What do you have in your hands?

Of late I’ve been confronted over and over again, in conversations and through circumstances, by a simple question: What do I have in my hands?

At the turn of a new year, I often fall into the trap of dreaming up some grand plan to change the world, a plan that would require the gathering of vast resources and a grand following. That doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon! And as I’ve thought about it, most of the grand deeds done in the history of the world started with a person taking what they had in their hands and putting it to work to meet some immediate need.

So what do you have in your hands? Is it a stack of old boards that could be made into something? Is it some space out back that could be cultivated to grow food for someone who’s hungry? Is it a box of old garden seeds that need to be planted? Is it a cupboard full of flour that should be baked into bread? Is it some sort of message from Above that needs to be well stated so others can hear it? Is it a pile of old newspapers in your grandparents basement? Or is it all the old woodworking tools buried beneath the papers? Is it a pick-up truck or van that can carry lots of stuff? Is it an empty room that could provide shelter to a traveler? Is it a box filled with old blankets or clothes that could be put to good use? Is it that old sewing machine and boxes of fabric? Is it some sort of knowledge or skill that could be taught to another, who could, in turn, pass it on?

So what do you have in your hands? What has God put in your hands?

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Yeast

There are few aromas more inviting than a yeasty loaf of bread right out of the oven. As a child, I loved the smell of fresh bread, and even more, the taste of  the dough, drawing me to the art of bread baking at a young age. Since then, I’ve made many different sorts of bread, but I’ve come to enjoy the simplest recipes the best. And it can be very simple: flour, water, salt—and the magic of yeast and time. Many recipes add other ingredients to enrich, sweeten, or flavor the bread, but the additional ingredients are unnecessary for joy.

Yeast is really a plant—a fast reproducing fungus—that feeds on sugars (or starch), producing gas that causes the flour and water mixture to rise. In the process, it also gives the bread a hearty flavor. (When mixed with fruit juice or grain mash, in time yeast produces the complex sugar, alcohol, thus also being the source of wine and beer.) This fungus and its spores blow on the wind and can be captured in a flour and water paste if set out in the open air—at least, if it’s in the right place, at the right time. In ancient times yeast was shared among the people in families and communities, with a little yeasty dough or paste set aside for the next batch or to help a neighbor. (Today it is easy to purchase yeast in a commercial form at any food store.) Just a little yeast added to a large bowl of flour and water will quickly reproduce until it permeates every part of the dough.

Yeast is mentioned often in the Bible and appears prominently in the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:17-20 and elsewhere). The people were to make bread without yeast to remind them of their hurry as they left Egypt. (They couldn’t take the time to let their bread rise during their escape.) In subsequent Passover celebrations, the people were required to remove all yeast from their homes for the entire holiday season, upon pain of excommunication from the community. So in time, the presence of yeast became a symbol of the presence of sin, which needed to be entirely removed from a household. And surely, just as a little yeast quickly reproduces to permeate an entire batch of dough, just one small sin can quickly multiply in a life, overwhelming it completely in the end.

Centuries later, Jesus took up this theme of comparing yeast to sin. And he didn’t compare the presence of yeast to the presence of obvious sins. He compared it to the presence of insidious, hidden sins—sins that often present themselves as righteousness—and that spread quickly and silently. He warned the people about the yeast of prominent religious groups of his day, whom He knew had leavened (or infected) all Israel with their false understandings of God and His law.

“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” . . . So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” Then at last they understood that he wasn’t speaking about the yeast in bread, but about the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:6, 11-12)

The Pharisees and Sadducees received the brunt of Jesus’ criticism, because they fell into two traps that so often snare the religious among us. For the Pharisees it was the trap of legalism and hypocrisy. They set up numerous laws, often sincerely at first, to make sure the laws of Moses were being upheld. But over time, religious life became an attempt to keep the letter of the law (forgetting the spirit) in order to look righteous in front of others. And this sort of legalism always falls prey to hypocrisy, as broken people try to maintain appearances even as they are constantly beset by sin (see Luke 11:39-52). Jesus summarized the problem with this warning to his disciples: “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). How many religious communities are poisoned by the yeast of legalism and hypocrisy? In such communities, where is there room for love, mercy, or grace?

For the Sadducees it was the trap of embracing a rationalism that resulted in skepticism and unbelief. The Sadducees were a priestly party that had allowed Greek culture to permeate their thinking and practice. These Hellenized Jews questioned the miraculous, often refusing to believe in the afterlife and the resurrection of the body. They used the trappings of religion as a means to power, using the laws of Moses as the structure for a religion of reason. When Gospel writer Mark recorded Jesus’ warning against “yeast,” he included (in place of the warning about the Sadducees) a warning about the yeast of Herod (Mark 8:15). The yeast of Herod represents yet another trap for the religious, that of license (Romans 6:1-4). King Herod only made an appearance of following the laws of Moses in order to gain political power and the opportunity to live a life of pleasure. How often have we seen religious communities with leaders who use the trappings of religion to gain power and manipulate others for their benefit, without commitment to the supernatural elements of the faith? In such communities, where is there room for faith and truth?

In one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church, he warned them of the yeast of sin: “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7; see also Galatians 5:9). Blatant sins, along with the insidious sins of legalism, hypocrisy, and religious manipulation and abuse, all have the power to grow quickly and silently in any community, leading to destruction. We have been clearly warned about the dangers of the yeast of sin.

But there is another side to the illustration of yeast. Jesus also used it to illustrate something good—the secret and powerful growth of God’s Kingdom in our broken world: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (Matthew 13:33; see also Luke 13:20-21). This also is an illustration worthy of our reflection. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God spreads quietly, like yeast growing in a lump of dough. God’s transforming work doesn’t usually happen with a bang. It most often starts in the heart of an individual and then quietly multiplies from there—one word, one small act at a time—quietly, miraculously accounting for all the intricacies of any given community. It happens first in a person’s heart—in your heart, in my heart. How often do we skip that humble beginning by designing a loud, visible, expensive program for God’s Kingdom, only to realize in the end that we only achieved attention for ourselves—and no lasting change? It is a bit like trying to trying to add air to a lump of dough using an air compressor. It doesn’t really work and usually makes a very big mess.

How easy it is to forget that Jesus calls us to quiet acts of unselfish kindness—to love God and neighbor with whatever we have at hand—not to some new, earth-shaking program. It is the small acts of unselfish service, empowered by God’s Spirit, that touch off a thousand actions and words in the people around us, spreading God’s rule and goodness secretly through the dough of His Kingdom.

Kitchen Tip: Make it a discipline to bake bread on a regular basis. Everyone close to you will bless you for it, and it will provide you with plenty of opportunities for reflection. As you do your baking, ask how the yeast of sin has found a way into your life and look for ways to remove it with the help of God and your friends. Also ask how you might take part in infusing our broken world with the yeast of God’s Kingdom and all that entails.

You might want to start with this simple recipe, used for centuries for French bread and boule loaves. This wet-dough recipe doesn’t require much kneading—only time for the yeast to work. Mix in a bowl: 2 cups water, 1 T sea salt, 1 T dry yeast, 4 1/3 cups unbleached white flour. Dissolve the salt and yeast in the water; then add the flour. (This recipe can be multiplied proportionally for bigger batches. I often mix 6 cups water, 3 T sea salt, 3 T dry yeast, 13 cups flour to keep some dough at hand.)

You will find this dough fairly wet, and it should be. After mixing it, let it sit for four hours or so. At that point you can refrigerate it for up to two weeks before using it; the wet dough is actually much easier to handle when cold. If you plan to use it right away, knead in enough flour to make it easy to handle and form it into two ball shaped (c. 1 pound) loaves. Let those sit for several hours before baking. To bake, use either a pizza stone for 30 minutes at 400 degrees or a bread pan for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. (For more hints on baking this kind of dough, take a look here.)

Sabbath

“So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

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As creatures made in God’s image, it is natural for us to look for ways to create and rule. The garden is one place we can live this out in concrete ways. Each winter about this time, seed displays and catalogs find my attention, and I begin to think about what to plant and how to organize things. This is a good exercise for the days of Lent, for it is a time to reflect on how we are doing as creators and rulers—as makers and keepers. In the beginning, God made this amazing garden planet that we call home, and then he instituted a day of rest. In later Scriptures he clarifies that the rest is a necessary gift to the land and all the creatures living in it, including ourselves. So as rulers in the garden, we need to think about what it means to institute Sabbath in all we do.

As with all of his laws, the Sabbath was given to the people for their own good. God created people, animals, and even the environment with particular needs. And all have been created with the need to rest. That need could have been provided for if humankind—those assigned the task of ruling the earth—had guided others to follow God’s example. But after the fall into sin, people in power came to abuse and enslave the poor and weak, driving them to exhaustion. The same was done with the animals and the land. And such is the state of the world today.

God gave His laws to provide direction and bring hope that there might still be a world of wholeness and peace—of shalom. Some of His laws called the people to love God above all else. Some of the laws called the people to care for others as they would care for themselves. The Sabbath law calls people to do both—to look up toward God in worship and out toward others with generosity. It also demands that we look inward, granting ourselves the chance to slow down and find our true Center.

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. . . . On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the LORD your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

“Plant and harvest your crops for six years, but let the land be renewed and lie uncultivated during the seventh year. Then let the poor among you harvest whatever grows on its own. Leave the rest for wild animals to eat. The same applies to your vineyards and olive groves. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but on the seventh day you must stop working. This gives your ox and your donkey a chance to rest. It also allows your slaves and the foreigners living among you to be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:10-12; see also Leviticus 25:2-7, 11-12)

Why do we find God’s laws such a burden? Why do we come to obedience kicking and screaming? When the people of Israel failed to follow God’s laws, God asked Moses, “How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the LORD’s gift to you.” (Exodus 16:28-29) All God’s laws—especially the Sabbath laws—are gifts that help us to learn hospitality toward God, toward others, toward our animals, toward the land, even toward ourselves. They are a means for finding balance, health, and wholeness in life.

Observing the Sabbath laws, like any laws, can easily be turned on their head, leading to ever new forms of oppression. This was hardly the original intent. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day made a great show of Sabbath observance and demanded the same of others—even of those who did not have the choices afforded the wealthy. Jesus was deeply angered by their misuse of the Sabbath.

The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”

Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:24-27; see also Matthew 2:1-12; Mark 3:4)

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One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!

But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”

But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” (Luke 13:10-16; see also Luke 14:1-6)

If the law of Sabbath is a gift to teach us hospitality toward God, toward others, toward all God’s creatures, toward the land, even toward ourselves, we must ask hard questions: Are we accomplishing hospitality with all our decisions and actions, whether on the Sabbath or otherwise? Do our decisions and actions set others free, or are others enslaved by them? Do our decisions and actions lead to the oppression of others, of God’s myriad creatures, of the world he has created, of our families, of ourselves? How do our decisions and actions reflect the fact that God is ruling in our lives? Are we truly worshiping Him alone?

God wants us to find rest in Him and to offer rest to all whom we touch in this life. This day, look for new ways to find rest in God by embracing His law and His loving presence. Look for new ways to grant rest to others by cleaning a house, writing a letter, making a phone call, weeding a garden, giving  a smile or a greeting, cooking a meal, offering healing space. Be an instrument of God’s peace, and help others experience the benefits of God’s rule and presence. Be a part of God’s redemption in the world.

Garden Tip: Demonstrate the Sabbath law in your garden through crop rotation. Separate your garden into different sections or beds, rotating different kinds of plants from bed to bed each year. Different kinds of plants have different nutritional needs. By grouping and rotating them, you can enable the soil to recharge. This will also reduce the fungal and bacterial diseases and insect pests that tend to collect in garden soil used for the same crop year after year.

The traditional four bed garden is an excellent model for this. Divide up your vegetables into four categories: (1) leafy (lettuce, kale, salad greens [need +nitrogen]), (2) fruits (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash [need +phosphorus]), (3) roots (onions, garlic, carrots, beets [need +potassium]), (4) builders (peas, beans [these add nitrogen])/ cleaners (corn, potatoes). Then rotate the plantings through your beds in this order. This succession gives an organically fed soil the appropriate nutrients in successive years.

Add a fifth bed to the cycle and plant a cover crop (green manure) during the fifth year, allowing the bed to rest. The cover crop will keep weeds from taking over the fallow bed and add organic matter to the soil when it’s turned under. Use annual grasses like rye or, if you need an additional boost of nitrogen, a legume like vetch.

Boundaries

It may sound like hospitality is all about breaking down barriers, about opening all doors to welcome others in. While there is some truth to this, offering a hospitable environment involves creating safe, protected space for others. And strong boundaries are an essential element of any safe place.

True hospitality involves the creation and maintenance of holy and protected space, a space where visitors are safe and loved, a place where they can come to a clear and honest understanding of themselves through interaction with the host. It is a place where others can experience the presence of Christ through His representatives.

Jesus was the perfect host. He was able to welcome guests of all different sorts and yet was able to adjust his hospitality to perfectly meet their needs. Jesus’ hospitality was confrontational and transformational, but somehow he was also gentle. He was able to meet people right where they were. He was able to welcome them all into his presence without violating them, and they came away both comforted and confronted—forever changed.

Read the four Gospels to study the encounters that Jesus had with individuals. Let’s just mention a few of these encounters here. Jesus met a learned Pharisee named Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) and engaged him in a theological discussion. He challenged his presuppositions about Jesus’ identity and about the way God works in a life. At the end of the story, Nicodemus was one of the wealthy, influential men who took Jesus from the cross to bury Him. Nicodemus was forever changed by Jesus and passed his story on to the apostle John to be recorded in his Gospel. In the next chapter of John’s Gospel (John 4:26), Jesus encountered a woman who had been broken by life, used up by many men, abandoned by her neighbors. He reached out to her at a well, and spoke to her of “water”—a term she understood. Jesus confronted her with her sin and gave her hope for a new life and a transformed future.

The physician Luke recorded an account in his Gospel that involved a Pharisee named Simon and “sinful” woman (Luke 7:36-50). At the home of Simon the Pharisee, this woman came in and poured out an expensive vial of perfume to honor Jesus. In this act, she was likely pouring out her life savings. Simon, along with Jesus’ disciples, looked on with a critical spirit, and Jesus confronted them with their pride. In the same moment, He offered this broken woman the forgiveness and love she needed. He knew what both parties needed and offered it with wisdom, directness, and grace.

One of the biggest challenges to our hospitality, is that we aren’t like Jesus. We are broken in different ways that keep us from reaching out and welcoming others effectively. For some of us, our loneliness gets in the way. As we welcome others into our space, we find that our own needs are deep and we grasp at what they can offer us; thus, we are ineffective and unworthy as hosts. (People only come away from the encounter feeling used and manipulated.) For others of us, our pride gets in the way. We always have a program to push on our guests, and we think we know what they need—even before we’ve taken the time to listen; thus, we fail as hosts. (People only come away from the encounter feeling labeled as a “project,” not affirmed as a person.)

Our personal boundaries are inadequate because we are broken. We tend to be either like a “black hole” that pulls hard on those who enter our space, or we are like a “tornado,” unleashing our influence to force change in others, often to a destructive degree. In either case, we use our guests to meet our own needs—either filling the lonely void within or filling our need for personal accomplishment or conquest. In either case, we tend to manipulate our guests and fail to meet their real needs.

Jesus didn’t fail in either of these ways. He was complete in Himself through His relationship with the Father and the Spirit, and though He truly valued His friendships with people, he never used them to fill a void. His welcome was for the sake of the guest, not for the fulfillment of His own needs. Though Jesus brought himself fully into His encounters, He never forced change on His guests. He offered them His transforming friendship by being truly present for them, but it was up to them to stay or leave. He never manipulated His guests into action. He affirmed them where they were, opened up a transformational option, and then got out of the way.

Let’s end this discussion by looking at Jesus’ encounter a the rich young man (Mark 10:17-31). This man was truly moral and lived a good life. He came to Jesus wanting to discover what would truly please God and lead to eternal life. Jesus showed this man that loving God and his neighbor was the most important thing, and that all his possessions were getting in the way. But then Jesus stepped out of the way. This man was confronted with the truth and he truly understood the truth, but then he had to make the choice to sacrificially embrace the truth. And in this case, the man walked away. Jesus did no begging; He didn’t need this man’s company, nor did He need to succeed in transforming his life. Jesus was only true to Himself as God’s Son in the encounter.

We as God’s children can be healed by God’s grace to the point of being worthy, transformational hosts to those God brings across our paths. May we all seek such healing and, thus, become a source of blessing to those around us. May we all follow in the steps of Jesus.

Polarities

The spiritual life is often described as a journey or pilgrimage. Near the beginning of the journey, it is easy to assume that we will always move forward, getting stronger, deeper, and wiser every day, until we achieve maturity and a sanctity, of sorts. Oh, that this were true!

In time, we discover through experience that progress in the spiritual life is a struggle forward. With each two steps forward comes a step back, sometimes three steps back! The journey is hardly a straight line forward. And there are many reasons for the difficulties. Sometimes the problems are caused by a tough environment. Sometimes “friends” and family get in the way. Sometimes our detours are caused by brokenness within or just a lack of discipline. Often, it’s a tangled combination of many factors.

So let’s look at progress in the spiritual life through a different sort of lens. The spiritual life is all about reconciling broken relationships. It all starts with our relationship with God. He has done His part through the sacrificial gift of Christ. But our relationship with God is held back by our tendency to be afraid of God and unwilling to reach out to receive His gracious forgiveness. And when we do reach out, it is often just on our own terms. We ask Him to fulfill our desires whether what we ask for is good for us or not. As a result, our relationships with God are often mostly illusory. The God we worship is more a figment of our imagination than anything close to reality. And so we worship idols of our own making, not the God of grace and truth that He is. So as people, we are often caught between two poles—the pole of illusion (or idolatry) and the pole of true worship.

And there are other parallel polarities describing the other key relationships in our spiritual lives. One involves our relationships with other people. After the first man and woman sinned in Eden, one of the first consequences was shame and distrust between them. And now we all struggle between to poles of hostility and hospitality in our relationships with others. And what about our relationships with the world in which we live? It has become for most a resource to be plundered, not a sustaining, living environment to cherish. We are caught between the poles of exploitative production on the one hand and a dream of cooperative cultivation on the other. Below is a chart that illustrates these parallel polarities and adds other related ones.

Relationship with God

ILLUSION <—————————————————-> WORSHIP

Relationships with people

HOSTILITY<—————————————————> HOSPITALITY

Relationships with the world

PRODUCTION <————————————————-> CULTIVATION

The struggle within ourselves

PRIDE <———————————————————-> HUMILITY

DISRESPECT<—————————————————> RESPECT

LUST <———————————————————–> LOVE

FEAR <———————————————————–> COURAGE

POWER <———————————————————> RELINQUISHMENT

CONTROL <——————————————————> FAITH

BOREDOM <——————————————————> AWE

LONELINESS <—————————————————> SOLITUDE

DESIRE <———————————————————-> CONTENTMENT

I / IT <————————————————————> I / THOU

ENDS FOCUS <—————————————————-> MEANS FOCUS

In this life we are caught between many polarities, all interrelated in some sense. And as we move to the right on the interior polarities, we find ourselves moving toward the right in the relational ones. As we move to the right in our relationship with God, we will likely find ourselves moving toward the right in our other relationships and our attitudes, as well. And if we find ourselves especially broken in our human relationships, it will likely mean we are broken in our other relationships as well.

Our spiritual lives might be described as a whirlwind that is hopefully listing toward the right, toward growth and wholeness—toward shalom. And with the help of God’s constant presence through His Spirit, there is always hope. Much more could be said here, but perhaps this is best left to your own reflection.

In the Beginning

In the beginning . . .
God created a beautiful world and filled it with plants and creatures, great and small. He created a man to care for it, and then a woman to complete the man—together a creation in God’s image. They were naked, but without shame; there was nothing to hide. They lived in harmony with each other, with the other creatures, with their environment, and with their Maker. Harmony, peace, hospitality were the operative words.

But then the people betrayed the trust God had placed in them, failing to keep the one boundary laid on them by their Maker. The man and woman ate the forbidden fruit and, in so doing, became afraid of God and hid from Him. Then the man turned to blame the woman. And the woman turned to blame the serpent. And God slaughtered a living creature to provide clothing to cover the new-found nakedness and shame of the people. He banished them from their perfect environment in Eden, and thorns sprang up to separate people from the life-sustaining earth. The new operative words were conflict, separation, hostility.

You can find all this woven into the account of Genesis, chapters 1-3, how a world of hospitality became a world of hostility. Selfishness became the human mode of operation, and thorns became the sign.

  • And now, in this broken place, people mostly come to God to wheedle what they can out of Him. Prayer becomes a means to beg for the fulfillment of desires, a magic incantation of sorts. Good deeds become a means to manipulate God to action on our behalf, instead of being an act of love. And so we objectify God as a mere Thing, as an idol, and fail to know him as the just and loving Friend He is.
  • And our relationships with other people are twisted in a parallel manner. We come to people mostly for what we can wheedle out of them. Acts of kindness and love often become acts of manipulation, given only in hopes of receiving in return. And so we objectify our fellow humans as things to be used for our benefit. Relationships are chosen with this in mind, not in response from a call from God or out of true generosity. We use others as a ladder upward or as a resource to gain power, wealth, and pleasure at inordinate levels.
  • Our relationship with the rest of creation has also been compromised. We come to other creatures, both plant and animal, and view them only as a means to power, wealth, and fulfillment. And as we use, and often misuse, them, we destroy the commons granted to all. We destroy the environments that they, and we, depend upon for life, and violate a good world that God created and loves.
  • In all this, we have lost our identity. In seeking to become God in our world, in becoming the objectifier of all things, we have become separated from our very selves. Our identity as children of God has been lost as we try to become God. And as we treat God, people, and the creatures in our care as mere things, we become just an isolated thing ourselves. We are alone and lost.

It is in this broken world that God injected Himself once again in the Person of the Christ. He taught us with word and deed how to love others with unselfish hospitality. And in His death and resurrection, He offered us a means of rediscovering a proper, loving relationship with our Maker. And through His Spirit, He offers us His ever-present grace and power. Through this transformed relationship with God through Christ, we can begin the lifelong struggle to transform the twisted relationships in all areas of our lives, and ourselves be transformed in the process. We can learn again how to treat people as God’s people, as brothers and sisters, and the rest of creation as God’s good creation. The operative word can again be hospitality. And in the process, we can by grace learn that by losing ourselves, we truly find ourselves again in the end.

Hospitality

This place is all about hospitality. I have long felt burdened with a divine command to love both God and neighbor. But as rich as the term love is, it carries with it the burden of misuse. It’s often just another term for entitled self-gratification. The way I see it, real love is anything but self-focused. And so I have shifted toward using the word hospitality for love.

Let’s try to define the term before you object too much. Hospitality is a gift offered to another person, granting a safe space to be valued, honored, and provided for–without strings attached. It might involve giving particular forms of blessing or affection, but never with a burden of repayment. An act given with the expectation of repayment is really just manipulation at best, imprisonment at worst, certainly not a gift or an act of love. In some cases it can come across as a hit over the head.

So I see hospitality as “love as it should be.” And I believe becoming hospitable is the only path to finding healing in all our relationships, whether with God, other people in our lives, our own selves, and all creatures great and small.