Mission Is Where You Live
By Jeremy Writebol
“I just don’t know any lost people.” “I find it so hard to meet people that don’t know Jesus.” “Sharing my life and faith with unbeliever is so difficult. Apart from going to a bar I don’t know where they are at.” These are all excuses I’ve made for my failure to know, bless, and share Jesus with unbelievers. I hear these statements regularly among other Christians as well. It’s as if unbelievers are actually physically lost, and finding them is like finding a unicorn or a white elephant–exceptionally rare. Underneath these excuses is a common reality: I haven’t really been present in the locations where I’ve lived.
Recently, it occurred to me that I’m not really thinking about the whole concept of mission and evangelism in a clear light. A friend asked me a pointed question once that brought me to repentance and helped me rediscover an important tool in living a life “on mission.” The question was this: how could I live in the same house for over three years and not know the stories and situations of the people that lived within 100 yards of me? Several answers were apparent (lack of love, disobedience, etc.) but the real answer that stood out was that I wasn’t really present in my neighborhood.
Oh sure, I was physically there. I ate, drank, slept, played, worked, laughed, cried, and did everything a physically present person would do. However, none of my neighbors would have known it or cared about it. To them I didn’t exist. And they didn’t exist for me either. So when I said, “I don’t know any lost people,” I was technically right. I had failed to live my life in their life. And this was the beginning of the awakening for me. How did I come to know God? He actually came and lived in my life. How can I find lost people? Live my life, where I am at, in their life.
I'm willing to bet that if you are reading this, you have a similar situation. Most of the world lives in highly dense, urban areas, surrounded on all sides by neighbors. Over eighty percent of Americans live in what is classified as an urban area. All of that to say the lost are out there; you probably live next to them. But do you really live in their lives? Would they be able to affirm your existence?
John’s introduction to his Gospel brings this aspect of the presence of God fully into view. Jesus, as John writes, became flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:14). God with us. Jesus is the one who fixed the break between God and man. He is the presence every shadow-symbol of the Old Testament points toward. As John put it, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he [Jesus] has made known” (John 1:18). God became a man and lived among us. He lived in our lives. God with us.
Not only is God with us, but he is God for us. Jesus came not just to hang out in our ghettos (as compared to heavenly realms, that is); he came to live the life of righteousness we failed over and over again to live. He came to die the wrath-deserving death we were entitled to because of our rebellion (Galatians 3:13). He came to live again so that the reality of rebirth would be ours and his power would be shown to encompass all things.
Living In The Lives Of Others
My neighbor, Herb, walks his dog up and down our street daily. Usually in the early evening right before dusk, I see Herb plodding along with his dog. Does Herb know I exist? Would he care?
If we see that God has not abandoned us, and has not withdrawn his presence from us, but actually has done the exact opposite and inhabited our world, then we can begin to see how to live among our neighbors. Herb knows I exist, but that’s because I’ve gone out to Herb. I’ve lived in his life. I’ve invited Herb into my life. When Herb walks his dog, he stops and talks and tells me his story. As I learned how God has always placed his presence in the midst of His people, I began to see how I can meet and befriend and know lost people. I must live in their lives.
So how do we live in the lives of our neighbors? How do we inhabit their world so that we can show them a God who has inhabited our lives?
Be Present In Your Neighborhood. For so many, especially in the suburbs, it’s easy to come home after work, pull into the garage, and disappear into our homes. We must be intentional to be outside our homes. Use every opportunity to leave the garage door open, be in the front yard, out in the open amongst your neighbors. Talk with them, learn their names, invite them into your space, go to their space.
Bless Your Neighborhood. It used to be that when a new person moved into a neighborhood, a few neighbors would go visit the new neighbor and bless them with some cookies or pie or something as a way to meet and get to know the new folks. I’ve moved into three different houses in the last seven years and have yet to see a plate of cookies. I use this as a small example to challenge us to live in a neighborhood intentionally to bless and give. You don’t have to take cookies to the new neighbor, but do something to bless a neighbor. Walk over and give in some way, bless and be kind to them.
Bring In Your Neighbors. When was the last time you invited a neighbor over for dinner or barbecue? We can live in the lives of our neighbors by inviting them into our homes, into our spaces, and letting them see our lives up close. How will our neighbors know what the love of Jesus is like if they don’t see the love of Jesus lived in our homes and families. What would happen on your block or in your apartment complex if you invited a neighbor over for a meal on a frequent basis?
Being, blessing, bringing are three simple strategies toward living in the lives of our neighbors. As we pursue Christ and bear the image of a God who has lived in our lives by living in the lives of the lost we will find the lost.