Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How Your Home Can Point to the Gospel

Leslie Basham: Rosaria Butterfield believes followers of Jesus should be known for their humility and genuine love for people.

Rosaria Butterfield: Imagine a world where the fruit of repentance and the practice of hospitality mark the reputations of Christians for those who do not yet believe that Jesus saves by the very same power that raised Him from the grave.

This is the world that the Bible imagines for us. That is the world that Jesus prays for us to create in His name.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for August 16, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking all this week with Rosaria Butterfield about her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.

If you missed any of the series, you’ll want to visit ReviveOurHearts.com and listen to the audio or read the transcript. Today, Nancy’s here to wrap up the conversation recorded at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Rosaria, thank you so much for joining us this week here on Revive Our Hearts. I know our listeners have been really challenged and blessed and encouraged . . . and maybe a little scared . . . 

Rosaria: Oh, I don’t want them to be scared!

Nancy: . . . as we’ve talked about radically ordinary hospitality. Thank you for pressing us a little bit beyond our, maybe, safe borders. We’re going to talk a little bit about that in this closing conversation today.

Your book is called The Gospel Comes with a House Key. I love that title. We have a gal on our staff who, when I’m getting ready to interview somebody, actually reads the book in advance of me. She came up with a twenty-four-page sheaf of notes here, before I had the chance to read it. 

Then Dawn put at the end a little bit of a personal story and testimony. I want to just read a bit of what this team member said. She said,

I read Rosaria’s book on hospitality, and I am totally undone! I squirmed and argued my way through the introduction and first chapter, but eventually found my heart shredded by the truth. I’m convinced most Christians know nothing of genuine biblical fellowship. Sometimes God speaks in a whisper, but as I’m reading this book, God keeps shouting: "Do you understand?! Will you obey Me now?"

Since 2001, I’ve lived in my comfortable, little neighborhood. I’ve prayed about my neighbors and shared Christmas treats, but over the last year I’ve heard the pain in their hearts. There’s a couple that just divorced . . . and I didn’t even know they were struggling!

There’s a desperate, fearful woman who is losing her husband to disease and approaching death. There are two precious neighbors from a rough life afraid to go to church because, as they said, "We’ll just sit there and cry." Though I said, "That’s okay. I’ll go and cry with you," they are still afraid. I need to pursue them with love.

The truth is, I know about fear, too. I’m afraid to reach out, afraid my neighbors might misunderstand. So I’ve stayed in my home doing my work, tending my responsibilities, making my home pretty but not available beyond what I pre-schedule. My home certainly hasn’t been open to strangers, arguing it’s too inconvenient and costly. Even to the neighbors I pray for and grieve over, I haven’t been flexible enough to stretch beyond my stuff and my schedule to meet real needs.

Like I said, I’m totally undone! Rosaria’s words made me uncomfortable, but she also gave me hope for change! The good thing about being undone is that, in our messiness and brokenness, we’re finally in a good place for the Lord to begin to do His work in and through us.

I wanted to share that because I think, Rosaria, this is not going to be a comfortable read for everybody. It wasn’t comfortable for me because, though (as I’ve shared) I grew up in a home that was very given to hospitality, it’s something very much on my heart, you pushed me beyond some of what I consider “safe” and “planned” hospitality to [hospitality that’s] more spontaneous and flexible. As you’ve said, this doesn’t look the same for everybody in every season of life, and we want to emphasize that.

Rosaria: Right, absolutely, and I don’t want people to be scared. But, you know, as we move more into a post-Christian world, we’re probably going to see more converts like me. What I mean by that are people who really came from a lot of sin. . .sin that I committed and sin that other people committed that landed on me.

And with that, whether good or bad, you get a little less fussiness about boundaries. I’m not trying to be critical when I say that. I kind of kid around: “I’m the boundary-less Butterfield.” I’m not good with boundaries, and I move in.

Sometimes I move in and I know that there are well-meaning Christians who would say, “Wait! Slow down!” Or, “How do you know there’s a problem?” But pretty much each and every time, people’s lives are pretty messy. Life without Christ is really hard, and I think people who have been Christians for a long time, it’s almost like you forget that.

Nancy: And you wouldn’t be a Christian today if it hadn’t been for the willingness of Ken and Floy Smith . . .

Rosaria: . . . reaching into my life. No, I wouldn’t be.

Nancy: . . . and bringing your messiness into their home.

Rosaria: Absolutely! That is absolutely right. I think that sometimes we feel awkward. We think, What if we offend people? or What if, really, they’re all fine and they don’t need my Jesus. Well, then you have a theology problem.

Nancy: Because nobody’s fine. We all need Jesus!

Rosaria: Life without Jesus is really hard! It has some terrifying edges. And I think that’s what I want people to know. Because I know there are people who hear me talk and they think, Well, but what about the children?

Nancy: In fact, we have a mom with a toddler who’s been sitting listening to this conversation, and we asked her on a break, “What are you wanting to know?”

And she said, “How does this look with a toddler, and you want to protect your children; you want to keep them safe?” To which you say . . .

Rosaria: That’s right! I agree. In fact, you’re first convenantal responsibility is to your family and to keep them safe. You would be negligent if you put your children in harm’s way. I will just tell you some of the things that we do in our home to keep some safety barriers around some of this.

We know that Satan can attack all of these barriers, so we’re not going to act as though this is the end-all and the be-all of this conversation.

Nancy: Listen, no family is safe if Christ isn’t present there. He’s our refuge and our fortress and our safety.

Rosaria: He is. And no marriage is safe. The edges are so raw without Christ. We were licensed foster parents for ten years, and so that meant for ten years we had some basic rules in our house, and those rules have been very helpful.

So when people say, “Wow! These are really creative rules. Where did you learn them?”

I say, “Well, I learned them from the welfare-State! There they are for you to have, too.”

And so, some of these might make it look like we are the “no fun” couple. And in some way, that might be true.

Like, for example, there’s just no alcohol in our house. I don’t think it’s sinful to drink alcohol, but for the years that we were licensed foster parents with teenagers in the house, no alcohol was just a really wise idea.

But one of the things that has allowed us to do is to become easily home-studied, to have prisoners in our home from a minimum-security prison who are needing to be getting out of the incarcerated context. And actually, these are men who also come to our church.

Nancy: They have release time.

Rosaria: In fact, it’s exactly five hours. And often, when they’re in our home, a security guard has to wander through and make sure everything’s okay. So by having no alcohol, that’s a basic thing that keeps everybody safe. And what does it mean? It means we don’t get to have alcohol. Well, you know what? That’s okay with us, because there’s a greater good that’s being served. So that’s one thing.

Another thing is, we do not allow people to wander into the bedroom area of the house when we have dinner. The children are not ever allowed to be in a room with any person who isn’t either one of their parents or their designated person.

So I have a friend who travels with me, helps me with the children. She’s my sister in the Lord. She’s like an “aunt” to my children. 

Nancy: She’s on the “approved list.”

Rosaria: She’s on the approved list. But we’re that explicit with our children, and we remind them every moment of this, because it’s hard for children, and especially children with special needs. They think that if they see a person at the library storytime three times, that's your friend!

We say, “No, no. Never get in a car [with them], never be in a room [with them], nobody can touch you . . .” We talk a lot about body things. “Talk to a parent, talk to a parent, talk to a parent.” But for the most part, when we have open fellowship, we’re all in the dining room, we’re in the homeschool room, we’re in the living room. 

Nancy: In a group setting.

Rosaria: Our children are old enough to understand these rules. Toddlers are not. And so when you have very small children, it’s the ultimate hyper-vigilant job, and you wonder if you are ever going to ever actually relax after your children survive toddlerhood! 

I have a dear friend from church who was really inspired to practice hospitality. She’s one of the most hospitable person I know. She moved into a new area; she has two children, ages one and five. What she decided was that she would have a ministry explicitly to children and moms.

She lived in a cul-de-sac. She wrote handwritten notes to every single person, invited them all over for Bible story time at her house on Monday mornings. Everybody came! I mean, the moms who are not Christian came.

You know why? They’re lonely. It gave you a reason to take a shower and leave your house. And you know you’re an overachiever when you have a toddler and you shower AND leave your house. Right? (laughter)

So it’s been wonderful in that way. But then my friend, who is a very faithful Christian, she also learned about some of the needs in each of these homes. One of the basic things is, “How do I go grocery shopping with kids on different nap schedules?” Well, all these moms started doing grocery shopping for each other!

They just became a team. Then from that, a husband/wife Bible study started—and these are not believers! Let me just say this. This is not the church; they were not believers all together. But there was a need for community. My friend who’s a Christian saw that.

She put Jesus at the center of that community by using Dana Dirksen’s music and teaching children Bible stories. Soon the moms were curious: “Is it true? Does God answer our prayers? Are we alone in this world? Is there a purpose for my life? Is there meaning in my suffering? How would my marriage be different if my husband and I were both submitted to Christ?” These were questions that came out of a children’s story time!

But one of the things that was so vital about what she does is, she does it every Monday morning. It’s not, “The third Monday of the month, bring a dish.” That’s the other thing. It’s, “Come as you are. Come in your pajamas.”

Nancy: “Even if you haven’t had your shower!”

Rosaria: Yeah, “Don’t be an overachiever. Just come.”

Nancy: And that’s the way you are about your home as well. You may still have some homeschooling stuff going on. You’ve got things in various stages of preparation. This is not entertaining.

Rosaria: This is not “entertaining.”

Nancy: And your menus and your meals and your table settings, you paint a picture for us in your book that it’s very real.

Rosaria: It’s very real. It gives other people a chance to minister. You know, my life is pretty messy. The Lord has sent a number of people who are struggling with a number of things. I remember, once I was on a Skype conversation with a friend who was struggling. It was about five o’clock, which isn’t an ideal time for me to still be on Skype, because I need to get dinner ready.

One of the single men in our church walked in, and he could see that I was ministering to a friend. He looked at me and he did this, he kind of gave me the, “Get outta here; I can handle dinner!” And surely I thought to myself, I don’t even know that this man can cook, but . . . okay.

And so I took my computer to the homeschool room, closed the door, talked with my friend who was struggling, and came out a half-an-hour later and the guy had dinner ready. He did a fine job.

Nancy: Get that guy a wife!

Rosaria: Yeah, well you know, he did a great job. 

Nancy: He stepped in, part of the family. 

Rosaria: He stepped in, and it made him feel really good . . . and needed. And that’s what a hospitality home says. It doesn’t say, “Well, here are the hosts, and here are the guests.” A hospitality home says, “Jesus was both Host and Guest.” And “hospitality” is different from “counterfeit hospitality.”

You see, the problem is, too many Christians rely on counterfeit hospitality. We don’t have any need for real hospitality. Counterfeit hospitality is the hospitality you can buy, you’re in charge of it.

Nancy: You’re the giver. 

Rosaria: You’re the giver; you don’t have to be the taker, you don’t have to be the receiver. That’s humbling! But in a home where people really are gathered together, you really see a picture of that home in the Book of Acts. . .

What was it about that home that was the place that all the people prayed for Peter? You know, those kinds of things. What was it? Well, who knows? Maybe it was big enough, maybe it had a certain location that made it easy, who knows? But it just was. It’s the place that people gathered. So in our house, the kids know how to set the table. 

Nancy: And not everything matches. 

Rosaria: Oh, my goodness, no! No, no, no, things do not match. I sort of kid around that,  “Lower your expectations, increase your joy.”

Nancy: So we’re not talking about Pinterest-perfect table settings. 

Rosaria: No. There’s no one that I know of who’s ever come into my house and wanted to take a picture.

Nancy: And there’s nothing wrong with that, but that shouldn’t be something that intimidates, or keeps us from exercising hospitality.

Rosaria: Right, absolutely. I love the fact that I have friends who do like to decorate. So ours is the home that we gather at for holidays. We’ll have everybody over on Easter, including our prisoners that I had mentioned. I have a friend who just came to me and said, “I’ll decorate.”

I know what that means, because you know, I don’t decorate; I vacuum. And we have pets, so people should be thankful that I vacuum! But if somebody wants decorate, great! I’m all for it, but I just want to make it sensible and not distracting.

Nancy: And speaking of vacuuming, let me just read a quote from your book. You wrote this, Rosaria, “Hospitality is necessary whether you have cat hair on the couch or not. People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will die from cat hair in the soup.” That’s a little gross. 

Rosaria: I know, for the people who are not cat lovers, that’s a little, you know . . .

Nancy: But you’re making a point there: We've got to decide what really matters, and people matter more than stuff and things. We can make, so easily, an idol out of being uncluttered or having things picture-perfect.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: Or meals. The way you talk about it in this book, meals can be really simple.

Rosaria: They are really simple. In fact, most of meals are worked out in the early morning. Pretty much all of my meals have a base of rice and beans and maybe chicken, and then I’ll add some vegetables to it. That’s pretty much it.

I had somebody today ask me if I have a cookbook for some of the soup recipes that I make. I don’t. I just kind of wing it in some ways. I’ve been doing this for years. I don’t work from recipes; I enjoy it. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I enjoy it, but there are things I don’t do.

I will spend hours chopping vegetables and listening to a sermon. I spend zero time on social media. 

Nancy: You’re making choices.

Rosaria: I’m making choices. And that’s not because I think social media is inherently evil, but I would rather talk to people in real time. I would rather listen to and catch up on all of the sermons I want to hear throughout the week and chop vegetables than sit at my computer. Life is always about selection and sacrifice.

Nancy: I want to change tack here for just a moment, because your life, your being in Christ . . . You were, as you talk about in another book, an unlikely convert. God used hospitality to reach out to you, to bridge to Christ. This is something you had the joy of being a part of in relation to your own mother. You call it “deathbed hospitality.”

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: I know there are points of crisis and points where you’ve had a family member or somebody that you’re close to that, for years and years, it just seems like they are the most unlikely possibility to become a convert.

Rosaria: Yes. Oh, my goodness, oh, absolutely!

Nancy: But God moved in an extraordinary way. Robert and I were hearing this story as it was unfolding. You’ve shared it in this book. Can you give us a nutshell version of what God did there?

Rosaria: Oh, that was amazing! My mom was hurt as a child, very much so. She was not treated well, and she grew up with a high suspicion of men. She also had absolutely no use for the church. About the only time I would ever hear my mother use the name of Jesus would be as a curse word.

When I came out as a lesbian when I was twenty-eight, that really did not rock my mother’s world. I mean, I think her position was, “You’re still getting tenure, right?” Like, “Professionally, we’re okay, right?”As long as I was professionally okay, what I did with my own life and my body was perfectly up to me. 

She even said to me, “I completely understand it. Men are just dangerous. You get a couple of good ones out there, but for the most part, it’s not safe.” After Kent and I got married, we moved to North Carolina (we had been married for quite some time, actually, at that point), my mom moved with us, and she lived with us for sixteen months.

During that time she mocked our faith, she challenged Kent when he would try to do family devotions. I mean, it was really awful! She would tell our children that this was wrong, that intelligent people don’t believe in these supernatural things. 

Nancy: She was highly resistant. 

Rosaria: Oh, it was really rough. And I was writing books, and these were very hard. There was a certain point after the second book, Openness Unhindered, came out. Well, there are two books that sort of are tied together: one is Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and the other is Openness Unhindered: Further Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. The were about sexual identity and union with Christ.

My mom read both of those books, and she came to me after reading both of those books. She said, “Rosaria, I’ve read both of your books, and I’m not weak like you. Maybe if I were weak like you, I would want to know this Jesus, want to have a life like you have. But I’m not weak like you. But I do want to tell you: I’m dying. I was just diagnosed with lung cancer, and I want to die my way. I don’t want you or your religion interfering with me and how I’m going to die.”

That was probably the biggest faith crisis of my life, because the hardest people to witness to are your family because they know your sin better than you do. There’s no faking it. They’ve been sinned against by you. Well, in God’s providence, I was able to spend the last ten days of my mother’s life with her in hospice. Kent took care of everything so that I literally just sat at her bedside the whole time.

Dying is very rough. It is a vile process! You watch someone die, even in hospice with plenty of morphine, and you know that death is a curse. I just prayed. I’m a singer. I sang through the psalter, I sang the psalms. At a certain point my mother just sat up and she looked at me, and she said, “Well, I guess I’m weak like you, now. Why don’t you tell me about this gospel? But I don’t believe. Why don’t I believe? If I’m weak like you, why don’t I believe?”

And I said, “Well, Mom, I don’t think it’s the gospel that you don’t know; I think it’s the Shepherd you don’t know. You seem to have the big strokes, but it’s the Person that you don’t know.” And my mother, in her very practical way said, “Fine. Okay. I’m dying. Tell me about this; tell me about Him.”

That began a fascinating time in my relationship with my mom. It only lasted for two days, because she died very quickly after that. But Kent and I started to read every Bible passage we knew of that told us about Jesus the Shepherd, and Jesus shepherding.

And my mother had this immediate and totally opposite response, where she couldn’t hear enough of it. She’d say, “Read me more; tell me more!” And then at a certain point she sat up in bed. You know, it’s funny, people who are dying, they can’t move their mouth, but all of a sudden they’re looking like they’re going to walk out of the room!

She sat up in bed, she said, “Well, but wait a second! What am I going to do about my sin? I don’t want to talk to a priest. What am I going to do with my sin?”

And I said, “Well, you have to talk to the Priest—the Priest, Jesus. You need to confess your sin and have confidence that He will forgive you.

She said, “But I don’t have to talk to you about it?”

“Nope! I’m not your priest!”

“Great! Good!”

It was very rough. My mom was a rough-around-the-edges woman. She had worked hard and had had a hard life, but two days before she died, I had the amazing privilege of seeing her commit her life to Jesus!

That was amazing! My mother died, and I had no regrets. I talk about it in the book. We had had a rough go together, my mom and I. I couldn’t be all the things she wanted me to be. It was very hard; we had a very hard relationship.

But when she died in the Lord, it was as though all of the things that had been wounding to me in our relationship prior to that, it was like the Lord just filled them out. His blood just filled out those crevices of bad patterns. It was with no regrets that we buried my mother. That was the moment that I realized that God is merciful, and He hears your prayers.

I went to my homeschool co-op, which was a few days later, and one of my friends said, “Oh, Rosaria, what happened? Did your mom ever come to faith?”

I looked at her and I said, “Well, I don’t know. I mean, maybe it was the morphine talking. I mean, she said all the right things.”

And this friend (you know, homeschool moms just give you the smack-down!) just turned to me and she just sad, “You know what? You know what, sister? When you came to faith, there were a lot of people who didn’t believe it either. So guess what? Jesus saves sinners—just like you, just like me! Praise God for what He did in your mom’s life, and quit worrying about morphine!” Praise God for friends who can do that, because it’s terrifying!

Nancy: And, as you said in your book, it changed her future, but it changed your past as well.

Rosaria: It changed her future and our past. I don’t have any of those regrets. I don’t have any of those “what-ifs”—those childhood losses. Because in the forward motion of salvation, that resolves the backward glance of history.

Jesus rewrites history! The gospel changes individuals, but it also changes community. It changes the Body. That was one of the most powerful Christian lessons of my life!

Nancy: Rosaria, at the end of your book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, in which you just unpack this beautiful subject of practicing radically ordinary hospitality, you had a stirring section that you called “what if?” And you said, “Imagine a world where every Christian practiced radically ordinary hospitality.” Paint for us in just in a minute here what that might look like. Help us imagine.

Rosaria: You know Christians need to work imaginatively, and we need to work imaginatively in a hopeful, epic (literary speaking) formation. We need to think through “what if,” knowing that the “what if” that Jesus holds is all good.

So I did, I asked: “What if?

  • Imagine a world where every Christian practiced radically ordinary hospitality—as either host or guest.
  • Imagine a world where every Christian made a covenant of church membership and honored it.
  • Imagine a world where every Christian tithed, and where we lived intentionally below our means, having enough to share, and maybe even moving into neighborhoods that need us more than we need them.
  • Imagine a world where living as image-bearers of a Holy God meant something, something that changed the way we saw ourselves and others.
  • Imagine a world where neighbors said that Christians throw the best parties in town—and are the go-to people for big problems and issues—without being invited.
  • Imagine if the children in the neighborhood knew that the Christians were safe people to ask for help when unthinkable agony canvassed their private or family lives.
  • Imagine a world where men lived as men of God and women lived as women of God.
  • Imagine a world where children—including those not yet born—were valued as children of God; one where gender and sexuality roles were known to be blessings to others, even when they required great sacrifice. 
  • Imagine a world where being born male or female comes with distinct blessings and constraints, and where our roles as men and women were valued as high and distinctive callings.
  • Imagine a world where every Christian knew his neighbors sufficiently to be of earthly and spiritual good.
  • Imagine a world where every Christian knew by name people who lived in poverty or prison and felt tied to them and to their futures and lived differently because of it.
  • Imagine a world where sexuality was safe within the confines of biblical boundaries and was not unleashed in rape, incest, pornography, and self-harm.
  • Imagine a world where biblical patriarchy, the benevolent leading of servant-hearted fathers, made all of us breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the good fathers would protect us from the roving gangs of evil men.
  • Imagine a world where the fruit of repentance and the practice of hospitality mark the reputations of Christians for those who do not yet believe that Jesus saves by the very same power that raised Him from the grave.
  • Imagine a world where people take back the night in prayer. 
  • Imagine a world where you know the names of your neighbors, and you play cards with them and eat meals together, where you pray for the children in the neighborhood and lend a helping hand before you are asked.
  • Imagine a world where no one languishes in crushing loneliness, where no abused woman or man or child suffers alone, where people take their real and pressing problems to Christians—who have the reputation of being helpers—and where victims are not swept away, lost, forgotten. 
  • Imagine a world where people fear God more than men and serve God more than comfort.
  • Imagine a world where the power of the gospel to change lives is ours to behold. 

This is the world that the Bible imagines for us! That is the world that Jesus prays for us to create in His Name—not because of any of this: tithing, church membership, hospitality, advocating for victims is heaven on earth. It is not. Rather, we do these things so that we can prepare arm-in-arm for what is coming next, for the return of Christ, for our inheritance in the New Heaven and the New Earth;  so that we can warn our neighbors of the real judgment to come; so that we can honor our God and King!

That is the nuts-and-bolts of it, starting with you and me and our open door and our dinner table and our house key—poised for the giving. This is not complex. Radically ordinary daily Christianity is not PhD Christianity. The gospel coming with a house key is A-B-C Christianity. Radically ordinary and daily hospitality is the basic building block for vital Christian living. Start anywhere! But, please . . . do . . . start!

Leslie: That’s Rosaria Butterfield, reading from her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World. She’s been talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about how hospitality can be an essential part of a believer’s life and witness.

I hope you’ve been challenged and encouraged by Nancy’s conversation this week with Rosaria. You can continue exploring how to practice biblical hospitality by getting a copy of Rosaria’s book. She’ll inspire you to view your home as more than just a living space, but as a tool in God’s hand to build His kingdom.

We’ll send you a copy of this book when you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. To do that, call 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the book The Gospel Comes with a House Key or visit ReviveOurHearts.com to make your donation and request the book.

Do you ever feel as if everyone wants something from you? Imagine what it was like to be Jesus at the height of His popularity here on earth. Tomorrow we’ll look at how He engaged crowds of needy people, and explore what that means for us as we interact with others. I hope you’ll be back with us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, wants to help you create a home that points to Jesus. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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