Monday, September 17, 2012

Its Getting Colder… I Could Use Some Warmth… A Characteristic of Being a Hospitable Person

Warm/ welcoming/ personable – This attitude is experienced when you first meet someone or pass someone on the street, the park, or at the grocery store. This person is usually looking up, attentive to their surroundings, and carries with them a smile and a sense of wanting to know you.

We have all met those people who know you and possess this innate attitude of genuine joy when you are with them. It is that person who greets you with a smile when you show up at the party and who makes you feel like you are the most honored guest every time.

Or it is that old lady who greets you in the store and carries the persona that life is good and everything is in order and your meeting in the cereal aisle was what the Lord had designed for the both of you that day. You walk by with this overwhelming desire deep down in your gut to walk by her again on the next aisle, just to feel that warmth and acceptance again.

Or maybe you have been that person who shows up at an event and you are nervous and all your energy is being sucked up in trying to suppress an anxiety attack while asking questions like: “Is this the right place?” “Why did I come? I don’t really fit in here.” “Is there anyone here I know?” Then in the midst of this terrible experience someone gives you the most warm and welcoming smile from across the room and then the next thing you know is, they are standing next to you, inviting you into the fold.

Do you remember the feelings and emotions you experienced during all or any of those moments? Have you felt the relief when that crushing desire to just run away is instantly transformed into a calmness and peace? The anxiety falls away and a new confidence of who you are erupts out of your inner being like a sprout of a seed breaking through the dirt and soaking up the warmth of the sun for the first time. You go from feeling little and weak to being strong and confident, and all this happens in the blink of an eye.

You wonder to yourself what just happened, but there is no time to unpack it. You just move forward into relationship with this person no matter how deep it goes or how long it lasts. You find yourself on the other side of the coin desiring more of what that person has to offer.

In your daily life, you will most likely cross paths with more people you don’t know well than people who you do know well. In those moments you have two choices. Look down and walk on by or be that person who is remembered as “the one who brightened their day.”

The difference is divided in a split second. You might be reading this and realize that you naturally are this person who brings warmth to those around you. On the other hand, you might consider yourself shy or introverted. You might think that this characteristic is just impossible because of the way you are. I will say that for some people, this does come more as a natural response, but that does not let the rest of us off the hook.

Take for instance these verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As you read it, look for any indication that He was speaking only to those outgoing people of our world.
Matthew 5: 43-48 - “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

One of the first characteristics of loving your neighbor, or being a hospitable person, stems from these verses and many others throughout God’s story. It is this challenge and responsibility for us who call ourselves Christians to love everyone. To look up and welcome others into our space and life. It is our challenge to look up, and become someone who is welcoming, warm, and personable. Say hello to those you don’t know as well as those you do know. Greet all people with a genuine smile.

I have an uncle whom I have had the opportunity to watch for many years and I am constantly amazed at his ability to make anyone and everyone feel completely welcomed and wanted no matter who they are or what their background. He possesses this incredible ability to make you feel like the party was specifically designed for you. I have seen him recognize and welcome the most shy and fearful people into a relationship with himself that absolutely transforms who that person is and how they view themselves. Thinking about him as I write about hospitality, I have realized that he doesn’t do anything special or extraordinary. He just simply lives his life with his head up, looking for those who are on the outskirts and simply greets them with genuine joy and invites them to be a part of whatever he is doing.

I will talk more later about the power of the invite, but what I want you to consider here is the idea that being warm and welcoming can be done by anyone, anywhere. It is a simple awareness of where you are and who is around you. Then when you see that person who is standing alone or that person you don’t know well, make the effort to simply walk over and say hello. There is great power in a simple hello! Then simply invite that person into what you are doing. You don’t have to create some pristine environment or possess a well-devised plan for this friendship. Just invite them into your space. They may turn you down, but know this… they still experienced your warmth and welcome and that is what you are responsible to do.

How do we learn to do this? Stand up straight and remember how God’s grace greets us each and everyday. Remember that we were strangers to God and yet He was willing to leave His place of comfort, joy, and peace and come to this wretched place so that we could be welcomed into the wedding feast. So we could enjoy the kingdom and receive an invitation to become heirs of the King! Is there joy that empowers you to reach out because of what you have received from Jesus? Does God’s welcome to you cause your head to lift up and your face to smile? Where does the courage and the motivation to be welcoming to strangers come from? When we need help, we can ask Christ. What we have freely received from Him, we can freely give to others.

So as you walk through your day… look up, greet those you know, and greet those you don’t. It’s not as hard as you think, and you will be amazed at the new insights and friends you glean along the way.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bad News... Good News... Great News...

Do you have someone on your block, in your neighborhood, at your school, or in your daily life that you would consider a stranger? Of course you do… We all do. Our lives are filled with more people we don’t know well, than people we do know well. For most people, this makes the world a very scary place to live. It causes us to stick to the paths we are used to, it causes us to be friendly to those we know and walk past those we don’t, and it develops an attitude of self-preservation and mistrust rather than an openness to the new. This overwhelming, perpetual lifestyle of fear of the unknown causes a few dilemmas:
1.     We can easily become judgmental and hostile to anything new.
2.     It can cause us to embrace and trust only those we know.
3.     We tend to build walls relationally and have unspoken rules for engaging others.
In a world full of fear and hostility, we need to work hard to be people of peace. Our neighbors need people of peace in their lives. Our neighborhoods need people of peace who bring a sense of safety. Your city leaders need people advocating for peace in their cities. Your nation needs peace desperately as well.

Just think… you could be that person of peace. But in order for that to be a reality we all need to cultivate a more hospitable attitude that is bent toward loving and welcoming the stranger into our lives, and learning to live a life that is not ruled by fear.

“Hospitality is the intangible tangible of the day. It is something you know and recognize when you experience it, but you cannot teach it as information is taught to you in school. It has to be learned from the inside out. Much like you cannot teach someone how to fall in love.” – Bill Marvin

The Bad News: The spirit of hospitality cannot be taught as if it were another job skill.

The Good News: You don't need to teach it. Like the ability to love, hospitality is an innate capability of all human beings. You just need to understand how to create and sustain a climate where it can emerge and blossom naturally. (More to come on how that climate is largely dependent of the presence of the Holy Spirit.)

The Great News: You may already know WHAT works, but when you really understand WHY it works, maintaining that warm feeling becomes remarkably effortless.

You can't fake love and you can't pretend hospitality -- everyone recognizes a lack of genuine caring. Hospitality must be from the heart or it won't have any real impact on your guests ... and it won't last.

So, to get you thinking, let me give you a list of some of the characteristics of a hospitable person. But let me give you a warning: these are not just things you can become just because you decide to. Living as a hospitable person goes against the very sin nature of human beings. The only One who has been successful at being completely selfless and hospitable is Christ, so keep in mind as you review the following list that it is only through the power of His Spirit that these qualities can be realities for us. Read through the list and identify one you have experienced recently from someone you have crossed paths with. Then, identify one that you have practiced recently and then, finally, choose one you think would not come naturally for you to live out.

1.     Warm/ welcoming/ personable – This attitude is experienced when you first meet someone or pass someone on the street, the park, or at the grocery store. This person is usually looking up, attentive to their surroundings, and carries with them a smile and a sense of wanting to know you.

2.     Safe/ relaxed – This person is not fidgety, or self-conscious. They are at ease with themselves and carry with them an attitude of everything is in its place and the day going just like it should, even if it’s not.

3.     Interested in details/ Perceptive – This person is also very attentive to the surroundings, they take it to a new level and try to perceive needs of the person with whom they are interacting. They notice not only appearances, but also attitudes and things they say. They are listeners with the intentional effort to learn of that person’s needs or what those needs might be.

4.     Good listener/ non-intrusive – This one follows closely with the previous characteristic, but focuses more on the method of listening and not so much the perception. A good listener knows the art of asking good questions. Questions that help the person feel respected and important and not questions that pry at things that would cause them shame or embarrassment. Questions that help the listener connect their perceptions with reality so the true needs might be met. This also helps with the feeling of being safe.

5.     Happy/ joyful – This person has figured out how to carry with them a happy, hopeful outlook on life that allows them to genuinely smile and be joyful no matter what is happening. Now I know there are times when there is grief and loss or terrible things that happen in life and I believe there are times for sadness and gloom, but I am speaking here of a consistent attitude towards the positive and being joyful.

6.     Encouraging – A truly peaceful, hospitable person is one who looks for the good qualities in a person or circumstance and is able to articulate those qualities and circumstances to a specific person in order to bring dignity, pride, and accomplishment upon that person. This is something that goes very tightly with the characteristic of consistency. If a person only does this only when profitable for their own needs and satisfaction, they will quickly build walls between themselves and those whom they are trying to encourage. Hypocrites are sniffed out quickly. Do not try to become this type of person overnight, it takes lots of time and practice.  

7.     Open-minded/ non-judgmental – A person with this type of characteristic can also be called a learner. They seek to know the truth and do it without pushing their own agenda or ideas. When a person is not like this, they are often seen as judgmental, assuming, hostile, and close-minded. This is one of the foundational characteristics of a hospitable person in my mind. This person seeks justice, and deeply desires for people to be heard and to feel safe to voice their own opinions.

8.     Confident – This one might seem odd at first, but if one desires for others to feel safe around them and with them, they must know themselves, possess their own identity, and understand fully their own values and beliefs. If you are unsure of yourself and who you are, you cannot invite strangers into your life spheres without making them feel uncomfortable or uneasy. Confidence is different from pride, because confidence is an acceptance of who you are and not a platform to show yourself off or push your own agenda. This is summed up in the understanding of where you are going in life and simply inviting others to come along. 

9.     Selfless/ Respectful – This one holds the hand of the previous characteristic. If you are prideful, you are interested in getting others to know you and your plans and agendas. A person who is selfless and respectful is more interested in other people’s wants and needs than telling you what they are all about and interested in. This doesn’t mean you cannot have a conversation where both parties are sharing what they are interested in or what they believe, but that kind of conversation must happen organically between both parties involved and not inserted into a conversation for conversation sake.

10. Giving – A selfless person also regards others needs as a higher priority than their own. This often translates into someone who is willing to sacrifice time, resources, and finances in order to make the other tangibly taste and experience peace. This does not mean one should be unwise and make rash decisions as to when and where their time, resources, and finances are shared. These types of decisions must be made wisely, but be careful not to use your own desires and wants as an excuse to not meet the needs of others. 

11. Consistent – One of the most important characteristics of one who is a person of peace and hospitable is one who lives out all these characteristics consistently. Consistency lets people see and understand that this is not a show or an act, but it is something you are. When people see that it is something that you are, it gives them hope that they too can become that type of person. If it is simply an act of kindness done when convenient, there is no inspiration or challenge for them to rise above who they are at the present time.

12. Surprising – Got you interested didn’t I? That is exactly what this characteristic does. Hospitable people who possess all these other characteristics are pretty far and few between. When you are warm and welcoming and possess the ability to make people feel relaxed. When you show them you are truly interested in them, you present something that is surprising. Then you can surprise them even more by truly listening to their needs and who they are and then joyfully and consistently meeting those needs. Then when you do that with an open, non-judgmental attitude that is selfless and respectful of who they are, you present them with something that is fully theirs to have and enjoy. Even at this point many will still feel like there is a hidden agenda and when they find out that you are truly doing this out of love and completely for free… you SURPRISE them. 

Now take some time to identify the three different characteristics that I asked you to identify before you started reading the list. Then, once you have identified those three different characteristics, ask yourself the question, “Why?” Why do I identify with those three?

Our world, nations, cities, neighborhoods, and neighbors need people of peace. You could be the tangible change right where you are that makes this world a more loving place.

In the coming weeks, I desire to begin unpacking what each of these characteristics really mean and look like and how they can be lived out. My goal is to give you some tangible practices that you can implement into your lives to move you towards becoming a person that is truly hospitable; a peacemaker in all aspects of your life.

Matthew 5:9 - “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”