Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hospitality and witness-the notes

Here are an edited version of my notes for my talk about hospitality as witness.

If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality.
Henri Nouwen

Does hospitality have a part to play in the witness of the church? Well the short answer is yes, but of course it rather depends upon what you mean by witness and what you mean by hospitality, and just for good measure what you mean by church! In the Ancient world hospitality was assumed and expected. If you turned up in a strange town or village, someone would offer hospitality.

Being so much more sophisticated, we’ve turned hospitality into a business, a marketing opportunity, a degree-level qualification. We offer hospitality on the basis of a return. Not so for our ancient predecessors.

Paul urged fellow Christians to welcome one another, because it was the right thing to do. It honoured Christ and the cause of Christ.

Hospitality was a qualification for leadership (1Tim.3)

Hebrews says welcome strangers... you might be entertaining angels unawares

Jesus: when you did it for the least of these...

Rom 12:13 Practice hospitality

1Pet 4:0 Offer hospitality without grumbling

In Luke's post-resurrection account of the Emmaus road, Jesus is revealed as the risen Christ in the context of hospitality and food. And while the link to hospitality and witness seems rather tenuous at best, there is something about his self-revelation in the practice of eating that at the very least hints at how important eating together can be for a full expression of relationship.

And it’s not the only time. Breakfast on the beach, eating with them during the 40 days between resurrection and ascension according to Acts 1. And we should not forget his words in Revelation 3: Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone will open the door, I will come and eat with them.

If the Son of God himself thinks it is important to eat with his followers, even after his death and resurrection, what role does it play for us?

Hospitality and witness

#1 It Includes

Jesus offered a welcome to strangers. He said: Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy loads. Come, find rest for your souls. Hospitality can be a sign of the welcome of the kingdom.

#2 It identifies

Jesus ate with folk that religious people wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Because of it he became known as “a friend of sinners”.

#3 It celebrates

When Zacchaeus responds to the gospel, Jesus invites himself to dinner to celebrate the event.

#4 It exposes

When Jesus has dinner with a Pharisee his lack of courtesy is exposed. Simon disapproves of the woman who washes the feet of Jesus with her teats, but he won’t even offer water for the job. It’s beneath him.

#5 It challenges

When there is no one to wash the feet of the disciples, Jesus does it himself.

#6 It encourages

The early church met together in homes around meals. They ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2). This was part of the larger picture of the life of the early church that resulted in mission and growth. In fact almost everything the early church did produced growth. The outpouring of God’s Spirit, the gathering of the early community, the signs and wonders, the early persecution and arrest precipitated a prayer for boldness that resulted in growth. The problem with the Greek widows, the death of Stephen and the scattering that followed, the Spirit inspired boundary-breaking visit of Peter the Jew to Cornelius the Gentile, the conversion of Saul, the planting of the fist Gentile church, the missionary journeys, the argument between Barnabas and Paul, and most amazing of all, a church meeting even resulted in mission.


Does hospitality have a place in the life and witness of the church? Yes it does. Do we practice it often enough? Probably not.

There is so much more to explore around this idea of the hospitality of the kingdom. Even as I presented these ideas there were questions running around my brain. But it is a starting point for more thinking and discussing. Read Wiggy's comment on the other post to see how they are exploring community and hospitality and witness in the summer. All very exciting.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hospitality and witness

Recently I was asked to preach at the local Churches Together service for Christian Unity. I was given the title and passage for the talk, it was from Luke's Emmaus Road narrative and the topic was "Hospitality as witness."

Now I have to confess that at first sight the only connection with hospitality I could see was that Jesus ate some fish, and the particular text about opening their minds didn't seem to fit the theme too well either. So I began to wonder where hospitality fitted in the kingdom and in God's mission too. Slowly things began to surface as I read through the gospels and thought about Jesus and food.

In the end I must say that my talk was far from the finished article. So many questions were still unanswered in my own mind that I could only present half a survey if that. But there's something here that has caught my imagination. From what I've heard, it caught a few other imaginations too.

Jesus offers an invitation to come, there is hospitality in the kingdom, there is hospitality in that very invitation. Hospitality is an invitation to share personal space and a giving away of time and attention. I have this other phrase wandering around my head too: Sacred spaces in public places.

Somewhere here is an idea about inviting people far from God to share our sacred space on their turf. In the parks and cafes, restaurants and galleries, shopping malls and sports fields.

It's all very fuzzy, but I'd be interested in some comments and thoughts about the whole idea. I think I'll post my notes from the talk too.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I don't like to suffer. I don't even like to think about suffering. I certainly don't equate some of the things through which I have to go with anything I see on the news in places like Haiti or Afghanistan.

But I do suffer. Suffer in all sorts of ways, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Just like you suffer too.

How then should we respond? How should we understand what's happening to us?

I was reading Henry Blackaby's devotional yesterday and it was all about the role of suffering. He contends that there are somethings that God wants to build into your life that he can only do through the process of suffering. Personally, I know that suffering is the only route to patience and many times to grace.

There is a positive aspect to suffering. We all endure suffering to some degree, but the good news is that through it we can become like Jesus. Are you willing to pay whatever price is necessary in order to become like Christ? There are some things that God can build into your life only through suffering. Even Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was complete only after He had endured the suffering His Father had set before Him. Once He had suffered, He was the complete, mature, and perfect Savior through whom an entire world could find salvation.

But it's that little phrase, tucked away in this paragraph that gets me and drags me to my knees with more questions about me and spiritual character than it does about the causes and effects of any suffering through which I walk.

Are you willing to pay whatever price is necessary in order to become like Christ?

Am I that willing? Fortunately we live life one step at a time. The measure of our suffering is rarely revealed to us ahead of time, although often afterwards we can see the hand of God preparing us before the suffering comes.

Let's give Blackaby's devotional the last word:

Don’t resent the suffering God allows in your life. Don’t make all your decisions and invest everything you have into avoiding hardship. God did not spare His own Son. How can we expect Him to spare us? Learn obedience even when it hurts!

Phil. 4:4-7

I needed to write a short reflection on these verses from Philippians for a funeral service I'm taking later today. This is always a challenge, to try and say in two minutes what you might take 35 minutes to say any other time. I guess the nature and place of preaching is a subject that will rumble on and on as long as we continue to do it.

Anyway, here's my simple reflection on these great words from Paul:

Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is written while the apostle is under arrest. He doesn’t know what the future holds for him, it could be a time of great anxiety. It isn’t that Paul isn’t prone to worry. He cares deeply for the churches across the whole region. He is anxious about his own people, the Jews. He’s concerned about the faithfulness of the emerging network of followers of Jesus Christ. Paul is not unfamiliar with the stresses and strains of life that can cause us to become anxious about anything and everything.
But he has a simple prescription to put it all in its proper context.
He’s already told his readers that they shine like stars, that they must “press on” in life and that even prisoners chains cannot hold back the progress of the kingdom. As he pleads with two members of the community who are at odds with each other to agree and as he enlists the help of the faith community to support them, he calls them to respond with worship.
In the Bible worship is always a valid response, whatever the circumstances. Whether pressure, hardship, unrest, loss or even death, worship is something we should always do. And not only worship but also pray. Pray about it all. Tell God what is on your heart and on your mind. Hold nothing back, because he wants to know and he cares enough to listen and is powerful enough to answer. Not always as we think he should, but always he answers.
So, Paul’s antidote to a life of anxiety is simple: Always rejoice, pray about everything, don’t let you mind wander to the bad stuff.
After our reading finishes, Paul’s very next challenge to the church is to focus on the good stuff. The noble stuff, the pure stuff, the lovely and admirable. If it’s worthy of praise, think about it says Paul. Don’t dwell on the negative, rest in the positive.
Rejoice always, pray about everything, focus on the good stuff.
This is not a recipe for a good life, it’s the recipe for life in God’s hands. A life in which anxiety and worry find their proper place.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Would I go there?

Several times recently I've been asked if I would be comfortable going to the pub. It's an interesting question. I've never really been much of a pub-goer. Even in my youthful days when it was all the rage, I never really felt at home in the cultural setting of the lounge of the "Dog and Duck".

The thing is, I don't really have what you might call a pub memory. Now I don't mean that I've forgotten any and every visit. Just last year when Anne and I were waking in the Dales we had a really nice lunch in a typical country pub, and I remember that clearly!!

What I mean by a pub memory is a cultural background. I literally don't know how to behave in those surroundings. Do I sit down or stand at the bar. Do I talk about philosophy or football? What's the etiquette for getting attention when I want to buy a drink? Do I take my used glass or ask for a clean one?

While church should always remain attractive, simply being attractive is not going to change anything much for all those people who do not have a church memory or even a Christian memory. For those people I'd be guessing that as far as they are generally concerned, church does things for church people.

Perhaps if we began to explore how we can help people with no Christian memory discover how to relate to God where they are, we might begin to help them form a memory that will move them towards a deeper relationship with him.

I wonder what that kind of church might look like.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just wondering

Perhaps the reason I sometimes feel like we're missing the point as we try to figure what being church means in our present context is because we're looking for a new definition when we should be looking for a new imagination.

As Roxburgh and Boren suggest we need a radical transformation of our way of viewing the world if we're going to reimagine the church effectively.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Introducing the Missional Church

Having put down Francis Chan's Crazy Love, I've picked up Introducing the Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren. Having read the introduction and the first chapter, my head is pounding with thoughts and ideas and memories about why I care so much about the local church.

I care because I honestly believe that there is so much more to being the church than we have discovered or than we practice at this present time. Too often the church is reduced to something machine-like that we maintain and fix. My preferred picture is of a garden we nurture and that surprises us as it grows and flourishes. When something unusual happens with a machine it usually means trouble. Something is breaking down, normality is being interrupted and we must fix it. When something unusual happens in the garden it's often eventful, interesting, and new. It may not need fixing at all. I wonder, for example, if it were just by chance that someone discovered that some plants produce different coloured flowers if they are planted in different types of soil.

When I was at college in my final year of a theology degree, I wrote a paper about reconnecting the church to its mission. As my tutor pointed out, I wrote a lot, but neither of us was sure I'd answered the question I was actually asking. I do remember though how much it meant to me then to try and rediscover the heart of what it means to be the church. I am still asking the questions twenty years on.

What I do know is that I can never settle for anything less than a wholehearted search for God's heart for the church he loves. If all our assumptions must be shattered and all our boundaries broken, then so be it if it releases the church from an internal focus on filling building towards an external focus on releasing the kingdom into communities.

Maybe one day I'll have some answers worth writing down. Perhaps there might even be a PhD in it! Who knows, who cares as long as we get a ste closer to being the church Jesus wants us to be.

Crazy Love

I've just finished reading Francis Chan's Crazy Love. It's a very accessible read but far from easy. The challenge is clear from the outset:

This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity has offers. It is for those who don't want to plateau, those who would rather die before their convictions do.

The book is written against the background of a simple question: Has the present-day church missed the point? We've become comfortable, complacent, even conventional about faith. But the Jesus of the New Testament calls us to radical, redefined living through which he wants to change the world.

As Francis Chan points out:

The world needs Christians who don't tolerate the complacency of their own lives.

Will you enjoy reading it? Well, that all depends on how you define enjoy. It should stir your heart and your mind to consider how seriously you take following Jesus Christ as a fully devoted disciple.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Taking control of the chaos again!

It feels good to have taken a little time to reorder my tickler file. Organisation is one of the wagons from which I fall regularly. These days I find it easier to get back on because the basics of my system are fundamentally sound. There are some things to file, but most of the sorting out is done and I now need to remind myself every day to check the file and act on what I find.

I may have blogged about my filing system. Essentially it's an alphabetical system with a drawer for church things, a drawer for home stuff and a drawer that still needs attention! It used to be six drawers, so getting it down to three was quite an achievement in the first place.

I'm planning that 2010 will see some more progress in my improving organisation, and that I'll start tracking things more effectively. The single most important thing for me is getting stuff written down and ordered into actionable tasks. I use Omnifocus, but a simple list is really all I need most of the time.

So, here's to a better organised 2010! Now all I have to do is set some achievable goals in all the other areas of my life!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Responding to Haiti

I read with a mixture of incredulity and embarrassment that a prominent evangelical was telling viewers to his TV show that Haiti had brought this disaster upon themselves.

Perhaps I'm more embarrassed for God, who is being so misrepresented by such a perspective. I don't know.

This morning, as I continue preparations for Sunday, I stood in front of a flip chart and wrote down:

What does the Gospel offer the people of Haiti?

This is the rough outline of my thoughts.

Firstly is does not offer judgement or self-help solutions. It doesn't theorise or theologise about the circumstances. It just gets stuck in and does something.

It offers faith, hope and love.

Love, because an earthquake does not mean that God has stopped loving Haitian people. Love, because loving one another both inside and outside the church is a cornerstone of what it means to be human, made in the image of a loving God.

It offers hope because whilst we can't stop earthquakes from happening, they do not define who we are and they do not define our Haitian brother and sisters. They remain people dearly loved by God and made in his image, just as we are. Death, destruction, poverty, homelessness might describe them at the moment but they do not define them.

It offers faith. Faith that there is a bigger picture, an eternal context for the suffering and loss happening all around us. We live in a fallen world, we cannot escape the truth that sin brings judgement, but that's not the whole story. While we may live in a fallen world, even a judged world, we experience grace in bucketfuls. We see grace as people are pulled from the carnage alive long after the rescuers ever expected to find anything but bodies. I'm sure that over the coming weeks we will hear stories of amazing escapes and incredible survival. We see grace in the financial and practical responses of nations. Grace will abound.

The gospel also offers compassion as people respond with gifts and time and energy and expertise. And it offers compassion as Jesus weeps at the graveside of his friend Lazarus and over the city of Jerusalem. If you think God remains unmoved by tragedy then you are very much mistaken.

If I were preparing this as a sermon to preach, and I may choose to drop my prepared talk for Sunday and reflect on these things instead, then I'd want to finish with a question:

How can we be kingdom people to the people of Haiti?

Three things come to mind.

We can pray. We should already be praying, but we can always pray. We can pray for the grieving, the hungry, the injured, the survivors, the aid workers, those who would look to use the situation to their advantage, all sorts of people need our prayers at this time.

Secondly we can give. Through organisations we know or directly through the Disaster Emergency Committee. It really doesn't matter through whom you give, it matters that you give.

Thirdly we can go. Some may have skills they can offer, some may just have a heart to offer. I don't know what opportunities may or may not exist now or in the near future, but it's worth a prayer isn't it? "God, if I can do something practical, show me what it is, open a door for me to become involved." Next to "Go" on my flipchart I wrote "Habit for Humanity". I was just wondering if later, after the immediate relief work is done, whether they might be involved in some rebuilding work. I can swing a hammer reasonably well. You never know and you should never exclude the possibility that God might call you to be the answer to the prayer you are praying.

So there we go. It's not fully thought through, it's just my response at this moment in time. It's not eloquent, it won't be read by more than a handful of people, it won't be nationally syndicated. But I don't care about that at all. I do care about the people of Haiti who need God's mercy not our judgement.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Idolatry, who me?

Another great article from John Orberg.

How often do we stop and ask what's influencing us most. Have we become a nation of reality TV show worshippers who have transferred those values into church life? Do we covert the church down the road, or worse still do we thank God we're not like them?

Monday, January 04, 2010


Well, this year's journal is up and running. I usually start fresh each year, although I think 2007 and 2008 were in the same book. I don't like to waste paper, but it just seems like the right thing to do to start a new year with a fresh journal.

My first entry, in fact my only entry to date, reflects on the life of David. I'm almost at the end of reading through 2 Samuel. Absalom is dead and David is returning the Jerusalem. It's quite a sad picture. The whole thing with Absalom is a mess, but then life can be messy. We all make mistakes.

Maturity probably has less to do with making fewer mistakes than it does with learning to handle them better. We learn how not to get angry quickly, how not to say exactly what we think without engaging our brains first. We learn how to see both sides of an argument, how to listen and reflect back what we hear in order to clarify understanding.

And most importantly we learn how to stop blogging and pay attention to one's wife who's just come through the door!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Promises after the fact

I listened to the interview this morning on Radio 4 with Sir John Major and Baroness Shirley Williams. You'd think from the BBC website that only John Major had anything to say, but that wasn't the case at all. However, John Major had some interesting things to say about how politics needs to change in order to regain the trust of the people who do the electing. (A phrase I didn't ever expect to hear myself using!)

Shortly after the end of his final term as President, Bill Clinton addressed the Labour Party conference. He too had some interesting things to say about what needed to be done with respect to Iraq and issues of worldwide terrorism. I remember him saying how someone needed to ask the question, "Why do they hate us so much?" And I thought he was right. We need to ask that question and not come up with an answer that suggests that it's because we're right and they, whoever they are, are always wrong.

But here's the thing that puzzles me. Do these guys only think of these things after they leave office? Are they so busy maintaining the status quo while in office that they only see the bigger picture with the advantage of hindsight?

Perhaps we need a new cohort or political leaders who will ask the big questions, seek out significant change, risk not getting re-elected in order to make the changes necessary to create a political system that will serve a 21st century society before it's too late.

Truly visionary leaders, I suspect, are seldom concerned with their reputation or even their longevity in office. They are way too busy trying to paint a picture of what might be and what could be.