Figuring out how to follow Jesus often feels the same way. Uncountable books, sermons, causes, and opinions clamor and tweet for our attention.
What should we do? What does God really want from us?
Interestingly, the Jewish people at the time of Jesus faced a similar situation as they tried to obey God’s laws in a rapidly-changing environment. One such person—an expert in the law—famously asked Jesus to simplify it all.
“Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” he asked.
Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. cThis is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39).
That’s it? Really? Simply love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbors too? Is that really what God wants from us?
At Grace, we’ve tried to maintain a simple obedience to Jesus’ simple commands. Admittedly, sometimes life around Grace can feel a bit complicated and busy as well, but our aim is always to place these two great commands at the heart of what we do as we make disciples and encourage communities to walk through life together.
One way to visualize this is by drawing an equilateral triangle with the words, “Up,” “In,” and “Out” labeling each of the corners. Naturally, the “Up” dimension represents Jesus call to love God, while the “In” and “Out” help us picture what it means to love those around us who are already within our community and those who are not yet a part of our community.
So how do we love our neighbors? In the Bible, a neighbor is merely someone who is nearby—a person whose life is lived in close proximity to our own. Often, those are people in our own neighborhoods. Sometimes, however, our closest neighbors are the people who make up our networks of interaction, like coworkers, classmates, or teammates. Loving our neighbors means, more than anything, being with them in a kind and compassionate way.
For this reason, we at Grace aim to equip our people to be present in their networks and neighborhoods, even if it means they aren’t always present at the church in one meeting, study, or gathering after another. While we do offer classes and care groups at the church, we firmly believe Jesus’ desire is to see communities of people gather in their homes and in their neighborhoods to love God and love each other well—up, in, and out.
Some of our communities are gathered around praying for and serving the high school where their children go to school. Other communities feel a calling to meet the people who live in their same subdivision and bless them however possible. Others focus on meeting and welcoming immigrants and refugees as newcomers to the USA. Another community rides mountain bikes together. We even have a community of women who love to sew together. If you have ever wondered if you could sew missionally in God’s Kingdom, the answer is yes.
All of these are perfectly wonderful, creative ways that God has led people in the Grace community to love their neighbors. It’s meant to be fun, intentional, relaxed, and fruitful. These are the kinds of communities that, like families at their best, pray and play and celebrate and mourn and grow together. They serve on their school PTAs together, coach Little League together, and invite their neighbors to a cookout in the yard together. And so the Kingdom grows—seemingly small at first—but deeply rooted in neighborhoods and networks.
While we would love for you to be a part of an community as quickly as possible, we don’t expect you to drop into one or lead one immediately, especially if this whole concept of doing life with a group of new people around you is new and intimidating. We would love to help you find a class or a training environment where you will not only learn more about what we’ve described here, but you will experience it. Several of our classes aim at precisely that.
So when life seems like an overwhelming buffet of options, perhaps all we need is someone who can point out the best way. And for those of us who have tasted it, Jesus’ way of loving God and loving our neighbors seems like the very best way to live.