I want to be a good, hospitable neighbor–I really do.  You might think this is a tad bit of an overreaction, but it’s hard to have a friendly attitude when I’ve had this mystery creature crushing the middle of my mint plant out back every spring and summer for the past several years (see the picture above…).  I like my garden, okay?  So I finally figured it out last week as I watched the beast slink along the back fence then scale all six feet of it in one jump–my mint-crusher is Steve–a “pet” cat in our neighborhood.  This is no cuddly kitten–he is just plain nasty.  He scraps with our neighbor’s de-clawed cat (no fair!), kills birds, leaving their various parts as “presents” in our back yards–he even chases dogs out of his own yard.

Steve thinks he’s a character in the Lion King.  He makes me want to call Animal Control (if they could even catch him…like that Dos Equis guy, he’s the most interesting cat in the world…) but I don’t pick up the phone because it’s not neighborly to do that kind of thing.

So, as you can see, with summer approaching, I’ve been thinking about my neighborhood again.  As people are finally out and about after the long Chicago winter (and sending “Mini-Simba” loose in my yard)…

it’s time for me, once again, to make intentional choices about being the living gospel for my neighbors.

You know what the critics of the Church in America say, don’t you?  That, by and large, we Christians have successfully removed ourselves from strategic relationships with people who don’t know Jesus, that we only hang out with other believers within our church community because it’s safer and more comfortable that way…

We have become the living gospel unto ourselves–which is no gospel at all.  By it’s very nature, the gospel was meant to grow when it transforms the human heart–inside and out.  If it’s not; it’s not the gospel.

Well, I’d like to be different–and not just this summer–but every day of every year (which I’m not most of the time, unfortunately…).  I’ve blogged about prayer walking before–that’s where I’ll start again this year. (Here’s another great prayer walking resource…)  I intend to do this regularly as a family activity this summer.  Not sure how–maybe taking one daughter out at at time with Karyn, once a week throughout June-August?  Then seeing how the Holy Spirit directs us/opens doors from there.  I’ve also been inspired of late by Jesus’ encounter with the two on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24)–how they recognized Jesus when he broke bread with them.

I also hope to practice this “theology of the table”–the breaking of the bread–with my neighbors this summer (maybe even Steve’s family?) that they might recognize Jesus in my family as we share a meal together.  Perhaps inviting a neighbor over for a meal every month as an everyday lifestyle choice with my family?

Unfortunately, like feral Steve, some of my neighbors might not be the most pleasant people to befriend (they probably think I’m a little weird, too.).  You know the stories that go around in your neighborhood–about “those neighbors” who haven’t mowed their lawns for weeks.  That’s probably where I should start taking my lawn mower and my gospel as I go this summer–just like Jesus did–to the scorned, judged and ignored.  There’s probably a good reason these folks are “out of step” with the rest of the neighborhood.  I need to find out why.  Is it sickness?  A broken mower?  Or something else which God might empower me and my family to help with?

So what if Steve, the Lion King, bugs me because he crushed my mint plant?  He’s an irritating reminder to be the living gospel of Jesus right where I am.

What about you?  How do you envision living out the gospel in your neighborhood this summer?  What plans are you making to move outside your “Christian bubble” to take the gospel on the road?

Let’s expect great things from our great God on the move and watch what He does.

Then we’ll trade our stories at the end of summer…