If you live in a neighborhood like I do, you probably have salesmen, solicitors, and people from other religious organizations come by your house on a fairly regular basis. Maybe you hear the doorbell ring and your heart is already racing. Maybe just the thought of a neighbor approaching your house gives you an uneasy feeling. Maybe you have a “no solicitors” sign on your door. Maybe you host weekly dinners with your neighbors. Maybe you know your neighbors’ names. Maybe you hate being bothered. Maybe you love religious debates on your front porch. Maybe you just don’t like people. I don’t know your heart, your motives, your reason for living where you do, or your investment in the people around you.
Last week I could hear someone walking up my front porch stairs, so I quickly went to the door as I was actually trying to hurry my family out the door to get to a baseball game. It was Jake from a local pest control company. He stopped to tell us about his company, and he asked a question I was confident (maybe proudly so) to answer.
“Do you know your neighbors?”
I said, “yes, we know our neighbors” resoundingly.
Trying to hurry this guy’s rehearsed speech along with annoyed body posture, he starts telling me about the Smith family who had severe termite damage and Max who was bitten by a brown recluse and even saw a black widow in his shed. Well, I didn’t and still don’t know who the Smith family is nor do I know who Max is. So I guess I don’t really know all my neighbors. I was also very impatient (hopefully he didn’t notice) with Jake which means for me, as a Christ-follower, I have no where near eclipsed the fullness of the first and second greatest commands and Jesus’ last command.
“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 your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).
I didn’t lie to Jake the bug man. We actually have tried to reach out and invest in some of our neighbors’ lives, and we do know our closest neighbors: Eric and Tori and Richie and Steve and Vicki and Erin and Philip. While I know a little about them, I don’t know them on a deeper level. I don’t know what struggles they are facing, or heart aches they are walking through, or sicknesses their family is dealing with, or promotions they got, or addictions they’ve overcome, or cuisines they like to eat. I know of them, sure, but I don’t know them. And that is what Jesus calls us to do. To do life with our neighbors. To love them deeply as Christ has loved us. To truly know them, not just know of them.
The divide between Christ-followers and the world is visibly more evident today than maybe 10 years ago (though I would argue the divide has and will always be more evident as we grow in our sanctification, our Christ-likeness). But why?
Maybe we can stop blame shifting to the fallen world around us, and start taking the blame ourselves. Christ-followers have built walls around their houses and families in the name of protection and morality, disguising it as being in the world but not of the world. Yet when I read the Bible, Jesus walks beside broken people and provides hope for their weary souls.
In her book “The Gospel Comes with a House Key,” Rosaria Butterfield explains it like this: “Strategic wall building serves only to condemn the world and the people in it” and “betrays our faith as hollow, vapid, and powerless.” Christian lives that are lived isolated from people who are in different socioeconomic brackets, disabilities, races and ethnicities, political parties, age gaps, and sin struggles are certainly not lives that look like Christ.
It’s no wonder unbelievers feel more at home in the world than they do in a congregation of Christians. The world “capitalizes on a deep longing, a powerful desire, a genuine need to belong” and “our lack of Christian hospitality is a violent form of neglect on their souls” (pp. 70-71).
We live in neighborhoods where people are without hope because they don’t know Jesus, and we pull our SUVs into the garage, shut the door, eat a feast with our family, and spend our free time scrolling our iPhone or watching the news only to comment on the miserable status of the world. Let’s wake up. There are broken people next door that need you, and Christ strategically placed you in your residence to be the light of Christ in their lives.
So why the vast divide in our world besides the obvious beast of sin? Have we, people claiming to follow Christ, kept to ourselves and served ourselves? “God calls us to make sacrifices that hurt so that others can be served and maybe even saved” (pg. 42). When I first read that sentence, I had to reread it to make sure it said what I thought it said. And then came the double dose of conviction. Then I read it again. Then I underlined it. Then I dog-eared the book page. Have I been keeping to myself, serving myself, living a relatively convenient life? I don’t even have to think about this. Of course I have. Maybe you have too? “God calls us to make sacrifices that hurt so that others can be served…and maybe even saved!” A gentle rebuke. Read it again.
So while I’m cordial with Eric, Tori, Richie, Steve, Vicki, Erin, and Philip, this is a call for me to make some hard sacrifices in my already over-scheduled day to serve my neighbors, develop a genuine friendship with them, know their struggles and celebrate their victories, allow them to speak their minds and listen with a tender heart, walk their dogs with them, and be a friend we all could use. Most of all, I need to rest in the fact that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice has covered the sin of my neighborly neglect (Colossians 2:13-14) and I can be confident that, as a Christ-follower, I am not condemned for this (Romans 8:1). Tomorrow I can wake up with the promise of new mercies in Christ (Lamentations 3:22-23) and love my neighbors out of the overflow of Christ’s love for me (1 John 4:10-11). All of this for the hope of spending forever worshiping King Jesus in heaven with my earthly neighbors.
Practical ways to connect with your neighbors:
- Holiday-themed goodie basket
- Handwritten notes with your cell number
- Coffee on the porch
- Walk with your dog-owning neighbors
- Set out water dishes for walking dogs at the end of your driveway
- Get on the NextDoor app and send an encouraging message to your neighbors
- Invite them over for dinner
- Bake them cookies
- Be a visible presence in your front yard
About the Author: Renee is the wife of Student Pastor, Mark Young. They have three children, Ezra (2.5), Piper (1.5), and Zoe due in September. She enjoys reading and doing anything outside. She consumes too much coffee and is eager to talk to anyone. Renee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.