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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Partiality - Not an Attribute of God

This is the second post on the Art and Heart of Hospitality (read the first post here). What you'll read below about partiality is crucial to truly being hospitable. As you read, ask the Lord to renew for you His heart of love and welcome to you when He drew you to Himself. 

A sad exhibition of partiality

Most of you, by now, have heard about Susan Boyle and her incredibly beautiful singing voice. She stunned the Britain's Got Talent  judges and audience on April 11, 2009.  If you haven't seen the video, please see it YouTube at the following link:  Click here to view the video on YouTube.

You may wonder what this video has to do with the topic of this post. To answer that question, I decided to post about Susan Boyle based on a text in James. That text, James 2:1-5, confronts the sin of partiality or favoritism:

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"

After having seen the reaction from the judges and the audience when Susan Boyle appeared on stage for her audition for Britain's Got Talent, it became even more clear to me how fickle the human heart can be. It was only after she began to sing that everyone who had disgracefully judged her just seconds before, changed their opinion of her and instead displayed their approval. It really was a sad exhibition.

Some apologized. But what if she had croaked out her song? The following comment, from a secular blog, pretty well sums up what I am thinking also:

"The unspoken message of this whole episode is that, since Susan Boyle has a wonderful talent, we were wrong to judge her based on her looks and demeanor. Meaning what? That if she couldn't sing so well, we were correct to judge her on that basis? That demeaning someone whose looks don't match our impossible, media-reinforced standards of beauty is perfectly okay unless some mitigating circumstance makes us re-think our opinion?"
As a Christian, would you even speak to this individual, let alone eat with him as did Jesus when He dined with sinners? Or would you and I shun him as one who is not worthy of love? Think about the fact that we were in no better condition when Christ welcomed us. Apart from His compassion, we all would still be in our sins, doomed to a life apart from anything good. 

A crucial question: does this happen in our churches?

It is sad to say that we, in our churches, do this very thing. If someone does not come up to our preconceived idea of what a person should look like, talk like, dress like, etc. we have no intention of going any further to discover who that person really is. We remain in our comfort zones, excluding that individual from the grace God would display through us, were we willing. And then we are relieved and think we are vindicated if that person turns out to be what we judged them to be in the first place.

God does not look at the outward appearance

The sin of partiality is wrong no matter what. We become judges with evil motives when this happens. God is no respecter of persons, "for God sees not as man sees, for man looks and the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7b). He looks upon the heart. Since we cannot do that, we must give way to love, compassion and mercy.
And consider what it means that God looks at the heart. What a very frightening truth! He saw me for who I really was before I knew Him. I was unlovely to Him, as are we all. All of us were guilty in His sight. All of our works were like filthy rags. We were altogether unclean, haters of God, lovers of sin. This is the condition we were all in when He chose to redeem us from our vain manner of life.

Our example, a compassionate Savior

Had God been a partial being, such as we are, He would never have chosen to save any of us. We would all face His wrath. And He would have been justified, judging us rightly. But God saved us in spite of ourselves.

Knowing that, can we as followers of Christ, learn from what we saw in Susan Boyle's appearance? Can we learn to look at others with compassion and kindness as our Heavenly Father looked upon us in our forlorn and ungodly state? Can we then decide to offer mercy and Christ-like love to the ones we find unlovely?

Jesus did this very thing when He "went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:35-36)
The "crowds" Jesus saw represented every human condition. People like ourselves, sick people, demon-possessed people, beggars, wealthy people (like Zacheus), prostitutes, government officials, criminals, various races, men, women, i.e., people from all walks of life. Two things they had in common was that they were all 1) all created in the image of God and thus were to be "image-bearers" of the God that gave them life, and 2) they had all been separated and alienated from God because of their utter disregard for Him (universal and personal sin). 

This is why Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. He was/is the Good Shepherd and they were without Him, though they followed Him. And He had compassion on them immediately, by healing them, by feeding them, by preaching the gospel to them and ultimately, by being crucified to pay the price that their disregard for Him cost. 

The word I am using here, "disregard", is a very mild term for how we all feel and think about God before we bow our hearts to Him. But our flagrant "disregard" for Him resulted in His condemnation and crucifixion on the cross. This is the greatest indictment of and proof for our inherent sinfulness - we brutally slaughtered the Lord of Glory, God in the flesh, when He visited us*. 
So, how can we have the same compassion that the Lord Jesus Christ had upon us?

As for me, I have been very convicted by all of this and am stunned when I think of it in terms of my acceptance before God. He has taken a poor, ragged, sinful wretch, welcomed her into His heaven and given her all the blessings in the heavenly realms. In Him, I have redemption through Christ's blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on me with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:7-9)

I pray like Paul for those of us making a claim to know Christ:

"For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Once this kind of knowing is a reality, there is no telling what would come of it in our churches, homes and neighborhoods and who we would welcome, just as our Lord has indeed welcomed us!

*Note: If you do not believe this about yourself - that you took part in Christ's violent death, let me ask you, how do you think about God, in particular, Jesus? Have you ever resisted/disbelieved the truth about Who He is? This unbelief of Who He was in the flesh is what put Him on the cross. He was crucified because He claimed to be the Son of God which meant He was equal with God (John 5:18). Jesus was crucified because He was hated and called a blasphemer - He claimed to be God - and those who killed Him did not believe Him! We are all guilty for we are born alienated from Him and in enmity to Him. We all, because of our unbelief, were guilty of putting Him to death.

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

Partiality - Not an Attribute of God

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Art and Heart of Hospitality

We have no idea how wealthy we are just to have a roof over our heads. I take so much for granted. This struck home so profoundly to me today.

And it also struck me that our homes must be shared at all times, even (or maybe especially) when they look lived in. This is how these thoughts came to me:

My neighbor had texted me to ask for ice. When she came to my door, I gladly handed the frozen cubes to her. She then told me that she needed to drive her truck to the store just down the street so she could use the restroom there.

I know you think that you read that last sentence wrong, but you didn’t. You see, this neighbor and her husband, though they live across the street from us, do not live in a house.
Instead, these friends live in their tarped, broken-down truck. It runs, but barely. They have been our neighbors for three years, parked on the curb across the street from our house (though we’ve only gotten to know them better in the past two years or so).

My husband and I love these dear people. They are good friends and good neighbors. They are part of the “homeless” population by today’s standards though they themselves consider their truck to be home. But they do long to have a real roof over their heads as soon as possible.

But back to the story. Knowing that Estelle (not her real name), needed to leave quickly to get to the store to relieve herself, I promptly invited her in to use our restroom. She was so grateful.

As we entered the front door of my house, I apologized that the house was a little messy. And this was Estelle's response, “Please don’t worry about how your house looks. I would give anything to be able to say that.”

Did you get that? Estelle was saying that she would give anything to be able to make such an apology - to have a house that was a little messy to invite guests into, apologizing as I was. I can’t tell you how her response has sobered me!
The Lord has been impressing this message on me heavily for well over a year now. So what Estelle said has been that same message personified by the Holy Spirit through my neighbor. I must not ignore this!

My home (dare I say “our homes” since we are commanded to be hospitable many times in the Bible) must be open to others. We are even commanded to be hospitable to strangers.

Our homes are not museums where a janitor is constantly cleaning to make sure that the antiquities there remain dust-free so they can be admired by the visitors. A museum is a place where non-living things - even dead things - reside and people stare at them, awestruck, in order to connect with the past. Those who visit, walk through the museum till they reach the exit, never having rested all the while because museums are not made for resting.

Instead, my home should be a place where living beings reside, a place that is not constantly being cleaned but rather where people are productive and fruitful and also where they can rest from the living that happens there. Our homes exist for those who are living, not for the dead and/or inanimate.

Our homes should be fruitful and restful, and not just for us. They should be open for others to come in, sit down and find rest from their weariness (even if that means finding rest in the most humble room in our home - our bathroom). 

Our homes should also be a place where others can partake of the home-based fruits of our labors. Perhaps this would be lived out by providing a meal. And that does not have to be hard. It could be a meal of leftover soup from the day before (don't we say that the soup is always better the next day anyway?). Or that shared fruit could be a simple cup of coffee and an encouraging truth, ie., a spiritual fruit, that the Lord impressed upon you earlier in the day as you communed with Him through His written word. 
But back to the museum analogy, do I mean to imply that it’s wrong to clean my home? Of course not! It would be wrong for me to let my house go. What is wrong, however, is to operate under the misconception that my house must be “museum-clean” in order to have “guests” in. It’s wrong to think that my home must be picture-perfect for those who enter so that they can gaze in awe at the well-dusted, cared for and cherished furnishings (exhibits?) therein

The account of Zaccheus in the gospel of Luke helps me think deeper about how available my home is and, more to the point how available I am personally to serve others. This short little man, with a name that was bigger than he was, climbed up into a tree so that he could see Jesus above the crowds that obscured Him as He passed by.

We read in Luke 19:5, "When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, 'Zaccheus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.'"

Oh my! In reading this, I can't help but wonder what Zaccheus’ house looked like when Jesus invited Himself over to stay thereMy knee-jerk reaction would have been to panic, race home and try to get things in order. But what does the little tax collector do? Luke tells us, “So Zaccheus came down at once and welcomed Jesus gladly.” (Luke 19:6)

"So Zaccheus CAME DOWN..."! I would have been tempted to climb higher to get out of sight. But Zaccheus came down. In fact, the text continues to tell us, "So Zaccheus came down AT ONCE..."! He hurried down that tree. But that's not all, "So Zaccheus came down at once and WELCOMED JESUS..."! He didn't stress that Jesus was coming to stay at his home. It was quite the opposite. He welcomed Jesus and it wasn't just any halfhearted welcome. Not at all! Read his entire response to Jesus: "So Zaccheus came down at once and welcomed Jesus GLADLY"! Zaccheus was thrilled that Jesus had invited Himself to his house. Knowing that your house was a little messy, would you have responded so enthusiastically? Would I have?

At this point, I am thoroughly in awe of the dramatic, comprehensive and instantaneous heart change that the Spirit of God makes within this one who has been so enamored with and enslaved by money. Neither the Lord nor his fellow man was on Zaccheus’ radar until Jesus transformed him. Now he was all about Jesus instead, with his enthusiastic, joyful welcome to the Savior.
Should not this be my response, your response as well? If we are each a child of God, has He not transformed our hearts also? And when we welcome weary ones into our home, do we not likewise welcome the Lord Jesus in? 

At this point, there are so many challenging thoughts swirling through my mind. There is so much to explore and my heart needs a constant transforming tuneup. I want to explore this further so that I do not forget and so that I do practice the art and heart of hospitality in my place of fruitfulness and rest - in my home. 

In the next few weeks (God willing), I will be posting more about hospitality as it is practiced and commanded in the Bible. But for now, I have been so blessed to have shared with my neighbor the smallest, most humble room in my home, a room where she found rest in her weariness. Thank You, dear Savior, for this unforgettable opportunity! And thank You that when Estelle came for this short visit, You came with her and spoke to my heart.

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

The Art and Heart of Hospitality