hospitality

My to-do list for the day…and yours

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Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically. Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it. Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Do not slack in your faithfulness in hard work Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord. Do not forget to rejoice, for hope is always just around the corner. Hold up through the hard times that are coming, and devote yourselves to prayer. Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and home to others, even if they are outside your faith family.

Romans 12:9-13 The Voice Translation

A Generous Life

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I was challenged today to think about what it means to live a generous life. Now since I heard this challenge in the midst of a coaching session on generous giving, I was tempted to think in financial terms and move on from there. But the phrase “generous life” keeps coming back to haunt me.

Let’s discuss financial terms for a moment. We’ve all known people who — whether by need or by personality — are not generous with their money, whatever level they live at. I’ve known friends who didn’t have two nickels to rub together and yet would share or give anything they have. I’ve also known wealthy people who are willing to write large checks to certain organizations, but will give not a cent more to an employee or a service professional. These are perhaps all typified in Dicken’s Christmas Carol. But most of us live somewhere in the middle of these extremes. And I’ve known people, as have you, whose focus on protecting their money, calculating their fair share, has made them difficult friends to have around. They live small-minded lives when it comes to their money, forgetting how big their God really is.

Our lives are a little like that, too. We can be small-minded and miserly with our lives.

I don’t want to be miserly. I want to live large and open handed, being a free conduit of all the blessings God has heaped on me. But there are areas of my life where I realize I’ve been calculating a 15% tip and not wanting to go beyond. There are areas where my desires seem of paramount importance to me, and I’m having a hard time letting go of that, quite honestly. Want examples? My 16 year old daughter decided to clean out my pantry, throwing out the junk food, the old, the unused in five years. Since I don’t eat the junk food most of the time, it was really her own stuff she was pitching and I should have been glad for the “help.” I wasn’t. I felt like someone had turned the contents of my purse upside down and was busy tossing “junk.” A generous liver would let go of that. I am possessive of my time, my solitude, my dog (not a problem — he loves me best!). Sometimes that ability to be alone is all that saves me in my crazy, mixed-up household. I don’t let go of that easily. I don’t want to be generous with my reputation, and yet can I really control that anyway? I don’t want to be generous with my dreams. Nothing clams me up quicker than asking me what I want to write about in the future.

So there we are. It’s a rainy, stormy day when I want to close in on myself and soak my troubles away in a hot tub. But I’ve got life swirling around me, and it’s time to re-engage. It’s time to live a generous life.

Are You Being Served?

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Have you had your toes stepped on lately?

My pastor warned us that studying James was like having your toes stepped on repeatedly, and he’s right. God does that sometimes, inflicts a little bit of emotional pain (or a lot of it) to teach us a lesson.

Yesterday I was listening to the August 1 sermon by Buddy Hoffman from Grace Fellowship Church in Georgia. This church is my “second home church,” and when Buddy brings an admonition, I listen. This particular Sunday Buddy was reading a report sent in by the Mystery Worshipper for Ship of Fools website. Let me tell you, these were some tough words to hear. I admire the fact that Buddy was able to read the good, the bad and the ugly to his congregation. We heard it all. And by the time the podcast was over, a lot of toes had been stepped on.

You see, this Mystery Worshipper realized that God was at work at Grace. Anyone stepping on campus can tell that. Great things are happening, almost faster than the congregation can keep up with them. And therein lies the trouble. Everyone at Grace was so busy doing the great things, that a first time visitor felt lost and lonely in the midst of a spiritual feast. The service was amazing, he said. Loved the music. Loved the preaching. No one said hello. No one except the “official” greeter whose job it was, and the usher telling the Mystery Worshipper to change his seat of this reason or that.

So running along on the treadmill, I listened to Buddy remind us that hospitality (also known as community) is a holy work. It isn’t something we offer to those we already know and like the best. It isn’t the “if you have time, could you say hello to someone…” No, it is the above all else kind of commandment. It is holy, and it isn’t optional. Right about then my toes began to ache. Let me tell you why.

Yesterday David and I sat down to eat at one of our favorite restaurants. It was a beautiful day, and we had a seat by the intracoastal waterway where we could watch the boats drift by. We had an appetizer to share and cold iced teas. All should have been well, and it was. Until we noticed that the family sat well after us were in the process of ordering, while we still had our menus and hadn’t put our main order in yet. Even though we’d been waiting long enough to get our appetizer. Normally this kind of thing doesn’t even rise to the level of something to notice, but yesterday…well this waiter was commiting a faux pas in my book, and I needed to share that with him.

I’m sure he was delighted to learn how I felt.

Those of you who know me will know that I wasn’t even really rude (though I felt it, inside). I think I said something along the lines of “It’s just not right to take their order before ours.” The waiter apologized and spent the next half hour hovering over us. Then he heaped a few coals on my head by having the house pay for our appetizer. “We looked on the computer and you come here a lot. We want you to be happy.”

Great. I am known.

Buddy’s words about hospitality stabbed me to the heart later, as I tried to work off that very same food at the gym. “Be especially hospitable to the people out in the community,” he said. Yes, this means waiters. “It’s a holy commandment.” I know my words were not over the top to this poor waiter, but I also know what my attitude was. I was wrong. I was not putting the waiter’s life in proper perspective, assuming that he should exist solely to serve me.

I spent the rest of my workout talking to God about that waiter.

James says that community is hard to build when we are quarreling and grouchy because we want something and don’t have it. I’m limping a little bit today from the toes that have been stepped on, but it’s a good ache. It reminds me of what God wants to do in me.

My father’s house

My father. I don’t write about him often because words just can’t capture the kind of man he was. He died four years ago, and the world — my world — has never quite been the same. As time has gone on, however, his life has begun to evolve and shift in memory. Reality, I guess, is being replaced with legacy. And what a legacy he leaves.

For the past few days I’ve been listening to the Audio Adrenalin song “Big, Big House” while hanging out on the elliptical at the gym. Each time I’ve listened to it, my father’s legacy gets clearer in my mind. You see, the words of that song capture how it felt to grow up with my dad. “Come, and go with me to my Father’s house….it’s a big, big house, with lots and lots of room….It has a big, big table, with lots and lots of food….a big, big yard where we can play football…” Listen to the video at the end of the post for the whole thing.

Somehow those lyrics capture the heart of my father. His house was always the bulwark, the port in the storm, the place where Mom had food for everyone (when she wasn’t on a health food kick!) and my father’s kindness and wisdom kept everything in balance. I loved to bring my friends home to my house. There was so much to do, there were places to be quiet and places to be together. Shortly after I married, Mom and Dad built the lakehouse of their dreams, and the emotional center of our family transferred to that amazing place. Even living in Florida, I still brought our friends home to that house. I wanted the people I cared about to come and understand, to come play with us.

“Come and go with me to my father’s house.”

Now, I realize that I’e built a lot of my life on that model my father lived out for me. Our home is a place we want other people to come to. Play here, eat here, refresh here, be with us here. It feels different when it’s not your father’s house, but your own: less secure, less of a rock because you know all the cracks. But it’s still a haven.

“Come and go with me to my father’s house.”

I know that I barely need to draw the connection for you, the very connection that is the true message of Audio Adrenalin’s song. “Come and go with me to my Father’s house.” A capital letter F makes all the difference. In reality, life in our community and with people who have never entered our churches would be a lot better if we had the attitude towards our Father’s house that I have toward my father’s house. “It’s amazing…come and go with me! There’s room for you to do whatever you need to do…come on, let’s go!”

So what do we need to do to make sure our houses — spiritual and physical — are places where others on the journey can be refreshed and inspired? In the meantime, I’m back off to the gym.

Who’s at my door now?

We all get introspective around the first of the year, and I’m no exception. I finally got some time today to sit in Jeremy’s Starbucks and just read and think. Right now I am reading Ron Martoia’s new book, Transformational Architecture. Ron’s writing is not the kind you can zip through at a breakneck pace! His last book, Static, really impacted my thought process and I can already feel this one doing the same thing.

Today, I was thinking about the overarching story of how God works in our world. Ron points out that this story, or narrative, is what gives meaning and cohesion to our lives. When we see how we fit into the big picture, so to speak, it makes everything clearer in our little arc of storyline. Our purpose is defined by God’s amazing story.

That’s when I was – finally — able to put my Christmas and New Year’s into perspective. You see, I’ve been pushed and pulled from all directions. My husband and I call it being ‘nibbled to death by ducks.” We’ve been constantly answering the phone or doorbell to some amazing ministry and fellowship opportunities. Each of these opportunities thrilled us and make us happy to be where God wants us to be, but they do drain our reserves. I began to feel, recently, as if I have nothing left to write because I am too busy wiping counters or making plans for others. One of my out of town guests said, “You all live in a community center, not a house.” He wasn’t far wrong!

And yet I know that God gave David and me a very specific call to be a haven for people who need one. So should it surprise me that my doorbell keeps ringing? Why in the world would I be surprised at that when it’s the very situation I’ve been working toward? Seeing the overall story, God’s story for my life and his story for all of history, has helped me today put my time and opportunities into the narrative. This IS what God intended for my holiday season. These were the opportunities to make my life count in the place he has me.

Not interruptions, each of these doorbell ringers were the POINT.I just had to slow down long enough to get the point.

Afraid of the future?

One sign of the interesting times we are living in is the increase in “chatter” out there in the community. Like the increase in friendly speculation on the approach of a hurricane, today people are wanting to discuss the economy, job market, election and the future. For some people the future seems to be a large, scary unknown, and they are looking for reassurance in the face of it. I firmly believe this represents an amazing opportunity for those of us hanging out in third places trying to connect with one another.

From Peter Block’s book, Community:

To feel a sense of belonging is important because it will lead us from conversations about safety and comfort to other conversations, such as our relatedness and willingness to provide hospitality and generosity. Hospitality is the welcoming of strangers, and generosity is an offer with no expectation of return. These are two elements that we want to nurture as we work to create, strengthen, and restore our communities. This will not occur in a culture dominated by isolation, and its correlate, fear.

There it is, our opportunity: people are going to willingly leave their isolation in order to seek comfort. There is so much fear in being all alone that I believe we are going to see a huge swing towards making connections with each other. And notice the two qualities that this business author says are the antidote to isolation and fear: hospitality and generosity.

This morning as I was thinking about this quote I tried to think of a few ways to entice people out of their isolation. None of them will surprise those of you who read this blog once in awhile!

  • Leave your house with the intention of making one or two meaningful connections with someone each day. For me, this means heading to the coffee house and building enough time into my schedule to at least take a few sips sitting at a table and making eye-contact with the people around me. Stop to really look at the salesperson in the mall, walk out and actually get your mail directly from the hand of your postal carrier, say hello to the person on the next treadmill over at the gym. The list of connection points is infinite, but you have to be intentional to use them.
  • Consider picking a “usual” spot to facilitate repeat connections. For me, there are two Starbucks’ I go to and one Barnes and Noble cafe that I refer to as my Office. Anytime I’m meeting someone for coffee or take some time away from the house, I choose to be available in one of those three places.
  • Take a few things off your schedule. The absolute greatest hindrance to the kind of connections we need is busy-ness. And yes, I’m guilty. But I’m working at being intentional in this area. By the way, a side benefit of being less busy is often saving money: time to cook, less gas used, less stress on clothing needed and so on.
  • Pray and ask God to make you aware of the moments you might otherwise skip. It’s a kind of dare: God will always give you a chance to make good on your promise!
  • Enjoy the moments when God puts someone in your pathway just for you! The tables do get turned once in awhile, and a total stranger may be ministering to you.
  • Save some resources to share. I am not just speaking about money here. We need to save extra food to give away, time to share, energy to sink into a project, relational capacity to really care about a person.

And now, while my day is still somewhat free, I’m off to find out how God is going to test me in this today. He always does. If I write about it, He throws it at me. So pray for my path today!

Where can you go to hang out in your town?

Where do you hang out with your community?

Sometimes the simplest of phrases catch my ear and stick with me. Today it was a random comment by Tim Stevens, written on his blog. He was referring to Ebenezers, the coffee shop run by Mark Batterson’s church, National Community Church. The coffee shop was built as a place, he said, for the church and the community to hang out. That was it: the church and the community to hang out.

How do you do that?

Assuming that most churches will never build a coffee shop, how do you provide opportunities for the church to hang out with the community? In this instance I’m (for once) not necessarily referring to the individual within the church, but the church as a recognizable community figure. How does the church build its “brand” in the community?

I think the best answers to that question are creative, outward-focused opportunities for the church to build into their surroundings. I’d love to see more creative solutions than are usually proposed for this, solutions like art shows hanging in the church hallways, refreshments being served at community events provided by the church, tutoring services for neighborhood kids. Or maybe something as simple as having church members hang at the local hot spot on Friday nights. For us, that would be outside the movie theater sitting in front of Starbucks.

How do you do it? Where do you go to hang out with the community as a church?

Just add coffee

Just Add Coffee for a great night

I spent part of my morning hanging out in Starbucks with David today, reading The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. I came to a section that really gets me excited about my life because it fits my giftings: building community. Now those of you who know me realize that I actually do not enjoy hosting large parties, even though I regularly do this for my church community. I enjoy the fact that I CAN host large parties, and that I have a hospitable space to offer, and that God has blessed me to make that kind of hosting possible. But large parties don’t set my creative juices on fire and give me a burst of adrenalin.

What really makes me happy is bringing together a small group of people, offering great food and sitting around my kitchen table watching the connections happen. It is around my table that lifetime bonds are made. Ministries are born – and some ministries fade away there, too, as time moves on. Trips are planned. Kids cry, eat, run off to play. Generations interact in ways I could not predict. When I had my mom over for dinner along with the youth staff, I’d never have predicted that she would bond with my young friend Chad, and think that he was the most delightful man she’d ever met. An improbable combination, grandparents and youth staff, but somehow it worked!

In other words, if you want to see community happen before your eyes, gather friends and acquaintances around the table, start serving food. Just add coffee to the mix, allow time and space, and be present in the moment.

Why Do Christians Come Late to the Party?

Yesterday I was struck by Ed Bahler’s post on the importance of understanding the people who come to your Third Place, whether it be inside the church or a stand-alone coffee shop. And I have to agree with one of Ed’s statements: if it was up to the church, we’d probably have still been doing a feasibility study on how to feed the 5000 while the crowd wandered off to the nearest pub. Can’t you just see the chagrined disciples slinking into the pub long after all the tables were taken with laughing, happy, full seekers? They squeeze in, here and there, and join the conversations that are almost over about the miraculous things the teacher was saying today. Now before someone writes me to tell me that there were no pubs in Jesus’ time, please give me grace. I know that. But I like pubs, and I want to think about some Monty Python-style disciples squeezing through the door. Substitute fire pits with goats roasting and the point is still the same: Christians are often late to the party.

Why? We have all the tools we need to understand people’s hearts better than anyone else on earth. We have the intrinsic motivation to care about the people “out there.” And yet, sometimes from the perspective of those “out there,” we couldn’t care less. It’s not true, of course. We care. We want to do what Jesus did. We want to feed the crowd, turn them into a party, and embrace the goodness of life with them. We want to do what the Master did. We just don’t always know how. How do we dip our bread into the oil and tell stories through the night with the crowd?

When it comes to creating intentional Third Spaces, we need to develop a theology of hospitality, a theology that embraces the recipient of our hospitality with more than respect, with something closer to welcome. If we want to have an atmosphere where seekers can feel comfortable seeking, we have to be careful not to give them our own answers too soon, and we have to be willing to listen to their first attempts at walking through a spiritual journey. Hospitality has long been relegated to domestic divas (yeah…sometimes I am one), but in truth it is a dangerous gifting, leading into deep waters of heartache, care and uncertainty. You see, the people “out there” don’t always follow our plans for them, oddly enough. And sometimes — really — their plan is even better. We have to be strong enough to create a space for the seekers, a space for laughter and comfort and sharing that may seem to have nothing at all to do with the gospel. That is the work of being an incarnational representative of Christ. When the recipient of our hospitality reclines in friendship to start yet another story and perhaps decide to indulge in dessert after all, he is feeling comfortable and safe. We have succeeded.

Creating that haven of “belonging” is what the world excels at. Buy this TV and you are “in” and your sports-viewing life will be better than ever. Come to this restaurant and you will find friends and food to tickle your senses. Wear these clothes and you won’t go home alone. We need to hear these messages, and realize that the world is out there waiting to belong. Now it’s time to welcome them home.

Have you lost your reputation yet?

A table is a symbol of hospitality

I recently watched a video based on the book Jim and Casper Go to Church. The book, which I haven’t read yet but is on its way (thanks to Amazon 1-click!), is the story of  an atheist who visits our churches and offers up his opinion. I am anxious to read his words, painful as they are likely to be. If you want to, watch the video over on Ed Bahler’s blog, here.

The words that convicted me are these: Matt Casper asks us as Christians to invite him into our homes and our hearts before trying to “sell” him on our religion. This statement, from an atheist, is perhaps the best theology of hospitality that I have read recently. So many times in our homes and in our interactions in the community we are only willing to extend a superficial friendship, a shallow grace. We are willing to sit and chat with an “outsider” (to use the term the book unChristian uses), but we are very slow to open our hearts in true friendship. To some of us, it is even unthinkable if we are honest with ourselves.

And yet, through the ages of Christianity the act of sharing a meal in friendship has been the most powerful demonstration of just what Christ did for us. Matt Casper’s comment reminded me of a chapter in Brennan Manning’s class book The Ragamuffin Gospel. Consider this quote:

In the year of 1925, if a wealthy plantation owner in Atlanta extended a formal invitation to four colored cotton pickers to come to his mansion for Sunday dinner, preceded by cocktails and followed by several hours of brandy and conversation, the Georgia aristocracy would have been outraged, neighboring Alabama infuriated, and the Ku Klux Klan apoplectic. Sixty or seventy years ago in the deep South, the caste system was inviolable, social and racial discrimination inflexible and indiscretion made the loss of reputation inevitable.

Today the lines of reputation in the Christian community are not based on race, as in 1925, but they are based on insider standing. Outreach to an outsider is permissible, perhaps coffee, but inviting them into your home? Scandalous.

So I ask you, have you lost your reputation yet? I know my reputation is still largely intact, a matter of conviction that Matt Casper so kindly pointed out. And he is so right. One more quote from Ragamuffin Gospel.

Through table fellowship Jesus ritually acted out his insight into Abba’s indiscriminate love — a love that causes His sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and His rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike (see Matthew 5:45). The inclusion of sinners in the community of salvation, symbolized in table fellowship, is the most dramatic expression of the ragamuffin gospel and the merciful love of the redeeming God.