Proverbs 12:9 (NIV) says, “Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.” There was a recent RNS article titled Hillsong was extraordinary. That’s the problem. Hillsong is continually in the spotlight for scandal after scandal and cover-up after cover-up. Hillsong prided itself on running a “tight ship” on Sundays, complete with the most influential preachers, best music (they write their own songs by professional musicians), and building a worship experience that sets the mood and draws people closer to God. One paragraph in the RNS article really resonated:
“But the problem of Hillsong NYC goes deeper than the scandals surrounding a few celebrity pastors. The problem of Hillsong arises with the desire to be an extraordinary church led by extraordinary communicators and extraordinary musicians creating an extraordinary experience. When it comes to church, we don’t need to be entertained. We don’t need to be wowed. We need ordinary churches with ordinary people doing ordinary work in communion with an extraordinarily loving God.”
In Acts 3 Peter and John healed a lame man as they were walking up the steps to the temple. Needless to say, it caused quite a stir among the religious leaders. What happened next is astounding: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 ESV). Ordinary churches with ordinary people doing ordinary work in communion with an extraordinarily loving God!
James warns against worldliness. He says that passions wage war within us. He says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so your fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2 ESV). He also says that when we do ask we don’t receive because of poor motives: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (vs. 3).
The opposite is true, though. We will receive if we ask with proper motives. James says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (vs. 6). When we humble ourselves and ask with proper motives, God will grant it to us. God wants us to be able to help others. He wants us to have abundance so that we can provide for the needs of others.
If we humble ourselves, distance ourselves from worldly desires, and genuinely want to help others God will provide for our needs and grant us what we ask of him. God’s will is that people be taken care of and ultimately be saved. When we work to this end, God blesses abundantly.
This Sunday is Pentecost, which is celebrated by Christians across the world. It comes from the word pentekoste, which means 50 and it marks 50 days from Easter Sunday. Its origins are from the Old Testament when Israelites were commanded to have three festivals a year–Passover, Feast of Weeks (aka “first fruits,” now called Pentecost), and the Ingathering. Pentecost was a way to give thanks to God for providing crops. It was scheduled 7 weeks from the first harvest of wheat, which happened right around Passover.
Like Passover, Pentecost took on new meaning through Christ. Instead of only celebrating first fruits of the physical harvest, it is now a celebration of the first fruits of the spiritual harvest. It’s very fitting that on the first Christian Pentecost, 3,000 souls came to Christ through baptism. The link to first fruits doesn’t seem to be acknowledged as much as it should and we absolutely should not overlook the strong link. God is the God of harvest. He provides out of his love for mankind. The feast was an annual requirement because God provides each year, forever.
Listen to Peter’s language: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord calls to himself” (Acts 2:38, 39 ESV). If we, the church, are faithful God will keep providing the promise of harvest for all generations!
The word for hospitable comes from sandwiching two words together–friend and stranger. The word for friend is philos, which is where we get the word “brotherly love.” A “philos” was someone you loved as a brother or friend. This word, combined with the word for stranger, is translated “hospitable,” but quite literally means to be friendly towards strangers.
Romans 12:13 ESV says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” And in 1 Timothy 5:10, a widow could be enrolled to receive help if she is no less than sixty, had one husband, and “having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.”
We often think of being hospitable as opening up our homes to friends and strangers. While this can be part of hospitality, the truest meaning is simply to be friendly to strangers–to treat them as a neighbor. Jesus epitomized hospitality throughout his ministry, including calling his disciples. When he called the Galilean women, they were strangers in need of a kind hand: “And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:1-3).
Jesus constantly showed hospitality and demonstrated how his followers should do the same.
Jacob’s wife Rachel struggled to have children of her own. When she finally was able, she had Joseph and then Benjamin. It was Benjamin’s birth that brought Rachel’s death. As she was dying she named him Ben-oni, which means son of my sorrow (or son of my strength). Jacob renamed him to Benjamin, which means son of my right hand.
Jacob buried her on the way to what would later be called Bethlehem: “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:19, 20 ESV). Rachel’s tomb, in fact, is still there to this day. According to the Midrash, Joseph was the only son of Jacob who prayed at Rachel’s tomb.
When the Israelites were in exile, they would pass by Rachel’s tomb, stop, and pray to God. 70 years later they returned from exile. Rachel epitomizes what a true mother looks like. She died a woman of honor through a very difficult labor. She was selfless and had deep concern for her sons. The Jewish people still honor her to this day, some 4,000 years after she died.
Proverbs 22:6 says to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Some translations say “start children off the way they should go.” Starting them off on the right foot spiritually plays a vital role in their future success. What we teach them about life, church, commitment, and will to serve will determine the direction they move in the future.
One time we had to do a family tree as a project for a psychology class in graduate school. At first it seemed like busy work. We had to fill in ever family member, both distant and immediate, that we could think of. Then we had to talk about personality traits. Once we completed it our professor told us that each tree we did tells the story of how we got here and, to a large degree, why we behave the way we behave.
I always thought I was incredibly independent and that few people have a big influence on me, but once I took a closer look at the family tree a very clear pattern emerged. The way we think about people, ourselves, our work ethic, our habits. . . most of this is influenced by our environment and what we were taught growing up. So starting our children off on the way they should go is very, very important and will mark out much of their future for them.
Perhaps surprisingly there are very few mentions of families in the New Testament. We know virtually nothing about the Apostles’ families–which of them had wives and children or not. We know that Peter, James, and “other apostles” did: “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Cor. 9:5). Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law when she had a bad fever (Luke 4:38, 39).
Mary and Martha appear to be single and we don’t know whether their brother Lazarus was married or not. We hear about the 84 year old widow prophetess Anna who prayed at the temple day and night. We can probably assume she had no children. Timothy, who became a prominent evangelist, was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father: “A disciple was there named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1). This marriage arrangement was forbidden (Deut. 7:3-4), yet Paul took Timothy along and mentored him to be an evangelist.
Timothy may have remained single. In fact, the same is true of Barnabas, Silas, and Titus. We know for sure that Paul was single. The Samaritan woman at the well had five previous husbands and was with a current man when Jesus spoke to her. We have no idea if, or how many, children she might have had. The Bible doesn’t say. But she evangelized an entire village. There is no such thing as a “typical family” described in the New Testament. Like today, some families were divided. Some married. Some didn’t. Some were divorced or widowed. But God used them all to do his kingdom work!