More Party Invites, Please

Returning to a life of joy

The Craigslist ad featured a basement apartment in the heart of one of Minneapolis’ most diverse neighborhoods. I would be married in a few weeks and needed to find a place to live with my bride. So I checked it out.

I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked the landlords so much. But we had only talked for 20 minutes before my wife and I were filling out the lease agreement.

They were Christians—which was cool—but they also had this intangible way about them that left us feeling both at-ease and valued. Turns out the neighborhood adored this couple as well. The kids who lived above them would pop into their apartment for homework help or to bake with Brianne—completely unannounced and received with warmth. We’d often go outside to find Jesse laughing with neighbors as they stumbled through a conversation together without a common language.

Brianne and Jesse had also planted an herb garden in that inhabitable green space between sidewalk and street. Anyone could grab the herbs as they walked home, in order to enhance a meal. In fact, that’s kind of a picture of our landlords’ presence in that neighborhood.

More than anything specific they did, they possessed an invisible virtue that enhanced the space and blessed those who hung around them.

Responding to this Craigslist ad would end up shaping much of my early adult life as my family imitated in our neighborhood what we learned while living with this couple. We call it being “full of grace and truth.”

Life of the party

Jesus is our best model of grace and truth exemplified. He spoke grace and truth, true (John 1:17), but he was also full of that wonderful mix (John 1:14). You could say it was the tenor of His personality—or, to put it another way, His Spirit.

It was the stuff that drew all kinds of people to Him.

However, I think we’ve allowed something to deteriorate in our modern usage of “grace and truth” in evangelical discourse.

Most often, when it is flung around outside of careful exegesis (which is when true doctrine shines), “grace and truth” is used in reference to issues of church discipline or perhaps recovery ministries. Which is right and good. But it is narrow.

In order to course-correct, we’d do well to observe the natural precipitate of a life full of grace and truth.

In Jesus’ life, we see the following:

  • party invites
  • friendships with religiously and societally marginalized people
  • a tight community of a few
  • parties! (and accusations from religious people)
  • friendships with respected religious people
  • friendships with societally influential people
  • more accusations and warnings from religious people
  • more party invites
  • wrongful execution at the behest of religious and influential people
  • resurrection from the dead
  • launching a worldwide movement of followers to spread message

Suspicious glances

Now, that isn’t a list of what Jesus did. This is simply a snapshot of what tends to happen when a life is full of this particular grace and truth. The amazing thing is how remarkably feasible it is to see a similar reality today, in the life of Jesus’ followers.

But it’s rare.

Especially among leaders in the church. A life “full of grace and truth” will garner significant concern from your peers. It may be hard to maintain employment if someone suspects you’re not toeing the line on alcohol consumption. Perhaps worse, parishioners may feel dejected when their pastor is spending more time with the not-members in his community.

And so, leaders are too often confined to a very particular role of cheering parishioners on rather than truly leading. As an unfortunate result, parishioners and church leaders alike are at risk of settling to talk about this life rather than live it.

For the past three years, my family experienced this mounting tension as we sought to live the life we have received from Jesus. When we moved into our new neighborhood, we asked God to give us favor among our neighbors and open our eyes to witness Him working. Yet we noticed something: Our leadership roles at church kept us away from our neighborhood night after night and for more than a few prime hours on Sunday mornings.

We set to rigorously cutting back on all of our commitments and prayerfully re-orienting our life around one daily question that has demanded a radical flexibility: What next, Lord?

An amazing thing began unfolding and continues to today: Some of our very best friends are now those same neighbors we’ve been called to live among as representatives and followers of Jesus. And we go to a ton of really fun parties (while throwing our share of them too).

Our friends may not all know it, but as we extend a toast to every birthday, clean bill of health and sunny day on our block, we are celebrating the grace and truth that comes through Jesus.

Through these regular celebrations and having the flexibility to be present with and serve our neighbors, there is a fresh excitement among all about our neighborhood—no one wants to move! We just keep asking Him, “What’s next?”

Sad state of affairs

Do you know who worries about us? Christians. Because we don’t make it to many events in the church building anymore. Or because we hang out with non-Christians too much.

We haven’t practiced this life perfectly by any means. We are learning. And we are often palming our faces in amazement that Jesus still loves us when many Christians have dismissed and abandoned us on this so-called “slippery slope.”

It is lamentable that there is so little freedom to live this life (in this way) in the broader evangelical community.

It wasn’t always this way. Roland Allen reminds us in The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, written in 1927: “What we read in the New Testament is no anxious appeal to Christians to spread the gospel, but a note here and there which suggests how the gospel was being spread: . . . ‘in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad so that we need not to speak anything.’ . . . For centuries the Christian Church continued to expand by its own inherent grace, and threw up an unceasing supply of missionaries without any direct exhortation” (emphasis mine).

In other words, the life of Christians was ordinarily, every day, filled with this particular grace and truth of Jesus. Which they spread around as naturally as breathing.

Recovery of this life won’t be easy. It will feel like reformation. But it’s worth trying. Who doesn’t love a party?

Comment on this article to tell us how you’re not missing the parties. And visit efcatoday.org for more articles on the topic of grace and truth at work in the body of Christ.

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