Welcoming Your Neighbors
About the Guest
Rosaria Butterfield and her husband, Kent, wanted to get to know their neighbors when they moved into their new neighborhood. So they moved the grill and picnic table into the front yard, and now it's become a favorite meeting place for friends and neighbors alike. Butterfield illustrates how she practices radical hospitality, caring for her neighbors, welcoming the stranger, and loving the lonely. By doing this, she explains, we can live out the gospel in front of others and build relationships, and hopefully see others come to Christ.
Rosaria ButterfieldRosaria Butterfield (PhD, Ohio State University) is an author, speaker, pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and former professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University. She is the author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert; Openness Unhindered; and The Gospel Comes with a House Key.
Rosaria Butterfield illustrates how she practices radical hospitality. By doing this, she explains, we can live out the gospel, build relationships, and hopefully see others come to Christ.
Welcoming Your Neighbors
Bob: We live in a world today where hospitality has fallen on hard times, and Rosaria Butterfield says if we’re going to practice biblical hospitality there are things we’re doing today that are going to have to change.
Rosaria: It’s hard to change your practices. I know that. I was in the gay community once. So, practicing radically ordinary hospitality, actually obeying the Bible’s commands to love the stranger, it’s inconvenient and it’s expensive, but if we don’t like the way the world is going—and I want to say this gently, but I need to say it—Christians need to put up or shut up.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 22nd. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
Are you and your family open to what could be the great hospitality adventure that awaits you? We’re going to explore that today with our guest, Rosaria Butterfield. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
I’ve been to your house, and you have a nice gas grill out at your house. It’s in the back yard. I just thought I’d point out it’s in the back yard, and I’m just wondering if you’re going to repent of that as a result of what we’re talking about this week.
Dennis: Why would I repent of a gas grill in the back yard?
Bob: Ask our guest why you would repent of that.
Dennis: Well, Rosaria Butterfield joins us again. I think she’s joining us again. What’s my sin issue with the back yard?
Rosaria: Well, Bo-o-ob, I don’t think it’s a sin!
Bob: Okay, alright. Maybe he doesn’t need to repent.
Rosaria: I don’t think you need to repent!
Bob: But reconsider, maybe?
Rosaria: When we moved to our home when Kent was called to be the pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham and we wanted to get to know our neighbors, we discovered that a lot of people did a lot of fun things in the back yard—
—and we thought it would just be wiser to do some things in the front yard, because lots of walkers, lots of dog walkers, lots of gardeners… So we actually moved the grill and the picnic table, which we painted neon green, to the front yard. A friend of ours, a pastor friend, Micah Ramsey, put a tire swing up, and the front yard became a nice gathering place.
And then, for years, what we did on Thursday nights was we would use our Next Door app and we posted that Thursday nights we would have a prayer walk in the neighborhood and we would meet at the neon picnic table, and that was how we started getting to know our neighbors, making a place that isn’t public but isn’t private. So, we’ve just used our front yard.
Bob: I bet you’ve never gotten “Yard of the Month” in your neighborhood, have you?
Rosaria: No, in fact, just the opposite.
I have nice neighbors who come over and offer to help us—you know. My personal favorite is when my husband Kent decided he was going to grow grass under the tire swing. He put out grass seed and neighbors would stop and say, “Kent, you’re one of the faithful, I can tell!”
Bob: This is what radically ordinary hospitality looks like. You put your neon green picnic table and your gas grill—see, if I put my gas grill in the front yard, the neighbors would think it was up on the curb and they could have it, right?
Dennis: Well, in case our listeners do not know Rosaria Butterfield, she’s an author of a number of books, speaker, pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, has four children, and is the author of a couple of books that have been featured here on FamilyLife Today, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and this one, The Gospel Comes With a House Key, and it’s talking about hospitality.
What I want to talk about is the first conversation you had with Kent about how your home was going to be used in a dramatically different way, and when the Supreme Court ruled that marriage could include those of the same sex.
Dennis: That was a key point.
Rosaria: That was watershed. It really was. But even prior to that—so, Kent and I are both the only believers in our family, until our youngest children came to faith. So when we got married we remember the loneliness of, you know, you’re in church and you’re a family of God, and the benediction is still ringing in your ears, but people are scattering in their bounded groups, and you’re not part of those. So for years we had been a place where the singles would gather or a place where the neighbors would gather. It was just part of what we did to respond to our own loneliness, and also to step into that.
But, at any rate, over the course of many years—Kent was a church planter for awhile in Virginia. During that time, we used our home in a radically different way than any of the other neighbors did, and on and on.
But Obergefell, 2015, the Supreme Court decision that didn’t just legalize gay marriage in 50 states—it did do that, but it did something else that Christians don’t quite track with. It instituted a new form of personhood, one that is explicitly anti-biblical. It said that “sexual orientation tells me who you are.”
Now, there’s no question that your sexual patterning may very well tell me how you are, but only God can tell you who you are, and because it conflated that, and because at the same time we saw the uprising of this new neo-orthodoxy called gay Christianity—
—we have a situation where the Gospel is on a collision course with this category of sexual orientation as a category of personhood, a who you are, not a how you are. It’s like the Gospel isn’t relevant. How could the Gospel be good news if you can’t be who you are? Or, moms and dads who have been faithful, who have raised their children in the church, and their children go off to college and they come back and they say, “I’m a lesbian,” “I’m a gay man,” “I’m a transgender woman.” These moms and dads feel like, “I don’t even have the right vocabulary.”
And then, speaking about vocabulary, all the vocabulary changed! Now you’re allowed to say queer; 20 years ago you couldn’t. There are 60 different sexual identities on Facebook. Even though Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
I mean, right here we see that being born male and female is a creation issue, and it comes, we’ll learn later, with ethical and moral responsibilities and constraints and blessings. But it seemed almost overnight after Obergefell something else happened, and these things called SOGI laws appeared everywhere, sexual orientation gender identity laws. Very quickly, everywhere from kindergarten classrooms to the public library, we were told that we had this whole idea of image-bearing wrong, we had this whole idea of personhood wrong.
Now, sexual orientation, we were told, is a true category of personhood, even though actually it’s a 19th-century invention. I talk about it in a book called Openness Unhindered.
Dennis: And in terms of being an invention, you’re talking about [how] man has taken away God’s authority to be the Creator, and man has said, “I’m going to redefine this.”
Rosaria: Yes. That’s right. So I don’t mean that sexual desires are an invention or that homosexual desires were a category invention, but the idea that sexual orientation is actually who you are and that that is endemic, established, ontological, and ultimately eternal. Well, it’s heresy from a Christian perspective, but it’s also an invention of the 19th century. But now we live in a world that says, “Sexual orientation is truly who you are, but male-female differentiation, your biological sex, that’s actually a matter of psychological preference.”
So, you know, it’s a very Orwellian world that we’re in. George Orwell was the one who first said that “if you want to create a revolution, change the language and you change the logic.” A fairly liberal theologian named Theo Hobson has said, “You know that you’re in a revolutionary moment when what was formerly despised is now celebrated, what was formerly celebrated is now despised—
“—and those who refuse to celebrate are despised.”
So, almost overnight, Obergefell put us into a very clear place where are now in post Christianity.
Bob: So, what does this have to do with moving your picnic table to the front yard and your grill out there?
Rosaria: Well, it has a lot to do with that, because in this particular world you care about your neighbors, you want them to know Jesus, but inviting them to church is not how that happens. Your relationships have to be strong, stronger than they have ever been before. You need to make yourself a trusted confidante. You might say, “Well, who gave me that job, Rosaria? I don’t like that job, and I don’t think that’s my job.”
But this is all part of the package of what it means to love the stranger. You know, when you love the stranger, people are going to think you’re strange. So I’m not surprised that even other Christians might think that this is very strange.
I would say this, too—and I want to say this very gently; I don’t mean this to come across in a harsh way, and again, there are seasons of life when we have practiced a kind of radical form of hospitality, seasons of life when we didn’t. When my mother was dying, at a certain point, at home, we were not having 20 people over. That would have been obscene. So there’s a certain ebb and flow to that, and one must be responsible to your family. That subsidization is an important part of being a responsible head of household and a responsible mom and dad.
But what I would say is this: if you think this is a post-Christian world and you’re upset that the world has changed almost overnight, you don’t like what’s happening; and when you wonder, “How did people like Rosaria come to faith, or not just Rosaria, others? How did the radically converted come to faith?” You hear that in almost all of our cases it was some kind of radical hospitality.
It was some faithful, unnamed, unknown—I mean, named to us, but not famous people. These are not people with a million Twitter followers or whatever that means, you know; just your average Christian opening her home, opening his home, teaching you how to play cards, praying for you, serving you, teaching you how to apply faith to the facts of your life. When you hear over and over and over again, “That’s how the radically converted came to faith,” then you as listener need to think about it.
I mean, it’s hard to change your practices. I know that. I was in the gay community once. So, practicing radically ordinary hospitality, actually obeying the Bible’s commands to love the stranger, it’s inconvenient and it’s expensive, but if we don’t like the way the world is going—and I want to say this gently, but I need to say it—Christians need to put up or shut up.
We have to do something differently or we need to accept that we will soon be—and maybe sooner than you think—living like the first century church in Rome.
Bob: And can we just say that shouting the truth louder than we’d been shouting it is probably not going to be an effective tactic?
Rosaria: Well, because we’re polarized. No, no, no. We need relationships that break down polarization. So no, the careless use of—and the careless sinning of both self-promotion and gossip that has described Christian behavior on social media—please don’t ask God to bless that. God doesn’t bless sin. He does something else with sin; He’s paid for it, so now you repent of it. But no, building relationships means having conversations with people that are off the record, and it means caring tenderly and gently for your neighbors who come to faith.
You know, when I came to faith, I can imagine that there are some pastors who might have wanted to exploit that, but Ken Smith just wanted to give glory to God. It’s God’s work.
So those are important things. Hospitality transforms the identity of the stranger into neighbor into family of God.
Bob: So, let me ask you how we handle this.
Bob: We get to know a neighbor, and here’s what we find out: first of all, their politics are completely different than ours.
Bob: They watch channels we have blocked, right, on our TV.
Dennis: You’re saying not just politics, their values?
Bob: Yes, their values are completely different than ours, and they have a history that’s pretty dark and I’m not sure I want my kids to hear about what they’ve been around.
Dennis: And maybe their language is different.
Bob: Exactly, yes. So, I’m going to invite them over for dinner? I just don’t see how this is going to go well.
Rosaria: Well, you know, before you’ve invited them to dinner, probably you as a family have been practicing family devotions, and probably you as a family have been reading through the Bible. There’s not one thing out there that hasn’t already been talked about as a family.
Of course, it depends on how you talk about these things, but I know that in our case, when we would go through family devotions—I mean, long before my children knew what lesbian meant or atheist meant or any that, they knew what mom meant, and they knew that “Mom was this, and now she’s that.” They knew that that’s why Jesus is in the business of doing what he does. Those were the conversations that we knew.
Now, I would say that maybe your neighbors have more reason to fear you than you have to fear them. Have you thought about that? Maybe your politics and your theology and your language and your faith—
—will provide more of a challenge, more of a life crisis, for your neighbors than they will for you.
Here’s what happens when Jesus gets ahold of somebody: the Gospel comes in exchange of the life you once lived, not in addition to it. Alright, so you have neighbors over, they use bad language. They go home, you say to the kids, “We never want to hear you say that.”
Rosaria: I mean, you know, you actually have the Holy Spirit, you have the protection of the Lord, you have His providential care. But what makes you think your neighbors are going to want to have your company? Sometimes inviting people over for dinner can be very intimate, and people don’t know what to expect, they don’t know what you’re going to say, they’re going to feel trapped, they don’t know where the door is; but doing things like openly inviting everyone to a block party. And you know why you’re there? Because you all live on November drive, or whatever.
So, making it a little bit more open-ended like that, making sure that the children are included, being prayerful, praying your way through that neighborhood, starting there.
I talked a little bit before about how important it is to have open invitations, because people who live in unsafe circumstances or people who live with addictions, they just don’t know if they’re going to be sober or safe three Tuesdays from yesterday, but if it’s Thursday night and that’s the night that the block party happens—and do what you do. Don’t think that your Christian faith is going to be transferred by osmosis.
We invite people over, and my husband says, “Well, look! My hot dogs…” You know, “These are my hot dogs, so I’m going to bless the food.”
Bob: Yes. Do you do family devotions with the pagan neighbors there?
Rosaria: Yes, we do. Absolutely, we do.
Bob: So, how do you say to the pagan neighbors, “So, we’re going to do a little Bible reading now.”
Rosaria: It happens pretty smoothly. What happens after dinner is the children collect all the dishes—and we have two large tables that we string together.
We use the family room and the dining room for the basic eating area, and so—
Dennis: So, generally, how many people are we talking about here?
Rosaria: We have anywhere from one guest to 15 on any given night. The big nights, for us, are Thursday nights and the Lord’s Day. Our idea of keeping the Lord’s day holy is making sure that the church has a place to gather, and that often brings neighbors in as well.
We’ve been doing this for awhile, so people know that there’s a bit of a routine. It’s not like we’re unknown to our neighbors. But we pass the plates, and, you know, the plates go one direction and the Bibles and the coffee mugs go another direction. We just say to people; we say, “Well, this is our time of family devotions, and by that we mean that we’re going to read a passage of Scripture and we’re going to talk about it and we’re going to share prayer requests and we’re going to go before God and pray. Would you like to join us?”
Bob: And do they mostly say yes?
Rosaria: They mostly say yes.
Bob: Are there some who have said, “We need to go now”?
Rosaria: Yes. Absolutely. But, you know what, that’s fine, too, and people often have very good reasons for going. It’s not necessarily that they think—
Bob: —they’re hostile.
Rosaria: —they’re hostile. But because we do this literally every night—this isn’t something done as a show for the unbelievers at the table, it isn’t something that we do when it’s convenient; it’s an every night thing. Table fellowship is an intimate thing.
And I talked about the front yard. So, sometimes it’s hard to get from the front yard inside, but winter is a great opportunity. You know a great way to get inside? It’s cold out there, it’s raining out there!
Bob: Well, and holidays are really a great open door opportunity, aren’t they?
Rosaria: Yes, especially holidays and crises. We’ve made a ministry out of inviting everyone in the neighborhood over for holidays and crises. I don’t think Christians realize how lonely certain holidays are.
Dennis: Yes. I believe you’re right.
Rosaria: Certain holidays say to the world, “If you don’t have anybody to spend this day with, you are a loser.” So for us, we’ve always had an open house on Christmas. That is not a family day for us. I know that’s going to push a lot of buttons, but that just isn’t.
Over the years of being of foster parents, we learned the danger of setting apart a day of sort of excessive gift-giving—and I’m not opposed to gifts. I’m not making an anti—people have different positions on how to manage extrabiblical days. So, you do whatever you do, but realize that it’s a day of profound loneliness for people who might not have a special person.
You know, let’s realize that if you are a member of a church, you have a special person; you have many special people. You have all these people called brothers and sisters.
There shouldn’t be a question about where you spend those days.
But it’s also true for the neighborhood, and you also find out, if you do an open invitation on Christmas, you’re going to find out what older people in your neighborhood are shut in, and that’s amazing. You will be blessed by those older people, and who more need to have the gospel than people at the end of their lives? I mean, people who are standing at the edge of eternity, and they might be 20 feet from you, and you don’t know it because you’re busy, right? That doesn’t make sense to me.
Dennis: You know, Rosaria, I’ve just thought about your book and this time we’ve spent this week. I accused you of being a disrupter earlier.
Rosaria: You did. You did. I felt it.
Dennis: I’m not going to apologize for that, because it really is the truth, but you’re going to change the way people think about their meals. You’re going to get them thinking differently about their home. Instead of it being just a physical facility, you’re going to challenge them to think about it being an embassy, a place—
—where you are an ambassador of the King of kings.
Bob: Well, and the thing I think is so helpful here is [that] you are giving us a strategy that I think feels warm. It doesn’t feel clumsy or awkward, it doesn’t feel like this is something we’re doing that is obnoxious or off-putting to our neighbors. Inviting people in and demonstrating hospitality is a warm thing to do, and that’s going to open doors and hearts and conversations, and it’s going to allow for interaction around the Gospel, and we should all have a heart for that.
I hope our listeners will get a copy of your book. It’s called The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. You can order a copy of the book from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to order.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
I haven’t checked this week to find out if your book The Art of Parenting, the book you and Barbara have just finished writing, if that book has arrived yet or not. We’ve been looking for it pretty regularly, because we want to get copies of this book out to FamilyLife Today listeners. In fact, this month we’re making the book available to any listener who can support the ministry of FamilyLife with a donation of any amount.
You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, we’ll get the book out to you as soon as it comes from the publisher. In addition, during the month of August your donation is going to be doubled. Whatever you’re able to give is going to be matched dollar for dollar with money from a matching grant fund that has been provided to FamilyLife by some friends of this ministry.
So, your donation is doubled and you get a copy of Dennis and Barbara’s brand new book when you make a donation this month.
So, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to donate, or call 1-800-FLTODAY to make your donation. Thanks in advance for what you’re able to do in support of this ministry; we appreciate hearing from you.
Finally, if you have any questions about Dennis and Barbara’s new book or FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting video series, The Art of Parenting online course, the movie “Like Arrows” that’s now available for churches to use for special screenings; all of that information is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com, and we’re excited about how God is going to be using the book and the video series and all of the Art of Parenting content in the weeks and months ahead.
In fact, I was thinking about the subject of hospitality. You could have a potluck supper over at your house, watch session one from The Art of Parenting, and see if your neighbors want to come back for session two in another week or two. That’s a great way to open up your home for a little radically ordinary hospitality.
Again, more information about The Art of Parenting is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow we’re going to talk about how we should be thinking and interacting with friends and neighbors on the subject of human sexuality in a world where the cultural view and the biblical view are at odds with one another. Julie Slattery will join us to talk about how we rethink sexuality, and I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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