Around the Table. Around the World

For all its challenges, moving into a fixer-upper six days before the birth of my oldest son was what set my face like a flint in this direction:

We will not wait for perfection. 
We will welcome the world into our home. 

Hanging off the northeast corner of the U.S. mainland, we’re not on the way to anywhere, but whenever missionaries visit our church, we jump at the chance to gather them around our table.

Sign us up!

The energetic young couples with multiple children, the middle aged with support levels sagging, the nearly retired with their golden memories and wealth of hard-won wisdom:  we want to hear firsthand their stories of the faithfulness of God.  We want to ask all the questions.   We want to let our hearts travel around the world so that we can be reminded that God is at work everywhere.

DSCN0586.JPGThere’s Mediterranean Pasta Salad on the menu today (and I’ll be sharing the recipe!), so I hope you’ll pull up a chair and join me for the remainder of this History of Morin Hospitality over at Welcome Heart where Sue Donaldson has thrown open all the doors (and windows) in an enthusiastic greeting.

While you’re there, you’ll notice that this post is wrapping up a series on hospitality with all its many beautiful faces.  If this is the first post that you’ve read in the series, click here to catch up.

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And the conversation will not end here!  The welcome mat is always in place at the Every Table Tells a Story Facebook Community.

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The Deep Welcome of Friendship

Across the miles they drove, journeying four hours north on washboard roads until they reached this country hill.

“We want to talk about the conference,” they had said on the phone.  “We can fill you in on the details in person.  The more you know about us, the easier it will be for you to prepare.”

I heard their words, but I was deaf to their hearts, because as the date of their visit approached, the puddle of panic around me grew deeper and murkier.  The faithless ponderings multiplied:

They’ll be sorry they traveled all this way to meet someone so ordinary.
Will they want to quiz me on my theology?
I’m sure they’ll take one look at my tiny kitchen and my beat up wooden floors and decide that I’m a mess, too.

This, for me, has been the challenge of the Christian life:  to boldly welcome others into the mess that is me, and then to trust – to trust that God will build a bridge between our hearts, and to trust that others will respond with acceptance and love.

As it happens, my new friends arrived a few minutes late – G.P.S.’s aren’t much help out here!  More important, though, when they showed up in my driveway, they did not arrive bearing an impossible yardstick or hearts of judgment.  They were not expecting me to look or to sound like a conference speaker or to live in a museum of Pinterest perfection.

We exchanged warm hugs and settled down to business.

And may I invite you to join us?
{I would love for you to continue reading with me over at (in)courage . . .}

And while you’re there be sure to sign up here to receive free daily notes from (in)courage, sent right to your inbox!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Freedom is in the Falling

Because I’m a planner, I carry a planner, but the truth is that my planner carries me.  All pristine and un-besmirched, the 2017 edition holds out the promise of glorious accomplishment and blessed organization in a life that often feels like spinning plates and chaos management.  Shannan Martin started her marriage and motherhood in much the same way.  Plan-the-work-and-work-the-plan as a way of life had secured for her and her husband their dream farm with a cute little family and a life that had all the trappings of security.  In a journey that began with the hunch that God might be leading them to move — literally — outside their comfort zone, the Martins said good-bye to predictability and hello to an address that had always seemed to them like “the wrong side of the tracks.”

Memoir meets manifesto in Falling Free, for Shannan not only shares her story, but also describes the safety she found in risk and the stunning realization that when we say, “God is all I need,” we may be asked to make good on those words.   The Martins’ income plummeted to make space for ministry in a life that became centered around a community that included a struggling public school and a circle of friends who had done jail time, who struggled with addictions, and who continually battled poverty.

It is no understatement to say that Falling Free challenged some of the assumptions and guiding principles of this homeschooling mum who can just barely see the smoke from her neighbor’s chimney. Reading about Shannan’s “rescue from the life she always wanted” allowed me to consider some fairly uncomfortable concepts:

  • God reserves the right to do the unexpected and to move His people in unlikely directions.  He is unpredictable and has not “settled down” since Old Testament times.
  • True family transcends DNA and mirrors the welcome that God extends in the gospel.
  • It’s hard to pine for heaven when you already believe you’re there.”  For North American Christians, our stuff is a serious obstacle to living an authentic Christian life.
  • Our most valuable offering to those in need is our “good standing.”  One of the greatest needs of the poor is a future: a way to secure employment, stability, and a permanent address.
  • Missional living makes for missional parenting and produces missional kids.  If God calls a believer to ministry in an area with failing schools, He is asking her to trust Him with her children’s education.

It was delightful to read about Shannan and her family bonding with their newly adopted community around plates of pasta and garlic bread (often well-done).  She testifies to the efficacy of the “unfancy dinner table” and to this stunning truth:

“If community is the heartbeat of the gospel, hospitality is the hand that opens the door and waves it in.”

Falling Free unpacks the biblical image of Jesus “moving into the neighborhood” by first inviting readers to picture someone on the lowest rung of their social ladder — a homeless, meth-addict, for instance.  Shannan first nails the pity and lack of respect that I would feel toward her — and then suggests that my trading lives with that addict would not even begin to approach the utter humiliation of the incarnation.  Embracing my own smallness is more than a matter of having less.  It is about being less, like Jesus, when He “took the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” — less, last, and ordinary.

In a culture that encourages all of us precious believing snowflakes to “shop” for our “perfect church” that “meets our needs,” Shannan reminds her readers that the Kingdom of God is full of surprises.  God may ask us to sink our roots deep into a community that wounds us and exacts a deep cost to our souls while satisfying nothing on our personal wish list.  This is Jesus’ invitation, made explicit in the Beatitudes, but inexplicable to my preferred business plan that’s built around “blessed are the sensible and those who serve dinner on time.”

Not everyone will be called to join the Martin family in the weightless free fall, but the principles that guided their choices and the insights they gained in the process are choreography for my own choices and priorities in this world where I am called to dance the love and the life of Christ.

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This book was provided by Thomas Nelson through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”  It’s a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Glorious Right Angle

The patient husband and I have challenged ourselves to be more purposeful in our practice of hospitality this year — to “meet the stranger at the gate” in our own little rural setting by inviting someone new and different into our home each month.  January was wonderful!  We enjoyed an evening with a couple we’ve worshipped with for a long time, but have never (shame on us!) taken time to get really connected.

Hospitality is really not all about preparing food and vacuuming up the dog hair before the guests arrive.  Karen Mains defines it as “serving people and making them feel welcome and wanted.”  Dorothy Patterson emphasizes hospitality’s “unselfish desire to meet the needs of others.”  Of course, a nice meal and candles on the table created that welcoming environment, but the writer of Hebrews is cheering me along and clarifying my thinking about this practical discipline, basing his encouragement upon the solid foundation of our open invitation to enter the presence of God.  In the first eighteen verses he reviews the amazing provision that comes to us through the offering of Christ’s body.  I’ve highlighted “therefore,” because the rest of the chapter follows from a relationship based upon this understanding and embrace of New Covenant realities highlighted in pink:

Capture
Biblegateway.com has a highlighting feature that makes it possible for you to organize your thoughts as you study a passage!

 

The blue highlighted phrases are God’s invitation to draw near, to live in unwavering hope, and to enter into community for the purpose of maximum love and acts of righteousness.

This summons to community is a demonstration of the exquisite geometry of God’s grace which flows vertically into the life of a believer.  Then, in a healthy community, it keeps on moving at a right angle, bent outward, into the life of another.  This is the “mechanics” behind the work of the Spirit in gifting believers for mutual care:  encouraging, strengthening, warning, comforting one another.  According to I Corinthians 12:8-10, when the church gathers, God gives gifts for whatever needs to be done.  As each one expresses her unique combination of gifts in her own distinct way, the glorious right angle of God’s grace flows and needs are met through love and good works.

  • This is how we draw near to God.  In community, we see God more clearly because He becomes visible in His people.  John Piper challenged his congregation whenever they learned anything new about God to share it with someone else right away!
  • This is how we hold fast in hope.  Amy Carmichael urged her orphanage staff members to “hold one another to the highest” — a most gracious way of saying, “Confront one another about unworthy attitudes, sloppy discipleship, and faithless communication.”

This assumes, of course, that when we gather, each one is in the business of “considering one another,” that is to say,  looking past the end of my own nose to the needs of someone else.  This also assumes a level of interaction that really is not practical in the context of Sunday morning worship.  While Hebrews 10:24, 25 has been used as a call to roll out of bed on Sunday morning and get yourself to church, the work of getting close, staying close, and going deep with one another requires something more.

Hebrews 10:25 ends with an air of urgency, indicating that mutual care may become increasingly essential the further we progress along the arc of redemptive history.  The “perilous times” that Paul predicts in II Timothy are not an excuse to download those plans for a family bunker and then take refuge — unless you invite your neighbors into the bunker with you!  What we see here is a call for an even more intense focus, a greater leaning into the spiritual discipline of fellowship “as you see the Day approaching.”

Will you join me in the challenge to “stir up love and good works” through the ministry of hospitality?  We’re only just beginning, because plans for February didn’t work out.  The couple invited had to cancel:  their adorable granddaughter was born several weeks early!  Nonetheless, we’re committed to reschedule for the month of March.  It’s pretty much a guarantee that the house won’t be as clean as I’d like, but the food will be plentiful, the boys will be rowdy, the socially overwhelming “home-schooled” St. Bernard will be banished to the basement, and we will follow God’s prescription.  We will draw near to Him; we will hold fast to our hope in Him; and we will let His power and blessing flow through us into the lives of others.

**Be sure to share (in the comments section) your plans/goals for mutual care based on Hebrews 10!  You’ll encourage me and others, I’m sure!

Photo credit

Only three weeks left in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My Sunday school class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s last week’s blog post.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will enjoy reading the work of some fine writers and thinkers

The Spiritual Discipline of Making Room

Last night there were twenty people in my average-sized house.  It was a festive occasion — my daughter-in-love’s birthday — so we gathered the in-laws and the out-laws for giant subs, iced tea, and birthday cake.  As usual, once the crowd arrived, I was elated that we had made the effort to host the gathering, but all day long my stomach had been in a knot, and the length of the do-list had far outpaced the number of triumphant check marks.  Practicing the spiritual discipline of hospitality is both a risk and a joy, but I want to keep saying “yes” to God in this area, because when I open my home to others, my heart expands too.

Food preparation and clean-up run like a perpetual conveyor belt through my kitchen and through my life.  Yesterday, feeling overwhelmed as I gathered chairs from the far corners of the house and rearranged the dining room for a buffet, I fretted, “Why do I take on these assignments?  My house is never as clean as it should be!  I don’t have time for fancy menus . . .”   Feeling and sounding a lot like Martha of Bethany (Lazarus and Mary’s overwhelmed sister), I realized that I was overlooking a far better role model in the Old Testament.  We don’t usually consult Nehemiah for lessons in hospitality — he’s the guy we look to when it’s time to expand the church’s facility or to take on a project that requires delegation and team work.  However, in Nehemiah 5, he confides to his journal that throughout the course of his twelve year term as governor, he regularly hosted “one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to [him] from the nations around [him].”  Nehemiah’s table was a metaphor for Nehemiah’s heart.  His fear of God (5:15) spilled over into a love for God’s people.  He made room for them at his table; he expanded the boundaries of his life to welcome them into his schedule.

Elisabeth Elliot, author and missionary, attributes her own vision for seeking the kingdom of God to her mother’s hospitable home.  She and her siblings were privileged to “meet Christian men and women from all walks of life, to hear firsthand their stories of the faithfulness of God, and to enjoy the privilege of asking them questions.”  In The Shaping of a Christian Home, she recalls Depression-era frugality alongside open-handed hospitality, and “if things were not perfect, [Mother] trusted friends to understand without making a fuss for the sake of her pride.”  Herein lies the challenge:  if my home cannot be “Pinterest perfect,” am I willing to open my doors anyway?  As usual, the real discipline shows up in motives and attitudes.  I Peter 4:9 sifts mine:

“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”

Strictly speaking, my birthday bash for twenty did not meet the definition for “hospitality,” because the Greek philonexia means, literally, to entertain strangers.  The guest list for Nehemiah’s table was much broader than mine, and his provision for the needy remnant in Jerusalem is the same brand of faith-expressed-in-works that I recall from The Hiding Place in which Corrie ten Boom, faced with the plight of God’s people under the Nazi regime in Holland, prayed, “I offer myself for your people — any way, any time, any place.”

Hospitality is a spiritual discipline in which I trust God for the ability to pour myself out for the comfort and the needs of others.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians encourages me that the sacrifice of love, offered freely, is a lovely fragrance that pleases the heart of God, (Philippians 4:18) — even more than the scented candles that I forgot to light last night in all the flurry of preparation.  True hospitality is more than food.  It is more than space and table settings and the perfect menu.  The spiritual discipline of hospitality is the practice of making room in my schedule, in my home, in my budget, and — most challenging of all — in my heart for the people that God chooses to bring into my life.