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A Tiny Message #6

Therefore, since we are surrounded 
by such a great cloud of witnesses, 
let us throw off everything that 
hinders and the sin that so easily 
entangles. 
Hebrews 12:1

I was at one of the lowest points in my life. Sure, I realized at some point that my hormonal situation was partially to blame but so was my environment. More specifically, I had surrounded myself with friends who, to be honest, weren’t all that great of friends. When I asked for help one day because of a medical problem my friends said, “no.” Even my parents said, “no.” I found myself at the end of my spiritual rope.

I remember sitting at my computer looking at Facebook and slowly deleting every single “friend” while sobbing. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t let go of us.

I will not leave you as orphans; 
I will come to you.  
John 14:18

What I was led to do in the coming weeks was to seriously evaluate what environment I had created and how I could create a better one. I went down the list of women I knew casually and had shown themselves to be people of character. And I started calling them, inviting them to lunch, Bible study, or for a walk. About a year later I told some of them what had happened that day I needed help. Some of them cried for me and said, “I wish you had called me. I would have dropped everything for you.” And then I cried. But this time tears of love and joy.

Sometimes we need to have a truly hard moment to see what we have created around us and how it hinders our spiritual connectedness. And the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us to our new home. I found this prayer about laying aside all our hinderances that I thought you might enjoy.

“Lord, I want to stay in an environment that will keep my faith alive and strong. Help me recognize those relationships and places I should avoid to keep my faith from being negatively affected. As you show me places, people, and things I should avoid, give me the strength I need to do what is right — and give me the wisdom I need to know how to avoid those places and people! I pray this in Jesus’ name!”

Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, Christian women, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

Pilgrim Not Citizen

Lesson 5: Walk in Truth through obedience to God

It has given me great joy to 
find some of your children walking 
in the truth, just as the Father 
commanded us.
2 John 1:4

I was reading a new book recently that said, “Today, America is rich but morally rotten.  Our heads and our hands have outrun our hearts. We have gained the world but have lost our souls.”  The author went on to describe the lawlessness and chaos that fetishism, polytheism and any number of ‘isms’ have wrought on our society.  I looked back to the beginning of this little book to see when it was published – 1969.  

I could take just about any paragraph from this book, “In Times Like These,” and you would surely think the author was writing about yesterday or today.  The frightening results of our demand for “progress” in all parts of lives are prophetically found in this fascinating group of sermons by Vance Havner, a contemporary of Billy Graham.

“The time is short, and the fashion of this world is passing away”

Vance Havner

For the Christian, we are admonished to live as people set apart from the world.  (Romans 12:2). And yet we have homogenized so much of what it means to be a Follower of Jesus.  I heard a pastor once say, “The world doesn’t hate ‘nice’ people.” Think about that for a moment. So many of us want, as our goal, to be seen as ‘nice, Christians’ — certainly not ones that cause waves like Jesus did day in and day out. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers 
and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, 
to offer your bodies as a living 
sacrifice, holy and pleasing to 
God—this is your true and proper 
worship.
Romans 12:1

My BSGs and I were finishing up a week of Bible study about what the church means to God and to us as Christians.  We got into a discussion about how easy it is to be a Western-world Christian.   And although we’ve seen that challenged over the last year, we still don’t face the threat of death when choosing to worship. Prison, maybe, but not death.  (A little over a year ago I wouldn’t even have thought to write that last sentence).

At a church one of my Bible gals and I attended for many years, there was a pastor of Egyptian origin.  He would tell us of the inherent dangers of even wearing a cross or holding a Bible while travelling in Cairo.  He regaled us with stories of various mission trips back to his homeland fraught with intrigue.  And after an hour listening to his sermon and beautiful music we would go back about our “other” lives – not having risked anything ourselves.

We are promised an everlasting life, through faith and obedience to God. The type of obedience John writes about in 2 John.  “A walk in obedience to His commands.”  Earlier, John tells us of Jesus’ prayer to His father on the eve of His death. 

I have revealed you to those 
whom you gave me out of the world. 
They were yours; you gave them to 
me and they have obeyed your word. 
Now they know that everything you 
have given me comes from you.
John 17:6-7

The “knowing” then requires the “obeying” – a living out of what God expects from us now that His Word has been revealed.  But how many of us offer our entire lives over as a “living sacrifice?”  One of my friends and I have this now running joke that we have our “faith life” but then we have our “real life.”  Knowing that in God’s expectation those are to be one and the same.

“Devotion to Him (Jesus) must be so high and so deep and so intense that all other loyalties must seem in comparison as though they did not exist.”

Vance Havner

That takes obedience to a whole new level.  I fear that modern Christians read this and immediately assume we must be the rich prince of whom Jesus asks to give up all his possessions in order to follow Him.  (Matt 19:21-24)  And in fact, many a breezy, occasional, Sunday-only Christian has misinterpreted that to be the case.  But Jesus only ever asks us to give up what is separating us from Him.  What idols have we placed in front of Him so that it blocks our view of Him or our ability to obey Him?

The world is full of gadgets and facilities that are not wrong unless we make them ends in themselves or turn them to evil uses.

Vance Havner

For some that idol is time.  Or more specifically who or what gets our time.  In the 2 John letter, John calls out the “lady chosen by God” for her love of God.  And he knows of this love because of her obedience to the commandments.  She walks in love of God.  Even Satan knows God.  But the chasm between the lady in John’s letter and Satan is her obedience.  She most likely spent much of her day praying, guiding others to God, teaching her children about God, and working as God’s daughter.

“Christian love is not just some special emotion that makes us accept others.  It’s an act of will – treating people the same way God treats you.”

Warren Wiersbe on 2 John

An act of will.  That’s not some squishy, marshmallowey feeling.  It means 1) knowing the will of God and 2) committing our entire body to obeying His commandments.  It means living a life set apart from this world – and maybe even your current church or group of friends.  It means being in danger of getting called “weird” or “freak.”  It might even mean being labeled a “bigot” or “hatemonger.”  

Some of you may recall seeing the storm that descended upon New Orleans Saints football quarterback Drew Brees when he joined Focus on the Families’ call to “bring your Bible to school day.”   He was called all manner of hateful things and a call went out to shame and silence him.  For promoting bringing a book to school.

The time is nearer now than ever before to awaken in obedience as Christians. I read a comment that the Bible is a disturbing book. It “bids us to stir up the gift of God.” We are admonished to “gird our loins (Luke 12:35),” disrupt our sleepy scheduled lives (Rom 13:11) and grasp the seriousness of our times. We are closer to the coming of Christ than yesterday. And it doesn’t take much to see how anarchy and apathy are playing a role in God’s timetable.

When I started fresh out of college at my new job, I was just barely 22 years old.  I was given a lot of responsibility to set up a brand new marketing and public relations department.  The corporate culture was very resistant to the new ideas I brought to the table.  I was called all manner of terrible things.  But I learned a valuable lesson.  When the “big boss” has your back you can forge a path through any swamp, forest or desert.  As Christians we have the mightiest “boss” of them all – God.  We should walk in obedience to Him knowing that He has our back.  We should walk in the knowledge that we are just passing through this world and will do so as God’s children. We should look forward to making a few waves, in Jesus’ name.

I’m in it (the world) but not of it; I’m a pilgrim and stranger; I’m not a citizen of old Babylon, I’m looking for another city.

Vance Havner
Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, Christian women, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

Welcome The Stranger

Lesson #1: Show hospitality to strangers, they may be God’s heaven-sent angels

Dear friend, you are faithful in 
what you are doing for the brothers 
and sisters, even though they are 
strangers to you. 
3 John 5

The saying goes, “A man’s home is his castle.”  And we might add to that, “surrounded by a deep moat, protected by a closed drawbridge.”  At least that’s how it seems so many have come to treat their abodes.  But the concept of hospitality has a long history for us Christians.

The two angels arrived at Sodom in 
the evening, and Lot was sitting in 
the gateway of the city. When he saw 
them, he got up to meet them and 
bowed down with his face to the ground. 
“My lords,” he said, “please turn 
aside to your servant’s house. You 
can wash your feet and spend the 
night and then go on your way early 
in the morning.”

"No," they answered, "we will 
spend the night in the square."

But he insisted so strongly that 
they did go with him and entered 
his house.  He prepared a meal for 
them, baking bread without yeast, 
and they ate.
Genesis 19: 1-3

In Leviticus we are admonished to treat the traveler as one of our own family.  And throughout the New Testament we see the kindness of various townsfolk welcoming Jesus and the disciples along the way.  Without these strangers’ help they would’ve found themselves hungry and without a bed on which to lie their head.

And in our smallest Bible book, 3 John, we see the work of a church elder named Gaius.  The news of his hospitality and kindness toward fellow Christians reached John who noted how it brought him “great joy.”

But why is hospitality a life lesson?  The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos from the two words philos (friend) and xenos (stranger) and it means to show proper warmth or friendliness to strangers.  It also means to have the readiness to share our home and other treasures.   So often when we think of hospitality in our home it means inviting friends and family for dinners and parties.   But strangers?  Pull up the drawbridge and release the piranhas into the moat!

So what is Christian hospitality?

  1. Answering calls from the church to hosts missionaries and guests
  2. Inviting church elders over for meals
  3. Hosting church activities such as Bible study in our homes
  4. Reaching out to our unfamiliar neighbors and inviting them over for coffee
  5. Being a welcoming face at church – not just a smile but showing a genuine interest in a new face

I wonder how many of us (I raise my hand) have read in the church bulletin about a visiting missionary needing a place to stay for a week or a car to borrow and we thought at best “Yea, I don’t feel comfortable with that” and at worst didn’t think about it at all?  

I have a friend who has always held her Catholic priests in very high honor.  It borders on being afraid of them.  And when a friend of hers invited her to have a private gathering with a local priest she was aghast that it was all so, well, normal.  It reminds me of when my kids were in elementary school and they thought the teacher didn’t have a life outside the classroom.  But church leaders are people in addition to their divinely appointed roles.  They enjoy fellowship just like you and me!

What hospitality is not.

  1. Allowing situations in our home where guests openly sin
  2. Inviting guests out of a sense of obligation, not love
  3. Feeling the need to have our homes be perfect before inviting guests

Let’s look at number 1.  Many years ago, my husband and I invited his brother and his brother’s girlfriend out for a visit.  They couldn’t afford to travel so we let them stay at our home.  Under one condition.  They’d have to sleep in separate rooms.  As a fairly new Christian, this was the first time I really stood my ground as the “new me.”  Initially, my brother-in-law took issue with this.  He commented that my husband and I had lived together before marriage so why should we now place this restriction on him – wasn’t that hypocritical?  Friends, let’s be honest.  Before we were made new in Christ, we did a lot of stupid, dangerous, sinful things.  It’s ok to now say those things were wrong.  And being that our house is our castle, you can make any rule you want.  We didn’t place judgement on what he did outside our home,  we just drew a line as to what was going to happen in our home, around our children.  Our hospitality included the use of our home but not the erasure of our morals.  The result?  They both came and had a great time plus we were able to witness to my brother in law the changes Christ had made in our lives.

Number two seems obvious but when people take action out of a sense of obligation rather than love, the road can get bumpy.  I read the story of a pastor who was invited to speak at a church.  The host family welcomed him in, showed him his room and then preceded to tell him they didn’t feel it was their responsibility to feed him.  They also worked very hard to completely ignore him over the course of five days.  They did their “Christian duty” in their eyes.  But can we really call that true Christian hospitality? I hope not.

The key to good hospitality isn’t found in the externals, like linen tablecloths and exquisitely furnished guest bedrooms, but in qualities like servanthood, a listening ear, and an encouraging word.

Max Lucado

When I was involved in PTA there was a chair position called “hospitality.”  What that entitled was setting up a beautifully appointed table of yummy food at various events.  Shouldn’t a church body’s goal be more of the philoxenos version?  How many times does your church have to beg people to be greeters or to host a home Bible study? Our church volunteer coordinators should be overwhelmed by the requests to be able to say “hello!” and shake hands with new people.  We should have too many homes (large and tiny) from which to choose for Bible study. We may not be the Hospitality Chair but we should all be committee members!

We ought therefore to show hospitality
to such people (the faithful) so that we
may work together for the truth.
3 John 8

A Christian who lives with an active approach to philoxenos brings God a lot of joy, just like Gaius did for John.  We are reminded in the Old Testament that at one point in our lives we were all strangers.  Strangers hoping for someone to reach out and say “hello.”  Strangers hoping someone would show us God’s love.  We need to assume that person is us.