‘Good men are public blessings’

There is no such thing as piety that is only private. The following verse is from our public confession at church this morning:

“By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.” Proverbs 11:11 ESV

If the upright remain hidden behind closed doors in a life lived only in a small, safe sanitized haven, then of course the city is not exalted. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this verse, says, “Good men are public blessings.” (emphasis mine) Henry mentions three ways in which this is true:

  • God blesses the Christian: “By the blessings with which they are blessed, which enlarge their sphere of usefulness.”
  • The Christian blesses the neighbor: “By the blessings with which they bless their neighbours, their advice, their example, their prayers, and all the instances of their serviceableness to the public interest.”
  • And God blesses the neighbor: “By the blessings with which God blesses others for their sake.”

The result? “The city is exalted and made more comfortable to the inhabitants, and more considerable among its neighbours.”

If Fort Wayne, “The City of Churches,” is not in some way “exalted,” the wicked are not the ones to blame. Fort Wayne Christians must encourage one another to be good to our city, by blessing our neighbors. And in return, God promises to exalt our city.

The problem with neighbors

Dear neighbor,

I don’t want to be so close to you. You make my life more difficult.

If I neglect my yard, you can see it. If I yell at my kids, you can hear it.

And worse, if you yell at your kids, I can hear it. So now, like it or not, I have to decide how much I care about you.

If I am typical, I will decide I don’t care at all. I’ll just turn up the Christmas music. If I decide I care a little bit, maybe I’ll call the police and report a domestic disturbance.

It’s too, too much to get to know you, to get to know your wife, and to minister to you. That’s a lot of trouble, and I’m busy. It’d be so much easier if there were more distance between us and fewer chances of noticing you.

But now it’s Christmastime. That means I must contend with our Nativity set and everything it represents.

Here is the Babe, surrounded by shepherds and angels and barn animals. Here is the transcendent Creator of the universe, born of flesh. Here is God, too close.

The scandal of Jesus isn’t that he is God. The scandal of Jesus is that he did not remain distant. He dwelt among us. He became Emmanuel: God with us.

I’ve heard preachers say Jesus stepped into our world, but instead we should say he elbowed and slashed his way into our world. He wasn’t polite: He forced his way into the arms of a young bewildered couple, he demanded twelve men follow him, he rebuked rulers and cast out demons.

He didn’t just sit in heaven and command us to love our neighbor. He was born a baby to become your closest neighbor, my closest neighbor, and to show how to lay down one’s own life for the life of another.

And then He told everyone to follow him. Just as he put aside everything to love his people, we are to put aside all other loves, all loves for neighbor, for parent, for child and for spouse, and to love Him first.

Love Him first, He says, and all other loves tilt and find their proper orbits.

Dear neighbor, you are close, sometimes too close. But if my closest neighbor is Jesus, and if he truly loved me first, it’s the least I can do to turn and love you, too.

Have a merry Christmas.

photo by Patrick Q on Flickr

Being neighborly, even online

Adirondack chairs A visitor by the name of Rachel asks:

I’m very interested in seeing that the two of you have teamed up for what looks to be a very interesting blog on the crossroads of urban planning and religion. I know that both of you have deep Christian convictions, so I am wondering how you anticipate treating those who post comments and view your blog who may come from another religious perspective?

So here was my response (and Rachel gave permission to post her question here):

Hi and thanks for writing. That’s a really good question, and you’ve inspired me to find a metaphor that describes how we do things around here.

I’m treating this blog like my front porch. It’s similar to setting up a table and a few Adirondack chairs and inviting neighbors and passers-by for coffee and conversation.

In this situation, no way can I expect everyone to agree with me. Some may be Christians who disagree with my conclusions. Some may be non-Christians who agree with my conclusion but don’t like my reasons. But I am confident enough in my God to know that I can listen to my neighbors and love them and not beat them over the head with my 20-pound study Bible. At least not on the first visit.

And those who drive by and throw eggs will not be treated gently.

And like I told her in a follow-up email, if I can’t be neighborly on this web site, I have no business writing about neighborhoods!