Neighbors are a mixed bag. They can be wonderful, or they can be a continual source of irritation.
Right now, there’s an angry old guy across the street with a perfectly manicured lawn who lies in wait for my teenagers to accidentally break one of a myriad of neighborhood rules. When they inevitably do, he pops out of his window or jumps up from the bushes to take an incriminating photo. He then forwards the photos to the neighborhood association.
(OK, “jumps up from the bushes” is me just fantasizing, but it does make for an exciting mental picture. Just like Glades Kravitz from the Bewitched series!)
He thinks we don’t know who’s reporting us. But when all the photos just happen to be taken from his front porch, it doesn’t take Matlock to figure out who the cameraman is.
Come to think of it, Matlock is probably one of his favorite shows. Or Murder She Wrote.
Now, what exactly are my kids doing so wrong? Are they parking in front of his house? Are they dropping trash in his yard? Are they holding satanic rituals under the brush of his meticulously manicured lawn?
No. They parked on the grass. On OUR grass, so that they wouldn’t fill up the street with their cars. They were trying to be considerate of him in his grumpitude, trying not to park in front of his house.
Perhaps there’s a reason he’s so angry, some cause for his continued curmudgeonly outlook…like maybe a raging case of hemorrhoids.
I’m fantasizing again.
But in his patrolling of our neighborhood, he’s intolerably self-righteous. We broke a rule, we should have to pay – case closed. This month in fact, we may be paying several hundred dollars thanks to all his reports that have added up over time.
On the other side of the house, there’s a guy who sits in his driveway wearing a cowboy hat all day drinking beer, listening to loud country music, and shouting colorful invectives at his deaf, wandering dog.
Seriously, I’m not making this up. Here’s there in the driveway…whenever he’s not taking up residence in our county jail for some offense, that is.
I actually don’t mind Sir Poops-a-lot doing his business in our yard (although he’s a large dog, if you know what I mean). I do however take issue with his master’s beer cans littering the ground and my toddlers expanding their vocabularies with the new, exotic words he teaches them.
But in the bizarro universe in which I live, the Neighborhood Nazi doesn’t seem to mind Suburban Cowboy next door one bit. Instead, it’s my house he despises and tattles on.
Well, that’s my story of “Neighborhood Nazi and the Suburban Cowboy”, believe it or not. Funny how fickle our sense of right and wrong can be.
I’m sure Captain Camera across the street thinks of himself as a wonderful guy and protector of the neighborhood. Probably Suburban Cowboy does, too. They think that compared to others, they’re good people and I should be happy to live near them.
I’ll bet Hitler even thought he was fun at parties.
That’s pretty much the way we think of ourselves we we think of getting to heaven. We’re like God’s really annoying neighbors who see their own sins as endearing little idiosyncracies, but see everyone else in a much worse light. Surely, compared to those lousy kids across the street, we’re pretty wonderful folks, right?
But for God to let us into heaven would really be like Captain Camera and Suburban Cowboy both showing up on my front porch one night, with the following scene played out in front of me…
“Um, hi there Dave. Don’t know if you heard, but our wives kicked us out tonight.”
“Both of you? The same night? Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, guys.” (Side note: this is the part of being a pastor I’m not very good at – having to lie through my teeth)
“Yeah, thanks. Well, we were thinking we’d just come over and live with you, OK?” At this point, I notice the pillow hidden behind grumpy old man’s back…and the cowboy’s hiding a six-pack.
“Wow, guys,” I would say, “I don’t think that’s a really good idea!”
“Whaddaya mean it’s not a good idea? We’ve got a perfect RIGHT to stay in your house! In fact, we believe we should be able to live here from now on!”
“Really?” I stop and think to myself for a moment. Before speaking, I still manage to plaster a smile on my face (something else pastors have to do a lot).
“You know what? I’d really love to hear just why you think you’ve got a RIGHT to come and live with me and my kids here in my house.”
“Well, as you can probably tell from being our neighbor, we are both really, really good people!”
This is when my sarcastic sense of humor’s truly a handicap in my line of work. Suddenly, a quick snort of laughter escapes my nose. However, I quickly recover by putting my hand over my mouth and pretending it’s a cough. When I finish the conversation and politely shut the door, my lip is bleeding a bit. No, they didn’t hit me – I’d bitten it to keep from snickering.
Let me explain my little story in light of why I believe most people probably won’t make it to heaven…
If you realize heaven is God’s home, you can start to understand how none of us – not you nor I – have any right at all to live there.
First, even if my neighbors were good people by my standards, it still wouldn’t give them the right to move into my house. Likewise, our goodness gives us no logical claim on heaven. And if we ever got just a glimpse of the place, we’d know we have absolutely no business there.
Honestly, heaven is that last place I belong.
Besides that, our standard of “goodness” is laughable compared to God’s. Just as my neighbors think they are sterling examples of citizenship, we think our tawdry righteousness will somehow stand up to the piercing light of God’s perfect holiness.
We’re like children making mud pies from manure, and then wondering why our Father would turn His head away.
“Is there any circumstances under which you’d let me stay at your house, Dave?”
Full disclosure: there is one circumstance under which I let people come and live in my house. I hope you won’t try to use it against me, but trust me…it will work.
The one loophole for me is my heart. There’ve been children we’ve heard about who needed a father and mother, and their plight touched my wife and me deeply. We’ve now actually adopted 4 children that way, and may even adopt more in the future.
But they had actually done nothing to deserve this adoption – we adopted them strictly because of our love and pity for them. And now we’re raising them up in our ways so that they’ll fit in with how we live in our home. Day by day, they’re becoming more like us. As they grow older, they can come and go as they like, and have the same rights as our biological child. They’ve become a part of the family, so our house is their house.
It works the same with God. He has one true Son, but He’s happy to adopt you too.
If you want into His house, ask Him to forgive your sins and adopt you into His family. He’ll take you on and start “raising” you up as his very own. Daily you’ll become more and more like your Father, so you’ll fit in His heavenly house. And you’ll have the same rights and privileges as your brother Jesus, who paid your original debt for all you’d done wrong.
That’s how you get to heaven, according to Christianity. Not goodness, not rules – just good old fashioned mercy and grace.
Do me one favor, though…please don’t tell grumpy man and suburban cowboy about the “loophole” for entrance to our home. They’re just a bit older than we’d want to adopt.
I’ve got other plans for them, anyway. I’ve scheduled a non-stop parade of door-to-door evangelists to drop by their houses soon. That’s the kind of revenge only a pastor knows how to deliver ;0)