Update: Contest has ended. The winners are Emily Freeman, Amy, and Megan! Please send me your addresses, you lucky girls, and I’ll get your books to you!
Today I’m pleased to welcome Christine Hoover to the blog with a post that I think will speak to a lot of us.
As a church planting pastor’s wife, hospitality comes with the territory. In fact, we started our church in our home, so I know how to stuff people in every last crevice of my living room, and I have more chairs in my house than the average woman has decorative pillows on her bed. I can whip up Texas Sheet Cake without a recipe, I know what people will likely bring to a potluck (dessert) and what they likely won’t (a main dish), and I keep an ever-replenished stash of coffee and every sugar substitute known to man in my pantry. And I buy toilet paper in bulk.
Although I’ve grown accustomed to fingerprints on the walls and stains in the carpet from the flow of people through our home, it took me many years to come to terms with the inevitable chaos and messes that accompany hospitality. I used to be scared of having people in my home, primarily because I was scared of doing it wrong.
As a result of my fear, my first attempts at hospitality were focused on controlling every last detail. I spent an inordinate amount of time planning menus and preparing large, intricate meals. I cleaned the house from top to bottom and lit candles reserved solely for such an occasion. Just before our guests arrived, I rushed through the house, yelling at my children for touching the couch pillows that I had just karate-chopped in an attempt to achieve the perfect middle creases. Then the doorbell would ring and I’d greet our guests with as calm of a smile as I could muster.
Emphasizing details and tasks and things rather than love and relationships, I attempted to serve people with a picture of perfection, but without loving them. I dictated to them how they should be honored—coordinating dishes and placemats, charming conversation, and delicious homemade meals, of course—rather than simply honoring them by being fully present and in relationship with them. Instead of thinking of how I might express honor to guests, I concentrated on tasks and things and my own honor.
I have a tendency to do this in so many areas of my life, but most often and most debilitating is in how I relate with and respond to God. In my attempt to make an impact in God’s name and be a “good” Christian, I serve Him in a variety of ways. I line ministry opportunities up like my karate-chopped pillows and plow through them one by one, looking up every once in a while to see if God is watching and if He’s pleased, inevitably getting irritated at people with needs that interrupt my agenda. Through my good works and activities and service, I dictate to Jesus how He should be honored. Working myself up into a frantic, over-scheduled mess, I, however, really just grow burdened and weary and do not love anyone or anything.
When I do this, I miss the point of the gospel entirely, and, inadvertently, make the Christian life all about me and my own abilities and efforts and practices. I make a beeline for activity and works, hoping that my goodness will help me receive the joy and peace that I want from the Lord. The externals associated with my faith—any activity that proves my devotion to God—take priority over internal transformation. My attempts to order my life and squeeze spiritual growth from pure effort—to be good in honor of God but apart from God—reveal only pride and self-sufficiency and do nothing to lead me to the joy and abundant life Jesus promises. So I get burdened, weary, and cynical: Is this all there is to Jesus and His gospel?
But just as hospitality without love is not hospitality at all, external efforts to produce heart change in myself and others is not the gospel. It’s what I call the goodness gospel, but it’s not Christ’s gospel.
The goodness gospel preaches that our spiritual growth, our goodness, and our kingdom impact is up to us. We’re too busy lining up our good works for efficient karate chops to think about the why of what we’re doing. And we’re too frenzied conjuring up our own motivations for those works to simply let the true gospel settle in us and then rise up to do its work through us.
The true gospel tells me that I’ve been given the glorious and immeasurable riches found in Christ, and I achieved none of them by being good. I received them. You received them. And— this is key to crushing our obsession with being good—just as we were ushered into our new reality by faith, we are to continue living by faith. This is where, unfortunately, we get tripped up. But to remain, to stand firm, to walk by faith, to live in grace, and to walk in the Spirit, our focus must remain on what He thinks are the most important things, and none of those are rote external practices. The main thing He wants for us is to receive from Him and let what He gives well up and overflow from the inside out in response.
This has everything to do with salvation, but it also has everything to do with every day, and it certainly teaches us about true ministry. Once we discover how the gospel applies to our every day, the goodness addiction is broken in our lives. We, instead, become addicts of grace, faith, and joy. We no longer hide our weaknesses because we recognize that our weaknesses are opportunities to trumpet the grace of God. We recognize the call to come and die with Christ is also the call to come and live. And we have a joyful, enduring motivation for ministry; we are able to love because He first loved us.
Christine Hoover (@christinehoover) is an author, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom to three boys. Her newest book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel, offers women biblical freedom from trying to be “good enough”. Purchase your copy today on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com, and discover the gospel’s reach in your own life. You can also find Christine online at GraceCoversMe.com.
I have three copies of Christine’s latest book to give away! Just leave me a comment to be entered. Giveaway ends Friday!