Most Saturdays my 4 year old and I have a routine. In the morning after we have completed some kind of activity we almost always end up having lunch in Subway. The Subway in our local town has an upstairs and downstairs seating area and when I ask where he wants to sit and he always wants to sit upstairs.
The reason; he wants to go to the quietest place. Often when we are sitting there he’ll say “This is perfect” and when I ask why, he’ll say “Because there’s no people here.”
If you know me and my wife you’ll know that he definitely doesn’t get his introverted nature from her (her middle name is extrovert) but that it all comes from me. Because, like my four year old I also like it better when upstairs in Subway has no people, I just tend not to announce it publically but I am equally delighted. I realise that this isn’t a statement you’d expect to hear from a pastor; let me try and clarify;
I love people, I just dont always love being with people always – that’s that cleared up
Why this confession?
Because I work for a church where we deeply sense the call of the Father to bring sustainable transformational change in our community and beyond. Somehow the call to do this creates a mixture of emotion in me.
I believe with my whole heart and mind that Jesus has called us to shape communities and nations. You can’t listen to His words in the great commission where He opens His desire to see His followers in all nations, to go to the ends of the earth and not see the requirement that He needs us to move. You can’t look at the early church and miss the fact that they were active, changing whole cities and the nations around them. The book that documents all of this is called Acts, not words. It’s why as a church we can’t be inactive, we must move with the Father because He is always moving, always reaching, always loving.
However, In my world it would be better if we could do all of that while I’m sitting in my house drinking tea. I am often more comfortable with no people around me but Jesus has called me to reach all peoples. This has challenged me to realise that;
I can’t have faith for the nations but a fear of my neighbours
We can’t transform nations without reaching the one. We can’t have an effect on our communities without having contact with people. I’ve tried, believe me, to form a theology where I can sit alone in an office and tell people to go love others. I can call it leadership development, delegation or whatever phrase I could come up with. In that scenario my hands don’t get dirty but people are still reached and loved. The only problem is Jesus doesn’t allow me room for that.
Jesus combined faith for the nations with a deep love for His neighbours.
He talked about the big picture of the Kingdom, like we have talked about in the Great Commission, but He was also constantly amongst the people, washing feet, playing with children, getting his hands in the dirt, talking, showering compassion on them even when it seemed to be really inconvenient for Him. It wasn’t just something that He did the odd time, it was central to who He was and everything that He did.
In Matthew 22 when asked by the experts of the law what the greatest commandment was he tells them;
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
I’ve always understood the first part but the second part has haunted me. This is the one thing that Jesus puts after loving God with all we have. This is the one thing He choses to tell the people who were listening; not give more money in the offering, not to stop swearing, not to sign up to kids ministry – but to love your neighbour as yourself.
If our world needs to hear anything in the events of the past months, weeks and days then it’s the call to love our neighbours – whatever colour, religion, nationality, orientation or political persuasion.
Jesus wasn’t trying to haunt us by saying these words, that was never His mandate. I believe He was seeking to bring release, relief and simplicity into what it means to follow Him.
The reason we are haunted is because something needs to be adjusted in us, we need to make the shift towards our neighbours. I’ll be honest, I’m still struggling to name all of my neighbours never mind love them and the research from Jay Pathak and his team in Denver would tell us that around 90% would struggle to names of the 8 people living closest to us.
Why, if this is the second most important thing as a follower of Jesus to do, have we allowed fear to stop us doing it? What are we scared of? Why do we fear those who are closest to us? Why don’t we cross our streets, apartment buildings or fields and love our neighbours?
When it comes to thinking about making the bold move to do this I think there are two questions in our minds;
1 – What if it doesn’t go well?
What happens if they are awkward and don’t say anything back? What if they shout at me? What if they think I’m judging them? What if they hate me? What if I get tongue tied and say something stupid? What if they remember that time our dog didn’t stop barking? What if they saw me chasing their cat with that shovel? What if they are eating peanuts and my allergic reaction kicks in? What if………..What if…………. What if…………..
I’d love to be able to tell you that all those things are ridiculous and that they would never happen but we can’t. Everyone one of these things may happen. Encouraging eh?
But behind every awkward moment, behind every doorstep is someone with a story. We’re often unaware of their story because all we see is them driving in the morning and evening, walking to the shop or putting their bin out, but they have a whole life that they are living. They have a whole life that’s hidden behind their doors. So let’s play the what if game the other way.
What if they are lonely and desperate for someone to talk to them? What if they are battling some difficult news that week that they don’t know how to process? What if they have been desperate to talk to you but have had the same fear you have? What if they desperately wanted to apologise for their reaction to when the dog was barking but were too embarrassed? What if……….What if………..What if………….
Now, I think I might know what some of you are now thinking; because in fact your fear isn’t necessarily what if doesn’t go well. Your fear is;
2 – What if it does go well?
What if it goes so well that they invite me over all the time and I have to make stuff up just to avoid them? What if they like me but I don’t like them? What if they invite me in and I don’t know what to do? What if they do need help or healing and I just don’t know what to do? What if they have an expectation of me that I can’t keep up? What if……What if……What if……..
Whichever question you are asking, the truth is we have allowed these fears and ‘what ifs’ to make us inactive, we have had intentions but not actions, we have decided to remain inside rather than move outside. The scary thing is when you do that for long enough it becomes normal, it becomes something that we don’t question or challenge. Deep down, what is so painful about it is this truth is;
We have allowed fear to prevent us from walking into the invitation of the Father
Out of the two greatest commandments we have often chosen to let one of them slide because we are afraid of the potential of an awkward conversation. We can’t allow this to be the thing that marks our time in our community.
We can’t be driven by fear and ‘what ifs’
Lets have faith for nations and make friends with our neighbours
Lets write a different story
Lets love our neighbours
Taken from a talk 10/7/16 –listen here