Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Practicing Hospitality

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From a biblical perspective, “Hospitality can be defined as “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” In the New Testament, the Greek word translated “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers.”[1]

The Scriptures commands us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16, ESV). If commanded, then it is an attitude Christians must adhere consistently on a daily basis. The simple reason is this: “Everything that passes between Christians should be a proof and instance of the union they have in Jesus Christ” (Matthew Henry Commentary).[2] 

When we practice hospitality, we represent Jesus and His principles. Jesus practiced hospitality especially among the society’s poor and as a result, infringed on various traditional practices of His time. Notwithstanding, He performed many hospitable acts in spite of various oppositions because He is only motivated by His great love of humanity.

The apostle Paul summarized how practicing hospitality looked like in this way, Share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13, NIV). The Parable of the Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) clearly showed how hospitality is practiced. Simply put, Jesus taught that hospitality is an attitude of the heart, not an opportunity of becoming great in the sight of others. Therefore, when we follow Jesus’ example of hospitality, it becomes a lifestyle:

The duty of ministering to the saints is so plain, that there would seem no need to exhort Christians to it; yet self-love contends so powerfully against the love of Christ, that it is often necessary to stir up their minds by way of remembrance. (Matthew Henry Commentary)[3]

Practicing hospitality goes beyond the idea of just being a hospitable person but as Christian believers following the hospitality principles exemplified by Jesus. And having this mindset aligns with the exhortation of the apostle Paul’s to the Colossian Christians: “So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10, ESV).

In our time today, how do we go about practicing hospitality? Allow me to provide three components of practicing hospitality and it begins by having open hands and an inclination of extending help to others in need without reservations. In the Old Testament, here's a simple instruction to follow:

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, ESV)

What does it mean to have open hands? Here’s what I found shared by Shasta Nelson,

My open hands invite me to embrace, hug and cherish the people in my life now. My open hands remind me to feel grateful for those relationships even when they have flown away. My open hands provide me a visual promise that I anticipate a future filled with more love.[4]

Next, it is by having open hearts and involvement without restraints. When asked by a group of audience, “John replied, "Whoever has two tunics should share with him who has none, and whoever has food should do the same" (Luke 3:11, ESV). What does it mean to have open hearts? Rick Hanson, a Ph.D. shared an excellent idea,

Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.[5]

Lastly, it is by having open doors and an initiative without regrets. Jesus encouraged us this way: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42, NIV). What does it mean to have open doors? Nan McCullough shared this wonderful insight,

Our present culture is moving toward more and more isolation. We work at jobs where we sit in cubicles in front of computer screens and talk to unknown faces on telephones. We come home, lock our doors, and sit in front of the television. Hospitality counteracts this trend because most people are honored when you open your home to them.[6]

In the end, always remember that our acts of hospitality, anchored in Jesus’ principles, induce hope for many in need. More importantly, it reflects the right character of what Christianity is all about. And finally, don’t get tired of doing good things to others in need because God will bless us more than we expect to receive.

Let’s talk again!

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-hospitality.html
[2] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=47&c=9
[3] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=47&c=9
[4] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/shasta-nelson-mdiv/open-hands-blessing_b_1108355.html
[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-hanson-phd/what-is-an-open-heart_b_8134850.html
[6] http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/faith/essentials/reaching-out/is-your-home-open-to-others

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Welcome Home

Keeping the right perspective in approaching the next year is critical in experiencing new things even if the package is the same. It is a parallel concept as far as a church family is concerned. We need a physical home, but we also need a spiritual home. Therefore, finding a church family is essential to our spiritual growth. The Old Testament concept of a gathering place is around the temple. In the New Testament, Jesus provided a new perspective of a gathering place called church when He declared, “…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV). In this new setting, Jesus showed a picture of God’s Kingdom filled with God’s people called and chosen as God’s dwelling place to fulfill His plan and purpose for humanity’s salvation.
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It begins with Jesus as the Foundation Stone of God’s church family: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11, ESV). An important question is this: How does this church function? It is a place where believers of Jesus are called to become living stones: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV). Another major component of God’s church and His living temple is His Spirit dwelling in us: “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV).

In this gathering place called the church, believers are invited to become God’s dwelling place: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16, NIV). It is a church where believers are called to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading: “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24, NIV).

In serving God as a church pastor for twenty-five years, I firmly believe belonging to a church family is non-negotiable. It is natural inclination of coming together as Jesus’ disciples. As such, having Jesus Rock of Ages Ministries (JRAM) as my spiritual family and church in the past five years is an opportunity and a privilege. Moreover, I am proud to say JRAM is an active part of God’s Kingdom and the Body of Christ with a clear intention of seeing people meet Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. More importantly, it is a church family where people are warmly greeted with a particular tagline, “In JRAM, the welcome never ends.” 

In this declaration of complete openness and a welcoming spirit, we follow Jesus’ example of hospitality and care. Here’s an excellent portrayal of what a church family is all about: “A family is a shelter from the storm, a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No person is ever alone who is a member of a family” (Source Unknown). JRAM endeavors in following these principles in our church family.

If you haven’t found a church family yet, I urge you to look for such a place where you can experience real belongingness and where the welcome never ends. Also, in looking for your church family, please remember that each church family is unique and its members are imperfect. However, knowing this fact must not deter us from becoming part of a church family. Similarly, we love and care for our unique and imperfect family members because after all, they are our family.

That's why we extend in JRAM a warm welcome because we love and care for everyone just as Jesus said we must do. Finally, if in the future you get to attend to one of our church family gatherings, expect to hear, “Welcome to JRAM, where the welcome never ends.”

Let’s talk again!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Baby in a Manger: God Sent His only Son

The days are filled with excitement as Christmas season arrives. People are scrambling for various things and events with families and friends. Everyone is becoming focused on finding the best gift for one another. Some, along the way, share with those in need in the spirit of the season. All of these running here and there are good. However, when we remove the real concept of Christmas apart from Christ, we missed the whole message altogether. Laura Hooker provided this insight of what occurs
during Christmas:

What is the thought of Christmas? Giving.
What is the hope of Christmas? Living.
What is the joy of Christmas? Love.
No silver or gold is needed for giving,
If the heart is filled with Christmas love,
For the hope of the world is kindly living,
Learned from the joy of God above.

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Simply put, the Christmas message is primarily about the coming of the promised Messiah and God’s love for fallen humanity through the birth of Jesus Christ. Most importantly, God gave His Son for our salvation. Luke wrote: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (2:12).  Somebody said, “Christ was content with a stable when he was born so that we could have a mansion when we die.” His birth is a paradox to many because everyone thought of his birth happening in a palace and not in a manger.

There are various realities shown regarding His birth demanding close attention. First, the helplessness of humanity is expressed in Jesus becoming a baby. Second, the humility of Jesus became evident because He became like us: God became like us (Philippians 2). Jesus went through the process of humanity to become our Savior and Lord. Lastly, the hope of humanity’s redemption from the power of sin came because the Messiah Jesus was born. The Promised Messiah arrived at the perfect time of God’s timetable, not ours (Galatians 4:4). Joel Pankow explained,

God became man - born in the manger with one mission. He had to take on our flesh - born of a virgin - so that he could fulfill God’s will - and save us. He fulfilled his mission of dying for you. He fulfilled His mission of making you holy. That’s the reason for Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? What’s the message of Jesus’ birth in our time? There are three things to consider. It begins with obedience. Jesus’ birth as a baby showed His obedience to His Father’s will without questions. Next, His birth signified servanthood. And Jesus, in being wrapped in swaddling cloths, affirmed His intention of associating with the poor people of the world. Finally, His birth revealed the mission-mindedness of Jesus and a clarity of purpose in what He wanted to achieve, i.e., salvation of humanity.

God expects everyone respond to His Son with a simple acknowledgment of our need of a Saviour. If we don’t see Jesus this way, then the message of Christmas is lost in translation, i.e., “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, NIV). Let’s put everything in the right perspective. Someone asked this question, “What shall I give Him, poor as I am?” The answer comes in this way:
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
But such as I have I give Him,— Give Him my heart.

Christmas is a significant event for everyone whether people believe it or not. Also, it doesn’t change the fact of Jesus’ birth and its value for everyone needing a Saviour. He gave His life, and we reciprocate in the same way by acknowledging Him in our life. It becomes our greatest gift to Him as we remember and celebrate His coming. Think about it for a moment. No other person of great importance in human history claimed what He did, and other founders of religion never declared of being the Messiah except Jesus alone.

Therefore, when people asked, “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” Give them a simple answer: It is the celebration of the coming of Jesus as the Saviour of the world.

Let’s talk again!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Biblical Perspective of Decision-Making

Andrew Jackson provided an excellent point as far as decision-making is concerned: “When in charge, ponder. When in trouble, delegate. When in doubt, mumble. Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go on.” The value of utilizing biblical decision-making process in our time is evident in the lives of God-fearing people in the past and today. In Proverbs 1:33, security of life comes in acknowledging God: "But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil." It is in this level of partnership with God that creates self-confidence in making godly decisions: The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (Proverbs 16:9). Most importantly, if we need help in making the right decision in any situation, God provides wisdom enthusiastically: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).
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How do we go about attaining godly wisdom when making decisions? It begins by aligning ourselves with God’s ways: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23). I find this statement from The Treasury of David very helpful, “Where God sanctifies the heart he enlightens the head.” What does this mean? The Pulpit Commentary clarified, “God shall make his way plain to the God-fearing man.” Moreover, somebody said, “Wisdom is merely seeing life from God’s perspective and responding accordingly.” I say, when we honor God in all of our dealings, every decision made emanates from a spiritual perspective anchored in our relationship with God.

How does biblical decision-making work? It seeks God’s says so when the Spirit of God is allowed access in our daily journey. Paul testified to this fact: And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them (Acts 16:7). In Abraham’s conflict with Lot, there was no fear in giving up his first choice because He knew God’s plan for his life (Genesis 12:1-3). It seems absurd to do so but logical in attaining a peaceful settlement:

So Abram said to Lot, "Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. "Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left" (Genesis 13:8-9).

In leading others given to our care, listening to counsel is a decision marked by humility. During Jethro's visit, he saw how Moses fulfilled his leadership role and became burdened. He provided a valuable counsel in lessening his responsibility through proper delegation: So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens (Exodus 18:24-25).

Another area of our life needing biblical wisdom is maintaining a godly standard. In Daniel's time, he stood his ground in preserving God’s honor and received favor as a result:

But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself (Daniel 1:8).

Standing against the cultural norm also needs biblical wisdom. When the three Hebrew youth became confronted with worshipping a golden image, they held their ground and placed their faith and hope in God’s intervention: "But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:18). They risked everything but God honored their decision and with an intervention of a mighty miracle. For every decision anchored on godly principles towards honoring God produces extraordinary results. Remember, godly wisdom outmaneuvers worldly wisdom.

Finally, when we acknowledge that God holds the key to life and death, our decision-making process changes dramatically. Remember, if Jesus followed God’s will in all of his decisions while living on earth, we are wise in pursuing the same lifestyle as well.

Let’s talk again!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Faith in God: The only source of our confidence.

Lou Nicholes in Conquest of the Promised Land shared a wonderful story of faith and confidence: An
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American missionary couple and their family were home on furlough, and spending their vacation at a cabin near a lake. They had three children, ages twelve, seven and four. One day the four-year-old slipped away from his brother and sister, went out on the dock to play, and fell into the lake. He didn’t know how to swim, and he wasn’t wearing a life jacket. The screams of the two older children alerted the father to the danger. He ran to the dock, and the kids pointed to where their brother had fallen in.

The father dove into the lake. He went all the way to the bottom and felt around frantically for his little boy. Finally, he ran out of the air, came to the top, took another huge gulp of air, and went down again, searching for his son. On his way down a third time, he felt his little boy’s leg. He turned and found his four-year-old son with his arms and legs wrapped tightly around one of the pilings, about three feet below the water. The father pried him loose, carried him onto the lawn, and they both caught their breath.

After about thirty minutes, when things had calmed down and were restored to normal, the father asked, “Son, what were you doing down there, hanging on to that piling?” The little boy answered, “I was confident that my daddy would rescue me.

This story provides an excellent picture of how we should exert full confidence in God’s ability no matter what may lie ahead. Stephen Curry asserted, “I've always believed that success for anyone is all about drive, dedication, and desire, but for me, it is about confidence and faith.” When surrounded with ambiguities, there’s no other recourse but look at God’s direction. Others may see faith in God as an escape from reality but those who seek Him taps into the only source of enduring strength through faith in His power.

In these times of various troubles and increasing uncertainties, we need a sustainable strategy for developing confidence in our faith on a daily basis. First, it begins with a strong anchor of our faith in God since He began a good work in us: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Martin Luther described, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” 

Next, we must build our strength in God’s capability: Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you He will not fail you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). Helen Keller, being a blind person provided a clear perspective: Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

Like the boy in the story, we must follow and cooperate in agreement to God’s timetable: Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes (Psalm 37:7). Charles Stanley stressed, “Submitting to God's timetable requires faith and courage. Believe in the goodness of His heart and His plans--and determine to wait until He gives the signal to move forward. Then, as you follow His schedule, you'll experience the joy of watching Him make all things beautiful in His timing.”

In the end, it all boils down to whom we ware entrusting our faith and confidence. Are we going to trust in our limited ability or turn to God who is infinite in His ability to do great things? Wayne Jackson provided this reminder, “The study of “confidence” from the biblical standpoint is a wonderfully enlightening and profitable endeavor. Pursue it to your own benefit. And remember this, God does not want us to embrace a spirit of “fearfulness,” but one of power, love, and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). Keep looking up to Him with faith, and He will respond to you according to your faith. Try it, and you will never be the same again!

Let’s talk again!