Posted tagged ‘hospitality’

Worship Visitor

December 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 5, 2016


Deacon John raised his voice. “Lord, we know you love us, and now we ask that you would guide us in these coming days. Lord, if it be your will, please give us a sign of encouragement! We’re few in number, but massive in hope. We praise you and thank you! In Jesus name! Amen!”

The scattered few echoed his closing word as they sat back down in the pews ready to hear the Word of God for that day. Friendship Bible Church had existed on the street corner in the small rural village for close to a hundred and fifty years, but it had been dying a slow death for the last fifty. The town had decreased, as had the church’s effective ministry in the community. Young people had been raised in the church, grown up, gone off the college or to serve in the military, and never returned.

But there was hope in the midst of the gathered twenty!

The guest speaker introduced herself. She had served as a medical missionary at a hospital in India, and was back in the area for a few months telling her stories of mission work.

“There was a little boy who arrived at the hospital one afternoon…alone…bloodied…and frightened. My nurses asked him questions trying to find out his name, where he had come from, and what had happened to him? All he would tell them was that his name was Bontha and that he had been beaten by someone. He was bleeding profusely from a deep cut on his arm. We suspected that the “someone” was related to him and he did not want to say who it was. We treated him, stitched up the cut, cleaned him up, prayed with him, and asked him how we could contact his family. He kept telling us no, he did not want his family to know. One of the nurses left him for a few moments to go get him something to eat. When she came back he was gone. We searched and searched but could not find him, and Bontha never came back.”

“Years later I was doing my rounds through the pediatric ward one afternoon and a young man came up to me. He said, “Dr. Jan!” I looked at him, not recognizing who he was. “My name is Bontha!” Suddenly I could see the little boy appearing through the young man’s face. He showed me his arm. “You stitched up my arm when I came here bleeding.”

“My Lord! Bontha, I will always remember that day.” The questions started flowing out of me. “How are you? What happened to you that day? Where did you go? What are you doing now?”

He smiled at me and said that when he left the hospital he did not know what to do and where to go. His father had been in a drunken rage and had beaten him fiercely. When his father stumbled for a moment he escaped from the house and ran away, but as he was jumping over a fence he caught his arm on a piece of metal sticking out of the top of it and tore the skin open. He knew that our hospital was close and people had talked about “the Jesus Doctor” who worked there, so he ran as quick as he could, blood flowing from his body, and made it to the hospital. When he left our hospital he knew of a little church a couple miles away where a man named Pastor John was, and so he went there and told him what had happened. Pastor John went to Botha’s home and confronted Bontha’s father, brought him to a point of complete remorse and repentance, and told him that despite the abuse he had inflicted on his son that God  still loved him. Pastor John took Bontha in for the next month until he believed Botha’s father was ready to have him back. In that time he shared the story of the gospel with both Bontha and his father, and how the son of God was beaten even though he had done no wrong. Both father and son accepted Jesus.”

There were “Amens” wrong most of the people. They were caught up in the story.

“But the story doesn’t end there,” continued Doctor Jan. “For you see when Bontha reappeared that day he told me he was a student in medical school. He was in training to become a doctor. He told me that his experience that dark day when he was so young left a lasting impression upon him. Every time he looked at his arm and saw the scar from that day he remembered the loving care of my nurses and my words of concern for him. It changed his life, and Pastor John, the pastor of a church about the size of this one, took him in and told him of the love of God.”

“I wept as I heard his words! It was a story of misery turned to hope, a life rescued from abuse and changed to promise. Just a couple of years ago Dr. Bontha joined my staff at the hospital. He is now the primary doctor in the pediatric ward. When the Lord tells me that my work is done there he will take my place as the head of staff.”

“And it all began when a frightened little boy showed up one afternoon.” The missionary lady looked around the sanctuary. She saw tears running down the cheeks of some of the saints. There were moments of awed silence. “You never know what is going to happen when you ask the Lord to use you.”

The worship service closed with a time of heartfelt prayer of several people. They sang the hymn “I Love To Tell The Story” with loud committed voices in praise of their calling. Deacon John gave the closing prayer and people began conversing.

And then the front wooden door of the sanctuary creaked as it opened and a young boy that no one recognized wearing tattered clothing came through the door. It was at that moment that everyone knew that God had answered Deacon John’s prayer for a sign!

Angry Church People

October 1, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 1, 2016


The cell phone game, “Angry Birds”, got turned into a movie this past summer. Angry birds flying into pigs has been a big seller!

Something I’ve noticed over the years are “Angry Church People”- people with anger issues stomping through places of grace because other church people want to be loving and kind to those that even Jesus would have a hard time putting up with.

Angry church people take advantage of the grace of God’s people, but angry church people have a real gift for keeping the church from focusing on its mission and purpose.

Years ago my friend in ministry, Dr. Mark Sommers, who now pastors in the Syracuse area, came to see me at the church I was a staff person at. On Fridays an eighty-plus year old woman staffed the office. I’m not sure I ever saw her smile in the year and a half I was there. Every couple of months she would stand in front of the congregation and lambast them about needing nursery volunteers. On one Friday morning Mark came to see me and was greeted with these words as he entered the building and headed towards the office:

“What do you want?”

    It was said in the most unwelcoming way possible, as the elderly receptionist looked at him with a frown and skepticism. Thirty-five years later when Mark calls me I answer with those words to him and we chuckle about that memory. The thing is…this lady had issues in other areas of her life. Her anger towards life got poured on to those she met at church.

Let me be clear! We all have issues in one way or another, but angry church people is an area that leaves people shaking their heads about the purpose of the church. When they hear the words “Grace Church: Loving God, Loving People”, and then get assaulted with a verbal bombshell about keeping their child quiet in church it becomes very disillusioning.

Angry church people shoot the message of grace and forgiveness in the foot. Like geese scattering in the air because of a predator in close proximity, people in need of hope scatter from churches where they’ve been treated as hopeless.

How did Jesus relate to angry temple people? He stayed focused on truth, never swayed from it. The law keepers used their religion as a sledge hammer. Jesus told them about his Father who was more concerned with people experiencing God’s love rather than who left the toilet seat up!

Angry church people are often very willing to be in leadership so they can use that sledge hammer of power and bitterness. Sometimes they push their way in because there is a vacancy where they can ease into power. Perhaps a template for leadership in the church should be Philippians 2 where Paul talks about a servant who considers the needs of others above their own. That might create a number of unfilled vacancies!

Angry Birds was a multimillion dollar seller. Angry church people is a multi-million person turn-off, and it isn’t a game!

Bottom lion, angry church people need Jesus!

Lessley Ellis

July 9, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 9, 2016


Lessley Ellis is my friend. We have close to nothing in common, which makes our relationship even more special.

Lessley is African-American. He is as black as I am white, a darker shade of his color that contrasts greatly with my blindingly white legs. We are brothers in Christ who see both the beauty and ugliness of the world.

Lessley was born in Detroit, the place often referred to when talking about inner-city poverty and crime. I was born in Winchester, Kentucky, a stone’s throw away from where Adolph Rupp coached the all-white University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team.

The first time I met Lessley was on a Saturday morning at our church. We had just concluded our Saturday morning men’s bible study group. There had been a major snow storm just a couple of days before and the sidewalks around the building needed to be cleared. Several of us got snow shovels and started making a path. Suddenly a red Honda Civic hatchback pulled into the parking lot. Lessley hopped out of the car, popped the back and got a snowblower out of it. And then he just started to clear the sidewalk! The smile on his face was warm and sincere, and we thanked him for his help. One of us, probably Ben Dickerson, invited him in for a cup of coffee and then invited him to join us the next Saturday for breakfast and our bible study. I didn’t expect to see him again, but he surprised me and came back.

Ben Dickerson took him under his wing. Lessley could barely read. His education had been limited. He had been judged to be a “special education” case. In his words, “they treated me like I was a dummy!” By the ninth grade he was out of school. Ben Dickerson, a reflection of Jesus, started teaching him how to read. Another man, Roger Mollenkamp, offered him support and advice. When Ben passed away as a result of complications of a heart attack, Lessley grieved deep and long. We leaned on one another during those days, I grieving the loss of my friend as well. Our tears mingled together to form a pool of brotherhood, swimming in the confusion of loss. Grieving together takes people to a new place.

A few years ago a new family showed up in worship one Sunday. They came back the next week and then the next and became part of our congregation. A little later on I found out another piece of the story. The husband was ready to give up on church. They had visited several places and were ready to have their own family worship at home, but they decided to try one more place of worship. They came to a double-door entrance to our building that looks like it might be the front way in and they found the doors locked. The husband was ready to walk away and walk away from the church for good, and then Lessley opened the door and said “Good morning!” He apologized for the doors being locked and invited them in, offered to get them cups of coffee, befriended them, and turned troubled souls into joyful seekers. They came back all because of a smiling greeter who made them feel welcome in the time of their greatest discontent.

He was a “thrower” on the back of a garbage truck for years. That means, he’d empty the cans of people’s trash, hundreds each day! It destroyed his back, and he now receives a limited disability sum each month. His struggle is that he wants to help people, but his disability doesn’t allow him to do some of the work tasks that he always did. Many times the two of us have talked through his depression and discouragement that have pummeled his sense of self-worth.

Lessley has the heart of Jesus. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it. We had lunch together yesterday, along with our friend, Joe Smith. Towards the end of a week where black men were getting killed by white policemen, and white policemen were killed by a black sniper we talked about our screwed up world, and we talked about the hope we have in Christ.

He asked me what we could do, and we brought it down to where we live, what we say, and how each one of us treats others. The interesting thing that occurred to me was that although we sat there in a Mexican restaurant talking about racial tension we didn’t see any difference between the two of us. We didn’t see each other as being from a different race. To me he is Lessley, my friend, and to him I’m Bill, his friend and former pastor.

The three of us ended our lunch with warm embraces of each other. Perhaps the world is screwed up, but that didn’t mean that our friendships needed to be screwed up as well.

Some of the greatest blessings in life are relationships with people that we least expect to be our friends, salt of the earth folk who we’ve come to know in the most unlikely ways.

It’s funny! I’ve been blessed in so many ways by this almost sixty year old six foot three African-American man, all because of the crossing of our paths on a wintery Saturday morning after a snow storm and a bible study.

Like I said at the beginning, Lessley Ellis is my friend.

The Premium of Hospitality

June 1, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 1, 2016


Yesterday I had a “Free Breakfast Burrito” coupon for Chick-fil-A. It was expiring soon…and I hadn’t had breakfast yet…so I went to the location closest to us and ordered my free breakfast, plus a glass of water. The young lady, Sarah, who waited on me was as courteous and hospitable as possible. And not in a “put on” kind of way! She was genuinely interested in serving me and making my brief dining experience positive even though Chick-fil-A made exactly “zero cents” from my visit.

She even asked me if I wanted any kind of sauce packets, and would two be enough? Chick-fil-A is, without a doubt, at the top of the fast food establishments in the category of hospitality. Even in the midst of crowded, noisy establishments their employees seem to enjoy their labors. I’ve taken our five year old granddaughter, Reagan, to a different Chick-Fil-A and an employee named Josie was incredibly engaged in what Reagan had been doing that day.

Notice that I remember the first names of both employees!

On the other side of the spectrum are two different phone experiences that my wife Carol had yesterday where she felt devalued and idiotic. Whereas I left Chick-fil-A feeling like I mattered, she felt like she was simply a number in a couple of impersonal systems, a faceless person who didn’t know anything.

We’ve all had experiences that are at both ends of the hospitality rating line. It’s interesting that encounters that leave us muttering to ourselves stand out in our minds as clearly as the exceptional encounters.

Personally, I am drawn to hospitality and courtesy. Darla cuts my hair, not because she’s cheap, but because she takes care of me. I want my barber to be kind of like Floyd from Mayberry…relational, friendly, and not draw blood!

My optometrist, Dr. Bettner, takes time to see how things are going with me, tell me about his kids, and explain things that I am clueless about.

My massage therapist, Jackie Landers, makes me laugh even as she is inflicting pain on my body. I joke with her about the fact that I’m sure she sharpens her elbows before I come in. She is a 5 foot tall bundle of giggling energy. She hugs me when I arrive and hugs me when I leave.

Common themes in all of those people are a warm relationship and extraordinary hospitality.

In recent months I’ve been able to visit a few different churches of various flavors. Whereas preaching/teaching and the worship music becomes what gets focused on by those who are connected to those congregations, the hospitality of the people who greet you and the heart-felt interest of those sitting close to you AT THE END of the service are what impresses…or depresses…me.

After the benediction it is noticeable how many people rush for the doors, because their duty or worship experience has been fulfilled. The churches where people who have greeted you during the earlier “bulletin-mandated” greeting time, but then continue the conversation after the benediction…those are the experiences that stand out.

That hospitality was a significant focus of the first churches. The deacons in the first church in Jerusalem served the Grecian Jewish widows (Acts 6). The church had a reputation for extraordinary caring and service. They reflected Jesus, who was genuinely interested in all people, especially the ones who were devalued by the culture.

Back to Sarah! I’ve got a yearning to go back to Chick-fil-A tomorrow, and even spend some of my money!

Recognizing Angels

December 8, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 December 8, 2014


Angels are well-liked. Many people see them as cuddly little bald-headed boys who fly around and sprinkle glitter. They’ve been portrayed by attractive Hollywood actresses who talk in sweet tones and sing with…okay, I’ll say it…angelic voices.

But in everyday life how do we know it’s an angel that we’re seeing or talking to. In the Bible there were very clear angelic conversations between the angel Gabriel and Zechariah (Luke 1) and also with Mary. Zechariah becomes speechless as a result of the encounter, and his faithless questions. After Jesus’ resurrection there is an angelic encounter at the tomb.

The other side of the situation, however, is Hebrews 13:2- “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Angels could be bald-headed or have a full head of red hair. They could be thought to be Pakistani or Irish, young or old, dressed well or shabby in appearance. The disturbing thing about the verse in Hebrews is that we may have shown hospitality to dozens of angels and not be aware of it until some time in the future or next life…or we may have refused angels and not thought a thing about it.

Perhaps the point of that verse in Hebrews 13 is to say that our attitude towards people, and behavior towards people, should have a consistency to it. The recent situations across our nation have shown that we have certain biases towards those who are not like us. Years ago a church growth consultant advocated for churches to be homogenous. In other words attract more people that are cookie-cutter images of the people who are already there. Diversity was discouraged. I wonder how many angelic visitations were met with cold shoulders and closed lips?

Angelic appointments are not like my annual physical with my doctor that I can schedule a couple of months ahead of time. When I make that appointment it usually includes a couple of “No, that time doesn’t work” answers before finding a suitable time that works. Angelic visits are according to God’s planning, and, hard as it is for me to believe, God doesn’t compare calendars with me before sending one of his messengers.

So how do we recognize angels? With great difficulty! Oddly enough, that may be the point, for God does not want us to treat anyone less than we would treat Gabriel. What a concept to live life by! To see each person we meet and relate to as quite possibly being one of the angelic beings!

Who Are The Real Heroes?

June 13, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           June 13, 2013


Heroes was the name of a TV series that ran for four seasons from 2006 to 1010. It was based on the lives of ordinary people who discover superhuman abilities, and how the abilities effected their everyday lives.

My daughters watched Heroes faithfully. I usually had a meeting or something on the nights it aired, so I never really got into it. We weren’t “DVRing” yet!

The past two days I have been watching different kind of heroes- real-life heroes. These heroes are men and women who are fighting the Black Forest fire on the north side of our city. Most of them are experiencing something similar to superhuman abilities. Not jumping tall buildings in a single bound, or being able to pass through solid walls, but rather reaching inside themselves and taking their efforts to a deeper level…being able to do some things that they would not normally do. I remember talking to Steve Oswald this past year about his experience with the Waldo Canyon fire. He was one of the command post chiefs, working 36 straight hours, getting about four hours of week, and then going another 24 hours. When lives are at stake heroes kick it to a different level.

Heroes lay themselves on the line. Some pray without ceasing. They cry out to God with a sense of urgency that consumes them.

Some people are heroes because of sacrificial efforts. The front doors of their homes are open wide. People in need are welcomed and cared for. Heroes sometimes are made from extreme acts of hospitality.

Heroes are made through elevated abilities to listen. The anguish of a young boy who has lost the only home he has ever known is acutely perceived by a stranger he has never met. Time stands still for the hero who knows someone needs to just talk.

Heroes are those people whose first thought was what could they do to help the first responders? They didn’t think about the smell of smoke in the air, they thought about those who are battling the blazes in the midst of the smoke. Heroes are those people who grabbed a case of Gatorade and a box of granola bars and took them to the local aid station.

Heroes are those who persevere, who are not blown and tossed by the winds of unpredictability, but stay the course.

A hero can be a young boy with a sling shot facing a giant as an army of terrified men shrink back in fear. A hero can be a young girl who speaks truth to a bully when everyone else keeps their lips shut.

Heroes are the men and women who stand ready to do battle…of blazes…on battlefields…in areas away from where they themselves live, as well as close to home.

A hero is an athlete who makes a game-winning shot, but then visits children stricken with severe illnesses in a hospital ward.

Heroes emerge, not of their own doing, but out of necessity because of a cause.

Heroes inspire without saying a word. Heroes react out of attitudes of humbleness.

Heroes don’t look for parades. Parades evolve because of the gratitude of those they’ve served.

This is a day of heroes who are simply doing what they know they have to do.

Tim’s Place

March 28, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 27, 2013


Carol and I had a unique experience this week while we were in Albuquerque. We went to a restaurant called “Tim’s Place.” (“”)

“Tim” is Tim Harris. He was born in 1986 with Down’s Syndrome. His life could be characterized as one that continues to exceed expectations. Tim was voted Homecoming King of his high school in 2004. He was voted “Student of the Year” by his school administration and faculty. Friendliness is his gift. The slogan of Tim’s Place is “Breakfast. Lunch. Hugs.” Tim is the hugger. He roams the restaurant chatting with people and giving hugs. A digital counter on the wall keeps track of the number of hugs given. When we were there it was registering around 88,000.

Carol, who has a heart for kids with special needs, watched Tim carefully as he gave attention especially to little kids, children, and senior citizens (We aren’t quite there yet!). He took the role of host, conversationalist, chuckler, coffee refiller, and whatever else needed to be done.

Carol heard about Tim’s Place from watching a feature about it on NBC’s Today show. The restaurant was started by his mom and dad, who were looking for a way to help Tim experience success. His ability to make people feel welcome was evident from working at a Red Robin restaurant in prior years.

There was something special about the restaurant. The lady who waited on us seemed happy…joy-filled. In fact, everybody who worked at Tim’s seemed in good spirits.

Oh, that more of life was like Tim’s Place! Unfortunately it seems to be more of an oasis in a desert of self-centeredness. A day after we were there our youngest daughter called to say that her boyfriend’s house in another part of Albuquerque was broken into in broad daylight and the thieves made off with a few items.

That’s how our world is! Hugs here, hoodlums there!