countrymen treated me with contempt and threats, quite literally begged me to come into his shop where I was treated with what felt like royal hospitality. Then the experience in Nazareth village in which I was able to experience ancient hospitality much like Abraham in today’s chapter. A shelter for shade, fresh baked pita break made as Sarah likely would have made it thousands of years ago, and fresh olives and olive oil (see featured photo of this post).

My parents modeled hospitality as I was growing up. Everyone was welcome in our home, including friends who would stop by even when me and my siblings weren’t home. Everyone was offered my mother’s home cooking or baking. My parents loved talking to our friends, and our friends obviously felt loved, welcomed, and embraced.

Wendy and I have tried to continue the same kind of hospitality that was modeled for me by my parents, the same kind of generous hospitality we have experienced from others, and the hospitality that God desires from every follower of Jesus. I am reminded that I never know when I might experience a heavenly visitor in disguise, like Abraham:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

As I close out this work week, I am humbled not only in remembering the hospitality I’ve experience from others, but also in considering the opportunities Wendy and I have to continue growing in generous hospitality, sharing all with which we’ve been generously blessed with others.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“LandBNB.ORG”

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.
3 John 5-6

A few months ago our friend asked to use our house to throw a semi-surprise party for his wife. It was a blast. This past Saturday, Wendy and I were blessed to host members of her family from out of town for lunch. Tonight we have friends staying with us for the night in our home. This Friday evening a small group of Wendy’s oldest and dearest friends are having a girls’ night at our house. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, this weekend would have been our little town’s annual Tulip Time festival. Our house would typically have been filled with family for the weekend.

Hospitality is something that Wendy does extremely well, and something that we enjoy doing together. One of the motivating factors for building our house was the simple ability to provide hospitality for others. Relatives, friends, children, friends of children, and even friends of friends have stayed with us. The blessing is ours.

The realities of the Jesus movement in its first 300 years are typically lost on modern readers. The tens of thousands of Jesus’ followers met regularly in people’s homes scattered across the Roman Empire. Communication was poor making organization and oversight difficult, and sometimes impossible. That’s why much of what we refer to as the “Books” of the New Testament are actually letters that were written to be delivered, read, and sometimes copied and broadcast to all the other house churches of all the other believers. The letters would have to be carried, and the deliverer(s) (for safety is was common to send two) would need lodging and food. Inns were not great places in those days and typically doubled as brothels. It was imperative that the network of house churches double as the “LandBnB.org” of that day, offering safe lodging and hospitality for fellow believers.

Today’s chapter is another short letter that tradition ascribes to John. It is essentially a letter of recommendation for Demetrius to a house church leader named Gaius. The letter commends Gaius for his reputation as a Five-Star hospitality provider (compared to the One-Star rating John gave to another house church leader named Diotrephes). His letter provided Gaius with John’s Five-Star rating of Demetrius as a guest.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the gift and art of hospitality. Sure, AirBnB and others have turned many private residences into pseudo-inns for profit. That’s cool, but that’s not the kind of hospitality out of generosity that John was calling upon from Gaius. The “LandBnB.org” that John and early believers depended upon was a non-profit enterprise founded on generosity. Providing a warm and comfortable place that’s generously given with hospitable blessing truly is, I believe, a spiritual gift. And, as Wendy and I have discovered, the profit is joy.

Everyone Welcome (…or not)

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

When I was young, my parents continually told me and my siblings “Your friends are always welcome in our house.” They meant it. I can remember nights when entire groups of my brothers’ friends would show up. My brothers weren’t home, but their friends would sit around the living room with my parents for long chats. As the youngest sibling, I observed the warmth of my parents hospitality and the effect on those high schoolers.

As I got older, I never hesitated to offer to have an impromptu social at our house with entire throngs of my friends. Wendy has convinced me, in retrospect, that it would have been more respectful if I had actually called my parents to ask permission or to give them a little warning. My parents, nevertheless, always laughed and rolled with it. I even told college friends to call my parents if they needed a place to crash on their drive home to the west coast. That happened, and my parents still enjoy telling the story.

I endeavored to have the same hospitality that I witnessed in my parents. I want our home to be a place of welcome, warmth, conversation, and love. I never want visitors to feel like a burden.

Along my life journey I’ve come to realize that hospitality is not a strong suit of my culture. I’ve attended predominantly black churches and received warm welcome that I knew would not be equally reciprocated if they came to my church on Sunday. I grieve this truth.

When I travelled in the middle east I regularly encountered the unbelievable hospitality of Muslims whom I expected to treat me like an enemy. Our daughters have experienced the same in their travels and missions overseas. I will never forget our daughter’s observation that the most Christ-like people she’d encountered were not her missions team, but a Muslim shopkeeper and his wife who invited her to dinner. Once again, we know in our hearts that our foreign hosts would likely not receive an equally hospitable welcome in our community. I grieve this truth.

This morning I’m thinking about my own posture towards hospitality. It’s easy to be hospitable to people of my choosing, with whom I am comfortable. I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In Jesus’ estimation, the one who truly loved his neighbor was the one who showed sacrificial hospitality to a perfect stranger in need who didn’t look like him, come from the same community as him, or believe the same things. I confess this morning that if you measure my hospitality by Jesus’ definition, I am found wanting.

Lord, have mercy on me.

I have some work to do.

A Table Prepared for All

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
Isaiah 25:26 (NIV)

I love a great dinner party. We have become such a fast food, quick serve, grab-a-snack culture that it’s rare to really enjoy a feast any more. I had a friend tell me that she and her family finished Thanksgiving dinner in 10 minutes. There’s something wrong with this picture.

A great dinner party starts early with a drink and an appetizer. People mingle. There’s light conversation. Guests begin to unwind. It moves on to a table that’s prepared. Things are laid out. Everything you need for the evening is set before you. The plates, knives, forks, spoons, and glassware are a road map to the feast. There is salad and/or soup before the main course. The main course follows after and is perfectly proportioned with complementary dishes. There is an aperitif to cleanse the palate before moving on to dessert. And, there are wines served to compliment each course. By the time dessert is served you have been on a journey. A feast is to be savored, en-joy-ed along with the company and conversation around the table.

I love that God’s word picture of what’s-to-come is a feast. It’s the word picture He gave Abraham when first introducing Himself in Genesis 18. It’s the word picture Jesus gives in Revelation of the relationship He desires with every one. A dinner party. A leisurely meal with good food and good fellowship around the table.

I am struck this morning that Isaiah’s prophetic feast is for all people. So often the image of God we project to the world is that of a miserly monarch condemning the many to save the exclusive few. But Isaiah’s prophetic image is a feast of salvation for all people and all nations. When Jesus picked up and riffed on this word picture in his parable of the wedding feast he speaks of inviting those who you’d least expect to have a seat at the table, the master’s servants grabbing anyone and everyone off the street and ushering them to the table.

This morning I’m thinking about dinner parties, feasts, and a God who desires the communal oneness that is experienced with good food, good wine, and good relationship around a table well prepared.

chapter a day banner 2015

“Iowa Nice”

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.
Titus 1:16a

There is this thing we call “Iowa Nice.” It’s an attitude, really. There are no classes that teach it, and no strict definition. It’s a generalization that comes through the generations. It comes up out of the soil and permeates our being, though it’s not universal. While there are always a few bad corn kernels in every bushel, the people of Iowa are pretty hospitable folk. We’re happy to help if you need it. We are kind and accommodating, even to strangers. We’re just…well…nice.

I thought about Iowa nice this morning as I read Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete to organize the various groups of Jesus followers into some semblance of organization. Titus’ job was to appoint “Overseers” (think Pastor) who would “manage the household” of believers and “Elders” who were spiritually mature leaders. Paul provides qualifications, but then acknowledges Titus’ challenge to find such individuals among the Cretans.

The people of Crete did not have a great reputation. In contrast to “Iowa Nice,” Paul quotes a Cretan prophet who claims: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Yikes. Titus is to find, among this group, those who are hospitable, self-controlled, and upright. You can almost hear Paul’s subtext: “Good luck with that.” Among Paul’s disparaging descriptive remarks about many of the Cretans is the fact that they “claim to know God, but by their actions deny them.”

What a great reminder this morning as I head into the week of our local Tulip Time festival here in Pella. I am not perfect, to be sure, but I would hope that I my actions will always bear witness to the faith that I claim – not deny it. I and my fellow residents will spend three entire days this week playing host to thousands of visitors and treating them to a generous dose of “Iowa Nice.” My desire is that my hospitality will always be a reflection of Jesus, who exemplified hospitality when He welcomed this stranger into His family.

chapter a day banner 2015Featured Image (and necklace) via Anatomical Element

The Lost Art of Hospitality

Welcome mat
(Photo credit: Lynn Kelley Author)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 19

Then [Lot] welcomed them and bowed with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “come to my home to wash your feet, and be my guests for the night. You may then get up early in the morning and be on your way again.” Genesis  19:1b-2a (NLT)

As I started reading the chapter this morning I was struck by Lot’s hospitality, which parallel’s Abraham’s hospitality from the previous chapter:

My lord,” [Abraham] said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

About ten years ago I spent a short period of time in Israel and was struck by the tradition of hospitality that is shown by the cultures there. When I read about the way Abraham and Lot welcomed and honored their guests, it feels very much the same as the way I was treated by complete strangers in some of my travels. Taylor and Clayton reported similar experiences from their travels in Morocco and Uganda. Hospitality towards strangers and guests is a time-honored tradition.

As I look back over my lifetime and observe some of the drastic changes I’ve witnessed in our own culture, the loss of hospitality is one of them. I’m still proud of “midwest nice” that you’ll still find in our small town here in Iowa, yet when I remember the way my grandparents regularly welcomed visitors into their home I am struck at how different it was. The coffee pot was always on in the morning and the tea kettle in the afternoon. There were always treats ready for guests, and there were always guests.

Even in my childhood and youth the welcome sign was always out at our home. My parents used to say to us “your friends are always welcome here,” and they were. Friends would stop by for a visit even if we kids weren’t home. They knew my mom would feed them and they would be treated like honored guests.

Perhaps what I experienced was the exception not the rule, but I don’t think so. I tend to think that we shut ourselves in our warm homes in the winter and our air conditioned homes in the summer. We lock the door and socialize with others in front of a computer screen. Meanwhile, the art and tradition of hospitality – of welcoming one into your home and caring for them with honor and grace – has been slowly lost despite the fact that God’s Message hearkens to the previous two chapters we’ve read and calls us to perpetuate the very practice:

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

I have tried to perpetuate the spirit of hospitality in our own home, though when I think back to the experiences of my childhood I realize that I haven’t always been as fine a host as the examples I was given. It’s a good reminder for me today.

If you’re in the area, stop on by. I’ll start a pot of coffee and the tea kettle will be boiling.

Chapter-a-Day Hebrews 13

image via Flickr

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

While I was in college I took a semester off from school to stay home, work and make a little money. One Sunday I attended a small church in the inner city. I was one of the only white people in the area, let a lone the church. I felt like a grain of salt in a pepper shaker. Yet, as I entered the church I felt a warmth and a love surrounding me.

A woman in the pew behind me leaned up, placed her hand on my shoulder and welcomed me and told me she was so glad I was there. When the congregation stood to pray, another elderly woman who was sitting down the pew from me walked over and took my hand in hers as we prayed. I was hugged and welcomed and loved.

I left church that morning humbled. I knew that if any of those sweet brothers and sisters in Christ had come to my home church that morning, they would not have received anything close to the warm, loving welcome I had received from them.

My eyes were opened that morning and I found myself repenting of my own sinful prejudices, stereotypes, and ignorance. Most of all, I repented for having such a meager and misery heart that always loved those of my choosing on my terms of comfort and propriety.

Some experiences become an important waypoint in our journey; a demarkation point when our path makes a distinct change in course. Since that morning, I have forever paid more attention to strangers walking into my midst and sought to show love the way it was shown to me in a small inner city church many years ago.

 

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 9

King Solomon, for his part, gave the queen of Sheba all her heart’s desire—everything she asked for. She took away more than she brought. Satisfied, she returned home with her train of servants. 2 Chronicles 9:12 (MSG)

Wendy and I enjoy entertaining. When we embarked on our project to take over my parents place at the Ozarks and build a new Playhouse there, we were motivated by the desire to have a place we could share life with family and friends.

When I read the verse above this morning, I thought what a great guiding principle it is anytime we entertain or welcome guests into our home. I want people to take away more than they brought. Obviously, in Solomon’s case, he showered physical gifts and blessing on the Queen of Sheba. The gifts don’t necessarily have to be material.

When people come for dinner, or visit the Playhouse, I hope that they walk away with their hearts more full than when they walked through the door.