Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: hospitality

Qualifications of a minister of the gospel

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Many words are used in the New Testament to describe spiritual leaders in the church. Bishop, or overseer (episkipos); elder (presbuteros); pastor; minister (diakonos); evangelist; prophet; teacher; apostle (one sent out). All of these, except perhaps the last, are used interchangeably and appear to be but different functions or gifts of the same office.

An overseer watches for the spiritual well-being of the members of the church. Pastor, or shepherd, is identical in meaning. Elder means much the same, but also implies experienced, but not necessarily aged. A prophet is someone who speaks for God, a preacher. An evangelist is one who brings good news. A teacher gives instruction in the ways of God and the duties of His people. None of these titles should be interpreted to establish a person as a lord over the church.

Apostle is used sparingly in the New Testament, first of all to describe the twelve who were the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. It is also used of Jesus Himself, and of Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and Silas, but does not seem appropriate for any modern day servant of Jesus Christ.

No academic or seminary training is needed to become a minister of the gospel. Indeed, such training is more apt to be a hindrance, introducing psychological and doctrinal concepts that are not in accord with the Bible.

Neither should a minister expect to earn his living by preaching the gospel. A congregation has a duty to support a minister where needed, when he incurs expenses related to the work of the ministry. The congregation also has a duty to the minister’s family when he is absent in the work of the ministry. But he should have an income that does leave him dependent on cultivating the approval of others for his livelihood.

Hundreds of years ago Menno Simons wrote: O my faithful reader, ponder this. As long as the world distributes splendid houses and such large incomes to their preachers, the false prophets and deceivers will be there by droves; and: Therefore this is my brief conclusion and Christian admonition to all preachers and teachers. Brethren, humble yourselves and become unblamable disciples, that you may hereafter become called ministers. Try your spirit, love, and life before you commence to shepherd and to teach. Do not so on your own account, but wait until you are called of the Lord’s church; I say, of the Lord’s church, of the Spirit of God, and are constrained by urging love. If this takes place, brethren, then pastor diligently, preach and teach valiantly, cast from you all filthy lucre and booty; rent a farm, milk cows, learn a trade if possible, do manual labour as did Paul, and all that which you then fall short of will doubtlessly be given and provided you by pious brethren, by the grace of God, not in superfluity, but as necessity requires.

Here then are the qualifications for a minister given by the Apostle Paul in chapter 3 of 1 Timothy.
1. Blameless (above reproach, not derelict in any Christian duty)
2 The husband of one wife (He should be married, but to only one wife at a time. It is certainly permitted for a minister to marry again if his first wife dies, but he must not have any marital entanglement that will be a reproach to his message.)
3. Vigilant (watchful)
4. Sober (prudent)
5. Of good behaviour (orderly and decent)
6. Given to hospitality(literally, a lover of strangers, that is, ready to welcome visitors into his home)
7. Apt to teach (not only wise, but able to make wisdom appealing to others)
8. Not given to wine (does not drink wine to excess, is not domineering or abusive)
9. No striker (not quarrelsome, not a persecutor of those who disagree with him)
10. Not greedy of filthy lucre (not using dishonourable means to increase his income)
11. Patient (gentle)
12. Not a brawler (not contentious)
13. Not covetous (does not seek to be a minister in the hope of material gain)
14. One that ruleth well his own house (has an orderly and respectful family, but not by severity or tyranny)
15. Not a novice (not newly converted but has been a Christian long enough for others to discern the qualities listed here)
16. Have a good report of them which are without (has given no cause for offense or scandal to those outside the church).

One who meets all these qualifications and is called to the ministry by God and the church, is worthy of the respect and support of his fellow believers as he endeavours to serve God in the ministry.

Where was the manger?

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There are many supposed and real hints in the Bible of just how things will play out when our Lord returns. For centuries eminent scholars have scrutinized these hints and endeavoured to put together a coherent time line of that event. They have written many stories based on those searches; they all sound wonderful, but they don’t agree.

Maybe we shouldn’t worry. God has it all in hand; someday we’ll see and it will surprise us. There were just as many conflicting prophecies about the coming of the Messiah: he would be of the lineage of David, born in Bethlehem; Rachel would weep for her children, because they were not; he would come from Egypt; he would be a Nazarite, etc. It seemed impossible that it could all be true. Then, events occurred in a very short time period that checked every one of those boxes.

Here is the account from the first seven verses of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. Let’s ignore the legends, myths, folklore and tomfoolery that have become attached to this account and try to understand what happened.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)   And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Bible Background Commentary states; “pottery samples suggest a recent migration of people from the Bethlehem area to Nazareth around this time.” In retrospect this looks like poor planning on Joseph’s part, because he was now in the wrong place for the baby to be born. But perhaps he would never have met Mary if he had remained in Bethlehem. No matter, a decree from the Roman Emperor got them back where they needed to be, and just in time, too.

Now, if Joseph had to return to Bethlehem to be taxed, that must mean that he owned something there that was taxable, perhaps just a small plot of land. How did he get his very pregnant wife from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of 150km? Folklore says she rode a donkey. That is possible, but the Bible says nothing on the subject so its best not to be too categoric.

No doubt they came to the home of relatives in Bethlehem who welcomed them into their home. To refuse hospitality to someone would have been a disgrace in their culture.

But what about that famous “no room in the inn?” The word translated “inn ”is kataluma, which means guest chamber and is so translated in the two other places we find it in the New Testament (Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11). Homes in a rural community like Bethlehem were mostly single room affairs, with the family animals occupying the ground level and the family living on the upper level. Sometimes there was a guest room built on the roof. The animals would have been few, and the space kept scrupulously clean, because it was part of the home.

The “no room” part probably means that because of the number of people in the home there was no private place for a mother to bring a baby into the world. What woman would want to have that happen in the middle of a crowded room? So their host made a spot for them in the space below, clean, discreet and away from curious eyes. Surely they called the midwife, and she probably assigned Joseph some tasks to ease his nervousness and keep him at least partly out of the way.

So the baby was born in Bethlehem, according to prophecy. Some time later a group of Magi appeared in Jerusalem looking for the newborn King of the Jews. King Herod took drastic action to eliminate this rival, having all boys under the age of two murdered. And Rachel (all the mothers of Bethlehem) wept. An angel warned Joseph to take his wife and child and flee to Egypt. This was a trip of around 590km and may well have involved a donkey, though once again the Bible is silent. When Herod died, an angel informed Joseph it was safe to return (the Messiah called out of Egypt) and the family settled once again in Nazareth. Nazarite and Nazarene don’t sound as different in Greek as they do in our language and the Bible says this fulfilled the prophecy that Messiah would be called a Nazarite.

It’s a simple story. The wonder is how God used Emperors and Kings to work out His plan. They had no idea the events caused by their decrees fulfilled every detail of prophecies made hundreds of years earlier.

Hospitality as stewardship

Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:9-11).

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Here is the heart of stewardship. Whatever gifts, abilities and opportunities we have, they were not given to us for selfish use, to enhance our image before others. We are to take what we have received and use it to serve others, and by doing that to glorify God, the giver of those gifts.

Some folks have been taught that hospitality means having their home in perfect order so that their guests see how important they are by the effort expended on preparing for their visit. One time I went to visit a cousin who had just moved into a new house. I walked in the door and saw a spotless home with brand new furniture and wondered if I even dared set foot on the carpet. My cousin invited me into the living room, sat down on the couch, leaned back and put his sock-clad feet up on the coffee table. After that I was at ease.

Hospitality is putting people before things. It applies both ways, guests should not notice things that are not quite as they should be, and absolutely should not talk about such things to others.

If we speak (or write), let us do it boldly, but remember that we are just offering our words to others. We have no directive from the Lord to enforce our ideas upon others. That doesn’t work, anyway. A steward is a servant, not a lord.

In hospitality, as in speaking, writing and whatever we do that brings us into contact with others, our first responsibility as steward of the manifold grace of God, is to help others feel at ease. People are not apt to be receptive to truth when they feel intimidated.

Finding home

The factory where I found work made engineered rubber parts for the automobile industry. I was started on the press line, where rows of hydraulic presses produced vast quantities of rubber parts. The moulds were maintained at tempertures above 300° F to cure the rubber. I started when the weather was already hot and humid and it was even hotter and more humid working over those moulds. It was a shock to the body of this prairie boy, but soon I was acclimatized.

While I was being trained I could not help but be aware of Howie. He was operating several presses and every once in a while parts would not release from the moulds as they should. There would be loud yells and banging sounds coming from Howie’s direction. I decided I would do well to keep my distance from him.

The second week I was given presses to run by myself. The first time I had parts stick to the underside of the top part of the mould and began trying awkwardly to get them down, Howie appeared beside me and took the bar from my hands. He got the parts down and then showed me once again how much mould release to spray on that part of the mould. Then he was back to his own work leaving me to meditate on how mistaken a first impression can be. Howie was a loudmouth, but turned out to be a good guy, easy to get alnog with.

Chris began making arrangements to move as soon as she knew I had work. It took me a couple more weeks to find a place to live but before the month was over we were together again.Chris packed everything that could be put in boxes, sold the rest and shipped the boxes by train. Then she and Michelle rode the train from Moose Jaw to Toronto where I picked them up.

It was the last Sunday in June when we drove into the St Marys churchyard as a family for the first time. As we got out of the car, a young lad, almost eight years old, walked up to us and said “Welcome to St Marys.” And we did feel welcomed by everybody.

In September Michelle started Grade One in the Mapleview Christian School. She enjoyed school and we felt assurance in knowing that her friends were the children of our friends.

At first we had invitations to the members’ homes every Sunday, but after several months that tapered off. One Sunday the brother whom I had first met asked me how things were going. I replied that life was working out well for us, but we weren’t getting invited out much anymore. He pondered that for a moment, then asked if we had invited anyone to our home. Bingo! Immediately I felt reproved and knew what we had to do. We started inviting others for meals, most often Sunday dinners, and that warmed and strengthened our fellowship with the congregation.

We had several visits with the ministers and deacons and were asked to tell our experiences to the congregation one Sunday evening. The congregation voted their acceptance that we had truly met the Lord, were born again and were living as Christians by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sunday morning, February 11, 1979, we  were baptized by minister Robert Toews.

The day after our baptism, a vivid memory of a time long ago flashed into my mind. Just after being confirmed in the Anglican Church as an eleven year old boy I had knelt and gone through the questions in the little red book of self-examination before communion. Now God was telling me: “That was when I first called you to come to me. During all your wanderings I have continued to call you and now you are part of my family.”

And I was finally a Mennonite who wore a beard.

Is technology dehumanizing us?

The Machine Stops, by E.M. Forster depicts a future age in which technology is able to supply all our needs. People live in individual underground compartments, all their needs are supplied by the all-encompassing machine at the push of a button. Direct person to person contact is unheard of, having been replaced by electronic means and that permit one to see and speak to any one of his or her thousands of contacts at will.

Wars, conflicts, and crime have ceased, weather on the surface of the planet is of no consequence, thus there is no news. New ideas are to be feared, but events of history and nature are discussed endlessly and third or fourth hand ideas about those events are deemed to be the most trustworthy. The population never changes. Births and deaths are by permission of the machine; permission to die is only given when there is a birth. A mother’s responsibility ends when a child is born.

One person finds a way to get outside the machine to the surface of the earth. Before he is dragged back below ground by the repair mechanism of the machine, he realizes there still are a few people living out there. His longing for freedom is unfulfilled and eventually the all powerful, self repairing machine breaks down and everyone living in their individual cell of underground paradise dies.

A chilling forecast of where our society is headed? Perhaps. The story was written in 1908 and is a short novella with three chapters.

There is a lot of hand-wringing in our day about the influence and effects of technology. After reading this book I began to wonder if we might have things backwards. Is technology dehumanizing us? Or are we willingly surrendering our birthright of being fully human? Is our desire for convenience and security just a camouflage for the repugnance we feel at the inconvenience of having to interact with other people?

What about those of us who call ourselves Christians? We all give verbal support to the goal of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. At the same time, some of us are repelled by cities because of all the people. We would prefer to live in an isolated rural setting and be as self-sufficient as possible. Which of these conflicting ideas is the true expression of our heart’s deepest desire? What does that say about our faith?

The Jews of Jesus’ day despised the Samaritans, to the point of considering anything touched by a Samaritan to be defiled. Jesus used all sort of creative ways to try and jar people out of that rut.

For those of us who are members, or who attend, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the Sunday School lesson for the coming Sunday looks helpful. It is based on Hebrews 13 and has a lot to say about hospitality, including to strangers. It says: “The love of Christ will move us to enlarge our circle of friends.”

The best way to avoid becoming dehumanized is by frequent face to face contact with other humans. Technology offers us a way to maintain an appearance of a wide circle of friends without really having to listen to them. It is that unwillingness to listen to others, the desire to avoid admitting there might be anything valid about their point of view, that is dehumanizing. Technology is the enabler, but not the real problem.

Don’t get much out of church?

What are you putting in?

Are you  a church shopper? Do you go from church to church to find the one that will give you the most value for the lowest cost in personal involvement? Are you a builder or a freeloader?

A church service service is not entertainment. If you are looking to find just the right kind of singing or music, or to hear a preacher that will say just what you want to hear, in the way you want to hear it, you will certainly hear something that you don’t like.

Church is not an exclusive club that lets in only the right kind of people. Not everyone is going to dress, behave or talk the way that you think is right.

Church should feel peaceful and comfortable. Up to a point. Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. If we never encounter anything in church that makes us squirm a bit and feel a need to examine our values and attitudes, we are missing one of the essential values of church.

Churches need Sunday School and Bible Study teachers and members of many different committees. These are good opportunities to serve, but the real test of whether we are a freeloader or a builder comes in the things that we were not elected or asked to do.

That would include things like trying to make edifying and encouraging contributions to Sunday School and Bible Study discussions, and in our conversations. It would include being hospitable, not just to the people who are most like we are, but to anyone. It would include listening to and considering the thoughts of others. It would mean having a thoughtful answer to someone who asks about our faith. And it would include expressing our appreciation for others.

A freeloader is apt to go from church to church and never really feel welcome. A builder will not readily switch churches, but if he does so because he is searching a fellowship that meets God’s criteria and not his own preferences, he will be welcomed.

Cats and compassion

We share our home with three cats. Each one came to us as a feral kitten at about six months old. This summer they will be 15, 7 and 6.

They are dependent on us for shelter, food and affection. They tolerate each other, but don’t appear to really like one another, though Pookie will let us know when Angus wants to come in. But as soon as Angus is in the door Pookie acts like he wants to fight with him. They never do each other any harm, though.

Angus came home twice with a bloody ear and now has two neat v’s notched on his right ear. My wife thinks he was scrapping with some other neighbourhood cat, but he showed no other battle wounds. I think that both times he probably lost a game of tag with the magpies.

They appreciate the comforts of home, having a special preference for the two recliners or the two office chairs, which happen to be our preferred seats also. They often interrupt our work with loud demands for food, for brushing or to be let outside.

Our laundry centre is located beside the hallway between the office and kitchen. Every once in a while we will hear Angus calling loudly. There he is, on top of the washing machine and wanting one of us to come and pay him some attention.

Two of the cats shed a lot of hair; we are often awakened in the middle of the night by a cat wanting to go out. The only reward we get is knowing that they like us and feel secure being in the same room as us. And nothing can compare with the contented purring of a cat on one’s lap.

Despite their annoying habits, we love our cats and think most of the distractions are good for us. Which leads me to ponder: am I as compassionate towards the people around me as I am towards my cats?

Strange ideas about strangers

“If a white person marries a black person,” my father said to me one day, “their children will be born with one black leg and one white leg, one black arm and one white arm.” I was still in my early teens but I didn’t think such a thing was possible and I told my father so. Then I asked him if he had ever seen anyone like that. He didn’t answer, but he never again brought up the possibility of people having Holstein markings.

Not all strange ideas like this should be labelled prejudice. If someone grows up only hearing thinking like this and never has opportunity to see whether it is true or not, they are just uninformed. In times gone by, when there was less opportunity to meet people who were different from yourself, these ideas might last a lifetime.

My father grew up in the USA around the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. He absorbed the prevailing attitude toward black people of that era and never encountered anything in his adult travels in the USA or Canada to contradict that attitude.

My mother grew up in a very conservative Plautdietsch speaking home, yet she was much more open minded in her attitude toward other people. It seems that she learned that from her father. Before he was married he had worked in a community where there lived a black man who had been born in slavery and moved north to Canada. Grandpa learned some of the old Negro Spirituals from this man and taught them to his 14 children. While they lived in Manitoba, their home was a place where Indians often stopped for a drink of water, a bite to eat or just a place to rest on their journey. They knew they were welcome at the Henry Letkeman home.

Grandpa was blind, in more ways than one. My mother grew up in that setting and told those stories to me. One of my cousins lives not too far away. Our fathers were brothers, our mothers were sisters. He worked for years with First Nations (Indian) people in housing projects, and in evangelism. I observe his attitude towards people who are different and I know that he did not learn that openness from his father.

We both owe a lot to our mothers – and to Grandpa Letkeman, who we never met. He died before we were born. But, thanks to the attitude he inspired in our mothers, we did not grow up with strange ideas about strangers.

Stewards of the grace of God

“As every man has received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as faithful stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).

I don’t recall ever hearing much discussion of this topic. When we talk of stewardship, we are generally thinking of our possessions and financial affairs, and too often it comes out sounding like “what’s good for my pocketbook is good for God.”

I wonder if we don’t tend to look on the grace of God in the same individualistic, self-centred way. I am so thankful for what God has done for me in forgiving my sins and setting me free from condemnation. Is that enough? Isn’t the grace of God supposed to be shared?

In the verses immediately before and after the verse quoted, Peter admonishes us to have fervent charity among ourselves, to be hospitable and to speak and serve, all by using the gifts that God has given us.

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Clossians 4:6). “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

Paul tells us that whenever we speak, our words should be motivated by the gift of grace that we have received, in such a way that we share that grace with others.

Giving reproof is a special case of serving others by the grace of God. If I see a brother do something wrong and say nothing, I am doing him no service. If I call him up and blast him for the wicked and disgraceful thing he has done, what are the chances that he will detect some trace of grace in my tirade? There is a way that I can minister grace in such a setting, but I must see myself as merely a servant and trust that the Holy Spirit is also speaking.

The parable of the talents should be considered in the sense of being stewards of the grace of God. When we serve others with the grace that God has given us, that grace is multiplied many times over. When we dig a hole in the backyard to protect that gift of grace from prying eyes, it is as if we had never received the gift of grace from God.

Foreign to Familiar

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The Delta flight was leaving on time. Three of us were strapped in, one next to the other, each finding it easy to make small talk. As the plane lifted off, so did our burdens of office work. We were off to Glorietta, New Mexico, for a week-long conference, and our minds were filled with thoughts of mountains and crisp air and a break from the Atlanta downtown routine.

“So, Sarah,” my aisle-seat colleague said in that chatty manner of a tourist on vacation, “tell me what it was like growing up in Israel.”

Of all conversation openers, this was my least favourite. I’d been hearing it ever since moving to the States to begin my university studies. But, being in the middle seat, I couldn’t escape.

My desire was to respond, “No, you first. Tell me what it was like growing up in a ranch-style house in suburbia.” What was there to say? And who cares anyway?

But I did answer . . . well, sort of. “It was great,” was the extent of my glib answer.

“No, I mean it, really,” she insisted. “What is the culture like over there?”

By the window sat Aida from Lebanon. She’d been in the States eight years and was much more of an expert on Middle Eastern culture than I was. But at the moment Aida seemed to be fascinated by the window. So I took up the challenge.

“Well, I grew up in a variety of cultures. The Jewish and Arab cultures are vastly different.”

“How so?” she asked.

“In the Jewish culture you say what you think. It’s direct, and you know where you stand with people.”

I glanced at her to see if she was still with me. She was, so I continued.

“The Arab culture, on the other hand, is much more indirect. It’s all about friendliness and politeness. If offered a cup of coffee, I say ‘No, thank you.’

“The host offers it again, and I decline again, with something like: ‘No, no, don’t bother yourself.’ He might offer a third time, and I’d reply, ‘No, I really don’t want any coffee, believe me.’

“Then my host serves the coffee, and I drink it.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said, incredulously.

“No, really,” I assured her. “You’re supposed to refuse the first few times. It’s the polite thing to do.”

“Then what if you really don’t want the coffee?” she asked.

“Well, there are idioms that you can use to say that you wouldn’t for any reason refuse their kind hospitality, and at some point in the future you’ll gladly join them in coffee, but at the moment you really can’t drink it.”

Now Aida got into the conversation. “Incredible! I didn’t know that!” she said, as our heads turned her way.

“Aida,” I replied, “what do you mean that you didn’t know that? You’re Lebanese, for heaven’s sake.”

“Yes,” she said, “but I mean that I didn’t know this was not normal. I’ve been in the United States eight years already, and did not know it was done differently here. That explains so much.

“I’ve been lonely since moving here, and now I know why. When people in the office would ask me if I wanted to go to lunch, I would say ‘no’ to be polite, fully expecting them to ask me again. When they didn’t and left without me, I thought they didn’t want me along and had asked only out of politeness. In my culture, it would have been too forward to say ‘yes’ the first time.

“For this reason, I’ve had few American friends. After all these years, now I know why.”

I sat there stunned. Pondering the sadness of her story, I said to myself, “No one should have to suffer like that simply because they don’t understand the culture of another.”

For the Aidas around the world, I have written this book.

Sarah A Lanier


This is the preface to Foreign to Familiar, which I referred to in a previous post. © 2000 by Sarah A Lanier. Used with permission.

The English book is published by McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. ISBN 1-58158-022-3

Editions in Arabic, French, German, Korean, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish are available from the writer at the following address:

Sarah A Lanier
P.O. Box 874Clarkesville GA  30523
USA

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