Priesthood In Your Neighborhood

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Key to our theology of place is that we understand that we are priests. No, not the kind who wear robes or back suits with funny collars, but the kind mentioned in 1 Peter 2:9:

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

While Christ is the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), we act as mediators between God and the unbelievers we live among until they meet Him. We often think of our personal ministry as being to people across town (or around the world), but where we live matters. We must focus some of our attention on those we live among. Seeing ourselves in this light could radically affect how we interact with our neighbors.

A priest speaks on behalf of God to his neighbors. As His ambassadors, we are God’s spokespeople. When we speak and act on God’s behalf in our neighborhoods, we demonstrate that we are in Christ, are filled with His Spirit, and are familiar with His Word.

Some examples of speaking for God into the lives of our neighbors:

  • The gospel- “And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:14)
  • Wisdom- Through conversation, we can speak timely Biblical wisdom into a person’s life.
  • Warning- When we see a neighbor headed in a dangerous direction, we are obligated to warn them.
  • Peace- as agents of peace, we may speak peace (Luke 10) to troubled people.

On the other hand, as priests, we speak to God on our neighbors’ behalf. As people who have access to the Father through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18), we can intercede for those who live around us.

  • Prayer/intercession- We can always make our needs (Philippians 4:6) known to God. But we may also pray for mercy, grace, guidance, and forgiveness for our neighbors.
  • Thanksgiving- Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights (James 1:17). We can thank him on our neighbor’s behalf!
  • Worship- while I don’t believe in worship by proxy, I can’t help but remember God’s conversation with Abraham in Genesis 18, where He agreed to show mercy to a city if only one faithful person could be found. Our obedience may be more significant for our neighbors than we realize.

The funny thing is that when we act like priests, people begin to treat us like priests. They invite us to events because they feel that our presence somehow makes a thing sacred. They confess their sin to us, because doing so gives them a taste of God’s comfort for sinners. They come to us with questions, because we regularly demonstrate ourselves to be well-acquainted with the Truth. Our words take on extra weight, our reputation is of love, and our faith a welcome constant.

Ultimately, as priests, our role is to be a blessing. To bless something is to ascribe spiritual value to something. When we bless those around us, we point them to the Most High God. Like Abraham, we have been blessed to be a blessing. How can we intercede and mediate for those around us?

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.