Beyond: Into My Neighborhood (2) - Shining Light

Next Step Discipleship, pp. 142–148

by David Daniels on

Books 12 min read
Mark 12:31

To read the previous section of this chapter, see Beyond: Into My Neighborhood (1) - Loving Our Neighbors.

Turning On the Lights
So, how can Christians—the representation of the church—shine brightly in their community? Five words will help direct those who wish to go BEYOND into their neighborhoods: Love, Initiative, Grace, Hospitality and Sacrifice. We will explore each of these words in turn.

Love for people is fundamental to reaching people with the Gospel. When an expert in the law asked Jesus what the greatest commandments were, Jesus replied that all should love God and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Love motivated the Father to send His Son (John 3:16), and love is what motivates the sons of God to take the good news of the Father to their neighbor.

Jesus illustrates several principles of love for our neighbor through His Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). First, love for our neighbor starts with seeing their broken humanity rather than how they might inconvenience us. Unlike the religious priest and Levite who passed by the injured traveler, the Samaritan realized the man’s need and responded with loving compassion. The brokenness of the Samaritan’s neighbor moved his heart to action.

Many years ago, I took my family to a fair near our city. As we walked from our parking place to the fair entrance, a man stopped me and begged for money. With my sons standing beside me, I asked the man his name, where he lived, and how long he had been homeless.

After giving him a few dollars and walking away, my oldest son asked, “Dad, why did you ask him questions? And why did you keep looking into his eyes?”

I answered, “Son, I wanted to see him, not as a beggar, but as a human being.” I wanted to understand his need. And, in seeing his need, I learned to love.

The second principle of love is this: Jesus’ parable teaches that love is more than a feeling. Love shows itself in action. The Good Samaritan went to the injured traveler, bandaged his wounds and took him to a local town to recover. For him, love was more than a virtue. It was a verb. Just as God “demonstrates His own love for us” (Romans 5:8) and Jesus “showed them the full extent of His love” (John 13:1), so the church demonstrates and shows true love to the unlovely in its community. It’s not enough for Christians to say they love others. They must take practical steps to show their love through words of encouragement, acts of service and generous provision.

This leads to a third principle of love: Love sacrifices its resources to bless others. The Samaritan gave his wine, bandages, donkey, money and time. True love gives. As mentioned in the last chapter, God blesses His people, not so they hoard the blessings for themselves, but so they extend the blessings of God to others. Churches should take inventory of “what they have” to discover how they might best bless their community. These resources include our home, financial savings, and the skills or abilities we have. Your home is where you show hospitality and welcome people into the world where Christ reigns. Demonstrate generosity by financially supporting your neighbor’s band fundraiser, purchasing flowers for a funeral or providing meals for someone recovering from surgery. Offer what you own and the skills you have to repair a car, paint a room, help with taxes or provide a service. Whatever you have is what God can use to love your neighbors.

Reaching our neighbors requires initiative. The word means “the first in a series of actions” or “the setting in motion of something.” It means that those inside the church make the first move in connecting with those outside the church. This movement sets in motion a Gospel relationship with others.

Many times, people came to Jesus. But Jesus didn’t sit by, waiting for people to knock on His door. He took initiative. When he saw a crippled woman in the synagogue, Jesus called her forward and healed her (Luke 13:10). When He saw fishermen at the water’s edge, He called them to be His disciples (Matthew 4:19). When he approached Jericho and noticed Zacchaeus perched in a tree, Jesus suggested they have dinner together (Luke 19:5). As He travelled through Samaria and stopped at a well, he asked a woman for a drink, starting a conversation that would lead to her life change (John 4:1-26). All of these acts of initiative can be traced back to the first act: Jesus taking the first step toward all of humanity in leaving His place in heaven to become a man.

In the relationship between God’s people and their neighbors, Christians must “jump first.” Don’t expect your neighbors to invite themselves to your church. Don’t think they will ask for help, though they may genuinely need it. Don’t assume they know that you’re ready, willing and able to help them repair a fence. Don’t expect that the widow across the hall has family coming for Christmas. Don’t be sure that they already know Jesus. Always take the first step.

And then, take a second step. After calling the first disciples, Jesus found them fishing again (Luke 5:1-11). This means that they had been invited into life with Jesus, but had reverted back to their former lifestyle. But Jesus didn’t give up. He persisted in taking steps over and over again.

When I was in college, I served with Young Life, a ministry designed to reach high school students with the Gospel. One of the frequent and fundamental principles I learned was, “Never give up on a kid.” After decades of ministry, Young Life had discovered that many teenagers initially oppose the Gospel. But, when leaders persist, taking second and third and fourth steps, some students are won over by unfailing love.

Christians are bound to face a hundred obstacles when it comes to reaching their neighbors. There will be a hundred opportunities to quit and retreat back to the fortress of our homes and church. But, we must never give up on our neighbors. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, one of the most successful evangelistic ministries
in the world, once said, “Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, then leaving the results to God.”

Grace is undeserved blessing. It’s not earned, but given freely, generously and unconditionally. We were saved, “not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9). We sing “Amazing Grace” because it confounds our human sensibilities that we would be loved without giving anything in return. This is how we are to love those around us.

We live in a world desperate for grace. Paul writes that all of creation groans under the weight of sin, longing for the full redemption of the children of God (Romans 8:18-27). Natural disasters, disease, corruption, abuse, violence, divorce, disappointment, hopelessness and fear abound in a graceless world. Next, compare your list with the list in this book. What changes might you make to either list? People everywhere are looking to fill the emptiness in their lives. The church of Jesus Christ has opportunity to give grace to those who need grace.

Showing grace requires the will to be gracious. In Luke 5, Jesus was approached by a man covered in leprosy (v. 12). The man fell before Jesus and begged Him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” With that, Jesus reached out His hand and replied “I am willing.” The issue at stake wasn’t Jesus’ ability, but His availability. In Mark’s parallel account, we learn that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (Mark 1:41). He was willing to show grace because He could see the desperate needs in the world.

We reach our neighbors as we compassionately identify with their needs. No matter how successful, happy or carefree a person’s life may seem, they are still plagued by the effects of sin until they meet Jesus Christ, the healer. We may not see it, but everyone is crying out for God to “have mercy” on them.

This grace is expressed in many ways. It starts with learning people’s names. Get to know the last, the least and the lost—the marginalized people in your community. Throw a baby shower for the single mother. Offer to pay for the meal of a stranger in a restaurant. Help repair the homes of people who don’t attend any church. Reach out to the widow and orphan. Organize your biblical community to clean up trash in your city. As with Tiffany and me befriending our Syrian friends, we hope the amazing grace of Jesus will lead them to know Him personally. But we serve them whether they do or don’t.

Above, we learned that true love moves toward people. Hospitality is the warmth and kindness that people experience when they come to us. Hospitality is a command for the people of God (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9, Titus 1:8) and is a qualification for church elders (1 Timothy 3:2). Christians are encouraged to show hospitality to strangers because some, without knowing it, have actually entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2).

Hospitality, whether in private homes or the house of God, the church, is a mixture of warmth, generosity and impartiality. It begins with genuine kindness toward people. It gives itself in gracious service, meeting the needs of guests. And it does so, not just for specific people, but for anyone who walks through the door.

I have a dear friend who livescthreehours away and is the perfect example of hospitality. Whenever I need a personal retreat to get away and work or relax, he and his wife make their guest house overlooking a beautiful lake in Austin, Texas, available to me. Not only is the private apartment beautifully furnished and clean, but they insist on providing meals for me during my stay. During breaks, my friend, Jeff, takes me out in his boat on the water. And it’s not just me. My friends are hospitable toward every guest who visits their home.

Every Christian and every church should be as welcoming. As you read this last sentence, ask yourself several questions: “Does every guest feel welcome in our church? Does anyone feel like an outsider? Is there a culture of kindness among my family? Would anyone ever discern a prejudicial or judgmental spirit in me? Am I a servant?” Unless there is hospitality, we will be ineffective in reaching our neighbors.

Financial investors know that, without a risk of assets, they will likely not enjoy a good return. In physical fitness, trainers claim, “No pain, no gain.” Fruit requires planting, watering, cultivation…the hard work of farming. Similarly, if missional disciples wish to truly impact their community, they must be willing to give themselves away, to sacrifice.

This is the essence of the Gospel. Jesus was born a man and allowed His glorious splendor to be obscured. He gave up His divine prerogatives and laid down His life for people. He sacrificed His blood for sinners. He gave, we received—mission accomplished.

When I was in college, one of my friends lost all of his possessions in an apartment fire. Many people came to his aid to donate items, but one donation I will never forget. The student was needing clothes for an upcoming business interview and a mutual friend offered him several dress shirts, slacks and shoes. As he handed off the assortment of clothes, the donor pulled one hanging shirt out of the batch and said, “If you don’t mind, when you’re finished, I’d like that shirt back.”

At first, I was taken back by the request and even concluded that his contribution was less than sacrificial if he “wanted something back.” Then it occurred to me, he was offering his best. While other people might have given things that were left over and the extra from their life that they would never miss, this man was giving what was meaningful. He was expressing true sacrifice.

In 2 Samuel 24:24, David decides, “I will not offer to the Lord my God that which costs me nothing.” If our mission is the way that we worship God, then we offer to God—and our neighbors—our very best. Sacrifice is essential for mission. A Christian cannot effectively impact their community without their mission costing something.

To read the next section of this chapter, see Beyond: Into My Neighborhood (3) - Serving Our Neighbors.

About the Author

Dr. David Daniels (D. Min. Dallas Theological Seminary, M. Div. Denver Seminary) is Lead Pastor of Central Bible Church and author of Next Step Church, Next Step Discipleship, Next Step JournalWonder, and An Unexpected King.