Rosaria Butterfield: If we’re going to be agents of grace, then we need to get close enough to the stranger to put the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior. And you know what? Somebody here is going to get hurt.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Dr. Rosaria Butterfield describing what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality” where we learn how to interact with people, much like Jesus did. And like Jesus, our beliefs may rub some people the wrong way, and we’ll face some hostility for that. But God calls us to reach out anyway. Today on Focus on the Family, Dr. Butterfield returns with more on this very important topic, and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Uh, John, I’m sure most of us view hospitality as a great idea – really important. But often, it’s not a priority. It’s just down on the checklist. We’ll throw a dinner party here and there. But living it as a lifestyle is the question, and people accessing the Gospel through that is really the opportunity. Um, after all of the homework is done and the calendar is clear, uh, we might make a chance to do the summer barbecue or the winter get-together. But how do we create that rhythm in our homes where this is a constant thing and that neighbors know this is a place they can come, especially if they’re hurt or wounded? That doesn’t happen overnight. That happens through developing a relationship.
And we’re going to continue our discussion with Dr. Butterfield today. Uh, she’s written a wonderful book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, and, uh, it really is an important work to remind us that God is about relationship, pure and simple. And through relationship is how He cracks the crusty heart of the unbeliever and the crusty heart of the believer.
John: Hmm. Yeah, I really appreciated the emphasis on being open on a regular basis, as you just said, Jim, because I think, um, every year ends, and I – I kind of look back and figure, “Oh, I missed the barbecue chance.” You know…
I missed that…
Jim: You got one barbecue.
John: …I missed the one time of the year to have everybody over. And so there’s some really good content in the first, uh, part of our conversation. Go ahead and get that. It’s on CD or free download. And get the book that we’re talking about – The Gospel Comes with a House Key – at our website, focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, and we can tell you more.
Now, we’ve got a live audience in the studio today, and we’ll hear some questions from them later on in the program.
Jim: Rosaria, welcome back to Focus.
Rosaria: Ah, thank you so much.
Jim: I’m always energized. You just – you have such an intriguing life. I mean, the Lord has really used you in so many ways, and you’re such a smart – Ph.D. in English literature. Why did you do that?
Rosaria: Well, I’ll tell you why – because I was raised in a house with a lot of violence…
Rosaria: …And a lot of alcohol and a lot of craziness. And I personally decided that I wanted my drama to be between two pages of a book.
Jim: Really? So you just…
Rosaria: So seriously…
Jim: …Fell into reading?
Rosaria: I did. I did. And I love the human story. But living it in the rawness that happens apart from mediation in Christ could just kill you.
Jim: You know, knowing your story and having you here in previous broadcasts and talking about that, it’s intriguing to me how the Bible illuminated for you. As a Ph.D. in English literature, you’re reading exceptional works in the Bible. I mean, these incredible thoughts. Describe that as a person who is a word person.
Rosaria: Right. Right. Right.
Jim: How did that pop for you?
Rosaria: Right. Well, I was a word person who was not trained in the evangelical church. So nobody told me I’m supposed to read the Bible the way you might read a horoscope…
Rosaria: …Or a fortune cookie. So that was actually my great blessing…
Rosaria: …Is that I actually looked at it as a book – actually a library of 66 books with a unified biblical revelation. Well, that was the challenge. You know, Ken Smith was saying, “There’s a unified biblical revelation.” And almost every word in that description was something I was stumbling over. How do you unify 66 books with all these authors? Well, the biblical answer is it’s God-breathed.
Rosaria: What do you mean it’s a revelation? You know, I’m a reader-response critic. I’m a writer of books. Books are made, not revealed. But this idea that each book also is written according to its own genre. I mean, the – you know, a literary definition of a genre is law. So you read in a genre according to a law or a principle of how ideas are put forward. I mean, Jim, if I send you a text message that says, you know, “Let’s” – you know – “Can we do the interview tomorrow at 10 instead of 10:30?” And you scan it for iambic pentameter, you know, you won’t understand what I’m saying. But that’s often what happens when you look at the Bible as one flat, you know, treatise on propositional truth.
And so I was reading it as a book. I’m trained to read books. And so it was – it’s an amazing book. And we just sit down and read the book. If you just sat down today and read Genesis, there would be no question that when God said that the sin of Adam brings death into the world. That sounds very kind of pie in the sky if you read it too slowly. If you read it in one sitting, Adam’s sins and it’s a blood bath. And the drama happens so quickly. And so I would read it according to that drama. And the power of it was engaging. And so, you know, when I came to Christ, you know, I tell people I was not converted out of lesbianism. I was converted out of unbelief.
But the Bible – it became clear to me that if you actually want to taste and see the power of the age to come, you can do that every time you read the Bible. But don’t read it like a butterscotch. Don’t read it like a fortune cookie. Read it the way God intends you to read it according to its genre, according to its context, according to its purpose. And it’s a powerful book. It will undo you.
Jim: Well, again, as an expert in that area, I mean, that must’ve been incredible for you to just have your heart illuminated by the Word of God and understand the big narrative, the themes, what the Lord breathed through people to put down.
Rosaria: Well, incredible is – I mean, I actually felt like a vampire. I mean, like, I really – like, after that, after my conversion, I felt like I did not reflect in mirrors. The identity that I had for myself, especially as a lesbian, as an activist, as a feminist – all of the things that I had built my identity around crumbled. And so that’s – to me, when we’re talking about these questions of faith in the world, we’re talking about what it means to be radically converted. And each person, whether you are converted in the womb or whether you can converted at the gay pride march or any place in between, it is a radical work of God. And with that comes responsibilities. But the other thing that comes with that is to a certain degree grief, especially the later you are. And I think we would do well to recognize that. That people who are converted later in life there is a grief attached to that. Certainly there’s the grief of the sin you’ve committed in the name of Jesus and the blood that He shed for you. But also there’s also a grief of lost friendships, lost family members…
Jim: If you’re living for Him, it’s true. You’re gonna encounter that.
Rosaria: You lose things. You will lose those.
Jim: That’s so true. And that brings us to this wonderful book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. You’re pressing in on hospitality and the need to raise that in the modern church so that we can better connect with people and, you know, share the gospel with them. Be ready in season to give that word.
Let’s pick up where we left off last time. And if you missed that program, download it, call us here at Focus on the Family. John will give those details in a minute. But get a copy of it. It was a great conversation, I thought. And you know, it just really began to open up my eyes to doing things a little differently. Let’s speak to the counterfeit hospitality of today.
Jim: And talk about how we get confused in the church about what hospitality truly means.
Rosaria: That’s right. And I think that’s a key issue. In fact, I think – I think the church is hoodwinked by counterfeit hospitality.
Jim: What does that look like, counterfeit hospitality?
Rosaria: Counterfeit hospitality is something you can buy. So when you tell me that you are practicing hospitality because you’re guestroom is an Airbnb, that’s counterfeit hospitality. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with making your guestroom an Airbnb. But please don’t call it hospitality.
Jim: Right. That’s a paid transaction.
Rosaria: Right. It’s your gig. It’s your paid gig.
Rosaria: That’s okay. The barista at Starbucks. She may be very nice to you every morning at 6:00 a.m. But that’s not hospitality. That’s counterfeit hospitality.
Jim: And it’s not demeaning.
Jim: You’re saying it’s transactional.
Rosaria: It’s transactional.
Jim: She’s smiling or he’s smiling because you’re buying coffee.
Rosaria: You’re buying coffee.
Jim: You’re a customer.
Rosaria: That’s right. And in counterfeit hospitality, there’s a very fixed relationship between host and guest. In Christian hospitality, it’s a very fluid relationship. Even in your own home, you can be both host and guest.
John: What do you mean by fluid? I mean, go on with what you mean by that.
Rosaria: Yeah, what do I mean by that is that, you know, you saw that Jesus – first of all, He’s our model for that. He was both host and guest that He would receive help and He would give help. That He would enlist other people as practitioners of this necessary hospitality even at the same time that He was the guest of honor.
Rosaria: So it was not a showy thing. You know, in counterfeit hospitality also known as entertainment, you know, it’s a big deal that your dishes match. It’s a big deal that there’s no cat hair on the couch. It’s a big deal that you’re minestrone soup is a special family recipe. But in Christian hospitality, all of that is the backdrop for Jesus entering our conversation and our relationships. With counterfeit hospitality, everything has to be preprogrammed. You need to know beforehand how many people are coming. You’ve got to have enough chairs.
John: There’s nothing wrong, though, with the people that really want to do it well. Is there?
Rosaria: Well, it depends. If it becomes an idol, then there is. I mean, if you want people to look at you and say, “You are so good at this,” then, you know what? I’d say that sinful. You want people to not look at you at all. They want to see your home as a bridge to the Gospel itself.
Jim: Well, that truly is a problem. Perfectionism will drive you in that direction. What I want to get back to, though, is that that idea of counterfeit hospitality. You shared a story in your book that caught my attention. I think this would be more of the typical scenario where I think it was a couple in your church said, “You know, I don’t really agree, Rosaria, with your form of hospitality. We have two chairs. Two chairs only at the table. And that’s all we need.”
Jim: Describe that if I’m accurate in that reflection.
Rosaria: Yeah. Oh, no. No. Absolutely.
Jim: What – spiritually what’s going on there?
Rosaria: Sure. First of all, the question comes to me as a pastor’s wife. And those are always big challenges, right? Because, you know, as a pastor’s wife, you are the repository of all criticism of your husband and your family.
Jim: You’re on display.
Rosaria: All the time. So you just – but, yeah, this was a family who – they really took issue – at one point, we gave our family van away. And we decided to just become a one car family and – which, you know, come on people this is – what a first world problem to have! God forbid we call that a hardship. But anyway we’re going to, you know? Fly with me here! They thought it was showy. They thought it was ostentatious. We gave our van away to a family that had traveled internationally to study at a nearby seminary. And, you know, they really just – they’re from the Netherlands. They thought – you know, he thought he was going to put his pregnant wife and two small children on the back of a bike and drive, you know, pedal on a highway and get to school. And we just felt like they were going to die. And so this was a family that was already doing a slow boil. And then when we started practicing open hospitality and when – when we started to see conversions from this, when we stopped looking at our own strength to determine what we could do and started doing something else and that something else would be calling Jesus to help us.
Jim: But what…
Rosaria: It was all too much. And so, yeah. So they were just – they were very upset with us. They did a slow boil on that.
Jim: And what was their point, I mean, to say, “We only have two chairs”?
Rosaria: Yeah, their point is that boundaries – they’re very important people. I’ll tell you. I know these people. They’re very important people. They have very high advanced degrees. A little bit like mine.
And instead of, like, peeling potatoes and caring for foster babies and picking up neighbor kids at the bus stop, they’re doing very important things with their very important degrees. And they didn’t like the fact that that’s not my calling.
Jim: So in that context – and it’s for all of us, everybody. We can lay our lifestyles down for a minute and hopefully hear what Rosaria is saying; is it out of our conviction then that we’re responding that way? Are you stepping on our oxygen hose…?
Rosaria: Yeah. I…
Jim: …When you say…
Rosaria: But I’m not…
Jim: …You’re doing these things?
Rosaria: I’m not intending to.
Jim: No. I know.
Jim: But I’m saying why people respond like that. Why not, “Hey, okay, so that’s interesting. I could stretch a little bit there, maybe put two more…”
Rosaria: I will tell you…
Jim: “…Chairs at the table?”
Rosaria: …This was also a family that wasn’t keen on the kind of, um, what they consider to be risky adoptions we were engaging in, too. I mean, this was a family with some issues.
Jim: Well, let me – let me pull it from the other side.
Jim: Is it reasonable to have some boundaries?
Jim: And what do those look like?
Rosaria: Well, those are going to look different for different households.
Jim: Okay. That’s fair.
Rosaria: Absolutely. So they – of course it is. But what’s not reasonable, I would say, is to not expect great things from God when you open your Christian life to others. What’s not reasonable is to think that you control the flow of the Gospel. So that’s the part – but it’ll it look different for different households, absolutely. I mean Kent and I made a decision when we got married 17 years ago that I would leave my tenured post at a – at a major research university, um, so that I could become a church planter’s wife. One of the first jobs I had was, Lord’s Day morning, cleaning the toilets – no kidding – because our church, uh, met at the, uh – at a – at a community center, and Saturday night, the last thing that happened was open men’s basketball.
So you know what?
Jim: The bathrooms were a wreck.
Rosaria: The bathrooms were a wreck. And I had to either decide – I mean, was I too important to do that? Or would I rather, as Psalm 84 said, “Be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.” The Christian life is a humbling life. My gifts, whatever those might be, are filthy rags.
Rosaria: God wants to use ‘em, so be it.
Rosaria: But I will tell you that Kent and I have never looked back. The Lord has sustained our family. He has prospered us as we have needed, and we have been able to – we’ve had a front-row seat of – of watching people come to Christ who are as unlikely as I am here in the Christian life. If we ever wanted to teach our children stranger danger or the idea that Jesus is some little prop you pull out Lord’s Day morning or Wednesday night youth group, they would laugh in our face.
Rosaria: And I praise God for that.
Jim: Well, and that’s a whole ‘nother thing – just the reality of living the Christian life well so your children can see…
Jim: …And – and actually experience what it means to live out the Gospel.
Jim: Uh, we’re talking today with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield. Her book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, uh, you can get a copy of that here at Focus on the Family. Join us in ministry. Help us. Be a partner touching lives and changing lives and leading people into a relationship with Christ. And make a gift of any amount, and we’ll send you the book as our way of saying thank you.
John: Yeah. Our phone number is 800-A-FAMILY, and online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Alright, I’d like to transition here and invite anyone from our audience to ask Dr. Butterfield a question, if you want to. Just come to the microphone and give us your name and your question. Go ahead.
Tim: Hi, Dr. Butterfield. My name is Tim.
Rosaria: Hi, Tim.
Tim: I’m originally from Tampa, Florida, but I live in Falcon, Colorado, now.
Tim: And, uh, just wanted to thank you for being here and for sharing your story. Uh, my question, uh, to you is, you know, after, uh, people read your book or maybe they hear this broadcast, and they start thinking about this concept of – of Christ-centered hospitality, what do you say to those who might listen and then say, “You know what? I just don’t have that spiritual gift. You know, it’s not something I can do.” And they just kind of disregard this because they think, “This isn’t, you know, something that God gave me a gift to do.”
Rosaria: Right – yeah, yeah. Yeah, well, you know, I think – I think that we – we have a false understanding of our giftedness. I mean, my giftedness is called filthy rags. And God could use it, okay? But you know, the – the Gospel is not gonna rise or fall on Rosaria’s giftedness. In fact my personal giftings in, um, say, writing, for example – they got – it got me into a lot more trouble than less. You know, people talk about my three books – I’ve written more than three books. It took a lot to pull the plug on the pre-Christian books. That’s not easy to euthanize. In fact, it’s probably, you know, harder to euthanize a book than it is a dog. So – so first of all, let’s not have an overblown notion of our gifts.
But hospitality is a command. It’s a command in scripture for people to participate with, whether you’re on the front line or the sidelines. And so, you know, hopefully, if you’ve read the book, you would realize that I don’t think of – of hospitality as something that is – it’s not a one-fit, one-way issue. Our home – our home hospitality depends on many, many stakeholders. We have – like, you know, right now, I’m here, and I’m not home. And the good news is my phone is off because otherwise, you’d – you’d be in this kind of this constant din of Kent realizing that I’m not here, that I’m not home, and dinner tonight and who’s coming? And usually, at some point, like, probably about 5 o’clock, he’s gonna say, “Noah, just go pick up KFC. You know, Rosie’s not home. I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”
Rosaria: Um, and so – so you know, it’s not a one-person show. It’s also not a display of giftedness. Hospitality is a laying-down of your life. It’s a sacrifice so that the hand of the stranger can be put into the hand of the Savior. It’s – it’s bridge work. It doesn’t bring attention to itself. The last thing you want is somebody to ask you for a recipe at the end of the night. You want them to ask you if they could have some follow-up time to pray about something that we – we just talked about when we opened our Bibles.
So giftedness is a bereft concept. It leads to a kind of hyper-individualism. And it also leads to this false idea that you are going to, through your giftedness, disciple people into the Kingdom of God. God forbid. Real converts happen because God steps in and changes your heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh.
And if we appeal to the language of giftedness, we are appealing to this idea. And it’s a terrible, terrible idea. And it’s one that says, “If you’re convinced by the Gospel, you’re also converted unto it” – not true. You know, I spend a lot of time talking to people who court a particular sin. They love their sin. Their sin, um, – you know, and often, our sin comes to us without our – our asking for it. Um, our original sin is a little bit like having a cute little kitten follow you home. Cute little thing – it’s adorable. You know, you bottle-feed it. You pet it. You stroke it. Oh, its stripes start to come out. It’s lovely. You start to notice it’s a tiger. And you do know that might be a problem. So you buy it a collar and a leash. You’re like, “I got this. I got this.” Well, that’s your original sin turning into your indwelling sin.
And, you know, we live in a world where people are coddling this idea of original sin and indwelling sin. They coddle it all the time. And they say to me, “I don’t know why you think that I’m living in sin. I love Jesus.” And I say, “What do you mean, you love Jesus?” And they say, “I don’t know – I can’t explain it. I just wake up every morning loving Jesus.” I say, “Well, I don’t wake up every morning loving Jesus. I wake up every morning loving Rosaria. And in order to love Jesus, I need to drive a fresh nail into my choice sin every day. And then I can love Jesus.” You see, repentance is the threshold to God, not giftedness.
Rosaria: We live in a culture that is either leading with its giftedness or leading with its repentance. Pick. So I think we need to really call it for what it is. We’ve got a lot of false gospel, uh, messaging and a lot of false converts, and Satan loves this.
Jim: That is good.
Michael: Good morning, Dr. Butterfield.
Rosaria: Good morning.
Michael: My name is Michael. I’m a local pastor. And I appreciate your transparency. So thank you.
Rosaria: Thank you.
Michael: I’m presently teaching through the gospel of Mark. And I’ve made an observation among the congregation. And I was curious if you’ve seen this in your local church or other congregations or other Christians that you’re all involved with when it comes to sharing the Gospel. I do believe – and you’ve alluded to it – that busyness is a problem. I believe it’s one of the cancers of our culture.
Rosaria: Mmhmm. Yup.
Michael: And – but I’ve also – there’s a perception I see in our local congregation of, like – I think it’s a false perception. But it is one of autonomy in that, you know, I have the right to make these decisions, and I have freedom. And there is truth in that. But it’s acted as though or perceived, I should say, as “I’m autonomous. I can make these decisions on my own.” And I was curious – do you see this in the Christian community?
Rosaria: Yeah, absolutely. And I would say it’s connected to church culture in a deep way. And so, you know, there are a couple of ways that that your life in the body can either inculcate a kind of secular, modernist autonomy. Or it can inculcate a genuine belonging. And one of the ways that has been really useful to us is to see that the keeping of the Lord’s day holy as almost a practice day for Christians for every other day of the week. And so – and I realize this is a touchy subject, right? I mean, it – and this is why – you know, when I’m telling you, you know, every suggestion I’m giving to you is an extension of a theology – and so if you don’t have your theology right, your application is going to be – it’s going to be haphazard or haywire. Or people are just going to not be able to get behind it.
So we be – we’re Sabbatarians. We believe in keeping the Lord’s Day holy. That means that, you know, when the benediction is still ringing in your ear – instead of everybody scrambling off to their different things, we’re actually still hanging together. And we spend the day together. And that often means that, you know, there are 25 people at my house by 6 o’clock. And then neighbor kids come over and neighbors come over because they’re not sure what the party is. You know, they just – they don’t understand why these Bible-believing Christians are the best parties in town. But you know, there you have it.
So I think that the Lord’s Day is a really good practice day for setting your priorities in order. But I also think that the covenant of church membership in there – it is a covenant. It is not like your YMCA membership, all right? We are accountable to one another in the body. And so I think really rehearsing that and practicing that is helpful. I would say – and again, I get a lot of pushback on this. 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has befallen you except for that which is common to man. And God will give you a way of escape so that you can endure it.” What if that way of escape is your home, but your door’s locked or, you know, you’re so busy coaching soccer that day? And, again, I don’t know – I’m not railing against soccer. But, you know, it’s a matter of priority. And it’s also a matter of communication but especially with the people in your church who are – you might consider to be the least of these, the people who are not connected in ways that you are. Is your covenant of church membership? Even if you’re a married person, is your covenant of marriage? Is God calling you to use that to better insulate and protect and connect with others? I think the answer is yes.
Jim: Rosaria, thank you so much for this wonderful book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. I think it’s one of the most important messages for the church right now. And it’s just like the Lord to say, “Bring it back to the basics. I’m about relationship. I want you to be about relationship, so together we can save souls for eternity.” Isn’t it…
Rosaria: Yeah, amen.
Jim: …That simple, and yet, that difficult? And you have, uh, put it in reach for all of us through this great book.
Now, if you’ve been listening to our conversation, and you’re thinking, “I can do this. This is something my family should be involved in.” I hope you’ll contact us and get a copy of The Gospel Comes with a House Key. And if you can send a financial gift of any amount today, we will gladly put this book into your hands. That’s our way of saying thank you for supporting this broadcast and all of the resources we are trying to provide for families in crisis. Contact us today and be generous with your support of Focus on the Family so we can achieve that goal.
John: And our number is 800-232-6459 – 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY – or donate online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Rosaria, it’s been great to have you with us.
Rosaria: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you so much, and I just praise God for the ministry here at Focus on the Family. And it’s my honor to partner with you when – whenever y’all call me back to Colorado.
Jim: Yes, it’ll be soon.
John: Well, we hope you enjoyed this two-day conversation with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield as much as we have. It is always a delight to have her in the studio with us.
And coming up next time, learning how to trust God with your adult child.
Jodie Berndt: A friend sent me a poem just this week, and she said, “When you were little, I touched you, and I covered you with a blanket, tucking you in. Now you’re grown. You’re out of my reach, and I’m covering you with my prayers.”
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