Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2018


Rosaria Butterfield has written two quite different books so far. Her first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was largely narrative with some extended musings. It was easy to read and quite interesting. It allowed her gifts as a story-teller and writer to come out and play. Her second, Openness Unhindered, exhibited her gifts as a teacher. Far more didactic, it also drew on her past life as an academic who was a lesbian activist teaching queer theory at Syracuse University in NY. She wrote to interact with the controversial subjects regarding sex and gender of our day from the perspective of a Christian who used to be an activist.

Both books were representative of who Rosaria is. Her third book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, is also representative of who Rosaria is. Her first book talked about the key role hospitality played in her life as part of the homosexual community, her conversion and then as a Christian. The book wasn’t really about that subject but you recognized this was an important topic to her. It would be natural for her, and desired by her audience, for her to write a book on the subject that seems to so permeate her experience.

It is written in a style quite like Secret Thoughts. It is narrative used to communicate a lesson. The main narrative is the story of a neighbor, Hank. She and her family slowly pursue the reclusive war vet and build a friendship which has survived some major trauma. She also includes the story of her life with her mother after her conversion.

For Rosaria, hospitality isn’t a faceless practice. It is the long-term investment in particular people through hills and valleys. This investment is understood in terms of the gospel. First, God has welcomed us through His Son. That doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize we were ungodly, helpless sinners and therefore His enemies. She isn’t as explicit about this as she could be, but it is there. Second, He sends us out to welcome others in the hopes of their coming to faith as we meet tangible needs. It is a form of mercy ministry that takes place in the home, not on church property.

The subtitle, Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World, helps set some of the boundaries. This is some thing to be practiced. When we practice we start off rather poorly but continue to get better if we continue to invest the time and energy needed. This is something we may not be great at but can and should become better at with time because we continue to invest ourselves into it.

It is from the root, or radical. We are sharing ourselves, and not just the good part. We are full people and she notes that true hospitality receives too. We are not to be like Martha, ever the good host, but some of Mary who is truly interested in her Guest and needs Him. The hospitality she has in mind is reciprocal in nature: not paternalistic. It is radical in terms of being sacrificial as well. It is a big part of her family budget, and that means there are things they do without.

It is ordinary. She’s not talking about fancy dinner parties with the fine china and special silverware. She’s talking burgers on a picnic table, Thanksgiving turkey seated on the coach or folding chairs, soup and bread before reading the Bible and singing Psalms. She’s talking about inviting people in for community, not a state dinner at the White House.

It is ordinary in that it is for ordinary people, not elite Christians. Anyone can do this because it is simply about loving people.

The context of hospitality for the American Christian is changing too. We are in a post-Christian society. The influence of the gospel is waning, not growing. Disdain for Christianity is growing. We can no longer assume people have a basic understanding of the Bible. Many know only what they’ve been told on TV or the radio. Post-Christian America has a hunger for community. Much like pre-Christian Rome, hospitality is our way to gain an ear by granting a seat at the table with give and take.

Image result for meal togetherThis makes for an interesting, challenging book that is both easy and difficult to read at the same time but in different senses. It is a book that can make you laugh and cry. Her gifts as a story-teller (or teller of the Story) are on display in the course of the many narratives. She does provide a few sections on “nuts and bolts” of hospitality. This could be expanded and moved up in the material. It seems almost an afterthought. As a result she may have lost some people earlier; people who think she wants them to practice hospitality just like she does. Some in the conclusion deal with temperament and marriage roles in hospitality.

Caveats and Impressions

I should give a little personal background so you, dear reader, don’t think I’m simply reactionary. As a kid it was normal for friends to “stay for dinner” or me to stay there for dinner last minute. The families who “raised” me as a new convert in my early 20’s practiced hospitality. Their doors were open and I was often there on Friday nights or Saturdays. I helped them with projects and they fed me with conversation and meals.

My wife’s family routinely took in strays: animals and then people. They still do.

When we lived in Florida we knew many of our neighbors and had been in many of their homes. They had been in ours. At times we had to eat in our garage because the kitchen/dining area was so small and there were so many toddlers toddling about.

Since moving to Arizona we had a young man live with us for 18 months because he was struggling spiritually & relationally. We frequently have people in our home. But now we pretty much know 3 neighbors. Arizona is not Florida or the Christ-haunted North Carolina where Rosaria resides. The relationships seem limited to the Next Door app, rather than using it to get together in person.

It would be easy to feel like an inhospitable person reading this book. That is not her intention, but know yourself. Will you compare yourself to her example? Or are you able to simply take her example as an encouragement to be more hospitable in your particular setting? There is a part of me that longs to be in a neighborhood like hers, where my kids have heaps of friends (it is MUCH larger than our subdivision), where people are open, even if opinionated, instead of driving directly into their garage closing the door before they even get out of the car. Some people may confuse such longing with condemnation.

Image result for soup and breadRosaria usually has a soapbox topic in each book. She goes on a bit of a rabbit trail on a controversial subject. For instance, in Secret Thoughts she spent a few pages on Exclusive Psalmody. Here it is “biblical patriarchy”. It is introduced when a friend asks her “how the magic happens”. Her answer was a husband who leads and a wife who submits herself to her calling as wife and mother. She has chosen not to pursue a career as a teacher at this time. She is a writer, which happens in the quiet mornings before the kids bring their chaos.

I wish she had actually spent a little more time on this one so I knew more of what she is talking about. Patriarchy is a loaded term in my theological circles. She may be using the term in a way I could agree with, but often this term is used inĀ  a way I don’t agree with and many will find unnecessarily offensive. If she’s using it for complementarianism (wives submitting to their husbands who love them like Christ loved the church, and male leadership in the church) then I’m onboard. Patriarchy is often used for the view that women submit to men, thereby granting women an inferior status rather than role. I do not find that position to be biblical. Since she doesn’t clarify, it causes needless confusion and possible stumbling blocks.

Rosaria is honest about her life, and her sins. Therefore she is honest about her rather dysfunctional relationship with her mother. At times I sensed a dysfunctional relationship with her neighbors. I wasn’t sure if the co-dependency she had with her mother transferred to others. There was a lot of community processing of community events. In some ways commendable.

A few years ago the house across the street from us was raided by a number of law enforcement agencies. My wife was out on her walk when it started. She got permission to come home, but was initially told to stay on the other side of the house, just in case. We did some watching from the window. But there was no gathering of neighbors (as their was in FL after a resident committed suicide by cop). There was no community processing of the arrest, and aside from his friend down the street it wasn’t perceived as a tragedy. As a member of the HOA, I got no rants about property values.

Therefore it is hard to discern where her concern for others crossed into perceived responsibility or unhealthy response. Healthy hospitality respects that boundary. She does mention boundaries, but that is an area that needed more attention.

The last issue is kids. Contemporary culture wants to protect kids from real life. As a pastor my kids are protected from some things, but get a big dose of other things. Our hospitality has introduced them to couples who live together before getting married, among other things. So, I’m not approaching this from an overly protective posture.

The flip side is I’ve been a pastor to people whose parents had time for everyone’s problems but their children’s. They were neglected by “good Christian parents” out to save the world who forgot their kids needed nurture and care. This is one of those boundaries that didn’t get nearly enough attention in the book. I’m not going to pretend to know enough about how this plays out in the Butterfield home, but more attention should have been paid to this subject in the book. There has to be something between over-protective helicopter parents and bringing your kids to the front lines of ministry by bringing it all in the home. I have had some difficult conversations with people on my front porch. Hospitality with boundaries because my kids were inside or out back. We can’t be paranoid and overprotective, but neither should we be clueless.

These are some of the gaps I noticed in this otherwise excellent book. You can’t say everything anytime you say anything, but these seemed like important things to say.

 

 

Read Full Post »


Kevin Harney concludes his book, Organic Outreach for Churches, with discussing the Mouth of the Church. He previously addressed our heart (love for God, the world & our congregation), our mind (strategy for outreach), our hands (serving others), and now evangelism proper.

“The heart of your church is beating for Jesus and ready to reach out with love to the people of your community. The mind of your church is thinking strategically and planning to reach out with the good news of God’s salvation. The hands of your church are working, serving and showing the world that Jesus is alive. Now the fun starts. It’s time to open your mouth!”

It is one chapter. One. Short. Chapter.

As we grow in our faith, it should be easier to share the simple story of the gospel. We are more mature, trusting God more deeply. Unfortunately, we frequently have fewer opportunities because many of us have fewer relationships with non-Christians.

Faith comes from hearing, and that means someone has to actually speak. Harney wisely notes that no one size fits all. We each will gravitate to a different style of evangelism. He unwisely connects a more confrontational style to extroverted people. Extroverts aren’t necessarily confrontation. Prophetic personalities, however, are.

He recommends a book I used in FL to train in evangelism, Becoming a Contagious Christian by Hybels and Mittelburg. Yes, there may be some personal issues with Bill Hybels. There are some theological issues too. But I don’t recall the latter affecting the book at all. The former doesn’t. You aren’t recommending the book based on his character, but it’s ability to prepare people to evangelize. It does that well, offering 6 different styles of evangelism.

Harney also distinguishes 4 outreach intensity levels for events. Low intensity events focus on meeting basic needs, displaying the love of Christ in tangible ways. The highest intensity events clearly articulate the gospel AND calling people to commit (perhaps having an altar call). This means we should be thoughtful about our events. Low intensity, medium or going for broke? Similarly, some sermons are low intensity in terms of their gospel-focus, while others are very intense in calling people to faith and repentance.

This means training is necessary. He cycled back to this. Too often we fail to train people in evangelism.

In our congregation, I’ve been preaching to stir up people’s hearts. We’ve been trying to strategize, particularly with a new community being built next door. We also plan on doing some evangelism training. It will not focus on just one style. I also hope we will do some work with relational wisdom, which should help us build healthier relationships and understand the people we share our faith with better.

We haven’t applied everything but we are moving in the right direction. There are aspects we won’t due to differences in our theological underpinnings from his. This book had some bones, but also some meat. Most congregations can benefit from talking through this material. They do have to be discerning as they do.

[An enlarged, 2nd edition, is due for release in late May, 2018.]

 

Read Full Post »


I woke up this morning thinking about my new sermon series and text. I begin a series on Philippians called Partners in the Gospel with the first two verses. Theoretically I’ve begun this series by looking at Acts 16 for the last four weeks to see the beginning of the church in Philippi through the ministry of Paul and Silas (and Timothy).

Image result for huddleJesus made each of those three men His partners in the gospel. He also made them one another’s partner for the gospel. We see Jesus then forming a partnership with Lydia and the jailer. These new Christians are not only partners with the church planting team, but one another particularly as Paul & Silas are shown the door by the city leaders.

I’ll be exploring this theme of being partners with Jesus and one another for the gospel in Tucson.

The resources I’ll be using are on the shorter side of things. The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series I’ve grown to appreciate recently does not have a volume on Philippians. I almost picked up the Baker Exegetical Commentary by Moises Silva.

Rather than get the larger, more technical Ralph Martin volume on Philippians in the Word Biblical Commentary Series, I decided to settle for his volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series. It should hit the highlights of his more technical commentary.

I like the practical nature of the Let’s Study series. The Philippians volume is written by Sinclair Ferguson. It only makes sense that I use that one.

I’ve had the D.A. Carson volume Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians collecting dust for awhile. Time to read it.

I often use the Bible Speaks Today Series, and this will be no exception. Alec Motyer is the author of The Message of Philippians.

Lately I’ve enjoyed some of the volumes in the Focus on the Bible Series, so I’ll be reading David Chapman’s volume on Philippians.

For the Dead Guys, I’ll be reading Calvin’s Commentary on Philippians.

I will be trying a new series called Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Philippians. The authors are Tony Merida and Francis Chan. Merida, along with David Platt and Daniel Akin, is a series editor. I’m not sure if Chan is a plus or a minus at this point. But I want to make sure I’m keeping the focus on Jesus.

It sure sounds like a lot of reading but none of these books is big. If I don’t find particular volumes helpful, I can drop them easily. Overall, I’m looking forward to Philippians. I hope it will be encouraging, challenging and keep pointing people to Jesus, our partner in the gospel.

Read Full Post »