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Host or Guest?

I learned a new word this week and have already put it into practice. The word is XENIA. It is an ancient Greek concept of hospitality, translated as guest-friendship. The Greek god Zeus is sometimes called Zeus Xenios in his role as protector of strangers. We are much more familiar with the negative use of this word, as in Xenophobia, which is a fear or dislike of people from other countries or who are different from us in some way. But I prefer the positive use of the word.

Xenia is a big part of many Biblical stories. In fact, many times that we as modern western readers don’t understand a story, it’s because of xenia elements that are foreign to our culture. The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of this. We secretly wonder if we meet Jesus’ definition of a neighbor. Let’s consider several references to anchor the idea of xenia: 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) In the first century church, hospitality was included in the job description for leaders. Our western culture does not value this Biblical requirement for church leaders today, but what if it did? What if the church, specifically Christians, were where someone could go when they were a stranger in town or needed help? I don’t know if I’ve entertained any angels but I do know that every time I’ve shown kindness to a stranger, I’ve been blessed in some way.

Jesus said, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; in prison, and you came to Me.” In the story the righteous asked, “When did we do these things for you?” And Jesus answered “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40) Truly this is one of the most sobering passages spoken by Jesus.

And going back even further in time, to the very beginnings of the Judeo-Christian faith just after the Ten Commandments were given, we read: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) So there it is, the foundation of xenia. We understand what it is like to be a stranger because we each have been a stranger in some context. We understand what it is like to be the new kid at school, starting a job, a stranger in a town. We understand being vulnerable, unsure, lonely, or insecure. We have been a stranger in some Egypt somewhere.

In California we walk right past people—at church, in our neighborhood, standing on the corner, shopping next to us. It would be odd to talk to a stranger. But in Idaho, we have had the privilege of being the new kids in town. The number of people we know in Hailey/Ketchum, Idaho can be counted on one hand. I decided to try out my new word, xenia. At the little 4th of July parade in town, I invited people on the street to come to our home afterward for a BBQ. The hilarious thing is that they came! It turns out many people around us feel like strangers. They are grateful for hospitality. Hopefully we have deepened their definition of Christian to include xenia, a kindness toward strangers. Either way, I’m happy to meet new friends!

Check out Romans 12:13 this week. At first glance it tells us to show hospitality, but if we dig deeper, we find it expresses a command to eagerly pursue hospitality. We are called to be a host, not a guest, in almost any conversation or encounter. Pursue xenia this week and see if you are not blessed!

Next week I’ll post my monthly mashup. Be sure to subscribe to my blog and visit www.MargaretAllen.org for resources. Please share your stories of xenia in the comments. Have a beautiful week, everyone!

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Need a Break?

I don’t mind working from home, it’s living at work that wears me out! Are you just done? Over it? Needing an infusion of creativity, energy, and vision? I know of something that helps, but my answer may surprise you. This is a habit that productivity consultants and the Bible agree on.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20)

Before our mind races to an image of people huddled around their Bible by candlelight, consider what it could look like for us to take a Sabbath. In my book, Gracious Living, I describe a process: “My husband and I made small changes in habits and reaped the family benefits of this gift of the Sabbath. We purposed to make Sunday a restful day. That meant the tiny changes of finishing all the laundry by Saturday, choosing not to get online or watch television, and instead having family night where we played games, worshipped, and had devotions. Andy and I used to laugh that we couldn’t buy a nap on Sundays, but we sure tried!” I’ll add that we also skipped dinner on Sunday evenings as a way to lessen the work load while also modeling prayer and fasting to our children.

Dear Parents, if our kids are doing school online all week, they need a break from technology. How can we possibly develop a healthy family culture if we are never all together in an undistracted environment? “Those Sabbath days we not only modeled how to listen to God and enjoy His nearness, but also how to listen to each other and enjoy each other’s friendship.  It trained each of us to live in a mindful, restful, reflective rhythm each week. It gave us permission to pull out of frantic busyness and breathe. Embracing the grace and rest of a weekly Sabbath filled us with the energy to give others grace throughout the week.” (From Gracious Living, p. 96) Not only is our personal life energized by this day set apart, but also our professional life. Productivity experts advise executives to take a day with no texts, emails, or work calls to evaluate the big picture, birds-eye view of life.

As working from home and living at work have blurred any sense of normalcy, setting up a boundary like a Sabbath will actually increase our creativity and zest for life. Interestingly, Jesus said “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) This boundary was designed by God FOR us. Jesus described the Sabbath as a gift to help us rest and savor life. It is not meant to be a rigid ruleset that confines our activities. Rest is a good thing. Reflection and mindful living are good things! Consider enjoying a Sabbath this month and record what you discover.

I would love to hear how you have created a pattern of rest in your life. Does anyone else follow a Sabbath? Let us hear from you! Share any habits that have worked for you and your family.

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I talk about ways to walk closely with God in my book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. It is available anywhere books are sold. http://www.margaretallen.org