Tuesday 6 August
The #NH2019 Media Team is delighted to bring you summaries of all the main sessions this week so you don’t miss a thing! On Tuesday evening, Rosaria Butterfield described hospitality as the new face of spiritual warfare as we open our hearts and our homes to the neighbour, the stranger and the prisoner. Here’s what she had to say:
Winter 2017, Durham, North Carolina.
When Hank and Aimee were arrested for operating a meth lab across the street and when we turned out to be their only friends, we learnt what it means to love the stranger. In those situation, we lose the right to protect our reputation. Sometimes, it means that your decent and moral neighbours will hate you. Sometimes you will labour to love them, opening your home and heart, and they will walk away thinking you are a fool.
For a year, we laboured in love and yet the anger in our neighbourhood remained thick. They had been suspicious of Hank (when he didn’t cut his grass for three months that was a sign that there was a problem) and it seemed they had been proved right.
But we weren’t defending Hank because we didn’t know him. We had shared walks and meals and holidays with him. But one day the police showed up and the meth lab had been exposed. People were angry and scared and our property values went down. The house wrapped in crime scene tape continued to stand as an eye sore and a warning.
We lived in parallel worlds: one took place in letters to Hank and Aimee (sending packages, letters and Bibles). The other took place in our home with people coming for meals and (sometimes heated) discussion, prayer and Bible study.
Then one Saturday morning, a snow storm hit the Southern USA. We were all homebound. By mid morning all local churches were cancelling their church services. Kent asked me to write something on our neighbourhood app to say that because of the hazardous road conditions, we would run a church home service in our home followed by lunch and all were welcome!
Kent began preparing a sermon for our angry neighbours. I marvelled at the opportunity that God had given us becuaser of this “snow storm” crisis. It was a year after the arrest and people were still struggling to figure out who Hank was and who we are.
In our conflicting responses to Hank’s crime, neighbours continued to come together for food, discussion and Bible study. Kent could visit Hank and we continued to write to him and pray. Hank would always write back, thankful to hear that his beloved dog Tank was safe and well (Tank was our dog now).
I kept an eye on the worsening weather and prepared for Lord’s Day worship with our neighbours. Kent and I have been doing this for 18 years. Throughout all of the years of marriage and ministry, Kent has never once viewed a “snow day” as a day off. A snow day is an evangelistic opportunity.
I woke up on Sunday morning and felt sheer panic. Why had we invited all our neighbours over? They did not like us anyway. What if everyone actually came? Would we be able to house and feed everyone? Then I had a scarier thought, What if no one comes? I let the word of God comfort my heart and then the children readied the house for worship. No matter how often we do this, it is always exciting.
As soon as Kent prayed for the day and I start the big percolator, my beloved neighbours started walking through the door for worship together. In all 28 neighbours came along with a gaggle of extra children. Some brought soup and extra bread. I serve tea and coffee and hot cocoa.
We gather our mugs and our smiles. Donna locks arms with me and she whispers, “This is bigger than my dreams.”
One couple sees an old lady that they have been praying for for decades. “The Lord who names the stars also heals broken hearts.”
Kent welcomes everyone and reminds everyone of the powerful role that Jesus bestows on neighbours. The children distribute every Bible and Psalter in the house. We don’t have enough to go around so people sit close enough to each other to share.
Kent tells us he will be preaching on forgiveness. Kent says, “Jesus calls us to forgive because without forgiveness we cannot be agents of grace or receive grace.”
He asks us to open our Psalters to Psalm 23 (we sing acapella). We sing slowly and savour how words weave reassurance.
The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
My soul he doth restore again
and me to walk doth make,
within the paths of righteousness,
e’en for His own name’s sake.
I savour every word, each promise. Each soul that is present.
Yea, though I walk thro’ death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill,
For Thou art with me and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.
My table Thou has furnished
In presence of my foes,
My head Thou dost with oil anoint
and my cup overflows.
God’s word is realistic. God protects us in the midst of danger. In Luke 10:3, Jesus said, “I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves.” The words of Christ are sinking down. And then we conclude.
“Goodness and mercy all my life,
shall surely follow me,
And in God’s house forever more,
my dwelling place shall be.”
We take a breath and we look around. This is intimate business. When we sing a Psalm together, we speak God’s truth one to another. Some of us are experiencing this for the first time in their lives. People can be neighbours for decades and never have this kind of intimacy.
Kent prays for our worship and asks God to be present with us. To work healing where healing is needed. Repentance where repentance is needed. Kent does not mince word ever. As I watch him open the Bible I am so deeply grateful that God allowed me to marry this man.
He speaks on Matthew 5:7 – Blessed are the merciful. Kent tells our neighbours. You can only show mercy if you have experienced God’s mercy. Have you made peace with Jesus? Have you repented from your sin? Today is the day of salvation. Then he prays for salvation where it is needed. He prays that God will help our unbelief. Nothing about this service is business as usual. It is fundamentally risky. After the benediction, Kent invites people to come and eat food together.
I had set places for 25 people (I had underestimated but that is okay). We make an assembly line passing bowls of soup. Everyone piles their plates high. We talk about kids and snow and work, about cancer and bad knees and politics. And then the talk moves to Hank. Someone says, “Kent, tell us how Hank is doing, I’ve heard that you visit him in jail.”
And Kent says, “Hank is fragile but he has just recently committed his life to Jesus.”
This is the kind of news that moves mountains. Quiet descends. A holy hush hovers over the table. There is no earthly help for Hank. No one else can go where Hank has been taken. He needs Jesus the Saviour to shepherd him through the long dark days ahead. He recently received a sentence of 18 years. At his age, that could be a life sentence. He knows that his circumstances might not change but he also knows that God won’t change.
He is reading the Bible and praying for grace to get through each day. He also prays for us. Kent is speaking softly now and the room is silent. Hank is no longer the meth addict across the street, he is now my Christian brother. And that is not all.
Aimee is also sober and saved. She prays for her children and for this neighbourhood. She is a prolific letter writer. She has learnt a new trade and she has also been baptised. The letter she wrote to me describing her baptism was beautiful: “Coming up out of the water and seeing the blue sky through the arc of chain-bound hands…” It is hard to explain what happens when you have this kind of conversation over the dinner table (when the local drug dealer commits his life to Jesus and when them meth addict becomes a letter writer and a sister in the Lord, praying for the people who despite her sin).
People who feel “righteous” when they compare themselves to Hank and Aimee are to be pitied because the Gospel is for the broken.
This conversation changes everything. The Gospel changes everything. God puts the lonely in families and how does He do this? He works through you, through your church, through your life, through your weakness…
We see this in what we read on Saturday in Mark 10 (when Peter said, “We have left everything for you…” and Jesus tells him, “You will receive 100-fold…”)
But we also see this principle in Hebrews 13 – remember those in prison as though chained with them.
Loneliness is not okay. There are only two categories of lonely people in the bible. Political prisoners and martyrs. We tolerate loneliness in our culture, in our families, in our communities and in our churches. For a Christian to be isolated and made to stand alone in this hard world is not okay!
How can we sing worship songs that leave no room for lament? What if we don’t feel those feelings? Where to I go with that?
This hundredfold blessing is very practical. It will come from you or it will not come at all. It will come with hard gospel work. It will come with prayer and fasting. It will come with loving people who seem unlovable. We will proclaim the Gospel to them in word and deed.
I think I had about 500 meals at Ken and Floy’s home before I accepted the Gospel message that they communicated to me.
When the Gospel comes with a house key, we put a nail in the coffin of individualism, which is the bedrock of secularism.
Christians don’t throw people away.
Hank and Aimee don’t stop being my neighbour because they have changed address.
These are dark and dangerous times. One of the ways that you can interpret your culture is to use these three principles: You know you are in a revolution when what was formerly despised is celebrated and what was formerly celebrated is now despised and when people who refuse to celebrate are despised.
In the years to come, Christians will find ourselves inhabiting the same situation as the church in early Rome and in these desperate times, Jesus is still leading us. Hospitality is the front line of evangelism.
You are an ambassador for Christ. Your home is not your castle. Your home is an incubator and a hospital for strangers to become neighbours and neighbours to become family of God.
Hospitality is the new face of spiritual warfare.
The Gospel comes with a house key and if it doesn’t then maybe you are not preaching the whole Gospel.