In biblical times, hospitality was expected and homes were open to travelers. Inns were few and far between, and often dangerous places to stay. I’ve wondered on occasion what this hospitality command would look like in my Bible Belt culture where we have as many hotels as we have churches.
The past two weeks, I’ve not only seen this love, I have experienced it.
When I accepted my new position at a school in Louisville, I knew personally one couple here; Kevin and Patricia Smith, two of my parent’s best friends in ministry and in life. And they took it upon themselves to make sure this sojourner was well loved.
They weren’t ok with me staying in a hotel until I found an apartment, so they asked a friend from church if I could stay with her. She said yes without ever even speaking to me. The plan was to take it a week at a time, and stay with her until I found an apartment and could move in.
When I arrived at her house yesterday, she told me that it would be crazy for me to pay a mortgage and apartment rent when she has this house, so if I could handle her, I was welcome to stay with her until my house sells in Chattanooga.
We chatted all evening about foster care and teaching. Mrs. Pat dropped by to check on me and make sure I was settled in. Then she took me to get buttermilk pie for dessert and drive me around the area.
This morning, Pamela, my host, made enough coffee for both of us and helped me figure out how long it would take to get to school because of last night’s flooding and regular traffic issues.
Then, as I was walking out the door, she said, “You know, I don’t even know your last name. What is it?”
That is loving a sojourner. Not needing the details, but just knowing the need and meeting it.
As my sister said last week, “People are strangers. Until they are not.”
And in the unity of the Spirit, we may be sojourners, but we are never truly strangers.
The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9, KJV
I sleep just like my grandmother. Curled up on my side, one leg stretched out, the other pulled into my chest. A pillow between my arms. I didn’t know that she slept that way until last night, as I watched her curled up in a hospital bed, finally sleeping peacefully. For a little while, she is not consumed with pain.
I share her feisty nature, which is still obvious in spite of the fact that she has wasted away to skin, bones, and the cancer that fills them. That peacefulness was disrupted briefly when Robby the CNA rolled her over and she let him know that he had “messed up the bed.”
I wonder as I wander, just like the gentleman next door, who also paces in his pajamas between his room and the kitchen.
Shared bathrooms between suites. Pajama clad people shuffling, half awake through the halls, in search of coffee. Other people sleeping, oblivious to what’s going on around them. It’s like my college residence hall, only it’s the Hospice unit where my Nana has come for her final days.
One thing that unites all of us who are living is that, one day, we will be living no longer. For all the differences that we think separate us as people, life and death unite us like nothing else.
There is nothing new under the sun. The older I get, the more I see in the now, and the more I learn of the then, the more I recognize that we all have a deep yearning to be different, be unique. We want to be seen and be known.
And we are. Unique. One of a kind. Fearfully and wonderfully made. We are Imago Dei.
The struggle comes, I think, in the fallen desire for our uniqueness to be recognized as better, as right. And so diversity is not celebrated, but scorned. We fail to be unified in our diversity because we fear what we do not know.
As I sit in the quiet, at that moment when the sky is gray and pink with all the anticipation of the coming day, all I can think is, “What am I anticipating today?”
The last day of classes before Thanksgiving break.
The birth of babies.
News of a former coach receiving a life saving transplant.
The day my Nana steps into eternity.
War overseas and rioting at home.
Christmas being provided for mamas and their kids by generous people.
Glimpses of grace.
Words of encouragement.
Hugs. Prayers. Laughter. Family.
There is nothing new under the sun.
But if the best is only possible with the possibility of the worst, bring it on, whatever the day may bring, because each day confirms that we share so much more than we will ever know.
In the next couple of weeks I have the incredible blessing of reconnecting in person with two of my dearest friends and favorite people on the planet. One lives in New York City. The other in Southern California. Both of them I have known nearly half my life,yet I have seen neither of them face to face in years.
But I know that there will be no awkward silence in our times together. I doubt there will be much silence at all! There is much to catch up on, much to share, and there is life to be lived; two moments that I anticipate will be memories that last a lifetime.
Do you have friends like that? Friends who know you better than you’re really comfortable with, because they know your best AND your worst?
The idea of being in relationships like that used to terrify me, because the idea of revealing weakness or imperfection terrified me.
But in the last few years, I’ve begun to see how God created us with an inherent desire to both know and be known. As He is in relationship, both in Himself as the Trinitarian God, and with His creation, we are created in His image to also be in relationship with Him and with others. And, I have learned, to know and to be known is the only true way in which to extend and to experience grace.
Only when we are known at our deepest levels, when we are transparent enough to bear our souls and risk rejection, do we also open ourselves up to receive the most genuine act of love; to know someone and love them anyway.
This is why I am so excited about reuniting with these friends; they know me, and that no longer scares me. I can be myself and that is celebrated, not critiqued, examined or judged. Just loved and challenged and encouraged.
Who are the people in your life who love you in spite of yourself? Who are the people you love in that same way?
In other words, with whom are you practicing the love of Christ?
My parents have lived in the same subdivision for nearly 17 years. I’ve been running in that neighborhood for nearly 17 years, and I’ve been running practically the same route the entire time. It’s predictable, challenging (but not too much), has several little dead end streets you can add for extra elevation, time, and distance.
It’s a good, mindless route.
At least it used to be.
Since moving back to cut expenses while I finish school, this route has been physically more challenging than it used to be. In fact, I haven’t even been able to run the entire route. I stall out at about the same place every time. I thought it was just b/c of being older, or trying to get back into shape.
But it hasn’t gotten any easier, even though I can run farther and faster other places, and lately I began to realize why. It’s not any more physically challenging than it ever has been, but one particular part of my old route has dredged up particularly painful memories, some nearly a decade old, some fresh, in the last few months.
My stall outs haven’t been physical, they’ve been psychological. They’ve occurred when I’ve gotten distracted with the “whys” and the “what ifs” attached to the houses I pass. Instead of running being a time when I clear my mind, refocus on God, commune with Him, my running became a time of reflecting on the past and regretting much of it. It literally weighed me down til I had to walk.
And today, I just couldn’t do it. This part of my run is nearly a mile, and it’s relatively flat, but I couldn’t do it. But I had four miles to run, so I had to do something.
So I chose another route.
And not only did I run it, I hit an elevation PR. Pretty cool.
To some, that may seem like the obvious thing to do, but how many times to we do that in our own lives, in relationships or other issues?
How often do we find ourselves limping down the same painful road over and over again when all we have to do is pick a different path?
The new path I picked today was hard. There’s a steep elevation, right in the middle. But I’ll tell you one thing:
The temporary pain of the new uphill challenge far outweighed the familiarity of the old, downhill pain.
I know that old route will always be there, and one day, when those emotional wounds have healed, I can run it again. But in order to leave that old route and go a new way, I had to get to the point at which the benefit of facing a new challenge outweighed the pain of constantly reopening old wounds.
So how does that relate to our spiritual and relational lives?
When we’re “trapped” in a spiritual rut or an unhealthy relationship or other situation, what stops us from taking the challenge of trying another route?
Is the same old pain and heartache at least familiar, and we’re not willing to risk that a new challenge may be even more painful?
Remember this: “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.” The new challenges we face with Christ can be difficult; but we will never face them alone.
Sometimes, all it takes to break free from a long term cycle of pain is to just pick a new path.
Which path will you pick today?
Last week the baseball team where I teach made school history. Without previously having won so much as a regular season district championship, they won the district, region, and substate tournaments. Our guys made it all the way to the State Finals before finishing second and rushing home so the five seniors could graduate, wearing their uniforms under their graduation robes. It was a lifetime memory that I will hold dear and I know they will never forget.
In the semi-final game, we were up by several runs, and the visiting team was up to bat in the top of the 7th, the final inning in high school baseball. As our pitcher was throwing his warm up pitches, the PA guy began blaring the 1986 song “Final Countdown” by Europe. Our retro cool students all sang along in the stands and reminded us “old folks” that the song was older than they are.
We excitedly counted down the final three outs that put us in the State Finals.
GREAT memories. GREAT reason to have a countdown.
Yesterday morning I was watching SportsCenter while eating breakfast, and there was a segment discussing the fact that we have hit a key countdown:
College football season. GREAT reason to count down.
The game that claims to have overtaken baseball as America’s Pastime is only 100 days away. Only. That’s almost one third of the year. But we SO love football, we start counting down the days to the first game at 100.
I can’t say much. I start the countdown to Spring Training the Monday after the Super Bowl. Baseball and football are in a constant battle for the title of First Love in my sports heart. As a society, we LOVE sports, and we love counting down to the beginning of each season, whichever season it may be.
But as I was running later, a thought occurred to me: What if we counted down to our step out of time and into eternity with as much fervor and excitement as we counted down to the beginning of sports seasons?
“But Bekah,” you say, “No one knows when He will return. Besides, we’ve been waiting two thousand years. No one can live their entire life as if Jesus was coming back tomorrow.”
To this, it would reply, “True, but not really.”
This is one of those Both/And situations, the beautiful tension of Christian faith.
Do we, as the Bride of Christ, anxiously await the return of the Bridegroom?
YES, just as the Church has done for 2,000+ years.
In His grace, He delays His return for His Bride, desiring that none should perish.
But in His mercy, He calls His children Home to be with Him every single day.
Our lives are a vapor, according to James, and while the Church has been in a countdown for over two millennia, we as individuals are not guaranteed our next breath.
So how do we live a life with the realization that each day could be our last without becoming focused on death?
How do we live with our mortality in mind without becoming useless because of the morbidity of the thought?
Paul addresses this very question in 1 Thessalonians 4. He begins this section of his letter talking about the daily walk of the Christian. He urges the Thessalonians to grow in the Word, to be sanctified, pure, holy, and to love one another. Those things will only happen in that order. The more we know, the more we grow, change, desire to be like Christ, and show His love to others.
What’s interesting is that Paul follows up that section reminding the believers of the hope they have in eternity. It’s as if he’s answering the question he knows they’re going to ask: “Why all the hard work? What’s the end goal?”
He gives his readers hope for this life with a reminder of the afterlife. We live a life seeking Christ, living each day as if it is our last, facing struggles and joys, persecutions and victories, so that we are as prepared as possible for our step out of this life and into eternity.
Paul, when facing his own mortality and impending step into eternity declared he had finished the race and kept the faith (2 Tim). He believed he had lived his life every day as if it was his last.
So as we live this life abundantly, as we celebrate victories, count down to favorite sporting seasons, welcome new lives into this world and remember those who have gone before us, let’s spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10), remembering that both as Bride and as child, each day we are in a countdown, each day we are one day closer to the coming of our entrance into eternity.
How will you commit to live your countdown?
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh.22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man.”24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Genesis 2
Evangelicals have gathered in huge numbers today in Washington, DC, to rally and protest, making their opinion known on the issue of whether or not the state should recognize same-sex marriages.
Once upon a time, marriage was about a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. The records were kept in the church, documentation in the family Bible. But during the time that the lines between church and state were blurred (think pre-Reformation, so we’re talking a LONG time ago), the state took over keeping up with marriage, and it’s been a legal contract ever since.
I don’t agree with same-sex relationships because I do believe that they do not fall in line with God’s designed purpose for intimate, sexual relationships.
However, I also disagree with Christians who protest the government’s ruling on marriage (which they claim is ordained by God, not the state) but still enjoy the tax, insurance, retirement and other benefits of a state recognized marriage.
Here’s a revolutionary thought: if believers seriously are against the changes the government is making concerning marriage, stop participating in government recognized marriages.
Return to church recognized, covenantal marriages. When the government goes against God, remove yourself from the government sponsored activity.
It will be a hardship. We will no longer enjoy the benefits the government offers people who join into a legal marriage.
But isn’t sacrifice expected when we stand in our moral beliefs?
So here’s my challenge: Count the cost of protesting or supporting the government’s definition of marriage, which is an understanding that marriage is a legally bound partnership between two consenting people. If we agree with that reductionist view of marriage, then we have NO RIGHT to protest the government withholding those rights from any couple seeking them.
If, however, we believe marriage is a sacred, lifetime covenant between one man, one woman, and God, then why do we allow the government to be involved in the first place?
If you are so strongly against the government redefining marriage, then stop participating in government acknowledged marriages and deal with the sacrifices made because of that stand.
Not a popular stance, and I’m certain I’ll take fire from both sides of the debate, but brothers and sisters, we cannot continue to speak out against an institution (the government) from which we benefit.
My friend Kim just made a beautiful point: our government is not bound to biblical standards, but as Christians, we are. We are not a theocracy, and cannot expect those who do not hold to our religious morals to abide by them.
God ordained governments to protect our right to practice our faith, not to enforce our faith. So if our government today chooses to enforce a law which you believe goes against biblical law, then stop participating in that government sanctioned activity.
File for legal divorce and ask your pastor for a church blessed covenant. Sacrifice the benefits of government sanctioned marriage and embrace community accountability and support.
Teach about the sanctity of marriage, the seriousness of the commitment.
Talk young people out of entering marriage until they understand the commitment they are making.
Talk married couples out of divorcing because they have made that covenant commitment.
(UPDATE: The above statement in NO way means that I condone staying in an unsafe situation in which abuse is taking place in a marriage. In an ideal situation, red flags of possible abuse would be revealed in the pre-marital time and the person would either be discipled to repentance or the marriage would not occur in the first place. If you are currently in an abusive relationship, get out of immediate danger, tell someone. Tell until someone believes you and empowers you to act. God NEVER condones the abuse of His children.)
Do those things, then get back to me about why you desire to withhold government sanctioned financial benefits from same-sex couples, some of whom have been in relationships longer than many heterosexual Christian marriages.
Let’s get marriage right in the Church again before we start critiquing how the world does it.
UPDATE: I’ve had some ask for clarification on my statements above, thinking I’ve meant Christians should isolate themselves from the world or remove ourselves from the political realm altogether.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a history and Poli. Sci. junkie and ENCOURAGE Christians to be involved in the public square.
But on this particular issue, we as believers may need to find a way to signify a distinct difference in our understanding of marriage and the Gov’t’s.
I wrote his on another site yesterday and thought it might be helpful to include here:
The current definition of legal marriage as observed by the gov’t and God’s covenant standard are already so completely different, God wouldn’t recognize our gov’t’s view of marriage.
I say we separate marriage and legal unions. Once, they were assumed the same thing, but they are no longer in our society. Make covenant marriage the business of the church and if people want to add a gov’t sanctioned legal contract, then so be it.
On the other hand, if people wish a legal acknowledgment of their relationship w/o caring for a church commitment, then let them have a legal union alone.
When man’s law deviates from God’s law, as Christians, we stand more accountable to God.
Civil union and covenant marriage should be two separate things; let the state deal with the legal issues and let religious institutions deal with the sacred union before God as necessary. We should no longer assume the two are the same.