Anyone remember the show Fear Factor? The original with Joe Rogan was on in the early 2000’s? Tori and I were newly married with no kids, so we got to watch tv then.
We loved that show. We could live vicariously through the contestants on the show from the safety of our home! It was win win! They could confront their fears in some extreme ways and we could watch them, discuss how crazy they were and do so from our couch.
I think the reason it did so well is because we all have fears. We all want to conquer our fears. But very few of us have the guts to go out and confront them like they did on Fear Factor.
And that’s a transition, folks. Let’s talk about real fear, the kind that doesn’t stay safely behind the glass screen of your television. Today we’re going to talk about another roadblock to being the neighbors that Jesus calls us to be: fear. See what I did there? Now you get why I was talk about fear factor…huh?
The Art of Neighboring begins with a hello and a handshake and continues to a block party. Think about this: What if Christians were a part of the best neighborhood parties? When we look at Jesus’ time in the New Testament, we see him at all the best parties. If we are going to be serious about following Jesus then we should ask this question: When is the last time you made religious people uncomfortable by the people you hang out with?
Seriously though…fear. Admittedly, it’s easy to fearful these days. Just flip on the news — any news. What are they selling? Fear. If it bleeds it leads. Our family stopped watching the news years ago because we found that it was bad for our souls. But if we consume that constantly it becomes very easy to start living in fear. We start fearing our surroundings and we start fearing those around us.
Specifically, we start fearing people that are different than us!
Can we get real in here? Can we confront some stuff today? Because as I began thinking about this topic, I realized I had to do some confronting in my own life. I had to own some prejudices that were buried deep inside; ones I thought I got rid of years ago.
- These days it’s easy to be suspicious of people you don’t know:
- The man who lives alone on your block that gives you an uneasy feeling when you see him.
- The kids the same age as yours whose parents don’t share the same values and it always make you cringe when your kids they ask to go over to their house and play.
- There’s a family who always has some sort of drama in their lives. It’s like a hybrid between Jerry Springer/Days of Our Lives.
Maybe you have neighbors that are a different race than you. Maybe you live next to a family of a different religion or worse yet…a different political party!
Have you stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, your point of view is being warped by fear? By suspicion? Maybe you’re the scary one and those people act weird because they’re scared or suspicious of you!
But that’s what fear does! It warps our world view. But if we’re going to follow Jesus and be good neighbors we can’t allow that. One of the early church leaders named Paul wrote a couple of letters to a young man named Timothy who he was mentoring. In his second letter he says this:
2 Timothy 1:7 – 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
We are called not to fear but to love!
Jesus is a perfect example of this. In one of his biographies written by a doctor named Luke, we see Jesus being invited to eat dinner at a religious leader’s house. Eating together wasn’t just dinner…it was a big deal culturally. To sit down in someone’s home and eat was being accepting of the host and their ideals. It was also a social event. Homes then weren’t like homes today. People would come and go during a meal, and so it’s no wonder that a woman looking for Jesus finds him reclined at the table and comes in.
Now in Luke (title of the biography) we see in chapter 7 that she’s called “immoral”. This is a euphemism. This means that she was a prostitute. The woman comes in, and with an expensive alabaster jar containing expensive perfume — likely a year’s salary — she kneels behind him, and starts crying. As her tears fall on his feet, she wipes them off with her hair and then anoints his feet with this expensive perfume. This is where we’ll pick up the story found in Luke 7:39:
When the pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “this man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she’s a sinner!”
40 Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Teacher,” he said, “Say it.”
(Can you hear Jesus’ tone of voice??? I think Jesus had a healthy dose of sarcasm.)
41 “a creditor had two debtors. one owed 500 denarii, and the other 50.
42 since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. so, which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.”
“You have judged correctly,” he told him.
(See? There’s that sarcasm again!)
Now listen to what Jesus says next, because I think it’s key to overcoming the fear factor!
44 turning to the woman, he said to simon, “do you see this woman?”
STOP! RIGHT HERE! When Jesus asks Simon does he see this woman he means more than just seeing a person there. It means being aware of her, and slowing down and seeing a human being! Simon was so caught up in reputation and privilege that he never thought about her as a human being! This is what fear and suspicion does. It robs us of empathy.
We stop seeing people and start seeing caricatures.
Simon did not see a woman. He saw a “sinner”. Jesus invited him to see past the caricature and see the person! You know what a caricature is right? They take all your bad features and exaggerate them so that’s the only thing you notice.
If you want to stop being afraid, stop listening to the caricature and start seeing the person. Jesus gives us the same invitation that he gave Simon — to see past all the stereotypes and caricatures and to see the person.
Jesus cuts through all of that!
So how do we start? I’m going to give you one simple thing you can do to stop being afraid or suspicious. You ready? Here it is:
Move to the front yard.
That’s it. Move to the front yard. We were challenged to do this close to 10 years ago. We had a big, beautiful backyard with a great patio. The kids ran around and played on the playset. I grilled. We did everything back there.
And we never saw anyone.
We were challenged to move to the front yard and we did. We put toys in the front yard. I started keeping my grill in the garage and grilling in the driveway. We started spending more time in the front and other neighbors’ kids started playing with ours. Then the neighbors started coming over with the kids. We got invited to their homes. We started watching STL Cardinal games in my next-door neighbor’s garage. We started hanging out in each other’s homes.
Halloween was our favorite. Our next-door neighbor, Corey, would get his 4-wheeler out and attach a trailer to it. We lined it with hay bales and all the kids would ride around the whole neighborhood together trick or treating. We hung out together in driveways with fire pits and hot chocolate. We loved our cul-de-sac.
When we moved to Gainesville, we and carried the same practice here. People in our neighborhoods know us because we’re visible. We talk because we’re present. We’ve walked with people through divorces, unwanted pregnancies, graduations and so much more.
All because we moved to the front yard.
Stop giving in to fears, to suspicions. Start seeing past the caricatures and start seeing the person.