Jesus in the neighborhood

 

church has left the buildingGod’s people are called to be a real community/family that reflects the life of God as she engages the world. Consider Jesus’ last prayer from the Gospel of John and His commission after His resurrection.

Joh 17:11  “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. ..18-23  “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world…  (20)  “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;  (21)  that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.  (22)  “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;  (23)  I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

John 20:20-21… So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Sent like Jesus “Incarnation”

John 1:14  MSG The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

The word “incarnation” means God became flesh and lived among people.  God did not Incarnational
become a text, tweet, or a Facebook comment and “dwelt among us.” God became human and dwelt among us.  As our culture becomes more detached it creates emotional longing for physical presence.

I heard a story about a little boy who was frightened by a thunderstorm.  His father came to his room and the boy cried, “Daddy, I’m scared.”  His dad prayed over his son and said, “Son, it will be alright.  Don’t forget Jesus is here with you.”  After a moment of silence the boy responded, “I need Jesus with some skin on Him.”

People need Jesus with some skin on.  God’s people are the body of Jesus in the earth. They are not to run away from the world and huddle in church buildings.  We are not trying to escape the earth but see “Thy Kingdom come They will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  

N.T. Right said, “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.”

Our primary calling  to “Make disciples” (Mt 28″19-20) isn’t as much about formulas or simple steps.  It is entering into life with people and helping them know and follow Jesus. Christians need to be embedded with people and fully present in an age of family disintegration, disengagement, and dislocation. 

Our mission is the alert people to God’s life through Jesus Christ.  We alert people to the reality that Jesus is ruling, not just through verbal announcement but also a living demonstration of the values and goodness of His reign right under their noses.  

Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night

Elements of an incarnational approach to everyday living

  • Active sharing of life in your neighborhood.  
  • Entering into people’s world and identifying with them. 
  • Have confidence in the gospel being communicated by both word and deed
  • Make sure you take advantage of being in places where people hang out everyday. Just like Jesus encountered the woman at the well (John 4 a common everyday place) we are to encounter people in everyday places (stores, coffee shops, parks, etc.)  
  • Practice hospitality which primarily means making people feel welcome (Rom 12:13, 1 Tim 5:10, Heb 13:2). It also means inviting people to be around you as well as in your homes.  People don’t just want to hear us talk about the Gospel…they want to see authentic Christianity expressed through the love of Christ.

 

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Ordinary life becomes extraordinary as we connect with God

ordinary 2God has a way of making ordinary things in everyday life become “extraordinary.”  There is a life in God that causes even the mundane to become glorious.  What causes this? When we connect to Him in a real way right in the midst of everyday life.    

Moses was out taking care of his flock in the wilderness like he had done many times before.  He came near the mountain of God (always good thing) and God called out to him from an ordinary bush that had become “marvelous” (Ex 3:1-5).  Moses “turned aside” to approach the bush that was on fire with God but not burnt up.  Then Moses heard God’s voice and had to take his shoes off because what had once been an ordinary thing in an ordinary place had now became “holy ground.” 

All of God’s people need daily encounters with Him which causes ordinary everyday life to become holy ground.

We need God’s Manifest Presence

While God’s presence is everywhere it is only when we encounter Him in a real way things change.  It is not that the things themselves change but our perspective on them changes.  It is like being home with my wife.  She can be in the same house with me and technically her presence is with me.  If I am in another room or consumed with something else her presence isn’t affecting me much. When I change my posture and go into the same room with her, look at her, talk with her, and notice her beauty I become affected by her presence.  She didn’t change, I did. 

We are to have those types of experiences with God everyday.  Bible scholars call this aspect of God’s presence His “manifest presence.”   As God’s people we must have ongoing connection with God’s manifest presence so the ordinary of everyday life becomes extraordinary in His presence.  

The danger of empty religion is that we carry the name, the call of God, but rarely connect with Him in a real way.  That causes life to become empty, mundane, ordinary, and “religious.”  This is what dead religion is all about.  It is what Jeremiah warned God’s people to avoid. Jer 2:13 “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no water. 

Jesus pointed this out to the religious leaders of His day who were steeped in their religious practices.  They even read God’s word diligently but God’s life was not in what they were doing.  Why, because they refused to come and connect with Him.  Joh 5:39-40 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;  40  and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

“Certain (ordinary) Places” becoming “Awesome Places”

The story of Jacob (Gen 28:11-22) holds an important key to seeing “certain” (ordinary) ordinary 3places” become “awesome places,” filled with the life of God.  

Gen 28:11-22 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.  12  He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  13  And behold, the LORD stood above it and said…15  “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…16  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  17  He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”… 19  He called the name of that place Bethel (the House of the Lord).

Jacob was on the run from his brother when he came to a “certain place” (verse 11).  It wasn’t a great church meeting or worship concert, just an ordinary place. Jacob had deceived his brother and quarreled with him.  Now he was avoiding him, tired, and looking for a place to rest.

This sounds like church life if we aren’t careful, worn out people, spiritually sleepy, not living in unity with their brothers, making them oblivious to God’s presence that is all around them. 

Something happened before daylight.  Jacob became wide awake declaring this is an “awesome place, the house of God, and the gate of heaven.”  What happened?  How did a “certain place” become an “awesome place” (vs 17)?  How did an ordinary place become Bethel the House of God the gateway of heaven where the things of God’s heavenly realm move into this earthly realm (vs 19)?  

What makes the house of God the house of God, and an ordinary place “awesome” isn’t the building or meeting.  It isn’t a church service with worship bands or great preaching.  It is when His people wake up and connect with Him in a real way.  It is when we see Him and hear His voice.  When this happens we find ourselves like Jacob realizing afresh that ‘the Lord is in the place” and we “did not know it.”  We may have known He is there in theology but not in reality.  That all changes when we actively connect with Him.

We need to do everything we can to “wake up” and connect with Jesus in a real way.  Whether in our regular everyday “prayer closets,” or in gatherings of God’s people we need to push past spiritual sleepiness or sluggishness and connect with God.  This is what Hosea referred to as he encouraged God’s people with an approach to “press on” to know the Lord until His influence comes like rain watering us and the earth.   Hos 6:3 “So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

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Extraordinary living in the midst of ordinary life

OrdinaryThere is a tendency in humans (which includes Christians) to love the extraordinary and despise the ordinary.  For followers of Christ the extraordinary is defined by miracles, signs and wonders, feeding the 5000, missions’ trips to unreached people groups, or platforms in large meetings.  The ordinary can be defined by such things as raising a family, working at our jobs, shopping at Wal-mart, walking in everyday relationships, and the day in and day out of local church life.  

When testimonies are given to inspire Christians to go all out for God the ones often highlighted are the extraordinary exploits. The possibility of God showing up in our ordinary everyday lives is rarely highlighted and often Christians aren’t motivated to see the extraordinary God in the midst of ordinary life. 

We even have an internal ranking of Scriptures.  We have a class A list that contains extraordinary Scriptures of great Kingdom exploits that are especially appealing to the charismatics.  Then there is a class B list that we often read over thinking they surely aren’t that significant to focus on. 

Class A Scriptures

Mar 16:15  And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Joh 14:12  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.

Mark 16:15-18 …And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  (16)  “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.  (17)  “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues;  (18)  they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Class B Scriptures

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NASB  (11)  and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,  (12)  so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

1Ti 5:10  having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.

2 Thessalonians 3:12-13 NASB  (12)  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.  (13)  But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

Colossians 3:17-23 NASB  (17)  Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.  (18)  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  (19)  Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.  (20)  Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.  (21)  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.  (22)  Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  (23)  Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,

1Ti 6:2  Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved..

The Extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary

Most Christians live with a haunting thought that they could never do anything significant in God.  This is not a Kingdom idea!  God values the ordinary; as a matter of fact, the principle of incarnation is that the extraordinary God came into ordinary humanity.  When the extraordinary God comes into ordinary humanity the ordinary takes on the aura of the Divine. That principle continues through the countless lives of Christians who faithfully walk with Jesus everyday, living out the Kingdom in their sphere of everyday life.

Oswald Chambers, “Expect to do something extraordinary for God…but we must be extraordinary in the ordinary, everyday living for God.” 

One of the parables Jesus told about His Kingdom was a man finding a treasure in the midst of an ordinary field.   Matthew 13:44–58   “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  The field itself wasn’t special, but the treasure made it significant.  The man was willing to sell all he had to buy the ordinary field because the treasure (extraordinary) was in it.  It meant putting up with the imperfections and the ordinary day in day out life of the field in order to possess the extraordinary treasure.  This is the way we walk with “God’s treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7).   

Jesus brought the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary.  He was born in a manger; ordinary 1you can’t get more ordinary than that.  He grew up in a small village and learned how to be a carpenter.  He could have introduced nuclear physics, or built the first airplane, yet he spent 30 years in an ordinary life.  He was the head of his home after Joseph died and dealt with the ordinary task of running a small business and caring for His mother.  Even after His baptism Jesus never traveled more that 110 miles from His hometown.    

Is it more important to be involved in preaching to thousands or speak with a coworker or friend about the things of God?   Is it more important to serve someone in a third world country or serve a needy family across the street?   We need to reevaluate the “work of the Lord.”  It isn’t just running around the world trying to reach multitudes we do not know. It is also touching the people God has placed in our lives every day.    

We are doing the will of God when we love our spouses, train our children, care for our parents, nourish our friendships, serve coworkers, and show care to others.    The overwhelming statistics in evangelism show us that anywhere between 85-95% of people who come to follow Jesus do so as a result of the influence of individuals in daily life. The vast majority of the evangelism in the first century church was not preachers, teachers, or gifted debaters. They were the nameless thousands of people who brought Jesus to their daily ordinary lives. Because ordinary men and women shared the gospel with colleagues, customers, relatives, and friends the early church grew and the Kingdom expanded.    

 

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Hungering for Relevance or Authenticity

https://youtu.be/3RJBd8zE48A?list=FLAB_MSzjGkdFge-DOEWkwsQ

Have you ever seen advertisements for churches with things like relevant and practical messages, contemporary “urban” music, and great coffee.  I like all of these things but the idea it can imply that if a church offers those things people who wouldn’t normally come will come.  It is a form of outreach to those outside of Christ.  If you simply encourage contemporary casual dress, their favorite coffee, have great rock music, offer them relevant messages that appeal to their felt needs the church will automatically grow. 

If you want people coming from a younger demographic then the leader needs to look cool, put on some skinny jeans, scarves, beanie caps, throw in a tattoo and they become a hipster, millennial magnet. 

While we want timeless things to be presented in a timely cultural fashion we have to ask ourselves a question, is that what people outside of Christ are the most hungry for?  People already have these things, they don’t need to go to a church meeting to find them.  If they want Starbucks they can go to Starbucks because they will probably do a better job with coffee than your average church.  They can find contemporary music on iTunes. 

They may appreciate those things when they attend  but that isn’t the most important thing.  I don’t know if people are looking for a better mouse trap.  For a church to market themselves with an “ours is as good as, or better than theirs” approach may not be the most important issue.    

There is a hunger in creation for God’s love and power authentically manifested through His family. Over the course of the centuries it has proven true that the best way to reach people is to build a caring relationship with them, share both in word and deed how Christ has impacted your life, and invite them around His people who walk in community to see the difference Jesus and the gospel makes.

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