Living Tension Part I: Generosity and Hospitality

Full Disclosure: This is a three part series where my wife and I invite a lot of hard questions, frankly, because we were tired of wrestling with them alone.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Part I – Based on my growth and transformation.

Growing up I guess I only really understood kindness and generosity in this sense: treat others as you want to be treated. This model of generosity seems oriented toward a future payoff, a transaction of sorts.  More recently I heard about how generosity and hospitality are central to God’s narrative, especially the Gospel.

I learned a lot about generosity and hospitality in the last three years. My growth in this area was spawned by living in community in Pullman, WA/ Moscow, ID. My wife, having spent more time living intentionally among the same community, has also transformed my understanding of this self-sacrificing lifestyle. As a result, we have become a husband and wife trying to partner with God to live as “His Holy Nation.” We discovered that being hospitable is crucial to be being set apart from our Western-consumerist cultural. With my wife’s support, I have grown tremendously in understanding (and living) what it means to be generous and hospitable. However, my deepest transformation was not in giving, but in my ability to receive generosity and hospitality.

Growing up I learned to politely decline offers. No matter the offer, I would default to “no thank you” and eventually to “no thank you ma’am or sir” (thank you NC State!). I could speculate as to why, but I will never know for sure why that was the norm. One thing is for certain, I denied the person offering their ability to live out generosity or hospitality. After three years of learning in a community passionate about the Text (and living it out), and experiencing hospitality in Israel and Turkey, I am better equipped to receive acts of generosity and hospitality.

The ability to receive was definitely a learned process. Recognizing the level of respect in receiving does not come natural to me. Now that I am better able to receive generosity and hospitality, I am much more aware. My awareness helps me avoid robbing someone of their ability to be generous or hospitable.

However, now, after struggling to learn how to receive from others, I find myself on the other extreme; I always receive. I receive without question, without pause.

In openly receiving, I believe I face compromise.

I am anti-consumerism, anti-materialism, anti-triumphalism, and anti whatever other self-focused – isms exist. I believe these are Kingdom-oriented ideals and I do not take them lightly. I am also pro- grace and peace. Also, Kingdom-oriented ideals I do not take lightly.

In compromising, I condone a false identity of God.

Hence, the tension!

One of the tensions I face:

What does it look like to receive another’s generosity when it is counter to your ideals?

Which imparts a few more questions, like:

Am I defending ‘my’ ideals or am I defending God’s ideals by not supporting consumerism?

Which stance furthers the kingdom of God, the most?

Is there a ‘right’ stance to take?

If God is a God who hears the cry of the oppressed, are generously purchased products of slave labor acceptable?

Another tension I face:

What does it look like to receive another’s generosity if the act has an underlining motivation from insecurity?

In the past, I received purchased gifts from people in difficult financial situations. I welcomed these gifts openly, because my community taught me how to receive. However, as I think more about these purchases I wonder if that was the best option.

Which imparts a few more questions, like:

Was their motivation from the heart?

Does the giver resonate with the self-sacrificing giving of the widow’s mite story?

If so, am I even the one they should be “giving out of their nothingness” to?

Shouldn’t they be giving to the treasury so that it will be redistributed?

Ugh, but then I have to wrestle with Jesus’ response to the anointing at Bethany!

Is their motivation hidden deeper?

Are they motivated by how they see themselves among the world?

Do they purchase gifts because they fear my love is based on what they can provide me?

That is how the world operates, right? Your worth and value are determined by what you can offer or produce (dripping with sarcasm).

Do those purchasing gifts face more debt because insecurities about their place, worth, value, and love in my life and heart?

Don’t they know the Kingdom doesn’t operate that way?

If they do not know, how might we help them understand the true Kingdom of God?

If I persist in receiving without conversation, if I receive passively, I allow the indebted person who purchased the gift to hold onto a lie that they can buy love, worth, and value.

Too often we find this idea encroaching on how we then interact, engage, and encounter God.

For instance, the following statements emerged during my early walk with God:

  1. The more He provides for me, the more He loves or values me.

And,

  1. The more I provide for Him, the more He loves or values me — the more worth I have in His eyes.

Neither could be further from the truth.

You cannot buy love.

You cannot buy worth.

You cannot buy value.

It is freely given. Come and see.


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