Friday, June 22, 2012

The Practice & Power of Hospitality

Once we invited our neighboring Mexican family over for dinner to celebrate the husbands birthday.  I knew he had tried roasted prime rib once and loved it, but they couldn't afford it, and didn't know how to cook it.  Of course when I served it for his birthday meal, he lit up like a kid in a candy shop!  "For me?", he asked.  "Really? I have not had anyone ever go to so much trouble before to celebrate my birthday, and you even know that I like this meat best!"  He beamed throughout the meal, and the family was all smiles that we were celebrating and honoring their family in this way.  They stayed well into the evening opening up and sharing personal stories, and allowing us to pray for them before they left.  A door into their heart was opened to Christ through roasted prime rib.

Hospitality is not the kind of spiritual gift that dynamically changes a life in a moment, like the gift of healing.  Nor is it powerful in unlocking understanding, as in the gift of teaching. It is not especially empowering or encouraging like the gift of prophecy.  For all these things that it may not be, hospitality is powerful in unlocking and preparing a person/persons for all these spiritual things to take place.  It is like a platform, an environment, that creates an atmosphere of welcome, acceptance, freedom, security and love from which ministry and the Presence of Jesus can flow and accomplish His purposes. Living a life of hospitality is also living a life of ministry and mission.  Hospitality is a "one another" ministry to those who already know Christ.  However, when extending hospitality to those who don't know Christ, it then becomes missional hospitality.  Your mission is to introduce and communicate Jesus in tangible and powerful ways, and then let Jesus take it from there. This is one of the best and most valuable reasons for living simple, organic church out of your home.  It's a powerful venue if you understand and make us of it's power.

Here are some tangible ways to communicate the value and worth of people as we welcome them into our homes and ultimately our lives. Whether it is for one day, an evening, or a few days, the basic principles are the same in practicing hospitality.
  • Greet people at the door when they enter, and see them off when they leave.
  • Don't ignore your guests and get busy with other things.  Once they enter your home, they should be your focus.  If you have children, involve them in serving them also. This is where the team of husband and wife can "tag-team" together so the guests don't feel ignored and left to themselves.  Of course you can always involve them in preparations that still need to happen.
  • Research your guests and know some information about them. They will notice that you made an effort (however small) to attend to their uniqueness and that will immediately communicate their value to you. Things like certain foods and drinks that they enjoy, putting dogs/cats in other rooms if they are afraid or allergic to them.  Find out any particular comforts that will mean a lot to them, like a glass of water near their bed, the particular snacks they like, extra blankets, etc.  Fine tune your hospitality to meet their needs.  When I visit with my friend the Dale's, they always turn the jacuzzi on in the evenings because they know it is a treat for me to use it since we don't have one, and I love to sit in the jacuzzi!
  • Serve your guests. Especially in the beginning until they feel comfortable in your home. For some people this may take awhile, and for others this can be pretty quick, but look at it as an opportunity to serve them while they are with you and not to teach them independence and autonomy.
  • Let them have the best you have to offer.  We have a large leather recliner that is the most comfortable chair in our home, as well as some comfy couches.  Instead of securing the best spot for ourselves, we sit in the least comfortable places, giving preference to our guests. 
  • One thing I learned from my friends from other countries, was to provide a small gift on occasion for those coming over. Chocolates, a card, something personal in their guest room, all communicate (with the power that giving gifts uniquely does) how special they are to you.
  • Listen, ask questions, be interested in their life!  I can't tell you how many times I have been a guest in someones home and I have not been asked anything about me, my life, my family, etc. That alone communicates loudly that you are really not interested in them, and to only talk about yourself and your life exemplifies it!
  • In our culture, and depending on the region you live in, the practice of "dropping in" is regarded as uncomfortable at best, and rude at worst.  But if we want our home to be a hospitable place, folks need to feel that they can come by anytime and we will be happy to receive them.  This was hard for me because I was the type of person who wanted the house nice, clean and everything prepared when someone came by. I wanted to feel "ready" for visitors. We have a Laotian friend who is deaf who would stop by at the worst times.  He'd walk in the house while I was napping, dressing, getting ready to leave, just sitting down to dinner, disciplining our get the idea.  But we got over it, and we learned to love his interruptions of our lives, and enjoy his company for the time he spent with us.  Repeat and repeat that you're okay with people "stopping by" unannounced, and then when they do - receive them like your okay with it.  If your not, then don't do this, but realize that may cause people to see that you have "conditional hospitality" that is based upon their pre-scheduling their visits.
*A note about this if your wanting to reach your neighborhood with hospitality. Kids in our neighborhood always have the invitation to come into our house anytime during the day or early evening, and we encourage them to experience our home as an inviting and safe place, and as a refuge if they needed it.  Many have done this, and some powerful times of sharing, prayer, and counsel between them and our kids, and with Tom and I, have occurred over the years.  A couple times instead of running away, they came to our place instead because they felt comfortable coming into our home.

The bottom line of hospitality is to communicate through your words and actions - love.  God wants to use our lives and homes incredible ways, if we understand the power that hospitality holds and make diligent use of it.  The Bible says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13: 34-35.

 Let's be known for showing love and using hospitality as a venue to do so.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Men and Hospitality

Let's be honest.  Especially here in the West, if we think of hospitality at all, we immediately associate it with the female gender.  We've been socialized to think of the home as the female domain and even use the analogy of a bird in commonly calling the home "her nest". No matter that in almost all bird species, the male is just as active in building, maintaining and incubating the nest as his female partner, and in some bird species even more active and involved than the female!  This gender linking to hospitality generally prevails in our minds here in the West, even if the female works outside of the home most of the time, and/or has little interest or inclination towards it .  This paradigm has been changing in the last couple decades, and of course there are a few guys here and there who are the exception when it comes to this, but generally speaking, women are still given the role and expected to be the primary hospitality person over a man.  Of course, in most other areas of the world, hospitality is very much a man's role.

Biblically, hospitality is not gender specific. Both men and women are given the responsibility and charge to be hospitable in the Bible. The Bible gives clear examples of both men and women practicing it.
I believe, as in a healthy Biblical family where there is both a male/father and a female/mother who each have unique and specific contributions in the parenting and family life of the home, so in hospitality there is also a unique contribution that men and women make that is often quite different from each other in how it is practiced and the value it imparts to those it is dispensed upon. 

I believe that men are given the initial responsibility for hospitality and have a unique influence to create the atmosphere of welcome and inclusiveness for those who enter their home. 

I gave a number of examples of men in the Bible doing this in the first post with; Jesus (our final banquet host), Abraham, Lot, Jethro, Elders/Overseer's, and in addition there are more examples with;  Cornelius, Matthew, the Jailor (who invited Paul to his home), Publius (at Malta), the father with prodigal son, Phillip in Caesarea, and Joseph with his brothers.
These are all men (although a case could be made for women elders - but that's another post), who acted as hosts and initiated hospitality to welcome and serve those who were their guests. 

Men create the initial atmosphere of welcome, value, affirmation and the sense that you are important as a guest in their home in a special way that can be quite powerful.  Like an affirming father who opens heart and home, and says by word and action; "I am so glad your here!"
 It doesn't matter what age you are - you feel valued.  That's powerful hospitality!

Here are two examples from my own life to use as illustrations as to the value and importance of men in the initiation and operation of hospitality.  The first one illustrates the lack of hospitality, and the second one the impact of it operating fully.

Once we were invited by a man who was a leader in his region to his a home for a few days to minister. When we arrived, the male host had someone else meet us at the airport and take us back to his home.  We were shown our rooms by the wife, and then left on our own while she went about her responsibilities of that day.  After a few hours of sitting around entertaining ourselves, we were all pretty hungry and didn't know if we would be eating soon, or expected to fast.  Eventually we were told, "help yourselves to whatever you find", which was very uncomfortable for all of us as we searched through the kitchen spurred on by the rumbles of our stomachs. After finding some leftovers, we sat around eating and talking with each other because there was nothing else to do.  We saw the host himself only for a brief quick greeting at the end of the day, and then we wandered to our rooms to wonder if we had done something to offend our hosts. We imagined there must have been an emergency or something that came up to pull the attention of our hosts from us as guests, and silently hoped that soon we'd be shown the hospitality that would cause us to relax and feel welcomed. This was not to be.  Our team was uncomfortable in this home for the few days we stayed there even with the wife of the host doing her best to offer us some hospitality even while she was busy working a job outside of the home.  It felt like we were intruding, even though we had been invited. Ignored and left on our own for most of the time, we tried to find ways to minister and make use of our time there.  Some on the team found other lodging. Our hosts treated us in the antithesis of true hospitality.  I can only assume they believed that hospitality was to supply a room and kitchen.  Unfortunately, their actions communicated loudly to us that we were not worth their time and effort as invited guests. I have never been back.

In contrast, on another occasion we experienced the power of hospitality done right.  Our host welcomed us into his home by being at the door and giving us the biggest hugs as he was proclaiming, "I've been waiting for you, and I am so glad you've finally arrived! Welcome to my home!   We are so excited to have you here with us!"  He introduced us to his wife and family, and he led us into a simple but warm and readied home.  Wow!  That was enough for me, I was good!  Whatever happened from there on was icing on the cake!  However, our host was just getting started.  He knew what foods and drinks we enjoyed and had them in supply for our visit.  He and his wife both served us throughout our time there.  They were sensitive to our needs, initiated conversation, but also allowed us some "down time" to relax and not socialize.  They treated us like honored and special guests who were not imposing, but rather blessing them by being there.  It was very impacting and humbling.  It felt like Jesus Himself was our host, loving and serving us through this man and his wife.

In both my examples, the men set the tone of what kind of experience of hospitality we would have in their homes.  It was the men who initiated the first impression on whether we were wanted or just tolerated.  Their influence was profound and powerful in what and how it was communicated to us.

There is something uniquely honoring about a man welcoming others into his home and family, and then being attentive in serving them.  Hospitality is not just for women!  It is for all of us who seek to use our homes as welcoming sanctuaries for all we are privileged to welcome inside. 

Brothers, all I can say to you is; "Man up, and walk in the powerful tool of hospitality to communicate worth, value and The Father's great love to all who enter your home!"

*****The next blog post will be suggestions, ideas and specific things you can do to communicate hospitality .........

Till then,