Radical Ordinary Hospitality
About the Guest
Wife and mom Rosaria Butterfield talks about practicing radical ordinary hospitality as a way to live out the gospel. It's not always practical or sensible, and opening up your home to soothe and serve the lost will cost you something, but the blessings are unfathomable. Jesus is alive, and our neighbors are image-bearers of a holy God even if they don't know Him yet. Butterfield reminds us that hospitality isn't just an event that you do when the cat hair is off the couch and you've swept the floor, but our homes are the places where we can take the church to the people.
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 talks about practicing hospitality. It’s not always practical or sensible, and opening up your home to the lost will cost you something, but the blessings are unfathomable.
Radical Ordinary Hospitality
Bob: If you’re going to practice hospitality in your neighborhood with people who think and believe very differently than you think and believe, Rosaria Butterfield says you need to practice being full of grace and truth.
Rosaria: It’s imperative that your words not be stronger than your relationships. I think that’s a challenge for many Christians. They don’t— like “Aww, can’t we just throw a church program at this? Isn’t there a program for this?” No, there isn’t—there isn’t. The reality is in a post-Christian world, in order to stand close enough to the stranger to put the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior, you actually have to stand close enough to people to get hurt.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 21st. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What does it look like for us to live full of grace and truth with our friends and neighbors who don’t think like we think?
We’re going to explore that subject today with Rosaria Butterfield. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re getting a tutorial this week on radical normal—but is it radical?—ordinary hospitality.
Dennis: I don’t think that’s strong enough, Bob.
Bob: What do you think?
Dennis: I’m really—
Bob: You got a new title for it?
Dennis: I’m thinking of a team in the locker room with the coach before playing a national championship game.
Bob: So this is not a tutorial we’re getting—
Dennis: We’re getting an inspirational stepping on your toes.
Bob: A charge / a challenge.
Dennis: Charge; that’s it. That’s the word. I knew it was there. A challenge to turn our homes into embassies.
Bob: And Coach Butterfield is here to give us the charge, right? [Laughter]
Dennis: She is. Rosaria Butterfield joins us again. Welcome back! She has four children, been married to Kent for how many years?
Rosaria: Seventeen years—best thing that ever happened to me. Well no, conversion was the best thing.
Dennis: There you go, there you go. She’s written a book called The Gospel Comes With a House Key. It’s just all about encouraging us practically how to use our homes as an embassy, as an outpost, as an outreach center in our neighborhoods and in our communities.
Bob: Here’s the thing, you read this book and here’s what I do: I go “Well, it’s clear Rosaria and Kent have the gift of hospitality. So God bless you as you exercise that gift and may there be more people raised up inside the church who have this gift. I on the other hand have a different gift.” But you know how we let ourselves off the hook.
Rosaria: Yes, that’s right.
Bob: This is for some people who are especially gifted to do this and the rest of us can go on about our business. You don’t agree with that, do you?
Rosaria: Yes and no. There are seasons of life when Kent and I have not practiced hospitality in this way.
What we’re all called to do is we live our Christian lives and we open our arms wide. So we’re going to draw in those people that are maybe nearest to us. Maybe that would be the first place to start. But really no one is exempt from loving the stranger. I think that is so confusing to Christians because truly in our day to day lives we don’t meet the stranger. How in the world do I love somebody I don’t even know exists?
What I wanted to do in this book—and the book is part memoir. It’s a very personal book. I want you to know hospitality in my life doesn’t happen in la-la land. Bad things happen, good things happen. We’re called to be discerners of the hearts of men—our own hearts and the hearts of others. But ultimately what happens when you meet a stranger and you bring that stranger in is that stranger’s identity is now changed forever. You see that biblically and we’ve been able to experience that practically.
Bob: That just provokes an image for me that every time you said what I think of is Jean Valjean having dinner with the priest in Les Misérables. He steals a chalice and comes back and hears that priest who says “Oh, you forgot the candlesticks,” and it changes him. That moment is the transformational moment in his life, isn’t it?
Rosaria: Right, and that’s always the way it is. That’s what the gospel does. So I don’t mean to be crushing anyone’s toes in the book. I think sometimes people wonder “How does somebody like Rosaria come to faith?” When I tell you that—I tell you how I came to faith and I tell you what Ken and Floy Smith did, I often see people just walk away—kind of rich young ruler style—and I want you to know that it’s wonderful to live like this. Now it’s not practical, it’s not sensible, it’s terribly inconvenient. You can count the costs.
We have been housing a Christian family displaced by homelessness and that’s a long story. The book is the book and things happen after the book. The Gospel Comes With a House Key part two. You don’t just write books like this. God lets you live it, right? A lot happens in the life of your children when they see that Jesus is not a prop you pull out for Sunday morning. We’ve done this. We’ve been living now communally. Another family in the church is helping. Our neighbors are helping. It’s kind of a team sport, right? But people—here’s our house; there’s one car. You’ve got to fit other people’s schedules into it. And you know what? You can count the costs. We have missed a few swim team practices. We have missed a haircut. We have missed one piano lesson. But the blessings are unfathomable. We have watched people who were strangers become neighbors / become family of God.
Last week we were sitting together at the Lord’s Table together. Now you can count the costs on both ends. These are those days that you will never forget. So yes, it can be expensive. It can be inconvenient. I just can’t think of anything else I would rather do with my time; or an image I’d rather give to my children. Jesus is alive. Your neighbors are image bearers of a holy God. People who are in need are image bearers also. Many of them are Christians. My children got to see Hebrews 13:2 entertaining angels unawares. They got to see that. We all got to see that. So to me hospitality is not an event. It’s not an occasional event that you do when you have the time, the money, the inclination, and the cat hair is off the couch. I tell people “I don’t decorate, I vacuum.” You should be thankful that I do right because we have pets and that’s how it is.
It’s not a stand-alone event with some clear boundaries. It’s intricately and consistently weaved into gospel life. And you know what if your unbelieving neighbors and my unbelieving neighbors could say “Wow you know I think those people are bonkers really, but church membership really means something. Did you notice how the family of God lives? People aren’t lonely there. So hospitality is intricately weaved through church membership, fidelity to Christ, biblical sexual ethics, pursuit of the outcast and stranger, repenting of sin, killing of idols, supporting church discipline, exposing false teaching. It’s a ton.
Dennis: Stop, stop, stop; that’s enough. I’m sitting back listening to you and I’m going “You are a disrupter.” You are a big-time disrupter and you know what your big idea is? You’re taking on one of the safest clichés in the Christian community. You know what it is?
Rosaria: No, what’s that?
Dennis: Why don’t you come to church with me? We think that’s how people can find Christianity. No, you’re not saying that’s wrong but you’re taking this on because here’s what you say, “The Christian home is the place where we bring the church to the people.” I like that.
Rosaria: Right. Well that’s what Ken Smith did for me for two years. I didn’t walk through the door of his church for two years, but I went to his home weekly. I read the Bible and at some point, the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. When I came to Christ, I didn’t stop feeling like a lesbian. It’s not like all my problems—you know everything got—that’s not it at all. I was never converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief. Things happened more slowly than people sometimes realize. It’s been a long 17 years. But I can never forget that. When you’re radically converted it means that you really couldn’t do it for yourself. I was rescued.
I was rescued. Ken Smith was the rescue party. I don’t believe that I’m entitled to all this grace and glory. It’s not mine to hoard. It’s not mine to keep. It’s not mine to feel entitled by. It’s a burden. It’s a good burden but it’s a burden to be radically converted. Mary Magdalene would be a good example. I say in the book if Mary Magdalene had written a book on hospitality this might be it. [Laughter] It’s gritty. It’s messy. It’s not southern hospitality. There are no doilies.
Bob: Let’s talk to a mom who’s got three kids under the age of ten who are at home and she is overwhelmed with what she’s got in front of her and Thursday night opening the home for bread and soup she’s going “Are you out of your mind lady?”
Rosaria: Yes. Right. Absolutely. It’s much easier for me right now, too, and I want to acknowledge that. My youngest children are 12 and 15. They both have committed their lives to Jesus. They are intimately involved with hospitality.
The children of our neighborhood are involved in our hospitality ministry. We have children at our table so regularly they know where—and these are not our children. I mean neighbor children. They know where Kent is in family devotions more consistently than he does. [Laughter] I look at these children and I think “You may be my pastor someday.”
So what I would say to that woman is first of all, if this is not the season, this is not the season. I would also say this is not a woman driven activity. Wives obey your husbands. This is a household matter and just like other things are under—I would say under the headship of your husband’s authority, so is this. This is a headship household matter. This is not wives driving the show. So work together, pray about it, see what you can do.
But let me tell you what happens at my house on Thursdays. Often 5:00, I’m beating my head against the table. I’ve got a child still struggling at the piano. Another child at the math table and some single folks wander in first and they look at me, and they look at my dining room table and they see all of my unfolded laundry there.
They look at me they say, “Let’s get dinner going,” and that’s what we do together. We start. So I need help. I get help. Living communally with other Bible believing Christians, it’s a powerful thing.
I’ll tell you we started this somewhat after the Obergefell decision. That’s the decision that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. That was a powerful indictment to the church. I just don’t think there’s any other way to see that and it set into motion a post-Christianity that has moved more quickly than slowly. It was at that point that we realized that we needed—especially for our singles who themselves struggle against unwanted homosexual desire. We wanted our home to be their home. We wanted our home to be the place where nightly people gather for family devotions. We had been building this in for a while. So then you have singles who come over and then you have neighbors who come over and you know what some people bring friends, some people bring food.
If you’re sick and tired of minestrone soup—which I know Dennis here is shocked to know that sometimes happens—people bring food that they want to eat. My children are thrilled when the singles in our church who can afford to do it bring Chick-Fil-A® for everybody! [Laughter] “Yay! We’re not eating Mom’s cooking!” It’s so exciting!
In many ways I am both host and guest. I’m never just host, ever. I talk in the book about the time we came home and realized we had been robbed and how people gathered that night at our home in the rubble of chaos bringing food and vacuum cleaners and garbage bags and how they served me and my family and how we weathered that together. Just like in the book of Acts there wasn’t a memo that went out saying “Where are we gathering to pray?”
Certain houses, certain places maybe by location maybe by temperament are more set up to be the place that people gather organically. So think creatively in your church.
Bob: I remember you talking about when you lived in Purcellville, VA and it’s a college town. You were nearby the college—
Rosaria: Yes, right across the street.
Bob: —and people who live in college towns / nearby the college, you have an instant opportunity—
Bob: —to do what you’re talking about here because every college student is looking for free food.
Bob: And they’re looking for a little taste of home. I mean this was just organic for you to say, “You guys are welcome at our house anytime.”
Rosaria: Anytime and we really mean that. So now with Hank in prison, a prison ministry has organically come out of this. You know I get it. It doesn’t happen—it doesn’t fall from the sky, but it does happen somewhat organically.
So we now regularly have men incarcerated from a minimum-security prison at our home at holidays, at our church on the Lord’s day taking vows of church membership. It’s changed the way we think about humanity. It’s also changed the way our unbelieving neighbors think about us. So when Hank was arrested—
Dennis: Hank was your neighbor—
Rosaria: My next-door neighbor and friend.
Dennis: —who had a meth lab—
Rosaria: Yes, unbeknownst to us.
Dennis: —and the DEA busted in one morning at 6:00.
Rosaria: Yes. So this has changed the way our unbelieving neighbors think about us. I mean that morning while I’m scrambling eggs and putting on pots of coffee and our neighbors are fuming mad at us. We had one neighbor just come to me and say “Rosaria, would you like to know the problem with you Christians?” I’m thinking “Not really Joe but you’re going to tell me.” [Laughter] And he said, “The problem with you Christians is that you are so open minded your brains are falling out your ears.”
It takes a lot of grace to get your neighbors to finish off the pot of coffee and insult you in the same breath but it’s the most wonderful thing that could happen. It’s the most wonderful thing because you have a bridge to now talk about “that’s a great observation Joe. Let me tell you why. Let me tell you what we’re all made out of.” It isn’t just talk. Talk is cheap. When you live like that and your unbelieving neighbors say, “I think they’re bonkers, let me tell you, but they’re the go to people on the block.”
Rosaria: In this particular age it’s imperative that your words not be stronger than your relationships. I think that’s a challenge for many Christians. You know like “Aww, isn’t there a program for this?” No, there isn’t. In a post Christian world your relationships have to be genuine. They have to be strong.
In order to stand close enough to the stranger to put the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior, you actually have to stand close enough to people to get hurt.
Dennis: And that’s why you’re saying, “There’s no program for this.”
Rosaria: There’s no program.
Dennis: Instead there is a sacrificed life for this.
Rosaria: Yes, but there is a community for this. So what I would say, in the past when we do these crazy things, we have all kinds of people—people from our church, people from our neighborhood—who back us up.
Once we gave our van away to an international student and his family, we had neighbors hand us the keys to their cars say “You know where we park. Here’s the extra key. If you need it, just take it.” In other words it was that quick. There wasn’t a moment we were isolated in this. The Christian life is a team sport. We are the body of Christ. We are sharing with one another. When you look at something like Mark 10, there’s a verse that has been haunting me, really.
It’s been haunting me for 17 years. It’s been since Kent and I got married and really started practicing hospitality in any way we could at anytime we could. It’s when Peter says to Jesus “See we’ve left everything and followed you.” Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, there’s no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” How different would our world look today if what your unbelieving neighbors would say about Bible believing Christians is this “Well I don’t know.
They’re strange; they’re different. But do you notice that hundredfold that comes to them? Do you notice how nobody is lonely, nobody is isolated?” This hundredfold—this is not Ephesians. This is not every spiritual blessing. I’m all about that. I love those, but this is actually pretty practical. Houses: it means—maybe you’re listening and maybe you are someone who is struggling against unchosen homosexuality. You don’t want it; you never did. You’re just sick of being isolated. This actually says that you don’t have to be, that church membership comes with a family. So now the question is for the rest of us: Are we upholding our end of that?
Bob: Yes, we’re going to be that family.
Rosaria: Are we that family for people? Are we the houses and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers? Do we live relationally within the family of God? Here’s what I know.
I know because I was on the other side of the fence. If we lived this way, the gay rights movement would not have had its day in the sun. Obergefell decision would not have been made; I don’t believe so. I think we would be in a different world if Christians took care of each other differently. Instead of living very much as isolated beings.
I know this is where people say, “What about boundaries?” I think that’s a good question. In fact, I would say “You don’t have community without boundaries.” In fact, by saying things like “The stranger becomes the neighbor,” well, there’s a threshold you have to cross. That threshold is the boundary. If it’s not, then it’s nothing. But we like to think of our home as an incubator and a hospital. For us that means we have private parts of our home and you know what, private is private. That’s where we keep car keys. That’s where we keep wallets. That’s where we keep bedrooms. That’s where we teach children about what happens in bedrooms and closed doors.
We’re not Pollyanna about that. We were licensed foster parents for a decade. We know that bad things happen, that sin is ravaging this world, and that Satan wants nothing more than to discourage you in your Christian home by having something like this go crazy. So private is private and public is public. It’s appropriate to teach your children about those zones in your house. Where did we learn this? We learned this from the welfare state. We learned this from being licensed foster parents.
Dennis: You know what you remind me of? You’re reminding me of one of my favorite quotes by A. W. Tozer who said this—and we toss this one out at the dinner table every once in a while, for the kids to chew on a bit—Tozer said “God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity we plan to do the things we can only do by ourselves.”
Rosaria: Oh, yes.
Dennis: What are you trusting God for that only He can do through your lives?
What you’re really illustrating, Rosaria, is you’re illustrating how your minestrone soup is really an attractant to the Savior. It’s an apologetic for the Christian faith.
Rosaria: [Laughter] I love it!
Dennis: I do too!
Bob: And she’s not just illustrating it. I mean she is—
Dennis: Oh, she’s living it!
Bob: —living it and by living it, challenging every one of us to examine “So what are we doing? What should we be doing? What can we be doing?” That’s what this book is all about. 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 to order 1-800-FL-TODAY.
I don’t think I’ve told you our small group at church is going to go through this book this fall. I’m looking forward to the conversations—not just the conversations, but to see how it gets applied in our lives and in the lives of everybody at our church.
Again, the book is called The Gospel Comes With a House Key.
You can order when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order your copy.
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Finally, I want to let our Legacy Partners know—those of you who help support this ministry on a monthly basis—coming up in a couple of weeks on Thursday night, September 6th, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, FamilyLife President David Robbins and his wife, Meg, they’re going to be here. I’m going to be here as well. We’re going to be talking about parenting. This is an interactive get together that we’re having with Legacy Partners who would like to join us. If you’ve got questions for Dennis and Barbara on the subject of parenting, we’d love to tackle those questions and interact with you on that. You should be getting information about this sent to you via email so look for that.
Or if you’d like to join the call, call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’ll add your name to the list and then we will call you on Thursday night, September 6th at 7:00 central time. All you have to do is answer the call and you’ll be part of the town hall meeting: The Legacy Partner connect event on Thursday night, September 6th. We look forward to spending some time with you.
We hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’ll again be talking with Rosaria Butterfield about radically ordinary hospitality. I hope you can tune in 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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