Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Rosaria Butterfield has a challenging question: "What do your neighbors really know about you?"

Rosaria Butterfield: Do they know that you pray for them? Do they know that you're a member of a church and that that really means something? Do they know that your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God is vital and life-giving and daily and fluent and present, and it just folds into all of the things that you care about, and it flows out of all of your concerns? Do they know that you have immediate access to the God Who made you?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Thursday, February 11, 2016.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We're continuing today in what has been an amazing conversation with a new friend of mine (and I hope, a new friend of yours as a Revive Our Hearts listener), Rosaria Butterfield.

Rosaria, when I think of where you came from, as an English professor focusing on queer studies and as a lesbian activist who disdained the Word of God but had never read it, to today being a pastor's wife and homeschooling mom who loves God's Word and knows it and sings it and memorizes it and meditates on it and lives by it . . . I love you! I love God. I love His grace.

Rosaria: I do, too! 

Nancy: We're talking about hospitality, and what a powerful means of grace it has been in your life and has been in mine as well—a means of gospel witness, a means of refuge.

I'm picking up where we left off yesterday. If you missed yesterday's program or the ones that preceded it with Rosaria, go to ReviveOurHearts.com and listen to those. I encourage you to do that.

Picking up here on this subject of hospitality, 1 Peter chapter 4, beginning at verse 7: "The end of all things is at hand."

Does that sound contemporary or what? I've had two people ask me within the last week, "Do you think we're really close to the end?" Of course, I don't know the specific answer to that, but the answer is "yes!" Peter says the end of all things is at hand. He felt that in his generation; we feel that in ours. In light of eternity, it is very close at hand.

So, what do we do? Do we start to feel marginalized, as believers, that our faith is being threatened? There's a possible erosion of religious liberties—things taking place in our world and in our culture that a decade (or two or three) ago would have been unimaginable. So what do we do?

Peter says, "Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers." We get in a place where we can pray in our relationship with the Lord, in our focus, in our self-control, and in our sober-mindedness. This is not a time for games—this is war.

But we don't take on a war-like spirit. We become prayerful. Verses 8 and 9, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling."

Without exegeting that whole text, I think somehow all that is connected to living in desperate times, in urgent days. When we know that the end of all things is at hand, relatively speaking; we pray, we love, and we show hospitality—and we don't grumble about it.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: And these are means of grace; they are means of spiritual warfare, as you have said.  To open our homes when we're fearful, maybe because of random shootings or people doing all kinds of unmitigated violence.

These are days when you lock your home, you drive into your garage, you put the garage door down, you walk in, you don't say "hi" to your neighbors. It's counterintuitive. And yet, God's way—the way of the gospel, the way of the cross—is counterintuitive, and it's powerful.

Rosaria: Yes, it is powerful. And God never gets the address wrong. He gave you your neighbors to practice neighboring. Our job is to be good neighbors. That's just very "foot-on-the-floor." There's a person you could probably see across the street.

Nancy: To love our neighbors as we love ourselves. 

Rosaria: But it's very hard to do if you don't even know their names. So one question might be, just the willingness to get over the pride that says, "Uh-oh. I've lived here for ten years, and I just don't know the name of the family next door." And to commit yourself to not living like that. 

There are many, many good tools out there, books better than mine. One is The Art of Neighboring. There are others that just allow you to canvas your neighborhood. Sometimes when you move, you have all these fresh starts. We moved to North Carolina in 2012, and one of the things we really wanted to do was pray with our neighbors. The Lord had just put that on our hearts.

Both my husband and myself are, at this point, the only believers in each of our extended families, so we are always hungry for the family of God. We had just been there for a while. We hadn't known very many people.

But we thought it would be a good idea to send out an email to the people that we did know and ask them to resend that email that said, "Hey, meet at the Butterfields. We put a green picnic table on the front lawn. You can't miss it."

Nancy: Wait, wait, wait. Tell why you couldn't miss it. I love this part.

Rosaria: Well, my kids and I painted the picnic table a neon lime-green. So you can't miss it! It almost works as a reflector thing at night, too. 

Nancy: So you wanted people to see this picnic table on your front lawn.

Rosaria: Absolutely! "We're going to meet there." We wanted it to be a gathering place on the front lawn. We've used that a variety of times. The front lawn is one of the most unused places in American households. It just seems to be there for dad to cut.

Nancy: Or a barrier. . . "Don't come near my home."

Rosaria: We passed this email along, and it made the rounds. We invited our neighbors to a prayer walk, to come and meet us at the picnic table and assemble in groups of two and three and walk through the neighborhood and pray for the houses.

Nancy: You sent this to everybody you knew in the neighborhood? All believers? Non-believers?

Rosaria: Everybody. We didn't know that many people at the time, but we sent it around and then other people sent it around. That first night, there were about thirty people gathering at our picnic table in order to pray. Some of these people had lived in our neighborhood for up to thirty years, so they were amazing resources. In some ways, Kent and I just called the question; the real strength came from others. Many of our prayer-walkers are Christian neighbors who come from very different denominations, but we are all committed to praying for our neighborhood and for our neighbors.

Nancy: So what do you do as you walk and pray?

Rosaria: Well, that's exactly what we do. We start out, and we break up into teams of two or three, and we just walk through the neighborhood and we pray. At this point, we've been doing it for years, so neighbors sometimes come out of their house when they see us coming, and they'll say, "Oh, I'm so glad to see you. Please pray for my aunt. She's very sick."

Nancy: So they know what you're doing out there?

Rosaria: They know. We are known as people who are praying for the neighborhood.

Nancy: Are the children included in this?

Rosaria: Of course the children are included! And the dogs are included, and it's very scrappy, you know. You interrupt your prayer to hand a sippy cup over and collect a dog; it's life on prayer and prayer on life.

Then we gather back afterwards. One of the first things we wanted to do when we started prayer walking was also to discern the mercy needs in our community. It's amazing. When you carry a visible means of grace into the streets, the Lord gives you the great privilege of knowing the pain that's going on behind those closed doors.

We very quickly found about illness and need for meals and childcare—quite frankly, things that churches fall into bed knowing how to do. "Let's put a take-them-a-meal schedule together," and "Let's take care of childcare."

Not that we were a church doing this; we were a community doing this. Over the years, it has become a great source of strength for some of the Christians who have been in churches where prayer and the means of grace have been somewhat buried behind programs.

But it's also become a witness to the community, that we are people who believe that there's the God who made us and will take care of us, and through repentance unto life and belief in His Son, Jesus, He hears our prayers, and they go to the throne of grace.

But we also believe that part of our burden is to bring to that throne of grace the needs of the neighbors who cannot go there themselves, yet. That is what we have been doing.

Nancy: What kind of response have you seen, now that you've been doing this for a long time?

Rosaria: Like a lot of things in the community, it sort of ebbs and flows, right? There are seasons when it's really lush, and you've got thirty people every night, and the night goes long—especially in summer in North Carolina. It's just lovely.

Then because we had had a very established neighbor care system, when there had been deaths in our neighborhood, we were immediately able to step into people's lives. People knew immediately where to go for some help.

That was really good, too. It became of a way of, basically, transparently saying, "I'm here, and I want to help." That was wonderful. I would say, like many, many movements (and our listeners know this), there are about two or three core families (ourselves included) that are really committed to making this happen.

Then there are some other folks who kind of come in and bleed out. We often will end with singing a psalm. Many of us are musical, and we love to sing, so we'll go out there under the streetlight, with the backdrop of the sound of the crickets, and we'll pull out our psalters and we'll sing a psalm to commemorate the evening and commit it to the Lord. It's a small thing; it's a daily thing.

Your neighbors know a lot about you. They know if you've got a snow blower or a leaf blower; they know what size dog you have or whether you park your car in a garage or not, but:

  • Do they know that you pray for them?
  • Do they know that you're a member of a church and that really means something?
  • Do they know that your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God is vital and life-giving and daily and fluent and present?
  • Do they know that your relationships with Christ just folds into all of the things that you care about and it flows out of all of your concerns?
  • Do they know that you have immediate access to the God who made you? 
  • Do they know that you really believe that every trial you have been given has been given to you from the hands of a loving God who knows for a fact that that trial was tailor-made for your good and for His glory?

These are incommensurable things; these are counterintuitive things, and these are things that have to come with more than words.

Nancy: Do they know that you care about them? That they matter to you?

Rosaria: Absolutely.

Nancy: This is where hospitality becomes such a powerful tool. Now, when you come back from your prayer walk, do I remember correctly that you go inside and make dinner? 

Rosaria: Yes, well we go in and gather the fragments. So I'll have maybe some fresh bread and a half a watermelon; maybe there's some soup on the stove. 

Nancy: So from the picnic table to the dining table. 

Rosaria: It will get dark. In North Carolina it's gets buggy very quickly. People kind of flow in. As we live in a world of "stranger-danger," how do your children really know who are the inner circle of people they can flee to?

And if it's Aunt Julie in Arkansas and you live in Indiana, that doesn't translate in a real way to a child. We now have my children and other children in the community who have come to know that their mothers and fathers pray together regularly. And our homes are refuges; our homes are safe places; our homes are open to them.

Children understand hospitality, too, and they know it's a useful thing to have a place to flee to. So it also becomes a way of communicating to them in action and in deeds (not necessarily in words) who the safe people are.

Nancy: You mentioned the word "stranger," which goes right to the heart of hospitality. Tell us about that biblical word.

Rosaria: Yes. In fact, my husband was preaching through a series on hospitality. Hospitality means, "loving the stranger." And in some ways, Christian hospitality is almost the opposite of the stranger-danger that the world preaches to us.

Now, that does leave us with a bit of a contradiction. How can we be responsible to care for our children and protect them from potential danger at the same time that we are being open and welcoming to strangers?

Each family is going to work that out slightly differently. Our family is a family made up of adoption and foster care. My children have been trained to know basic things that I think are really important: Don't be in a room with a closed door with anyone except for Mom and Dad. 

We'll often tell our children, "We're having a lot of people over today, including people from the church. You're not to be in a room alone with anyone. If an adult makes you uncomfortable, you need to come to me immediately and tell me. No one should touch you."

These are basic things. Sometimes we may feel a little squeamish about it, but we need to equip our children to know how to negotiate the people in our world. Because some are intimates, and on the inner circle of parenting, and others are not.

Nancy: I know some Christian parents have a concern about their children being exposed to, not just danger, but philosophical and spiritual dangers of those who have an opposing worldview. How do handle that with your children?

Rosaria: Well, probably the way I would handle it would be very different than the way anybody else would handle it. We read the Bible every night. My husband is very faithful in practicing family devotions. And I should say that's a very important part of our hospitality ministry.

Many of the singles in our church come specifically for family devotions. We've opened that up to our neighbors, too. "Do you have a problem? Come, pray with us. Come for a meal; we're going to open the Bible and pray afterwards." That's a very regular thing.

And when you read through the Bible very regularly, you of course come across issues of atheism and homosexuality. There was never a time we sat our children down and said, "Okay, kids, we've got a big thing to tell you . . . okay, here we go . . . Mom was a lesbian and an atheist, and you are adopted! Okay, great, we're never going to talk about that again!" That's just not how it happened.

We would just sort of work through and, "Yes, at a certain point, Momma believed just like our neighbors that she was supposed to marry a woman. God convicted her of the sin of that desire. And, yes, sometimes feelings are sinful."

Children totally understand that, especially when they haul off and hit their sister, and they feel like they want that cookie. They know feelings can be sinful, and we should, too. So you talk about things in an age-appropriate way.

But if you, as the parent, don't talk about it and introduce the vocabulary, someone else will. So, you can introduce the vocabulary and, as they get older, you work through those definitions with them. It's very healthy for children to know that grownups that they trust struggle with sin. And the point is, to struggle with God's kind company and not on the danger of self-invention.

Nancy: I think a lot of us as believers, in the normal course of things, don't have relationships with people who are not like us. Talk about loving strangers. We don't even really know strangers; they stay strangers to us. We're not engaging them in conversation, in relationship. We're kind of in our little "holy huddle." How do you broaden out, to bring in those who are different, who think differently, who have a different worldview?

Rosaria: That's where the dining room table really comes in, and to designate a night that is really a night for you to get to know your neighbors. Because, ultimately, we're going to have to land this plane somewhere. At some point you have a neighbor who is deep in a sin. It's important you feel, for the sake of your neighbor's soul, you can be able to talk about who Christ is and how and why Christ needed to enter this world to become a curse for us because of our sins—even the sins that feel good, even the sins we feel we were born with. We want to be able to have that conversation.

A good rule of thumb is, you want to always make sure that the strength of your words is as strong as the relationship that you have with the person. If you don't have a strong relationship with people who think differently than you do, it's going to be hard to get there.

Nancy: This is what Ken and Floy Smith did with you when they first invited you to their home. They didn't pummel you with the gospel until there was some relationship established.

Rosaria: Right. Their words and our relationship always matched up with the same level of intensity and integrity. The truth of the matter is, we are now in a world where you cannot hide behind programs. You cannot hide behind the pretense of, "I'm from the Bible belt"—a kind of Bible-belt Christianity. You can't hide behind the pretense of the themes of Christianity bleeding down into public policy.

What we have to realize, now, is that in order to put the hand of the sinning and the struggling into the hand of the Savior, we are going to have to get close enough to even potentially get hurt.

Nancy: Which is exactly what Christ did. It took Him to the cross. But death brings life. Someone has to die so that someone else can live. And when we are willing to get close enough in those relationships to be vulnerable, to sacrifice, to get hurt, that's when the whole door is opened to the cross and the ministry of Christ.

Rosaria: Right. If we make this a priority, things shift. Sometimes parents are really struggling—a child has announced that she's a lesbian and wants to come home for a holiday meal with her partner, and this is putting the whole family in crisis. One of the things that happens if you have a commitment to strangersis it has a way of making a priority out of the problem. The mom in that case is in a real crisis. Her older believing children don't want the sister who identifies as a lesbian coming over for this holiday. That sister is a little concerned that her partner might not come. It's a kind of intestine-twisting nightmare!

But if you take a deep breath and you go back to the Word of God, and if the Lord has convicted you that the love for a stranger is a priority, one of the things that that mother and father might come away with is, "Our unbelieving daughter is our priority. Although this holiday meal has often been a great time for the whole family to get together, I'm so glad that my older children are already in the Lord, that they have husbands, they have children, they have churches, they have pastors. This year, my job is to shake the gates of heaven for my daughter who has become a stranger. Because God tells me that I was a stranger once, and that loving the stranger is actually a priority. The priority isn't having a wonderful holiday meal where every member of the family comes and is at peace . . . not this year. This year we have a ministry crisis, and I have now been called to action."

One of the big challenges the parents might feel in that case is, you feel like you're called before you're equipped. And you know what? That's because you are! So now that you're called, now we work through this Bible. We work through this means of grace so that we are equipped to do the Word and the will of God!

Nancy: Nothing will increase your prayer life like being in the desperate situation, right? Prayer born out of desperation.

Rosaria: Absolutely.

Nancy: I'm sitting here, Rosaria, thinking about my own life, my own neighborhood, my own relationships and what strangers the Lord wants me to connect with, to intersect with, to reach out to, to make room at my table for. 

As you've been listening today, maybe God's putting somebody on your heart—somebody you would have been a little afraid to step across the street and meet, feeling intimidated, threatened. Listen, we've been invited to the table of the King, to sit at His table. We were not qualified. We were not deserving. And He said, "Come, sit at my table! Come, live in My house! Come, be with Me!" 

Who does God want you to reach out to in this season? Begin to pray and say, "Lord, would You open their heart?" I'm sitting here looking into the eyes of this precious sister, Rosaria, who—not all that long ago—was a stranger to grace, but a couple who knew God's grace opened their home and said, "Come to our table."

And it wasn't a quick process; it was messy; it was hard. It was messy for you; it was messy for them. I'm sure there were probably some trip-ups along the way—things that would have been done differently if they did it again. But they did it!

And now, it was a weapon in a spiritual battle, and God used it to conquer your heart. I'm sitting here looking at Rosaria Butterfield and saying, "There isn't anybody in my neighborhood or yours that God cannot reach by the power of His Holy Spirit." And our hospitality and gospel witness doesn't guarantee that anyone is going to come to faith, but it sure opens the heart and the door. It's the key to the heart, that God may use in some lives to bring them to saving faith.

Rosaria: Amen!

Leslie: I know today's conversation between Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Rosaria Butterfield has been stretching a lot of us. Has God brought anyone to mind as you've been listening? I hope you won't delay, but will take the next practical step in connecting with them.

If you appreciate the way God is using Revive Our Hearts to stretch you in practical areas, would you help make it possible for the program to continue? We can't come to you each weekday without the support of our listeners.

When you make a donation of any size this week, we'll say "thanks" by sending you the book by Rosaria Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959 or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We'll send one copy of the book per household with your donation.

As a former lesbian, Rosaria has a lot of insight into the debate about sexual orientation that swirls around us. She'll give solid perspective on knowing the truth of God's Word and showing God's love at the same time. She'll talk about it tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.