Pay Attention

Today we return to last week’s passage from the book of Acts that took us on a fantastic voyage: one that began with a dream and ended with meeting a fascinating woman named Lydia. Come on board as we travel with Paul, Silas, Luke, and the other disciples on their first trip to Europe, where they covered impossible distances by ship and on foot:

Acts 16 (The Message)

9-10 That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.

11-12 Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days.

This second missionary journey took them to the major ports and cities of modern-day Greece. Along the way they converted many people from all kinds of backgrounds: Jews, pagans, soldiers, women, gentiles … the list was endless. The good news was brought to people who were hungry for the truth and Europe was forever changed.

One such person was Lydia. Lydia was a businesswoman originally from Thyatira. 

13-14 On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed!

Taking these points in order of their appearance, here is what we know about Lydia:

  1. She was at a prayer meeting
  2. She was from Thyatira, in modern-day Turkey, and had come to Philippi, presumably to ply her trade.
  3. She was a dealer in expensive textiles, known in other translations as a “seller of purple.” Thus, she was a successful businesswoman.
  4. She was a God-fearing woman, meaning a gentile who believed in the one God.
  5. She opened her heart to pay attention and God answered by giving her a trusting and believing heart.

Let us not miss that first point. She was at a prayer meeting. Everything good begins with prayer!

15 After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

And so, after her conversion, she used her influence to baptize everyone in her household and then serve Paul’s missionary team. Her household would have consisted of her family and all of the employees in her textile trade. That is a lot of influence, especially for a woman in a strongly patriarchal world.

Lydia reminds us that women have served in ministry for centuries. Indeed, the very first preachers of the gospel were women, as the “Marys” were the first to leave the empty tomb and share the good news of the resurrection. Women have prayed, taught, preached, baptized, served, led, and advanced the mission of Jesus Christ since the beginning.

The question this leaves us today is this: is God calling you to be like Lydia? Is it time to immerse yourself in prayer? Is he directing you to use your resources and influence to lead others to him? Are you willing to open up your home to provide hospitality to someone who needs it … perhaps a homeless person, a refugee, a jobless relative?

Lydia is a wonderful example of what happens when we “open our hearts to pay attention.”

Are you paying attention?

Purple Joy by Michelle Robertson

Sharing

There is a town in central Florida called Celebration that has a charming, old-fashioned downtown area. The businesses that line the streets often have dog water bowls and little baskets filled with dog treats to entice you to stop and look in their windows. You can imagine my dog Georgia’s incredible joy when we discovered this! The downside for the other dogs is that her stop at the bike rental water bowl completely depleted their offering.

Now mind you, my girl is no angel, but the kindness these folks show the local dogs made me think about the scripture about “entertaining angels” in the book of Hebrews:

Hebrews 13 New International Version (NIV)

13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Providing hospitality is a common theme in the Bible. Think about travel in those days; inns were few and far between, or completely absent all together. Travelers could only get by with a little help from unknown friends, so providing shelter and a meal was commonplace.

Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis 18? Three strangers came along as Abraham was sitting outside his tent. He jumped up and offered them water, bread, and the shade of his tree:

Genesis 18 Common English Bible (CEB)

18 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat. 2 He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. 3 He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”

They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”

Abraham offered the standard of care: water for foot washing and a little bread. But look what actually happens:

6 So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs of the finest flour and make some baked goods!” 7 Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.

It was a five-star meal. Course after course of breads, meat, butter, milk … he opened up a smorgasbord of hospitality for these three men. And mind you, while we’re in on the fact that it was the Lord whom he entertained (read vs. 1 again), Abraham wasn’t. He was simply extending gracious hospitality because he had it to give …. thereby, entertaining angels.

How would you respond differently if you suspected that the hungry, dirty people needing your hospitality were the Lord and his angels? Would you lavish your resources on them, or offer water and a little bread? Would you close the door in their faces?

Jesus was very clear when he said that whenever you have offered the cup of cold water to the “least of these,” you have entertained him. So keep on showing hospitality to strangers. Keep on feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the unclothed, and most of all, keep on loving one another as your brothers and sisters.

Sharing by Michelle Robertson

Joyful Hospitality

I am teaching a Lent Bible study based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians and this week’s lesson was on joyful hospitality. Hospitality is a very big deal in the Bible. The people depended on it in order to travel in a time before Marriott Courtyards and Airbnbs were available. To be welcomed in, fed, and offered a place to rest was essential. From Abraham and Sarah to the Disciples, hospitality was ingrained in the culture. Because of this practice the gospel spread from town to town and country to country. It is how the church began.

Last week’s lesson was on humility, where we are invited to consider that there is no task too small in serving God. When we combine humility with hospitality we become something very useful to God.

In today’s reading, Paul tells his beloved church that he is planning to send two men to visit them in the near future. He is counting on them to provide their usual joyful, humble attitude and their hospitality. He reminds them of what a joyful church should look like:

Philippians 2 (The Message)

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

In welcoming others we are reminded to be energetic, reverent, and sensitive before God. What we say, how we say it, and most importantly what we DO reflect God’s presence in our lives.

In class this week a member shared a story of two women in our church who volunteered at a local thrift store when they lived in our community. The thrift store supports a faith-based drug and alcohol recovery program in our community and these women loved the young men who are in the program. They determined that the clothing part of the store was in disarray so they volunteered three days a week to manage that part of the enterprise.

One Monday night at our evening worship one of them mentioned that her back was sore. Her friend asked if they had processed a lot of donations that day and she responded that no, it was sore from scrubbing the toilet at the store that the young men used all day. The humbleness of this task takes my breath away. She was doing her task readily and cheerfully, providing living proof of God’s work in the world. The combination of humility and hospitality in her gesture is the very gospel itself.

14-16 Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.

What can you do today as a gesture of humility in doing the work of the Lord? Who is God asking you to invite in? What offer of hospitality can you extend to someone that will bring the light-giving love of Christ into their reality?

God calls each one of us to practice the same humility that Christ exhibited as he humbled himself on the cross. We are invited to be invitational in sharing his cross with others in our community.

Go, and do likewise.

All Are Welcome by Jess Spiegelblatt

Welcome?

How many of you are familiar with the British actor known as Mr. Bean? Played by Rowan Atkinson, Mr. Bean is a rubber-faced physical comedy master in the vein of Jim Carry or the Three Stooges. I stumbled upon a skit called Mr. Bean Goes to Church that I found to be both hilarious and distressingly true.

Mr. Bean visits a country church for the first time and struggles with how to do things “properly” because he is new. He can’t figure out the liturgy, sings off tempo, makes too much noise opening a cough drop, and eventually falls asleep during the sermon with his head bobbing on the shoulder and chest of the VERY visibly disgruntled church member sitting next to him.

Watching the reactions of the disapproving church member is where the story of hospitality in the church is told. He is very inconvenienced with this newbie next to him, is reluctant to share his pew and his hymnal, rolls his eyes when Mr. Bean sings at the wrong time, and does everything in his power to say “You’re not welcome here.” Mr. Bean doesn’t fit in.

Have you ever felt that way in a church? I have. My worst experience was in a church in New Orleans where we were spotted as “new” and made by the pastor to stand and not only introduce ourselves but tell “a little something about us.” We were just trying out all the Methodist churches in the area and simply wanted to worship. I am sure that pastor thought he had a very strong hospitality game by doing this. He was wrong. We never went back.

I have used this clip as an ice-breaker when training churches on how to be more welcoming. Hospitality in the church is the most vital part of our evangelism ministry yet we have no idea how we are perceived.

In Paul’s letter to the new church at Thessalonica, he praises them for their outreach efforts. Note that none of it has to do with brochures, a committee, calling out visitors in worship, or any of the things churches do in the name of “hospitality.”

1 Thessalonians (The Message)

7-10 Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message!

All of us are in the “Evangelism Ministry.” True outreach happens when we authentically walk the talk and live out the Good News of Jesus in front of people with the simple example of our lives. When a fellowship of people truly love the Lord and ALL of his people, the word gets out.

People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.

This actually has nothing to do with church and everything to do with you. When you put away the dead idols of your preconceived notion of who is included in “God’s people,” it is only then that you can embrace and serve God, the true God.

So be the message. Receive strangers with open arms in the name of Jesus. Jesus rescued us from certain doom! Find a way today to tell this Good News to someone who hasn’t heard it yet. YOU are an evangelist when your life echoes the Master’s Word. Go and tell!

Need a laugh? Watch this.

Go and Tell by Michelle Robertson

Hospitable

The quality of hospitality was highly prized in Jesus’ time. People had to depend on the hospitality of a stranger when they needed to travel, as there were no Holiday Inns or Expedia services that made finding accommodations easy. From Abraham, who taught us that sometimes we entertain angels unaware, to the admonition to church leaders in the books of 1 Timothy and Titus, hospitality has been viewed as an attribute of God and thus a practice that all God-followers should embrace.

Do you know somebody who is especially adept at making others feel welcome in their home? Are you that kind of person?

I have a sister-in-law who is gifted this way. She has hosted several of the family bridal and baby showers, and each time she manages to completely anticipate her guests’ every need. It is a pleasure to see how her days of intense preparation come together. Heirloom dishes are beautifully laid out with homemade delicacies, tables are dressed with festive tablecloths and napkins, desserts and drinks are separated to accommodate traffic flow, and comfortable seating is ready to receive weary travelers. She has a heart for her guests that expresses itself in a well-organized and festive celebration. Everyone who walks through her door feels welcomed and loved.

When I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Matthew 10 (The Message)

40 Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who welcomes a prophet, just because that person is a prophet, will be given the same reward as a prophet. Anyone who welcomes a good person, just because that person is good, will be given the same reward as a good person. 

This passage says it all. Anyone who welcomes another welcomes the Lord. And in so doing, they welcome God. Welcoming others in the name of Jesus is like opening your door to Jesus and inviting him in to “set a spell” with a glass of cold ice tea and a slice of hummingbird cake.

And Jesus takes it one step farther:

42 And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will surely be rewarded.

Here we are instructed to go one step beyond normal hospitality and extend ourselves to people in need. Jesus’ most humble followers need what we can provide: cold water, warm food, dry accommodations, and most importantly, compassion.

The pandemic has forced many people to close their businesses and has rendered a large part of our workforce food-insecure. More and more people are becoming shelter-insecure. And we still have a way to go.

Where is God calling you to extend your hospitality beyond your family and friends and welcome the stranger?

Check with your local food bank and see where the needs are. People in your community need a cup of cold water that demonstrates the love, compassion, and hope of Jesus himself.

And when you serve the least of them, you have served Christ.

OBX’s Beach Food Pantry. Photo via Facebook.