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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Your own backyard

 "Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously."
(Matthew 10:5-8)

The twelve disciples are being trained to "do" the ministry of serving those they are surrounded by. The simple instructions of Jesus speak volumes - "Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place..."  He was focusing them on the immediate needs of those in the communities in which they lived and did business.  People with indecision and confusion in their lives who simply need a helping hand to sort things out.  People with the need to know that Christ is here - now - in this very moment with the answer to their life challenge.

I am not opposed to supporting world missions - I do so myself.  What we cannot lose sight of is that Jesus called us to be involved in the lives of those in our immediate reach.  These may be our neighbors, our work-mates, or our community leaders.  Right now, the budget "wars" are raging in our national capital.  Leaders are pitted against each other, often taking a stand on one side of the issue without any respect for the other side's perspective.  In fact, our local media is playing this "battle" to the max - encouraging us to call our leaders and complain vehemently that they settle the budget issues, or else our future vote for their re-election could be compromised.

This is exactly the type of life-event that we need to be "light" in - the regular stuff of life that just mounts to catastrophic proportions without much effort!  These disciples are being called to be concerned with the confusion of their neighbors - to be light in darkness.  They are encouraged to be involved in the lives of their neighbors - rather than looking beyond them to others in far off regions.  It seems that we have lost sight of that today.  We are surrounded by all kinds of hurting, confused, and destitute people - right here in our own backyards (maybe in our own families).

Simple instructions can be the most difficult to follow!  Somehow we read more into them than we see there.  We just cannot believe that the instructions can be that simple - so we create more complex ones in our minds that we "believe" to be true.  We cannot look beyond the simplicity of what Jesus tells us to do:

1)  Go to the lost, confused people - those who have missed the way, are bewildered by life's circumstances, not sure of what direction to take next.  These are the ones who may not have made good use of past opportunities and now live with all kinds of regret.  These are our neighbors - look around you and you will see them everywhere.

2)  Bring health to the sick - we often think of these as those who have been affected by physical disease alone, but I challenge us to look beyond the physical to see spiritual, emotional, and relational "disease", as well.  There are people all around us who have been affected by some unpleasantness that has left them with deep sorrow, plaguing their peace and stealing away their joy.  To these, Jesus says to bring them health.  Soundness of mind, freedom from what ails them.

3)  Touch the untouchables - he was never afraid to reach out to the lepers and those who others considered "unclean".  We think of these as those who society rejected - making them untouchable.  Jesus encourages us to bring the touch of healing into their lives once again.

4)  Kick out the demons - before you freak out on me, hear me out!  Yes, there are very real evil spirits that exist.  We indeed have been given the authority over them.  But, I want us to look beyond what we believe to be "demons" to what also has "demon-like" power in a person's life.  Those things that exert influence, or passion, in a person's life that keeps them bound by some measure of evil influence.  It could be the "demon" of unforgiveness - we need to bring the ministry of reconciliation.  It could be the "demon" of sexual violation - we need to bring the ministry of restoration and cleansing.

Yep, we need to see the entire world as our "mission field", but we cannot neglect our own backyard in the process!  To whom is Jesus calling you to bring the ministry of hope, reconciliation, or restoration today?  To that one, be faithful to reach out!