My discontent with discontentment

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:11–13; NIV)

 

I am not content. I’m not even content with that sentence. I should’ve written: “I am discontent.” But that’s not really perfect either, since I’m not always discontent. Perhaps I needed to write: “I am almost never content.” Although why would I use two words, “almost never” when one simple adverb – such as “seldom” – would have sufficed? Let’s start over, then.

I am rarely content.

(Yeah, still not quite right.)

Anyways, I guess on a positive note, I’m so bad with contentment that I’m not content with my discontent. I’m dissatisfied with my lack of satisfaction.

As a biblical scholar, I probably should not say this, but I sometimes get a bit perturbed when I read Paul boast to his friends about how he has learned the secret of contentment. I’m sure it’s not, but it can come across in my mind as a humble brag:

“I’m content in all things. La da da da da!”

I’m frustrated, of course, because I’m not in on the secret. I mean, why can’t I learn the hidden formula?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand what Paul is saying. I can parse the bejesus out of that passage, discuss the first-century (Stoic) parallels to it, and recount its history of interpretation. I can deliberate on the aspect of its Greek verbs and the etymology of its juicy words. For instance, a fun fact is that the mu in the verb memuemai (translated “I have learned”) is the same mu in musterion (where we derive our word “mystery”). I get it. Paul has solved the great musterion. And to be sure, I too “know” the solution to the riddle. It is . . . “through Christ who strengthens me.” I understand that, to borrow from Philippians 3, the key to Christian contentment is knowing Christ sufficiently enough that everything else is cow-plop in comparison. Yet while I know the answer, I have to admit that I have not learned the lesson. Certainly I pursue the Lord, but I am discontent with how often and how passionately I do so.

Nevertheless, by the grace of God, I dare to say that – though I have far to go and I only inch along – I am growing in contentment. While Paul’s testimony in Philippians has been crucial for my success in this area, his is not the only one that has helped me on this way. When I was living in beautiful Ammerbuch-Entringen, Deutschland, an old German man told me something one day that often comes back to me when I think of finding contentment. On my walk from my flat to the train, I struck up a conversation with the old veteran working in his yard. In the course of our conversation, with my dreadfully limited German vocabulary and thick southern Arkansas accent, I tried to ask him if he ever got tired of living in such a tiny village. He looked at me, shook his head and said, “Nein, ich habe einen Garten gepflanzt,” which translates (I think!): “No, I planted a garden.” In retrospect, I’m wondering if the old man just misunderstood what I asked, but I took his answer as a profound metaphor.[1] I understood it as him saying that he actually loved his tiny little village because he planted (pun intended) some meaning in it. Too often, I look beyond my tiny village, in search of meaning elsewhere, instead of discovering the meaning that’s growing up between my feet. Right there, right now, in the sacred space God has allotted me.

Nonetheless, between him and Paul, I’m realizing that although I do not have all that I have desired, I desired more than I deserved. And everything that I have now is –thanks be to God – bounteously more than I should have. So, here’s to pursuing Christ and planting “gardens” in 2017!

Written by Dr. Joey Dodson

National Braai Day

National Braai LogoThe National Braai Day initiative aims to position National Heritage Day as South Africa’s annual day of celebration. We call on all WESTVILLE PRESBIES to unite around fires IN THE QUAD CAFE, to share our heritage and wave our flag on 24 September 2017 after the morning service.

Bring your own meat and refreshments and a salad to share.

Henri Nouwen and Hospitality

“In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found.

Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude and do harm. But still – that is our vocation: to convert the hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.

…if there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential it is the concept of hospitality. It is one of the richest biblical terms that can deepen and broaden our insight in our relationships to our fellow human beings. Old and New Testament stories not only show how serious our obligation is to welcome the stranger in our home, but they also tell us that guests are carrying precious gifts with them, which they are eager to reveal to a receptive host…When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them. Then, in fact, the distinction between host and guest proves to be artificial and evaporates in the recognition of the new found unity.

Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the life of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.

Indeed, more often than not rivalry and competition, desire for power and immediate results, impatience and frustration, and most of all, plain fear make their forceful demands and tend to full every possible empty corner of our life. Empty space tends to create fear. As long as our minds, hearts and hands are occupied we can avoid confronting the painful questions, to which we never gave much attention and which we do not want to surface. ‘Being busy’ has become a status symbol, and most people keep encouraging each other to keep their body and mind in constant motion.From a distance, it appears that we try to keep each other filled with words and actions, without tolerance for a moment of silence. Hosts often feel that they have to talk all the time to their guests and entertain then with things to do, places to see and people to visit. But by filling up every empty corner and occupying every empty time their hospitality becomes more oppressive than revealing.”

– Henri Nouwen in the chapter “Creating Space for Strangers” in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

Hospitality Evangelism

In the days before television dinners and Twitter mobile, people entertained themselves by talking to other people–in person and for hours at a time.  For children born in the twenty-first century, this may sound strange, even torturous, but it really happened.  And as I recall, it was something that all who experienced it . . . enjoyed.

As a boy, I remember going to my grandma’s house and hearing countless episodes of how she learned to drive a buggy, parallel park, and reside in a collegiate boarding house for women. As strange as those things were to me, they were also deeply interesting. As we drank cheap ‘pop’—it was in Michigan—and ate cookies and ice cream, my family gave full attention to my octogenarian grandmother whose hospitality displaced my adolescent need for ‘cool.’

The Power of Hospitality

Hospitality has an incredibly powerful effect on people. Even those who have the roughest outward appearance are hard-pressed to complain when someone gives them a free hot dog at the park or invites them over for ice cream sundaes.

Hospitality—which literally means ‘love for strangers’ (philozenia)—does an incredible job to break down barriers, build bridges, and prepare hearts to talk about significant things. Believe it or not, the Internet just doesn’t have that ability. But when we labor to give someone a good meal—and the quality of the meal is important—we show them that we are not out to get anything. We only desire to give ourselves to them.

As Christians, in an increasingly post-Christian world, we need to lead the way in hospitality. In a world where executives slurp soup next to their laptop and groups of teenagers gather at Taco Bell to eat alone with their cell phones, we need to recapture the art of hospitality.  It is a common grace to a world that lives in every-increasing isolation, and it is strategic means of sharing the bread of life with those with whom we dine.

The Challenge of Hospitality

Admittedly, this may mean that if we are to eat meals with strangers, we must take the initiative to invite people into our homes who are not like us. It requires embracing a certain kind of attitude that embraces awkward silence and maybe even a few cuss words rattling off our Christian decor.  It means that we will have to elevate evangelistic meals over and above our safer ‘fellowship meals’—fellowship meals that  rarely express true gospel-proclaiming koinonia.

As believers who love our neighbors, we must look for ways to pull outsiders in and  love those who are strange to us. This is what Jesus did and it is a way that we can grow as Christians to reach our world.  Even more, in a culture that continues to turn away from Christ this is exactly the step we need to take in order to reach those outside the church.

May God give us grace to look for strangers in our lives to whom we can invite into our homes so that we can show the love of God and the share the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Written by David Schrock

How to Change the World with Christian Hospitality

When we open our hearts as well as our homes, we are practicing biblical hospitality.

If you’re like most people, you probably think practicing Christian hospitality is equivalent to what you’ve seen in magazines.

And if you’re like me, you end up feeling depressed and inadequate because you don’t quite see your efforts measuring up to the glossy pages.

But take heart: practicing Christian hospitality isn’t about glamorous table settings or platters of picture-perfect food; it’s about practicing servanthood. More importantly, it’s about loving others through Christ and making people feel special.

Spiritual Gift or Scriptural Mandate?

While not everyone feels comfortable at the helm of a social event, some folks have a natural talent for making guests feel special. You might think those hospitality genes are inherited, but that’s a myth. Hospitality takes on added dimensions and new definitions when seen through the lens of Christianity.

Some Christians possess hospitality as a spiritual gift. The Bible tells us that every believer is given at least one spiritual gift for the purpose of building up God’s church and serving the body of Christ. In other words, our gifts are given not for our own benefit, but for the enrichment of others. We should be serving those around us, including the body of believers, family and friends.

Romans 12:13, however, encourages us all to practice hospitality, whether it is our spiritual gift or not. In fact, the Greek word philozenia is actually a combination of two words—philos, meaning “affection” and zenos, meaning “stranger.” While usually translated to mean hospitality, philozenia signifies affection toward strangers.

Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. —1 Peter 4:8-10

St. Benedict upheld that “hospitality maintains a prominence in the living (Christian) tradition . . . the guest represents Christ and has a claim on the welcome and care of the community.” In other words, if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected within us and is showered on those with whom we come in contact.

The Book of 1 John makes it plain that when we love others, we are showing our love for God. He loves us completely and unconditionally. Equally, when we love and serve others in the community through hospitality, we are also serving God.

Whether we have the spiritual gift of hospitality or not, it can be a part of our way of life.

Hospitality: Open Hands, Open Hearts, Open Doors

None of us deny that it’s easier to share hospitality with family and friends than with the stranger on the street. But the New Testament teaches us that Christianity is the religion of open hands, open hearts and open doors. When we open our hearts as well as our homes, we’re practicing Christian hospitality.

While the art of hospitality may come easy for some, it may be quite difficult for others. After all, it’s not always easy to give of yourself, much less your hard-earned gains. And like most things in life, hospitality isn’t done perfectly the first time. But don’t stop trying. When we do it over and over, it truly becomes a comfortable part of our nature. It’s all in perspective.

Many people choose to focus on what they don’t have instead of focusing on sharing the blessings of God. So give it a try. Somewhere along the way, you’ll realize that people are not in your home for the unlimited entertaining budget. Rather, they sense lovingkindness and genuine concern. That’s the moment when your home becomes a sanctuary for those God sends your way.

Changing Your Corner of the World with Hospitality

Just think: if Christians would practice true hospitality, we could play a significant part in changing our corner of the world. After all, we are living miracles and have so much to share.

The bottom line is that God can use people like you and me to touch lives. It doesn’t matter if we rent or own a house or an apartment; our homes are an extension of ourselves. When we practice hospitality, we have the opportunity to touch lives in an intimate, personal way. Be bold: God has not only given you the roof over your head, but also will give you the love and wisdom needed to open your home to others.

With a little planning and preparation—and a good measure of prayer—you can be prepared to share your home with friends, neighbors and even the strangers God may send your way.

Written by Kathy Chapman Sharp 

 

What can we learn from Jesus’s hospitality

We ‘ate’ our way out of Paradise: can we ‘eat’ our way into heaven? Adam died for eating the forbidden fruit. The second Adam died that whosoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood, shall attain eternal life.

Table fellowship defines Jesus’ communality. ‘Eating’ is so patterned into the scheme of his work revealing a striking centrality of food to Jesus’ ministry.

Gospel narratives are framed around meal settings. The gospel of Luke, for example is contextualized with references to Jesus’ meals. Each meal portends significant lessons, yet also becomes scandalous in the eyes of Jesus’ critics. Jesus turns each ‘eating controversy’ into a teaching opportunity as well as a fellowship unique for its open welcome.

After the first four chapters, the Gospel of Luke becomes a story of Jesus’ meals. In Luke 5, Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. In Luke 7 Jesus eats at the home of Simon the Pharisee and is anointed by a sinner. In Luke 9 Jesus feeds the multitude. In Luke 10 Jesus eats at the home of Martha and Mary. In Luke 11 Jesus at a meal and disagrees with the Pharisees.

In Luke 14, Jesus teaches the need to invite those who cannot invite us back. In Luke 19, Jesus eats in Zacchaeus’ home. Luke 22 records the Last Supper and Luke 24 has Jesus breaking bread in Emmaus, and another meal in Jerusalem.

Notably, Jesus states his mission as: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking…” (Luke 7.30), and Jesus’ critics described him as a “gluttonous and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!” (Luke 7:34). Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley make an interesting observation that Jesus was killed “because of the way he ate; because he ate and drank with sinners.”

He crossed ‘taboo’ boundaries and caused offence by his open welcome. Questions of kosher aside, a host of sinners reclining at the table with Jesus cast doubt on Jesus’ credibility. Luke (7:36-39), for example, records: “a woman … who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.”

As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Deeply theological, but equally cultural and religious questions arise.

If Jesus were a prophet, would he let a sinner touch him? Would he not know? In response, Jesus points out that love is commensurate with the appreciation of how much one has been forgiven. Jesus then draws an extraordinary conclusion that, ‘her many sins have been forgiven as her great love has shown” (7:47). Hospitality inspires love, following which genuine repentance and fellowship is a real possibility.

Jesus’ meals were meant to illustrate a new social order. Significant to note is that miracles of healing and stories of forgiveness are often intertwined with these meals. The sick is healed, the sinner is forgiven, and incredibly the outsider is ‘invited’ not only to the table but also to a communion with the divine, Jesus Christ – the host of the reconstituted and redeemed community.

The most undeserving of people are given a place at the table – to be heard, healed, forgiven, restored, taught, feed and to become beneficiaries of divine hospitality.

The Last Supper synthesizes the meaning of all the meals Jesus had with his followers. We are retrospectively reminded of the manna and prospectively of the coming heavenly banquet. An aspect of service stands out in John 13, where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Looking back and looking forward while lovingly serving one another can provide a rewarding fellowship in which we can learn from each other in humility and mutual hospitality.

In deep gratitude the Samaritan woman partook of the hospitality of the ‘water of life’ and the ‘food the disciples knew nothing about.’ Her experience was redemptive resulting in a shift of understanding and the appreciation of Jesus as the messiah.

‘Food’ was uppermost in Jesus’ mind even after the resurrection. He meets the disciples and asks: ‘Have you got anything to eat? (John 21:4; Luke 24:41). The feast continues. The Emmaus meal (Luke 24: 19ff) results in opening of eyes – heralding a new beginning, affording a revelatory experience. This recalls the miracle of Cana through which Jesus reveals the glory of God. In John 21, Peter has a meal with Jesus.

But now at the table fellowship, Peter is re-oriented and ‘invited’ into a re-union. With love and generous hospitality, he is commissioned to ‘feed my sheep.’ The ‘feasting’ goes on as the sheep are ‘fed’ in the ministry of love.

Uninhibited hospitality models Jesus’ style of ministry. Everyone is ‘invited’ to learn in humility, to serve, listen, and grow together. Such a model affords redemptive and revelatory experiences bringing healing, forgiveness and reinvigoration of fellowship.

Eating with sinners, tax collectors and Pharisees caused deep offence, Peter’s betrayal deeply hurts but ‘depart from me you evil doers’ is reserved for a time yet to come. In the meantime, can we learn from Jesus’ hospitality and let the wheat and the tares grow together?

 

Written by Professor Joseph Galgalo, Vice Chancellor of St Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya.

Jesus ate his way through the gospels….

From a blog post by Mark Glanville.

Ever noticed how many of Jesus’ meals are in the gospels? Meals feature so prominently in the gospels that scholars have commented: ‘Jesus ate his way through the Gospels.’ Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley even claim: ‘… they killed him because of the way he ate; because he ate and drank with sinners.’ Jesus revealed the Kingdom as he shared meals with others. And Jesus’ ‘fellowship meals’ are formative for the mission of the local church today.

Have you noticed how much ministry Jesus did around the dinner table? Here are some

The wedding at Cana, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, c. 1530

examples. For ‘starters’, pardon the pun, two meals, the last supper and the feeding of the 5,000, are recorded in all four gospels. Also Jesus’ meal with Levi the tax collector and his shadowy friends is found in all but John’s gospel. We add the feeding of the 4,000, found in both Mark and Matthew. Total these up and we have four meals, found in thirteen passages! But there are many more. Meals are particularly prominent in Luke’s gospel. Take a look at two very uncomfortable meals at the houses of Pharisees (11:37-54 and 14:1-24), the meal with Zacchaeus (19:1-10), and the meal that followed Jesus’ resurrection appearance on the Emmaus Road (24:30). The list is still not complete. You can see why scholars have said, ‘Jesus ate his way through the Gospels.’

Jesus’ fellowship meals didn’t come from ‘out of the blue’. They are the delightful ‘second course’ to follow the feasts and celebration of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament Israel’s yearly calendar was punctuated by festivity at the sanctuary, which always included eating! Feasts of weeks and tabernacles were joyful celebrations of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest (see for example Deuteronomy Ch 16:1-17). And tone of these meals is celebration: Israel is repeatedly exhorted to ‘rejoice!’ [1] Jesus’ feasting and celebration then was not a new invention. Rather, in his fellowship meals, Jesus was being what Israel was always supposed to have been: a centre of joy, celebration and justice for the whole world!

The relational richness of Jesus’ ministry contrasts with the isolation of suburban life today. Skye Jethani observes how private and isolated the lives of westerners have become:

Family zones are demarcated by fences. And within the home, family members are zoned into private bedrooms – each with a television, Internet connection, and telephone. The suburb, like the consumer worldview from which it came, forms us to live fragmented and isolated lives of private consumption.[2]

The result of individualism and isolation in western culture is pervading loneliness. Many people feel that they lack connection and meaningful relationships. I find myself regularly surprised as yet another friend expresses desire for richer relationships. My friends are capable and socially skilled but isolated by the suburban way of life. Jesus’ fellowship meals speak into our culture of individualism and isolation. They show us the shape of life and flourishing. They display the beauty, feasting and joy of the new creation – that is secured in Christ’s resurrection. There seems to be something about the bare sharing of a meal that reveals the kingdom of God. In light of Jesus’ fellowship meals, it is no surprise that the second coming of Christ is also conceived as a meal – the ‘wedding supper of the lamb’ (Rev 19).

We Christians must learn from these meals, to bring Christ’s joy to our neighbourhoods and workplaces. Tod, a city lawyer and friend of mine, demonstrates how this Biblical theme of festivity can shape the church’s mission. Every Friday Tod arranges for colleagues in his law firm to meet after work at a local cafe or bar. Colleagues gather to share life and relationship and Tod is the initiator. In this context of shared celebration, Tod takes opportunities to ‘give an answer for the hope that he has’. In this way Tod exemplifies how a Christian can bring the celebration of Christ into a work place. Jesus’ fellowship meals teach that we Christians ought to be hubs of relationship and celebration in our communities.

But dig deeper into Jesus’ fellowship meals by observing who Jesus eats with – this too is critical for the church’s mission. I will take Jesus’ meal with Levi as an example. Mark 2:15 says:

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him (ESV).

To continue reading…

A Meal with Jesus

We will continue with our focus on Everyday Church this Sunday by looking at how Jesus used meals to reach out to those needing him.

Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the table:

“Consider for a moment what happens at the feeding of the five thousand. God gives out bread. On a massive scale. Or think about the wedding at Cana. Jesus turns perhaps 120-180 gallons of water into wine. Quality wine. At the beginning of the Bible story, the first thing God does for humanity is present us with a menu: “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground, the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:8-9). At the end of the Bible story, God sets before us a perpetual feast. God likes doing the catering. He thinks food is a good thing.

God incarnate eats. Jesus would have eaten two meals a day. When he ate with the rich, he might have had white bread, but most of the time he ate the barley bread eaten by the poor, along with cheese, butter, and eggs. Meat and poultry were too expensive to be eaten except on feast days. He may have had fish on the Sabbath. There was of course no tea or coffee. Jesus would have drunk wine, generally mixed with three-parts water. Honey was the primary sweetener, along with figs. Pepper, ginger, and other spices were imported, but were expensive. Such was the diet of God incarnate.

The risen Christ eats. Indeed he makes a point of doing so publicly: “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them” (Luke 24:42-43). Eating in the presence of God is our future. Food will be part of the renewed creation. Food is not left behind with the resurrection. References to a future feast are not just metaphors for an ethereal future existence. Our future is a real feast.

The point is that food isn’t just fuel. It’s not just a mechanism for sustaining us for ministry. It’s gift, generosity, grace. Jesus gave thanks and broke bread. In so doing, he affirms that food is to be received as a gift from God. Food matters as matter. It’s a physical substance, and part of God’s good world. We’re to embrace the world as it is—not merely as a picture of some other spiritual world.

Food is a central ingredient in our experience of God’s goodness. It’s not merely an illustration of God’s goodness. If it were a mere illustration, we could leave it behind once we’d gotten the idea.”

From the book by Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus.