I used to live with a friend who had a couple of cats and sometimes I would feed them and when I would go to so, they would always run away. Even though, all I used to do was go and give them food, they always ran away from me.
I want you to imagine that I said to you “I really love those cats. I’m seriously into cats so I want to have an operation to become a cat.” You would probably respond by saying “Dave, Are you sure? Are you sure you want to give your perfect 6 ft 2 height and your stunning good looks to become a little cat?” You would go onto say “Dave, aren’t you an extremely intelligent man? Are you want to replace your brilliant brain with one from a tiny cat?”
I said Yep, I’m 100% certain and I did manage to go through with it and become cat.
The one thing you could not deny (apart from being totally baffled) was that I really love those cats.
But the thought of me becoming a cat is less ridiculous then the creator of heaven and earth becoming a person, yet that’s exactly what happens.
We read in John chapter 1:14 “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (ESV) or in other words, Jesus became human and moved into the neighbourhood of earth.
God wanted us to see who he was. He sent Jesus to reveal himself to us. In the 21st C we don’t have Jesus walking through our streets in a physical form. But what we have is you. What we have is me. We are called into the neighbourhood to reveal Jesus to humanity. There are two ways we do this. We need to initiate and we need to give people our presence.
We’ve all been called to move into people’s neighbourhoods no matter the cost.
Jesus didn’t wait until we begged him to come, he came because his love for us compelled him to come to earth. It was impossible for him not to.
Every day you sit next to people at your workplace, university, school, clubs who are hurting but we don’t reach out to them. We wait for them to come to us. Each and every day God is giving us a chance to reach out, to be there for someone and to change someone’s life. God is a sending God. God the father sent the son, the son sent the spirit and the spirit sends us. God doesn’t wait for people come to him. He initiates. We must follow suit and go to people and meet them where they are.
Dwell among people
Not only should we initiate we need to give people our presence.
God didn’t just become human but he moved into our neighbourhood. If we want to reach people we too must move into their neighbourhood. God could have easily just commuted. God could’ve said ‘I’ve got a great home, a great family, the angels are looking after me, so I’ll just commute. I’ll go in, preach the gospel and return to heaven.’
But he didn’t. He says I want to be your neighbour. He goes to a wedding where there’s lots of alcohol, he sits at the well with an immoral woman, he has dinner with tax collectors and he has conversations with criminals on a cross. He’s dwelling with them. He doesn’t go looking for the righteous people, the holy people and the spiritual elite. He dwells with the people who doesn’t have their act together, the immoral, the ones who are broken, the ones that have been beaten down by society, the ones the spiritual elitists hate. That’s who he dwells with.
In Luke 15 the Pharisees (religious leaders) point out that Jesus welcomes the lowest of the low; Jesus responds by telling 3 stories, the lost sheep, the lost coin and the story of two sons, one whom was lost. He makes the point that he doesn’t just dwell with people who their acts together but with people who are lost. Sadly. the church has created its own little spiritual ghettos. It’s stopped dwelling with the world and we dwell simply with ourselves. That doesn’t look at all like Jesus. He doesn’t just preach the gospel at them; he sits with them, eats with them and converses with them. He loves them, serves them, accepts them and welcomes them and he earns the right to have the conversation with them, he draws close to them and shows them his presence.
One of my heroes is a woman called Jackie Pullinger who was a missionary in the walled city in Hong Kong. The walled city was a ungoverned settlement which due to sovereignty deals between UK and China had no policing and thus it became a den of prostitution, gang warfare, gambling, opium addiction, heroin addiction etc and Jackie Pullinger went in on her own as a 22 year old, with no money, no contacts and no church backing to share Jesus. I want to share with you something a young boy she was ministering to as this is what it means to move into neighbourhood
“We’ve been watching you Jackie. Many missionaries come to Hong Kong to help us poor people. They put us in sociological boxes and analyse us. They take pictures to shock Westerners of our living conditions. Some men get famous for being here. But inside the walled city, we usually get rid of them within 6 months. We find ways to discourage them until they no longer want to continue. It doesn’t matter if you have a daily programme or a hymn singing once a week. What we want to know is if you care. Now that you’ve been here for 4 years, we have decided that maybe you mean what you say.”
This is what it looks like to move into the neighbourhood. Please don’t hear me wrong; I’m not saying you need to ring your boss, quit your job, jump on a ship and set sail for Hong Kong. But what I am saying is this. People will never see the glory of God in you from a distance, you have to get up close.
This will look different for each of us depending on you, your personality, skills and passions, your situation the people you know.
Whose neighbourhood can you move into this week?
How are you going to do it?