Bringing Stranger Danger Home
By Mark Russell

Last week while Zaira attended the PCA women’s conference, I took Joanna to the nearby park down the street. (I was coming down with a bad case of cabin-fever that day and just had to get outside.) Strollering the baby around the concrete walking path of the park has many holistic aspects to it. I get some exercise, the baby gets to see new sights and hear fresh sounds, we get to do an enjoyable activity together, and I get to feel social by my close proximity to other park goers… well, up to a point. I’m not sure if everyone feels this way, but I have spoken about this phenomenon with others who share similar sentiments. What I’m talking about is that moment when you’re walking down the path and you spot another person also walking on the path, except…*gasp*, they are walking towards you! Anxiety sets in. I become aware of sweat beading between the palms of my hands the handles of the stroller. My mind begins to race, “Quick, run a calculation. Optimize the distance at which to make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact too soon, because that would be weird…no scratch that, just look straight forward and ignore them…no you can’t do that, you’re not wearing headphones! Oh I know, how about just a ‘Hi, how are you?’, but act surprised so it doesn’t appear premeditated. A ‘Good afternoon.’ works too, just don’t try to sound too formal. Ok, here they come… hold your breath and count to three.” Stranger Danger.

What began as a health-promoting, baby-strollering, socializing park jaunt just turned into a series of deeply complex mental calculations designed to mask the cracks in my humanity[1] resulting in the paradox of wanting to be social, but afraid to be known. On one hand it’s terrifying if someone knows the truth about you but does not love you, and on the other hand, it’s superficial if someone loves you but does not know the truth about you.[2] This is one of the more remarkable features of church fellowship: we are thrown into a worshipping community with people who we do not know, yet we are commanded to walk in truth with them (3 John 3). Having received this gift of life together in the church, we are called by Jesus to share this life together with our neighbors (read: strangers!) In other words, if you desire the courage and ability to be hospitable to strangers and blow up the myth of stranger danger, you must first immerse yourself in God’s hospitality towards you[3]. This is what I will focus on with my remaining words.

How is God is hospitable towards you?

“Remember”, writes Paul, “that you were at that time separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12) You will never appreciate God’s hospitality if you do not understand that you are a pretty bad neighbor to God. Perhaps our functional definition of a good neighbor is simply a neighbor who minds their own business and keeps to themselves. Left to ourselves, we would prefer to remain strangers and be unknown to God’s loving embrace. But Jesus is the neighbor who barges into your home to bring salvation (Lk 19:9) because he loves you (1 Jn 4:10). You avert eye contact, but Jesus holds a loving gaze (Jn 1:48). You exchange weather reports, Jesus discerns your thoughts (Lk 9:47). Jesus has brought you into his church where you who once were far off, but have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13). He has created a church where life is lived “together in the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Spirit” (2 Cor 13:14). Do you see yourself as that stranger in the park? If so, Jesus invites you into his house for the deepest fellowship you will know in this life.

How does God’s hospitality turn your heart to him?

God’s love exposes us for the poor neighbors we are. It reveals to us that we wish God would just mind his own business. But now, being admitted to the Lord’s table and brought into his dwellings (Lk 16:9), we savor and experience God’s welcoming and grace towards us. This fellowship is only found in Jesus in whom “we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you [the church], so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”. (1 Jn 1:3). Do you see the pattern here? God fellowships with us in grace and hospitality and therefore we are a community that must be marked by extending hospitality towards those in our lives.

I am afraid that many of us are living the lie that a good, Las Vegas neighbor is a person who keeps to himself. I am afraid that many of us live out of the twin fears inadequacy and insecurity rather than the welcoming and hospitality we have received from Jesus. Are you found wanting? I know I am. But take heart – though our sin of ignoring our neighbor is fatal and polluting, Jesus has washed us and brought us into his house. Though we impoverish and neglect our neighbors in our selfishness, Jesus feeds us with his very own body at his table. Take a moment to listen to Jesus’ words to the weary, immerse yourself in the washing he gives your dirty heart, feed on the nourishing grace that comes from his resurrected life. Enter his divine hospitality by putting deep roots into the life of his body, the church. [4]

Extending divine hospitality

The gospel of Jesus takes visible shape in your hospitality. The apostle John teaches us that word and talk are not the sum of the Christian life. He writes “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:18). As the truth of Christ is inseparable from the deeds of Christ our witness to our next door neighbors, coworkers, employees, or marginalized church members is never to be considered apart from actually loving them, chiefly marked by showing hospitality[5]. This commanded to be hospitable is for all of us, but especially for the men and elders of the church.[6]

I cannot give you a detailed action plan for what hospitality looks like in your life. For me, it’s sometimes looked like inviting folks on my street over for dinner or parties. For a single man I spoke with this week, it’s allowing an impoverished coworker to live with him and do work around his house.  I have heard of many spouses who cannot use their home for hospitality instead use coffee shops to practice hospitality. In Jesus’ day, hospitality included greeting, foot-washing, and feeding. At a minimum, hospitality is doing all you can to encourage, feed, and comfort strangers. This is how the early church grew so rapidly – it was too dangerous to preach the gospel openly. Did you know that deacons had to stand at the church doors to make sure no government spies entered?! Yet the church still grew.[7]

If you have experienced the hospitality of Christ, what good reason is there for not extending this hospitality to others? What if Spring Meadows was known for not only how the members love one another, but for how this love for one another translates to loving strangers? Sometimes I wonder if we should stop focusing on getting people into our church, but focus on getting them into our life and see what happens. Christ has not invited us into a sterile living room as his honorable guests to experience a pinterest-perfect place setting.  Christ barged into your messy heart that needs to feed on him by faith every day, and by his word, washing, and feeding, he has equipped you to engage in his divinely ordained strategy for bringing strangers into the household of God by bringing them into your life. As the park saga showed me, I’m afraid of strangers, but the gospel saga shows me that Christ is not afraid to call me his brother despite once being a stranger.

Love,

Mark Russell

[1] This phrase I read from RUF minister Sammy Rhodes. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/excerpt-dont-waste-your-awkwardness

[2] Tim Keller comments in The Meaning of Marriage, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.”

[3] It needs to be said, especially in a city that has the nation’s best “hospitality program” at its local university, what whatever you think hospitality means, the Bible probably disagrees with you. See Isa 58:6-7 – I doubt that teaching receives its own course at UNLV.

[4] This phrase is found in Chapter 13 of Kelly Kapic’s For God So Loved, He Gave.  I love this book, and this article is deeply indebted to the thoughts contained in its pages.

[5]Again, according to Kapic, ‘The most common form of generosity in the New Testament was showing hospitality to others in private homes.’

[6] Ro 12:13; 1 Pe 4:9; 1 Ti 3:2, 5:10; Tt 1:8.

[7] Alan Kreider, “‘They Alone Know the Right Way to Live’: The Early Church and Evangelism,” in Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future, as cited in Center Church.

 

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