Review: The Gospel Comes with a Housekey

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By: Howard Cole

Book Review — The Gospel Comes with a Housekey: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield

Home. The thought of this soft word conjures up cozy blankets, familiar faces and a place to finally rest. Have you ever been out and about when a familiar fragrance triggers a memory of home? The nostalgic ache can stop you in your tracks.

The human heart longs for home, a place of deep rootedness in a world full of external storms and the constant internal hurricane of fears that threaten to uproot us. Since more and more people are unaffiliated with a Christian church, what if Christians opened up their homes and eagerly practiced hospitality as a way to share the gospel?

When Rosaria Butterfield wrote The Gospel Comes with a Housekey, she opened an inviting door for the reader to walk through and a comfortable chair in which to sit and think about a theology of hospitality.

Why might you want to read it? If you ache to share Jesus with friends that are far from God in a “radically ordinary” way, as Butterfield puts it, then you’d enjoy learning fresh ways to use hospitality to connect others to Christ.

But let the reader beware. Butterfield doesn’t sugar coat the Scripture’s clear command to practice hospitality (c.f. Hebrews 12:1-3 “do not neglect hospitality”). She writes:

Our cold and hard hearts; our failure to love the stranger; our selfishness with our money, our time, and our home; and our privileged back turned against widows, orphans, prisoners, and refugees mean we are guilty in the face of God of withholding love and Christian witness. . . .(61)

Let the reader also be comforted. Butterfield admits her own shortcomings and sin in a raw, revealing manner. Through the use of several stories, she interweaves key Scriptures to show that hospitality is simpler than we think. But don’t be fooled. Though hospitality is simple, the sacrificial love is costly.

Remember that when Jesus returns, he’ll identify who belongs to his family as those who practiced radically ordinary hospitality:

Matthew 25:34-35 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

Where do we get the power to pull off the radically ordinary practice of hospitality? We root our lives in the gospel of grace. Jesus, the hospitality of God, has come to welcome sinners back into the family of God. He became homeless so that we might have a home forever. He was estranged so that we would be called friends of the living God.

How about getting her book and finding a cozy chair in which to relax and receive convicting and comforting truth and grace from her heart to yours?

Patient Under Pressure

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By: Howard Cole

Have you ever wondered why a sick person is called a patient? Patience is the quality of being able to bear adversities with calm endurance when you’re dealt the unasked-for card of misfortune. Maybe the doctor hopes that by calling you a patient, you’ll calmly undergo the needle sticks, invasive questions and that crinkly white paper you sit on while he finds and fixes your ache.

When I get sick I’m rarely patient about the stages of my suffering. Are any of us? Where did we dig up the word patient? Patience is rooted in the French word pacience which means permission and the Latin word patientia which means submission.

Uggh. The last thing I want to do when I have pain and suffering is permit and submit to the distress and disease. But the other day when I was scanning a section of Scripture from the book of James, my distaste for patience shifted in a submissive kind of way. Here’s what it said:

Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5:7-8

This passage invites our imagination to watch a farmer waiting patiently for his precious fruit. From soil to seed to sunshine to showers the farmer waits and waits and waits. He spends no time on magic solutions or immediate gain.

Can you see him going out at the beginning of the season and tilling the hard clods of dirt and clearing rocks from dawn to dusk? Can you see him plowing row after parallel row, the long ditches that will receive the seeds he tosses into their valleys? Can you see the seeds buried and still and silent in the dark, cold earth as they mysteriously die and then resurrect sending down roots? Can you see the seeds struggle to shoot stems up through the soil seeking for sunshine and showers of rain?

James summons us to see how the farmer waits patiently for the payoff. Oranges and apples and peaches and plums are right around the corner and yet he must wait until God gives two things.

Until. The word both halts my hurry and hastens my hope. The farmer must wait for a specified time when water falls freely from the heavens. The early rains in Palestine begin in October but the latter rains don’t arrive until March or April.

The vulnerable farmer has no lever to pull or button to push. He must simply wait. Some of the showers will come early in the way of waiting. But many showers will wait longer and arrive much later. When the fruit-seeking farmer permits and submits his heart to God’s time frame, he is framed as God’s portrait of patience. His hope of the harvest more than compensates for the pain of the past.

I once heard a farmer say “I’d rather fail at what matters than succeed at what doesn’t.” I sense that this farmer has been seasoned by mixed spans of failure and success but what mattered most was the golden fruit.

What if we waited like a farmer for the Lord to come into our season of suffering and accepted not only the immediate, early showers but the later ones too? What if the next time we are wounded by a hurtful word or whacked hard by a disappointment, we waited for the will and wisdom of God to bear fruit? Can you see and taste the life-giving fruit promised only to the patient?

May I Have Your Attention Please

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By: Howard Cole

Book Review: Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble

Imagine having a friend who was dying from a disease. One day you heard the good news that a cure for her disease had been found. Better yet, it was being offered for free!

You try to call her but her voicemail is full. You try to text her, but for some reason your phone would not deliver your text. You rush over to her home and bang on the outside of her doors and windows but she refuses to acknowledge your presence. You desperately want to speak saving truth to your friend but your message won’t get through.

Alan Noble tackles the barrier Christians run into when they attempt to speak truth to unbelievers in a distracted age.

Noble is assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. His book Disruptive Witness asserts that we live in an age of constant distraction where many are also oblivious to the transcendent, eternal story of Christianity.

Have you ever heard the old Chinese proverb “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish?” A fish has never lived outside its watery environment, it has no experience or language to describe its normal environment, and so it has no means to convey what it takes for granted. Noble claims the same can be true for us.

For Noble two major trends merge together to create our current cultural environment. Awareness of these trends can enable Christians to disrupt the communication barrier between them and those whom they wish to share the story of Christ.

Those two trends are:

1) the practice of continuous engagement in immediately gratifying activities that resist reflection and meditation, and

2) the growth of secularism, defined as a state in which Christianity is seen as one of many viable choices for human fullness and satisfaction, and in which the transcendent feels less and less realistic

To put it more bluntly: We are both distracted and secular. Once this harmful combination is understood, it can be addressed and the message of Christ can reach those we love.

The book is broken down into two parts.

Part one develops and defends his diagnosis of our cultural climate.

Part two offers multiple ways to disrupt current cultural currents with specific personal, church and cultural habits.

Noble describes his own struggle with distraction in order to challenge the false assumption that our unbelieving friends are actually aware and attentive to the story of God.

“Sufficient to the workday are the anxieties and frustrations thereof. And so, when I need a coffee or bathroom break, I’ll use my phone to skim an article or “Like” a few posts. The distraction is a much-needed relief from the stress of work, but it also is a distraction. I still can’t hear myself think. And most of the time I really don’t want to. When I feel some guilt about spending so much time being unfocused, I tell myself it’s for my own good. I deserve this break. I need this break. But there’s no break from distraction.”

What I liked best about Noble’s suggested disruptive practices was that he didn’t offer strategies, gimmicks or programs. Instead they were ordinary things like praying with your friends and family before a meal and participating in your church’s liturgy. By praying you defy distraction by attending to God and giving him gratitude. By entering into the liturgy during worship (and putting your cell phone in your pocket!) you simultaneously disrupt distraction with focus and reflection while entering the transcendent realm.

If you want to discover how to disrupt the distracted, secular trance of those you love with the truth of the gospel, go ahead and read this book. By focusing and devoting time to sustained thinking, Sabbath and silence, distraction can be disrupted with reflection.

The Rarest Resolutions

Christmas has come and gone which means that New Years is practically here and, with it, will come an abundance of looking back - and looking forward. I fall strictly into the category of people who do NOT make resolutions. I am too much of a pirate for resolutions. Do you remember that scene in the first Pirates of the Caribbean when Elizabeth boards the Black Pearl, making demands based on the Pirate Code, and Captain Barbossa responds with “the code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules”? Yes, well, that’s me.