Network Blog

Would You Consider Opening Your Home?

My greatest incentive to cleaning and decorating during the holidays? Why, having friends and family over, of course!

The other night my husband and I went door to door passing out 41 invitations to each house on our street for my annual Ladies’ Christmas Tea. I usually have this on a Friday morning a few weeks before Christmas.

This year we are in a new neighborhood but, already I’ve heard from several neighbors who are excited about getting together. We’re exchanging “favorite books” this year and the women are talking amongst themselves as to what their favorite book has been and who might like their book. One of my neighbors told me this morning how grateful she is that we are all gathering together as new neighborsand even more importantly, as new friends.

Our other neighborhood tradition is hosting a Holiday Open House. (And we’ve intentionally chosen to call it a “Holiday” Open House as we’ve had several Jewish families join us over the years. We’re certainly not “anti-Merry Christmas” but we want to include as many friends and neighbors as we can.)

We’ve hosted these two gatherings for many years and the Open House is one of my children's favorite traditions. Everyone contributes in some way. Whether it’s helping to bake or clean, making place cards for the food, sharing their toys with other children, or greeting guests at the door, everyone gets to participate.

We invite everyone we know to come, including neighbors, co-workers, friends from past duty stations who now live nearby, church friends, gym buddies, the kids’ school friends and their families, cashiers we’ve met at local stores, the mail carrier, the office workers at places we frequent, etc. (Keeping these thoughts in mind: there are many other events going on so not everyone we invite will be able to attend, but they will feel special having been invited. We set the time for a two-hour block – the amount of work it takes to clean your home and open your doors is the same for a few friends as it is for lots of friends; you might as well make the most of your time and invite lots!)

We bake/prepare 5 or 6 food items (think super easy: meatballs in the crockpot, cookies, crackers with a cheese ball, mini quiches, pretzels with dip. Costco is a lifesaver here!) On our invitation we let friends know they’re welcome to bring a favorite finger food to share. A few will be relieved they can come and not have to bring something while the majority are happy to bring a dish. We usually have much more food than we would ever need.

One of my fondest memories is after everyone has left and we, as a family, sit around and talk about the people we are privileged to know and love. We talk about observing the different conversations that took place, the friends we knew in Norway who were in a lively conversation with the single mom who lives next door to us, the letter carrier who didn’t know anyone, but who left with the name and phone number of a church member who’s invited them to church next Sunday.

We recount God’s faithfulness to us and are grateful for the privilege of simply inviting friends and neighbors in and watching Him work.

This season, would you consider opening your home to even a few friends and neighbors? Inviting “everyone you know” may sound intimidating to you, but what if you invited the neighbors on either side and perhaps the ones across the street?

It’s not too late to write out a few invitations and get them out. And if your calendar is full, consider an “After Christmas Open House” in January, when things quiet down and people still need to feel appreciated and loved. 

Michele Husfelt serves as a ministry assistant for NorthStar Church Network and heads up our Neighboring Initiative. 

PLEASE (don't) SHUT UP

In my view, one of the problems with our Euro-American church model is that we have too many sleepy heads nodding in the affirmative on a Sunday morning! Most of us have probably experienced what almost amounted to a Sunday morning sleep-in that seemingly only got interrupted by the sound of someone who suddenly had a sneezing fit. Rarely does the preacher upset the place with thinking that triggers spirited conversations among members, and I think in the end, that’s probably not a good thing. Jesus routinely upset both religious and non-religious folk with propositions that required conversation. Most of us know the Word well enough to immediately think of instances when folk got down right upset over something Jesus said.
 
On a recent cool December day, NorthStar’s Annandale site filled up with preachers and lay leaders who were there for a symposium on Race, and not long after it started, the temperature started rising because beautiful members of the body of Christ started verbalizing differing perspectives. In summary, the issue was this: one perspective was that Racism is actually a social and secular construct and the church ought not buy into how the world defines racism because racism is actually only a symptom of SIN (and ultimately, sin is the real issue that needs to be addressed). The other perspective was that we should not quickly bottom line sin, but instead people need to be called out for their racist behavior even though they may not see or understand the sin angle. Furthermore, a conversation needs to specifically address the hurt, pain and injustices that accompany racists' behavior and attitudes that frankly also raise their gnarly, ugly heads in churches just as they do in other venues in life.
 
I completely loved the spirited conversation, first because we so seldom allow ourselves to have spirited debate because we often don’t understand that unity doesn’t need to insist on total agreement. Secondly, I loved the spirited conversation that ricocheted around the four walls of NorthStar’s conference space because those who were in the minority by way of their perspective, felt they were free to express it and they were heard. While there were moments I felt the perspectives could fit an ocean between them, at other moments I felt we just might be closer to a point of fundamental agreement than we may have realized.
 
Some years ago when God summoned me to plant a church, one of our leaders came up with the idea of doing a post service debrief (to start 5 minutes after service ended) with everybody who wanted to comment on the sermon (pro or con) and/or desired to ask me questions about it. I did it for a couple of Sundays, but then it petered out. The reason I felt bad that it quickly petered out was because (in my view) it either signified that my sermons were not kicking up quite enough dust to warrant further analysis and conversation, or perhaps people were not yet at the level where they felt comfortable challenging or asking the pastor to further explain a sermonic comment or thought.
 
Sometime talking takes courage, but it also encourages a needed exchange of listening and contemplation. Let’s not be afraid of tough conversations, because when we’re afraid, it necessarily means we perpetuate “rug sweeping,” and stuff that gets swept under the rug rarely gets to see the light of day and the possibility of revelation. So we should ask, “Are we a people who have chicken hearts that are afraid to have earnest conversations where there may be differing perspectives? Do we care enough about the BIG issues to invest exploration that could possibly lead us to enough of a unified front to actually do something? Will we sit in the spoiled diaper of inaction and DO NOTHING to address the very important issue of how minorities and other disenfranchised people are treated in the world and in our churches? Will we look away, and stubbornly accept the status quo of Sunday morning being the most segregated hour of the week? Can---- We---- Talk?" Email me at  to join me in the conversation.

Randy Haynes is a consultant on staff with NorthStar Church Network, focusing on issues of racism, diversity, and reconciliation.

Posted by Randy Haynes with

The Ultimate Gift Exchange

One of the first presents under our Christmas tree this year is wrapped in a bag with the word “Believe” written across it. Every time I look at the bag, I wonder what do we REALLY believe about Christmas? Who or what are we celebrating this year?

Although we say Christmas is about Jesus and our intention is to celebrate His birth, our actions can often give us a different perspective of reality. Sometimes, somewhere between intention and action, our focus can change.

Without even realizing it, we can get caught up in the “have-to” dynamics of the season. We feel we have to get the tree up and the house decorated. We have to buy gifts for family and friends and bake goodies for colleagues and neighbors. We have to wrap presents, attend concerts and plan parties. We have to order cards, print letters and box and ship packages. We have to purchase Christmas Eve dresses for our little girls and darling sweater outfits for our little boys, in addition to the brand new pajamas for our children to wear on Christmas morning as they unwrap their brand-new toys.

All of this we say we do in celebration of Jesus and His birth.

Yet, Jesus was never about the “have-to.” In fact, He was all about the “don’t-have-to.” We don’t have to worry, fear or doubt. We don’t have to hunger or thirst. We don’t have to feel condemned, ashamed or guilty. We don’t have to walk in darkness, wander aimlessly or wonder if we will ever measure up or be good enough. We don’t have to, at all or anymore, because of Jesus.

His was the ultimate gift exchange. He came into the world, showed us a different way to live and offered His life for our sins. But it didn’t end there. He came back—to let us know the price is paid, and He’s still around.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, He gave us a second part to the gift. Without us having to clean up or dress up, He sent His Spirit into the darkness of our lives to bring light and order to His new dwelling place. And there He resides today with each of His believers—guiding us to make better choices, letting us experience His peace and filling us with His joy.

Jesus’ birth ultimately made it possible for us to become dwelling places of the Almighty God. It doesn’t get any better than that! This is what I want to celebrate!

As we prepare for Christmas this year, I invite you to join me in discovering ways we can intentionally celebrate Christ, and not become overwhelmed with the "have-tos." I pray we will all find rest in the ultimate gift exchange.

Posted by Katie Harding with
Tags: christmas

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