Where You Live Matters

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“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” –Acts 16:6-8

Here we read about the kind of connection we need in order to walk in obedience. Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect only missionaries, and not regular Christ-followers, to be so in tune with the Spirit. Most Christians in the west would not fit into the story:

“Rob and Kristine left Phoenix for the Portland area because of Rob’s job transfer. Wanting to feel safe and comfortable, they were drawn to the suburbs. Because Gresham schools were notoriously bad, they moved to Beaverton, and a neighborhood where they got a great deal on a great house.”

For some reason, Christians often use the world’s criteria to make decisions about where to live. The familiar list (cost, square footage, neighborhood, good schools, low crime, return on investment, etc.) is heavily informed by the American Dream and sometimes in conflict with Kingdom values. When we adopt the world’s values, following Jesus is entirely accidental.

That’s not to say that God doesn’t direct His people to move into safe, quiet neighborhoods; He does. I’m also not trying to over-spiritualize the decision-making process. Paul seemed determined to go “where the gospel had not been proclaimed,” and it took supernatural intervention to change his plans.

When believers are faced with a decision about where to live, we need to add a few things to the list of values that go into our decision making process. Three come to mind:

Be a Blessing- Since the first covenant, God’s people are blessed in order that they may be a blessing to others. As we decide where to plant our lives, we need to ask, “Where can I be a blessing?” The truth is, we’re all exiles. Our citizenship is not of this world. Jeremiah 29:7 tells exiles to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” where we live.

Community- The world’s values push us toward isolation. It takes some intentionality to insure contact with neighbors, but our commission is to make disciples, and discipleship is a relationship. Where we live can either help or hinder our efforts to get to know people and build community.

Incarnation- Christ is our model of incarnation. Our role- our very purpose on this earth, is to be meatspace representatives of Jesus. It’s not about showing non-believers how it looks for us to follow Christ; our role as sent-out ones is to model what it would be like for our neighbors if they were to have a relationship with Him. This almost always requires us to give up some of our preferences in order to minimize the differences between us and people in our communities.

If we add these Kingdom values to our decision-making process, they may replace some of the other things on the list. We may end up in a small apartment rather than a big house. We may not get the biggest “bang for our buck.” We may have to tutor our kids to supplement their educations. We may have to learn a new language, develop new habits, or enter a new culture, but isn’t that what missionaries do?

Let’s be mindful of what goes into our decisions about where we live.

More than Words

We spend our efforts trying to convince those around us of the existence of God, when we ought to be searching for effective ways to communicate our relationship to Him. This is only possible through relationship. We know that communication is more than words, and that’s why God’s design makes use of personal human interaction for the communication of the Good News.

The context of the gospel is -must be, personal relationships. God did not send the Word in the form of a tract or a circus-tent revival, because the means affects the message. God sent His son, Jesus, not to give the Good News, but to be the Good News. The essence of the message is not that people can go to heaven, or even that they can receive the free gift of forgiveness; it is that a relationship with God is possible through the person of Jesus. Our human relationships, though they are just shadowy reflections of the holy relationship, establish a framework for us to understand how God relates to us, His creatures. He is indeed a personal God, concerned with every aspect of our lives and actively involved in our personal histories. He knows us intimately, and He so desires that we would know Him, that He has provided the Way for it to be possible.

Though it doesn’t always make the most sense, God chooses to share His plan for redemption through people. Because they are selfish, disobedient, and proud, Humans really aren’t the most efficient or dependable media available. It would be easier for Him to reveal Himself through a massive international press conference, or through internet spam. But these impersonal means lack the key to effective communication of the gospel: relationship. Linguists have for centuries tried to translate certain abstract concepts from one culture into another that has no framework for understanding such a thought. Explaining the concept of patriotism to a person without a country, family to an orphan, or grace to a Mormon would all prove to be difficult- even impossible- apart from a personal interaction by which you could complete the definition through a demonstration of such things.

When Paul (Saul at the time) had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus sent him to meet Ananias and be discipled. Jesus did the convincing and saving, but did not separate it from the context of relationship. So we see that God uses human relationships in the salvation process, as an illustration of His relationship with us. Despite the great value our societies place on independence, and individualism, Human interconnectedness is a beautiful thing. Human relationships, even the natural ones, have built-in accountability, teaching, fellowship, service, and love.