There’s an urban legend surfacing about the We Are Family Retreat last October. Some say that when the Montreat grounds keepers displayed the fire pit that we were to use for our bonfire on Saturday evening, Bill Gaut gave a hearty laugh so loud that it shook the earth as he declared that our infants and toddlers couldn’t bond around that puny fire pit, citing the oft repeated mantra “go big or go home”. After that exchange, the grounds keepers gave Bill the approval to build a fire as big as he wanted on the pitcher’s mound of the softball field. What happened that evening was a spectacle that few ever get to witness; a fire so big and bright that it lit up the entire Swannanoa valley. Knowing that this was a church gathering, the Montreat police could only gaze and marvel at this massive flame that licked the clouds. Friends, this is how you are to SHINE! (the previous paragraph cannot be verified as being entirely accurate)

What is Gracious Hospitality? Here are some of the terms I think of: Inviting, Welcoming, Including, Loving, Warm, Unassuming, and Relationship. I also think of fresh coffee and baked goods, but that’s an entirely different analogy. The author of Hebrews implores us, “And let us consider how we may stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). I want to focus on this verse as it connects the idea of Gracious Hospitality and the theme of ARPC being a beacon that will SHINE for the Kingdom of Christ.

Granted, the theme ‘fire” in the Bible typically signifies God’s judgement (“Our God is a consuming fire” Heb. 12:29), but I’d like to use it as a metaphor in some different ways. Fire also cleanses valuable ore like gold and silver. Fire melts the gold and lifts the impurities to the top for the refiner to remove. Fire is the mechanism to refine precious material. Fire brings warmth in the winter, and gladness in the summer. Fire brings good food, smores, stories, and bonding fellowship. Fire brings light, whether by a candle stick, a bonfire, an incandescent bulb, or a chandelier. The more tinder that is added to a fire, the larger it becomes and the brighter it SHINEs. If you wanted to extinguish a fire, one way to do it would be to spread out the coals. If you needed to rekindle it you would pull the embers together.

In this way, Gracious Hospitality is about seeing every individual in the church as an ember, and those we are trying to reach as tinder that God wants to ignite for His purposes to SHINE in the fire of the body of Christ. God’s desire is to see this fire built to give light and warmth to the community. Out of this call comes our responsibility to be graciously hospitable. We reach out to the lost because God wants to burn in their hearts. We kindle the embers that have long been separated from the fire of Christ. We gather together as a church body in a mutually encouraging way to bring a greater fire and light so that we can SHINE for Christ. In and of ourselves we are but a common ember, but gathered together with God’s people we burn with passion for the good work Christ has prepared for us to do. Those guests who might visit our church community do not come on accident; God brings them! God wants to ignite them and/or to kindle them with the fire that blazes at ARPC.

We need new ways of seeing the guests that walk through our doors; the congregations that worship in our facilities; the community that visits our campus through our events, and EVEN ourselves! In Christ we are a fire that God has kindled in East Charlotte to SHINE, and Gracious Hospitality says that all are welcome to join in this light and warmth. As this fire grows, so does our need to make room in our hearts, homes, and groups of friends. This may not be the easiest or simplest task, but if God’s people are a fire, and each person is an ember, we will naturally understand the mutual benefit of Gracious Hospitality. We recognize our need to SHINE brighter by welcoming new folks, and God’s call to reach the community. These are not mutually exclusive; they are one in the same. Our desire to SHINE brighter is God’s call to reach those who need a place to call home. May God’s Holy Spirit fan the flame of His fire at ARPC that we might SHINE with intensity in this way of Gracious Hospitality.