Hospitality

Hospitality as Gift

Over the years I have surrounded myself with people who are masters at hospitality. I have learned so much from them. They have refreshed my family and me. They have gone out of their way to make a family with four little ones feel comfortable and satisfied. It is hard to express the level of gratitude I have for the hundreds of meals prepared out of love and devotion. But I am grieved by how the apostles’ imperatives (Heb. 13:2; I Pet. 4:9) are so often overlooked in the evangelical community. We miss a genuine opportunity to serve one another, to hear each others’ stories, and give out of the abundance given to us in Christ Jesus. I love the way Lauren Winner describes this in her book Mudhouse Sabbath: “We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives. Having guests and visitors, if we do it right, is not an imposition, because we are not meant to rearrange our lives for our guests – we are meant to invite our guests to enter into our lives as they are.”
For many of you who have never practiced this Christian gift, you can begin small. Begin by inviting a couple over for coffee and dessert or something similar. Be intentional about scheduling such things. Don’t leave it up for the right opportunity. The right opportunity comes when you make it. Begin small and you will see the joy and celebration that overtakes a house that is known for her hospitality.

Husbands and Headship: The Art of Dying

We live in a culture that views headship as abusive. In the Bible, however, headship is central to the stability of the home. Protestant and evangelical men need to see this headship in the context of the great covenant responsibilities that come with that role. The man who views his headship cavalierly views his role in the home with un-biblical eyes.

I have met many men who come to see the need for headship in the home, and have made the necessary changes to their husbandry. Some of these men came to these convictions late in life, and therefore, the changes occurred too quickly; especially for their families. They went from rarely reading the Bible themselves to requiring family devotions with a 45 minute sermon. Dad went from barely feeding his family spiritually to stuffing his family. Children grow up dreading the evening “services”, and the wife, on the one hand, gives thanks to God for the change in her husband, while on the other, wondering if God misunderstood her prayers.

God knew all things, of course. The problem is sinners have made an art of over-reacting. Pastors need to watch out for these types and bring their enthusiasm to a proper balance.

But the Church is not suffering because of over-zealous husbands/ fathers; she is suffering for the lack of any zeal in husbands/fathers.

In particular, husbands are called to meet the needs of their wives. He is the provider, sustainer, and the one called by God to make his wife lovely. The wife is lovely when the husband beautifies her. Jesus is the head of the Church and part of his ascension task is to make his bride beautiful (Eph. 5). He comforts her with words of affirmation. He protects her for physical and spiritual abuse. He is her Boaz and David; a redeemer and king. The home serves as the castle. Pastors usually know when he enters a home whether it is being beautified or whether it has lost its beauty. I am not referring to neatness and tidiness; I am referring to the grace of a home. When that pastor leaves, he may have just left a pretty tomb with dead man’s bones. Grace makes a home, and the husband is the grace-giver. How he speaks, how he communicates, how he rebukes, how he seeks forgiveness; all these things demonstrate and encapsulate the type of headship he is embodying.

The husband is a resident theologian. He may not be a vocational theologian, but his actions and speech are the word and deed that his family will hear most often. When the husband lives a life of constant hypocrisy, his lectures will become dull and lose meaning. When his life demonstrates humility and the virtue of repentance, then his lectures, even the boring ones, will sink deeply into the fabric of the home.

The evangelical husband is a lover of truth. Truth keeps him from abusing his headship; truth keeps him from prioritizing his friends over his own family; truth keeps him from isolating himself from the Christian body; truth keeps him from turning headship into abuse. He must be, as Douglas Wilson once observed, “a small pebble that somehow by the grace of God pictures the Rock that is Christ.”[1]

The responsibility of being the head of the home is the responsibility of many, but the practice of some. Headship implies dying for your wife, and many prefer to see their spouse die than themselves. So men, let’s die together for our wives, and let’s show the world that death brings life.


[1] Wilson, Douglas. Reforming Marriage, 39.

 

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/

Bring Out the Champagne! The Party Has Just Begun!

Easter is gone, right? Actually Easter has just begun! The Easter Season lasts for 50 days. It is glorified in the PENT-ecost season. According to the Christian Calendar, Easter lasts until May 19th (Pentecost Sunday). But didn’t we spend ourselves bodily and spiritually this past Lord’s Day? If that’s the case, stir yourselves unto good works. The party has just begun!

We–who are liturgically minded–tend to carefully attend to the Lenten and Advent Calendar, but yet we forget that apart from the Resurrection Lent and Advent would not make any sense. After all, what are we expecting? A virgin birth to a son who would simply die at the age of 33? What are we expecting? A perpetually closed tomb? A sight for annual pilgrimages to Israel?

I am suggesting we need to stock up in our champagne bottles. Every Sunday meal needs to start with the popping of a champagne bottle. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! POP! “Children, that’s the sound of victory!”

For every day of Easter, set aside a little gift for your little ones or your spouse. We set 100 Easter eggs aside for our two oldest children and let them open them up each day. Other traditions can be added, of course. We indulge in Easter hymnody and Psalmnody.  Easter is no time to get back to business as usual, it’s time to elevate the party spirit.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for these next 46 days:

First, for evening family readings, meditate specifically on the Resurrection account and the post-resurrection accounts. Digest every detail of the gospels, and also allow St. Paul to add his resurrection theology in I Corinthians 15.

Second, teach one another the art of hope. We live in a hopeless culture. We walk around with little enthusiasm for what God is doing in our midst. We also don’t believe that God is changing us and conforming us to the image of His son. We need to–especially in this season–to rejoice more with those who rejoice and encourage more those who weep with the hope granted to us in the Resurrection of our Messiah.

Third, invest in changing your community. Ask your pastor in what ways can you be more fruitful in your service to the congregation. Consider also your neighbors. Do you know them? If you do, how many have been in your homes for a meal or a drink, or simply to talk?

Fourth, play Easter music in your home and in the office. Here are some selections of great CDs or MP3’s.

Finally, avoid the introspective rituals that are so prevalent in our Christian culture. Do not allow doubts to overtake you. Think of your Triune baptism. Trust in Christ fervently. Allow the Covenant of Grace to shape your identity. The resurrection of Jesus was the confirmation that those in Christ are made for glory. Look to Jesus and serve Jesus by serving others. By doing so, you will not grow weary in doing well, and you will learn to party beside the empty tomb.

Christ is Risen!

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

Homosexuality Brings Death!

Homosexuality brings death! The entire testimony of sacred Scriptures attests to this fact. St. Paul writes that they “dishonor their bodies among themselves.” Yet our culture continues to live as if it is simply a choice like any another. But some choices bring life, and others bring death. Again, homosexuality brings death!

This became even clearer to me today. As I began editing some work this morning at the office I received a phone call from a man I will refer to as “Bill.” Bill found our Church’s name when looking for a Reformed congregation in Pensacola. Over the years our small congregation has received a fair amount of traffic due to its status on google search as one of the first two churches listed under “Reformed/Pensacola.” I am thankful for this visibility. It has afforded me various opportunities to meet new people and interact with them on-line.

If you know anything about the Bible belt is that explicit Reformational churches are few in number. Bill comes from Los Angeles where the Reformed influence is even less. But by God’s grace, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, he found himself in Pensacola for a day. He called wanting to talk to a brother. I listened attentively. Having exposed myself to a fair number of professional panhandlers I knew this one was different. Bill’s story was sincere and it offered no hint of deceit.

With my deacon being away and my associate pastor not available I called and told him that I would pick him up. I attended the funeral of a dear neighbor with my wife and left to meet him right afterwards.

As I arrived I immediately identified Bill. His 50 year old body could easily be mistaken for a 70 year old man. The truth is Bill is dying. He once was 250 pounds, but now he only weighs 130. Bill has AIDS and the doctor told him he only has six months to live. I introduced myself, helped him with his bags, and offered to buy him breakfast. He readily accepted, though adding he will most likely throw it up later. His body can no longer digest well.

He wanted to eat at Waffle House. We found the nearest one and sat to eat. “I want three very, very crunchy pieces of bacon,” he asked. “Sure thing, sweetie,” replied the waitress in what must be a universal Waffle House lingo. As we waited we talked. I asked him all sorts of questions. “How in the world did you end up in a reformational church in California,” I asked. Bill attends a very small congregation started by a Master’s Seminary grad from Scotland who happens to know–as Bill refers to–“brother Ferguson” personally. “Sinclair Ferguson!” I replied? “Yes, that’s him!” Bill happened to run across a passionate evangelical at Starbucks one day and the two became friends and began to talk on the phone regularly. The young man was 29 years old and suffering from serious health issues. In the process he was able to introduce Bill to Reformed literature. One day Bill fell on his face and asked God to save him. “I knew at that moment that I was no longer a homosexual,” he said. The friend who introduced him to Christ died soon after, but not without changing Bill and his life.

Bill said that J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God was his all-time favorite. “I met J.I. Packer,” I proudly stated. His eyes lit up. “I also read R.C. Sproul…lots and lots of his books.” ” I also met him and sat under his preaching many times,” I said. “You don’t know how blessed you are,” he said. The truth is I don’t. I take so much for granted.

So here I was in Pensacola sitting across a former homosexual who dedicated his entire life to the abuses of a lifestyle that he himself describes as “deadly from the start,” and this same man–who only has six months to live–has a goal to re-read Calvin’s Institutes this year. “The sovereignty of God changed my life,” he said. He only has little time left and now is consuming whatever Reformed literature he can find. Beyond that, this same man is preaching the gospel to his former homosexual community who now shuns him. “They want me gone in L.A….they don’t want to hear my message,” he says. But Bill is a changed man. He is not going to stop now. His life is vanishing little by little, but he still finds the gospel invigorating and refreshing to proclaim.

Afterwards I took Bill to his motel and bid him adieu! “God bless you and thank you,” he uttered. God bless and thank you, Bill. Homosexuality brought and will bring you death, but Christ gave you a new life in this world and in the world to come. Amen and amen!

Trinitarian Hospitality, A Parishioner’s Reflections

On reflecting on my sermon on Biblical Hospitality, one of my parishioners, Gracie Scott, offered some thoughts and applications based on her study of the issue framed by a Trinitarian model:

God, the three in one, is hospitably life giving, so how are we to be also?

Triune God – Father, Christ, Holy Spirit

FATHER: Breaths life into man (6th day)

Man: Gen. 1:28 Christians are to be fathers as well (parenting as a type of hospitality)

CHRIST: Justification, He awakens the soul through His blood

Man: Welcome the lost into our homes that they may see and hear the Good News (eating with the tax collectors who are in need a Physician, Mark 2:17)

HOLY SPIRIT: Sanctification – aids and speaks throughout our life after justification

Man: Fellowship with fellow believers. “Iron sharpening iron” (Prov. 27:17) throughout sanctification.

Another parishioner, Kandace Trotter, summarized in her senior thesis the contrast between selfishness and the God who delights in hosting:

The selfishness pervasive today does not take into account that God is hospitable, and each person of the Trinity acts selflessly toward the other, always serving one another in love (Smith 22, 41). Just as the Trinity is serving one another in love, so we should be serving with hearts overflowing with love. Hospitality is an act of physical and spiritual selflessness, so let us take this virtue and apply it in our daily lives, seeing that selflessness and hospitality flow out of love and respect for the Triune nature of God (Peterson 17).

Well done, ladies!

Trinity and Selfishness

Another parishioner, Kandace Trotter, beautifully summarizes the root of selfishness in our culture when she writes in her well written and researched senior thesis:

The selfishness pervasive today does not take into account that God is hospitable, and each person of the Trinity acts selflessly toward the other, always serving one another in love (Smith 22, 41). Just as the Trinity is serving one another in love, so we should be serving with hearts overflowing with love. Hospitality is an act of physical and spiritual selflessness, so let us take this virtue and apply it in our daily lives, seeing that selflessness and hospitality flow out of love and respect for the Triune nature of God (Peterson 17).