Archives For Love Your Neighbor

Over the past month, many people have heard about my “Jericho Road Moment.” That story is part of a bigger story this year where I’m praying and pursuing God’s kingdom work in my neighborhood and city with renewed initiative and intentionality. Over the past couple months, I’ve been working to gain greater clarity on how to make that happen.

Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into the world and make disciples. I believe, first and foremost, Jesus is speaking of cross-cultural engagement of unreached people groups. The thrust has an expansive, horizontal dimension no doubt. But, I also believe that the making of disciples has a depth dimension as well. Even in “reached” areas of our cities, there are many unreached and unengaged people. Let’s be honest: What percentage of our city is unengaged with the gospel? What percentage of people have any proximity to the kingdom of Christ?

A Helpful Diagnostic to Consider

In my city, we have 165,000 people. The best research I could find is that less than 10,000 belong to any church. That means 155,000+ people need the gospel of Jesus Christ. We dwell in the same city, but for all intents and purposes, they are strangers to me and every other Christian and church. When we are not on mission, the way a church “grows” is by shuffling some of the 10,000 when things don’t work out (transfer growth). It may give the appearance that we are reaching our city with the gospel when in reality we are simply receiving Christians who are either new to the area, or done with their previous church. We are skimming the surface with no missional depth to genuinely engage the city, evangelize the lost, and establish new disciples in the faith.

Here’s a helpful diagnostic to consider. How many non-Christians do you know on a first-name basis? How many of them would consider you a friend? What percentage of your relationship investments is with those who do not know Jesus Christ? How accessible are you to those in your world who do not know God? If the members of our church cannot, off the top of their heads, list 3-5 unbelievers they know, then we have missional atrophy. If the overwhelming percentage of relationship investments of church members are with other Christians, then it has become ingrown. If there are not pathways for pursuing those far from God in our lives, then we have put the Great Commission on the shelf to collect dust.

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Previous on The Quotable Henry:
* On Civic Engagement
* The Calling of the Church
* Having An Evangelical Worldview

“The believer’s personal debt of love to God and his passion for the lost impel him, so that Christian activity transcends the antithesis of spiritual and social service.”

- Carl F. H. Henry, “Perspective for Social Action Part II,” Christianity Today 3 (February 2, 1959): 16.

“Whenever love triumphs at the expense of holiness, whenever love takes the priority over righteousness, we have moved outside the scriptural orbit.”

- Carl F. H. Henry, Aspects of Christian Social Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 169.

“Christian holiness issues no license for the ecstatic enjoyment of the vision of God as a merely private option; rather, it insists that love of God reflects itself in love for neighbor, and enlists men of piety as sacrificial servants of their fellows.”

- Carl F. H. Henry, “Perspective for Social Action Part II,” Christianity Today 3 (February 2, 1959): 16.

“He who withholds love from another because he considers him unworthy removes himself from the love God manifests to us in the gift and death of Christ while we were yet sinners, yea, actually enemies of God.”

- Carl F. H. Henry, “Perspective for Social Action Part II,” Christianity Today 3 (February 2, 1959): 16.

“The compassionate factor in the Christian social thrust, with its eye on the value of the individual, delivers social service from its impersonal tendency to deal with the people as merely so many cases or illustrations of a given complex of circumstances. Social compassion thus holds status as a prime motive and duty of the Church.”

- Carl F. H. Henry, “Perspective for Social Action Part II,” Christianity Today 3 (February 2, 1959): 16.

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My Jericho Moment

Tim Brister —  July 19, 2013 — 14 Comments

After four years of frustration and failure to really engage my community and neighborhood, I began this year with a repentant heart to love my neighbors with greater intentionality. I started a Next Door neighborhood and identified a square mile of my city to be “my neighborhood”. Things started off fairly well, and after a couple of months, I had first-hand knowledge of about 20 neighbors.

As the year unfolded, I began to find myself in a fog with a number of factors (personally and ministerially speaking) contributing to a state of malaise and detachment. It was not until our recent vacation that God used long hours of reflection and prayer to bring clarity and direction to everyday life. One of the first areas I wanted to address was my continual repentance in turning toward (as opposed away) from my neighbors. I asked God to help me re-engage in meaningful ways to make a difference where I live.

Two weeks ago today, I was riding bikes with my son when I look over a tree and saw a large black plume of smoke billowing into the sky. I knew a house was on fire. I rushed my son inside and sped over on my bike to see if I could be of any help. I arrived just as the mother and daughter ran from the house and the fire took over the garage, propelled by several propane tanks. After notifying neighbors to get out of their home, I watched on the street a house go up in flames. It was a crazy sight to see.

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Owning My Own Square Mile

Tim Brister —  January 17, 2013 — 8 Comments

My Block GroupAnd he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Acts 17:26-27

Last week, I talked to you my efforts this year to build a neighborhood in my city through Next Door. This is a heavy burden I have, one that I have not steward very well in the past. The verses above speak about God’s providence, namely that God determines our dwelling places. Have you thought much about that? Yes, you thought you live where you do because of the great deal on the house, the school district, the proximity to work, etc. But in and through all of these secondary causes, there’s a primary cause that you live where you do: God put you there.

And God’s providence is not without God’s purpose.

God’s purpose in Acts 17 is “that they should seek God…and find him.” So let’s put this together. God placed me in this particular plot on planet earth for the purpose that people should seek God and find Him.

And God’s purposes should become the passion of our lives.

If God’s purpose of providentially placing me in the city where I live so that people would seek God and find him, then it ought to be my passion to accomplish that purpose. God has a design. He’s being intentional and purposeful. When I embrace that intentional design, my response should be a passionate embrace and acceptance of the mission.

Simply put: I live where I live so that those without God can find life in Him. What difference would this make if my life really looked like that?

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Next DoorI live in the city of Cape Coral, FL. It’s a fascinating city in many ways. A few years ago, it was one of the top ten fastest growing cities in the United States. More recently, it has held top ranking for highest numbers and percentages of foreclosures and short sales in an area with the worst performing job market of the 100 metropolitan areas of the United States. Cape Coral has massive potential unfortunately ruined with horrible planning. It’s a story that advertises paradise with a much darker reality.

The city is built like a massive grid (see the image above). Only a handful of neighborhoods in the midst of 165,000 people. I would say 90% of the city lives without any communal connections in their immediate geographic context. It wasn’t made to be this way. Cape Coral was to be a bedroom community. Business development was severely discouraged (we don’t have an actual “downtown” or business district). Because it was once swamp land, the developers dug over 400 miles of canals throughout the city (more than any other city in the world). According to Wikipedia, Cape Coral was a “master-planned, pre-plotted community” which means us 165,000 were to fit into a postmodern template where neighborhoods didn’t exist. Because the city expanded so quick with developers, most of the homes don’t have running water or sewage (instead use well water and septic systems), and because there was only a few select neighborhood developments, the majority of the homes are randomly scattered (in my case, I have 13 vacant lots surrounding my house, and an additional 5 foreclosed (empty) homes past that).

The city is much like the boats that line the canals. It is without roots and is about as stable as the water upon which it sits. You are hard pressed to find indigenous folks here with multi-generational roots (the city was started in 1958). There aren’t stories that transcend generations or narratives that shape the culture as a whole. Rather, it is like a jigsaw puzzle. The people moving in are primarily (a) retired couples from the north who have intentions to “snowbird” part of the year and perhaps move down full-time at a later time and (b) Caribbean islanders (Cuban, Haitian, Dominican, etc.) and long with other Hispanic ethnicities migrating from the east coast (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale) looking for work in the blue-collar service industry. Then there’s the investor piece to the puzzle–people who buy property with no intentions on living in the city. So in any given street, the makeup of the community could be:

house 1:  low middle-class full time resident (highly transient due to low-performing economy)
house 2: foreclosed home
house 3: investment home from someone in Europe
house 4: home own by snowbirds in town 3-6 months out of the year
(and in between these homes are numerous vacant lots)

Because there are not roots, it is very unlikely for people to stay. Job security in many cases is determined by your ability to own and operate a small business in the service industry. The moment you get to know someone, you find a UHaul truck in their driveway. On my street, only one of my neighbors has been here longer than I have (four years).

As you can imagine, this journey of dwelling in this city has been a real challenge. At times, I have just waved the white flag and given up on building community. Pessimistically, I envied living in a college town, because you would at least have folks around for four years (or more). Of all the places I have lived, I have become convinced this is the hardest city I have ever lived for the purpose of fostering community and living on mission.

Burnt EmbersBut, this is my mission field, I am renewing my commitment this year to be the best neighbor I can be and positively invest in the welfare of my city. One of the creative ways I’m seeking to do this is through an online platform called Next Door. Throughout this tool, I am gonna try to create a neighborhood where one does not exist and bring those around me together. Here’s a brief overview from Next Door about what they’re about:

Why is this so encouraging to me? Well, it is going to provide me the opportunity to make my neighboring efforts to “stick.” By that I mean, I am going to be able to transcend the current dilemma seen above (house 1, house 2, house 3, house 4) by networking those who are present and interested in helping one another out. I believe it will help me personally know my neighbors so that I can practically serve my neighbors so that I can genuinely love my neighbors.

Here’s another big reason I’m encouraged. People no longer come to their front door. If they do, it is with a shot gun and a threat. You are a stranger and likely a very dangerous one at that. First places (the place of the home) are fortified with fences, security systems, and blinds. However, people are open and actually want community. And they are finding this community through social media and social networking (principally Facebook). So the front door of the 21st century neighborhood is no longer the front door of the house but the social networking invite. That’s how you enter into their lives.

But here’s the difference with Next Door. Those in your online network are actually your REAL neighbors. They are people whose lives you gain access and can actually make investment in the world you are living in. The front door of the virtual world through Next Door has the potential to become the key to unlock the front door of people’s lives (and their homes).

I say potential because I’m just getting started in 2013. My goal is to have 50 neighbors networked together, forming a new neighborhood I’m calling Burnt Embers. It’s an experiment that I hope will become a precedent, perhaps for our city. We need neighborhoods, not just “master-planned, pre-plotted communities”. I’m committed to giving it my best shot, to living incarnationally and on mission so that Jesus would be magnified in my life, my neighborhood, and my city.

For those interested in this kind of thing, I will try to keep you updated. May God help me form a neighborhood where His kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

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