The Grace of Hospitality

וַיֹּאמַר:  אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ

“And he, Abraham, said, “My Lord, if I have found grace in your eyes, please do not pass by your servant” (Gen. 18:3).

The rabbis tell us a trait shared by the descendants of Abraham is hospitality; a manner or disposition that is hospitable to both guest and stranger alike.

This derives from the opening verses of Genesis 18; as Abraham lay at the door of his tent on the third day after his circumcision. The Lord appears to him, and as Abraham lifts his eyes, there before him are three men. From the unfolding narrative it is easy to determine that this is a theophany.

As Abraham says, speaking in the singular to a plural party, “My Lord, if I have found grace in your eyes … “ he welcomes them to settle in the shade of a tree, showing the kindness of hospitality.

Our English word hospitality is derived from the Latin hospes, which means guest, stranger, even host. It appears to be a word of relationship between otherwise disconnected parties. Hospes shares its root with another English word, hostile; in biblical faith one should meditate on the conditions that bring us to hospitality or hostility.

In ancient times, travelers meandering on their journey had two choices: 1) rely on their own skills to make suitable accommodations, or 2) rely on the kindness of a local host; as the Holiday Inn Express was not yet a thing.

In our text above, Abraham does not wait for the Lord to seek his kindness; no, Abraham opens his doors as evidence of the grace he has received – by His presence.

Time and again the Torah instructs us to welcome, and care for the stranger; because we have been the stranger, the newcomer, the unknown other. It is a disposition rooted in grace itself, as Abraham notes.

The Torah commands us to “love our neighbor as ourself” (Lev. 19:18) only once; but it commands us to love the stranger thirty-six times. Strange, but not. We are inclined to love those known, familiar or similar to us. This familiarity would naturally stir hospitality; where unfamiliarity might stir up hostility. The two, as noted above, are very close.

Yet, by faith in Messiah we are new creations; and unfamiliar, as it were, to everyone, except those of like Spirit. Still more, that new Spirit of God, now in us, causes us to seek the lost, the unfamiliar, or the stranger to heavens door: Messiah.

All too often we give in to our fearful, unregenerate disposition, informed not by the Word of God, but media manipulation.

Paul directs us, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Ro. 15:7).

“Receive one another,” means: take to yourself the other. This we find in Messiah, who took us to Himself by grace. We share in this grace when we take the other to ourself following His example. Abraham, in Genesis 18, took the Lord to himself. He welcomed the Lord in, ministered to Him by shelter, comfort, and food; and the Lord shared the long awaited good news: the promised child is coming.

What good do we receive as we welcome, or open our hearts to the stranger before us? The promised Son meets us once again in the eyes of a stranger.

And if you are in Messiah, as Paul writes, you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:29). In Messiah, not only do we live as strangers and sojourners to this world, but we welcome others along the way as well.

Hospitality does not improve our standing in heaven, it glorifies God on earth in a time when it is a dangerous thing to be a stranger. To Him be the glory. Amen.

Be well. Shalom.

Busy … Holy … Time

Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are fretting and worrying about so many things! But there is only one thing that is essential. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it won’t be taken from her.”

Can’t we all place ourselves in Martha’s position? Couldn’t we all insert our names into the correction offered by Jesus? What is Jesus saying to Martha’s frenetic and distracted situation and lifestyle? Mary has chosen the good portion – what is essential – but Martha chose something else.

We live in an age of busyness. We are all busy, busy, busy, and we never seem to have enough time. Professor Bruce Hindmarsh calls busyness “moral laziness.” This sounds rather harsh, but give attention to his reasoning, “Busyness is moral laziness because it is often a statement of our self-importance and our excuse to be inattentive to people . . . But God has given us just enough time to do what we need to do moment by moment to respond to him. And his grace is there; it is eternally present. Every moment is a sacrament where time touches eternity and there is exactly enough time to do what God has called us to do.” Everyone is busy, and there are often good reasons to be busy – but who are we living for? who are we testifying to? and who is the author of our days?

According to Professor Hindmarsh’s reasoning, time has an ethical, as well as, spiritual value to it. This begs the question? Is the Lord concerned with how His people spend their time? According to Leviticus 23, the answer is yes.

Leviticus 23 details the festival seasons of the Lord. Beginning with Passover in the Spring, and ending with Sukkot in the Fall, the seasons of the Lord show us how to make time holy – or set apart. These seasons are called – מוֹעֲדִים – often translated as “appointed times” or “designated time.” These “designated times” can be seasons of rest, joy, or even times of atonement.

Why does the Lord designate time?

The Torah of Moses created distinctions on numerous levels, but these distinctions were not to causes us to become arrogant or haughty, rather, to demonstrate who the Lord of our life is. The Lord, by the Torah, not only provides a normative standard for our conduct – but also for our time. Why? The feasts of the Lord are called “Sabbaths,” or times to rest. How can time become an ethical issue?

First, that the Lord created “designated time” demonstrates that rest is an ethical issue – why – because the Lord Himself rested. The normative standard is a call to rest. The existential motive is our response in obedience to His standard to rest by resting ourselves. Finally, the teleological witness is our response by creating an environment where others can rest.

מוֹעֲדִים, or “appointed time,” comes from the verb root, עֵד, meaning “witness.” What is it that we are a “witness” of by honoring the Lord’s appointed times? The Sovereignty of the Living God. Still, this root, עֵד, also tells us how we demonstrate this witness: 1) in the עֵדָה, or in our “congregation” – as we sanctify our time in response to the Lord, 2) with our עֵדוּת, or “testimony” of who He is and what He has done for us. We find that our “witness” is a triad: 1) time, 2) assembly, 3) and testimony; and each of these speak to “life” itself.

This was the heart of the correction that Jesus gave Martha: How are you spending your time? Who are you honoring with your time? Mary has chosen the good portion – what is essential – but Martha chose something else. Martha was trying to demonstrate how important and how essential she was, even in her devotional serving. Yet, Mary demonstrated how important and how essential Yeshua/Jesus is.

How we spend our time, and how we designate our time also reveals something of vital importance – who we are betrothed to. The root עֵד, referenced above, can be conjugated into another verb יָעַד, meaning “to betroth.”

“I will betroth you to Me forever – yes, I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, and mercy. I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” (Hos. 2:19-20).

How we spend our time shows who we are betrothed to – whether honoring his times and seasons, or pausing just to sit in the quiet with the Lord – the appointed times demonstrate His love and faithfulness for us, and our love and faithfulness to Him. The Lord provides so much time for us each day, week, and year; and He only asks for a small portion of it to be dedicated to Him.

What, or who, are you pursuing with your time, and why?

Be well. Shalom.

God’s Repeatable’s

The Importance of God’s Repeatable’s – pay attention, they are important.

In the Torah, the Law of Moses, we are told “love your neighbor as yourself” only once (Lev. 19:18), but to “love the stranger,” thirty-six times (Lev. 19:34). Why?

Man has a tendency to love and treat with kindness those familiar or similar to themselves; after all, it’s easy to treat kindly those with whom we identify (Matt. 5:46-47).

The call to “love the stranger” is a call to love, respect, and treat with kindness those we are not familiar with, or similar to. It is a directive to recognize the dignity of the human other, and to see in them the image and likeness of God, and the commonality of man.

Example: The Good Samaritan.

Be well. Shalom.

Don’t Play the Surgeon

The Song of the Mountains – Part 46

Frequently we hear this verse quoted in the public square, “judge not, lest ye be judged yourselves” (Matt. 7:1). Social commentators, politicians, and protestors a like use this verse, most often while denying the existence of the One who said it. Even many well-meaning and sincere Christians quote this verse out of context, attempting to quiet those with a differing opinion. What is important to remember when interpreting any verse or concept in Scripture is that it must be interpreted in light of the entire canon of Scripture.

Matthew 7:1-5 is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to rightly apply. Have you ever had someone take you aside to do eye surgery on “what the Holy Spirit” revealed to them, only to be rebuked for not “receiving” their correction for a non-existent sin? It happens. It’s happened to me on several occasions, and I expect it will happen on many more. Just what is Yeshua/Jesus teaching us? 

How would Yeshua expect us to understand and apply His words? 

When considered in light of the entirety of His teaching message, we will recognize that He is not forbidding judging per se, He is teaching us to not prejudice, twist justice, or assume some position of moral superiority. In John 7:24 Yeshua said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” This helps to clarify what Yeshua is explaining in Matthew 7:1-5. 

Righteous judgment. 

First, we must consider the concept of righteous judgment as defined in sacred Scripture. In the Torah, Israel is commanded to establish “judges and officers” in each of their settlements, as we read in Deuteronomy 16:18, “Appoint judges and officers within all your gates, which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes. And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” 

Judges and officers addressed issues as minor as property disputes, to more serious issues of adultery and murder – and everything in between. They ensured that peace and justice was maintained in the community. The judges ruled based on available evidence in concert with others, and officers ensured the ruling was carried out. Yet, some would point out that we are under the “dispensation of the grace” through the New Covenant, therefore, we are commanded not to judge. This conclusion, however, is nonsensical, and not in keeping with the teaching of Messiah or the apostles. 

A rebuke. 

Consider Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian congregations, as he writes, “Should any of you, holding a matter against another, go to be judged before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (I Cor. 6:1). He then expresses the need for judges to be established in the messianic community in order to resolve issues between brethren. Biblically, judges are to consider evidence, evaluating actions against the objective ethical norms established in the Bible, hear witness testimony, and consider its truthfulness; not relying on the testimony of one, or to favor one over the other. The ruling is to be righteous. It is a very serious matter. 

So what is Yeshua teaching us?

He is teaching us to avoid unfair, unjustified, and uncalled for criticism. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do, as we always seem to find fault with others; and all too often will express that fault to them or to someone else. Puritan theologian William Perkins once wrote, “Don’t believe the devil even if he tells the truth.” Yeshua is reminding us that we often ignore our own faults, and see what we consider faulty in others; this type of criticism does not build up, it only tears down. 

This criticism surfaces from our own sinful, depraved, deceived, and stony heart – deceived, as we believe that somehow we have arrived at some point of perfection, simply because, in actuality, we are sinning differently than they are. There are better, however, more godly ways to correct, instruct, and shepherd people, even in our own imperfection, that does not involve rushing to judgment, prejudicing, or negatively harming another disciple. Is our ability to remove the speck from someone’s eye – by way of our words – really capable of “fixing” them? How successful have we been at fixing ourselves? Honestly, I’ve never met a single soul capable of fixing themselves, only covering over their imperfections – this author included.   

This is what Yeshua is teaching. He is directing us to not play the hypocrite by finding fault with others, while ignoring our own faults. It is so easy to take a hyper-spiritual, “holier-than-thou” posture, and disrupt the work of the Lord in someone’s life. Start in prayer. Not a prayer that affirms your suspicions; but prayer that sets your heart right first

When you approach someone. 

First, do you have the position or authority to speak into that person’s life? Just because you are a “believer” does not mean that you have the godly authority to shepherd another, particularly if you are ill-equipped to do so.  

If you see a lack in someone’s faith walk, do you have the ability to meet their specific need? If not, be silent and pray. Do not attempt to be someone’s Holy Spirit. However, if you have the authority, the right motivation, and the ability to shepherd them in their need, prayerfully approach. Even then, do not proceed without seeking godly direction yourself.   

Ask yourself these questions before you presume to remove someone’s speck:

Is what you about to say truly necessary? Will it be encouraging? Will it energize them to seek the Lord? Will it maintain their dignity? If you can answer no to any of these questions, then you will harm, not edify. 

Don’t assume. 

Dear reader, few of us know each other well enough to know all that is happening in the lives of others. Let us be very cautious about how we are judging, or criticizing another person who may be struggling enormously in some area of their lives. What Yeshua is forbidding is making yourself the judge, jury, and executioner – the specialist surgeon. He is instructing us that righteous judgment is done in concert with spiritually mature, equipped, and accountable disciple leaders.  

Even if what we are about to say is truthful, it may not be expedient – and we must learn to discern between “truth” and subjective opinion. Ultimately, the truth we wish to point out to someone might be entirely too much for them to bear. It takes discernment, humility, discipleship, and patience to know how to shepherd someone. Therefore, with our words let us build the life, not destroy it.

Be well. Shalom.  

Don’t Worry, Be Faithful

The Song of the Mountains Verse 45.

Time. We never seem to have enough of it. Well, we do if we make different choices. We will never have time, unless we commit to making time. The number one reason that I am aware, given by people in pre-Covid days, for not attending religious services, is time. We value our time, as we only have so much. What we invest our time in says a lot about what we value. So when people of faith stop investing their time in the Kingdom, something happens: worry creeps in. This is the heart of this lesson. 

He provides. 

This article covers a broad section of the Sermon on the Mount concerning overcoming worry with faith, Matthew 6:25-34. These can be difficult verses to understand, as Yeshua/Jesus uses an illustration of God’s provision for nature in order to illustrate His care and provision for humanity. Think of the birds, the lilies, the grass; the Lord provides for their need, and makes them beautiful, even though most of them will never be directly admired. He still provides. 

Don’t worry. 

Yeshua instructs us, “Don’t worry about your life,” about food, our bodies, clothing, or our needs. It is not beyond the scope of reason to say, “How can I not worry?!” 

The answer to this is found in verse 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” What is Yeshua saying? It is a strong correction, albeit a subtle one. In verse 33 He is telling us that we are focusing on the wrong thing. What? People become anxious, for the same reason that they become hypocritical: they begin to focus on the self rather than God. The worried person focuses on providing for his or her own needs, and in doing so, become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Why? They no longer discern, or receive the reality of the grace of God operating in their lives. 

What is the cure? 

Grace. As we seek the kingdom of God, and His righteousness first, we are reminded that the Lord cares for us, and will supply the need that we are desperately attempting to fill ourselves to no avail. How much more does the Father loves us whom He has redeemed through His Son? If He cares for nature, certainly He will care for us.  

Peter reminds us that the Lord desires to see to our concerns, “Throw all your anxieties upon him, because he cares about you” (I Pet. 5:7). Yeshua is giving us permission to give our worries over to the Lord. He is giving us permission to believe God for our needs; but it does not necessarily imply our “wants.” There is a difference. Needs are necessary for life. Wants are what we believe will make our lives better. The sad thing is that we do not really know how well we have it, until we are with those who are lacking.

Supplying.  

This leads us to the other side of this word from Yeshua. There are times, in our seeking of God’s Kingdom, that we are the source of His provision for others. There was a time in our history when family and friends took care of each other when times were tough – today that generosity of spirit seems to be disappearing, largely due to the weakening of relationships in general. 

Seeking, or convenience.  

Yeshua is teaching us to place faith, and the seeking (actively pursuing) of God’s Kingdom and righteousness, in the place of priority. After all, what has worry added to us but stress, sickness, and fear. What does it mean to “seek” God’s Kingdom? Yeshua is speaking to us about lifestyle; it requires time and effort. Yet, we have so much pressing in on our time that we too exhausted to make the effort – largely because we don’t see the need – and when we don’t see the need – we will not see the reward of the seeking.

Today the number one reason that “identifying” Christians do not attend weekly church services is time. Here is how we find the time to attend church, which still has enormous benefit to the heart, mind and soul if done properly: we turn off the TV, and the tablet; we stop texting 24×7; we stop chasing after every event every night during the week; we politely refuse to participate when events are scheduled during the time of corporate worship. Contrary to popular belief, children do not die because we say no to them, or bring them into the house of God. 

Causal Messianic faith has placed worldly pursuits first, and His Kingdom and righteousness second. Priority.

As we begin to take our eyes off God, placing Him in a secondary position, we find that fear creeps in, worries build, and the things that we have, which is more than enough, can no longer satisfy. Today people are looking for “peace” by adding to their schedules events to create “peace” that is immediately lost after they leave that environment. Peace comes to us by faith in Messiah, who then establishes in us peace that is in us everywhere we go; but faith, and a pursuit of the things of God in every area of life, must be part of our daily lives to overcome worry and trouble.

I write to you from personal experience, that nothing I have ever worried about has benefitted me. To the contrary: worry consumed my strength, hope, and faith.

How should we live our daily lives? Let Him lead, as we make the most faithful, prayerful and purposeful decisions that are available to us at that time. Let us be thoughtful, obedient and good stewards of the lives, and goods in our care.

Be well. Shalom.