Greetings from Illinois

Brothers and Sisters,

You’ll be glad to know our family enjoyed a smooth trip on Tuesday, delightfully interrupted by lunch with friends in Indianapolis and punctuated with a warm reception from other friends north of Chicago. We’ve greatly enjoyed their hospitality ever since.

Today’s the big day. My dissertation defense should run from 2:30 to 4:30. After that, we’ll head over to our old church for yet another warm reception and even more delightful hospitality.

I spent yesterday working in a local Panera, which is where I wrote the bulk of this letter. When I prayed for God to give me a word of encouragement for you, He responded in two ways. First, he reminded me of the fellowship we’ve enjoyed up here. Second, he sent me the Police.

No, not the boys in blue…. I’m talking about the band.

As I sat there in prayer, I couldn’t help but notice Message in a Bottle blaring in my ears, thanks in part to that Panera’s penchant for obnoxiously loud background music. We know God has a way of using life’s nuisances to get our attention…

Assuming you don’t know the song by heart, here are a few of the lyrics:

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, Another lonely day, with no one here but me, More loneliness than any man could bear Rescue me before I fall into despair, I’ll send an S.O.S to the world… I hope that someone gets my… Message in a bottle.

Don’t let the swanky late-70s groove fool you; this song’s about loneliness. Sting is by himself on a metaphorical island, waiting for someone to come and rescue him. The final verse ends with him finding a million bottles washed ashore from countless others just like him.

Through the juxtaposition of our welcome here in Illinois with Sting’s pop-rock-loneliness, God impressed upon me the beauty of Christian fellowship and hospitality.

In my latest Things Worth Noticing, I shared a quote from Elliot Clark’s Evangelism as Exiles,

Christian hospitality is the reward of the gospel. It’s a foretaste in this life of a shared inheritance in the next. It’s a seat at the table now, the shadow of a future feast where we’ll recline at table in the kingdom.

As Rosaria Butterfield has written, the gospel comes with a house key. Sin alienates us from God and others, but the gospel rescues us from our self-imposed isolation and brings us into God’s family. As adopted sons and daughters, we open our homes to the lost and found alike. Because He has given us a seat at His table, we are all the more eager to give others a seat at ours.

That means that whoever and wherever you are, if you are in Christ, then you are never truly alone. God is with you always, but He has also ingrafted you into the society of faith. Your S.O.S. has ascended into heaven. He has cracked open your bottle, read the message, and rescued you from the isle of darkness so that you can enjoy life with your fellow saints in the light.

Are you feeling lonely? Isolated? Disconnected? Like you’re on a desert island?

Speak up to God in prayer and reach out to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let them open up a seat for you at their table. These are the places where His grace becomes palpable—where the love of God is gloriously manifest in a bowl of spaghetti and a glass of red.

I’m praying for you all this week, that you would know the grace that flows when saints welcome one another into their homes to break bread and share in gospel-centered, biblically-saturated fellowship (Acts 2:42-47). I’ll look forward to seeing you all again this Sunday.

In Christ alone,