Nurturing Nests

The hand that rocks the cradle shapes the nation is an old adage that is strikingly true.  Those who provide our nurture are preparing for the future, whether of a home or of a community or of a nation.  Our fragile natures require a proper nurture and a safe nest.    

Radio-host Dennis Prager recently listed the half-time shows of every Super Bowl since its inception in 1967.  Almost every one of them entailed a collegiate marching band well into the late-1980s … But then everything changed.

Extravaganzas of loud music and pulsating rhythms have become required components of the Super Bowl, an event on the American stage surpassed only by Christmas, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and on the world stage only by Christmas.  There it is.

Mr. Prager doesn’t like it; nor do I.  I am an obsolete and archaic relic from the past, perhaps, but proudly, too.  Super Bowl half-times now suggest that the barbarians are not only coming, but that they have already arrived, conquered and laid waste.  

They are primitive, their popularity notwithstanding.  They are salacious, their success stemming from our deep-rooted impulses, irrespective of our moral codes.  And they are utterly unedifying of limited musical value, regardless of their contrived aesthetics.  

These events are also now wildly celebrated and powerfully entrenched.  What to think and what to do?  First, we must take some perspective and ask some questions.

I categorize these Super Bowl intermissions with the legion of commercials about Viagra and other pharmaceutical enhancements and supplements designed to help sagging libidos or malfunctioning body parts.  I ask myself two questions:  What do the children think of all of this and how are they affected by it all?  The “experts” don’t seem to care.

Christians should care.  We should care as much about this as we enjoy the game itself.  And we should be as visceral in our response to the corruption as we are in response to the game.  God’s people have become too invested with the prevailing norms around us.

I enjoy a football game, but I am concerned by the entrenchment of sexism and vulgarism on the sidelines, from amongst the fan-base in the stands and on the television commercials.  We may ignore or laugh, but our children are being adversely affected.  

When do Christians need to consider severing ties with cultural enjoyments, like they did in response to the gladiatorial contests of Rome?  I don’t necessarily have the answer (nor do I equate American football with ancient depravity), but I know that I have an honest question.  When is our Lord displeased?  At what point is our Christianity damaged?

Second, it is incumbent upon God’s people to be mindful, not only of the environment in which we are cast amongst the rest, but also of the accommodations we share within the realm of God’s Kingdom.  How is His house to be constituted?
The prevailing culture is a rapacious one, given to using people to the extent that more money or greater influence is secured.  Individual human beings are determined to be of worth to the extent that they meet such criteria.  

The Church is supposed to be a conduit of counter-culture, as Bible-expositor John Stott described the message of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  We blow, not with the winds of current norms, but via the norms of Scripture and the directions of the Holy Spirit.

Individual persons will be accorded an inherent worth, as the will of the Father is never separated from the purpose of His will, both of which are provided to the express end that His people attain to their destiny, which is an eternal place in God’s holy kingdom.

I never begrudge anyone the privilege of leaving this earth, whatever the circumstance or means, if I know that our dearly-departed ones have gone to be with God.  There is no safer, more congenial or lovelier place than to be with Him.  

My beautiful parents and dearly-loved friends and congregants who have been taken from me have been brought to Him, and He loves them and can care for them far better than I.  This world affords a great deal of grief, but His Presence is, quite literally, heaven itself.  How could I possibly begrudge them (or God!) such paradise?

But we abide here, not there, at least not yet or not in full.  Scripture does assure us that in some meaningful way we have a place already in the heavens (Ephesians 2:6), but our work continues apace on this planet and in the here-and-now.  And God has called us to be His agents by which His Kingdom is given a place right where we are; so-to-speak, He wants, through us, to bring heaven to earth.  It’s quite an order, but we have quite a God!

We all need a place of nurture, where our welfare is considered, valued and fostered.  I am never more relaxed than when I am amidst my books and my cats, with a Coca-Cola readily at-hand.  I am never more enriched than when I am in company and conversation and prayer with my wife.  I am never more fulfilled than when have discerned that God has allowed me to be faithful to Him and fruitful on behalf of His people.

And I have come to understand that His people need a venue whereby they can be refreshed, valued, and nurtured … Confronted, too, but only within the context of a safe and loving environment.  The Church needs to be a place of nurture, where God’s children may grow and prosper.  We are a nurturing nest for His little ones.

It is imagery drawn directly from the teachings of Jesus, as He gave description to God’s Kingdom:  “What is the kingdom of God like?  What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden.  It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches” (Luke 13:18, 19).

God graciously allowed me to perch in the nest of three little churches in my earlier days as a believer.   I was warmly received and sincerely embraced as I embarked upon a course of Christian growth and ministry preparedness.  
I thank God that I was allowed to perch well; nine years later, I was deemed ready to be a branch upon which others might perch.  The accommodations may have needed some work, but over time I trust that those who so perched would have reason to thank God.

God gave me the solid fare of experience, the blessing of a wife who shared my sense of hospitality and who both augmented and accentuated my capacity to share the Gospel of Christ, and any number of congregants with whom we shared the ministry of nesting.

I am more convinced than ever, over twenty-four years as a pastor later and nearly thirty-five years after becoming active in the Church (not to mention thirty-seven-and-a-half years as a Christian), that God has called each of His children as well as every single gathering of believers to be a place of nurture and nesting in the cause of Christ.

It must be remembered, though, that the hospitality industry needs to be well-regulated, especially when it represents the Lord Jesus Christ and is an expression of His Kingdom.  There are standards, and we must qualify for His imprimatur.

We already have qualified, for which we can thank God, because He “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints of the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12).  God has met the standard of His own righteousness for each of us.  

We are entrusted with the mandate of being the embodiment of Christ, but such trust on God’s part does not overwhelm or unduly burden us, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

Such splendid hospitality as that afforded its patrons like the Four Seasons or Ritz-Carleton Hotel chains is given to those who can afford to pay for such stellar service.  We don’t begrudge them one iota, but Christians can do much better.

Our hospitality is an expression, not of elite, but of heavenly service.  Christ has already footed the bill.  And we provide the nurture and nesting to those who, like us, can’t afford to pay – But, as has already been said, the bill has already been paid in full.

The Apostle Paul exhorted God’s people to “Do everything in love” (I Corinthians 16:14); love, he said earlier in the same communication, “is the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31).  

You who are perched on a godly branch:  Are others able to nest in the nurturing presence of Christ as expressed through your life?  Are you expending yourselves in service to His people?  Is your life a source of refreshment to those who seek after God?  

One hopes so; further, God desires it and His Spirit is so leading you – Remember, we are exhorted to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).  We sometimes expect that He will affirm and rubber-stamp our actions and attitudes, but He beckons for us to take His lead and to submit to Him.

Two examples of heavenly hospitality as referenced by Paul are mentioned here:  The household of Stephanas and the believers at Macedonia.  There are others, but one can’t do better than these.

First, the Macedonians:  “We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will …” (II Corinthians 8:1-6).

Several things are notable about their hospitableness:  It was expressed (and probably forged) amidst severe hardship.  It was, notwithstanding their circumstances, generously expressed.  It was sacrificial, based as it was upon the love of Christ and not personal convenience or financial cream.  It was earnest and, therefore, from the heart.  And it was inherent to God’s will, and they both knew it and acted upon it.

Paul gives impetus to the Corinthian Christians, having given the example of the Macedonians:  “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:8, 9).

Translation:  When others find a nest because of you, it is you upon whom they may perch, not some cheap substitute, such as a five-dollar bill or a suggestion that they see the pastor.  God wants others to be able to perch upon you – You are the branch!

We are also given the example of the household of Stephanas:  “You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.  I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors for it.  I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaius arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you.  For they refreshed my spirit and yours also” (I Corinthians 16:15-18).

Exposition:  They were devoted to serving God’s people.  They did what others weren’t (but should have) been doing.  Their hospitality was greatly refreshing, and refreshment is the business of our Lord (Acts 3:19); so, too, must it be integral to our business.  Refreshment will be much needed by many, having been burned by the world - And we begrudge no one the blessings with which we have been blessed!

Perch yourselves upon these reflections; I trust that it serves well as a nurturing nest.  And I pray that we all come to embody the Kingdom principle of heavenly hospitality.

Bradley E. Lacey
February 10, 2013