Moving into My Own Neighborhood.
I’ve been reading through the gospel of John.
At the Western Area Regional Ministerium this year, our speaker, Michael Frost, author of Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post Christian Culture, suggested that we read the gospels over and over so we can learn Jesus.
The idea makes sense to me; if we are to become like Jesus, we should try to get a picture of who he was, what he did and why he did it. So I’m reading and trying to pay close attention to what Jesus does, why he does it, who he seeks out, and how he responds to the people he encounters.
I only made it halfway through the first chapter and I’ve already encounter some problems. Verse 14 says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (NRSV). Jesus didn’t just make an appearance on Earth to keep his appointment on the cross; he moved into the neighborhood, pitched his tent alongside ours—whatever sermon metaphor you remember, Jesus came to Earth to step into our lives with us.
But it doesn’t stop there. Verse 16 adds that, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (NRSV). Jesus did not just come to forgive us. He actually came to add grace to our live. He came not just to take something away from us (our sin) but to add grace (value) to our lives.
The man across the street from us has two large dogs over which he has no control. He often takes them with him when he runs errands. Every time he opens gate so he can put them in the car, they charge barking and growling through the open gate to our house and terrorize our dogs through our own fence.
Trying to be like Jesus, we have not turned him into animal control. We’ve chosen to talk directly to him—we’ve forgiven him. But according to Jesus that’s not enough. If I want to be like Jesus, I not only need to forgive him, tolerate his trespasses against me, and then keep my distance, I need to step into his life with him. I need to add grace to his life.
The neighbor behind us used to fight with his wife, loudly enough for most of the neighborhood to hear, nearly every weekend. She left him quite a while ago. Now, when the weather is nice enough, he sits by a fire pit in his back yard, which borders ours, and commiserates with a friend until the wee hours of the morning. The later the hour and more drunk they get, the louder and more adamant their commiseration becomes.
I close our bedroom window and let them complain. Sometimes I even pray for them as I lie there (what a good Christian I am). But I don’t know their names—I don’t know anything about them other than what I’ve heard across the fence. According to John I’m not being like Jesus. According to Jesus, I haven’t even moved into my own neighborhood.
How do I move into my own neighborhood? How do I add grace to the people who live around me?
I confess, at this point I don’t have the answers, but I want to learn. That is going to be my goal over the next couple of months. As I learn and grow, I’ll share it with you in future articles.
If you’re struggling with similar lessons and circumstances, let me know. Maybe we can learn together.