D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if a Christian moved out of their neighborhood and no one felt a sense of loss, he wondered if that person was ever legitimately saved? Strong words, I know, but sobering.
Our family is settling into our new Northern California neighborhood, and all that comes with it—meeting new neighbors, figuring out grocery stores and vetting potential barbers. Amidst all the newness plays an old familiar question in our souls as we walk the sidewalks, “How can we bring the kingdom to this rustic neighborhood populated by old Victorian homes?” Of course this question leads to another more essential one, “What exactly is the kingdom?”
Jesus shows us in Matthew 9:35, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” In this one verse, we see the kingdom is both preaching AND healing; it addresses the physical AND the spiritual; the body AND the soul.
We Christians have made this simple, comprehensive question of the kingdom so complex and messy. Someone once said the mark of brilliance is the ability to make the complex simple. Well, if that’s true, then the mark of idiocy is the ability to make the simple complex. Historically, the church hasn’t been too bright. During the fundamentalist/modernist split of the early 20th century, the fracture took place over this very question of the kingdom with one side saying it’s essentially preaching, and the other countering with the kingdom being more about the body and issues of justice and care. During the civil rights movement, it was the church who marched in the streets, standing up against injustice, and it was the church who sat in the pews, at the same time, listening to truth and giving altar calls for people to get saved. A few years ago, there were some aspects of the church who were content to sit in bars, smoking a cigar and dropping a few expletives in jest as they took a break from reading the latest Brian McLaren book to form community with “pre-Christians.” While at the same time, hoards of Christians chose the cognitive route, rediscovering Calvin, and trying (and mostly failing) to make their way through his Institutes.
What is the kingdom?
As is often the case, Jesus presents us a third way, a way not marked by an either/or scenario, but a both/and posture. The Jesus of the gospels would’ve called people to repentance in church on Sunday, then jetted out the back door to march for voter rights in Selma. Jesus would go to the backyard party over my neighbor’s house, miraculously cause cases of the best wine to appear, blessing everyone there, and then proceed to preach an extemporaneous sermon inviting people into the joy of the kingdom.
Body and soul. Physical and spiritual. Feeding and proclaiming. This is the kingdom.
So what does it mean for us to bring the kingdom to our neighborhood? A few thoughts come to mind:
1. Mindful. I need to be mindful that God has planted our family on that block for a much bigger reason than a good investment, or safety and security. What if God wants us to be the chaplains of our street? I need to be mindful of this.
2. Presence. The house we bought doesn’t have a garage, and I’m kind of glad about that. It makes it much easier to interact with our neighbors. Already our family has taken long walks, and on the way we’ve met some people and had some great conversations. There’s just something about being out among the people. Jesus modeled this well.
3. Seek. What if Korie and I started to seek for tangible ways to bless others in our neighborhood? Gifts. Invitations. Cookouts. Help. All of this is in the category of Jesus healing and feeding.
4. Pray. While we’re helping to get the mail of our neighbors who’ve left town for a week, why not pray for them and others that God would save their souls.
5. Proclaim. Picking up mail is part of bringing the kingdom, but to do so without proclaiming how their deepest needs are met in the person of Jesus Christ is only half the story. Yes we need to be careful here. We don’t want to do the old bait and switch and make people feel as if our kindness is setting them up for a punch line. But people need to hear the good news. I want my street to come to know Jesus. How can they come to believe without hearing?
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