Posts

quiz3-1

Hospitality: A Relationship of Giving and Receiving

Just what is hospitality?

When we think about hospitality and the bible, we generally think about Martha and Mary hosting Jesus. And, we generally believe that Mary got it right. The truth is, neither one of them got it quite right! Why you might ask?

It is helpful to remember the origin and definition of biblical hospitality. In ancient Near East times, nomads practiced hospitality in the desert. A stranger would arrive at their camp, and it was common practice… even expected… that they would take in this stranger overnight, feed them, give them a place to sleep and care for them. In exchange, the stranger would share news with them… things that were going on in the world around them. Both contributions in the relationship were of equal value. The host depended on the stranger to stay informed and up to date on the news. Remember, no cell phones, no internet, no snail mail. This was it. It was a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

So hospitality is both giving and receiving…

There is a reaching out through simple acts of service, but also a drawing in of mutual gifts and surprises.  Neither Mary nor Martha got it quite right, but Mary, according to Jesus chose the best part of hospitality.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home by cooking and cleaning and sheltering Jesus and the others… but Mary, took time to engage and receive the news they had to share. Together, Mary and Martha would have been exemplary hosts to Jesus… but Martha mistakenly thought that it was only about giving and doing rather than receiving. She missed the gift of the stranger… the news Jesus came to share.

In a time where churches everywhere need to grow, the practice of hospitality has never been more important. And we Americans are not so great at it. We tend to be Marthas… doing and giving… but not really good at receiving the gifts or news that the stranger brings.

We can practice hospitality both individually as well as corporately.

In both cases, there is always a mutual exchange. The trouble is, most churches are not ready for a mutual exchange. And yet, the love of God is generative… it changes things… and as we open our church to the stranger bearing new gifts and new expressions of love and worship, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready for whatever shape that may take.  There could be potential of deep hurt and injustice if we resist.

“(Hospitality) is a choice. We choose to reject suspicion as the first reaction to a stranger. We choose to minister along side of others rather than to them. We choose to let go of some of our own control when we meet strangers and when we interact with those we’ve known for years. We choose to expect surprises from strangers – good surprises that come from God.”– Michele Hershberger, A Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises

“Airbnb has proven that hospitality, generosity, and the simple act of trust between strangers can go a long way.”   – Joe Gebbia, CEO Airbnb

I believe that churches can and will grow as we practice this kind of hospitality. But, we need to be ready when God brings new people through our doors to receive the gifts they bring. We need to let go of our fears, our suspicions and our need to control and open our hearts to the wonderful surprises that they bring. So how do we work at this? How do we flex our spiritual muscles when it comes to hospitality?

Here are a few things we can try:

As a family:

Invite someone to your home for a simple meal. Try preparing as much as you can ahead of time so that you can spend most of your time listening to their stories and getting to know them better. After they leave, take time as a family to name what you appreciated most about your guest. Do you think that you were enriched some how ? Did you grow in anyway? Did you learn something new?

As an individual:

Make a special effort to welcome a new neighbor or a new colleague at work. Try taking them out for coffee or simply drop off a housewarming gift. Go with the idea of getting to know them and finding something you can appreciate about them. After your time together, offer a simple prayer to God thanking God for the gift in that person.

Just Remember:

Jesus once told a tale of sheep and goats. One group was successful in following Jesus the other group, well… it wasn’t. According to Jesus, the only difference between the two groups is what they did and didn’t do. One group was able to practice hospitality and one wasn’t… and that was important. Because Jesus told them, “Whenever you did it (Hospitality) for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” – Matthew 25:40

 

gratitude-rock

Gratitude: Giving Thanks Activites

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18

Last week we talked about how hard praying without ceasing might seem… especially when we are tied to a particular form of prayer. This week, we are looking at gratitude… being grateful in all things. That might be just as hard as praying without ceasing, right? And yet, we know that gratitude is not only good for us spiritually but it also has scientifically proven health benefits. Gratitude helps us sleep better, suffer less from depression and generally improves our overall health… just to name a few.

So why is it so hard?

Gratitude isn’t a character trait we are born with. We have to flex our spiritual muscles and work at it!  Here are a few simple things you can try at home:

As an individual:

Try keeping a gratitude journal each day. Simply jot down the little blessings in your or day that might go unnoticed. At the end of the day take time to thank God for each thing on your list… it doesn’t need to be complicated and simple thanks to God will work.

When you are having trouble feeling grateful:

Take some time and remember times in your life that you were keenly aware of God’s presence and provision. Perhaps there were times that you felt special care from other people. Try making a list of all of the God moments and grace filled moments you have experienced in your life. Ponder how much of those things you actually earned? Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude to God. Try thinking of a way to express that gratitude in some measurable way. Notice how that makes you feel and how it strengthens your love and appreciation for God.

As a family:

Try having a thank-you morning around the table. Encourage your kids to find as many things as they can to be thankful for. Let it be fun! When one person shares something they are thankful for, the rest of the family responds with three “thank you’s.” It might go like this: For Saturday cartoons, thank you, thank you, thank you… for sleeping in, thank you, thank you, thank you. For pancakes and chocolate milk, thank you, thank you.

Birthday Bonus:

As my children turned 13, we came up with a birthday ritual to mark that special transition into their teenage years. At their special birthday dinner, the family would go around the table and name something they were grateful for about them. What started out to be a little challenging for my children turned out to be a rich time of blessing and affirmation as we each expressed our gratitude for the special person God had created them to be. Try it for any occasion. You may be surprised by the power and depth of meaning that happens when we express gratitude and affirmation for another!

 

sacrificeshoes2003

It takes a little practice…

“Practicing the Presence” can sometimes seem like an elusive thing. Often, that is because we have certain expectations about the outcome… what the divine will look like in our lives. Other times, it is because there is no real formula for success. It is more about practice than perfection. For some of us that is a challenging thought… especially if we want to measure results.

Practicing the presence is more about desire, inquisitiveness and grace. We practice certain spiritual rituals such as prayer, dwelling in scripture, and contemplation because we believe that God is present and we long to notice and experience the grace of the moment when our longing is unexpectedly filled by God’s love.

As I ponder the very peculiar story of Moses and the burning bush, I am struck with three important practices: Read more

Screen-Shot-2015-04-09-at-8.31.40-PM

For such a time as this…

Over the next five weeks, we will take a look at the book of Esther.  If you haven’t read Esther, I’d encourage you to read it! It reads like a thriller or even a romance novel. And yet, we can learn much about what it means to live a life committed to God and to one another as the body of Christ during difficult times. Do you ever feel like your swimming upstream? That the choices you make and your commitment to faith seems so foreign to others that you find it difficult to stay the course? Perhaps you feel discouraged and insignificant or unable to change things anyway? These are some of the very things that we read about in the book of Esther.

As part of our study, we will look at the different characters in the story and the choices that each of them make in their own times; some in faithfulness to God and some quite faithless at all. we’ll be challenged to reevaluate our own choices. We will be reminded that each of us have been given gifts and passions for God to use to effect change and bring about justice in our own communities. Together, we’ll ask ourselves the famous question Mordecai asked Esther:”Who knows if you have not become royal for such a time as this?”

Join us for worship Sundays at 10:30!

Pastor Beth

multiply_square_black1

Multiply

Multiply  

4 x 5 = 20

6 x 8 = 48

 9 x 7 = ?

Those of us old enough to remember [before the “new math” etc.] had the multiplication tables drummed into us and we still know them.

But “multiply” at First Church is a new thing just now.

Starting this Sunday, September 27, it will become an effort at reNEWal at First Church. We hope it can move our whole church nearer to the potential God sees in us.

Imagine all of us, each of us, growing together in our faith, moving deeper into our connection with the God who loves us.

Two thousand years ago twelve disciples, witnessing to what they had learned from Jesus, changed the world. We hope Multiply can renew us, make us better disciples of Jesus. Who knows where that could take us!

We need everyone to sign up and participate in a Multiply group to be a part of this exciting process. This Sunday it all starts. If you are signed up, Welcome Aboard! If not, Sunday is your last chance to be in on this new thing that God is doing at First Church.

And, don’t worry. We will not be testing you on the multiplication tables.

L to R: Auburn Boyers, Pauline Miller, Rosie Martz, and Ruth Boyers

NOAC Highlights

Nine members from First Church attended the National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) in Lake Junaluska, NC, last week (September 7-11): Auburn and Ruth Boyers, Brenda Fox, Larry Glick, Sharon Helbert, Rosie Martz, Pauline Miller, and Carolyn and Larry Seilhamer. These participants share what they thought were the highlights:

“NOAC (National Older Adult Conference) of the Church of the Brethren, has been meeting at Lake Junaluska every other year since 1992. If you are 50 years of age or older – you should be a part of this very inspiring and entertaining event.

A highlight this year was having Ken Medema (blind musician) playing the piano, keyboard and singing with great enthusiasm and joining with Rev. Christine Smith on the topic “Hidden Truths in Plain Sight”. One of the afternoon’s entertaining programs was a local story-teller Gary Carden. He only has 90% of hearing but says “as long as I can do most of the talking, I am fine.” He lives in the heart of Southern Appalachia and is a master storyteller who spins tales based on his childhood.”  Pauline Miller

“The highlight that really made an impression on me was Ken Medema, the blind man, and how he lead the worship through his music. I enjoyed all the speakers.”  Rosie Martz

L to R: Auburn Boyers, Pauline Miller, Rosie Martz, and Ruth Boyers

L to R: Auburn Boyers, Pauline Miller, Rosie Martz, and Ruth Boyers

“The theme for this year’s NOAC was “Then Jesus told them a story” and that theme was truly lived out through being at such a beautiful place with outstanding speakers, insightful Bible studies, meaningful service projects, great entertainment, fun and fellowship, and lots of ice cream!! While my time at NOAC involves a pretty intense work week, I still appreciate being with so many great people who have such a great time! One of the real neat “stories” this year was having such a wonderful representation of folks from our congregation! Next NOAC will be September 4-8, 2017. Start planning now!!!!”  Larry Glick

 

Larry Glick (R) visiting with Carl and Roxanne Hill, who have been active in the Nigeria crisis effort.

Larry Glick (R) visiting with Carl and Roxanne Hill, who have been active in the Nigeria crisis effort.

Carolyn and Larry Seilhamer

“There were many highlights for me from NOAC. I especially liked the Bible Studies by Bob Bowman. He had a very unique way of presenting, “A Certain Man Had Two Sons” [the parable of the Prodigal Son]. I also enjoyed the humor of Bob Stromberg and our trip to the Biltmore Estate. NOAC was a great way to end my summer of travel in God’s wonderful world.”  Carolyn Seilhamer

“Bob Bowman’s morning Bible studies were a highlight of the National Older Adult Conference. Ken Medema was an important part of the conference. All the keynote speakers were outstanding. I enjoyed NOAC.  Larry Seilhamer

      • “I thought Bob Bowman brought a superb study of the parable of the Prodigal Son, presenting it from the perspectives of the Prodigal Son, the Older Son, and the Father. In particular he highlighted the extravagant love of the Father toward both his sons, an aspect of the parable not often focused upon.
      • The Rev. Dr. Gee challenged me to think about how we can get past our silence, fear, labels, and systems to tell each other our stories and move toward greater racial and cultural equality.
      • The Rev. Christine Smith told us that we are sod covering barren earth and causing new shoots to spring up.
      • Terra Voce, featuring flutist Elizabeth Brightbill and cellist Andre Gabbert, thrilled me with the excellence of their talents, Ken Medema’s music and comments stirred my heart and emotions, and the voices of the 870+ individuals at NOAC made for a heavenly choir.
      • But the best part of NOAC was traveling and sharing meals with good friends Pauline Miller, Rosie Martz, and Lucile Vaughn.”  Brenda Fox

        Brenda Fox with friend Lucile Vaughn

        Brenda Fox with friend Lucile Vaughn

Results from service projects conducted at NOAC were the following as of September 10:

        • 400 children’s books donated to Junaluska Elementary School—more than one per child for the 350 students, plus a box of gently used books and a box of extras from the Kits for Kids project.
        • 416 school kits and 287 hygiene kits plus $1,303 to help Church World Service and disaster survivors.
        • $8,382 raised for the Nigeria Crisis Response effort.
        • $11,959.45 in offerings to support the ministries of the Church of the Brethren (this does not include the offering on Friday morning).

 

 

456-community-service-picture

Weekend of Service

Service – Fun – Fellowship

August 21-22, 2015

456-community-service-pictureReady to put your faith to work? First Church is planning a Weekend of Service where individuals can experience a community service project for the first time. The projects are designed to be short and simple, and get us out into the community to meet our neighbors.

The projects include painting a fence for the New Community Project, handing out water bottles, visiting a nursing home, and assembling disaster and school kits. The complete list of projects, lists of items needed to be donated, and sign-up sheets will be available in late July.

Friday night, August 21, we’ll kick-off the weekend with a Bike-A-Thon followed by a prayer service. On Saturday morning, there will be a short prayer service before heading out to morning, afternoon, or all-day projects. That evening we’ll enjoy a cook-out at the church following by swimming at the local pool.

For the truly adventurous, camping will be available at the church on a “bring your own tent and equipment” basis. You can share your plans and experiences with other participants, and enjoy fellowship and S’mores around the camp fire pit.

If you are interested in volunteering your services in preparation for the weekend, contact a member of the coordinating committee: Auburn and Ruth Boyers, Heidi Bunn, Beth Cash, Julie Foster, Brenda Fox, Sharon Helbert, Beth Jarrett, Micah Morris, Karen Moyers, Heather Smith, Peggy Stickley, and Derek Young.

Check this site later on in July for full details about the weekend. In the meantime save the dates of August 21 and 22 on your calendars.

 

the grace of giving

bubbaIn May of 2000, I lost someone very dear to me… my stepfather, Daddy Bill. He died about three weeks before we returned from Italy. Daddy Bill was in a very real sense my father… he provided security, stability and love for me as a teenager desperately needing a father. One thing I loved about Daddy Bill was that he always had a dog… and he loved his dog very much… Bubba was his name. He was a yellow lab… very big, very loving, very smart and very, very loyal. When I returned home from Italy, I found Bubba depressed. He was lying on the floor and would not get up and move. The vet had decided that if he didn’t make an improvement, Bubba would have to be put to sleep. So I decided to take him back home with me to the farm and try to love him and nurse him back to health. After all, that’s what my stepfather had done for me. Our family extended hospitality to Bubba and were mostly blessed (other than when he had big mistakes that big old dogs make… but we won’t go there) He actually lived for another 5 years. He brought us joy and love while at the same time blessing us with the opportunity to show love and appreciation to Daddy Bill by caring for something that he loved very much.

In essence, that is what giving is all about. It has has to come from a place of deep identity and gratitude to God.  If we are honest with each other, there really is no earthly reason for us to just give away our hard earned money, time and energy away. The only real reason for us to do something that crazy is because we genuinely love God and are grateful for all that God has done for us. 

So how do we make the move from a worldly view of giving to a kingdom view? We do it because of our gratitude for the grace and love that God has shown us. You know, my dog Bubba was very large and as any of you who have had a lab know, they shed something terrible. I had to clean up the floors after him often. I even had to change my clothes before I could leave the house because I was always covered in white dog hair. He was old and had frequent accidents as I mentioned earlier that Harry or I would have to clean up. His special dog food sometimes cost more than our people food. We almost needed pet insurance to afford some of his medication for arthritis. Extending hospitality and being generous to Bubba came at a cost. But I have to tell you that I never regretted my decision to take him in, because I was motivated completely by the love of my Daddy Bill, my stepfather, who had shown such love and grace to me. Doing something that I knew would please him was enough motivation for me.

The spiritual discipline of giving can only come from that place; an awareness of God’s lavish love, grace and provision for us and a deep trust that if we were to ever need anything from our father in heaven that He would do the same thing for us. Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth says this, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Ways to Practice:

  1. Take some time and remember times in your life that you were keenly aware of God’s presence and provision. Perhaps there were times that you felt special care from other people. Try making a list of all of the God moments and grace filled moments you have experienced in your life. Ponder how much of those things you actually earned? Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude to God. Try thinking of a way to express that gratitude in some measurable way. Notice how that makes you feel and how it strengthens your love and appreciation for God.
  2. Try giving a thanksgiving offering to church or an organization that helps others just because; not out of obligation but for the grace of giving. Notice the ways in which that kind of giving forms you.
  3. Try doing a random act of kindness trusting in God’s ability to multiply the gift.

So you want to be missional?

For some time now, I have reflected deeply on what it means to encourage the church to become more missional. I am reminded of a parable that Jesus shared in Luke 14, “”Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it?” The problem I see with the call for churches to become more missional is that while the idea of getting more involved with our local communities, opening our churches, having more members or leading persons into a relationship with God is very exciting and appealing, I am not sure that we are fully aware of how that will impact us with both blessings and challenges.

I am not a huge fan of the word missional because for me, once missionary in Sicily for ten years, it doesn’t necessarily communicate what I feel we need to work at as church. While I value the rich discussion, discernment and education that has emerged over the past decade around this, I have come to a place of believing that perhaps talking about the practice of hospitality may be more helpful.


When I speak of hospitality, I am not so much referring to the idea of sharing a meal or opening our homes in the traditional way we tend to interpret the word. Michelle Herschberger in her book, “A Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises” redefines hospitality in a way that gives us a helpful way to reflect on our spiritual readiness for the stranger. She writes, “(Hospitality) is a choice. We choose to reject suspicion as the first reaction to a stranger. We choose to minister along side of others rather than to them. We choose to let go of some of our own control when we meet strangers and when we interact with those we’ve known for years. We choose to expect surprises from strangers – good surprises that come from God.” (P. 31)

I believe that hospitality, in this sense, postures us to truly receive the gift of the stranger into our churches in a way that promotes mutuality, creativity, freedom, respect and shalom. I am reminded of the sinful woman in Luke chapter 7 who learns that Jesus was dining in a Pharisee’s home. She innocently, ignorantly or knowingly crosses all respectable boundaries and barges into the dinner party with an unforgettable act of worship; an alabaster jar of perfume to be poured over the feet of Jesus. This act of pure, selfless worship infuriated all around the table… did she not know her place? Did Jesus not know her place? The loving response of Jesus that evening demonstrates that kind of hospitality as he received the gift of the stranger. In what could have been an awkward moment, mutual respect, mutual surprises and gifts, mutual love and forgiveness, and shalom were discovered and celebrated.

The love of God is generative… it changes things… and as we open our churches to the stranger bearing new gifts and new expressions of love and worship, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready for whatever shape that may take. Because there is potential of deep hurt and injustice if we resist. Imagine what could have happened in the story with out Jesus demonstrating acceptance, love and hospitality. I think that maybe we need to ask these kinds of questions before we decide to become more missional, because being missional will stretch us beyond our human capabilities. But if we are willing to give a little, we the church will be blessed with a rich, variety of beautiful family members who bring unique contributions to the kingdom of God.

We can, we will, we are… a sermon about the real meaning of Pentecost, Part 2

Peter continues this “first sermon” by telling the story of Jesus with power and authority. He tells of his crucifixion and his resurrection. And in verse 36 with a new assurance and power he says, “Let all Israel be assured of this; God has made this Jesus…

This Jesus who was also a half breed, a mix breed… this Jesus who was also from Galilee, who was both God and man, whose great grandmother was a prostitute and great grandfather a king… not just any king but King David himself… he was part Moabite… and part Jew. This seemingly imperfect vessel was indeed the Lamb of God. And you, Peter says, crucified him.

When the people heard that message… they were cut to the heart. Why? I believe they recognized that they had been so narrow minded and had boxed the image of the Messiah in so neat and tidy that they missed it completely. Not only that, but they were so threatened by this Jesus who ate and drank with sinners, that they had shut him down completely. They decided that this Galilean who claimed to be the son of God was so blasphemous that they killed them. In that moment painful recognition, they cried out and said, what then are we to do?

Peter says with a great deal of mercy and grace that only the spirit can give, “Repent, be Baptized and Be filled with the Spirit.”  What does that mean for us today?

Repent: We need to be sorry about our past mistakes and sins; allow ourselves to acknowledge where we have fallen short. We need to be sorry about a critical spirit, or putting God in a box, or the times we tried to put a lid on what God was doing because it scared us or made us feel uneasy. But feeling sorry is not enough; we also need to consciously choose to take another direction with our hearts, minds and lives toward God.

Be Baptized: Perhaps most of us have experienced baptism, but we can realign ourselves with this new vision of the kingdom that is being formed… we can commit ourselves fully to the new movements of God in our lives for the good of his kingdom.

And be filled: Be filled with the promised Holy Spirit that enables  ordinary people like us to do extraordinary things for God’s kingdom. Let us proclaim together with our lives and our words with conviction and certainty as God’s children: We can, we will, we are, the future. Thanks be to God.