“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” (John 1:14, MSG)
Jesus is on a mission.
He is on a grand adventure to redeem and restore human lives to the kingdom of his Father. This is nothing new. Ever since he broke out of the tomb on Easter Sunday, Jesus has been on the loose, pursuing his redemptive mission, messing with people, ripening people, preparing people to be drawn back to the Father he loves. It’s what he does.
And he’s on the move in your neighborhood, too.
The concept of “neighborhood” is very important for the missional lifestyle. So let’s take a moment to define it. “Neighborhood” is all about relationships, or the potential relationships we could have with just a little intentionality. For our purposes a “neighborhood” is defined as any network of relationships (or potential relationships) to which we have regular access. We may not know the people yet or know them well, but for a variety of reasons these people are regularly within our reach. What are some examples of these relational networks we call “neighborhoods?”
Obviously the “neighborhoods” where we live qualify, and so do the “neighborhoods” of our workplaces and schools. We are regularly within reach of the same people. But there are many other “neighborhoods” in which we regularly find ourselves. For instance, some of us have access to recreation leagues, yoga classes or craft beer clubs. Some of us are band parents, soccer moms or routinely wait with other dads as our daughters finish up dance classes. Some of us volunteer with community revitalization groups or social service agencies. Some of us are Chamber members or Rotary Club members. Some of us are at country clubs, community centers or the Y. All of these are examples of “neighborhoods” in which we may find ourselves. Take a moment to list the “neighborhoods” to which you have access.
Now, here’s some important news: Jesus is on the loose in all of them.
How do I know? Because Jesus is on a mission to redeem and restore all people. Jesus reminds Nicodemus of this when he spoke the well-known words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …” (John 3:16). God sent his Son for the world. His goal is not to save some and leave others out. Paul underscores this in 1 Timothy 2:4 when he says that God our Savior wants all people to be saved. Will everyone respond? Will everyone believe God? No. But that does not change the goal and desire of God in sending his Son. As if to emphasize that very point, God speaks of why he is sending his Son in Isaiah 49:6, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
So wherever you go, whether to the ends of the earth or just to work, if there are people there, you can be sure Jesus is up to something redemptively. His purpose is to redeem. His goal is full restoration. This is what Jesus does. He doesn’t get distracted. He doesn’t veer off course. His timing is always precise because his redemptive mission is always what he’s up to. Different people. Different timing. Different stories and pathways. Sure. But this is what he is up to all the time.
There is, of course, much mystery in how Jesus works out his plan in each person’s life. Some people are resisting, some are ignoring, some are oblivious, and some are almost ready. But Jesus is in the redemptive process of uniquely preparing each of them to receive what the Father would freely give them: forgiveness of sins and a new life with him forever.
That is Jesus’ mission.
And he invites us to join him.
This is an important change in mindset for most U.S. church members: Jesus is inviting me to join him on his mission. He does not give me a mission to do FOR him. Jesus is on a mission and he invites me to come WITH him.
The first time I realized Jesus was inviting me to come WITH him and not go FOR him was a great relief. If I go FOR Jesus, I am doing the work and seeing the results of what I can accomplish. When I go WITH Jesus, he is doing the work and I am seeing the results of what Jesus can accomplish. One is hard the other is fun. One is exhausting the other is energizing. One causes me to worry (“Did I do everything correctly?”) the other causes me to be at peace (“Let’s see what Jesus does next.”). One tempts me to force things with people the other invites me to keep loving people.
So, for years, when I thought of myself as being in mission, I had it in my head that Jesus was sending me off FOR him … on my own … to do the best I could … which I knew would not be very good at all. I was afraid people would reject me or I wouldn’t know what to say or, worse, I would say something and botch the whole deal for Jesus. What a burden! Can you relate? But I had it precisely backwards. Jesus wasn’t sending me out to do his work FOR him, he was inviting me to come WITH him and join the work he was already doing.
What a relief! You see, only Jesus can do Jesus-work. So let him. Someone once told me, “I can’t. Jesus can. Think I’ll let him.” Our job isn’t to try and do Jesus’ work FOR him. Our job is to watch for, recognize and then respond to the work Jesus is already doing in the lives of people around us and JOIN him.
This is our new missional mindset.
We can do this.
Over the next few weeks, we'll find out how.