by Wye Huxford
A few weeks ago I picked up a book off my shelf that I had forgotten I had. Written by Leroy Barber,New Neighbor is a collection of essays about life in the kingdom that spur one to think more seriously about what it means to be a kingdom outpost on behalf of the gospel.
One essay in particular seemed especially pertinent to the current discussion in our culture about justice, peace, and all the other issues that have been elevated to the front burner of the stove on which our public consciousness simmers.
The title of the essay is "Where is the church?" and here are a few of the more thoughtful lines.
"The church has lost its place in the heart of the neighborhood and not many people seem to care. What used to be the center of the community is now an afterthought to most people, if a thought at all." Or what about this one: "All my great ideas and intellect can't hide this heart polluted by mean thoughts, rotten attitudes and misplaced pride. If not held accountable, this heart will think and do any number of unpleasant things. Jesus gives life for my garbage. His innocent blood was shed for me and all the guilty."
The essay concludes with this idea: "The church is to follow the example of Christ: the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. Jesus didn't retreat from the hostile world around Him. He moved into our neighborhood."
Who among us hasn't memorized John 3:16 at some point in life? For me, it was the "verse of the week" the first week of second grade at the public elementary school I attended. I realize that we don't do that in public school anymore, but still suspect that if there is a verse in the Bible our culture seems to know about, it is this one.
I memorized it decades ago and have repeated it hundreds of times, but it took a long time for me to notice the phrase "the world." It is so easy to hear that verse and think "the world" means people like me. Yet for John, the phrase "the world" generally means the whole universe; and in more narrowly defined confines, "the world" as in those not on God's side. Apparently the essayist noted above is thinking as Jesus thought when he says, "Jesus didn't retreat from the hostile world around Him. He moved into our neighborhood."
People like Gabe Lyons and David Kinnamon have demonstrated the truth of what so many of us feel to be true - the church has little voice in our culture. Relegated to the status of irrelevant, few of the movers and shakers in our culture are prone to ask the church about important social issues - whether it is abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriages, justice, and peace. It is challenging to transform the world with the gospel when the world has viewed us as irrelevant.
Yet "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. . ." As kingdom people called to do kingdom things in our lives in kingdom outposts all over the world, the gospel continues to call us to transform the world.
Somehow we have to figure out how to change our status from "afterthought if thought about at all" to "center of the community." Perhaps the first step to accomplishing that will be to move the "front burner" outside the church kitchen and onto a neighborhood street corner where the sweet aroma of peace in Christ can infiltrate the neighborhood in a life-changing manner.