Have you had some weird neighbors? Have you been a weird neighbor to someone else?
I’ve been both! I bet you have, too. And the Bible has some weird neighbors in back to back chapters. One of my favorite set of surprising Bible neighbors are the woman at the well in John 4 and Nicodemus in John 3. You would be hard pressed to find two more opposite people anywhere. Man/Woman. Rich/Poor. Connected/Abandoned. Respected/Outcast. Jew/Samaritan. Powerful/Powerless. Night/Day. These are worlds apart and yet Jesus reaches them because He listens to their heart.
My Heartlight.org article, Strange Neighbors, is about this today. But even more, this whole thing has been on my heart since Monday morning. This strange neighbor combo that John gives us convicts me to my core. “How many folks who seem unlikely to respond to the message have I summarily dismissed?” I ask myself. Deep in my heart, I know that if God can turn the early church’s greatest persecutor into its greatest missionary (like God did with Saul/Paul), then what can he do with folks that I don’t think will ever respond to God’s invitation of grace?
In addition, as I try to speak and write to people on a regular basis, I find myself repeatedly in the shearing forces of extending grace to those who need it and calling people to holiness who know God demands it. It is a razor’s edge to walk and talk and write on. So frequently when emphasizing God’s holiness, I’ve hurt those who are broken by their sin but need to find their way back to God. And in frequently emphasizing God’s grace, I fear I’ve given permission to some folks to abuse grace and enter sin because they assume when they are done, God will take them back. Both directions wound people.
So how do we extend grace and mercy to the broken without sacrificing God’s call to holiness?
So how do we call for holiness and not find ourselves sacrificing God’s offer of grace to sinners?
To me, that’s the amazing thing about Jesus in John 3 and 4. He reaches both. But, He also do so by personally speaking to them. So that is part of the clue. But another part of it, at least in my mind, is that Jesus listens to their hearts and not just their words and certainly not just their external realities — man/woman, rich/poor, Jew/Samaritan, powerful/powerless, respected/outcast, connected/abandoned. He could speak to both.
One sleepless night as I grappled with my inability to do this, the following song from Jars of Clay began to play on my iPod. Tears formed and my heart was convicted. As far distant as Nicodemus and the Woman at the well were in their externals, they were closer in nature to each other than they were to Jesus. Yet Jesus bridged that gap. And if I am ever going to do that more effectively, I’ve got to let him tear my world apart and bridge that gap in me:
What keeps us from being approachable by folks on each side of the grace/holiness gap?
Who have we recently dismissed as someone who might respond to the Gospel of God’s grace?
Is it someone who appears religious and we think already is connected to Jesus?
Is it someone who appears self-righteous and arrogantly religious that we don’t want to be identified with?
Is it someone who takes advantage of Christian charity and help for their own advantage?
Is it someone who has blown his or her life apart by poor choices?
Is it the person holding up the sign on the street corner?
Is it the person who left the syringe in your alley way?
When is the last time we have struck up a conversation with a wait person to really hear their heart?
How have we treated the person who came to the door to sell us something?
Do you know what the person in the convenience store you see each week really struggles with?
Yeah, Jesus, tear my world apart. I am on my knees. Give me the eyes of Jesus to see and the ears of Jesus to hear the heart of the people you place in my path each week!