Blake and I lived in our first house for five years. I loved that house. I loved the yard. I loved the double deck. And most of all, I loved the proximity to Target. I wish with all my heart that I could tell you that I loved our neighbors. I didn’t not love them. I’m sure they were probably very lovable. I just didn’t know them. I could tell you the names of the families that lived in three houses on our street – the house to our right and the two to our left. Five years of evening walks… five years of cooking out on our double deck… five springs of yard work… and that was all I had to show for it.
When the time came to move, to say that I was saddened would be an understatement. I was truly broken by how unaltered our neighbors lives would be by my absence. Blake did a much better job with our neighbors then me, but we vowed that next time it would be different.
The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos. Phileo means “brotherly love” and xenos is another word for “strangers.” So “brotherly love for strangers” is essentially what hospitality means.
Our family has always loved to use hospitality as a way to get to know people better, filling our table or couches with friends. But were we truly exercising the ministry of hospitality to the full extent of its meaning? Our first home had seldom served as a place that we invited in people we didn’t know.
So Blake and I did what I’m sure many of you have done when you moved: we began to pray for our neighbors before we even met them. We walked the neighborhood and prayed for open hearts. It became clear to us rather quickly that the Lord had given us a circle full of people starving for time and attention – but not necessarily the gospel.
Romans 12:20 – To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
The book Practicing Hospitality says, “The method of hospitality varies according to the need of the individual” (55). So we decided that we were going to give them what they needed: Time. Attention. Love.
We moved into our current house the first week of January 2016. Once the weather warmed up, we had a cookout and invited the 20 homes that had been finished so far. I printed off cheap invites, kept the menu basic, and let them bring things if they asked. We grilled burgers for the sake of the gospel.
Later that year in December, we invited about 50 homes to a Cookies and Milk Holiday Open House. We served different types of cookies (several of which were store bought), big pitchers of milk, and LOTS of conversation! We met about eight families we had never had contact with before! We scrubbed our toilets and spent a few hours visiting with people we had never met for the sake of the gospel!
One of our neighbors moved in just before she was scheduled to have a major surgery. The first time I met her was a few days after as her husband brought her home from the hospital. We took them a meal the next day and learned weeks later that our meal was the only one anyone took to them. And I don’t just mean from our neighborhood. So we learned that sometimes you have to double your dinner recipe for the sake of the gospel.
Our freezer is known for being full of popsicles. They aren’t the expensive, all natural, organic ones. They are the cheap ones. But these kids don’t care! When it’s hot and their cheeks have turned red and their heads are wet with sweat, they crowd on our patio and we serve popsicles for the sake of the gospel.
Last summer, we checked out our church’s outdoor movie screen and projector. It fit perfectly in our smallish backyard and we laid out lots of towels for families to sit on. We had popcorn and juice boxes and sat through a cartoon for the umpteenth time for the sake of the gospel.
A few days ago, we sent out invitations for a little summer kickoff bash at our home in a few weeks. We will serve watermelon and bottled water and those cheap popsicles we hoard in our freezer. And we will stand outside, dripping in sweat, and visit… for the sake of the gospel.
Mark 12:29-31 – Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all you strength. The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater then these.”
Blake is so much better at this than I am. He naturally participates in conversations with our neighbors without being distracted by our five children running wild in the yard. But I am trying. I am trying to love my neighbors well. I don’t enjoy time outside. I’d rather sit on a couch than a plastic patio chair, and I’d rather light a candle in my kitchen than a citronella one to keep the bugs away. But I’m not sure my neighbors would guess that because we spend an enormous amount of time outside, just making ourselves visible and available. If I see a momma outside, I try to drop what I am doing and head outside. We are very open about what Blake does. We have invited them to church. We will offer rides to kids for VBS. We pray for them when they share about difficult circumstances. Blake even got to pray with a neighbor recently. We feel that the Lord has called us to this home for years, so we are just moving forward slow and steady. We don’t want them to think that we view them as people to fill our pews at church, but people that we love and care about and enjoy. We still want to be their friends, even if they don’t come to church with us! If they run in the opposite direction every time they see us coming, then the door is closed for us to invest in them with even these most basic things.
This house… this house is pretty perfect. We picked a floor plan that worked for our family of 7. We have a smaller yard that has proven to be the perfect size. You can spot deer in our backyard if you wake early enough. I love this house. But do you know what I have grown to love more than our home? Our neighbors have turned out to be our friends.
Luke 19:5-7 – And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Aren’t we all? Sinners, I mean. The only difference is some of us are sinners that don’t love Jesus, and some of us are sinners that do. May we be sinners that love Jesus and love people.