Category  |  Christian Ministry & the Church

A Warm Welcome for All

During a recent vacation, my wife and I visited a famous athletic complex. The gates were wide open, and it appeared that we were welcome to visit. We enjoyed touring the grounds and admiring the well-manicured sports fields. As we were about to leave, someone stopped us and coldly told us we were not supposed to be there. Suddenly, we were reminded that we were outsiders—and it felt uncomfortable.

On that vacation we also visited a church. Again, the doors were open, so we walked in. What a difference! Many people greeted us warmly and made us feel right at home. We walked out of that church service knowing we were welcomed and accepted.

Sadly, it isn’t uncommon for outsiders to receive the unspoken message “you’re not supposed to be here” when they visit a church. But Scripture calls us to be hospitable to all. Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which surely means welcoming them into our lives and our churches (Matthew 22:39). In Hebrews, we are reminded to “show hospitality to strangers” (13:2). Both Luke and Paul instruct us to show active love to people with social and physical needs (Luke 14:13–14; Romans 12:13). And among the body of believers, we have a special responsibility to show love (Galatians 6:10).

When we welcome all people openly and with Christlike love, we reflect our Savior’s love and compassion. 

Unlocking a Mystery

When I came home from work one day and saw a pair of lady’s high-heel shoes next to the driveway, I was sure I knew whose they were. So I put them in the garage to give to my daughter Lisa when she returned to the house to pick up her children. But when I checked with Lisa, I found they didn’t belong to her. In fact, no one in our family claimed them, so I put them back where I’d found them. The next day, they were gone. Mysterious.

Did you know that the apostle Paul wrote of a mystery in his letters? But the mystery he described was so much more than some kind of “whodunit.” In Ephesians 3, for example, Paul spoke of a mystery that “was not made known to people in other generations” (v. 5). This mystery is that, while in the past God revealed Himself through Israel, now, through Jesus, Gentiles—those outside of Israel—could be “heirs together with Israel” (v. 6).

Think about what this means: all who trust Jesus as Savior can love and serve God together. We can all equally “approach God with freedom and confidence” (v. 12). And through the church’s unity the world will see God’s wisdom and goodness (v. 10).

Praise God for our salvation. It unlocks for us the mystery of unity as people of any and all backgrounds become one in Jesus.

Many Beautiful Things

Just before her death, artist and missionary Lilias Trotter looked out of the window and saw a vision of a heavenly chariot. According to her biographer, a friend asked, “Are you seeing many beautiful things?” She answered, “Yes, many, many beautiful things.”

Trotter’s final words reflect God’s work in her life. Not only in death, but throughout her life, God revealed much beauty to her and through her. Although she was a talented artist, she chose to serve Jesus as a missionary in Algeria. Ruskin, a famous painter who tutored her, is said to have commented, “What a waste,” when she chose the mission field over a career in art.

Similarly, in the New Testament, when a woman came to Simon the Leper’s house with an alabaster jar and poured perfume on Jesus’s feet, those with them saw it as a waste. This expensive perfume was worth a year’s common wages, so some of the people present thought it could have been used to help the poor. However, commending this woman’s deep devotion to Him, Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6).

Every day we can choose to let Christ’s life shine in our lives and display His beauty to the world. To some, it may seem a waste, but let us have willing hearts to serve Him. May Jesus say we have done many beautiful things for Him.

Building Bridges

In our neighborhood, high concrete walls surround our homes. Many of these walls are enhanced with electric barbed wires lining the top. The purpose? To ward off robbers.

Frequent power outages are also a problem in our neighborhood. These outages render the front gate-bell useless. Because of the wall, a visitor may be kept out in the scorching sun or torrential rain during these outages. Yet even when the gate-bell works, to admit the visitor might depend on who they are. Our fence-walls serve a good purpose, but they can become walls of discrimination—even when the visitor is obviously not an intruder.

The Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well had a similar difficulty with discrimination. The Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. When Jesus asked her for a drink, she said, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9). As she began to open up to Jesus, she had a life-changing experience that positively affected her and her townsfolk (vv. 39–42). Jesus became the bridge that broke the wall of hostility and favoritism.

The lure to discriminate is real, and we need to look for it in our own lives. As Jesus showed us, we can reach out to all people regardless of nationality, tribe, social status, or reputation. He came to build bridges, not walls.

Beyond the Stars

In 2011, the National Aeronautics and Space Association celebrated thirty years of space research. In those three decades, shuttles carried over 355 people into space and helped construct the International Space Station. After retiring five shuttles, NASA has now shifted its focus to deep-space exploration.

The human race has invested massive amounts of time and money, with some astronauts even sacrificing their lives, to study the immensity of the universe. Yet the evidence of God’s majesty stretches far beyond what we can measure.

When we consider the Sculptor and Sustainer of the universe who knows each star by name (Isaiah 40:26), we can understand why the psalmist David praises His greatness (Psalm 8:1). The Lord’s fingerprints are on “the moon and the stars, which [He] set in place” (v. 3). The Maker of the heavens and the earth reigns above all, yet He remains near all His beloved children, caring for each intimately and personally (v. 4). In love, God gives us great power, responsibility, and the privilege to care for and explore the world He’s entrusted to us (vv. 5–8).

As we study our star-spattered night skies, our Creator invites us to seek Him with passion and persistence. He hears every prayer and song of praise flowing over our lips.

Unfrozen

At a roundtable discussion about reconciliation, one participant wisely said, “Don’t freeze people in time.” He observed how we tend to remember mistakes people make and never grant them the opportunity to change.

There are so many moments in Peter’s life when God could have “frozen” him in time. But He never did. Peter—the impulsive disciple—“corrected” Jesus, earning a sharp rebuke from the Lord (Matthew 16:21–23). He famously denied Christ (John 18:15–27), only to be restored later (John 21:15–19). And he once contributed to racial divisions within the church.

The issue arose when Peter (also called Cephas) had separated himself from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11–12). Only recently he associated freely with them. But some Jews arrived who insisted that circumcision was required for believers in Christ, so Peter began avoiding the uncircumcised Gentiles. This marked a dangerous return to the law of Moses. Paul called Peter’s behavior “hypocrisy” (v. 13).

Because of Paul’s bold confrontation, the issue was resolved. Peter went on to serve God in the beautiful spirit of unity He intends for us.

No one needs to remain frozen in their worst moments. In God’s grace we can embrace each other, learn from each other, confront each other when it’s necessary, and grow together in His love.

Hiding Our Hurts

I was guest-speaking in a local church and my topic was an honest story about presenting our brokenness before God and receiving the healing He wants to give. Before closing in prayer, the pastor stood in the center aisle, looked deeply into the eyes of his gathered congregants, and said, “As your pastor I have the privilege of seeing you midweek and hearing your heart-breaking stories of brokenness. Then in our weekend worship services, I have the pain of watching you hide your hurt away.”

My heart ached at the hidden hurts that God came to heal. The writer of Hebrews describes the word of God as alive and active. Many have understood this “word” to be the Bible, but it’s even more than that. Jesus is the living Word of God. He evaluates our thoughts and attitudes—and loves us still.

Jesus died to give us access to God’s presence, all the time. And while we all know that it’s not wise to share everything with everyone, we also know that God intends His church be a place where we can live unapologetically as broken and forgiven followers of Christ. It’s to be a place where we “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

What are you hiding from others today? And how are you trying to hide from God as well? God sees us through Jesus. And He still loves us. Will we let Him?

Many Gifts, One Purpose

Corn, also called maize, is the staple food in my home country of Mexico. There are so many different types. You can find yellow, brown, red, and black cobs, even mixed ones with a wonderful spotted pattern. But people in the cities usually won’t eat the spotted cobs. As restaurateur and researcher Amado Ramírez explains, they somehow believe uniformity is a synonym of quality. Yet the spotted cobs taste good, and they make excellent tortillas.

The church of Christ is much more similar to a spotted ear of corn than to a cob of just one color. The apostle Paul used the imagery of a body to describe the church, because even though we are all one body, and we have one same God, each of us has been given a different gift. As Paul said, “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:5–6). Our diversity in the ways we help each other shows God’s generosity and creativity.

As we embrace our diversity, may we also make every effort to keep our unity in faith and purpose. Yes, we have different abilities and backgrounds. We speak different languages and come from different countries. But we have the same wonderful God, the Creator who delights in so much variety.

And in Truth

Years ago, I attended a wedding where two people from different countries got married. Such a blending of cultures can be beautiful, but this ceremony included Christian traditions mixed with rituals from a faith that worshiped many gods.

Zephaniah the prophet pointedly condemned the mixing of other religions with faith in the one true God (sometimes called syncretism). Judah had become a people who bowed in worship to the true God but who also relied on the god Molek (Zephaniah 1:5). Zephaniah described their adoption of pagan culture (v. 8) and warned that as a result God would drive the people of Judah from their homeland.

Yet God never stopped loving His people. His judgment was to show them their need to turn to Him. So Zephaniah encouraged Judah to “Seek righteousness, seek humility” (2:3). Then the Lord gave them tender words promising future restoration: “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home” (3:20).

It’s easy to condemn examples of obvious syncretism like the wedding I attended. But in reality, all of us easily blend God’s truth with the assumptions of our culture. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to test our beliefs against the truth of God’s Word and then to stand for that truth confidently and lovingly. Our Father warmly embraces anyone who worships Him in both Spirit and truth (see John 4:23–24). 

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