FAMOUS LOST WORDS SERMON SERIES
SUNDAY, JUNE 18, 1995
Maybe the following statements sound familiar. “I wish we knew more couples our own age.” “If I only had someone to share that with.” “You know I feel so lonely and isolated here in this big city.” Let’s face it, record numbers of people these days are saying they don’t really know anyone anymore. A lot of conversations are happening but very little community. No community at work, no community around the neighborhood and sadly, for many of us, no community here at church. What’s the problem? Most of us, if we were honest and transparent with God, would proclaim in our heart of hearts that we have a relational deficit. And the math is simple to come up with this relational deficit. You take fax machines, plus cellular phones, plus satellite dishes, plus a transient society, plus the rising crime rate and you have many of us surrounding ourselves with things and objects and we have forgotten how to relate and to connect and to reach out to those people we need to know. We have a relational deficit. And this deficit is sad and it is true and it is part of our reality. You see we’re lacking this virtue that is seldom discussed, prayed about or really mentioned in conversations. This deficit is our topic today, it is called hospitality. Hospitality.
When you talk about hospitality it is vital that you differentiate between hospitality and entertainment. Listen very carefully. Entertainment can be defined as that lawn mowing, house showing, designer wearing, meal comparing, nerve wracking, grill attacking mentality that seeks to put the process over the guests. On the other hand hospitality can be defined as that conversation starting, love imparting, toddler swaying, God obeying mentality that puts the guests above the process. Entertainment says, put your best foot forward. Hospitality says, call Pizza Hut and order another Big Foot. Entertainment says, how does the house look? Hospitality says, how are you doing? Entertainment says, are the kids in matching outfits? Hospitality says, take your shoes off.
The Bible is not silent about hospitality. The early church would not have survived without hospitality. When the church is described, it is talked about meeting from house to house to house. I Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another….” Ladies and gentlemen, one of the core values of a card-carrying Christ follower is someone who is committed to the virtue of hospitality. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Don’t you like that? Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. You are either a conduit or a cul de sac, you are either a river or stagnant water, you are either sharing or you are selfish. It is as simple as that. And it is amazing to hear all of the excuses that we come up with regarding this topic.
“I can’t cook, so that means I should not be hospitable.” That is why God gave us Dominos. You can be hospitable over a cup of coffee. You can be hospitable in a restaurant. Don’t throw that lame stuff at God. Or this is my favorite one. “My house or my apartment is too small to entertain.” Give me a break.
A couple of years ago my wife and I were in Seoul, Korea on a mission trip. A missionary opened up her home, her two room home that was cramped and jammed, for us and she put a mat out on the floor and served us a meal. Yet, I know many people in this church who have three, four, five, six, eight bedroom homes and they never use them for this God given, Holy Spirit inspired character quality. Or you say, “I might get stressed out if I am really hospitable.” Join the crowd. That is part of it. We are to be hospitable without grumbling.
To talk about and to crystalize the difference between hospitality and entertainment, I want to point your attention to Luke 10. Jesus and His disciples had just walked into Bethany, a tiny village, where their friend Lazarus lived and Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha, invited Christ and all of His followers to their home for a meal. They walked in, everything was going A OK. Martha was the oldest sister, Mary was the youngest sister and Mary immediately sat at the Lord’s feet and hung on every word. Martha, though, was so busy with the preparation, setting the table, making sure those camel quesadillas were just right, and she was so stressed and freaked out, that she finally throws up her hands (I am kind of paraphrasing a little bit) and runs up to Jesus and says, “Look at Mary, she is at Your feet hearing Your words and I’m preparing this meal and I am doing this and I am doing that.” Jesus said, “Martha, chill. Calm down. You are missing the point. Mary is doing what she should be doing, you were too involved in the preparations and the details, you’ve missed the moment.” How often around my house have I missed the moment? How often around your house or your apartment or your condominium have you missed the moment, so involved in the process, in the preparation that you forget the participation. Mary knew about hospitality. I am not saying in this message that you shouldn’t be organized, that you shouldn’t think through a meal or an evening or try to serve something nice. All of that is fine and dandy and good, but when that takes precedence over ministering, when that takes precedence over helping another, when that takes precedence over really opening what you have and sharing your attributes with others, then you’ve crossed the line into the entertainment zone. God wants hospitality to happen in your life. I will say it one more time. God wants and desires hospitality to happen in your life and my life.
Briefly I want to give you a couple of suggestions on how to make hospitality happen today. The first suggestion. Take the initiative and regularly invite guests into your home. Listen to the words very carefully. Take the initiative and regularly invite guests into your home. “Well, Ed, that is just not me. I’m not wired that way. I’m not an extravert. I have a hard time making friends. I feel lonely. No one ever comes up to me.” That line of thinking is false, it is contrary, it won’t get it. I have moved around my entire life. I have lived in Canton, NC, Greenville, SC, Columbia SC, Houston, TX, Tallehassee, FL back to Houston, TX and now to Dallas. I looked back this week as I took relational inventory of my life and in every relationship that I can think about that is really meaningful to me, I was proactive. I took the initiative. To have a friend you have got to be a friend. And if you are waiting for someone to come up to you and say, “Hey, let’s get together. Let’s be close friends. Let’s really bond. Let’s become soul mates.” It’s not going to happen. What are you doing to initiate relationships, using this virtue of hospitality in your life?
Do you realize that when you are hospitable you are reflecting the nature and the character of our holy God. God did not say, “Oh, there is a cosmic chasm between Myself and man because of sin, I am not going to do anything about it.” God didn’t do that. God pursued us, He took the initiative, He gave His only Son to die on the cross for our sins and to rise again. He initiates love. He initiates community. He initiates fellowship. He initiates relationship. The entire Bible is just a bunch of love letters from God to you and me. God is called a pursuing lover. He pursues you, He pursues me and we are to pursue others. Romans 12:13, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Practice hospitality. Literally in the Greek language, that means pursue hospitality. Are you pursuing hospitality? Are you really going after it? We are to pursue hospitality first of all with Christ’s followers. The Bible says we are to pursue hospitality with people of a like faith. We have a common denominator with this couple, with this person, we are to pursue that relationship. Where, take a wild guess, are those relationships to be pursued? In the Body of Christ. In the local church. And frankly that is why I love a large church compared to a small church. A large church like this one, look at the relational options you have. On a good Sunday you’ve got about 3,000 different, unique, talented people to choose from. If you have a church of about 100 to 200, which is great, it kind of limits your options though. What are you doing to pursue these relationships in this church with people? Do you always hang around with the same people, doing the same thing, going to the same restaurant, the same house, the same conversation, the same, the same, the same. It is time to branch out and to get out of your comfort zone and to do what the Lord wants you to do. Because here is what is going to happen in a lot of our lives, in my life too in some situations, we are going to sit back in heaven looking down on our lives and Jesus is going to say to us, “Hey, you know what, I wanted you Ed, or I wanted you Sally, or I wanted you Bill to meet this couple, to meet that individual and I wanted you to take the initiative. I wanted you to be like me and to pursue this and to really hang out with this person because then I could do some amazing things in the relationship, but I couldn’t because you didn’t test the hospitality waters.” What are you doing to build relationships with Christ’s followers? Being involved in our Bible Alive ministry, being involved in our small group ministry and just talking to others when you have a cup of coffee out in the lobby, or some of Doris’ world-famous lemonade or whatever. I challenge you to do it. You won’t believe what will happen.
Also, secondly, pursue hospitality with those who are seeking the Christian faith. Pursue hospitality with those who are seeking the Christian faith. “Well, again, that is just not me, Ed. I don’t have the gift of sharing. I don’t know what to say. If someone asks me a question about the Bible I am kind of stumped right up front. I don’t feel I would know how to reply.” Again, this is not optional. Jesus encourages us time and time again to build these kind of relationships, to open up what we have for those people who don’t know the Lord. Luke chapter 19. Jesus was walking to Jericho one day and the Bible says that a young man named Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. He couldn’t see because he was so short and had a poor verticle jump so he climbed a tree. And Jesus walked under the tree and He had a choice to make. Christ could have hung out with the religious intelligentsia, the super-spiritual, those who were condescending or He could be hospitable and take the initiative and even invite Himself over to a worthless sinner’s house like Zacchaeus. And that is what He did. He said, “Zacchaeus, I’m coming to your house today.” And they had the ultimate power lunch, didn’t they? What was Zacchaeus response in Luke 19? Zacchaeus didn’t say, “Oh, wait a minute, Jesus, let me call my servants on the cellular phone and say somebody important is coming, some VIP, let me clean everything up.” He said, “Come on, welcome.” And Jesus sat down with Zacchaeus and ate and broke bread with him. There is something intimate in doing that, and later Zacchaeus emerged and he was a changed man. How many people, hundreds each weekend, come to this Fellowship, hundreds who know you and they are looking at you because they want to see Jesus is. What are you giving them? What are you showing them? How are you helping them? Yeah, it is great to come to church corporately and hear a message, see a drama and listen to the music, that is part of the Christian life, but real ministry and real dialogue happens in intimate situations.
If you are a seeker, you take the initiative and pursue a Christian, maybe someone who invited you. Do like Cornelius did in Acts chapter 10. Cornelius was a gentile. Cornelius was religious but he didn’t have a relationship. He was praying one day and the Bible says, if we seek the Lord He will reveal Himself to us, and Cornelius heard about Simon Peter and he sent for him. Now Simon Peter thought Christianity was just a Jewish thing. Simon Peter walks into Cornelius’ house and Cornelius and his entire household was saved because of the hospitality of a seeker for a Christ follower. As a result of that meeting many more Gentiles, I’m talking about non-Jews, were converted. Read the rest of the story in the Book of Acts.
Here is your homework, church. Your homework is, over the next year, at least six times invite someone new to your house, to your apartment, out to eat, to a coffee shop, whatever, even if you have to roll a mat out on the floor like my friend did in Korea and serve Spam and Saltine crackers and Country Time lemonade, do it. Do it. Why do you think God has given you and given me all of this stuff? Just to hoard it and put our arms around it? He has given it to us so we might give and share. One day we will stand before a Holy God and we will all have to give an account of the things we have. And for some of you, the Lord is going to say, “I gave you that, that boat, that lake house, that home, that this, that that, you didn’t use it though. You just used them with the same old friends, same old people, same old family, you never branched out and you missed what I had for you.” Take the initiative and regularly invite guests to your home.
Here is the second major suggestion. Be prepared for God to enrich your lives like never before. Once you say, I’m going to get serious about hospitality, be prepared for God to enrich your lives like He never has enriched them before. Hebrews 13:2. “Some have entertained angels.” And the word angels in the Greek is defined messengers, that could be literal angels, some of us have had those into our homes without even knowing it, but also it could mean someone who gives a message from God. Some of us have entertained angels without knowing it. We pray and we talk to God and we ask God to answer our prayers. One of the specific ways that God answers your prayers and my prayers is when we are obedient to Him, when we are hospitable, one of His character qualities. When people come into our homes oftentimes these people will be messengers from God and they will be the answer to a prayer. But if you are not being hospitable, you are not going to find it, you are not going to get into it. You start inviting people and start using things, you’re talking about blessings, you’re talking about enrichment, you’re talking about some wonderful things.
I want to tell you what will happen, describe some fringe benefits of hospitality. When hospitality happens first of all it will deepen your faith. It will mature you, it will deepen your faith because you will get outside of yourself, you will not be so concerned about how you look, how you feel, what you are doing, where you are. You’ll begin to see others, you’ll begin to walk in their shoes, you’ll begin to minister to them, you’ll begin to help them, you’ll begin to assist them, you’ll begin to share with them and suddenly you’ll begin to mature. Real Christian maturity is when we do the Word, and that is the entire theme of James a book of the Bible written by the half-brother of Jesus Christ. Maturity comes when we do the Word. And again, one of the core values is hospitality. We do hospitality, we begin to mature.
Another benefit of hospitality is, it will broaden our horizons. All of a sudden we will take a step back and go, “You mean there are other people who didn’t go to Baylor, or the University of Texas, and they are cool and they can mean something to me? You mean there are other people who don’t live in my little neighborhood? You mean there are other people who aren’t just from Texas? You mean there are other people of different skin colors and on and on and on. It will broaden your horizon. It will help you become a well rounded person. And talk about your kids. Parents, you want to do something great for your children? You expose them to different people, opening up your home and when they see that, they become well-rounded, it broadens their horizons but they also see that the money monster doesn’t have a vise grip on their parents. They see their parents sharing, they see their parents being like Jesus and giving. This is great stuff. I want you to discover it, to practice it, to be prepared for blessings like you have never received before. But until you make the decision to really step out, the blessings and the enrichment will not come. What are you doing in this realm called hospitality?
Let me say a word now to those of you who don’t know Christ personally. My in-laws are named Elva and Mendel Lee, don’t you love those names? Definitely the all name team, Elva and Mendel both. They live in Columbia, SC and they are two of the most hospitable people I have ever known in my life. I will kind of imitate them briefly. Don’t tell Lisa, she is not here. People come by the house all the time. Knock on the door. “Hey, fella come on in there. How are you doing. Sit down there, boy. Yeah. Yeah. How’s everything doing?” That’s Mendel. Now Elva, on the other hand has that high-pitched South Carolina accent and she will say, “Hey, darlin, how are you doing? It’s good to have you. You want me to make you up some pie? I have a great receipt for coconut cream pie?” And they start serving you food and all this stuff, and they are people who are open folks. They really know hospitality and they don’t wait until the house is immaculate. When they hear someone knocking at the door they don’t say, “Oh, oh, we can’t let you in, I’m sorry, you can’t come into our house.” They just say, “Come on in. We’ll talk to you, we’ll minister to you.” That’s Elva and Mendel.
I want you to translate that into your life, seeker. Because Jesus does this and it is mentioned in Revelation 3:20. Think about Mendel and Elva now. Don’t lose that one. Jesus said, “Here I am, I stand at the door and I knock. If anyone (and I love that, He stands at the door and knocks, He doesn’t kick it in, does He?) hears My voice and opens the door….” That is our prerogative. Look what will happen, talk about hospitality of the heart here, “I will come in and eat with him and he with Me.” Jesus is standing at the door and knocking and He is saying, “Hey, seeker, be like Elva and Mendel, just open up where you are.” Don’t say, “Oh, I’ve got to make the beds, oh, I’ve got a mess in front of the couch, oh, no what will I do?” Jesus will do the cleaning. He will do the vacuuming. He will spray with pot pourri. He wants you, though, to open the door and to have a hospitable heart. So you can never really have this gift of hospitality until you first of all make your heart a very hospitable place for the Lord. And all you have to do is open the door.