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iRelate - Making the Choice to Commit to Community - Week Four

Rod MacIlvaine 09/30/2012 (1240) Final Rev.

Hospitality, Community and Healing
Selected Scriptures


This is week four in our series called iRelate, and today we're going to talk about community and the practice of hospitality.

Several weeks ago Harvard Business Review presented an article entitled, "Love, Trust and Candor: Today's Management Priorities." It was written by Jordan Cohen, and the point of the article was this: Success in the marketplace these is based on creating environments of trust.

Relational trust!

Mr. Cohen gave some very interesting specifics in his article.

For starters he cites John Mackey of Whole Foods. Mackey said this about their grocery chain: "[People need to find] friendship, love and community in the workplace." Seriously…Love in the Workplace!

I thought about that as I reflected on my experience at Whole Foods. Cindy and I go there at least twice a month in Tulsa, and we love the place. I've told her many times, "I'm blown away that everyone at Whole Foods seems to love their job and be committed to the same vision."

Mackey says that friendship and love are the key.

Or, take the online shoe store Zappos. Tony Hsieh ("Shy") is the CEO, and he's created a corporate culture that is high on transparency and trust. He says, "We function best [in our company] when we can be ourselves." So at Zappos, people aren't trying to manage appearances. No one's trying manipulate people or power up. Zappos has a culture of authenticity.

And then Cohen described his own management consulting service. He recently equipped an entire department in principles of building safe environments…places of loving-trust. He said that result was amazing: In short order the department shifted to a culture of engaged participation.

What does all this mean for us?

In my opinion, this means we have an amazing opportunity.

Words like love and community are hot topics in management literature…right now. Some of these articles almost sound biblical. One article in a secular management magazine said this (quote): "You show love, in organizations, in four ways: It's got to be unconditional (they even used the word agape). It's got to be tangible, willing to suffer and authentic."

You could have taken those four points from 1 Corinthians 13.

What this means for you is that, as a Christ-follower, you have a common ground with the world. These values, which secular leadership literature just now is championing, come from an ancient source. That ancient source is biblical revelation.

And you have been supernaturally empowered through the Spirit to show these traits like love, trust, candor, authenticity and so on. They're called the fruit of the Spirit. Through the filling of the Spirit you have an edge-up in showing some of these values.

And you can do this in a way that is relevant to your workplace or any other place you happen to be.

Now, this morning, I want to propose that these ideas of love, acceptance and authenticity - so prevalent in literature today - are logical extensions of the biblical value of hospitality.

If the world is applying this in secular settings, then I think we'd better step up our game and excel at these things for kingdom reasons.

This morning I want to describe the biblical value of hospitality, and I want to show you how you can apply these as a way of expressing Christ into your world.

Let's start with the biblical concept of hospitality.

1. BIBLICAL - Hospitality in the ancient world was crucial to survival. And it is modeled throughout the Bible.

A. I'll begin by defining it.

FIRST PETER 4:9 SAYS, "Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." And in this brief sentence Peter informs us that hospitality is a culture that we are commanded to create around us. Why do I say it's a culture?

Peter describes hospitality as a one-another responsibility. There are over forty one-another verses in the Bible, and taken together, they describe godly cultures that we are commanded to create as we establish community.

Peter also makes it clear that hospitality is something we've got to be proactive about. Peter's command reveals that this activity is going to take intentionality and work.

It's going to take work, because sometimes hospitality is going to be hard. Sometimes, in our weaker moments, we might be tempted to grumble.

So what exactly is hospitality?

The GREEK TERM is philo*zenia. It's a compound word: philo meaning love and zenos meaning stranger. So to show hospitality means that you show brotherly kindness to strangers. Other Greek words in the New Testament expand on this notion. One word means to receive strangers (as in receiving them into your home).

The ENGLISH TERM hospitality comes from the Latin word hospes which means host. And this word probably sounds familiar because it forms the root to words like, hospice, hospital, hostel and hotel.

When you combine the biblical terms with the English terms we can say this:

Hospitality is the act of receiving people into our presence
showing kindness, grace and love…
even offering assistance where there is need.

HOSPITALITY IN THE BIBLE DEFINITELY IMPLIED A HELPING RELATIONSHIP: In other words, a hospitality situation, you typically find that someone with resources is extending himself toward someone who has needs.

And this can occur in a thousand different variations.

When I was in college I had a remarkable hospitality encounter. I was taking a train from London to Cambridge to visit my cousin. I boarded the train and King's Cross, and when I entered my particular compartment the only person there was a woman in her 60s. Within a few minutes we started talking.

And it turned out that she had been good friends with my pastor from Milwaukee and his wife. (My pastor was from the Lake District of England.) It also turns out we knew many of the same people in Milwaukee. And we'd read many of the same books, beginning with C.S. Lewis.

So within moments, the atmosphere in that compartment changed. Here she was in her mid-60s and me in my early-20s. But she saw herself as a believer priest with a committed college student, and she assumed the role of host. She asked me about my relationship with Christ. She asked about future plans. She encouraged me in my faith.

This was not her home. It wasn't her train.

Nevertheless, she saw herself as a believer-priest with something to offer. And she was receiving me into her presence with intent to provide spiritual encouragement. Thirty-five years later I still have her name written in the book I was reading at the time.

So, hospitality is a fundamental attitude that you bring into any situation: work, home, recreation, even traveling on a train.

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert…outgoing or shy…talkative or quiet…you can bring an hospitable attitude into any situation.

You can bring it into a hospital as a nurse. You can bring it onto your shop-floor as a small business owner. You can bring it into your department within a corporation.

This attitude is portable: it goes with you wherever you go, so that your presence brings a culture of honor.

B. Now, let's see how this concept of hospitality developed in the Old Testament. I want to give you two examples.

THE FIRST IS PSALM 23:5. Psalm 23 gives us a window into hospitality in ancient cultures. Psalm 23:5…

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

In this verse, David describes, in poetic form, the ancient law of hospitality.

Imagine that you are traveling alone with your family in the year 1000 B.C. Along with you is your spouse, your three small children, and your two donkeys. You're making about 12 miles per day.

On the morning of the fifth day, you crest a hill and see sinister looking men riding mules. They point your way. And kicking their mules, they head your direction. You know you're in trouble. So you scoop up your kids and run.

Suddenly, over the next hill you see, off in the distance, a cluster of tents. These are large tents made of black goat hair. It's a nomadic settlement. As you race toward the nearest tent, the patriarch of the family is sitting at the entrance shielding himself from the noonday sun. You make a beeline for that tent, racing with all your might.

At the same time, the man in the tent sees your pursuers and knows right away what his obligation is. Because of the law of hospitality, he must protect you from your adversaries.

These laws required people to welcome travelers as friends, to keep them for up to three days, and when the three days were up, he was required to send you on your way with provisions.

Of course, there were no hospitality police back then enforcing this practice, but everyone did it because they knew that one day they might be on the receiving end of an act of hospitality.

Once the family enters the host's tent, the whole community would act, in solidarity, to protect them. The host would set up a table, provide a meal, and create shelter from the sun. That's why David says, "You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies."

Once a person received that hospitality meal, his family was bound to the host family with very strong friendship ties that extended down several generations.

Those were the laws of hospitality.

Now you ask, "Why wouldn't the enemies just crash through the tent and kill everyone?" The laws of hospitality were so strong, that they were even respected by the bad guys…maybe not all the time…but most of the time.

WE SEE ANOTHER EXAMPLE WITH ABRAHAM IN GENESIS 18:1. "And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.

[Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, "O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on."

Now, I just want you to see how Abraham responds when strangers show up.

• First, Abraham runs to meet them. This is how you would respond to strangers when they showed up. You were proactive: Maybe they were about to die of thirst. Maybe they were sick. Maybe they were being pursued by enemies. You ran to greet them!

• Notice that that Abraham is prepared personally to wash their feet. Abraham then personally prepares the meal. Even though he had dozens of people who could have worked for him, he took the lead in serving.

Hospitality was considered a tremendous privilege in the ancient world.

Now, even though the Bible champions hospitality for theological reasons, this practice was extensive in the ancient world. It didn't matter if you were Jew or Gentile…Christian or non-Christian. Hospitality was considered a fundamental human need, because receiving hospitality was often a matter of life and death.

THIS ANCIENT FORM OF HOSPITALITY IS STILL BEING PRACTICED TODAY IN SOME PARTS OF THE WORLD. In the summer of 2005 a six man Navy Seal team did reconnaissance high in the mountains near the Afghani-Pakistan border. Suddenly, they came under fierce attack from the Taliban.

Five members of that Seal team were killed, but Marcus Luttrell survived. With three cracked vertebrae and with shrapnel injuries to his leg, he somehow traversed seven miles, only to then fall from a ledge near a village.

He was discovered by a shepherd named Gulab. Luttrell thought he would be immediately killed, but Gulab and his tribe were governed by the laws of hospitality. Gulab and his companions, carried Luttrell to the village of Sabray-Mina, and for the next week, the villagers provided food, shelter and medical attention. They protected him from the Taliban.

Now why did these Afghan villagers do this?

They were bound by laws of hospitality, and this included risking their lives to shelter an American soldier fighting on their soil.

WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM THIS? The act of hospitality is an essential human tradition born out of our need for survival.

• The Hebrews practiced for theological reasons based on their worldview and their love for God. They saw God as the ultimate host.

• Many other cultures practice this as well, not for theological reasons, but for practical reasons. This is rooted in our common humanity.

So should we be surprised when the American business community recognizes that traits of hospitality are sound management principles? No, this was consistent with the ancient traditions of hospitality.

Now, let's move to the New Testament teaching on hospitality. When we come into the New Testament, hospitality takes on a far more focused idea.

C. Hospitality in the New Testament is spiritual discipline that includes five traits. Perhaps there are more, but these are the essential five.

BEFORE I TELL YOU THESE TRAITS, I need to show you how we need contextualize hospitality to this modern world that we live in.

In ancient times, hospitality was connected to the basics - food, shelter and clothing. We don't live in that kind of world any more. Most people in the West have reasonable food, shelter and clothing…not to mention cell phones…wide screen TVs and many other things.

Therefore, we need to contextualize the biblical notion of hospitality, and here's how we do it.

Hospitality is a predisposition to show honor, dignity, and unconditional regard
in whatever situation we find ourselves in,
and then we offer the right assistance.

So, let's look at these five core traits that we can contextualize to our culture.

FIRST TRAIT - IN OUR OVERALL MINDSET, WE SHOULD ENGAGE IN HOSPITALITY FOR KINGDOM REASONS, BECAUSE WE ARE BELIEVER-PRIESTS. When you begin your day, you should sense that you are a believer-priest, empowered to represent the risen Christ by showing honor and regard to people.

Here's what Jesus says, Luke 14:12-14: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just."

What's the essential message of this parable? This is a parable about your attitude when it comes to relationships. Our attitude, as kingdom minded people, is humble hospitality.

If you're only hospitable with cool people and hip people…people who can then make you feel cool and hip in return, your focus is not on Jesus and his kingdom. Your focus is on you.

The right focus is unconditional esteem for all people we meet, so that your presence is a zone of hospitality, regardless of a person's station in life.

When you go throughout the day, you're going to be with people who are in different places in life. Some will be poorer than you. Some will be younger than you. Some will be disadvantaged. Some may be less educated. Are you going to treat them differently based on how you can gain advantage?

Jesus says, "No." I want you to reach out to people who can't pay you back.

People who are crippled, and lame and blind tend to be the hidden people of society.

And it's easy to turn our heads and put them out of our minds. Jesus says, "Don't do that. Your hospitality needs to be humble, and that means you notice people who are hurting. You intentionally reach out to them with kindness and assistance…as a lifestyle.

SECOND TRAIT - HOSPITALITY IS A TRAIT YOU CAN PRACTICE ANYWHERE YOU SEE A NEED THAT YOU CAN MEET. Luke 10:30-37 gives us the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story: a Jewish man takes the 17 mile trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. He's beaten up. Two religious guys march by and see a mangled body. They do nothing.

Then comes the Samaritan. He is of a different race. In reality, he might as well be from a foreign country, since he's from Samaria…not Israel. And yet, when he arrives on the scene, and he sees the blood and the suffering, he acts as the host. He gives him first aid. He gets him shelter and food.

When Jesus explains the parable, Jesus calls this man a neighbor. The guy is on foreign soil. No matter, he's taking responsibility and he's showing hospitality, as if he's a host, as if it's his road, and later is if it's his inn.

These days, in our culture, most of our time is spent outside the home. Therefore, hospitality is a trait we must learn to manifest outside the home, especially in the workplace. Apparently, a growing number of business journals, and bloggers and writers would agree.

Here's trait number three.

THIRD TRAIT - WHEN WE PRACTICE HOSPITALITY, IT IS AS IF WE MINISTER DIRECTLY TO JESUS. There may be times that you have to show hospitality to people you don't naturally like. Maybe they have habits that don't mesh with your habits. Perhaps their personalities are different than yours. Perhaps their cultural background is different than what you experienced growing up. It's not always easy to show hospitality.

So, what motivates you to continue to show it, even when it's a sacrifice?

Just remember that when you show hospitality, it is as if you are ministering to Jesus.

Listen to what Jesus says in Matt. 25:31-46: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

If you tangibly serve even the least worthy person in the kingdom, it is as if you did it to Jesus.

I don't care who you touch with humble hospitality. It could be a child who won't even remember your service. It could be someone sick and dying. It could be someone who can never return the favor. Your hospitality must have faith to see the eternal significance.

You're not simply ministering to that person. In reality, you're ministering to the risen Christ who sits at the right hand of God. That ought to fire us up to show hospitality widely, and with great commitment. Every bit of hospitality you show has eternal influence.

FOURTH TRAIT - WHEN WE PRACTICE HOSPITALITY, WE INVITE THE SUPERNATURAL. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 13:2: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." On the one hand, this verse clearly is a clear reference to the chapter we just read: Genesis 18. Abraham entertained two angelic beings, and the third was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. So, yes, Abraham entertained angels. But in reality, Abraham was aware that they were angels.

But on the other hand, Hebrews 13:2 suggests that 1st century Christians were actually experiencing angelic visitations in the first century, as they were practicing the gift of hospitality.

Perhaps these angelic visitations came because someone in the house was in trouble. Perhaps these angelic visitations came to bless the occupants of the house, or to protect them for spiritual warfare. I wish we had more information; we don't.

But broader principle is this: When you show hospitality, you create an opportunity for God to work supernaturally in your life. Your hospitality creates an environment in which God can do, in the supernatural, way beyond what you could ever do in the natural.

My friend Jim Nyhof is an example of this. Jim and Debbie moved to Idaho this past August. Jim is going to resume his homebuilding business there. But Jim takes with him his remarkable gift of hospitality. Anyone who has been in Jim's presence feels right at home, wherever you are.

Jim has told me dozens of stories in which God used him to minister to someone, right in the moment. And why did it happen? Jim had the presence of mind to smile at someone, to ask an open ended question, and then give a word of encouragement.

And within moments, they are in a serious spiritual conversation. Jim used to call me and tell me remarkable stories of people he led to Christ, just through simple hospitality.

I've learned a lot from watching Jim.

Here's a fifth trait.

FIFTH TRAIT - JAMES COMMANDS US TO PRACTICE HOSPITALITY IN THE LOCAL CHURCH WITH PEOPLE, IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR SOCIAL STATUS. In James 2, James presents a common scenario in the ancient world: two people come into a house-church, one rich…the other poor.

Now we have a problem: There aren't enough seats. To whom do you give preference? The natural human response is to give preference to the rich guy, because the rich guy might lift me up to his status. The rich guy might make a big contribution to the church. The rich guy might give me some perk.

James says, "Don't do it!" Authentic Christian hospitality treats everyone with the same sense of dignity. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, beautiful or ordinary, intelligent or normal, high class or common. Everyone is made in God's image, everyone deserves to be treated with the same high level of honor as an act of hospitality.

James' command couldn't be clearer: "My brothers and sisters, you are believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. So treat everyone the same" (NIV Reader's Ver.).

Now there are more traits in the New Testament, but those are the five foundational ones.

D. So here's the bottom line:

In the ancient world hospitality was primarily based on how you used your home. We don't live in the ancient world. In 21st century America people don't tend to be at home all that much. So we have to contextualize hospitality. We need to bring the attitude of hospitality into the world, and the foundational idea is this:

• Expressing biblical hospitality means accepting the reality that you're a believer-priest with spiritual influence.

• And then, you proactively show tangible kindness and honor those whom you meet.

And shock of all shocks…today in the business world…this is hot stuff!

This is trendy.

Soft values like love, community, unconditional regard, and authenticity are the subjects of serious study at Harvard and Wharton and the UT business school.

Let's turn from a biblical understanding of hospitality, and I want to give you two applications.

2. 1ST APPLICATION - As Christians, we need to be creative about applying hospitality with people who are suffering with physical illnesses.

A. I want to start by talking about hospitality and healthcare.

The parable of the Good Samaritan connects hospitality and healthcare. That parable had a profound influence in the development of nursing and medicine in Europe and America. But it's also having that same profound influence on medicine and healing prayer in the developing world. Jesus' parable has so deeply touched our culture we can't image a world without that value.

IT CONTINUES TO HAVE AN INFLUENCE ON HOW WE THINK ABOUT PRAYER AND ITS RELATION TO MEDICINE. This past month an article came out in the Journal of the American Medical Association with this title: Factors Important to Patients' Quality of Life at the End of Life.

Their conclusion was that five factors led to quality of life at the end of life. Three of the five were linked to relationships at the end of life. But factor number four was that they had a pastor (or spiritual leader) come to visit them in the days just before they died…someone who could host the presence of God for them in the days just before their passing.

For the past 18 months Walter Pettiford has led our ministry to men and women in nursing care facilities here in Bartlesville. I can tell you from having participated with him in this ministry that Walter is an outstanding preacher. But Walter has another gift.

When Walter is in those nursing facilities Walter presents an atmosphere of hospitality. I've had people tell me that Walter was the only one who consistently visited their dying relative when they face the end of their days. Medical research suggests this significantly enhances quality of life at the end of life.

When people like Walter model the kindness and the presence of God, he is acting as host.

Sometimes, along with Walter, the girls from Sequoyah Girls Home minister with our music team. These girls offer tremendous kindness. Does this sort of ministry make a difference?

Harold Koenig who a geriatric psychiatrist is emphatic about this: this sort of ministry increases quality of life and actually prolongs life.

B. Studies like the one from the Journal of the American Medical Association tell us that there are opportunities to minister more intentionally in this area.

There is a trend right now that is merging healthcare with hospitality. Universities like Cornell are studying how the healthcare industry can join with the hospitality industry to help people who travel to specialty hospitals.

When people suffer serious illness and they need to go to specialty hospitals in distant cities…they sometimes have to stay for a long periods. Where is the family going to stay? More and more hospitals realize that patients do better if families can live within walking distance.

This is great in theory, but reality is that many people can't afford the nearby hotel. And sometimes the hotels adjacent to the hospital are unavailable.

So the body of Christ steps in.

In 1984 my dad had a major surgery. The specialist he needed to see was in Minneapolis. A very close friend of mine from college lived close to the hospital. My mother and father stayed there the night before his surgery, and my mother stayed there during my dad's recovery. That act of hospitality was profound for my parents.

Whenever we can connect hospitality and care for people who are sick, we are doing something that has been a major work of the church for the past 2,000 years, and we're doing something that medical science says makes a tangible difference in recovery from illness. People need to be honored especially in their darkest moments.

When we apply hospitality toward those who suffer, we model the gracious hospitality of the God of the Universe.

3. 2ND APPLICATION - Let's try to weave the attitude of hospitality into the normal affairs of life.

A. When you begin your day…

Ask God to give you his heart for the people you meet.

Ask him for divine appointments. Maybe God will bring someone your way for whom you can be a believer priest and bring some encouragement.

When you adopt a basic mindset of hospitality, in the moment, you have the presence of mind to recognize divine appointments.

Confront wrong attitudes when you don't want to be hospitable. Look, we're all fallen. Sometimes, we have feelings of contempt toward people. Sometimes we just want to be left alone. Sometimes we're in a haughty prideful place. The last thing we're thinking about is humble hospitality. So we have to confront wrong attitudes. And seek the fullness of the Spirit to manifest biblical hospitality.

Here's something else you can do. You can smile, and while you're smiling, use affirming words. It's a small thing. But many studies have been done on the psychological effects of a smiling face and the openness in a relationship.

Some of these studies have been done with infants and parents, particularly mothers. Others have been done with adults. People who offer smiles are perceived as being more open, generous and affirming. The smile facilitates the perception that you are open, honoring…generous.

Look for opportunities to connect hospitality and prayer. I've learned to ask people if I can pray for them on the spot and over the phone. Look, these days, prayer is in. If you ask someone if you can pray for them, right there, on the spot, chances are they'll say yes. Well…what have you done? You've just connected hospitality with God's gracious presence.

Those are just ideas for how to weave hospitality into your day.

B. Next, I want to encourage you to apply hospitality when you come to Grace on a Sunday morning.

We have a greeter team. But in reality all of us should consider ourselves on the greeter team. When you see someone you don't know, I just want to urge you to make contact. Ask them how long they've been coming. Ask they if they're in a small group. Please consider yourself commissioned to be a greeter at large at GCC.

I would love for us to be known for our genuine hospitality. And perhaps the hospitality people experience here will be an example that people can take into their jobs and into their neighborhoods.

C. One more application: God has burdened some people in our church to show hospitality and kindness to certain groups of people in our city. Join with them.

We have a group that is forming a hospice home here in our city. Some members of Grace have been instrumental in establishing this.

We have several groups at Grace that are going into the new jail. One group is teaching the female prisoners how they might raise their children once they get out of jail. This has been a tremendous ministry that is deeply touching the prisoners. Another group is taking the principles of recovery into the jail.

We have another group ministering to unwed mothers.

I just want to encourage you to ask God, "Lord, is there a group of people in this city that you have given me a burden for?

Lord, show me how I might get involved in showing generous hospitality to that group.


Hospitality is an ancient tradition. And in ancient times, hospitality was based upon your home and rooted in survival.

We don't live in ancient times. We spend most of our days away from home. So we need to take the attitude of hospitality with us on the road, just like the Good Samaritan did.

The gift is portable and applicable to any situation in which you find yourself.

As we close, I'd like to have a time of silence, and I'd like for you to ask God to speak to you: "Lord, how are you leading me to weave hospitality into the fabric of my life?"

Let's pray.

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