“Hospitality” is in the news these days. We’re hearing a lot of advice on how to throw a perfect party on a budget. If saving money is important this year, I even saw a story about how to disinvite people.   


The author of Hebrews wrote, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

The Greek word here is philoxenia. It’s a combination of the words philo (family love) and xenos (foreigner or stranger).

A little Christian community, likely made up of former Jews, was being asked to treat strangers like family. 

And we are too. But how?

Well, what is the Christian faith all about?

At its heart, it says we’re all strangers. Our first parents were kicked out of the garden. In a very real way, we’re all trying to find our true home, but with no way to get there.

This is the time of year when we remember, and give thanks, that Jesus came to us as a stranger.

Will we welcome him as a guest?

He’s our only way home.

Is self-esteem overrated?

I recently completed the yearly wellness self-assessment required by the Presbyterian health plan. It doesn’t just ask whether you exercise, take your meds, or eat right. It asks you to rate yourself on statements like:

  • I have a number of good qualities.
  • I feel useless at times.
  • I take a positive attitude toward myself.
  • I sometimes think I am no good at all.

The assessment asks dozens of these questions in different ways, I suppose to make sure you’re telling the truth. The assumption is that having a positive self-image is key to well-being.

We all think it is. But is it?

Back in 2002, psychotherapist Lauren Slater reported on numerous academic studies. The results were inescapable: self-esteem is overrated.

In a widely published article, “The Trouble with Self-Esteem,” Slater wrote, “People with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem, and feeling bad about yourself is not the cause of our country’s biggest, most expensive social problems.”

A researcher from the London School of Economics wrote, “There is absolutely no evidence that low self-esteem is particularly harmful. It’s not at all a cause of poor academic performance; people with low self-esteem seem to do just as well in life as people with high self-esteem. In fact, they may do better because they try harder.”

So why does the wellness assessment for Presbyterian pastors focus on self-esteem? Shouldn’t it be asking if we really believe that we’re all sinners saved by grace?

The Apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, and to us, when he said, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him.”

Self-esteem really is a feeble notion. You have to feed it every minute of every day. Yet a pin prick can deflate it.

So instead of feeding our self-esteem, we should continually give thanks for God’s limitless, unmerited grace.

Self-esteem is such a feeble notion when compared to God’s esteem for us.

Paid in full

In 1810, the situation in the church seemed hopeless. The revival sweeping the country seemed to have passed over First Presbyterian Church.

The lack of spiritual vitality led some members to break away and form a Second Church. A new church building was under construction, but workers and creditors weren’t getting paid. A lottery, with a first prize of $800 was held to pay off the debts. When the lottery failed to raise enough money, a second one was held. It failed as well, and “No correct account of the amount of tickets sold was ever rendered.”  

Members were withholding their pledged pew rents and the trustees threatened to sue them.

The congregation’s debt was $3900.

Early in the morning of March 22, 1810, a house fire broke out on Wood Street. First Church’s minister, Robert Steele, caught a cold carrying water from the river. The cold turned into pneumonia, and Steele died on March 31, 1810. The congregation directed it’s few financial resources to Steele’s widow and five children.

It took months before the church could bring itself to begin thinking about calling a new minister.

Then in the fall, a thirty-seven-year-old minister named Francis Herron came to town to visit his sister. He was invited to preach at First Church, and invited back the following week.

A meeting was held, and a call extended.

Herron found the church morally, spiritually, and financially bankrupt.

But the sheriff of Allegheny County had put the church building and property up for sale to pay its debts. With the concurrence of the trustees, Herron attended the sale and bought the whole property back in his own name for $2819.

Herron then sold a small portion of the property to the Pittsburgh Bank for $3000.

The debt was paid, and the profit went to the church.

The church had been born again.

The Apostle Paul told the church in Corinth, “You were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 7:23). He was talking, of course, about how Jesus Christ redeemed us from spiritual bankruptcy, even death itself, with his own blood. 

Do you see what you’re worth to him?

Do you see him paying your debt in full?

Do you see that you were bought at a price?

Running on envy

I guess it makes sense that a Corvette owner, who went with his wife on a 7825-mile driving vacation last summer, would like songs of the open road. Running on Empty is a 1977 song by American singer/songwriter Jackson Browne. It’s the kind of song you can turn up loud when you’re out on the road.

But it also has a melancholy feel:

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels…

Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields…

It seems that Browne is saying that after years of chasing something, somewhere down the road, he’s still no closer to finding what life is all about.

In Matthew 20, Jesus tells the parable of a landowner who goes out to hire workers for his vineyard. Starting early in the morning, he hires workers five different times, so that by the end of the day, some workers had labored all day, while others had worked only for an hour.

And he paid them all the same.

The problem came when he paid the last ones first. When the ones hired first saw this, they became angry. We’d be mad too, right?

But why? The first workers had agreed in advance to work for the pay the landowner had offered.

I think the answer is that we’re all running on envy.

We’re all chasing some idea of happiness; it’s out there, if only we could find it.

We’re all looking around and seeing people with more than us, so we never feel like we’ve arrived. 

Running on Empty continues:

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels…

I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels…

Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through…

Looking into their eyes, I see them running too…

We’re all running for something we can’t quite find.

But in Jesus’ great parable, we need to see that the landowner, who represents God, was chasing something too. He was working all day…

Running after us.

Maybe we should slow down and let him catch up.