Sep 30, 2011

Hospitality, Inc. Part 2

In the late 1970s, I taught at the Gbargna School of Theology in Liberia. Though Liberia is a nation that has existed in poverty for decades, my year there taught me much about hospitality and welcome.

When my students took me to preach at “bush churches,” people received us Americans as if we were royalty. Each family expected us to dine with them—and sumptuously, at that. I have never eaten so much food in my life. The remarkable part was that people offered us so much, yet possessed so little.

Paul writes in part about how to practice the Christian life. He writes:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12: 9-13).

There are many ways to offer one’s life to Christ. In fact, we all have specific talents we can use to build God’s realm. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, employs pastors, teachers and prophets to make his point. Yet, there are other aspects of stewardship: administration, letter writing, and deep listening to other's problems. Even—and most especially—the talent of hospitality becomes a way we can build up the church.

Not everyone has the aptitude to be a teacher or the ability to cook a great banquet meal or has a musical flair. However, taken together, all of our unique talents strengthen the church. I cannot image many people who could not be more hospitable or welcoming, can you?

I like the Swahili proverb that suggests: “Treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day, give him a hoe.” To me, this means treat visitors like royalty, and then let them become part of the family.

Bishop Schnase’s ideas can be outlined in a few words. If we attend to them we will thrive as a church—and note well which one is first:
  • Radical Hospitality;
  • Passionate Worship;
  • Intentional Faith Development;
  • Risk-taking Mission and Service; and
  • Extravagant Generosity . . . and give them some roundness.

Sep 21, 2011

Hospitality, Inc. Part 1

As many of you know, I am an avid admirer of Bishop William H. Willimon, who presides over the North Alabama Annual Conference. Recently, he wrote about his investigation of growing congregations “in order to learn more about why they are thriving.” Bishop Willimon was perceptive enough to notice that dynamic and growing congregations had one thing in common—the gift of hospitality. Growing congregations know how to make new people feel welcome.

One example of hospitality Bishop Willimon puts forth is ushers. Willimon remarks that ushers in vibrant churches are “people whom God had given the gift of hospitality.” Pastors say visitors’ early contact with upbeat ushers makes a faithfully growing church a piece of cake!

In churches that people want to be a part of, there is an avid and loving concern for the “outsiders”—those who have yet to hear and respond to the gospel. Though our congregation has the art of Christian hospitality down pat, we can always improve our service in Jesus’ name.

A few years ago, we had as a worship series, focusing on the book “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” by Bishop Robert Schnase. Several people in our congregation remarked how simplistic Bishop Schnase’s ideas seemed. The suggestion, if I heard right—and I am a professionally trained listener—was that everyone knows these things the Bishop offered as guidance. We all know to offer guests “radical hospitality,” but sometimes we are so intent on seeing friends that we forget to practice our gift of hospitality. My own experience in Liberia helped remind me how precious a gift hospitality is.

Sep 12, 2011

911—A Day of Remembrance

As everyone knows our minds and hearts are transported this week back ten years to a fateful day in 2001. We know that day simply as “9/11.”

Too often we celebrate traditions and rituals while not fully appreciating where these traditions came from. I recall hearing a story about four soldiers who offered a volley of gunfire to honor a fallen soldier at his interment. A fifth soldier stood nearby and extended his hand at each cemetery service.

After a time someone asked the head of the honor guard what was the purpose of the fifth soldier with his hand extended. He did not know and it seemed as if no one else knew either.

Some further research revealed that the fifth soldier held the horses of those who fired the volley salute. However, it had been decades since any honor guard rode horses to the cemeteries. Nevertheless the fifth soldier did what those before him had always done—only now to no real purpose. As I said, “sometimes we forget the origins of our rituals.”

There are few people we know who have forgotten why we will pause this coming Sunday to remember 911. A majority of us know exactly where we were when it all happened. I was sitting at my friend Bobby Baggett’s breakfast table in Belton, Texas.

My prayer for all of us during this week of remembrance is to remember that one of the few good things to come from 911 is to help us keep the prayer for peace directly in front of us at all times. The alternative is too disheartening to contemplate.

I like what Isaiah writes in his prophecy:
The effect of righteousness will be peace,and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever—(Isaiah 32:17). Amen.

Sep 2, 2011

Labor Day 2011

One of my favorite writers, a former Southern Baptist preacher who was at Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth and later became an Episcopalian rector, is named John Claypool. He died September 5, 2005 and was an inspiration to many. As Claypool reminds us on this upcoming Labor Day: “When we offer up our daily work to the glory of God and the benefit of our families and communities, we proceed to play our roles in the daily struggle to make God more visible in the world and bring God’s realm into fuller realization.”

Labor Day is a day to celebrate the work we do in the world. Often, our work is one of the ways we define our lives and thereby celebrate our lives. I suggest that this week we use the following prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr, who offered it up to God and for us:

O God, you have bound us together in this life.Give us grace to understand how our lives dependon the courage, the industry, the honesty,and the integrity of all who labor.May we be mindful of their needs, grateful for their faithfulness,and faithful in our responsibilities to them;through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May this Labor Day be a day of thanksgiving for our honest work in God’s Realm.

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